Home » 7 underrated cities you should visit in Europe

7 underrated cities you should visit in Europe

written by Bex Shapiro February 22, 2017

You don’t need to be told to visit the historic sights in Rome, the romantic ones in Paris, and the iconic ones in London – after all, that’s what bucket lists are for. But what about the side of Europe that few people see? The continent has so much to discover off the beaten track, whether we’re talking Serbian party hot spots, quirky Croatian gems, or extremely pretty Slovenian capitals.

Without further ado, here are seven of Europe’s most underrated cities.

Burano, Italy

Colorful canals Burano Italy

OK, so this is slightly stretching the definition of city but it’s so underrated and pretty we couldn’t not include it. Technically an island in the Venetian Lagoon, it’s like Venice but for those in the know (which figures, because you can get between the two by water bus). One of the most colourful areas in the world, it’s full of technicolor houses and picturesque canals.

Though the main drag is brimming with pastry shops, small stores and your classic souvenir haunts, you don’t need to wander far to discover authentic touches, whether it’s little old ladies making lace (what the island is known for) or dreamily fresh fish dishes (found at only the most traditional taverns).

Insider tip: for gorgeous views of Burano get off the boat ride one stop prior, at Mazzorbo, an island connected by bridge to this destination that’s right out of a blogger’s dream.

Budget trip recommendation: Check out the beauty of Venice and more on this 8-day trip, Highlights of Italy.

Helsinki, Finland

Street food Helsinki Finland

So, Denmark’s Copenhagen is trendy, and Sweden’s Stockholm is the definition of chic…but where’s the limelight for Finland? We’re not quite sure, but we do know that Finland’s most populous city boasts a lot more than the dubious pleasure of being one of the world’s most northern capitals. Helsinki is as Scandi-cool as you’d expect, with all the trappings that go with it: hip boutiques, trendy galleries, ridiculously cool eateries and craft beer in abundance.

But foodies aren’t the only people who will be happy here – museums buffs will be too, thanks to the Ateneum Art Museum, Natural History Museum and Mannerheim Museum. There’s also one last thing we couldn’t help but mention about this park and island-filled city – the nightlife is insane; a ton of restaurants transform at night into bars and clubs, and it’s one unmissable experience.

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Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Though known pretty much only for its UNESCO World Heritage Bridge, Mostar is one of Europe’s most charming cities and a worthy addition to any Europe itinerary. Though Bosnia & Herzegovina as a whole certainly still shows the consequences of its 1990s conflict, the city is as safe as it is pretty, and very different from neighbouring Croatia (where you can day trip to from it).

So, check it out for the Ottoman quarter, the delicious (and affordable) restaurants overlooking the river and its proximity from cool capital, Sarajevo. Another plus to the historic city is how near Kravice Falls is, a stunning swimmable waterfall that’s frequented by locals, and few others.

Budget trip recommendation: Explore Bosnia’s beauty (plus the Balkans) on this 10-day trip starting in Budapest.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana Slovenia cityscape

First off, it’s really weird Slovenia isn’t more popular. One of Europe’s greenest countries it’s all forests, lakes and picture perfect mountain towns. It’s less pricey than neighbouring Croatia, and frequented much less by tourists, but retains all the elements of a dreamy getaway: from quality wine to a ton outdoor activities, like rafting and hiking. Nowhere are these elements more pronounced than in the pint-sized capital, Ljubljana.

You don’t need more than a weekend to explore the mixture of beautiful castles (check out the complex on Castle Hill), dine by the canals (try a horse burger) or simply stroll down its cobbled streets. The climate is Mediterranean, the cuisine is diverse, and the city is situated just an hour from Lake Bled, a town that just screams romantic getaway.

Budget trip recommendation: Hit up Ljubljana (and so much more) on this 10-day trip from Dubrovnik to Venice.

Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb Croatia

It’s little wonder Croatia’s seaside attractions are most well known. Dubrovnik and the Dalmation Coast are pretty much the definition of picturesque, while islands like Hvar and Pag are party destinations that’ll stay with you forever (much like the liver failure that might inevitably follow). But venture inland to Zagreb, and you’ll discover one hell of a quirky capital.

It boasts an intriguing mix of Austro-Hungarian architecture, Communist era buildings and al fresco dining in the abundant cafes littering the streets. Though you could spend all day drinking coffee in aforementioned cafes, do make time to check out nearby Jarun Lake, the amusingly titled Museum of Broken Relationships, and Dolac Market, a farmers’ market that’s as buzzing as it is tasty.

Budget trip recommendation: Check out Zagreb’s beauty on this 19-day trip through Eastern Europe and Italy.

Budva, Montenegro

Budva MontenegroThough the cruise ship hordes have started to flock to nearby Kotor, a stunning town sitting between gorgeous mountains and a pristine coastline, Budva is where it’s at. Brimming with energy and a whole host of beaches, you can party hard or take it easy, you decide. But one thing you mustn’t miss is the opportunity to take a taxi boat to the small island of Sveti Nikola. There are so many cool dive sites to be explored here, as well as secluded beaches and loads of little coves that you can gaze at via kayak.

Back in Budva proper, attractions range from the Budva City Walls (which offer panoramic views), to the stunning Monastery Podmaine, to traditional flea markets that sell cute jewellery and ceramics.

Budget trip recommendation: Explore Budva’s beauty (plus the Balkans) on this 10-day trip starting in Budapest.

Belgrade, Serbia

Street Belgrade Serbia

We saved this one until last because it’s, erm, a little less attractive than some others on the list. But it’s also one of Europe’s most happening cities, and we couldn’t deny the charm this intriguingly gritty capital possesses. One of the coolest neighbourhoods is Savamala, a creative riverside hub of coffee shops, dive bars and an array of clubs (there’s jazz, house, and even folk).

