SECRET GEMS OFF THE BEATEN PATH IN EUROPE
When you travel in popular tourist regions like Europe, you’ll find that you’re constantly fighting crowds.
It seems like everyone else has the same idea that you have.
How do you escape the lines?
Will it ever feel like you’re doing anything special or unique?
Welcome to the hunt for the off the beaten path Europe destinations.
Frequent travelers know this search well, and they also know that there’s nothing better than finding a destination that’s still generally undiscovered.
In this blog, we’ll be discussing some of those “secret gems” that Europe has that aren’t common knowledge (yet).
Better to visit them now before they become the next big Instagram craze!
Here are the top-secret gems off the beaten path in Europe that you should go visit.
Off the Beaten Path Europe Destinations
Is it really possible to have a whole city or country be entirely off the beaten path?
You may think that more people would expand their travel horizons.
Yet, you’d be surprised how many European destinations go unexplored.
This rings true for both cities and countries.
There are some countries in Europe that will never get as many tourists as France or Spain.
And even within France or Spain, there are cities that will never get as many tourists as Paris or Barcelona (or maybe even tourists at all).
In this section, we’re listing out all of the off the beaten path European countries and cities that you may be glazing over when you look at the map.
But, instead of saying, “Eh, what’s actually there?” next time you plan a trip, you’ll know in the back of your mind that it comes highly recommended.
1. Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ask anyone who has visited, and they’ll quickly tell you that Bosnia and Herzegovina is an underrated European destination.
And that’s unfortunate because the country is just as stunning (if not more so) as many of the more popular European destinations.
Here’s why you should pay this lovely country a visit:
- It’s unknown. If you’re searching for truly off the beaten path Europe, then Bosnia and Herzegovina won’t disappoint. You’ll constantly get that look of confusion when you tell people where you’re going on holiday. This is just because Bosnia and Herzegovina is fairly unexplored – people don’t know how beautiful it really is.
- It won’t stay that way forever. Go to Bosnia and Herzegovina now before it gets popular. The World Tourism Organization has estimated that this country has the third-highest tourism rate in the world. It’s only going to get more crowded!
- It’s where history took place. Bosnia and Herzegovina is where the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. This event sparked the start of World War I. If you’re a history junky, there’s plenty to learn about both eastern and western Europe.
- It has interesting sights to check out. While you’re there, check out the Sarajevo War Tunnel, abandoned bobsled track, and the Stari Most. These sights stand out from other churches or main squares that other European cities have.
Unlike Bosnia and Herzegovina, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Luxembourg and know that it’s on the map.
Yet, there are numerous signs that Luxembourg is an underrated destination as well, particularly for well-traveled individuals.
If you’re looking for laidback people and a multicultural vibe, then this is the secret gem that’s waiting for you.
- Beautiful capital city. Luxembourg City – which obviously shares its name with its country – is a secret gem in itself. You can walk around the Old City and soak in the atmosphere. There are plenty of cafes where you can sit and enjoy European life.
- Luxembourg is bordered by France, Germany, and Belgium, which means it has an incredible mix of people living in the country. It has three official languages: Luxembourgish, French, and German. Don’t worry though – everyone speaks a little bit of English as well, if your high school or college foreign language skills haven’t stuck around. So, no matter where you are, it’s easy to communicate with people, and everyone is friendly no matter where you’re from. In fact, you have no way of knowing where anyone is from before they start talking (and even then, it can be your best guess). Altogether, this makes traveling easy and enjoyable.
- Good meals. Good food and drink is value added when you travel. There’s nothing better than getting back from a long day of exploring and knowing you’re guaranteed a good meal. There’s traditional, fusion, and international food, so no matter what your taste buds are calling for, there’s something for you.
- Rock formations. Naturepark Mëllerdall (and the Mullerthal Trail) is packed with interesting rock formations. These create intricate labyrinths that are great playgrounds for children of all ages.
