The best hidden gems in Europe include stunning mountain towns in Italy, overlooked islands in Croatia, the ultimate detox spot in Sweden and some surprising places to hit the slopes.
There are a lot of tried and tested holiday destinations in Europe. Many of them are worthy of their popularity. Cities like Barcelona and Amsterdam will always be appealing as they offer so much. However, go off the beaten path in Europe and you might discover somewhere extra special. A place that has all the charm of a popular spot, but without the crowds.
I’ve stumbled across some of my favourite hidden gems in Europe completely by chance. I knew Lake Bled in Slovenia would be beautiful, but I had no idea its neighbour Lake Bohinj, would have equally as much going for it. I’d spent lots of time in Dubrovnik and Split, but then I discovered some spots that I couldn’t believe weren’t written about and recommended more!
While the pandemic will hopefully relieve some of the problems of over tourism, at least in the short term, I figure I have a role to play too. If I can recommend you skip the obvious and visit a lesser-known destination, it’ll help disperse the crowds, support communities in other areas and improve tourism around the world. Well, that’s the dream!
After several years of extensive travel around Europe, I’ve come up with a pretty comprehensive list of options for you. Beautiful places, great suggestions for road trips and day trips and a mix of beaches, mountains, lakes, villages, towns and cities. There really is something for everyone in here!
It’s time to share a few of my favourite hidden gems in Europe.
The Best Hidden Gems In Europe
Terme Di Comano, Trentino, Italy
The area of Terme di Comano in northern Italy is famed for its healing thermal waters, which are rich in minerals and known to relieve skin disorders and allergies. While some visit for wellness breaks and to enjoy the water’s medicinal qualities, I was in the area for a different type of medicine. The one created by the great outdoors!
If you’re feeling tired, stressed or mentally drained, I’d prescribe a trip here! It’s a beautiful area of Trentino, filled with epic mountains, bright green and blue lakes and a wonderfully hearty cuisine.
It’s a completely different destination from summer to winter, as hiking and cycling are replaced with winter sports. I’d recommend late spring or early autumn as lovely times to visit if you want to experience the region’s nature at its best. During my trip at the start of October we enjoyed warm sunshine, blues skies and fresh mountain air.
Highlights for me in Comano include the sentiero della ciuìga hike – a 7.5km route which starts in San Lorenzo and takes you through the region’s prettiest villages and out to some stunning remote scenery. Lake Molveno is also a stunning place to see for yourself. Its rich blue waters draw you in, while the backdrop of the epic Brenta Dolomites is guaranteed to make you feel tiny. It’s a special part of Italy, that’s for sure!
Aeolian Islands, Italy
While everyone knows Sicily, many haven’t heard of the archipelago to its north known as the Aeolian Islands. I was lucky enough to go on a sailing trip here, stopping at different islands each day. It’s a stunning region, and seeing it from the deck of a boat was just perfect.
Our route took us to 6 of the Aeolian Islands – Vulcano, Isola Filicudi, Salina, Stromboli, Panarea, and Lipari. Each one is different and offers specific activities. There’s Salina with its beautiful colourful buildings and lush vineyards, epic volcano Stromboli – complete with lava eruptions, and Panarea – the poshest of the islands, known for smart restaurants and a yachtie elite!
It’s rare to spend time relaxing amongst such fiercely active volcanoes (remember there’s Etna on mainland Sicily too!) but it really was a wonderful trip. If you fancy visiting, I’d recommend the hike up Stromboli. The steepness was challenging at times, but seeing a lava eruption with my own eyes is something I’ll never forget. You can read about the Stromboli hike here.
Vietri Sul Mare, Italy
If you thought the Amalfi Coast was all about extortionately priced restaurants and luxury villas, you might be in for a surprise. We discovered the small town of Vietri Sul Mare by chance on holiday a few summers ago, and due to some last minute changes we ended up spending a night there.
It’s the first town you’ll reach from Salerno at the opposite end of the Amalfi Coast from Positano, but it’s still absolutely stunning. It’s also a LOT cheaper, so perfect for those on a budget.
We stayed at Hotel La Lucertola – a dated but decent enough hotel right on the water. It was very reasonable for the region and our room had the most mesmerising sea views! I still remember opening the curtains and looking out – wow! From the hotel it was just a short walk to the beach, restaurants and the heart of the action.
