Add some hidden gems to your European vacation itinerary for an unforgettable trip. Here are the most unique places to visit in Europe.
Switzerland based travel writer Anna shares her insider tips on European hidden gems. This travel guide takes you off the beaten path to explore Europe’s less-visited wonders.
Are you finally taking that long-awaited European vacation?
You’ll want to see all the iconic sights like Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower.
But why not add some hidden gems into your itinerary and really turn your European trip into an epic journey?
After all, Europe has the extensive train and bus connections that make getting around all the different destinations very quick and easy.
I’m an expat living in Europe – and I’ve spent years exploring the continent off the beaten path. Here are my top picks for the most unique places to visit in Europe!
1. Lofoten Islands, Norway
The Lofotens are a string of mountainous islands with stunning views around every corner.
The area charms travelers every season even though the weather is infamously unpredictable.
Just a few years ago, not many people had heard of these gorgeous islands perched just above the Arctic Circle. But they’ve exploded in popularity thanks to social media.
Book your accommodations in advance if you’re visiting in the summer.
For some outdoor adventures, there’s surfing along white sand beaches, kayaking through crystal clear waters and hiking epic trails.
Vicit the Lofoten Islands in winter for a truly unique experience. The weather is milder than other parts of Norway. And on long winter days, there are extended sunset before the dark skies put on one of the planet’s most magical shows – the northern lights.
2. York, England
Head to this capital of Northern England for a hefty dose of British history that’s worthy of anyone’s European bucket list.
A city has existed here for almost 2,000 years, and York is a rare English city that pre-dates historic records.
The main city is surrounded by medieval walls. And all the major sights are within walking distance – you can visit them all in just a few days.
Don’t miss York Minister, a cathedral from the 7th century, and The Shambles, a street that inspired Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. There’s also the fascinating National Railway Museum, and a walk along the UK’s best preserved medieval city walls. Or take a ghost tour through some of Europe’s most haunted streets for some chilling thrills.
York is only a 90-minute train ride from London and it’s a perfect daytrip for a taste of medieval British history.
3. Italian Lakes Region, Italy
The northern Italian lakes region is a magical landscape with breathtaking scenery that’s also conveniently accessible.
Just an hour-long train ride from Milan, this region offers a variety of different attractions.
Head to the favorite Lake Como and the village of Varenna in the Alpine foothills. Or travel to Lake Orta and spend time in the picturesque Orta San Giulio in the Novara province.
Marvel at the lake views from the main piazza where wisteria flows off the walls along the cobbled streets. Experience mind-blowing views of Isola San Giulio and the medieval monastery that rises dramatically above the water.
Lake Maggiore is another scenic wonder where snow-capped peaks reflect in the mirror-like waters. This is Italy’s second-largest lake and it stretches into Switzerland.
4. Bialowieza, Poland
Bialowieza National Park boasts a remarkable centuries-old forest that’s the largest surviving stretch of the primeval forest that once covered much of Europe.
It’s dotted with enormous conifers and broadleaved trees that have remained undisturbed for centuries.
Bialowieza is home to the European bison, the largest land mammal on the continent. If you’re not lucky enough to spot these regal creatures wandering the forest, you can see them easier at the 4-kilometer enclosed European Bison Show Reserve.
Bialowieza is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve that offers an intriguing look at an old-growth forest, undisturbed dead wood and enormous varieties of fungi. And it’s home to wildlife including elk, roe deer, wolves and wild boars.
The park is about a 5-hour train ride from Warsaw and stretches across 105 square kilometers in Eastern Poland (near the Belarus border). It offers plenty of paths for hiking and biking.
Explore the oldest section of the national park at the Strict Nature Preserve. This segment of the forest is filled with swamps, oaks, spruce and pine. It’s a part of the national park that can only be accessed with an official guide – and wandering off the marked paths is forbidden.
Bialowieza has been protected from logging by groups of activists who still watch over the national park.
5. Korcula, Croatia
Get off Croatia’s beaten path and head to the quiet island of Korcula, an idyllic island that’s an easy trip from Dubrovnik.
Corcula boasts a fascinating old walled medieval town that juts out from the landscape and is surrounded by the sea. The rest of Korcula is dense with black pine – and perfect for hiking or biking.
