With travel returning to normality, tourists are once again making their way back to the traditional tourists hotspots across Europe. Thankfully, the Old World continent is still full over largely-overlooked hidden gem destinations. Based on my own travel experiences, here are 16 of the best under-the-radar travel destinations that will avoid the tourist crowds in 2022.

 

1. Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor, Montenegro

Set alongside a picturesque Kotor Bay which resembles a fjord, the ancient town of Kotor is Montenegro’s finest. Already open entering one of its three gates, you’re left impressed with the Old Town that was once home to Venetians, Austrians, French, Hungarians and Serb at different times. But it’s higher up that rewards you best. The views of Kotor, the fjord and the dramatic mountains surrounding it as you climb up the city walls to the fortress are simply incredible. 

As Kotor is becoming a popular day-trip destination from Dubrovnik, it’s really best enjoyed with an overnight stay where you can enjoy the quiet evenings and mornings before the day tourists arrive. 

Getting to Kotor: Fly into one of the nearby Tivat or Podgorica Airports and stay here as part of a Montenegro trip. Or if you’re short on time, visit from Dubrovnik which is under 2 hours’ drive across the Croatian border.

Visit Kotor as part of: A 1-week stay of the wonderful Montenegro, or pop over for a day trip if you’re basing in Southern Croatia

2. Dinant, Belgium

Dinant Saxophone Bridge, Belgium

Nestled between scenic riverside cliffs in Southern Belgium, Dinant is pretty unique for its compact size. The Walloon town that looks like it exists entirely along the few streets lining River Meuse is the hometown of the Saxophone’s inventor – Adolphe Sax. Many of its streets make this pretty clear – not least the main bridge that dominates this town, generously dotted with colourful saxophones. Across the bridge is its other jewel, the Notre Dame de Dinant with its uniquely pear-shaped bell tower.

Upon visiting, be sure to get some Couques de Dinant – the dangerously hard biscuits originating from the town. They’re no usual biscuits so don’t break your teeth! The couques are supposed to be dipped into coffee or left to melt in the mouth. Meanwhile overlooking Dinant from the cliffs above is the Maison Leffe museum – representing the world-famous Leffe Brewery which also calls Dinant its home.

Getting to Dinant: The Southern Belgian town is a 2-hour train or car ride from Brussels

Visit Dinant as part of: Combines perfectly with a stay in the Ardennes or the wider region of Wallonia. or an easy-going cycling trip along the river Meuse (from France)

3. Berat, Albania

Berat Ottoman Windows, Albania

Berat is a unique, charming city you might just feel is your favourite in Albania. With its large wooden Ottoman-era windows dominating the hilly cityscape, Berat is literally known as the “City of a Thousand Windows”.

When you’ve done enough wandering through the cobbled streets of the old town and the ancient Gorica Bridge, hike your way up to the castle (or what’s left of it) for some incredible views. But why stop that – ever had the desire to stay in a castle without paying a fortune? Don’t pass up on the chance to stay in a beautiful stone house right in the heart of the castle

Getting to Berat: Fly into Tirana and drive 2 hours South. Public transport (buses) is also an option. 

Visit Berat as part of: Works perfectly well as part of a stunning trip to Southern Albania. This can be done in 1 week or more.

» Read More: Albania Road Trip: the Perfect Itinerary to Europe’s True Hidden Gem

4. Matera, Italy

Matera, Basilicata, Italy

Italy’s city of stone, Matera is like no other: its borders carved by deep canyons and the oldest parts of it are caves carved into rock (known as “sassi”). While other cave homes are ancient relics of life many centuries ago, in Matera people lived in cave homes as late as the 1950’s. What’s most surprising is the city remained under-the-radar for so long despite being Italy’s oldest and despite its one-of-a-kind location. That is until 2019 until it saw its first ray of the limelight as European Capital of Culture. But there is still some time before it turns into a full tour-bus destination so visit soon!

Foodies will also love Matera. Influenced by centuries under different rule including Greeks, Normans and Aragonese, the city has developed its own culinary tradition. Its signature dishes include the vast use of dried sweet chillies and the crapiata – a rustic soup of grains and pulses.

Getting to Matera: Fly into Bari or Brindisi, driving time is 1 and 2 hours from Matera respectively.

Visit Matera as part of: Matera city combines perfectly as part of a road trip to the neighbouring and stunning Puglia.

» Read more: Where to Visit in Puglia – Italy’s Hidden Gem

5. Loket, Czechia

Loket, Czechia

At first sight there is nothing especially unique about this unassuming castle town in Czechia’s Easternmost Bohemia region. Yet there’s just something particularly cosy and endearing about the little-known Loket that leaves a lasting impression.

