10 Secret European Spots to Visit This Year

Add these under-the-radar destinations to your 2016 travel list.

U.S. News & World Report

10 Secret European Spots to Visit This Year

Famous Bryggen street in Bergen Norway - architecture background
Credit

(Getty Images)

Discover Europe's lesser-known gems.

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
Credit

(Getty Images)

Manarola, Italy

Manarola, a picturesque coastal retreat in Cinque Terre, Italy, offers postcard-worthy views. Candy-colored houses are surrounded by lush vineyards and fruit trees that flow down a rugged and black rock mountain facing the crystal-clear waters of a stunning lagoon. 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.
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Discover Europe's lesser-known gems.

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-colored houses are surrounded by lush vineyards and fruit trees that flow down a rugged and black rock mountain facing the crystal-clear waters of a stunning lagoon. 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

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 Tour 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 charming piazzas.

Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku may be renowned as the site of 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.

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 in winter. 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 (a scenic railway) to the top of Mt. Fløyen.

Piran, Slovenia

Gothic alleyways, breathtaking coastal views, cobblestone streets and historic architecture are a few of Piran's allures. Encompassing just slightly more than 16 square miles, you can walk this entire picturesque town in less than 30 minutes. During your trip, make sure to stop by the iconic St. George Cathedral and the Tartini Square, one of the most photographed squares in Europe thanks to its pastel-hued colors and marble stone.

Gothenburg, Sweden

Neoclassical architecture and 17th-century canals flank the tram-lined streets of Gothenburg, arguably one of Sweden's hippest cities. Known as Stockholm's quirkier sister city, Gothenburg is full of beautiful museums (think: the Gothenburg Museum of Art), delectable eateries (read: the Feskekörka fish market) and stunning natural beauty off the coast, including the island of Vrångö, which contains pristine beaches and scenic nature reserves.

Lodz, Poland

Despite claiming the reigning title as the third-largest city in Poland, Lodz still charms visitors with underappreciated museums and cosmopolitan restaurants and shops. Stroll along Piotrkowska Street, one of the longest thoroughfares in Europe, to visit the more than 100 bars filled with live music, enjoy memorable meals at vibrant cafes and pop into trendy galleries. Afterward, make your way to the 74-acre Manufaktura, a refurbished industrial park now home to boutiques, shops, restaurants and a cinema.

Utrecht, Netherlands

One of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, Utrecht is a quaint and beautiful city flanked by medieval canals. In Utrecht, the canals are split level, offering a unique inside look at the city's 13th-century industrial roots juxtaposed with a bustling and modern life at street level. With a citywide focus on tourism, much of the city is going through a renaissance, including the old train station and the city's industrial park and concert hall, which are transitioning into bustling hubs filled with restaurants, shops and live music venues.

Rhodes, Greece

Although Santorini certainly has its whitewashed buildings and romantic allure and Mykonos has garnered a reputation for its party-centric nightlife, Rhodes overflows with must-see historic monuments, such as the Acropolis of Lindos and the medieval structures of Rhodes Town. Plus, the isle is rife with bustling boutiques, authentic eateries and natural wonders. During your trip, make sure to soak in the stunning views of the old city and the bay from the Tsambika Monastery, often called the Stairway to Heaven.
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