Last Updated on 21st January 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
Overlooked, underrated and often missed in favour of more popular destinations, there are plenty of European cities that might not be on your radar yet… But probably should be! Here are 10 underrated cities in Europe you simply must add to your bucket list for your next travel adventure:
And if you enjoy reading about the best offbeat cities in Europe, you may well enjoy hearing about these secret small towns in Europe that will steal your heart!
- #1 Brasov, Romania
- #2 Metz, France
- #3 Gdansk, Poland
- #4 Edinburgh, Scotland
- #5 Bucharest, Romania
- #6 Wells, England
- #7 Rouen, France
- #8 Lucerne, Switzerland
- #9 Düsseldorf, Germany
- #10 Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
- #11 Bergamo, Italy
- #12 Ghent, Belgium
- #13 Maastricht, the Netherlands
- #14 Figueres, Spain
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#1 Brasov, Romania
I must admit that when I first booked my stay in Brasov, a city in the very heart of historic Transylvania, I was merely thinking of the easy day trip I would make the following day to Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle and the most visited attraction in all of Romania)!
However, Brasov is a city that soon surprised me and most definitely made me wish I’d booked to stay longer. If you travel here, you can expect to find medieval walls, a well preserved ancient church and the narrowest street in Eastern Europe (otherwise known as rope street).
Read more: Brasov: A city in the heart of Transylvania.
#2 Metz, France
Located on the border between Luxembourg and France, Metz is an ancient city that has changed hands plenty of times over the centuries (and was even once inhabited by the Teutonic Knights). Head here to learn all about the history of the Lorraine region of France.
After all, this is an area often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbours, Champagne and Alsace. Now located in the newly designated ‘Grand-Est’ region of France, Metz is a city with plenty of leafy green space, medieval architecture, as well as the third tallest cathedral in France.
Read more: How to spend three days in Lorraine.
#3 Gdansk, Poland
Stunning and by the sea, the ancient port town of Gdansk is often overlooked in favour of more famous Polish cities like Warsaw or Kraków. But that doesn’t mean you should overlook this stunning destination when you’re planning your next European getaway.
Head here and you can expect to find plenty of churches, cobbled lanes, a complicated history and a whole load of good food (make sure to try the locally brewed beer and sample some pierogis!). And as if all that’s not already enough, you can also take an easy day trip from Gdansk to the nearby city of Malbork, where you’ll find the largest castle in the world (which was built by the Teutonic Knights).
Read more: Beautiful late fall destinations in Europe.
#4 Edinburgh, Scotland
While most visitors to the UK opt to visit London (England’s capital) rather than Edinburgh (Scotland’s Capital), this is most definitely a mistake! After all, there are plenty of fun, cultural and historical things to do in Edinburgh, a city built on the remains of extinct volcanoes- not to mention that a trip here will definitely cost much less than a visit to London!
Head to Edinburgh if you want to follow the Harry Potter trail (JK Rowling lived in the city when she conceived the idea for the Boy Who Lived and as a result, you’ll find plenty of inspiration for the books around the city and beyond), want to visit many museums (Dolly the Sheep is housed in Edinburgh’s National Museum) and want to learn more about Scottish culture, as well as see some incredible castles!
Read more: On the Harry Potter trail in Edinburgh.
#5 Bucharest, Romania
Hip cool and buzzing, the capital of Romania, Bucharest, is often referred to as ‘little Paris’ and ‘New Berlin’ thanks to its Haussmannian style architecture and Berlinesque nightlife. Head here if you want to experience some culture, learn some history (many of the best museums in all of Romania can be found here) and wander around city where you really have to explore to uncover its hidden gems.
Read more: Best things to do in Bucharest.
#6 Wells, England
Of all the European cities you probably never considered visiting, the tiny city of Wells may well top the list. The ancient city of Wells may be one of the very smallest cities in the United Kingdom (and on this list), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t packed with things to do!
Located in the English county of Somerset, on the fringes of the Mendip Hills, head here if you want to see a palace, learn about English ecclesiastical history and experience a UK city with a small town vibe (after all, the population hovers around just 10,000 residents).
#7 Rouen, France
Medieval and packed with history, Rouen is the capital of the Normandy region of France. Located on the River Seine, this ancient city is situated just a few hours from the bright lights of Paris, but you would really struggle to find two cities that differ more in l’Hexagon.
Once one of the most influential and wealthiest cities in Europe, wander along its cobbled lanes today, and you’ll find plenty of small museums, the birthplace of Richard the Lionheart, the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and one of the best examples of a Gothic Cathedral in all of Europe.