Curiously, the town is named after the word “elbow” due to river Ohre hugging it from 3 sides (vaguely) resembling one. It’s dominated by a Gothic castle at the top of the hill, complete with a mildly entertaining torture museum. Its picture-perfect town centre seems particularly charming. No wonder it was chosen as the film set to depict Montenegro in the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale.

Getting to Loket: it’s a merry if long train ride from Prague, which ends with an old single carriage train that lazes its way into the town’s train station. By car, it’s an 2.5-3 hours from Prague and the German city of Nurnberg. 

Visit Loket as part of: A road trip to the neighbouring and stunning Puglia, ideally by car. At least a long weekend but ideally 1 week stay would work.

6. Amarante, Portugal

Amarante, Portugal - Europe's Hidden Gem Town

In the Douro Valley uplands of North Portugal lies the lovingly-named dreamy town of Amarante (Amar = love in Portuguese). Its local Vinho Verde (young wine) and the delectable selection of regional cheeses and charcuterie are reason enough to draw in the foodies. The romantic Amarante also makes for a great option as a base for exploring the famous wine region.

It’s a perfectly sized place to explore on foot, like a stroll through its cobblestone streets and along the picturesque Tamega River. That’s where you’ll find its signature view of the arched bridge Ponte Sao Goncalo, once scene to a dramatic defence of the town against Napoleon’s troops. It’s impressive Romanesque architecture contrasts widely to that of the tile-frenzied Porto, the big city in the region.

Getting to Amarante: The Northern Portuguese town is 45 minutes’ drive from Porto Airport

Visit Amarante as part of: Works perfectly as part of a trip to Porto & the Douro Valley 

7. Tejeda, Gran Canaria, Spain

Tejeda Panorama Gran Canaria

There is so much more to Gran Canaria than tourist resorts. Its mountainous inland is most intact and features entirely different scenes to the sandy beaches to the South.

Up in the chilly and often more cloudy centre of the island sits a beautiful mountainous village of Tejeda. Up there it’s easy to forget you’re still on the same island that’s full of cacti, palm trees and features sand dunes. Sat on the edge of an ancient volcanic crater, the lush green landscapes here are reminiscent of Andean valleys in Peru with the added backdrop of Gran Canaria’s monumental rock summit of Roque Bentayga. This makes Tejeda a pleasure for a casual walk or a more determined hike, like a circular walk to Cruz de Tejeda.

Visiting on a Sunday, you might be confused by the lengthy queues of Gran Canarians, seemingly from all over the island, outside some of the cafe/pastry establishments. As it turns out, Tejeda is known for its almond cakes which seem a just reward for braving the windy roads to get there. Yes, they were very good although probably not worth queueing for. 

Getting to Tejeda: Gran Canaria has a wide selection of direct flights right across Europe all year round, making it a great destination throughout all seasons. Car travel takes around 1 hour 30 mins: prepare yourself for some twisty mountain roads.

Visit Tejeda as part of: An all-year-round stay in Gran Canaria. Tejeda can even be an alternative base in the warmer months if you don’t mind the mountain roads.

» Read More: 9 Hidden Gems to Visit in Gran Canaria

8. Assos, Kefalonia, Greece

Assos Village, Kefalonia

On the Ionian Island of Kefalonia lies the smallest on this list – the sleepy seaside village of Assos. Counting not many more than 100 residents and seemingly so many cats, I wouldn’t be surprised if the cats outnumbered the people. With its colourful houses nestled alongside a pebbled beach bay, narrow cobbled streets and, Assos makes for a perfect quiet getaway. Towering on the peninsula hill above Assos are medieval Venetian castle ruins, offering excellent views of the village. Located by the sea, there is always plenty of fresh seafood to indulge in to end your day on a high.

It’s also a perfect base for exploring one of Greece’s finest islands. Assos is just a short drive from Kefalonia’s majestic Myrtos Beach with its azure blue waters, while just about everything else is within an hour’s drive or less.

Getting to Assos: Fly into Kefalonia Airport in Argostoli and rent a car. It’s about 45 minutes North.

Visit Assos as part of: A fantastic 1 week stay in Kefalonia, ideally in May, June or September. 

Read more on the perfect Kefalonia itinerary

9. Llanes, Spain

Llanes, Asturias - Hidden Gem of Spain

The North of Spain is not Spain how you know it. Luscious green, mountainous and devoid of mass tourist resorts, the coastal town of Llanes in Asturias region is a perfect example. With a backdrop of the dramatic Picos de Europa mountain range, Llanes is surrounded by white sand beaches so you get the best of both worlds. Besides the pleasant old town, Llanes is also known for its impressive colonial mansions (Palacios de los Indianos) built by returning emigres who made their fortunes trading in Central America. The traditional Asturian food with a heavy focus on seafood and the Fabada bean stew is to die for.

