Visits to Paris, London, and Munich are the perfect spots to fall in love with European travel. Climbing the Eiffel Tower, touring the Tower of London, and hoisting a stein after visiting a Bavarian castle are all must-dos when checking off traditional European experiences. Trekking through busy cities with hordes of other tourists to museums, castles, and ancient ruins is part of the European experience, but sprinkling in visits to smaller, lesser-known towns can reveal the gorgeous tapestry of culture and history that the whole of Europe has to offer. We’ve uncovered some of these hidden gems you will want to add to your next itinerary before the word gets out and the crowds arrive.
One of our favorite fairytale spots in Europe, Bruges, is a romantic medieval dream. Filled with cobblestone streets and quaint architecture, Bruges is dotted with charming houses. These houses line the working waterways that wind through this ancient city.
What to Do in Bruges
- Stroll Markt Square, a UNESCO site, and marvel at the gorgeous historic buildings on every corner. The square comes alive On Wednesday mornings with Market Day when you can check out the fresh flowers, meats and cheeses, and gifts from local vendors.
- Climb to the top of the Belfry in the square for the city’s best view.
- Learn how to make your Belgian chocolate at a chocolatier workshop. Sample a favorite local dish of fried potatoes called Frites from one of the many street vendors.
This spectacular town hosted the first Winter Olympics in 1924. Outdoor sports lovers have been flocking to Chamonix ever since. Home to the highest peak in Western Europe, Monte Blanc, this location is a hidden gem. It's a perfect destination for thrill seekers and adventurers.
What to Do in Chamonix
- Take the Planpraz gondola up to the Brevent cable car to view the southern slope of the Monte Blanc mountains. In warmer months, you can hike to dazzling Alpine lakes, and skiers love to experience the thrill of skiing back down.
- Walk or take a chairlift up to the Bossons Glacier.
- Take a cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi to view the awe-inspiring French Alps. Stay for a warm drink before hiking or riding back down.
Italy’s port city of Genoa is one of Europe’s hidden gems on the Italian Riviera. The birthplace of Christopher Columbus, Genoa, is a charming medieval city that was established in 218 BC in the pre-Roman era. Today, visitors can wander the maze of Genoa’s Caruggi alleyways, the narrow streets that crisscross the old town area of Genoa. Additionally, they can shop, visit museums, and sample authentic Genoese fare.
What to Do in Genoa
- Take the Ascensore up to Castle Albertis, the only transportation in Europe that starts as a train and ends up as an elevator.
- Visit Europe’s most important cemetery, the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno. Here, some of history’s most famous contributors, like Mark Twain and Friedrich Nietzsche, are laid to rest.
- Wander through the Via Garibaldi to gaze at the fantastic architecture on display, walk through the Cathedral of San Lorenzo and tour the impressive Royal Palace.
Instead of the busy and beautiful southern Spanish port of Malaga, we love the hidden gem of Marbella. Moreover, this beautiful Costa Del Sol town is the perfect place to bask in the sun and soak up the Andalusian charm of this whitewashed Spanish beach town.
What to Do in Marbella
- Explore Old Town, also known as Casco Antiguo, in Marbella. Marvel at the Moorish influences there, including the Mayor de la Encarnacion church that was built between the 16th and 17th centuries over the remains of a mosque, a common architectural practice in Spain.
- Spend time at the luxury shops, cafes, and bars in Marbella’s relaxing Puerto Banus Marina.
- Walk the gorgeous Avenida Del Mar that connects Old Town with the beach areas. Be sure to leave some time to enjoy Marbella’s most famous beach, Cabopino.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
One of Germany’s most picturesque small towns is the hidden gem Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a medieval walled town that feels frozen in time for centuries. The gently sloping streets lined with cobbles give way to authentic cafes, bakeries, and small inns where you can experience life like a local on Germany’s famed Romantic Road.
What to Do in Rothenberg
- Walk in, through, and on the intact medieval walls surrounding the city and imagine life back in Medieval times.
- Amble through the Marketplatz and relax with a glass of local sweet wine or a warm Glühwein at an outdoor café.
- Visit the intriguing Medieval Crime and Justice Museum, the Plönlein, the fountain, and a small square near the two city wall towers that have become the iconic image of this charming town.
The crowded Edinburgh and bustling Glasgow are must-dos in Scotland, but the true hidden gem in Highland country is Stirling. A visit to Europe always includes fantastic castles, and Stirling Castle, the centerpiece of this small town, is one of the very best in the world. Perched high atop the city, the Castle was once home to Scottish monarchs, including Mary Queen of Scots.
What to Do in Stirling
- Tour Stirling Castle to learn about ancient Scottish castle life in this well-preserved fortress.
- Stop by the ruins of Doune Castle, famous for its role in Scottish history and the popular Outlander series.
- Cross the Firth River on the Stirling Bridge on your way to the National Wallace Monument, a stunning tower built to commemorate William Wallace’s heroic contributions to Scotland.
Travel to this eastern European country has skyrocketed in recent years due to Croatia’s stunning coastline. And our favorite Croatian spot, sure to be the next hotspot, is the coastal city of Split. This hidden gem in Eastern Europe will charm you with its old-world architecture, relaxed pace, and lovely shoreline on the Adriatic Sea.
What to Do in Split
- Tour Diocletian’s Palace, the former home to the Roman Empire, built in the 4th century.
- Wander around the highly walkable old town area of Split. A medieval walled city, the old town is a maze of narrow streets filled with shops and food around every corner and the Cathedral of Saint Domnius.
- Get out on the impossibly blue water with a boat tour, visit the Blue Cave or Krka Waterfall, or spend a day at Kasuni Beach on the Marjan Peninsula.