Embracing the appeal of discovery and venturing into the lesser-explored corners of Europe, travellers with an intrepid spirit have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the charm of its underrated destinations. As the world gradually reopens its doors to exploration, the allure of Europe’s hidden gems gains momentum. Not only does this approach align with the ideals of responsible travel, cultivating a deep connection with local cultures, but it also calls up the inner adventurer within us all, persuading us to step away from the familiar.
Despite the adversities posed by recent times, European tourism has shown remarkable resilience. According to Statista.com, the continent welcomed 594.5 million tourist arrivals in 2022—an impressive resurgence from the challenges of 2020. As we navigate this evolving landscape, this distinctive roundup unveils a mosaic of captivating alternative holiday destinations in Europe, diverging from the quintessential and placing a spotlight on the rich rewards that come with seeking the extraordinary amidst the seemingly ordinary. Enjoy!
Short on time? Dive into our table of contents where you can discover the most intriguing destinations and click directly on the ones that awaken your curiosity.
Contribution by Tamara of My Elated Odyssey
One off-the-beaten-path destinations in Europe well worth consideration for an adventurous traveller is Albania. Often referenced as one of the last hidden gems of Europe, this country is full of stunning scenery, pristine beaches, and many cultural and historical sites.
I highly recommend Albania to anyone qualifying as a beach bum, outdoor adventure traveller, and history fanatic. Whether you want to see mountain ranges, bustling cities, or beaches, this country has it all! Additionally, Albania is an excellent option for budget-conscious travellers.
One of the best things to do in the country is visit the picturesque Albanian Riveria, also named “Bregu”, which hugs the Adriatic and the Ionian Seas.
Some of my favourite coastal places were Vlorë, Sarandë, and Ksamil, locations that could easily compete with other European destinations with beaches, except without the big tourist crowds. My favourite memory from the trip was touring Ksamil’s Four Islands and the enchanting sunset that followed.
Albania is also home to the beautiful Accursed Mountains, a mountain range offering many outdoor activities, including cruising around Lake Komani, visiting Theth Village, and viewing the Grunasi Waterfall.
There were several ways I could contribute to sustainable travel in Albania. I reduced my carbon footprint by using public buses to get around the country and staying in eco-friendly hotels. In addition, I shopped and ate at small businesses to support the local economy. This included opportunities to know the locals personally, explore different regions and learn so much about their history and culture. It was one of the best ways to get an authentic experience in the country.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Contributed by Tina of Veganderlust
Recently, I have been to a lot of countries but none left as much of an impression on me as Bosnia and Herzegovina. The reason I decided to visit this Balkan country in the first place was that it’s one of the cheapest countries in Europe. But I had no idea what a hidden gem the country actually is.
The capital, Sarajevo, is the perfect place for all history enthusiasts. In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot there and this event sparked the World War I. In the 90s, Sarajevo was besieged for 4 years during the Bosnian War. This was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. Even today, you can still see the remnants of the war, with many buildings still showing bullet holes in the facades. You should visit the Olympic bobsled track in Sarajevo, an abandoned bobsleigh track that was used as an artillery position during the war but now has become an open art gallery for street artists. This was actually one of my favourite things to do in Sarajevo since it shows that the people try to make the best out of what they have.
When you visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, you shouldn’t just stick to the capital city, as the countryside is full of natural beauty, from stunning waterfalls to impressive mountain ranges.
Some things that I loved about Bosnia and Herzegovina are the mix of different cultures and the fact that international chains aren’t as popular as in other more touristy places. Instead, you will come across lots of locally-owned, independent businesses.
Overall, I learned so much about European history in Sarajevo and was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the people and the natural beauty of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Contribution by Linda of Hiking the Alps
The small town of Briançon is located in the middle of the French Alps. With just over 10,000 inhabitants at an altitude of 1200 meters above sea level, it is the highest city in the European Union and what a beautiful one. The old town itself is a citadel and recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. These, just like an impressive system of forts around Briançon were built in the 18th century as the external borders shifted and France rearmed against neighbouring Savoy.
