Secret European Towns You Must Visit

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The beauty of Milan, London, Paris and Barcelona is widely acknowledged, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only places worth visiting. Europe has a plethora of stunning destinations worth exploring, such as the Palace of Queluz in Portugal or Nidaros Cathedral in Norway. Here are 11 lesser-known European towns you should visit ASAP.

Kotor, Montenegro

Natural Feature
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Kotor, Montenegro.
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Set in the most remote part of a bay on the coast of Montenegro is the Unesco world heritage site of Kotor. One of the best-preserved sights of the region, which boasts a rich cultural tradition, Kotor is a beautiful town set on a fjord-like sea inlet. Jump on a boat and visit Our Lady of the Rocks, a man-made island in the bay, or climb up the Castle of San Giovanni to enjoy panoramic views over the town. Get lost in the maze-like streets and squares of the Old Town where you’ll stumble upon the romanesque style St Tryphon’s Cathedral, built in the 12th century.

Insider Tip: The area is dotted with old, abandoned fortresses perched on hills and mountains surrounding the bay. For example, Fort Vrmac is easily reachable via a hiking trail starting from the Old Town.

Preveza, Greece

Architectural Landmark
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Aerial scenic view of the famous Preveza city port and boats in spring time. Preveza is a beautiful town in the region of Epirus, northwestern Greece,
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Epirus’ capital city Preveza often falls under the radar, but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer. Set on the Gulf of Amvrakikos, this small yet modern town has a picturesque historic centre where cobblestone streets and pedestrian walkways are lined with taverns and cafés. The port has a lovely promenade where locals enjoy walking, while the city boasts a cultural and artistic scene, with many activities organised frequently.

Insider Tip: The whole region of Epirus is beautiful and though Preveza is connected to Lefkada through a causeway, forget the beaches and go rafting on the Acheron river. The refreshing water is the ultimate treat for a hot summer day.

Osijek, Croatia

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark
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Holy trinity square in Tvrdja, old historic town of Osijek, Croatia
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Located along the River Drava, Osijek boasts elegant fin-de-siècle architecture, a renovated fortified centre (the Tvrda) dating back to the 18th century, which is perfect for a day of exploration, the magnificent Church of St Peter and St Paul and an extensive network of riverside walkways. Explore hidden cafés and bars to sample Croatian brandy or rakija. The plum flavour (šljivovica) is a firm-favourite.

Insider Tip: The city is home to the oldest beer brewery in Croatia, Osječko, founded in 1697. Make sure to try one of the many flavours of beer available in most bars.

Ferrara, Italy

Architectural Landmark
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Girolamo Savonarola statue, Castello Estense (Castello di San Michele), medieval castle at Corso Martiri della Liberta, street in Ferrara, Emilia-Roma
Courtesy of Witold Skrypczak / Alamy Stock Photo

Even the most unassuming towns in Italy have a magical quality and Ferrara is no exception. Far from being a small town though, Ferrara instead enjoys city status. It boasts famous ancient walls and is also home to 14th and 15th century palaces and cathedrals, making it the perfect place for romantic strolls in the evening. Make sure to have the traditional aperitivo to sample a variety of local delicacies.

Insider Tip: The signature pasta dish of the region is the cappellacci di zucca (pumpkin-stuffed pasta) served with sage and butter. Hostaria Savonarola serves a mean one.

Clonakilty, Ireland

Natural Feature
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Ireland, County Cork, Clonakilty, An Teach Beag, Pub and traditional music venue.
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Ireland has its fair share of secret towns you may have never heard of, but our favourite is Clonakilty, a small coastal town in County Cork. Bright, colourful and cheerful, it’s a pleasant little town where you can find lively pubs and picturesque guesthouses, as well as charming eateries where you can enjoy the local delicacy, black pudding. Outside town, the area is blessed with a series of bays and small peninsulas.

Insider Tip: Are you a surfing enthusiast? Head to Inchydoney Beach where you’ll find the best waves in the region and the local surfing school.

