The Best Less Popular Cities in Europe to Visit

February 22, 2012 by

City Tours & Sightseeing, Europe, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

When people plan trips, they tend to opt for the big, well-known cities … the Parises, Madrids, and Venices of the world. But, while these places are packed with history, intrigue and beauty, there are other less popular cities offering beautiful and unique experiences, often a stone’s throw away.

For your next trip, keep the big city picks, but schedule in some day or overnight trips to other cities nearby.

Need some ideas?

When in Rome… hop on a train to Florence.

Florence

Travel to Florence from Rome!

Less than two hours from the hustle and bustle of the magnificent Rome is Florence, tucked into the Tuscany region of Italy. Florence is seeping with history and art and, although it has become much more of a tourist haunt in recent years (thanks, Jersey Shore), Florence offers something for art lovers, history buffs, foodies and more.

The town is packed with legendary art exhibits, including the Uffizi, which houses the infamous Birth of Venus and Leonardo di Vinci’s Annunciation, along with works by Michelangelo and other renowned Italian artists. Also in town is Palazzo Putti, a former home of the Medici family, which now houses four museums, including the Galleria dell’Accademia, which has on display one of the most recognized sculptures in the world–Michelangelo’s David.

For shoppers, hit up the Mercato de San Lorenzo, the leather market. Wander the hundreds of stalls and talk price to get that leather satchel, coat, journal and more. There’s also jewelry and other trinkets here to help empty those wallets.

In terms of food, you can’t go wrong with treating yourself to any Italian dish. But, be sure to stop and try some gelato at any of the shops in town. The unique flavor concoctions and creamy goodness are perfect for a hot summer afternoon.

A visit to Florence isn’t complete without checking out taking a tour of the Duomo, the world’s largest cathedral. Nearby is also the Battistero, built between the fifth and eleventh centuries on the site of a Roman temples, it is one of the oldest buildings in town.

Party in Barcelona, then head to the white sands of Costa Blanca in Valencia

Valencia

View of the port in Valencia

Barcelona is one of the most popular places to visit in Spain, and it’s easy to figure out why. Its party vibe, mixed with gorgeous beaches, outdoor cafes, stunning architecture (including that of Gaudi) and countless museums make this a hot spot for tourists all over the world. But, a four-hour bus ride away is  a day trip to Valencia. This Mediterranean Sea city offers culture, a relaxed vibe and paella. Lots and lots of paella (it’s known as the birthplace for the delicious dish).

The modern City of Arts and Sciences, a dramatic building awash in magnificent lighting under darkness, is home to some of the city’s most popular museums. Inside this complex is an aquarium, planetarium, hands-on science museum and a performing arts center.

There are also the gorgeous beaches of Valencia to spend an afternoon working on that tan. Drop a towel down and take in the sun and blue waters of the sea at Playa de la Malvarrosa or Playa de las Arenas. Make sure to take the time to wander down the expansive Paseo Maritimo, a promenade touching the beach and packed with tasty restaurants, cafes, and stunning views.

By night, the city comes alive. Visit the old city to enjoy a late-night cup of coffee or a traditional dinner. You never know, a party just might break out… especially in the summer during the solstice.

Experience the history of Sarajevo, then learn more about Bosnia-Herzegovina’s past in the beautiful city of Mostar.

Mostar

Take a trip to Mostar from Sarajevo. Photo courtesy of Michel Guilly via Flickr.

There’s no doubt that a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina will open your eyes to its painful past and triumphant story of redemption. Sarajevo and the surrounding hills tell one story of the 1990s war, and Mostar tells another. But, both cities also include an unspeakable calmness and beauty that exudes in every restaurant, square, store front and interaction with a local.

Mostar (three hours by bus from Sarajevo), which is split by the Neretva River, combines old Ottoman and Turkish influence with new. Not exempt from the war, Mostar’s scars are perhaps uglier than Sarajevo’s with bombed out buildings. There’s even a former bank which housed snipers who took aim at residents, just outside of the old city. Here, people can wander at their own risk. Today, the building is essentially just a shell of itself–all of the windows have been blown out. But, a walk through the bank can leave you with a new respect for what it was like to live in this little town during the war in the 90s. There are bullet casings everywhere, offices that have been ransacked with files still on the ground and bathrooms that have long since operated.

The most recognized landmark in Mostar, Stari Most (the Old Bridge) crosses over the river and serves as the main crossing point for people in the old part of the city. Destroyed completely in the war, the bridge was reincarnated to look like the bridge from pre-war days. During the summer, there are brave divers who plunge the 21 meters into the cold, rushing water of the river below. Grab a seat at any of the cafes lining the river to enjoy the scenery and the jumpers.

Also check out the Museum of Herzegovina to learn even more about the town and country. If you’re in the mood for a tour of the region, Madja’s Guest House offers a day-long tour that is not expensive and takes you to the beautiful Kravice Waterfalls, a dervish monastery and more.

- Diana Edelman

Editor’s Note: This post is from Diana Edelman, a travel writer and PR professional. Her popular blog, d travels ’round, shares entertaining stories from her travels, along with travel tips and photos from all over the world. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook for travel stories, news and more.

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5 Responses to “The Best Less Popular Cities in Europe to Visit”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Girona is a good side trip from Barcelona.

  2. Richard Says:

    Florence is one of the “less popular cities”??? You have GOT to be kidding.

  3. john Says:

    don’t waste your time in barcelona going to valencia, the best beaches are closer, in the north, girona and costa brava… and you have paella everywhere!

  4. Joe W Says:

    thanks a lot for the tips, i am looking forward to visit one of those wonderful Spanish beaches…

  5. Quentin Says:

    I’d rather go to Valencia than Barcelona, less crowded, and definitely more friendly. I hardly ever coped with people “solo hablando catalan” in Barcelona, that’s just annoying to go into shops where people won’t even try to talk to you, especially if you speak a bit of spanish. It seems that Valencia doesn’t have this problem… And even though the city faces huge debts related to the building of “La Ciudad de las Sciencias”, it’s still a must see, and a city that I love. Much better than Barcelona in many ways…

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