Photo by iStock. Design by Lauren DeLuca for Yahoo Travel
By Kristy Alpert
Travel to Europe has become a monogamous affair for most vacationers, who bounce between cities like London, Barcelona, and Paris like they’re in a steady relationship. And while there’s something to be said for having the best table at your favorite Roman pizzeria or knowing exactly which patisserie to hit up when you disembark at Charles de Gaulle, there’s literally an entire continent out there begging to be discovered.
Don’t worry; no one’s asking you to cheat on Paris or call things off with Amsterdam. You can still keep racking up those European loyalty points in cities that aren’t on the well-worn tourist route. Ahead, discover 12 incredible, lesser-known European cities that you may not even know about — but need to visit, stat.
Photo: Courtesy of Kristy Alpert
Referred to as “Little Vienna” for its architecture and artistic culture, the ridiculously charming city of Timișoara is progressive and alive. In summer, pop-up restaurants and outdoor tables line the streets, while the winter is reserved for hanging out in the bars and clubs set inside renovated industrial warehouses and tattered historic buildings.
Where to stay: Hotel Timișoara is modern and clean, and sits in the heart of the city — so it’s the perfect home base for exploring and dining in the city.
What to do: Romanian wine is one of the best-kept secrets in Europe. Do yourself a favor and take a break from visiting museums and landmarks to make a day trip out to Cramele Recas Winery, where you can sample some of the country’s best vintages.
Munich may get most of the attention during Oktoberfest, but not only is the modern city of Stuttgart less touristy, it also offers a way more legit celebration, where you’ll see actual Germans savoring beers instead of just visitors getting trashed. Stuttgart is home to the world famous Mercedes-Benz Museum, but despite its reputation as the industrial “cradle of the automobile,” there are actually more green spaces than urban ones — and it’s one of the rare German cities in that’s spread out over a series of hills and vineyards.
Where to stay: Opening this month, the A&O Stuttgart City promises to be one of the best options for sleeping in the city center, offering both hostel and hotel accommodations and an onsite bar (with foosball table!).
What to do: Definitely make time to walk around the picturesque Johanneskirche and then peel out in the racing simulator at the Mercedes-Benz Museum. If you happen to be in town September 25 to October 11, grab a stein and head to Cannstatter Wasen for a legit German Oktoberfest experience.
Photo: Courtesy of Kristy Alpert
Located at the northernmost section of coastal Istria, Rovinj is actually closer to Venice than it is to Croatia’s golden child Dubrovnik, and they have the language to prove it (this bilingual city slurs seamlessly between both Italian and Croatian). Rovinj is one of the last remaining authentic Mediterranean fishing ports, and local restaurants like Kantinon change their menus according to the fishermen’s daily haul.
Where to stay: The Hotel Monte Mulini is the number-one boutique hotel in Croatia and also happens to be home to the best wine-focused restaurant (The Wine Vault), the best spa, and the best spot to sunbathe on the beach with a pint of local beer.
What to do: For the best view of the town, wind your way up past the shops and cafes that line Old Town’s slippery stone path (no, really, tread carefully) to gaze out from the steps of the Church of St. Euphemia. A day trip out to Zigante Tartufi is worth it just to taste the world-famous truffles, but the restaurant also offers guests the opportunity to book a trip and hunt for some of their own!
Where to stay: A short pedi-cab ride or walk to The Vander Urbani Resort puts you in the center of the riverfront action. Four renovated townhouses give this Design Hotel its modern, but historic feel, while the extensive underground wine cellar gives guests a delicious way to start a vacation.
What to do: Spend the day paddleboarding through the city center on the River Ljubljanica, take a torch-lit tour through the city’s Roman remains, or book a food walk to taste your way through this rising star of the culinary world.
Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
This quirky Czech town is both a time warp into an unspoiled medieval city (the Old Town is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and a bohemian haven that attracts writers, artists, and musicians. The city was built around a 13th century castle, but today, most of the life and culture revolves around the river, where an endless flow of rafters float past the restaurants and cafes set up along the shore.
Where to stay: The very descriptively named Hotel Old Inn is an affordable 4-star option off the main square. The rooms are comfortable enough, but the best feature of this hotel is the wooden charcoal-fueled restaurant, housed in the catacombs beneath the lobby.
