So you’ve completed the Aussie rite of passage and spent x-amount of weeks in Europe soaking up the Mediterranean Sea or making snow angels in the Alps. As far as you’re concerned, Europe is done and dusted.
NOT SO FAST. There’s so much more to Europe than the popular countries and cities. Don’t get me wrong – tourist destinations are visited by millions of travellers a year for a reason! I’d go back to Paris or Rome in a heartbeat.
But there’s something magical about exploring places you haven’t already seen on social media and in movies. These destinations are usually cheaper (ALWAYS a good thing), friendlier and overflowing with authentic cultural experiences to be had.
Here are six European destinations that you need to add to your bucket list.
1. Andalusia, Spain
Barcelona and Madrid are absolutely beautiful cities, but if you want to experience a little more of Spain then you need to visit the Andalusia region.
A trip to Granada (pictured above centre) isn’t complete without a visit to the Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was formerly a fortress and Islamic palace. Mirador San Nicolas is a top spot to watch the sunset of the Alhambra and Sierra Nevada mountains.
Ronda is breathtakingly situated on top of the El Tajo canyon some 750 metres above sea level. Take in the beauty of the New Bridge (built in 1793, pictured above right) and spend an hour wandering the Ronda bullring and bullfighting museum, Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Ronda. While you’re there, do me a favour and indulge in a churro (or five).
If you make it to Seville, you’ll be in awe. This city is glorious! Legend has it the city was founded by Hercules himself, and is known to be a joyous place. Located on the banks of the Guadalquivir, Seville is one of the largest historical centres in all of Europe. You could spend days here and not run out of things to do.
Formally a fortified city, Cadiz is abundant with history (pictured above left). However, the real stand-out is the colourful buildings and fresh seafood! Spend a couple of days here soaking up the sun and enjoying the culture – and remember, there’s no such thing as too much sangria and tapas!
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2. Tallinn, Estonia
Tucked up in northern Europe, the capital city of the Baltic State of Estonia is a cosy medieval town and a bustling hub of a very-alive art scene. Often referred to as one of the most internet-focused countries in Europe, Tallinn is home to some of the developers of Skype.
Getting to Tallinn is super easy, with ferries from Stockholm and Helenski, trains from St. Petersberg and Moscow and flights from just about anywhere in the European Union.
Take a day to explore the old town and forgo the organised tours – this city is compact enough for you to get around without any help from a guide. The city-wide free wi-fi helps as well! The city is rich with history from its various rulings before finally becoming independent in 1991. A visit to a traditional sauna is a must. And if you’re in town on the weekend, you can pick up some local, handmade souvenirs from the markets.
Once you’re done with the old town, take a 20-minute (two-kilometre) walk to the arty-hipster district of Telliskivi Loomelinnak. Known as the Creative City (and rightfully so) Telliskivi Loomelinnak is the largest creative centre in Estonia and is made of 11 restored industrial buildings that have been turned into uber-cool offices, ateliers, studios, workshops, rehearsal spaces, shops, cafés, galleries, bars, clubs, restaurants and more. Make sure to look up and admire the street art.
3. Riga, Latvia
Just south of Estonia, Latvia is another Baltic gem that lovers of architecture can’t overlook. The home of two UNECSO World Heritage Listed sites, Riga is brimming with beautiful buildings and a fascinating history. Like Estonia, Latvia also only became free from Soviet Union ruling in 1991 so the country is both old and new.
Get yourself to one of the free walking tours to learn as much as you can about the old town. Take in the gorgeous flower gardens that scatter the city and soak in the art nouveau. Make sure to visit the Spilve Aviation Museum (pictured above right) and time your viewing of The Freedom Monument to coincide with the changing of the guards. Also on the list of sites to see in Old Town are the Historic Centre of Riga (UNECSO World Heritage Listed), the House of Blackheads, the Occupation of Latvia Museum and the famous Cat House.
If you’re lucky you may even get a rare glimpse of the Northern Lights. Don’t leave the city without sampling a shot of Black Balsam, a 90 proof Latvian alcohol. See how many of the 24 ingredients you can taste.
