Have you already seen London, Paris, Rome and other popular tourist destinations throughout Europe? Are you looking for something beyond a Paris Luxury Hotel and yearn to visit smaller and lesser known cities, towns and villages? From the west coast of Ireland to the mysterious landscapes of central eastern Europe, we have picked 10 of our favorite destinations throughout Europe which are off the beaten path. Visit for yourself and you’ll be pleased with what you discover.
Novi Sad, Serbia – Known as the Serbian Athens, Novi Sad has been built, destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries and is an interesting mixture of old Serbian cultural heritage, Austro-Hungarian architecture and scenic beauty. The city sits on the banks of the Danube River. It is surrounded by fertile farms and vineyards and framed with hills in the distance. Novi Sad is also a city rich in tradition. It’s a great walking city for sightseeing with one of the highlights being the Petrovaradin Fortress sitting high atop the Danube River. While it was originally established as a Roman fortress, most of what you see today dates back to the early 18th century. The Fortress is a center of art today with studios showcasing the work of local artists, the Art Academy, cafes, walking routes and underground corridors. The real attraction is the panorama which can be enjoyed from the heights of the Fortress.
Zadar, Croatia – Zadar is an important Croatian coastal town with many great sights such as the Crvka Sv Donata, Church of Saint Donat, which is thought of as the most outstanding monument of the old city. The musical steps on the waterfront are interesting and express the important relationship this walled city has with the sea. Zadar is home to many fine museums such as the Archaeological Museum, one of the most important in Croatia with about 80,000 exhibits from the Stone Age to the late Middle Ages, and the Maritime Museum. Visitors to Zadar will enjoy the contemporary Croatian restaurants which serve njoki, lamb in red wine, or one of the many the popular fresh fish choices. Also try the famous liqueur Maraskino which has been produced in Zadar since 1821. As early as the 19th century, this unique drink was a favorite drink at European courts in London, Vienna, and Moscow.
Bled, Slovenia – One of the most beautiful towns in Europe, Bled is situated on the stunning Lake Bled at the edge of the Julian Alps in Slovenia. There are many outdoor activities to get the blood pumping in Bled like rafting, caving, canoeing, swimming, and biking to name a few. Or, just walk, cycle or Rollerblade the lake’s six kilometer circumference and admire the scenery that has made Bled famous. Visitors can also hire a bike and head out to Vintgar Gorge for a walk through the natural canyon or explore Bled Castle perched atop the 100-meter cliff overlooking the lake. Still looking for something to do? Then catch a pletna, small wooden boat, over to the island in the middle of the lake to ring the wishing bell. No trip to Bled is complete without trying Bled cake which is a vanilla custard pastry delight.
Gjirokastra, Albania – Gjirokastra is a picturesque, historic town in southern Albania and is perched on the mountainside with a mighty citadel which overlooks the Drinos River Valley. This is a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town built by farmers of large estates. The 13th century citadel provides the focal point of the town with its typical tower houses (Turkish kule). It is now a Museum of Armaments with a collection of old cannons and guns. Characteristic of the Balkan region, Gjirokastra contains a series of outstanding examples of kule. The kule has a tall basement, a first floor for use in the cold season, and a second floor for the warm season. In the center of town is the Memedheu ABC Monument commemorating the renaissance of Albanian education around the turn of the 20th century. The monument gives an excellent view of the town.
Kinsale, Ireland – Kinsale, in County Cork, is a quaint fishing port that has long been associated with the finest seafood and gourmet cuisine in Ireland. The picturesque town has a very warm atmosphere with its pastel-painted house fronts, harbor full of boats and over-flowing flower boxes. The quaint shop fronts and winding cobblestone streets provide a wonderful atmosphere for dining. Formerly a fishing and merchant town, today the medieval town is known for sailing and gourmet food. Some of our favorites places to indulge in a fine meal include: the Captains Table, the Blue Haven, Chez Jean Marc, the Cottage Loft, Max’s Wine Bar and the White House. However, Kinsale has more to offer the tourist than eating wonderful food. There is also Desmond Castle and the Charles Fort which is one of two star-shaped fortresses that have guarded the harbor since the 17th century.