The citadel, at the highest point of Briançon, offers a beautiful view of the city itself and the valleys leading away in a star shape. For hikers, there are nearly 20 other abandoned military forts to reach from Briançon’s city centre.
Additionally, the town is surrounded by regional and national parks that invite hiking, climbing and mountain biking. However, the region and surrounding valleys are also famous for water sports such as canyoning and rafting, as well as paragliding.
The most sustainable way to get to Briançon is by train, which is also the most beautiful and stress-free way. There is no airport or highway, only the winding regional roads and the night train from Paris or the regional train from Gap, which runs picturesquely through the Western Alps.
The Pelion peninsula in Greece
Contributed by Annelies from Travelers & Dreamers
There aren’t that many off-the-beaten-path destinations anymore in Greece, especially if you fancy visiting one of the Greek islands. An underrated destination on mainland Greece that is still relatively undiscovered by foreign tourism is the Pelion peninsula on mainland Greece.
The Pelion peninsula is a region in Thessaly and it is a great alternative holiday destination in Europe thanks to its rugged beauty, lush greenery, and hidden blue-green coves with lovely beaches. It’s the ideal destination for both beach bums as well as adventurers. The Pelion beaches are perfect for relaxing and not crowded, while the mountainous interior is great for hiking. You can even go skiing on Mount Pelion in the winter!
Pelion is not for the party crowd but for travellers who like to immerse themselves in the local Greek cultures and fancy activities like doing a traditional cooking class with local ingredients, yoga, enjoying nature, and in general, prefer more quiet destinations to tourist hotspots.
A great place to stay in Pelion is Katerina Fotopoulos Rooms and Apartments. Katerina is a local who was born in Pelion and has managed this lovely family guesthouse all alone since her parents passed away. The location is absolutely wonderful, located right by the sea and with a small local pathway connecting it to Papa Nero beach. It also boasts an amazing yoga deck right by the sea!
Other great activities nearby are a strenuous hike to Fakistra Beach and snorkelling in the natural rock pools of Damouchari.
Contribution by Martha from May Cause Wanderlust
Greenland remains truly off the beaten path for many of us because it is cold, hard to get to and expensive. However, if you love wild, untouched landscapes and don’t mind getting a little chilly, chances are you will love Greenland.
One of the main characteristics of Greenland is its icy, Arctic landscape. I went there drawn by the desire to see huge icebergs, which calve from the many outlet glaciers from the Greenland ice shelf.
The best place to see icebergs is Ilulissat in West Greenland, next to the Ilulissat Icefjord, which is the biggest source of icebergs in the northern hemisphere (only Antarctica has more).
There are lots of things to do in Ilulissat, including dog sledding or snowmobiling (in winter), whale-watching (in summer) and hiking. But top of the list should be taking a boat tour among the icebergs.
One of the best boat tours I did was ‘Midnight Sailing’ – an evening boat tour to the mouth of the Icefjord. It’s 24-hour daylight in Greenland’s summers, but out on the waters of Disko Bay, the low midnight sun makes the magnificent icebergs glow yellow. It took my breath away!
To be a responsible traveller in Greenland, consider eating food which is sourced locally, rather than imported from far away. These include local fish, such as halibut, and reindeer and musk ox meat. You could also spend with local businesses, such as smaller local tour companies, many of which have offices in the towns. Also, consider buying local Greenlandic crafts (but be aware you might need a permit to take anything crafted from bones or tusks out of the country).
Contribution by Paul from Paulmarina
Liechtenstein is a micronation sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria and quite an unusual destination in Europe. Its capital, Vaduz, is a modern city of many contrasts and, contrary to belief, you will find plenty of things to do in Liechtenstein.
