I've Been to 26 Countries in Europe—These Are the 5 I Always Recommend

My first trip to Europe was a heady mix of excitement, nerves, and total awe. At 19, I wandered the streets of Le Marais wide-eyed, marveled at the sorbet-colored architecture in Positano with disbelief, and was completely transfixed by how quickly the culture and landscape changed when you crossed a border. It wasn't a one-time reaction, either: I've felt the magnetic pull to explore Europe over the last nine years, returning almost every summer to swim, hike, and eat my way through 26 countries. 

Having spent the majority of my 20s exploring the region and visiting over half of the countries in Europe, I'm often asked by travelers which places I recommend. Of course, the answer varies depending on the type of vacation you want and the amount of time you can spare, but without fail, these five lesser-known locales always make my list. The common thread? They're all exceptionally beautiful, somewhat unpredictable, and absolutely live up to the hype. Having spent almost a decade exploring Europe, these are the five spots I'd return to again and again.