Kotor, Montenegro – The historical and picturesque town of Kotor is located along one of Montenegro’s most beautiful bays in a very secluded part of the Gulf of Kotor. The ancient city, built strategically on a fortified edge of Kotor Bay, is surrounded by impressive city walls. The Kotor city walls seem to beckon, rather than repel, visitors. Kotor is packed with high-quality restaurants and bars to suit all lifestyles and budgets. The nightlife in Kotor has much to offer as its old town is filled with pubs, taverns, cafes, and some hip nightclubs. True to its traditions, Kotor is the host of many yearly traditional festivals and carnivals and the city knows how to showcase its beauty well. Summer events, such as Summer Carnival, add even more charm to this beautiful city and attract over 30,000 people to party in Kotor.
Saranda, Albania – Saranda is a southern city on the coast of the Ionian Sea, opposite Corfu, and is a good base for exploring this most beautiful part of the coast known as the Albanian Riviera. Not far from the resort town of Saranda lies the impressive ruins of Butrint. Nestling in the highlands in the far south of the country, ignored for many years, dense vegetation hid ancient masonry and buildings so effectively that a Roman Theatre and Baptistry have only recently been discovered. It’s easy to explore both Butrint and the Blue Eye Spring which looks exactly as the name suggests. The city center of Saranda has been scarred by communist architecture but, since the fall of communism, many small shops and bars have sprung up which give the city a very nice Mediterranean-like feel.
Lake Orta, Italy – One of the smallest and least known of Italy’s sub-alpine lakes, Lake Orta lies to the west of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. This little jewel, just eight miles long and less than two miles wide, has an atmosphere that is peaceful, relaxing and a far cry from the chaos of the cities. Orta is a restful place with clean air and healthy activities. Soak up the quiet beauty of the landscape and take in its fascinating history and its wealth of artistic treasures. Visitors can take a boat to the Island of St. Giulio, located in the middle of the lake, which, according to legend, was dominated by a big serpent that destroyed everything. There are many wonderful restaurants in Orta. Some are high end and very classy, while others may be more budget friendly. Many are very warm and offer fantastic cuisine with lovely views of the lake.
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic – This picturesque medieval town dates back to the 13th century and is straight out of a fairytale. Its name means ‘crooked meadow’ which is befitting as the town is nestled in a sharp bend of the Vltava River. It also comes complete with a castle on a hill towering over the quaint old town which boasts a collection of beautiful old buildings and a confusion of cobbled alleyways. There are several small museums and local galleries to explore here. Alternatively, you can explore the castle and its fabulous Masquerade Hall or climb the tower for aerial views of the town. You can also spend the afternoon cycling across the rolling hills of the countryside while enjoying the scenery or canoeing on the river that winds right through the center of Cesky Krumlov. Visit the Cesky Krumlov brewery for a glimpse of the brewing tradition that has existed in this town for hundreds of years.
Tirana, Albania – Tirana is the capital of Albania and its biggest city, yet it is small and compact with architectural influences from Italy and Turkey. Many buildings have recently been painted to alleviate the Soviet block feeling that pervaded. The main sight in Tirana is the Et’hem Bey Mosque which is is right in the city’s main square. Tirana’s main square, Sheshi Skenderbej, is an expanse of asphalt. The Tanners’ Bridge, an elegant Ottoman stone footbridge, was once the main connection between Tirana and the highlands to the east. Tirana is also home to many museums. Visitors can’t miss the National History Museum with the ginormous mosaic on the facade which represents the development of Albania’s history representing everyone dating back to the time of the Illyrians. Inside, each hall of this vast building covers one of the stages in the development of the Albanian nation.
IMAGES VIA: nielsvk, Cristina de Fontao, veni markovski, MrSco, tiarescott, smallkaa, em_diesus, buzzes.eu, midweekpost & MrSco on Flickr.