It’s easy to assume that everywhere in Europe is overrun with tourists, but there are hidden gems tucked into every corner of this beautiful and historic continent. Surprise yourself with one of these underrated European cities.
The capital of Hungary may not be as trendy as nearby Vienna or Prague, but it has an Eastern European charm all its own. The views over its Danube skyline are superb and the lavish interior of the Hungarian Parliament Building puts even London’s sumptuous Palace of Westminster to shame. Set aside a day to relax in one of the city’s thermal spas. Szechenyi Baths is beautiful and quite popular with tourists, but you’ll get more of a glimpse at local life from the Gellert Baths across town. Once you’re completely relaxed, turn the energy up with a night out at one of Budapest’s ruins bars, like Szimpla Kert. Drinks are strong and the atmosphere is one of the most unique in all Europe.
No need to rack your brain for what few facts you held onto from high school geography. If you’ve ever had a port after dinner, you’ve heard of Porto. This northern coast town in Portugal is the birthplace of the fortified dessert wine renowned worldwide. Tasting port at a wine bar or cellar in town is naturally a must. If you need some time to sober up before your next glass, try exploring the historic labyrinth of the Ribeira district or marvel at the baroque beauty of the Igreja de Sao Francisco. If you tire of city life, rent a car and venture into the gorgeous Douro wine region.
Waffles, chocolate, and lace seem to sum up the tourist experience of Belgium and most visitors won’t venture past the capital of Brussels to tick such classics off the bucket list. For a quieter cultural experience, stray off the beaten path to Ghent. Every corner boasts a postcard-worthy photo op thanks to the beautiful architecture reminiscent of the city’s heyday in the Middle Ages. Top selfie-worthy landmarks include St. Bavo’s Cathedral, graced by a Jan van Eyck altarpiece, and the 12th century Gravensteen Castle. Ghent has a character that’s at once artsy and industrial and visitors to Belgium are quickly picking up on this hidden jewel between Brussels and Bruges.
While Croatia rapidly became the darling of the Mediterranean cruise circuit, the rest of former Yugoslavia hasn’t fared so well in the tourism industry following the wartime period of the 1980s and 90s. The Balkans, however, have a relentless spirit and Bosnia & Herzegovina in particular is home to some of the most emphatically hospitable people in the world. Mostar’s old city is undeniably charming with its painstakingly reconstructed bridge forming the heart of this medieval Ottoman town. The surrounding cobblestone streets are chock full of unique shops and craftsmen’s workshops. Far from the typical tacky souvenir fare you find in Paris or Rome, here you can pick up mosaic lamps, one-of-a-kind copper jewelry, patterned silks, and a number of other items you’d never expect to find in Europe.