The town has the Amalfi Coast vibes without the hefty price tag. Houses and hotels are stacked up on the edge of the mountainous scenery, the beach umbrellas are laid out in perfect lines and the restaurants are lit by candles and full of romance.
No doubt you’ve heard of Dubrovnik and Split… you probably know that Zagreb is the capital. But, have you ever heard of Rovinj? It’s not unknown to tourists and can get busy in the summer months, but not on the scale of Dubrovnik and Split.
Rovinj’s old town is located on a peninsula. I loved seeing the brightly coloured buildings, fishing boats and exploring the skinny pedestrianised streets. Surrounding the peninsula are clear turquoise waters, perfect for a dip.
We loved our holiday in this region and Rovinj was definitely one of the highlights. We loved sitting in restaurants in the old town with tables laid on the cobbles, looking out at the water. It’s romantic and buzzy, but has a bit of that hidden gem charm too!
If you’re visiting Europe as a big group or would like the option to self-cater some of your trip, I’d recommend taking a look at Airbnb. Usually the properties are owned by locals so you can enjoy an authentic experience and ask for lots of expert tips for the area.
I visited Korčula on a sailing trip around Croatia, where we visited lots of islands including Hvar, Šolta and Vis. Korcula is the sixth largest island in Croatia, but doesn’t have the crazy crowds or party scene of tourist favourite Hvar.
I’d recommend a trip to the main town on the island – Korcula Town. There you can soak up the history as you pass 15th Century walls and wander streets of medieval stone buildings.
My favourite spot in Korcula Town was Massimos – a cocktail bar on the top of one of the old fort towers. When you order drinks, they’re delivered using the special dumb waiter which hoists them to the top of the ancient tower!
Korcula is also home to quaint villages, pristine beaches and a handful of vineyards. It’s a little harder to reach than the likes of Hvar and Vis as it’s further from the mainland in Split, but that makes it quieter and even more special.
Troodos Mountains, Cyprus
For Brits, Cyprus is a popular country to visit for a beach holiday. A week tanning, swimming, relaxing and maybe a bit of partying too. However, my trip to the country included none of the above! I’ve surprised a lot of people when I’ve recounted tales from my time there.
The Troodos Mountains are located in the centre of Cyprus, with the highest point being Mount Olympus at over 1900m. I’d count this mountain range as one of the best hidden gems in Europe. As well as hiking and cycling in the warmer months, you can actually ski in the Troodos Mountains in winter. Skiing in Cyprus? I know – surprising isn’t it!
One of my highlights was my time at Casale Panayiotis – a luxury hotel, restaurant and spa in a stunning location in the Troodos Mountains. The area is famous for its natural sulphur-spring water, making it a great place to unwind. The views are seriously special too.
I also really enjoyed spending time in Lofou – a mountain village with a traditional way of life and more spectacular views.
The Hague, Netherlands
If you’ve visited Amsterdam or Rotterdam, it’s time to try somewhere new. Have you ever been to The Hague? I had a great trip in the summertime and was amazed by how much it offered. I’d always assumed it was a businessy to visit, being home to the Dutch parliament and the U.N.’s International Court of Justice.
However, what I found was surprising and exciting! I know The Hague is a big place, so less of a ‘hidden gem’ but I think it’s underrated and often overlooked. I spent several days enjoying the beautiful beaches, buzzy restaurants, beach clubs, boutiques, hipster coffee houses, quirky exhibitions, photogenic streets and historic palaces.
My big reason for recommending The Hague is that it fulfils two sets of criteria. Hop on a bus or a tram in the centre of The Hague and in under thirty minutes you can be on Scheveningen or Kijkduin Beach. Both are wide with soft sand and plenty of cool beach clubs, surf schools, and places to hire sun loungers.
Meanwhile, back in the city centre you’ll find streets lined with boutiques and hipster cafes, historic palaces, parliament and galleries. If you want a bit of everything on your trip, it’s a great destination.
Graz is a picturesque city in the southern Austrian province of Styria. There’s a medieval main square, lots of beautiful architecture, plus a 16th-century clock tower perched on a hill overlooking the city.
It’s the second most populated city after Vienna, but it doesn’t feel touristy in the slightest. A huge reason to visit? The food! Graz is known as the culinary capital of Austria. The food is quite different to other regions of Austria. Being in the south it benefits from a Mediterranean climate, which is reflected in the fresh produce and cooking techniques.