The medieval castle, also the princely family’s home, is right above the city centre. On the other hand, the town is known for contemporary architecture, such as the council building and the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein. Unique international art installations can be seen in public spaces, yet visitors also come to hike the Liechtenstein Alps.
Various themed hiking trails for adults and kids alike can be found across this small nation. I enjoyed exploring the lesser known small villages in Liechtenstein and went out to see the Schellenberg castle ruins and the Ruggeller Riet nature reserve. Liechtenstein has been successfully protecting its biodiverse rich peat marshlands, forests and mountain zones.
I saw a well-structured country, with a clean, well managed environment, and its perks are free tap drinking water and helpful locals. The country is not that well known, and it definitely attracts different types of visitors, and therefore Liechtenstein hasn’t suffered from mass tourism. Lovers of art, architecture, history, wine, and the mountains will feel almost at home in the principality of Liechtenstein.
Contribution by Maartje from Unieke Vakantieplekjes
Montenegro, a hidden gem in the Balkans, unveils itself as a paradise for off-the-beaten-path experiences. Slow travel here is a feast for the senses, with stunning landscapes unfolding around every bend as you embark on a road trip or camper van adventure.
Montenegro proved to be the perfect European destination for our camper van journey with impeccable roads, captivating routes, and many scenic gems. While wild camping is strictly prohibited, evident from clear signs at border crossings and popular sites like the Bay of Kotor, alternatives abound.
Our camper journey led us to Lovćen National Park, where ascending the Njegoš Mausoleum offered breathtaking views that stretched to Italy. We relished the ancient streets and vibrant nightlife in the coastal town of Budva. The ruined village of Stari Bar, transformed into an open-air museum, spoke of the town’s history through captivating ruins.
Montenegro, with its vibrant mix of history, nature, and culture, is a treasure trove for those who seek slow travel, cultural immersion, and learning experiences. History buffs can lose themselves in Kotor’s atmospheric old town, while photographers will find vistas that will forever grace their lenses. Foodies can relish fresh seafood in Bar or Budva, and nature lovers can explore the nation’s diverse landscapes.
All in all, our Montenegro camper trip was more than a vacation. It was an opportunity to connect deeply with a land of unparalleled beauty and culture, leaving us forever enchanted.
Contribution by Goya Galeotta from Goya Galeotta
Tucked away like a cherished secret in the heart of the Old Continent, Slovenia extends a warm invitation to adventurous souls seeking nature’s embrace and genuine cultural connections. This enchanting but yet on the list of underrated destinations in Europe, hidden from the usual tourist trails, unveils a tapestry of awe-inspiring landscapes and heartwarming encounters.
Among my most treasured memories is the day I swam in Lake Bohinj beneath a gentle rain. The raindrops created a mesmerizing melody on the water’s surface as if nature itself was orchestrating a serene and intimate performance just for me.
Wandering through the charming streets of Ljubljana, I found myself immersed in the vibrant spirit of the Central Market. Engaging with locals who shared their stories and offered genuine recommendations was a heartwarming experience. Yet, it was the taste of traditional Slovenian dishes, like the delectable potica and comforting jota, that truly immersed me in a world of rich and unfamiliar flavours.
Beyond its natural allure, Slovenia embraces the art of slow travel, allowing travellers to truly connect with the essence of local life. Sustainability and responsible travel are ingrained in Slovenia’s ethos, reflecting its standing as one of Europe’s greenest nations and evident in Ljubljana’s European Green Capital 2016 designation. Supporting local communities, minimizing environmental impact, and preserving the delicate balance of nature are integral to the journey.
Appealing to a diverse range of travellers, from curious food lovers to history enthusiasts and avid photographers, Slovenia’s charm lies in its harmonious blend of invigorating outdoor pursuits and meaningful cultural engagements.
