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Europe's 7 Top Second Cities

Forgo iconic destinations for underrated but equally enchanting places across the pond.

U.S. News & World Report

Europe's 7 Top Second Cities

Gran Madre Church in Turin. 
Turin, Piedmont, Italy

Discover impressive lesser-known destinations with dynamic food scenes, fascinating cultures and celebrated architecture.(Getty Images)

Spring is an ideal time for a jaunt across the pond. Sure, Paris, Rome and Barcelona, Spain, await, but there are also plenty of second-tier cities that merit a visit on their own. In these underappreciated destinations, you'll be pleasantly surprised by thriving arts scenes, diverse cultures and unique culinary offerings. So, on your next trip, consider skipping popular bucket-list European destinations in favor of these under-the-radar places.

Geneva

A pedestrian-friendly city, Geneva is easily explored on foot. Home to four world-class museums, including the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, the International Museum of the Reformation and the Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva caters to history buffs and art lovers, alike. After exploring renowned art institutions, get a feel for the city with a fondue cruise, a watch-making class or with a stroll to Jet d'Eau, a beautiful harbor fountain.

Timisoara, Romania

Eastern Europe has plenty of hidden gems for travelers willing to stray off the beaten path and take advantage of great exchange rates. Venture to Timisoara, Romania's third-largest city, also known as "little Vienna," to admire baroque architectural influences. The city was also a regional Ottoman capital for 160 years; in that period, a fort was built around its perimeter. Parts of the fort still exist today, and brim with cozy cafes, jazz bars, restaurants and art galleries. You can tour the city by bike or by boat and walk through the city's many parks, including the Rose Garden. Plus, there are many squares downtown, where you can people-watch from the comfort of a misty terrace with a tasty beverage in hand. If you're a night owl, the city also hosts a vibrant nightlife scene that heats up at an array of techno clubs after dark.

Manchester, England

If you've already crossed London off your list, consider making the pilgrimage to Manchester. With vibrant music, charming cafés and innovative cocktail bars and restaurants, Manchester offers a lively atmosphere. The city's once grim industrial landscape was redeveloped in the late 1980s, and now includes cotton mills transformed into lofty apartments and stylish contemporary architecture that has pushed the skyline ever higher. Plus, Manchester is renowned for its international, literary and jazz festivals. What's more, the area's numerous galleries and museums and diverse neighborhoods, appeal to a variety of traveler types.

Sagres, Portugal

Spring is an ideal time to visit Sagres. The Costa Vicentina Natural Park blooms with wild flowers and the air fills with the scent of eucalyptus. There are many beaches, and no shortage of sports and leisure facilities for the whole family. Surf, mountain bike, horseback ride, play tennis or try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding. For an unforgettable kid-friendly escape, consider staying at the Martinhal Sagres Beach Family Resort near the historic town of Sagres along the western Algarve and surrounded by Costa Vicentina Natural Park, where delectable Portuguese cuisine and requisite hospitality await.

Turin, Italy

Turin was the first capital of Italy. Today, you can see relics from the days when the House of Savoy was in power. The ornate palaces, squares and buildings remain. And it’s not just the striking architecture that awes visitors, but also unique specialties such as truffle, bagna cuàda and fritto misto piemontese that are authentic to this beautiful region. Plus, Piedmont produces top-tier red wines, including Barolo and Nebbiolo varieties. What's more, you can shop for handmade shoes and bags, jewelry and vintage treasures, and in an hour, retreat to the Alps or the coast.

Valletta, Malta

This majestic old city is rich in history and architecture. Take in must-see attractions such as the Grand Master's Palace, which stands in the center of the town on Palace Square, the National Museum of Archaeology and Manoel Theater, one of the oldest theaters in Europe. When hunger sets in, dine at Zero Sei Trattoria, acclaimed for its authentic Italian food. Rubino is another favorite among locals and tourists. And if you're looking to retreat to a luxury boutique hotel, check into Casa Ellul. Originally a Victorian-period Palazzo, Casa Ellul has a classic and stylish design, inspired from a combination of baroque and present-day influences.

Le Havre, France

Founded by Francis 1 of France in 1517, this beautiful port destination is celebrating its 500th birthday this year, and a variety of special activities are planned for spring and summer. During your visit, don't miss exploring Le Havre's UNESCO-recognized architecture, which was rebuilt after World War II by Auguste Perret. Le Havre is also a great place to discover Normandy: Étretat, France, is just a 30-minute drive north and the D-Day Beaches can be reached in under an hour. When it comes to food, expect to delight in excellent seafood and Camembert cheese from the region. For a good night's sleep, retreat to a small boutique hotel with a maritime theme, like Hotel Vent d'Ouest, or if you prefer a full-service experience with a casino, steal away to the majestic Pasino Spa Hotel Le Havre.

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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