What to do: Check out the melodramatic Baroque Theater inside the castle complex to get a taste of the city’s history. For something more contemporary, join a river pub-crawl with Hostel 99, where you float to a stream of pubs and scenic points, taking a shot or sipping a beer at each stop along the way.
Coming in at only 270 square miles, the petite island of Menorca is one of the smallest (and least crowded) of the Spanish islands. While the other islands of Ibiza and Majorca are famously overrun with ostentatious tourists, the only thing flashy about Menorca is its dazzling beauty and lavishly accommodating locals. The island’s laid-back charm doesn’t stop with its UNESCO declared Biosphere Reserve landscape, but extends deep into the cobbled streets of the Old Ciutadella and the cured meats at the Claustre del Carme market inside the former monastery of Maó.
Where to stay: Originally the site of a Spanish farm and homestead, the rooms and cottages at the Torralbenc hotel add to the boutique charisma of this island. The hotel even offers private cooking classes and wine-pairing dinners with Michelin-starred chef Paco Morales.
What to do: There’s no shame in spending all day lounging on the sun-bleached sands of the island, but for a more lively scene, make your way to the cliffs of the famous Cova d’en Xoroi to watch the sunset before heading in to the cavernous nightclub.
Where to stay: The rooms at Hotel La Palma Stresa overlook the pristine waters of Lake Maggiore, but if you want a more opulent outlook, head to the spa for pampering and panoramic views.
What to do: In the heart of the lake is the island of Isola Bella (pictured). Napoleon once stayed here at the grand palazzo, which shares the landscape with gorgeous gardens and rocky outcroppings.
Where to stay: One of the best places to sleep in this city is on the river, with the French Country Waterways Cruise. But if you want to sleep on land, the Hotel Mercure Reims Centre Cathedrale offers a great central location and cozy rooms.
What to do: A visit to the Billecart-Salmon Champagne House is a must, as it’s one of the few remaining Champagne houses still owned by the founding family. Also, make sure to book a table at the Michelin-Starred restaurant Les Crayères and stop by La Grande Boutique du Vin on your way out to load up on bottles of delicious souvenirs.
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Where to stay: Even though the Grand Hotel Karel V is rated as the finest 5-star hotel in the city, it’s incredibly affordable. The hotel was originally an old monastery dating back to 1348, but has been renovated into a hotel with 121 rooms, a Roman health center, a bar, brasserie, and an amazing restaurant, the Grand Restaurant Karel V.
What to do: After strolling the canals, check out the Centraal Museum, the Rietveld Schröderhuis, and the Museum Speelklok before climbing the Dom Tower (112 meters high) and ending the day with a locally brewed beer at Stadskasteel Oudæn.
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Where to stay: Located in a 400-year-old building on a quiet stretch of Riga’s beloved Old Town, the Dome Hotel & Spa is a peaceful respite tucked away from the busier streets. Don’t miss the hotel’s Turkish bath and lavish Latvian breakfast.
What to do: Shopping is best in the Old Town, but you can’t miss the chance to soak in a traditional Latvian bath experience at the Baltā Pirtswhile in town.
The capital city of Budapest is actually broken into two sections, Buda and Pest, which straddle the Danube. Although the two sections have a totally different aesthetic and ambiance, each offers a vital spice that seasons this Hungarian hub with a truly unified (and amazing) flavor.
Where to stay: The glass façade of the Lánchíd 19 Design Hotel offers the best views of the Danube and the Buda Castle. It’s also a trendy place to start off a trip full of shopping, dining, clubbing, and more.
What to do: Stroll through the historic Castle Hill, sample the local foods at Central Market Hall, walk across the Chain Bridge, shop for treasures at the Ecseri Flea Market, and take a shot of Unicum at the Zwack Museum.
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If Helsinki were a person, it’d be the cool friend with a quirky sense of humor and a totally chill outlook on life. This capital city is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe — and is a cool mix of islands, green parks, and urban cityscape. Although it isn’t as spread out as Europe’s other capitals, it offers the entire European experience, with a vibrant nightlife, amazing markets, and a dizzying array of new restaurants and cafes.
Where to stay: The GLO Hotel Art was built in 1903 as the student clubhouse for the technical university nearby, but today, it is one of the trendiest hotels in the city.
What to do: For a taste of modern Helsinki, head to the Punavuori neighborhood. This area used to be the rough side of town, but now it’s home to the city’s best bars, vintage shops, boutiques, galleries, and more.