Bajamar, Tenerife, Spain
Contribution by Alexandra from Tenerife-Is.com
Tenerife is one of the most popular European beach destinations among foreigners and Spaniards alike, yet venturing off the beaten track is possible. Eighty per cent of tourists choose the southern resorts, where most hotels concentrate. But Tenerife offers more than beach and ocean. Explore offbeat places like Anaga Park and Bajamar. In the less touristy north, experience the real Tenerife by staying in small guesthouses and mingling with locals for cultural immersion.
For nature lovers, Anaga Rural Park is a must. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve known for biodiversity, it’s truly breathtaking. Whether you are a casual hiker or an experienced trekker, you will find routes through ancient forests, cliffs, and charming villages. The park also holds cultural significance, preserving traditional Canarian architecture and lifestyles. Exploring these villages offers insights into local culture and supports sustainable tourism.
I settled in Bajamar due to my love for unconventional travel, and I recommend it. Bajamar is renowned for its natural seawater pools carved from volcanic coastlines, like nature’s own jacuzzi, with stunning views. Walking through the town feels like a charming step back in time. Rustic stores and island aromas add to its appeal. Bajamar, a mix of nature’s beauty and local vibes, evokes a sense of peace while fostering sustainable connections between travellers and the community.
Contribution by Amber from Amber Everywhere
Abisko is a small town and national park in far northern Sweden, located above the Arctic Circle. Abisko is known for having great odds of seeing northern lights because of the atmospheric conditions in the area – a phenomenon known as the “blue hole of Abisko.” While you’re there, you can explore the beautiful Abisko National Park.
Abisko is the perfect off the beaten path destination in Europe for adventurous travellers who enjoy winter activities. Even better if you aren’t afraid to venture away from the comforts of large cities – Abisko is about 17 hours north of Stockholm by train.
In addition to seeing the northern lights, you can go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice climbing, snowmobiling, and more. Sweden takes sustainability seriously, but you can lessen your environmental impact even further by taking public transit instead of driving. There are train stops at both the STF Abisko Turiststation and in the town of Abisko.
I’ll never forget sipping hot cocoa while I sat at a bonfire at the Turiststation and watched the northern lights spread across the sky. Not only was the scene unforgettably beautiful but there were also warm and friendly travelers from other areas of Europe chatting and swapping stories. It reminded me of being at summer camp!
If you decide to travel to Abisko in the winter, be sure to dress very warmly. Full winter gear, including snow boots, snow pants, and a very warm jacket, is essential.
Underrated destinations in Europe: UK
While Edinburgh and London undeniably shine as popular UK travel destinations, there exist lesser-known treasures across these countries waiting to be explored. Delve into the enchanting landscapes and rich histories of these underrated locations that offer a refreshing alternative to the bustling streets of the capital cities.
The Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall, England
Contribution by Jen of London in Real Life
The Lizard Peninsula is the southernmost tip of mainland Great Britain and has one of the most stunning coastlines in the UK.
The most beautiful attraction is Kynance Cove, a remote rocky beach with crystal-clear water, an azure mermaid pool, a lovely cafe, and stunning fields of heather on the cliffs that surround this Cornish gem.
If you’re not up for an adventurous hike down to the water, try the more accessible beaches of Poldhu Cove (great for surfing) and Kennack Sands (perfect for kids). Always check the tide times before you go to any beach, as most beaches on the Lizard are safest at low tide.
Getting around the Lizard Peninsula is best with a car, but be careful driving as the roads are very narrow and have blind corners. Don’t get stuck in the mud whilst reversing like I did! A very nice Cornish farmer came to my rescue with his tractor, and meeting the kind people like him made me fall in love with Cornwall even more.
Make sure to travel responsibly and leave no trace on the Lizard. Most of the coast is a National Heritage site and environmental protections are in place. Carry your trash on your hike out, follow the rules for dogs, and stay on the marked trails.
Contribution by Paulina from the UK Every Day
Shropshire is a charming county located in the West Midlands. While it may not be as well-known as some of the other destinations in England, it is home to some of the best-hidden gems in the UK that are perfect for the adventurous traveller looking to explore off the beaten path.
