By College Tourist, Author: Ben Rissler
Include one of these 7 European hidden gems in your travel plans.
We've all dreamed of going to the most photographed cities in Europe like Paris, London, Prague, Venice, and Rome (guilty as charged), but the truth is that the European continent has so many hidden gems that are equally worth a visit. Escape the crowds, tourist traps, and even spend significantly less money on these overlooked, off the beaten path destinations in Europe. Some may be relatively difficult to get to in contrast to the larger cities, but most are very well-connected to major travel hubs via buses and trains for cheap fares (the best part of it all). Although there are so many places that I haven't been to yet in Europe, these are my top seven in alphabetical order that I've explored and gotten to know and love!
Upon arrival in Bratislava from Budapest, I became really skeptical of my decision to spend 24 hours in the Slovakian capital. Driving past the largest Communist-era concrete block housing complex in Central Europe and a lot of politically-oriented graffiti on a dreary day made me think about just how recent the Soviet Union collapsed. This makes this city very dynamic, through its great preservation of medieval and baroque architecture alongside new, innovative buildings. Walk around this city with no plan, get to know Old Town and its undiscovered parts while trekking to the top of the hill where the Stone and Bronze Age Bratislava Castle sits. From there, there are incredible views of the Danube River from the Slovakian Parliament building next door.
Often depicted as the "Venice of the North" for its many canals, Bruges used to be the financial and artistic center of Northern Europe. Just an hour-long train ride from Brussels, this Flemish city is perhaps one of the prettiest on the European continent. Confusing side streets crossing over canal bridges, chocolate shops, frites stands, and an impressive historic city center make Bruges an amazing place to experience the best that Belgium has to offer. Although quite touristy for its small size, this city should not be overlooked for its grand, opulent architecture and incredible atmosphere.
Hungarian Parliament & the Danube River from the Fisherman's Bastion
Although this city is quickly creeping up on travelers' radars, it is with good reason. Budapest is probably one of the coolest places I've been (and one of my personal favorites). Although it's a very big city, I never felt overwhelmed while I was there. Cross over the Chain Bridge to the hills of Buda and climb to the top to see Matthias Church and the Fisherman's Bastion for jaw-dropping views of the city unlike any other. Head to one of the city's many Turkish bath houses to party it up or to ruin pubs downtown for a unique night out in one of the most underrated nightlife spots in Europe. Boasting amazing architecture, quaint side streets, and friendly locals, Budapest should 100% be on your travel bucket list.
Although it is the second largest city in Germany, Hamburg is often ignored in comparison to touristy Berlin and Munich. I bought an €18 roundtrip bus ticket to Hamburg from Berlin for the next day, and absolutely fell in love with the "Gateway to the World." Being the second busiest port in Europe, the city is consequently very affluent, which can be seen in its ornate buildings and immaculate downtown area. Walk along the harbor area to get a true feel for the city, try some delicious seafood, and walk down the Reeperbahn, the city's red-light district. Boasting a great nightlife scene and many cool bars and restaurants along the harbor, Hamburg is a must-see for Germany.
After an insanely cheap, hour-long bus ride from Copenhagen later, I ended up in a Malmö, Sweden's third largest city. At first I didn't know what to expect other than a mass amount of blondes, but I was very wrong. Malmö's incredibly large and diverse immigrant population gives the city a very international feel with lots of great food options. The Stortorget, or Big Square, is located next to the bus and train stations, the perfect starting point for exploring this beautiful city. Take some time to go inside the Sankt Petri Church, walk along the many canals lining the downtown area, and experience the relaxed Swedish way of life.
Iceland is without a doubt my favorite country. The moment I stepped foot outside of the airport, I felt like I was on another planet filled with hundreds of volcanoes, geysers, glaciers, waterfalls, and hot springs. The cool vibe of Reykjavik is unlike any other place that I've been; the northernmost capital city in the world is very unique, and offers some of the best nightlife in the world. Go to the observation deck at the Perlan to get breathtaking 360-degree views of the city (highly recommended at sunset). Climb to the top of the Hallgrímskirkja for another amazing vantage point to catch a glimpse at this city's immense beauty.
Spontaneously bought a €7 roundtrip bus ticket from Berlin to Szczecin for the next day, and could not have been happier with my decision. As I arrived in Poland with no plan or knowledge of this city (still can't pronounce it either), I was pleasantly surprised with the amazing architecture in Old Town and the beauty of the port. The day was complimented with periods of darkness, bright sunshine, and frequent hail storms, but it was nice to relax along the riverside to take it all in and hide out in the city's bars and coffeeshops. This city was so unexpected in terms of virtually everything, from the food to the ornate buildings to the gorgeous waterfront, but should definitely be seen by the curious traveler.
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