There’s absolutely nothing wrong with traveling to much-visited and adored cities like Barcelona, Venice, or Florence. After all, we’d be remiss in suggesting that any city on the planet could replace the romance of Paris or the storied history of Athens. But for the traveler who’s simply on the market for something a little more under the radar, there are plenty of lesser-known cities in Europe to explore.
Half the fun of travel is discovery anyway, don’t you think? If you want to escape the tourist crowds, we suggest going off the beaten track a little and exploring some lesser-known locales—or you could choose some of the prettiest. We’ve been doing some matchmaking, so book a flight to one of these nine destinations that will satisfy your taste for beauty, adventure, culture, and then some.
Aside from the obvious choices, these are also some of the best cities to visit in Europe.
Dubrovnik, Hvar, and Split along the Croatian coast sport some of the most stunning seaside expanses in the world (um, it’s where Game of Thrones is filmed!). In addition to the natural beauty, these cities also boast great history in the form of Roman ruins, tasty local restaurants, vineyards, access to nearby islands, and a taste of true, blissful escape.
Keep it in the Great Britain family and head to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a metropolitan mix of history, culture, food, and gorgeous architecture to boot. Main sights include Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat, but there’s plenty more culture to explore too. In August, the city hosts the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world.
Dublin has some truly incredible sights, including a magnificent 13th-century castle and other medieval wonders. But if it’s history and natural wonders you’re after—rather than nightlife—scenic County Clare is just as noteworthy. Highlights include the breathtaking and ragged Cliffs of Moher, the 15th-century Bunratty Castle, and the mystical rock formations of The Burren.
Situated on the water beneath a backdrop of the Venetian Prealps is Bassano del Grappa, a little-known city of bridges and canals in Northern Italy, a one-hour journey from crowded Venice. Arcaded cobblestone streets, 15th-century buildings, charming storefronts, and Ponte Degli Alpini, a brick-hued wooden bridge, are some of the city’s treasures.
This beautiful port city is all cobblestones and charm—plus one of the most nocturnal cultures of any city in its Barrio Alto neighborhood. The city’s impressive art access, experimental culinary scene, and stylish streets call to mind the big-city appeal of Madrid.
Want a taste of Italy’s central Tuscany without the crowds of tourists? Siena is one of Italy’s loveliest medieval cities, with its earth-hued, fan-shaped central piazza and elegant tower overlooking the city and surrounding green hills. Explore the petite city and its contrades (neighborhoods) during the summer, and you may just catch the Palio di Siena horse races, worth booking a trip for all on their own.
This scenic Greek island, away from the crowds of Athens, boasts beautiful beaches plus a few sights that will give you your fill of history, including the Temple of Apollo, the Acropolis of Lindos, the Governor’s Palace, as well as a bustling Old Town with medieval castles, Roman ruins, and Byzantine mosques.
Estonia’s capital city boasts a fascinating melding of Russian and Scandinavian influences. The supremely walkable Tallinn is also home to one of the best-preserved medieval sectors of the Baltic region, thanks to its inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The coastal city of Valencia, just a short train trip south from Barcelona, has it all: beaches, history, culture, and a bustling culinary scene. Valencia has a lovely daytime culture with its bike-friendly streets, plus a happening nightlife with rooftop discos and the garden atop the Arts and Sciences Museum.
This story was originally published in 2016 and has since been updated.