One such destination is the Stiperstones National Nature Reserve. Located in the Shropshire Hills, this reserve is known for its striking landscape and unique geology. It is home to a variety of flora and fauna, including the northern wheatear, purple foxglove, and red kite.
However, what brought our attention to Shropshire was Carding Mill Valley and the Long Mynd Nature Reserve. One of the most incredible sights you can see here is the wild horses that roam the hills and valleys. To catch a glimpse of these beautiful animals, you’ll need to head out into the countryside.
If you are looking for a destination that offers slow travel, then Shropshire is definitely worth considering. It’s important to remember that there are wild animals, and you should never approach them or try to feed them. Instead, simply enjoy the sight of them from a safe distance, and marvel at the natural beauty of Shropshire’s countryside.
Isle of Harris, Scotland
Contributed by Kristin of Scotland Less Explored
The Isle of Harris is an island in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. It is known for its amazing beaches and fantastic scenery. One side of the island is full of white sandy beaches, whilst the other is craggy and rocky. Both distinct sceneries make for dramatic pictures, and together with very changeable weather, it makes a great destination for photographers. It is not unusual to have part of the sky being sunny and blue whilst the other is dark and stormy.
With all the good hikes in the area, the Isle of Harris is popular with people who like the outdoors. My two favourite hikes on the island are the hike over Beinn Dhubh and the hike to the top of Ceapabhal. Both have fantastic views out to sea and over the beaches below.
Most people stay in a cottage which must be rented for a week at a time making it perfect for slow travel. When you arrive life just seems to slow down which is one of the things that makes these islands so magical. Every time I get to the Outer Hebrides it feels like the stress of daily life falls away and that is the reason I return to these islands every year.
To support the local community stop by one of the self service bakery shops on the island such as Croft36 or The Cake Shed. They are unmanned and operate on an honesty system where you pay for the baked goods you take with you.
The Outer Hebrides is a group of islands so the only way to get there is by ferry or a domestic flight. You can get the ferry from Skye to Tarbert or from Ullapool to Stornoway. Domestic flights are also available from Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Shetland Islands, Scotland
Contribution by Suzanne of Meandering Wild
If you’re an avid nature enthusiast and are looking for a wildlife escape, you might be interested in planning a wildlife photography trip to the Shetland Islands. The Shetland Islands are located north of Scotland’s Mainland and are closer to Norway than the UK. There are three main islands – Mainland, Yell and Unst, all connected by ferries with several smaller islands that can be visited with planning.
Visiting Shetland is a delight for any wildlife enthusiast willing to have ethical animal experiences. During the summer months, you’ll have the opportunity to witness puffin colonies in action. These small birds make the cliffs their home along with gannets who can be seen diving from great heights into the sea.
Otters are commonly spotted on the islands. While waiting for the ferry, you might even see one fishing nearby. Taking a local guide will ensure your encounter is ethical and doesn’t disturb the otter. These mammals are very shy and as soon as they catch the scent of a human in the wind they will move to a different area. Guides know the otters well, enabling you to observe them without disruption. Otters are a cherished memory of Shetland for me – I once tracked one along the beach, eventually finding it peacefully asleep on a seaweed bed after losing sight of it.
Shetland also sees orcas, whales and dolphins passing through and I would suggest getting out of your car on ferry crossings as you never know what may be surfing the bow wave.
Last thoughts on these off the beaten path European destinations
As we reflect on the vibrant tapestry of Europe, let these offbeat destinations in Europe remind us that travel is not just a destination; it’s a transformative journey where the joy is as much in the exploration as it is in the destination itself. So, whether you’re an intrepid explorer seeking new horizons and unusual destinations in Europe, or a curious soul yearning for unique encounters, may these hidden gems inspire your next adventure—one that resonates with the beating heart of the places less travelled.
Let me know in the comments below which of these European destinations, with their own touch of magic, you would add to your travel list.