- Accessible hiking and cycling. Luxembourg has accessible hiking and cycling pretty much everywhere in the country, which makes sense given its minute size. We recommend the Mullerthal Trail, which runs for about 112 km in one of Europe’s thickest, greenest, and unspoiled forests. You’ll pass waterfalls, bridges, and castles. Yes, even castles! The Beaufort Castle sits right along the Mullerthal Trail. This is incredibly convenient and makes the trip to Luxembourg alone worth it. A week-long trip to this tiny country gives you more than enough time to see everything you could possibly want to!
Tell people you’re going to Montenegro and see if they even know it’s in Europe.
This is the sad reality of this secret gem.
It’s right next to Bosnia and Herzegovina and both fly under the radar.
Montenegro share a lot of characteristics with some of the above destinations.
It’s a small country that is naturally beautiful.
Montenegro only gained independence from Serbia in 2006, which means it hasn’t been a country for long.
It’s also smaller than Wales, and it’s perfect for anyone who wants to experience as much as possible without having to rush through a large geographical area.
We’ve got a couple of cities in store for you that you must add to your itinerary when visiting this secret gem.
- Kotor – This is the famous fjord and the gem in Montenegro’s crown. Kotor is surrounded by mountains and has big winding roads that hug the shore. When you see this type of scenery in pictures, it immediately makes you want to get in the car for a road trip. Kotor has been dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s full of tiny alleyways, unique shops, and the Kotor Fortress.
- Perast – This tiny town was once the crossroads of the Ottoman Empire and the Venetian Republic. Today, it’s home to only 274 people and has one main street. One thing you can’t miss is Our Lady of the Rocks – a baroque church that is the main feature of the island. Absolutely stunning!
- Tivat – The town of Tivat is a bit more adventurous than the two above spots in Montenegro. It has some beach bars, luxury shopping, yachts, and fine dining.
Estonia is a spot in Europe that continues to surprise people.
It has the fairy-tale capital named Tallinn, which is considered the best-preserved medieval city in northern Europe, and it’s a small country, which means you can experience both the city and country in just a short time.
What’s perhaps more interesting to people is that about 50 percent of the country is uninhabited forest.
Estonia’s forests are breathtaking and absolutely worth a visit.
In fact, if you arrive in Estonia by plane on a clear day, the rugged outlines of the terrain won’t go unnoticed.
Read more about Estonia’s sacred trees and how you can participate in nature activities while you’re there here.
If you’re looking to see cities, there are plenty of those as well, which have winding cobblestone streets and amazing architecture.
Here are some of the highlights you won’t want to miss:
- Tallinn: Capital city; full of bars, restaurants, museums, galleries, etc.; a healthy mix of tourists; plenty of historic churches
- Tartu: University town; hotbed for creative outlets and scientific research; thriving nightlife; museums, cafes, parks
- Pärnu: More laid-back; summer vacation destination; adventurous and active; situated on the water
- Kihnu: Kihnu is one of Estonia’s 2,000 small islands in the Gulf of Riga. Though most of these 2,000 islands are uninhabited, a few have small populations that can trace their lineage back to the Vikings. If you’re looking for the perfect place to experience traditional Estonian culture, then grab a ferry from Pärnu. It only takes about 2.5 hours to get here. You can hire a guide to show you around the island and see the history museum, lighthouse, and church.
- Note: Most Kihnu residents still wear traditional handmade wool clothing in bright colors. You’ll notice the women in long skirts in bonnets and the men in mariner-style sweaters in local designs. We don’t know about you, but we often find that the places with niche details like this are some of the most rewarding to visit.
5. Vipava Valley, Slovenia
Much of the country of Slovenia has remained off the beaten path.
You’ll love this country if slow travel is your style.
Vipava Valley is full of greenery, hills, and vineyards.
If someone dropped you off here without your knowledge, you may just think you were in Tuscany.
