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5 Underrated European Cities to Visit Now

Discover lesser-known alternatives to well-trodden European spots. 

U.S. News & World Report

5 Underrated European Cities to Visit Now

Portas do Sol in Lisbon, Portugal.

From Lisbon, Portugal to Lausanne, Switzerland, there are plenty of off-the-grid places with few crowds and wallet-friendly rates.(Getty Images)

If you're yearning to explore off-the-beaten-path corners of Europe, with few crowds and lesser-known attractions, fortunately there are parts of the continent that still remain overlooked for more popular metropolises like London, Rome and Barcelona. Whether you want to discover secret gems or enjoy authentic, off-the-grid experiences in exotic locales before they're officially on the European sightseer's map, there are plenty of under-the-radar places awaiting exploration. From Glasgow, Scotland to Toulouse, France, here are five underrated European cities to visit now.

Lisbon, Portugal

Along with an illustrious seafaring past, Lisbon is rich in natural beauty, UNESCO World Heritage sites and affordable hotels. Days here can be spent admiring the city's intricate tiles and Manueline style buildings and exploring St. George's Castle, a towering 11th-century Moorish castle situated atop Lisbon's highest hill. After soaking in the striking scenery, refuel at Mini Bar, sister restaurant of the Michelin-starred Belcanto. The tasting menu includes everything from ceviche to boundary-pushing plates like miniature ice cream cones crafted from seaweed. For the budget-conscious traveler, the up-and-coming Lisboeta Restaurant is an ideal choice.

Toulouse, France

The capital of France's Midi-Pyrénées near the Spanish border, Toulouse is the fourth-biggest metropolis in France yet it is often overshadowed by destinations like to Nice, Bordeaux and Lyon. Yet this vibrant city, which is known as "La Ville Rose" (or the Pink City) thanks to the rosy-hued bricks used in many of its buildings, packs plenty of charm. Meander to the main square of Toulouse, the Capitole, and sit at one of the charming cafes before exploring the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec. When hunger sets in, venture to Les Jardins de L'Opera, where you can enjoy innovative plates in a Florentine style courtyard. And if you're hankering for an authentic French dish like cassoulet, try Emile. The restaurant is known for its seafood-centric entrees and extensive French wine list, which includes 350 varieties.

Glasgow, Scotland  

Officially designated as a UNESCO "City of Music," this Scottish city has emerged from its past as an 18th-century trade and shipbuilding city into a culturally diverse hub with flourishing art, design and shopping scenes. In fact, the Scottish Opera, the Scottish Ballet and Scotland's National Stadium are all based in Glasgow. And for food lovers, Glasgow's The Gannet, a modern award-winning Scottish bar and restaurant, offers regionally-inspired dishes, like scallop carpaccio and lamb sweetbreads. Best of all, if you're on a tight budget, you can revel in free and low-cost activities. Venture to Glasgow's South Side for some beautiful Victorian architecture and parks. Afterward, explore the hidden gardens of the Tramway. Then, make your way to Pollok Country Park, a 360-acre green space with unspoiled Scottish greens and scenic gardens. And whatever you do, you can't visit Scotland without tasting at least one tumbler of single-malt Scottish whiskey.      

Madrid, Spain

Spain's largest city is often overshadowed by well-trodden cities like Barcelona and London, but Madrid boasts equally impressive culinary, fashion and art scenes. Check out the Royal Palace of Madrid before making your way to the Prado Museum or taking a break to people-watch in tranquil Retiro Park. And when you need an afternoon siesta after taking in the city's sights and sounds, enjoy a memorable specialty cocktail at the retro La Cabrera cocktail bar.

And for curious foodies looking to try something a little more innovative than signature Spanish staples like jamón ibérico, secure a table at Ramon Freixa, a dining venue helmed by a Michelin-starred chef. At Ramon Freixa, you can sample a degustation and nontraditional options like tuna belly with seaweed and crispy artichoke and baby lamb shoulder with radish and beetroot.

Lausanne, Switzerland 

Since the 12th century, visitors seeking an off-the-beaten track getaway have gravitated toward this scenic Swiss city built atop three hills on the banks of Lake Geneva. With its unique blend of French, Italian, German and Swiss influences, Lausanne is rich with historical and cultural sites. You can't miss checking out the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame or the Beau-Rivage, Palace, a sprawling palace-turned-hotel with plenty of old-world charm. And if you like to travel by following your taste buds, you can't skip sampling the mouthwatering Italian fare at L'Accademia, an Italian restaurant in the hotel. Afterward, make your way to the main thoroughfare Rue de Bourg for excellent shopping or visit the Musée Olympique to learn about the Olympic Games. 

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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