Okay, let’s face it: Europe isn’t exactly an unknown destination for travelers. For its relatively small size, it has a tantalizing mix of great architecture, yummy food, and natural beauty. It really is no wonder that many decide to make the trip over. However, the crowds can be enough to dissuade any would-be visitor. Paris is the most visited city on Earth. It’s hard to take a selfie without anyone in the background in Venice. Good luck getting a moment alone in London!
If you’re planning an epic trip around the continent, why not try veering away from the usual suspects? I’m not telling you to avoid the crowd favorites – they’re popular for a reason – but by deciding to visit other parts of Europe, you’ll have an experience that’ll definitely differ from the tried and tested! Here are some suggestions for you to consider:
Tiny Liechtenstein has less than 40,000 people, but is home to amazing mountain views. Its capital of Vaduz has a lovely castle, a highlight of visitors to the principality. If you’d like to do some cycling or hiking without the crowds, then this country may be just what you’re looking for. Liechtenstein is a great stop for those who have just come from Switzerland, as it uses the same currency. If you’d also like to get the country’s “passport stamp”, then go for it. After all, how many people have been to Liechtenstein?
Despite its small size, Slovenia offers would-be visitors anything they could ever wish for – mountains that offer wonderful skiing, beaches to enjoy, and incredible architecture to gawk at. Half of Slovenia is still forested, showing its commitment to preserving natural resources. Have coffee at one of Ljubljana’s cafes as you gaze up at its imposing castle, looming over the Slovenian capital. Visit the caves the country is famous for, Postojna and Škocjan – the latter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don’t forget to stop by Bled – its gorgeous lake, cliff side castle, and picturesque island church are second to none.
Serbia holds a lot of history – its capital, Belgrade, used to be the capital of Yugoslavia. Its former leader, Tito, is also buried here. You’ll be impressed by Belgrade’s nightlife, which comes at a fraction of the cost of Western Europe. Did you know that the famous scientist, Nikola Tesla, was Serbian? He doesn’t only have a museum dedicated to him here – he’s also found on their 100 dinar bill. Visit the Hungarian-influenced region of Vojvodina, with the border town of Subotica displaying gorgeous art nouveau buildings. If you’re ready to head down south, stop by Niš, the birthplace of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Serbia is definitely worthy of your time!
One of Europe’s largest countries is, ironically, underexplored. It hasn’t been getting a lot of great praise in the media, but Ukraine will leave visitors spellbound. Brush up on your Cyrillic before you visit – it’ll be a fun adventure as you try to decipher signs. The Ukrainian capital of Kiev is stunning, with its beautiful churches and stately buildings. Maybe you want to take a day trip to Chernobyl, infamous for the nuclear disaster decades ago. You’ll wonder if you’re still in Ukraine if you pop by beautiful Lviv, which has all the charm of central Europe, but almost no tourists. Don’t forget to try some borscht, the national soup!
If you’d like a linguistic challenge, you might want to visit Hungary. Their language is pretty much unrelated to the country’s neighbors! If you’re wondering whether crossing the border from Austria was worth it, the sight of the Hungarian capital’s numerous bridges, which connect Buda to Pest over the Danube River, will give you the answer. You may also want to take a trip to Eger, home of the famous Bull’s Blood wine. How about taking a dip in Lake Balaton, or what locals refer to as the “Hungarian sea”? Don’t forget to hop on Budapest’s Metro 1 – it’s the oldest metro system in continental Europe.
The southernmost of the Baltic States holds many delights for travelers who make the trip. Its capital, Vilnius, is chock full of lovely baroque architecture. Don’t forget to drop by the self-declared “Republic” of Užupis, home to great cafes and artists. Read up on their constitution, translated into several languages. Trakai Castle is also worth visiting; it’s picturesque and an easy day trip from Vilnius. Why not stop by the Hill of Crosses? There are thousands of them, in different shapes and sizes. It’s not something you see every day!
If you enjoy mountain scenery, Albania will take your breath away. If you love to soak up the sun, this country’s beaches will have half the crowds compared to neighboring Greece. Tirana’s National History Museum will show you a lot of artifacts from Albania’s past as part of the Roman Empire. If you’re looking for something a little more recent, don’t forget to drop by the UNESCO-listed Ottoman towns of Berat and Gjirokastra. Berat, the “town of a thousand windows”, has a museum that showcases typical Ottoman life in the 18th century. Gjirokastra, on the other hand, is home to one of the biggest castles in the Balkans. Now is the time to visit Albania, before everyone finds out how wonderful it is.
If you’re asking yourself if Malta is worth the extra flight or ferry ride, the short answer is yes. You’ll constantly see the intermingling of outside influences on Malta. From neighboring Italy, to northern Africa, to the United Kingdom – all of them have made Maltese culture and architecture unique. Plan visits to prehistoric wonders like the Hypogeum, made up of burial chambers carved entirely out of rock. See proof of how Malta is predominantly Catholic through its numerous cathedrals and festas. Love the water? You’re never too far from it in Malta. Don’t forget to visit the set of the live-action movie Popeye – both children and kids at heart will love it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Noelle Filoteo is a Greek-Filipina, currently based in the Philippines. She’s a psychology graduate turned teacher who’s lived and worked in three different continents. When she’s not traveling, she loves to read, watch sports, and eat her weight in cheese – plus points if it’s feta.