19 Amazing Places In Europe You’ve Never Heard Of
Can you guess what the most visited tourist destination in Europe is? No, it’s not Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower – it’s Disneyland in Paris!
But you’re not here for the popular, busy places – you want to avoid the overpopulated tourist traps, am I right?. There are 50 countries in Europe, each with its own fascinating charms largely unknown to anyone but the locals. Shall we dive into some of the lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path places in Europe that you really should add to your travel bucketlist?
(P.s. If you scroll to the bottom of this article you’ll find an interactive map with all these little gems’ whereabouts!)
1. RIVER HOUSE, SERBIA
Located near the town of Bajina Basta in Serbia, this house was the brainchild of swimmers in 1968 who needed a place to rest and chill in the sun. As time went by, boys being boys they started adding home comforts to a rock in the middle of the river and what started as a few wood planks grew into the house tourists can see today.
The parts and supplies were transported by boat and kayak, and the larger pieces were simply placed in the water upstream, and captured as they floated down past the building location.
Battered by wind, rain and unpredictable floods (video), the one-room house still stands proudly today to be used by swimmers and kayakers to escape the hot sun. Since being featured in National Geographic, the house has its own Facebook page and Blog!
2. GORGES DE L’ARDECHE, FRANCE
France is not typically known for its dramatic undulating cliffs and canyons (particularly outside the Alps) but the Gorges de l’Ardeche something that need to be seen to believed. Stretching over 40km the gorges are one of the most stunning scenic sights of the country with drops of up to 300m in places to the river below.
The fast flowing river has also carved many caves into the rocks which can be explored by canoe – although there is little in the way of towns to stop off at as you float down the river. Perhaps the most famous stop is the Pont d’Arc, a natural stone arch over the river at a popular swimming beach.
3. DOBSINA ICE CAVE, SLOVAKIA
Open to tourists between May and Sept, the Dobsina Ice Cave is found in the ‘Slovak Paradise’ mountain range but has been retrofitted with stairs to make it easy to access and explore. It is one of the most significant caves in the world and in 2000 was dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The ice chamber within the cave stays a chilly -4 to 0 degrees all year round where other parts get up to 3-5 degrees so don’t forget to pack warm clothes if you plan to go! It is also home to 12 bat species.
4. SCHWERIN PALACE, GERMANY
Sitting pretty on its own island on the edge of the Schwerin Sea, the castle was built in 1845 and while most of it is off limits to the public there is a museum on site and spectacular walks all around.
Affectionately referred to as the ‘Neuschwanstein of the north’, it is a former residence of the Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg and has 653 elaborately decorated rooms.
5. ORDESA CANYON, SPAIN
The smaller, greener cousin of the Grand Canyon in America, the Ordesa Canyon in the Pyrenees has its own charms and is a favourite among hikers from all around the world. Up to 1000m deep in places there is magnificent scenery throughout and a natural wonders everywhere.
6. CHAPELLE ST.MICHEL D’AIGUILHE, FRANCE
Sitting 85m high on a volcanic plug the church can only be reached by 286 questionable stone steps winding round the rock so this is not a trip for the faint of heart but sees pilgrims all year round. Near Le Puy-en-Velay, the chapel offers 360 degree views of the town and is especially impressive at night.
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7. MELISSANI CAVE, GREECE
Named, according to myth, after Nymph Melissani committed suicide because Pan Melissani was not responding to her love for him, the cave is the result of erosion causing hollows in the rock that have enlarged over time. The cave is 3.5km long 40m wide and 36m high with a large portion of the ceiling having collapsed.
Discovered in 1951, the cave in the Kafalonia region is now a magnet for tourists exploring by boat who can admire the stalactites and the impressively clear azure waters reaching 20-30m in depth. A balcony on top of the cave affords tourists a spectacular view of the inside from above.
8. DUNNOTTAR CASTLE, SCOTLAND
A picturesque walk along the cliffs from Stonehaven harbour ends with this stunning castle ruin, steeped in history. Once owned by the Earls Marischal (once one of the most powerful families in Scotland), the fortress overlooks a bay where seals can be spotted below and is particularly spectacular on a sunny day.