The most unique aspect of Belgrade’s energetic nightlife scene is the floating river clubs, which are basically as amazing as they sound. Culture-wise, the city offers a fascinating insight into Yugoslav history, thanks to choice venues the Museum of Yugoslav History and the Military Museum.

Budget trip recommendation: Scope out Belgrade’s wonders on this 10-day trip starting in Budapest.

Ready to discover Europe’s hidden gems? Check out our tours in Europe.

Image credits: iStock (except Helsinki c/o Intrepid Travel)

 

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17 comments

I love Croatia May 19, 2020 - 11:33 pm

Thank you on a detailed impressive guide! Saved your post for the future

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Dave Kanzeg May 24, 2018 - 10:40 am

Last year I went to all of the places on your list except Burano and Helsinki. I agree entirely with your assessments, including how fascinating Belgrade is despite its grittiness.

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Anonymous May 19, 2018 - 10:19 pm

Loved Burano!

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Bung McTwat November 12, 2017 - 4:02 am

Mostar is a dump; see the bridge and get the hell out! Zagreb, however, is a delight.

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Andrea September 19, 2017 - 5:21 am

Great list, Rebecca! It’s so nice to see people are discovering Zagreb. The local coffee culture is a tourist attraction in itself, not only for the number of cafe terraces but the general easy-going outlook on life. I would definitely add that Zagreb has a vibrant street art scene where you can see work of world-known artists all around the city centre. On a rainy day there’s nothing better than museum hopping – Zagreb is said to have the highest number of museums per square metre!

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Moskala Kordian May 9, 2017 - 3:42 pm

I missed a city of Bled on the list
However, good to know I’ve visited one of the nicest cities in Europe and actually the only one is left 😉

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Sally May 8, 2017 - 11:26 pm

We loved Helsinki on our visit in June 2016– our favorite port city in the Baltics. And this year we will visit Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro so will see many of these cities you are recommending– can’t wait!

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Moskala Kordian May 9, 2017 - 3:45 pm

Go to the city of Bled and Mljet ! Guess you’ll like it 😉

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brooklynmc March 27, 2017 - 11:59 pm

Ljubljana is now on my list. My wife is Polish and I have had the good fortune of getting to know Poland. If you are looking for beautiful, European cities that are not completely spoiled by tourists, check out Poland. Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk, Sopot, Gdinia, Lodz and Sandomierz or if you like mountains, the Tatra Mountains.

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frank merrill March 21, 2017 - 12:03 am

I yelled a big YEAH! when I saw Zagreb on the list. And a smaller (but substantial) YEAH! when Ljubljana showed up just above it. I visited the two, in that sequence, on two consecutive days in late May last year. Ljubljana was much more subdued, possibly because it was raining all day (but I was still out hiking for about seven miles and diggin’ it), but indeed two marvelous places. Zagreb is on my bucket list to RETURN to. The vibrancy to that city, on an ordinary Sunday, had to be seen to be believed; my considerable hiking (eight miles) even took me through an outdoors wedding party, and to a movie shoot, and their botanical garden is incredible; so is that long downtown city park which is probably the best urban park I’ve seen outside of Central Park. A friend in Italy strongly suggested that I should go to Split. Why? I had already been to Rome and Venice, and I was doing Florence later. I wanted to go somewhere that the tourists don’t go, and I’m glad I did.

An aside, I also really found Bologna to be a fun place, and in Rick Steve’s 1,200-plus page Italy guide, he gives Bologna only one-half a page. He mentions a couple things to see “if you insist” on going there. Heck, I wouldn’t mind living there!

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Rebecca Shapiro March 23, 2017 - 12:17 pm

Hi Frank, thanks for your enthusiasm! Glad you enjoyed the article 🙂 Safe travels.

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John ferguson March 17, 2017 - 11:43 pm

I love sicily, the food is great, and fresh, and of course since it’s surrounded by water, there are plenty of beaches. A lot of history too.

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Janet Devins March 2, 2017 - 3:08 pm

So glad to see Slovenia on this list, as I am heading there in July!

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Diana Armatrong February 26, 2017 - 8:26 pm

Ok – but what about Arles, carcasonne or Collioure??

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Rhett May 22, 2017 - 2:51 am

I would agree with Arles…amazing city

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Steve February 26, 2017 - 8:15 pm

Great choice of off the beaten track places in Europe, been to 3 of the list, Burano and Budva are smashing places for a short visit and public loos in the main square in Burano were some the cleanest, well kept ones we’ve found anywhere in Italy.

Other great places to visit in Croatia, are Pula especially around the old forum and harbour area and Primosten, about an hour north of Split is a bit like Budva.

Must agree that Zagreb is underrated, spent 2 nights at each end of a 8 day break to Croatia in late June 2015 and stayed at both ends of the lower part of the city, best place was next to the flower/antique market.

Zagreb is a great place to wander around and both the upper and lower parts of the city are full of a good variety of eateries, coffee shops and it’s not full of all the “standard” range of shops you find in almost every other capital, The Dolac is well worth a look and is one of the best markets we’ve been to along with Florence and Funchal’s ones. The upper town has some great older buildings and the views from Lotrscak Tower over the lower town are great, use what is possibly the shortest funicular railway to get to the upper town walkway.

Hope to go back there soon, but Slovenia does look good as well.

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Luis Sanser February 26, 2017 - 5:18 pm

Yes i can see the pearful & beautiful scenery in European Country

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