For those hoping to discover something fresh and new for the next Europe trip.
Europe is a traveller’s dream. Unfortunately, with an array of must-see attractions, for all your efforts to seek out authentic experiences, you invariably seem to find yourself surrounded by hordes of other tourists who all had the same idea. Yet, if you know where to look, places still exist that are practically unknown to the tourist masses, so for those hoping to discover something fresh and new, here are our top 7 lesser-known destinations to help inspire your next Europe trip.
With an extensive coastline of undeveloped beaches and a picturesque interior featuring mountainous terrain and sparsely populated countryside, Albania remains one of Europe’s undiscovered gems. From 1385 to 1912, Albania was ruled by the Ottomans, and reminders of the country’s former masters are everywhere. The fine examples of Ottoman architecture in the UNESCO-listed towns of Berat and Gjirokastër offer glimpses of the country as it once was, while other important archaeological sites take you even further back in time. There is also a vibrant culture to discover, a distinctive cuisine to sample and welcoming locals to meet. With such a wealth of attractions, it is surprising that Albania is still relatively unknown — although it is unlikely to remain that way for long.
2. The Shetland Islands
If you are looking for something utterly different, the Shetland Islands will take some beating. As the most northerly part of the United Kingdom, the Shetlands lie at the same latitude as Bergen in Norway — and a Norse influence is still apparent. It can be a challenge to reach the islands, but once there, you can look forward to the desolate, windswept allure of a place with relatively few human inhabitants but home to abundant birdlife. The scenery is harsh and dramatic, and, perhaps surprisingly, there are some exquisite beaches — although in seas this cold, swimming is only for the very courageous or the extremely foolhardy. This is the place to come if you want to exchange the usual tourist circus for somewhere to unplug, switch off and enjoy a simpler way of life that’s lived at a more leisurely and unhurried pace.
3. Freiburg, Germany
Germany is a diverse country with so much to offer, but many visitors head straight for one or two superstar attractions like Berlin or Munich, leaving other places largely unexplored. Instead, make your way to Freiburg in the far south-west of the country, not far from the French border. This lively university town boasts a splendid cathedral, a charming central square, pretty streets and some of Germany’s best weather. It’s also the gateway to the Black Forest, so once you’ve had your fill of the tasty Swabian cuisine — washed down by the excellent locally-brewed beer — you can spend a few days working it all off exploring the many clearly-marked walking trails in the surrounding area.
4. Kaliningrad, Russia
As a Russian exclave and integral part of the Russian Federation, Kaliningrad offers the chance for a more off-the-wall European travel experience. Squeezed between Poland and Lithuania and bounded by the Baltic Sea to the north-west, the former Prussian capital is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Although it is administratively no different to any of the other 84 Russian federal subjects, its geographical location and unique history make it an intriguing place to visit. Highlights include the old Prussian cathedral and some fascinating museums as well as restaurants serving both Russian and Prussian cuisine. There is also an easily-accessible expanse of unspoilt forest for those in need of fresh air and some greener surroundings.
Andorra is a popular destination in Europe for winter sports —as well as for its duty-free products — and with around nine million annual visitors, it can hardly be described as terra incognita. Yet for those who venture there in the summer with a desire to explore, a side of Andorra will be revealed that far fewer visitors ever experience. Andorra is a playground for hikers, with an abundance of rewarding trails leading through breath-taking mountain scenery and taking in quaint historic villages along the way. The UNESCO-listed Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valle wildlife sanctuary is an unmissable highlight for nature lovers, and architectural treasures include a ninth-century church, the country’s oldest building, located in the village of Santa Coloma d’Andorra.
6. Azores, Portugal
While Spain’s Canary Islands are among Europe’s most heavily touristic destinations, Portugal’s far-flung Azores have escaped the same fate, in part due to their lack of any fine sandy beaches. Instead, the Azores boast a different kind of rugged beauty and are an ideal destination for more active pursuits like hiking, whale watching and diving. Each island has a distinctive character, and each exudes its own special charm. For those looking for an island break that is the antithesis of the overcrowded resorts of Tenerife or Gran Canaria, a trip to Azores could be the perfect alternative.
Slovenia is a place that receives far fewer visitors than it deserves. The most famous image of the country is that of the fairy-tale castle nestling on a tiny island in the mirror-like waters of Lake Bled with snow-capped mountains rising behind. Yet there is so much more to discover in Slovenia than just one lake. You will probably arrive in Ljubljana, the diminutive but colourful and artistic capital. From there, you can choose from hopping between historic towns, heading to the Julian Alps for some exceptional wilderness hiking, making your way to the short stretch of coastline — or most probably, a combination of all three.
Whether you prefer city breaks, beach holidays, open spaces, cultural discovery or just a bit of everything, there is so much to discover in Europe. And if you want to keep it all to yourself, there are still places where you won’t even need to share.