While the cosy Llanes can be explored in a couple days, it serves as a great base for exploring both the mountains and the many beaches and fishing villages along the coast.

Getting to Llanes: Fly to Asturias Airport or into Santander, both around 1 hour away. Trains are possible but very slow.

Visit Llanes as part of: Make a road trip out of Asturias or Cantabria, or even as far as the Basque Country.

10. Brixham, England

Brixham, Devon - Europe's Seaside Hidden Gem

The harbour town of Brixham is the hidden gem of South Devon’s English Riviera. Once boasting one of the largest fishing fleets in Great Britain, Brixham has strong fishing heritage. These days, trawlers still bring in fresh catch and early risers can enjoy a tour of the famous fish market. Otherwise be sure to enjoy some of the finest fish & chips, wander along the harbour and get lost in the narrow hillside lanes.

The town with historical Dutch connections even hosts its own annual Pirate Festival in May as well as an impressive Fireworks display over the harbour later in the month.

Getting to Brixham: It’s a solid 4-hour drive from London, or a train + bus combo via Paignton. The nearest airport at Exeter is circa 45 minutes away.

Visit Brixham as part of: Brixham is best included into a relaxing road trip of Southern Devon and Dartmoor, or Devon in general if you have more time.

11. Bamberg, Germany

Bamberg, Germany - Europe's Hidden Gem

The historical town of Bamberg in the North of Bavaria is best known for its one-of-a-kind Town Hall, built on a river island connected by 2 bridges. Abundant in impressive medieval landmarks, it is no wonder Bamberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bamberg’s other pièce de résistance are its 9 breweries, which is impressive for a town of 70,000 people even for German standards. Some of its beers are particularly special too, like the Schlenkerla smoked beer (Rauchbier) found in the old town’s heart. It might not be for everyone, but you just don’t know until you try.

Getting to Bamberg: With its fast motorways and train network, everywhere in Germany is easy enough to reach. Nuremberg Airport is the best at under 1hr drive away. Otherwise Munich and Frankfurt are both reasonable options. 

Visit Bamberg as part of: Bamberg combines well with a trip through Bavaria or further East towards the under-rated Dresden.

12. Óbidos, Portugal

Obidos - Medieval Hidden Gem of Portugal

The walled hillside town of Óbidos just an hour’s drive North from Lisbon, is as medieval as it gets. The fortified high walls surrounding the town are perfectly walkable (and a must!) to enjoy the best views of Óbidos to one side and the striking countryside views to the other.

The picture-perfect Óbidos stands out for its blue and white colours, almost giving an impression that Greeks once had a part in building the town. Meanwhile if you turn up in July, you might end up travelling back centuries as the town tries to recreate the spirit of Medieval times.

It’s also particularly known for its Ginjinha – the easy-going Portuguese sour cherry liquor, often served in a small chocolate cup. Unmissable.

Getting to Óbidos: The town makes for a perfect day trip from Lisbon at just an hours’ drive, or 2.5 hours’ train.

Visit Óbidos as part of: A day trip from Lisbon. If driving, combine with a beach stopover along the Atlantic, for instance at the gorgeous Praia da Adraga.

13. Sighișoara, Romania

Sighisoara Fortress Castle, Transylvania, Romania

Right in the heart of Europe’s hidden gem region of Transylvania, the medieval town of Sighișoara is one of Romania’s finest. Allegedly the birthplace of the infamous Vlad Dracul (aka Dracula), his birth house is now a tourist-trap restaurant simple called Casa Vlad Dracul. However Vlad or not, the beautifully scenic Sighișoara is brimming with well-preserved medieval architecture and cute cobbled streets lined with colourful houses. It’s a compact town so you can really see everything by foot in a day, but worth spending a night at least for the spooky walks in the evening!

Getting to Sighișoara: Best included as part of a Transylvania road trip, which can start at multiple locations. Sibiu and Cluj Napoca are the closest options, while others opt for Bucharest for its wider choice of flights – at ~4 hours of travel, both car or train.

Visit Sighișoara as part of: An idyllic road trip loop across Transylvania.

» Read More: 1 Week Transylvania Itinerary

14. Lucca, Italy

Lucca Round Piazza, Tuscany

You may be noticing by now that I have a soft spot for walled Medieval towns, and Lucca is another. But the walls here are even more special as they are wide enough to form a circular park and entirely cycleable pathways. With plenty to see and so many medieval streets to explore, Lucca is a fantastic lesser-known alternative to the nearby over-rated Pisa and the stunning but over-touristed Florence.

You’ll struggle not getting lost in the narrow, medieval streets only to pop out eventually in one of the round piazzas. Once you’ve had enough getting lost, rent a bike for a flat loop right on top of the ancient city walls. Or climb the Guinigi Tower for an even better view, complete with a garden and an oak tree growing on its roof.