You can spend a weekend or a slow week in Vipava Valley.
You’re not going to go from sight to sight, but that’s not why you’re going in the first place, is it?
You may also love Vipava Valley if you’re a fitness guru.
Those who love running and cycling will find that these activities are ideal between the little villages.
You can also try your hand at paragliding.
6. Cuenca, Spain
Cuenca, Spain is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and once you’ve visited, you’ll know exactly why.
The history of this city can be traced back 1300 years, and it features colorful houses, castle ruins, and cathedrals packed with architecture.
You don’t need too long to explore this hidden gem.
You can do a trip for a day or two from Madrid.
Some feel that the day trip is rushed, so if you want to take your time then spend the night.
7. Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain
This is a small town in southern Spain that’s etched into cliffs.
No – seriously—the town has dark cliffs looming overhead (what a way to live!).
Two sights you must see when visiting are the Nazari Castle and the Church of La Encarnación.
The Nazari Castle was a former Arab fortress in the 13th century.
This changed when Christians retook the Iberian Peninsula in the late 1400s.
The Church of La Encarnación is Gothic in style and provides a glimpse of what life used to look like in small Spanish villages.
Is it the most incredible church you’ll see in Europe?
Probably not, but it is worth seeing!
Setenil de las Bodegas is between Sevilla and Granada, so you can easily roll this into a larger trip.
It’s one of the most unique places in Spain and has managed to remain a secret gem all of these years.
Add it to that Spanish road trip itinerary!
8. Hallstatt, Austria
Hallstatt is right on the cusp of being kicked off of this list.
It once qualified as an off the beaten path Europe destination, but it is quickly gaining ground.
Go before even more people find out about it.
Spending a day in Hallstatt is nothing short of a wonderful experience; although, we’d now recommend against going in the summertime.
It can get crowded, and you want to preserve its quaint feel.
Here’s what you’ll want to do when you’re in Hallstatt:
- Wander the Old Town
- Walk the north side of town and go to the viewpoint labeled Aussichtspunkt Hallstatt
- This will give you the view on all of the postcards
- Walk the south side of town and go to the viewpoint labeled Badestrand
- This will give you the other view on all of the postcards
- Head to the World Heritage Skywalk for a panoramic view
- Tour the Salt Mine
- Visit the Hallstatt Ossuary (also known as the Charnel House or the Bone House)
- This is an unusual spot to visit in Hallstatt and acts as a small burial ground
- Rent a boat to see the water
- This is a great activity in warm weather
- Head up into the Alps
- Go hiking, see alpine scenery, or enjoy spectacular views across the Alps
- This can be a great way to escape the crowds
9. Zagori, Greece for Lush Mountain Villages
Zagori is a mountainous region in Greece.
This is off the beaten path Europe like you’ve never seen it.
Visiting the traditional villages in Zagori (all 46 of them!) is a treat, and you’ll even get to stay in old houses that have been converted into guesthouses or bed and breakfasts.
You know Zagori hasn’t been hit by mass tourism, because there aren’t any large hotels here.
This area is also home to numerous outdoor activities.
In addition to being a hiker’s paradise, you can raft, horse ride, mountain bike, or rock climb.
You’ll find nature entirely unspoiled here, and you won’t have to share with anyone else (well, almost).
10. Lisbon, Portugal for the Views
You may be thinking, “Lisbon? Isn’t that a popular capital city?”
But we’re putting this on here, because of all the views there are to see in the city.
We’ll list out just some that you’ll want to see, but don’t be surprised if the views sneak up on you.
The city is beautiful!
- Miradouro de Santa Catarina
- Elevador de Santa Justa
- Largo das Portas do Sol
- Miradouro da Graça
- Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara
- Basílica da Estrela
Off the Beaten Path Europe Sights
Everyone has those one-off sights that they dream of seeing.
Whether it was in your foreign language textbook in school, you saw it on Instagram, or you’ve seen it on a postcard somewhere, these sights stick out in the back of your mind.
