While it’s always amazing to tick big sights and famous hotspots off your travel bucket list, there’s something special about avoiding the crowds and having an authentic experience in a different land.
Europe is one of those destinations that has plenty of crowd-stopping tourist spots – the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome and Big Ben in London are just a few of the must-sees for any traveller. But if you want to go to Europe and see something just a little bit different, check out our favourite not-hot spots to visit in 2018.
1. North Cyprus
Often overlooked in favour of the Greek or Croatian islands, North Cyprus is an endless coastline of fascinating history and an intriguing mix of cultures. Europe’s last divided capital (known as Lefkosia to the Turkish and Nicosia to the Cypriots) is the eclectic capital city where you can spend hours wandering the streets and admiring Gothic, Islamic, Turkish and Greek buildings. If you’re an architecture buff, visit St Hilarion Castle (said to be Walt Disney’s inspiration for the Queen’s castle in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). Aside from unspoilt beaches and the great outdoors to enjoy, the Cyprian people are known for their warm hospitality and delicious Mediterranean cuisine.
A Scandinavian holiday is always going to be pretty enchanting, but if you head to Finnish Lapland you have a chance of spotting Santa Claus working his magic! Finland is the home of the indigenous Sami people, known for their rich cultural heritage and close connection to the land, and is a spectacular Arctic wonderland of pristine peaks and snow-dusted woodlands. From the docks of Helsinki to mountainous Yllastunturi, you can get cosy over a glass of salmari (a popular liqueur) and experience the rush of a real dog-sled ride.
3. Portugal & Azores
Spain gets a lot of love (as it should) but if you’re after something a bit different, head to Portugal and Azores. Indulging in food and wine is a must in Portugal with Portuguese custard tarts, scores of fresh seafood, Azaruja sausage and cherry liqueur known as ginjinha (usually enjoyed by locals on their way in to work) all on the menu. If you’re after an outdoor adventure, island hopping and hiking around Sao Jorge or the Faial Islands in the Azores is a stellar option. In Lisbon, art-lovers can explore amazing museums (like the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum), charming architecture, and beautiful tiled building facades.
4. Calabria & Sicily
In Italy’s vibrant south, dramatic cliffside villages, clear waters and delicious seafood are all the order of the day. While the Amalfi coast might be fairly well known in tourist circles, a trip to Calabria and Sicily means you’ll have the best of Italian food, scenery and culture, with slightly fewer people. Aside from beaches and delicious eats, you can meet an anti-mafia movement in Palermo and learn about the brave locals who denounce their extortionists. The grassroots movement was started in 2005 by five university graduates who wanted to open a bar, but didn’t want to pay off the mafia to do so; since then at least 210 traders and 9,000 consumers have joined up. Or if you’re keen to get outside, take a day trip to Mt Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano.
5. Tatra Mountains
If a snow trip is what you’re after but you aren’t keen on fighting the crowds in the Swiss Alps, head to the Tatra Mountains. After skiing or snowboarding in Slovaki’s Jasna, relax with a traditional sleigh ride and explore the quaint villages dotted throughout region. Warm up with some traditional Polish cuisine of kielbasa sausages, lard with crisp cracklings, pierogi (dumplings) and oscypek (smoked cheese), then wash it down with some Polish vodka.
It’s currently the least-visited country in Europe, but Moldova has a rich and fascinating history that deserves to be explored. Visit a breakaway strip of land called Gagauzia and see a Communist memorial ( strangely located next to a giant statue of Lenin) or take advantage of Moldova’s incredible wine scene with a guided wine tour of Mileștii Mici which sits on top of the world’s largest wine cellar. The bustling capital of Chisinau has a fascinating Soviet history, as well as a host of interesting museums and beautiful city parks.
After something a little bit different? Book a small group tour with Intrepid and head to a ‘not-hot’ spot with an expert local leader to show you the secrets of a lesser-travelled destination.