Travel To-Do List: 10 Under-the-Radar European Cities To Visit in 2015

Travel To-Do List: 10 Under-the-Radar European Cities To Visit in 2015

When one thinks Europe, cities like Paris, London and Rome immediately come to mind. While those are certainly beautiful and worthy travel destinations, they also tend to be expensive and crowded with tourists – not ideal for short trips where you don’t have hours to be spent standing in line.

Now of course I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit Paris – hello, it’s Paris! But these under-the-radar European cities will charm your pants off while allowing you to experience life like a local, learn something you didn’t know before and maybe even save some money.

10 Under-the-Radar European Cities To Visit in 2015

When you’re taking the plunge and actually booking a real vacation – as in, a week off from work – here are 10 lesser known European destinations to consider. Spend all your time exploring uncharted territory, or simply add one of these destinations into your itinerary for 2-3 days.

1. Burgos, Spain

10 Under-the-Radar European Cities: Burgos, Spain

Nicolas Vigier/Flickr

About a two and a half hour drive from Madrid is Burgos, a city that has been around since 884. The historical destination’s fame is twofold: it’s home to Spain’s third largest cathedral, which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is the birthplace of El Cid, the national hero of Spain. For a uniquely Spanish experience, plan your visit for the week after the feast of Corpus Christi so you can catch the Baby Jumping Festival. That’s right, I said Baby Jumping. Held in the nearby town of Castrillo de Murcia, the annual festival, called El Colacho, in Spanish, happens on the Sunday after Corpus Christi. When I first heard about it, terrifying visions of babies jumping popped into my head. The actual celebration is (slightly) safer, but perhaps a whole lot weirder: grown men dressed in yellow devil costumes leap over babies to cleanse them of evil. I’m not going to pretend I understand it, but I will say that it looks adorable slash hilarious.

Get there from New York: 8 hour flight to Madrid, 2.5 hour drive or 3 hour train ride to Burgos

2. Évora, Portugal

10 Under-the-Radar European Cities: Évora, Portugal

Bjaglin/Flickr

Still partially enclosed by medieval walls, the Portugese city of Évora is known for having some of the most well preserved historical sights, including a Roman temple. Just an hour and a half from Lisbon in the wine region of Alentejo, Évora is charming, walkable and filled to the brim with architectural gems. But it’s not all about ancient history; Évora is also a university town, meaning it has plenty of youthful energy. Sip coffee on the picturesque main square for people watching, and then slip down one of Évora’s winding streets to find a small restaurant where you can taste the rich, rustic Alentejan cuisine that foodies rave about.

Get there from New York: 7 hour flight to Lisbon, 1.5 hour drive or train ride to Évora

3. Riga, Latvia

10 Under-the-Radar European Cities: Riga, Latvia

Bryan Ledgard/Flickr

Often compared to New York and Paris, Riga stands on its own with plenty of charm, culture and history to share with visitors. Historically speaking, the city boasts the largest showing of art-noveau architecture in Europe and a walk around the Old Town will leave you feeling like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale. But following a renaissance of sorts, Riga is more cosmopolitan than ever with hip cafes and restaurants opening across the city, and a never-ending list of cultural festivals on the calendar. If you needed any more convincing to book your ticket, Riga was actually named European Capital of Culture for 2014.

Get there from New York: With a connecting flight, travel time is about 12-13 hours.

4. Thessaloniki, Greece

10 Under-the-Radar European Cities: Thessaloniki, Greece

George M. Groutas/Flickr

The second largest city in Greece first popped onto my radar when a travel deal blog I follow advertised $500 round trip fares from Boston to Thessaloniki. Thessalon-what? After some Googling, I decided this city, often referred to as “Greece’s hippest city,” is definitely worth a stop. A safe and walkable city, Thessaloniki’s attractions include numerous monuments and ruins, an impressive selection of museums, beautiful beaches, some of Greece’s best nightlife, and most importantly, lots of fantastic Greek food. You can bet that the next time that flight deal comes around, I won’t be hesitating!

Get there from New York: With a connecting flight, total travel time is about 12-14 hours.