Getting to Lucca: The city enjoys easy access to Pisa Airport (30 mins away), making it an outstanding base for exploring the region. Public transport connections to major cities are also well-established – Florence is 1.5 hours by train. With Mediterranean Sea a short hop to the West, the luscious green hills of Garfagnana region to the North and the rest of Tuscany all well-connected, there is enough to explore for weeks.

Visit Lucca as part of: Make Lucca your base in Tuscany! Otherwise it’s an easy day trip from Florence, Pisa or Bologna.

» Read More: The 8 Most Beautiful Under-the-Radar Spots in Italy

15. Rovinj, Croatia

Rovinj, Croatia - Hidden Gem of Adriatic

The gem of Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula in the country’s North, Rovinj is a spectacular fishing port. Rovinj has strong Italian heritage, for long known as Rovigno as part of the Venetian Republic. And it’s officially bilingual with Italian sharing local tongues alongside Croatian. Built on a hill of what was once an island, its Old Town is compact and perfectly walkable by foot.

As with the rest of Croatia sandy beaches are hard to come by here, but there are plenty of rocky surfaces to enjoy the crystal-clear Adriatic waters from.

Getting to Rovinj: Pula Airport on the Istria Peninsula is 45 minutes away by car. The airports of Rijeka and the Italian border city of Trieste aren’t too far either.

Visit Rovinj as part of: A road trip covering NE Italy, Slovenia and Istria is well-manageable within a week (but ideally more!). Or just stay in Rovinj and enjoy the seaside.

 

16. Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria

Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria

This hard-to-pronounce destination in the heart of Bulgaria is one of the Balkans’ most memorable and unique small towns – the picture above doesn’t do it justice. Yet despite being only 2 hours’ reach from the capital Sofia, Koprivshtitsa has managed to stay largely hidden from international tourists.

Most renowned for its traditional, colourful houses, Koprivshtitsa offers the sort of quaint, relaxed atmosphere to a place where time stands still. In a good way. It’s the type of place where getting lost in its windy cobbled streets doesn’t seem tiring, as just about every house and street looks unique. Shades of red, blue and yellow mix with intricate hand-painted details and wooden carvings, a well-preserved example of the Bulgarian Revival period that followed liberation from Ottomans. Even the local grocery shops look fancy. Talking of the Ottomans, Koprivshtitsa prides itself as one of the places where the first shots of the successful rebellion against century-old Ottoman rule were fired, and dedicates a number of monuments to the occasion.

Situated in a green valley surrounded by the wooded Sredna Gora mountain range, the area offers ample hiking, mountain biking and horse riding trails and the altitude means it rarely gets as baking hot as the rest of Bulgaria in the summer months.

Getting to Koprivshtitsa : It’s easiest by car, being a 2-hour mostly scenic drive from the capital Sofia or 1.5 hours from Plovdiv. Alternatively you can catch a 2-hour train from Sofia – just keep in mind the local train station isn’t in town and a quick shuttle is required from the city.

Visit Koprivshtitsa as part of: A road trip of Bulgaria, making for a perfect stop on the way from Sofia to Plovdiv. Or a doable day trip if you’re basing yourself in one of those.

17. Suzdal, Russia

Suzdal, Russia - Hidden Gem of Russia

JUNE 2022 UPDATE: Understandably Russia isn’t a destinations most tourists will be thinking of right now. But I’ll keep Suzdal on this list in hope that it’s not long until the world returns to its senses. No matter what a small group of politicians decide, nothing will take away from the incredible history and soul Russia offers its visitors.

Most visitors to Russia opt for the classic Moscow / St Petersburg itinerary. But I challenge you to venture out and experience something a little beyond – and Suzdal makes a perfect case. Relatively compact in size, Suzdal is so brimming with historical Russian architecture that it is often known as a city-museum. Forget the stereotypical ugly concrete blocks – they weren’t allowed here even during Soviet times, so most of its buildings have remained wooden mansions and changed little for centuries.

Suzdal and its vast landscape offers a perfect contrast to the noisy metropolis that is Moscow, so really worth adding to your Russia trip.

Getting to Suzdal: Not everything in Russia is measured in time belts. Suzdal is *only* a 3-hour drive from Moscow if the traffic gods smile on you, so doable as a day trip. Hiring a guide with a car can be a good idea if you don’t feel like driving.

Visit Suzdal as part of: Ideally an overnight trip in Suzdal, 10-14 days in Russia. Or as part of a dedicated “Golden Ring” cluster of ancient towns which includes the nearby Vladimir (yep!), Yaroslavl and Kostroma.

 

 


 

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