Dunnottar, meaning “fort on the falling slope” was besieged William Wallace (as immortalised in Braveheart) whilst being held by English troops and was once guardian of the crown jewels of Scotland.
If you have several minutes, I highly recommend watching this HD drone video which is simply incredible.
9. ROCAMADOUR, FRANCE
Rocamadour is a small clifftop village built into the rock on several levels overlooking the Alzou canyon. The village only has one pretty street which gets very lively with its boutiques and restaurants and standing guard over it all is the Chateau – the ramparts of which, offer stunning panoramic views over the village and canyon.
With a population of only 600, Rocamadour sees a lot of tourists so make sure to get here early if you are looking for solitude – one of the best views of the small town is to the east of the Chateau at L’Hospitalet. While here, be sure to visit the Gouffre de Padirac, the most famous cave system in France.
10. MAELIFELL, ICELAND
Mount Maelifell, translated as ‘Measure Hill’ is iconic in Iceland as it sits alone in the black desert landscape – a green moss-covered cone beacon. At 800m tall, this volcano is only reachable by four-wheel drive but the landmark culminates a hugely interesting adventure across southern Iceland taking in numerous sights. With proper equipment you can also climb the hill but the surrounding terrain accommodates rivers and hot springs which are just as interesting.
11. PORTMEIRION, WALES
As a small villiage nestled among the trees, Portmeirion comes into view across the tidal waters from the Dwyryd estuary. Looking like a small toy city, it looks like no town you’ve ever seen before – a colourful mess of conflicting architecture and gardens inspired by the Italian Riviera – it has been described as a “gorgeous visual poem”.
If the Welsh did Las Vegas, this would be the result. A place where nothing makes sense, but a lot of work has gone into doing so.
12 KOTOR, MONTENEGRO
Kotor sits nestled between the mountains at the edge of an inlet for the Adriatic sea. At every angle Kotor has something to offer – the medieval architecture of the old town, the neck-straining peaks of the green mountains, a glass-water bay big enough for cruise ships, the charming cobble-stone streets home to numerous boutique bars and coffee shops.
The real elegance and colour of this town are seen at dusk and dawn. Hike the hills to watch the sunrise and you’ll understand why Kotor is considered a rare thing; one of the most beautiful places in the world without copious tourists stealing your attention.
13 REINE, NORWAY
Boasting a populatio of only 309, this fishing village sits on a hard-to-reach outcrop, but that doesn’t stop those who want to capture the perfect photographic essence of Norway. As part of the Lofoten Islands, this quaint little fishing village has started to capture the attention of photographers in recent years but remains an uncrowded and unspoilt corner of the world.
Only accessible by car, the village is made up of red and white fisherman huts surrounded by striking granite mountains offering an abundance of beautiful hiking opportunities – and in the right season, biking, skiing and kayaking.
14 CESKY KRUMLOV, CZECH REPUBLIC
Most visitors tend to go to Krumlov as a day trip from Prague and there is little in the way of tourist information online because this town is so unchartered – which is all the better for those of you wanting something a little different and away from the crowds.
Sliced in half by the Vltava River, this town is overseen by the 13th century castle (which happens to be one of Europe’s largest) offering incredible views of the town from the bell tower. The town features the same medieval city vibes as the likes of Dubrovnik and Prague but little of the shoulder-to-shoulder bustling. Cesky Krumlov is rich in history and artistic beauty so make sure your camera has plenty of space for photos.
15 DINANT, BELGIUM
Another charming medieval town on the list, Dinant has plenty of different things to offer explorers including the impressive limestone caves of Han-sur-Lesse and the citidel perched on the cliffs which is now a weapons museum. For Jazz fans Dinant is a must as it is the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone and the town has many exhibits on the instrument’s development.
Despite being a small town, it is impressive in looks – especially in the evening as the lights reflect off the River Meuse – and has a sense of humour …just check out the Bathtub Regatta held yearly around the 15th Aug!
