Go off the beaten path in Europe with cities and regions that aren't on every must-see list but are definitely worth visiting.
Everyone’s heard of Europe’s major tourist destinations, and rightly so. After all, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and Rome are all famous for a reason.
But there are fantastic cities and regions that aren’t even mentioned on typical European “to-do” lists. From Innsbruck in Austria to the seaside Cinque Terre in Italy, the following destinations offer a blend of outdoor activities, history, shopping and wildlife, providing a perfect reason to step slightly off the beaten track.
MOSTAR, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Considered by many to be the most beautiful city in the country, Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the cultural capital and home to the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Stari Most, or Old Bridge.
The Old Bridge, which was rebuilt following the civil war bombings in 1993, is easily the city’s best known monument, however there are plenty of other attractions for tourists to enjoy. Quirky cafes and shops can be found throughout the Old Town, and Ottoman Empire structures, such as the 300-year-old Muslibegovica House, are also worth a visit.
Further afield, historic towns such as Stolac, Blagaj and Medjugorje provide some historical context to the various ethnic groups that once lived harmoniously in the region.
Buried at the foot of the towering Alps, the Austrian city of Innsbruck offers guests a chance to appreciate a blend of old and new. The old town dates back to more than 800 years ago, and provides a glimpse at Medieval life in the region, while the modern “Home of the Giant,” a massive hub of arts, entertainment and shopping, is the largest of its kind in the world. Within the center is the stunning Swarovski Crystal Cloud, which hovers over a captivating Mirror Pool and is made from 800,000 sparkling crystals.
During winter months, tourists can partake in various alpine activities that can be easily reached from the city. Skiing, tobogganing, snowboarding and many other sports are offered on the nearby slopes.
During the summer, the area becomes provides a perfect site for rock climbing, hiking and bike riding. Nature lovers can visit the Alpine Zoo, while history buffs can get lost in the many museums and galleries that the town has to offer.
Located in Estonia and rarely featured as a must-see destination, Tallinn nonetheless offers a fascinating chance to relive history in one of Europe’s less-visited nations. A vibrant city that frequently hosts festivals of various genres, Tallinn is home to the expansive Kumu Art Museum, which houses both classic and contemporary pieces and the Open Air Museum, a recreated historic village complete with staff in period costumes.
Shoppers will appreciate the showroom in the Estonian Design House, which houses quality local works. To cap off the Estonian experience, visitors should listen for haunting organ sounds from one of the many churches around the city.
CINQUE TERRE, ITALY
Comprised of five fishing villages built on the coastal cliffs, Italy’s Cinque Terre is a picturesque destination that starting to become popular. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, the region has a range of activities for everyone, and the colorful houses and pretty seaside provide the perfect backdrop for a vacation.
Outdoor enthusiasts can dive or snorkel in the marine park, and anyone chasing nature can watch the birdlife in the Riomaggiore’s Torre Guardiola.
Neighboring Manarola is famous for producing Sciacchetra wine, and the third village, Vernazza, is known for its cobbled streets and laneways. Vernazza is also home to the crumbling Castello Doria, and the Gothic-Ligurian church, Chiesa di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, which was built in 1318.
Brimming with creative architecture and full of history, the city of Zadar in Croatia is captivating. The impressive Sea Organ, which extends 70 meters along the coast, is sure to hold anyone mesmerized, and the famous Wide Street, which is older than the city itself, is a reminder of the Roman influence on the area.
Riva, Zadar’s seaside promenade, offers a peaceful setting to watch the majestic sunsets the city is famous for, and the bustling City Market is full of all sorts of delicious food. Finally, the Museum of Ancient Glass exhibits a vast collection of Roman glassware from the commanding 19th-century Cosmacendi Palace.
A previous isolationist policy kept Albania hidden as a tourist destination, but in recent years, the country has become more accessible. The World Heritage Listed city of Berat is located on the hillside and boasts spectacular mountain views.
Kalaja Castle overlooks the city and there is a collection of Ottoman houses leading up the slopes. The cobbled streets in the old quarter offer a step back in time, and there are various museums that display the area’s history. Wine tasting can easily be arranged and the chilly Bogove Waterfall isn’t far from the city.
Although becoming more and more frequented by travelers, Montenegro’s Kotor is yet to be featured as a true mainstream European destination — but it won’t stay like that forever. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, Kotor is full of significant monuments and landmarks, including the River Gate and the Town Walls, and it will be nearly impossible to walk away without gathering some knowledge of the city’s history.
The more adventurous can opt for cave tours, canyoning or mountain-bike trips around the area. Or visitors can relax (kind of) on a stand-up paddle board, or take a private yacht and swimming tour. For those looking to take home some souvenirs, Antiques Stankovic is filled with a range of unique jewelry, coins, medals and all sorts of traditional trinkets.
Lofoten in Norway features postcard scenes around almost every corner, from white beaches to untouched fjords. Rare bird species, whales and seals all inhabit the surrounding arctic waters, and the area also provides a great spot to try and catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Outdoor activities come in abundance, with skiing, kayaking and hiking all available. Within the city, there are local museums, galleries and shops, and various cultural festivals are held during the warmer months.
Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, is a tiny city, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit. The Schloss Vaduz sits on a hill above the city, and although the castle itself isn’t accessible, the views are impressive enough to make the walk worthwhile.
Within the city, the Kunstmuseum and Liechtensteinisches Landesmuseum both provide an interesting glimpse at the region’s earlier days, with the latter displaying information on medieval witch trials. For preserved tradition coupled with tranquility, head to the neighboring town of Mitteldorf.
Combining glorious landscapes with cultural landmarks is World Heritage Listed Ohrid in Macedonia, a city that boasts a pristine seaside that puts the crowded Mediterranean beaches to shame. The city overlooks the enormous Lake Ohrid, which spans 39 kilometers and, at 3 million years old, is thought to be the oldest in Europe. The city itself contains various churches and a medieval castle, while the beautiful Galicica National Park is located nearby.