#8 Lucerne, Switzerland
Also known as ‘Luzern’ in German, Lucerne is located in the very heart of Switzerland and is well worth a visit if only to see its fairytale-like architecture and beautiful wooden bridge which finds itself with medieval origins.
Lying under a snow-capped mountain, this beautiful town is filled with sweet shops, independent boutiques and comes complete with beautiful Christmas markets and twinkling lights during the festive season.
Read more: How to spend three days in Switzerland.
#9 Düsseldorf, Germany
Trendy, cool and a beautiful blend of modern meets old: Düsseldorf is a city that well and truly surprised me when I was fortunate enough to visit for the first time earlier this year. If you enjoy museums, culture, and beer, then head to Düsseldorf, a vibrant city situated along the Rhine.
After all, the Altstadt (Old Town) part of the city is often referred to as the ‘longest bar in the world’ thanks to its abundance of cafes, bars, and clubs packed into a small space in the very centre of the city. To the outskirts of the city, the 12th-century Kaiserpfalz Kaiserswerth are among some of the oldest ruins along the River Rhine.
Read more: A quick guide to Düsseldorf.
#10 Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
The capital of the small European country of Luxembourg, Luxembourg City, is often missed in favour of more popular nearby destinations, making it one of the best underrated cities in Europe to visit this year.
Sandwiched between France and Germany, the city is filled with cobbled lanes, medieval history and lots of cute cafés where you can enjoy leisurely coffees. Elsewhere in the country of Luxembourg, culture and exciting outings are never far away.
After all, it’s possible to traverse this country with a population of less than a million in just a few hours! Public transport (which is now 100 percent free across the entirety of the country) also makes it incredibly easy to get around Luxembourg and palaces, castles, and even vineyards are beautiful to visit.
Read more: How to spend three days in Luxembourg.
#11 Bergamo, Italy
Overlooked and often forgotten in favour of its nearby neighbour, Milan, Bergamo is the hidden gem of Northern Italy. The town itself is built in two parts; an upper and lower town. While the lower part of town features plenty of stunning and imposing buildings, it’s the upper town that’s the real star of the show.
After all, this district of Bergamo largely dates back to the middle ages, and as a result, you can quite literally wander through history in the many secret alleyways and cobbled lanes that maze their way through the area.
Other highlights of old Bergamo include the chance to dine in a former prison and venture up the clock tower to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city. It’s also worth noting that, due to its strategic position, Bergamo makes for a great base from which to enjoy the wider Lombardy region.
Read more: A guide to the best things to do in Bergamo
#12 Ghent, Belgium
Sandwiched between France, the Netherlands, and Germany, Belgium is easily one of the most underrated destinations in Europe. And yet, that doesn’t mean you should leave it off your European bucket list! Ghent can be found less than an hour away from the Belgian capital of Brussels and is characterised by its meandering old town, many bars, and lively student scene.
While in the city, be sure not to miss out on the Middle Ages Castle, the Gravensteen, and the ever-so-beautiful former church turned food hall (the Holy Food Market). Easily explored over the course of several days, other things to do in Belgium include visiting the city’s many churches and even exchanging your shoe for a pint in the Dulle Griet bar!
#13 Maastricht, the Netherlands
While everyone who thinks of the Netherlands likely imagines the tulip-filled fields of Holland, the canals of Leiden, and the hip capital city of Amsterdam, there’s so much more to the country than just this. Instead, the stunning and off the beaten path city of Maastricht is the most Southerly Dutch city and can be found close to the border with Belgium and Germany.
Founded as early as Roman times, today the city is home to some of the best hidden gems and secrets of Europe, including Boekhandel Dominicanen (a bookshop in a former church), and a set of casemates where the real-life d’Artagnan fought and died. Elsewhere in the city, there’s a fantastic foodie scene you’ll want to take advantage of, while the nearby rolling hills offer plenty of hiking opportunities.
Read more: A guide to the best of Maastricht
#14 Figueres, Spain
Of course, most visitors to Spain make sure to frequent the capital city of Catalonia, Barcelona, but many make the mistake of failing to venture out into the wider region. However, this would be your first mistake since there are many wonderful day trips and weekend excursions to be taken from Barcelona, including hiking retreats and sleepy towns.
One of the smaller cities that you can visit from Barcelona is the tiny settlement of Figueres, which lies just across the border from France and is home to a population of around 40,000 residents. Once there, some of the best things to do in town include visiting the Dali museum as well as heading a little way out of town to marvel at the highly underrated Castell de Sant Ferran.
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