5. Campobasso, Italy

10 Under-the-Radar European Cities: Campobasso, Italy

E. Minardi

I’ve been to Italy twice, but I still don’t feel like I’ve experienced the “real Italy.” After studying Italian for eight years, I was frustrated and disappointed by the fact that everyone I came across during my Italian travels immediately spoke to me in English. But I think if I had planned a visit to Campobasso, the capital of the Molise region known for being quiet and quaint, all that would have changed. A quick online search for accommodations reveals hardly anything reviewed in English, meaning this truly is one of the more under-the-radar European cities, at least for us Americans. Set between mountains, the picturesque city feels more like a sleepy village than an urban center, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to see. The primary attraction is Castello Monforte, a castle built in the 1400’s, and its neighboring church which is filled with frescoes by a local painter.

Get there from New York: 8 to 9 hour flight time to Rome, 2 hour train to Campobasso.

6. Ljubljana, Slovenia

10 Under-the-Radar European Cities: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Gilad Rom/Flickr

The largest city in Slovenia, Ljubljana has been getting a lot of buzz lately and it’s definitely on my travel to-do list for 2015. While not exactly “off the beaten path,” Slovenia still hasn’t caught the attention of many of my fellow Americans who usually choose to visit neighboring Italy or Croatia instead. Something tells me that’s about to change, and I’d better book my trip sooner rather than later! Easily one of the prettiest cities in Europe, Ljubljana is also incredibly affordable compared to other capitals on the continent. On Friday afternoons, head to Pogačarjev trg (central market square) for an incredible street food market that’s a popular lunch and after work scene for locals.

Get there from New York: With a connecting flight, travel time is about 9-11 hours.

7. Valleta, Malta

10 Under-the-Radar European Cities: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Gov.mt

Did you know that Malta’s capital city was completed in just 15 years? It’s quite impressive, especially considering the fact that construction technology was not quite what it is today back in 1566. One of the most concentrated historic areas in the world, Valleta was originally a fortress city complete with bastions and forts and looks like something straight out of a movie. Not convinced yet? The country of Malta gets more than 300 sunny days a year and is surrounded by some of the cleanest and clearest Mediterranean waters. As I type this from rainy and cold New York City, I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be jetting off to!

Get there from New YorkWith a connecting flight, travel time is about 12-13 hours.

8. Akureyri, Iceland

10 Under-the-Radar European Cities: Akureyri, Iceland

Orlygur Hnefill/Flickr

Reykjavik might steal all the the thunder, but a lesser known Icelandic destination is Akureyri, the country’s second largest city. Still quite small with a population around just 17,000, Akureyri is located at the head of Iceland’s greatest fjord, Eyjafjord. In the winter, Iceland’s best skiing is located right nearby at Hlíðarfjall, and from September to April you have a good chance of catching the Northern Lights.

Get there from New York: 6 hour flight to Reykjavik, then 45 minute flight or 6 hour bus ride to Akureyri

9. Spello, Italy

10 Under-the-Radar European Cities & Towns: Spello, Italy

Henry Lawford/Spello

While this one’s not really a city, I had to put it on the list as photos of Spello simply stole my heart. About a half hour from the Umbrian capital of Perugia, Spello is an ancient hill town that offers gorgeous views and (you’ll find this is a common theme in Italy) a bevvy of medieval churches to explore.

Get there from New York: 8 to 9 hour flight to Rome, 2 hour drive to Spello.

10. Turku, Finland

10 Under-the-Radar European Cities: Turku, Finland

Henri Sivonen/Flickr

I follow the tourism office of Finland on Instagram, and their daily photos of the country take my breath away. While destinations like Helsinki and Lapland are obvious Finnish must-sees, I recently read about the city of Turku and it earned a spot on my travel bucket list. The last on my list of under-the-radar European cities, Turku is the oldest city in Finland and offers everything from historical sights to great restaurants. The city also has a buzzing bar scene, with many establishments sprouting up in restored buildings and named after what they once were. Care for a drink at Toilet Bar, where you can learn about the evolution of the pot over a cocktail? If not, there’s also The Pharmacy, The School and The Old Bank.

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