While many flock to the ever popular tourist destinations of Paris, London and Rome, there’s far more beauty to discover across Europe. These cities, bursting with culture, can be found in unknown corners throughout the continent. Looking for a more intimate traveling experience? Read our guide for 10 of the most culturally-rich places in Europe that you may—or may not—know about.
As the birthplace of beloved writer Hans Christian Andersen, Odense offers fans of his fairy tales a peek into his life. The city is filled with attractions dedicated to the author—visit one of the many museums giving remembrance to his life, see various statues and sculptures depicting events from his most famous stories, and even take a seat on the oddly decorated public bench meant to resemble one of his fairy tale characters. Odense is the third largest city in Denmark and has been the capital of Funen for over 1,000 years. As is true for most of the country, the picturesque city streets are designed for cyclists and pedestrians, making this city an ideal stop while cycling or walking the streets.
Once known as the capital of Portugal, Coimbra is steeped in medieval history and vibrant culture. Head to the University Quarter, visit one of the city’s great churches, scope out the beautifully aged architecture dating back to the Roman era or check out one of the many art galleries. Found on the east bank of the Rio Mondeg, Coimbra has surroundings that are equally as stunning as the city itself—don’t miss the Roman ruins at Conímbriga or the stunning medieval hilltop fortress of Montemor-o-Velho, just a short drive from the town. Head to this hidden gem for an easy day-trip from Porto or Lisbon, Portugal’s most-visited cities; or, if you find yourself with more time, make this spot the destination for your next holiday.
Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
Straddling the Dreisam River and just off the edge of the Black Forest in South West Germany, lies Freiburg im Breisgau, a charming city nestled at the bottom of the magical tree-covered hill, Schlossberg. The picturesque setting is perfect for a relaxing weekend away or an enjoyable day-trip from Basel or Zurich. Cycling enthusiasts will revel in the vast array of trails leading through the city and into the Black Forest (mountain bikers, specifically), but even road racers can get their thrill fix, as superbly flat roads surround the Rhine Valley. Looking for a relaxing afternoon? This little gem is also known for its fabulous wines, tiny little canals, the Augustinermuseum, and the Münster Cathedral, one of the oldest churches in all of Europe. With the country bordering France, Switzerland, and Austria, this city would make for an exceptional addition to any European tour.
Maastricht, The Netherlands
Maastricht may not have the same worldwide fame as Amsterdam, but it is arguably just as beautiful. Lying on both sides of the Meuse River, the city is surrounded by stunning countryside and historic castles. The entire inner city is easily explored by foot and as one of the oldest cities in The Netherlands, there are plenty of historic wonders to discover. The underground tour to the casemates is an absolute must for inquisitive historians—participants are gifted with the rare opportunity to explore the network of underground passages that lie underneath Maastricht. Alongside the exciting history, Maastricht is also home to some glorious vineyards, brilliant art galleries and exquisite restaurants.
Matera, a historic city with a rich culture, is just a few hours away from the stunning Amalfi Coast and makes for an ideal day-trip. The city became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993 and is said to be “the most outstanding, intact example of troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, perfectly adapted to its terrain and ecosystem”. Made up of extensive cave dwelling districts known as the Sassi, Matera offers visitors the option to dine or even spend the night in one of these caves. Go for the guided tour of the city—a must if you’re looking to fully understand the history of this old town.
Crowned the European Capital of Culture for 2015, Mons is home to three UNESCO World Heritage masterpieces—the Belfry, the Neolithic Mines in Spiennes and the Dou Dou. Despite having lesser fame than Brussels, Bruges and Ghent, this city has a mix of stunning civil, religious and military buildings. Van Gogh also spent a good part of his life residing in the city of Mons, and his former house is open for visitors to explore.
Pilsen, Czech Republic
Pilsen conveniently lies just 90 kilometers from Prague in Western Bohemia, and although it is not as well known as many other Czech cities, it still has a lot to offer. At the town center lies an old, picturesque square lined with beautiful trees and manicured gardens. The rest of the city is much more industrial—as the birthplace of Pilsner beer and home to Skoda Engineering Works, this comes as unsurprising, but don’t let this deter you. Visitors can explore various museums and art galleries that are scattered around the city, or enjoy a night of live music at one of the many concerts held here. Pilsen is the second European Capital of Culture 2015 (after Mons in Belgium), so expect to witness a series of cultural events throughout the year.
A fusion of Romanian, German and Hungarian cultures, the city of Sibiu—just across the Cibin River in Romania—is a beautiful portrayal of architecture that dates back to the Middle Ages. A cyclist-friendly city, Sibiu can easily be explored by bicycle as well as on foot. Spend a few hours meandering around the old town and revel in the beauty of the ancient architecture (said to be constructed by German settlers back in the late Middle Ages). Don’t miss the Citadel of Sibiu—one of the best fortified citadels in Europe, which remains very well preserved.
Strikingly different from Krakow and Warsaw, Toruń is one of Poland’s best-kept secrets. As the birthplace of the famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, the city is filled with landmarks including a statue built in his honor and his home, which was made into a museum. Toruń is especially known for its gingerbread, or pierniki in Polish, and can be found in almost every shop across the city. There’s even a museum dedicated to this local delicacy.
Vézelay, located in Burgundy, France, is a stunning hilltop town and UNESCO world heritage site. It is most famous for the Romanesque Basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, Vézelay Abbey, a remarkable church dating back to the 11th century. In the summer, geraniums bring a burst of vibrant color to the city, and the golden glow of the sunset makes for a romantic stroll along the streets with views of beautiful architecture and the Cure Valley. Aside from its picturesque panoramas and stunning architecture, Vézelay is also known for its local white wines, quirky boutiques, fine art galleries and independent cafes.