The island is known for its wine and vineyard tours are increasingly popular.
Don’t miss a traditional moreska show – a type of dramatic sword dance – for a very unique cultural experience.
6. Nisyros Island, Greece
Nisyros Island is a true hidden gem and a peaceful getaway full of charming villages and white-washed homes with blue shudders.
It’s a great escape from the Santorini crowds – and a chance to experience a simple and authentic Greek lifestyle.
Nisyros is a volcano surrounded by surreal landscapes like black sand and rock beaches.
Head to the center of the island for an otherworldly landscape where the active volcano’s crater bubbles with sulfuric fumes. Hike right down into the volcano if you’re adventurous enough. Or take a stroll through the mountain villages and volcanic hills.
Nisyros Island is a perfect daytrip from the resort town of Kardamena in Kos.
7. Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austrian Alps
The Austrian Alps are truly one of the most beautiful places on earth – and they should be on everyone’s bucket list.
If you’re into winter sports, put the Saalbach-Hinterglemm region at the top of your list.
This is a fascinating landscape with snow-covered slopes and endless pistes. It’s a mecca for skiers and boasts ski huts where you walk out the front door and right to the slopes. The gracious hosts spoil guests with culinary delights and plenty of hot chocolate.
But Saalbach-Hinterglemm is more than just a winter destination. The ski lifts are open in the summer too for hiking and mountain biking through the stunning views. Visit in the warmer months for a true “Sound of Music” vibe with lush green peaks and blue skies.
8. Galway, Ireland
Head to Galway for the best of Irish history and culture – and some breathtaking landscapes.
Galway’s history is filled with pirates, explorers, the Spanish Armado and military conquers. Experience this city’s lively past and visit the Spanish Arch, the Galway City Museum and the fascinating castles and cathedrals.
Get a taste of Galway’s colorful culture and chug some pints in the Latin Quarter, dance to some traditional Irish music, hang out with locals at Eyre Square and listen to the elders chatting in Gaelic.
Visit the Portumna Workhouse and Museum to hear the story of the Irish workhouse.
And head out of the city to Wild Atlantic Way, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and the beautiful Connemara National Park for some rugged and wild nature. Book a tour to these sites or take a scenic cruise along the Corrib River aboard the Corrib Princess.
9. The Hague, Netherlands
The Hague is a hip and unique city with a mix of history, politics, museums – and a fantastic bar scene and lively foodie culture that caters to vegetarians.
It’s home to the Gothic-style Binnenhof complex that serves as the seat of the Dutch Parliament. It’s also the home of the United Nation’s International Court of Justice.
The lively city has friendly locals and a laid-back vibes. It’s also the only large city with a beach right on the North East Coast. Take a tram to Scheveningen and Kijkduin to enjoy the sun and sea – just 20 minutes from the city.
10. Cuenca, Spain
Cuenca is a hidden gem in the mountains of central Spain that’s a real treat for architecture fans.
The city sits on a limestone spur that towers above the Júcar and Huécar rivers. And it’s best known for its casas colgadas, or hanging houses that dangle from the cliff edges.
Cuenca is a UNESCO world heritage site with a history that dates back around 1300 years. Visit castle ruins, colorful houses and cathedrals for a look at some fascinating architecture that spans various time periods and makes the city a mosaic of styles.
The city is gorgeously framed by the karst mountains and the crystal blue Júcar River. It’s a great city break for nature lovers too.
11. Provence, France
Head to Provence to see the lavender in bloom at one of France’s most beautiful regions.
Visit between mid-June and mid-August to see these purple carpeted fields in bloom. Rent a car to drive around the tiny idyllic villages set between lavender fields and sunflowers swaying in the breeze.
The bestselling novel A Year in Provence – and its story of an English family in the French countryside – really put Provence on the tourist map. And the region has many must-stops including the stunning Saint Remy and Cucaron with its lush olive groves and vineyards.
About the author: Anna was born to travel the world and has studied foreign languages all her life. She explores the world as a travel writer and calls Switzerland home. Anna writes about her experiences and adventures at Expert World Travel. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.