The city is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site – brimming with history, stunning architecture and museums. It’s funny though, while I enjoyed seeing the historic sites, it was the hipster, quirky edge that has remained rooted in my brain. There’s a great café scene, some quirky restaurants, modern art and architecture and even a place you can go surfing on the river!
When you think of Sweden, no doubt you have visions of magical forests, pretty lakes and traditional summerhouses. Of people celebrating midsummer with crayfish and schnapps, and cosy saunas followed by icy lake dips.
Sörmland is exactly this place! It’s only an hour and a half from Stockholm, so when the city’s residents need a break, this is where they escape to.
During my visit I kayaked through the archipelago, tried my hand at wild cooking, explored stunning forests, took a million photos of serene lakes, visited Gripsholm Castle (a fairytale castle on the banks of Lake Mälaren), warmed up in a sauna and even hung out with some adorable donkeys!
I also hiked a part of the Sörmlandsleden – a hiking trail that starts near Stockholm and stretches for 1,000 km.
If you were asked to name some Spanish cities, I’m guessing you’d say Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and maybe Valencia? Unless you’ve been to Cadiz, it’s probably not a city you’d think of, and yet I’m putting it out there – it’s one of my favourite places in the whole of Spain, and I’ve visited a lot of beautiful spots in the country!
So why visit Cadiz? If you’re into history, this is the city for you. Founded by the Phoenicians 3,000 years ago, Cadiz is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe. The Romans also settled there, building an impressive city (some of which is still in existence today).
But there’s more to this city than its past. There are several beautiful beaches, including La Caleta right in the centre. There are wiggly narrow streets, beautiful tree-lined plazas, fountains, great restaurants and sensational views.
While some of Spain’s larger cities are becoming more multi-cultural, Cadiz has retained a truly Andalusian flavour and charm. I’d recommend visiting for 3 nights, spending your days exploring on foot at your own pace. You won’t regret it.
The drive to the village of Siurana in Catalonia was a highlight of my trip to the Costa Dorada. Away from the beach-loving crowds in Salou, it was amazing to escape to somewhere with such epic scenery.
After a wiggly drive up to the Prades Mountains, enjoying dry, arid views of dusty orange sandstone and beautiful vineyards, we arrived at the top of the mountain. The tiny village of Siurana is home to just 24 people, some of whom run the 6-room hotel and restaurant.
With the ruins of a Moorish castle constructed in 800 and a simple 12th century Romanesque church with a baroque altar, there’s plenty of history to marvel at.
The highlights for me were the views, with sheer drops all around, and spectacular panoramas to the vibrant turquoise reservoir below. The village is adorable too, with old stone houses and romantic cobble streets.
Siurana is one of the prettiest villages in Catalonia, and while it can get busy in peak tourist season (I heard coach tours visit) if you visit on a weekday (like I did) you might have the place to yourself.
30km southeast of Dresden lies a region of Germany that will have you muttering “that doesn’t look like Germany!” Germany isn’t just beautiful castles, Christmassy villages, forests and mountains.
In Saxon Switzerland you’ll come face to face with huge sandstone rocks, magical forests and countryside.
Many of the rock formations are around 200m tall and were formed a million years ago. They’ve been a huge draw for travellers and tourists over the years, so much so that in 1824 a wooden bridge was constructed to allow people to explore the area more easily.
This was later replaced in 1851 by the sandstone bridge known as the Bastei Bridge, that stands in place today. It looks like something from the pages of a fairytale!
If you love the outdoors, this is a great region to visit – even better if you’re into hiking or climbing. I loved exploring on foot. And yes, I definitely found myself saying “this doesn’t look like Germany!”
Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
If you were to visit Slovenia’s most famous spot you’d probably head straight for Lake Bled, with its tiny island topped with a church. It’s stunning, romantic and worthy of its popularity.
But what if I told you there was another lake under 30 minutes away, which is just as stunning, but hasn’t got the same crowds visiting?
Lake Bohinj was one of the highlights of my trip to Slovenia. I remember the mirror-like reflections on the water and the beautiful snow-covered mountains surrounding it. I loved the low-hanging mist too – a stunning sight, and the reason I took so many photos!
Vogel Ski Resort, Slovenia
Talking about Lake Bohinj in the Julian Alps brings me on nicely to this spot! I’ve mentioned the mountains around the lake, and it turns out you can actually ski on some of them. This is where you’ll find Vogel – one of Slovenia’s premier ski resorts.