16 MOSTAR, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
When most people think of Mostar they picture the bridge but there is way more to it than just the Stari Most (“Old Bridge”) connecting the two sides of the city. The mosque offers amazing views of the rooftops, gardens and fountains dotted around the city. Among the grafitti there are some amazing examples of street art giving glimpses into local sentiment and feelings around recent historical events. Lastly, the city is a great base for visiting the Kravice Waterfalls (a stunning alternative to the widely popular Plitvice Lakes in Croatia) which is unspoilt by tourists.
The bridge itself was completely destroyed in 1993 during the Bosinan War having stood for 427 years but a new bridge was been built a decade later. You’ll often see locals diving off the bridge into the river 20m below – a tradition started in 1664 and the city holds formal diving competitions. Fancy a dip?
17 GRUYERES, SWITZERLAND
Sitting 810m high at the base of the Swiss mountains, Gruyeres seems to have been overlooked by time. Famous for its cheese (and the fondue eating tourists that follow), Gruyeres is the unlikely mecca for Alien fans. In 1998, H.R. Giger – the artist behind the Alien franchise – bought a castle in Gruyeres and turned it into a museum and gallery of his work and private collection. He also designed a bar across the road which is…interesting…
If you are considering a trip here, Chrismas in this town is particularly spectacular with comedy nights, street parties and rock festivals all running in juxtaposition to the illuminated and magical Christmas atmosphere.
18 GOSAUSEEN, AUSTRIA
If you’re looking to go somewhere with views that will silence you for hours, where it is hard not to capture the most beautiful photos you’ve ever taken, Gossaueen is likely it. You will have morest likely heard of Hallstatt – the idyllic village perched on the edge of a lake that is currently seeing a huge uplift in popularity and tourism. If you want to avoid the crowds and see arguably better landscapes and views, Gossauseen is a half-hour car ride away.
If you think you can hack the chilly winter air, why not see Gossauseen from the air during the Gosau Balloon Week in January? Remember to pack your thermals if you’re lucky enough to hitch a ride!
19 MARSAXLOKK, MALTA
Keen to submerse yourself in the local life of somewhere completely different? Marsaxlokk on the island of Malta (just off the southern coast of Sicili on the way towards Africa) is a working fishing village with a small population of 4000 and you’ll see more boats (luzzu, each with painted eyes to ward off dangers) than cars. The village is lively at the best of times but really comes into its own when it transforms into one big marketplace on Sundays.
Marsaxlokk, on the south-eastern tip is the perfect base in which to explore the nearby coastlines and inner island where you’ll discover temples, vinyards and the spectacular Saint Peters Pool. If seafood is your thing, you’ll not go far wrong with Marsaxlokk.
So there you have it – if this list of secret travel places doesn’t make you screw up your holiday plans and go back to the drawing board I don’t know what will. Right now these under-discovered and massively underrated European towns and destinations are on the cusp of being swamped by tourists but are beautiful – and often more spectacular alternatives to the likes of Prague, Dubrovnik and Bordeux.
Facinating Facts About Europe…
Across the collective 4 million square miles there is myriad cultures, landscapes and wonders (both natural and man made) and Europe has witnessed some of the most important historical periods (such as the Industrial Revolution an Renaissance) and birthed the greatest empires (Roman, British, Spanish & Russian). It is thanks to Europe – or the early civilisations within – that we have democracy, philosophy, history, drama, poetry, medicine and science.Europe's the 2nd smallest continent in the world (beaten by Aus) and can almost fit in Canada Click To Tweet
Interestingly, there are 5 countries that can be classed as “trans-continental” (i.e. straddle Europe and Asia and therefore belong to both) which are Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Russia.Europe hosts the biggest country in the world, Russia - and the smallest, The Vatican. Click To Tweet
20 PUCISCA, CROATIA
21 ALBARRACIN, SPAIN
22 QAQORTOQ, GREENLAND
23 OSTUNI, ITALY
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24 LUXEMBOURG CITY, LUXEMBOURG
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25 BIBURY, ENGLAND
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