They may not be easy to find or to get to, but you know you want to see it for yourself.
We’re bringing you just a few of the off the beaten path Europe sights that may be worth adding to your European travel itinerary.
1. Chateau de Fontainebleau, France
Chateau de Fontainebleau is a beautiful French castle that often pales in comparison (at least in the eyes of tourists) when compared to the Palace of Versailles.
However, it’s known for its diverse rooms and corridors.
Over a span of 800 years, French monarchs frequently changed its style according to their own tastes.
It was home to more monarchs than Versailles, and you’ll delve deep into French history during your trip.
What’s great about this off the beaten path sight is that you still get the grandeur of Versailles without having to compete with the crowds.
You’ll also save some money on the entry ticket, which is always a bonus!
If you’re in France for a trip to Paris, Chateau de Fontainbleau is an ideal addition.
You can take the Transilien train from Paris’ Gare de Lyon station.
It’s only an hour ride to the nearby Fontainbleau-Avon station where you can take the Aerial 1 bus to the Chateau stop.
A short walk later and you’ve arrived!
2. Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona, Italy
Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona is an incredible church that appears suspended as it is built into rocks.
This is the perfect day trip when you’re visiting Verona.
It’s also near Lago di Garda, which is Italy’s largest lake.
This is a touching and memorable experience for anyone who chooses to visit.
It’ll also bring you closer to the Italian people as well as their land, history, traditions, and beliefs.
You’ll get an awesome view.
This church has been enlarged, re-built, and renovated several times.
Just think about how difficult it must have been to get all of the building materials up the cliff without a road.
The current façade of the church was erected in 1899, and it has a Gothic style.
The church’s most recent major renovation was in 1975 and 1978.
The church was elevated to a minor basilica in July 1982.
To reach the church, you can hike, take the shuttle bus, or use a long flight of steps.
To learn more, visit the official website here.
3. Kronborg Castle, Denmark
This is for all the literary nerds out there!
If you loved reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet, then you’ll have to go to Helsingør, Denmark.
This destination was featured in the play as Elsinore Castle, which is known in real life as Kronborg Castle.
Head out of Copenhagen and go visit this secret gem.
The town has about 60,000 residents, and there are enough attractions to keep you there for a few days.
4. Sintra, Portugal for Moorish History
If you considered visiting Lisbon, there’s no doubt that the ancient castles of Sintra have popped up on your screen.
The castles were built in the 8th to 12th centuries and were once mighty castles that defended the entire region.
Today, it’s just a picturesque town that provides stunning scenery.
Sintra is an ideal day trip from Lisbon, so tie this into your greater plan for Portugal.
Just beware of the summer months, because the castles are becoming increasingly more popular.
When you visit, head to Sintra as early in the day as possible to beat out the crowds.
5. ES Trenc, Mallorca, Balearic Islands
All you have to do is Google “Es Trenc” to see that it’s undoubtedly one of the most beautiful beaches.
This beach has shallow, calm water and remains a popular travel spot for families.
It’s located in the southern part of Mallorca, which is one of Spain’s Balearic Islands.
This is a luxurious spot in off the beaten path Europe for you to explore!
There you have it!
Some of the secret off the beaten path Europe gems we’re sure you are dying to visit.
Try and weave some of these into your existing travel itinerary.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
You can go to Paris to visit the Eiffel Tower and then head up to see Chateau de Fontainebleau as a way to balance crowded tourist destinations with off the beaten path locations.
What matters most is that you’re seeing all a country has to offer – not just what is “built” for tourists.
Do you have any recommendations for off the beaten path Europe? If you do, comment below!
If you are looking for a step-by-step guide to help you plan your next trip, check out The Ultimate Guide to Trip Planning.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed, or simply do not have the time to plan your trip to Europe, why not let us help you? We will create the perfect bespoke itinerary just for you!