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5 Secret European Spots to Visit This Year

Ditch popular locales for lesser-known gems across the pond.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Secret European Spots to Visit This Year

Manarola

From a picturesque seaside escape in Italy to centuries-old town in Montenegro, these under-the-radar locales offer plenty of scenery and few tourists.(Getty Images)

Beyond iconic cities like Paris, London and Madrid, lesser-visited European destinations await exploration. Quaint villages, storied cities, picturesque coastlines and scenic countrysides offer less-trodden locales, away from the swarms of tourists crowding can't-miss cities across the continent. So, if you're ready to get lost in breathtaking sunsets along the coast of Manarola, Italy, or take in cool, crisp air as you explore a staggering fjord in Bergen, Norway, head to these lesser-known places for a European vacation that packs in plenty of scenery and culture without the crowds.

Manarola, Italy

Manarola, a picturesque coastal retreat in Cinque Terre, Italy, offers postcard-worthy views. Candy-coated houses are surrounded by lush vineyards and fruit trees that flow down a rugged, black rock mountain facing the crystal clear waters of a stunning lagoon. This storybook village is the oldest, and one of the smallest, of the Cinque Terre towns and is accessible by train or ferry. Explore the winding roads with a guided hike or a beautiful, albeit challenging, bike ride. With no cars able to navigate the narrow roads, you can enjoy a cotton candy sunset over the turquoise cove with a hearty glass of sweet Sciacchetrà, a white wine commonly paired with desserts. 

Riga, Latvia

Free from the stronghold of the Communist era, Riga is one of the Baltic states' most underrated treasures. With a strong countrywide initiative to rebuild the city's castles and revitalize ancient traditions, Riga is awash with a new, invigorating energy. To see the city's treasures with a local, meet the students of Riga Free Tours outside of St. Peter's Church and enjoy a complimentary guide to the Old City's Art Nouveau architecture, urban parks (like Kronvalda) and churches, like Riga's Cathedral. After taking a scenic stroll, indulge in the city's new wave of Nordic fare, which can be found in top restaurants, like Valtera Restorans.

Kotor, Montenegro

Most tourists flock to Dubrovnik, Croatia, on cruise excursions or tours, overlooking its sister city, Kotor, Montenegro. But with fewer visitors and stunning architecture, Kotor merits its own visit. The city's 9th-century walls are flanked by imposing and rugged mountains, and surround the centuries-old town, home to the impressive St. Tryphon's Cathedral. Weave through Kotor's marbled lanes to uncover its many tucked-away restaurants, hotels and unchartered piazzas scattering the Old Town. Best of all, Kotor's scenic location, on a spectacular bay, comes to life with yachts and sailboats in the warm, summer months,  

Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku may be renowned as the 2016 Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe; however, Baku is still wonderfully uncrowded. A visit will welcome you with a breathtaking mix of old and new, with modern skyscrapers, like the Flame Towers, skyrocketing over the dazzling Azerbaijan port and the historic walled old city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But in spite of Baku's recent makeover and glossy, new sheen, you won't have to look far to see barren apartment blocks, reminiscent of the area's Soviet rule, rubbing shoulders with city's cutting-edge boutiques and eateries. During your visit, don't miss walking through the parks and along the promenade flanking the Caspian Sea, strolling along the city's charming cobbled alleyways or admiring Maiden's Tower, a fortress that's one of Baku's most renowned sites.

Bergen, Norway

Few places are as naturally awe-inspiring as Bergen, Norway, with its vast and stunning mountain, fjord and sea views from nearly every angle. Despite being one of the area's largest cities, this seafaring retreat remains quiet most of the year, perking up to welcome summer tourists and photography groups shooting the northern lights. Spend time exploring Bryggen, an old wharf, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Bergen's crown jewel. The oldest quarter in the city runs along the breathtaking shore of Vågen Harbor and features 61 brightly painted houses and buildings, dating back to the 12th century. Enjoy the scenery with a fjord tour or a ride up the Fløibanen funicular (or a scenic railway) to the top of Mt. Fløyen. 

Tags: travel, Europe

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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