It has over 22km of ski slopes, 9 lifts and a top altitude of 1800m. Depending on the weather it’s usually open from early December to the start of April. If you’re looking for a hidden gem in Europe for skiing, you’ve found your spot!
There’s more to Malta than the city of Valletta. When we visited Malta last autumn we went on a day trip to Mdina. Friends had recommended the walled city to us, and it was easy to reach by public bus from Valletta.
Mdina was the capital city of Malta up until medieval times and is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city. It’s enclosed in tall walls, and is filled with tiny streets filled containing historic stone buildings.
We wandered around for the afternoon, stopping for pizza topped with truffle at a cute restaurant near the main square, followed by coffee and a cake by the viewpoint. There are gorgeous views from one side of the walled city – you’ll definitely be reaching for your camera.
I also loved the colours of Mdina. While the buildings are a sandy colour, many of the doors are painted in bright colours. It’s a very photogenic place, and a nice change of scene if you’re staying in Valletta.
The only capital city to make it onto my list of hidden gems in Europe, and yes, I’m aware it might take a bit of explaining. After all, how can a country’s most important city be remotely secret? Well, I don’t know, maybe it isn’t, but when I visited, I hadn’t heard anyone ever recommend it before, and I absolutely fell in love with the place! It’s photogenic, fun and there’s plenty to do.
During my time there it wasn’t remotely busy and felt very un-touristy. Perhaps it was the time of year (September) or maybe it is wonderfully underrated!
Tallinn is a remarkably well-preserved medieval city, complete with ancient city walls made from limestone, a picturesque town hall, and brightly coloured buildings lining cobble streets. I loved the mix of old and new. While the architecture may take you back in time, there’s a heavy influence on modern design and décor, as well as some cool cafes and bars around the city.
If you’ve been to a lot of the obvious cities in Europe, I’d recommend Tallinn for your next city break.
Saas-Fee is a popular ski resort in Switzerland, but you can visit the town all year round. It tends to be pretty quiet in the summer, so is a genuine hidden gem for an outdoorsy trip at that time of year.
We visited in peak winter though and even though we weren’t skiing, we still loved exploring the snow-covered town. The highlight was visiting Mittelallalin – a 3,500 peak just below Allalinhorn (accessible via 2 cable cars and a train).
The panoramic views from the viewing platform were absolutely mesmerising. We also enjoyed frothy hot chocolates inside Allalin Restaurant – the world’s highest revolving restaurant.
South Downs, England
A few months ago, I visited another truly beautiful part of my home country – the South Downs National Park.
The national park spans a whopping 1600 square kilometres, stretching from Winchester in the west all the way to Eastbourne in the east. The thing I love about it? The huge variety of landscapes. You’ll find stunning vistas of rolling hills, heaths, vineyards, farms and ancient forests, as well as epic cliffs and beaches.
It’s also a region famed for its dark skies. With little light pollution, there’s a chance to enjoy some incredible stargazing – something we absolutely loved doing!
Highlights included the walk through Kingley Vale’s 2000 year old grove, filled with the tangled, twisty branches of ancient yew trees. We stayed at The Old Railway Station – a former station that has been converted into an incredible B&B with old Pullman carriages for bedrooms. It’s one of the quirkiest places I’ve ever stayed!
Since that trip we’ve returned to the South Downs National Park again to hike from Eastbourne to Beachy Head. It’s a beautiful route which takes in some of the best chalk cliff views in England.
Jurassic Coast, England
Many visitors to England head straight for London, followed by Windsor, Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and York. Don’t get me wrong – these are all gorgeous places to visit, but how about a coastal trip to remember?
Dorset’s Jurassic Coast is one of my new favourite regions of England. There are lots of places I’d recommend exploring. Durdle Door is the most popular stop on the coast and is anything but a hidden gem, so how about visiting Old Harry Rocks instead? Set off from Studland Bay and in around 30 minutes you’ll reach the huge chalk standing stones. Views are stunning and it’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
I also really enjoyed our time in West Bay. The beach is famous for its huge sandstone cliffs, with 140ft sheer drops to the ground below. The ridges on the cliffs are a reminder of why this is known as the Jurassic Coast, as they show the falling sea levels from over 175 million years ago.
I hope this guide to the best hidden gems in Europe gives you lots of inspiration for your travels, and encourages you to visit some lesser-known destinations. I’d love to hear where in Europe you think is underrated or secret.
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