You might feel like you’ve ‘done’ Europe, well, think again. There’s much more to Europe than ticking off a bucket list of the biggest cities and most popular beach resorts. Some of the best destinations on the continent are those undiscovered gems that you may not have heard of. Sure, you’ll enjoy a city break in London or Paris, but imagine exploring a new city for the first time without having to dodge hordes of tourists. If you’re seeking serenity or just looking for somewhere a little off the beaten track, read on to discover the best-kept secrets in Europe.
One of the smallest capital cities in Europe, Ljubljana remains a hidden gem on the continent. The capital of Slovenia is charming and traditional whilst concealing a hidden hipster side with a scattering of undeniably cool restaurants, bars and cafes. If you’re seeking history, the castle that overlooks the city and the iconic dragon bridge tick that box and there are plenty of walking and cycling tours for those who want to learn more about the city’s past. The arts scene is flourishing at the moment – both urban street art and contemporary galleries are in abundance in the city, perhaps one of the reasons why so many young creative people are settling here. If you’re seeking the coolest bars, most interesting graffiti and street festivals, head to Metelkova, the alternative cultural centre that rivals Berlin for hipster cool.
Technically part of Portugal, the Azores are nestled 1,500km from the mainland in the middle of the Atlantic. Not only are they the western-most islands in Europe, they’re also the most underrated as they are relatively untouched by tourism compared to the far more popular isles in the Mediterranean. Appearing not too dissimilar to Hawaii on first impressions, this group of nine luscious green islands are the ideal getaway for those seeking jaw-dropping landscapes. Hikers will be impressed by the abundance of walking trails and never-ending vistas, nature lovers will be thrilled with the prospect of swimming with wild dolphins and the excellent whale watching opportunities, and those seeking a peaceful place to relax will sink into the abundance of hot mineral pools on the volcanic islands.
A landlocked Balkan country, Macedonia is often overlooked due to its lack of a coastline, visitors to south-eastern Europe preferring the sun-kissed beaches of Croatia. If you’re looking for beautiful scenery, interesting architecture (east meets west here, as Ottoman meets European) and balmy summers, there’s no better country to visit. Macedonia may not be beside the sea, but it does have an abundance of crystal clear lake, dramatic mountain ranges and towering waterfalls, offering places to relax, hike, swim and admire the views. It’s capital, Skopje, is an ideal starting point for a visit with plenty of old buildings, museums and Turkish bath houses to discover.
If you’re seeking a scenic island chain, head to the Lofoten Islands, situated within the Arctic Circle in the far north of Norway. These isolated islands can thank the Gulf Stream for their surprisingly mild temperatures, enjoying temperatures that average above freezing all year round. Society is at its most basic here, the residents residing in traditional wooden fishing huts and embracing the dramatic landscape that surrounds them. Winter brings flurries of snow and outstanding displays of the Aurora Borealis, whilst visiting in summer offers a chance to walk beneath the midnight sun and watch whales breach in the bays.
Forget Italy, Greece and the south of France, one of the best beaches in Europe is also one of the least known. Virgin Island’s Creek is located off the coast of Brittany in the north-west of France, nestled between two cliffs and notoriously difficult to reach. Its location and northern France’s reputation for less than scorching summers have allowed this beautifully rustic beach to slip under the radar of holidaymakers, but it’s definitely worth seeking out for a secluded swim. If you plan your trip for the height of summer, you’re likely to find the sun whilst discovering a hidden paradise that you may have all to yourself.
Emma Lavelle is a UK based writer and photographer and has her own blog Field and Nest.