4. Salzburg, Austria
Believe it or not, there’s more to the Austrian state of Salzburg than The Sound of Music and Mozart. Positioned on the Austrian-German border, Salzburg has truly stunning views of the Eastern Alps and is divided into the Old City (Altstadt) and the New City (Neustadt) by the river Salzach. The Baroque architecture of the Salzburg Cathedral, Hohensalzburg Fortress and Getreidegasse are all great places to visit.
Some may think it’s a destination for oldies but if you love to explore the outdoors then this is a great place to set up a home base. After you’ve soaked up the historical sites of Altstadt and Neustadt and enjoyed a mandatory guided tour of the locations from The Sound of Music, I suggest hiring a car and hitting the road!
First stop, Kaprun. The Mooserboden and Wasserfallboden reservoirs embedded high in the mountain of Hohe Tauern are an exquisite example of how well man and nature can work together to create something both beautiful and functional. Guided tours are available and will take you hiking Mooserboden dam, exploring its insides and learning how the dams are used to generate green energy. In Kaprun itself, the medieval castle and Kitzsteinhorn glacier are favourites among tourists. And don’t forget the skiing!
Some other fun day trips include Fuschl Am See, a cute lakeside village with vibrant turquoise waters; the relaxing town of St. Gilgen with a population of just 4000; and Hallstatt, a very tiny town in the Alps (only 1000 residents) considered to be the oldest still-inhabited village in Europe.
5. Ljubljana, Slovenia
The tiny country tucked in-between Croatia, Hungary, Italy and Austria is packed with things to do and attracts fewer tourists than its neighbouring countries.
Slovenia another country where hiring a car is the best way to get around. The capital city, Ljubljana, makes for a great place to set up camp but you will want to explore further than the city. Ljubljana itself has no specific tourist sites that need to be ticked off so enjoy your time in the city blending in with the locals and indulging in the delicious food.
As for day trips there are a few places that are musts! You have to visit the majestic, fairytale-like Lake Bled (pictured above left). Journey to the picture-perfect town of Bled (around 45 minutes’ drive from Ljubljana) and take the climb up the Bled Castle. You’ll be met with views over Lake Bled and the tiny Bled Island. You can catch a man-powered rowboat over to the island and explore the stunning Church of the Assumption. It will blow your mind.
Also on the must-visit list is the Postojna Cave (about 45 minutes’ drive from Ljubljana). A guided tour through the cave, which is made of up rooms with fascinating rock formations, takes about an hour and a half and includes a train ride to and from depths of the caves.
If you love to hike, Triglav National Park’s Mount Triglav, the highest peak of the Julian Alps, is about 45 minutes’ drive from Ljubljana and offers overnight tours complete with equipment and accommodation. While you’re in the national park, stop by the mesmerising Emerald Pool and go kayaking in the Soča River (pictured above centre). If the waterfront is more your scene, head to the seaside town of Piran, about an hour and a half south-west of the capital (pictured above right). Wine lovers will enjoy the region of Karst, ripe with vineyards and home to some of the best merlots in the world.
6. Krakow, Poland
You’ve probably thought about visiting Warsaw, but if you have a spare few days in your trip you should definitely head to the capital of Poland, Krakow. With the structural side of the city being relativity unaffected by World War II, Krakow is known as a historical destination.
The Jewish District, Kazimierz, is a favourite among tourists and is a really important part of Polish history. Oskar Schindler’s factory has been turned into a museum and is well worth a visit if you’d like to learn more about the Nazi occupation of Poland during WWII. Believe it or not, Krakow has an underground museum that runs right under the city! Rynek Underground is rich with medieval Poland’s history and architecture.
If you’re up for it, a trip to Auschwitz is not to be missed. Visiting a former concentration camp can be very emotional so be prepared for a tough visit. Book a guided tour to learn as much as possible about the Holocaust from a Polish point of view.
With all the heavy sightseeing to be done in Krakow, a trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Wawel Castle will put a smile back on your face.
Poland as a whole is on the cheaper side with a main meal and beer setting you back less than 10 euros and dirt-cheap spas, perfect for a little R&R at the end of a European adventure.