Sintra, Portugal

Botanical Garden, Building, Ruins, Natural Feature
Map View
Sintra, Portugal at Sintra National Palace
© Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo

While we are huge fans of Lisbon and Porto, Portugal has an abundance of other jewels waiting to be discovered. Sintra, tucked between the mountains and the sea, boasts a rich history, verdant nature and magnificent cuisine. The town served as inspiration for many 18th and 19th century writers as its atmosphere is blissfully romantic. The Palace of Queluz, Monserrate Palace, Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors are particular highlights.

Insider Tip: Stay true to the town’s spirit and sojourn at the bright and colourful Casa Miradouro, a beautiful guesthouse with breathtaking views of the ocean and over Sintra as a whole.

Marseille, France

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
Marseille harbour port city skyline, Marseille, France
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Although Paris gets all the buzz and many visitors to France head south to soak up some Mediterranean sun, the city of Marseille is not to be overlooked. Sidestep the beaten track and discover France’s second largest city, rich in history and culture and boasting a vibrant food scene. Chosen as Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2013, Marseille has a strong French identity yet with a definite Mediterranean vibe. This port city is home to beautiful avenues, museums, cute shops and charming restaurants, and a climb up the impressive Notre Dame de La Garde is a must to enjoy a mesmerising sunset.

Insider Tip: Spend a day away from the bustle of town and visit the Calanques, a beautiful mountainous biotope that borders the sea.

Trondheim, Norway

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Old Warehouses On The River Trondheim Norway
© Graham Mulrooney / Alamy Stock Photo

The capital of Norway during the Viking Age, Trondheim is situated along the river Nidelva. Its rich cultural heritage and vibrant atmosphere make it one of the most exciting cities in northern Europe. Sights worth visiting include the wooden mansion Stiftsgarden, an 18th-century royal palace, as well as the Nidaros Cathedral, the largest medieval building in Scandinavia, which takes centre stage in the city.

Insider Tip: Coffee lovers unite! Trondheim has a well-developed coffee scene. Dromedar Kaffebar in Bakklandet is a crowd pleaser.

Salamanca, Spain

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Aerial view of Salamanca with new and old cathedral in the first plan, Spain
© Jacek Sopotnicki / Alamy Stock Photo

Located in northwestern Spain, Salamanca is what we could call an Instagrammable city. The historic centre features sandstone buildings which at sunset glow with a golden taint, so much so that the city was dubbed The Golden City. Home to the oldest university in the country, Salamanca is a student city filled with stunning architecture, including the 12th century Catedral Vieja and Casa de las Conchas, a 15th century structure adorned with hundreds of sandstone shells. Make sure to visit the Plaza Mayor, a baroque square where students as well as locals gather at all hours.

Insider Tip: The Art Nouveau and Art Déco Museum housed in the Casa Lis is a must-see.

Lucerne, Switzerland

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Luzern riverfront and wooden Chapel Bridge and tower view, town in central Switzerland
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Nestled in central Switzerland on the northern tip of Lake Lucerne is the friendly town of Lucerne which can easily be explored by foot. Home to the oldest covered bridge in Europe, Lucerne (or Luzern, in German) has a charming old town which is perfect for wandering around. To enjoy splendid views over the city, climb the clock tower of the Musegg Wall. The Museum of Art Lucerne with its beautiful architecture is definitely worth a visit as well.

Insider Tip: For drinks or a good meal, pop by Mill’Feuille, which offers great views over the river.

Ghent, Belgium

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
Ghent, Belgium old town cityscape over the Graslei are at dusk.
© Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo

Forget Brussels, Antwerp and Bruges, discard any misconception that Belgium is boring and discover Ghent, a cosy little town in Flanders. A modern city with a fascinating past and picture-perfect architecture, Ghent is home to Gravensteen Castle as well as a beautiful 14th-century belfry and St Peter’s Abbey. Filled with students during the week, the city takes on a more casual vibe over the weekend when most students return to their hometown. This is when you should use the city as your playground.

Insider Tip: Visit the S.M.A.K, the municipal museum for contemporary art, known for its controversial and thought-provoking exhibitions. You won’t be disappointed.

These recommendations were updated on May 19, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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