There is seemingly unlimited interest and information about the “great cities” of Europe. Cities like London, Rome, and Paris are the destinations for everybody and their first foray into Europe either on tour, or travelling independantly. In fairness, those cities are great, but what about all the cities that live in their shadow?
Travel to: Europe
There is a distinct joy in walking streets that few others have walked, and taking pictures that you won’t necessarily find on Google images or in someone else’s Instagram feed. There’s something special about sipping on an espresso on a sidestreet cafe and noting that you’re an anomaly among the locals. There’s an unmistakable connection you make with a restauranteur who isn’t used to serving dozens of tourists an hour.
The beauty of lesser-known cities is that what you have discovered might not have been written down in the last five editions of your favourite guidebook. You, in a sense, get to form your own guidebook on the fly.
It was the NASA astronaut Frank Borman who noted that “exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.” With lesser-known destinations, exploration is at the forefront of your experience. Without further adieu, let’s talk about the lesser known gems of Europe and where you should travel on your next tour, to help make your upcoming summer the best it can be.
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1. Tbilisi, Georgia
Tbilisi is the capital you never knew you needed to visit. It is the surprise of Europe as far as up and coming destinations go. It’s got old-world European charm in the form of narrow cobblestoned streets, but also a brutish and intriguing imprint from its time under Soviet reign. Now is the time to go, as the Georgian people are waiting with open arms to show the world what many already know – that Tbilisi is an unforgettable city.
One thing you might not expect, but which is undoubtedly true, is that Georgian food is simply outstanding, and they’ve got the wine to match. In fact, the nearby region of Khaketi is actually one of the world’s oldest winemaking regions on the planet. What makes diving into Georgian cuisine so wondrous is that it’s a whole new experience for your taste buds. I can almost guarantee that you never go out for Georgian in your hometown, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
Tbilisi is also very budget friendly. Food is very reasonable, accommodation even more so, and beer and wine aren’t that much more than water. But, before you can say ‘dream tour’, we’ve still got a few more destinations to learn about…
2. Tallinn, Estonia
It’s the largest city in Estonia, but don’t let that trick you into thinking it’s a metropolis. With a population under half a million and a very reasonably sized central core, this is the ideal city to tackle in a few days. Furthermore, at the end of that time period, you’ll have a great grasp on the comings and goings of the city.
Tallinn is everything you’d want from a European capital. It’s home to a smorgasbord of cute cafes and restaurants but has no shortage of bars in which to spend an extra euro or two. With Tallinn, you’ve got a cool breeze that sweeps through the city from the Baltic sea, and a city which feels well connected to its natural surroundings. Beyond that, like its Scandinavian neighbours, you’ll find bright, primary colours abound, and it’s clean as a whistle.
Tallinn is quaint, approachable, and a must-add to your upcoming European itinerary. It’s not the cheapest destination you’ll find, but the value is unquestionable. Your cappuccino might cost an extra euro, but you won’t be complaining when you’re sipping it overviews of the Old Town Square.
3. Sofia, Bulgaria
Plain and simple, Sofia deserves more love. This Balkan capital has something for everybody, and there are few cities that are more pleasant to just take a long stroll and get lost in. For years, Sofia has battled to share the limelight with Europe’s better-known capitals, but you might just find you get more out of a visit to Sofia than you thought.
From a cost perspective, it’s relatively cheap to fly to (especially through hubs like Istanbul), and accommodation once you get there is a pittance. Food isn’t expensive, and beer, wine, or alcohol certainly won’t break the bank. Sofia is also perfectly located for day-trips around Bulgaria. While there, you can take a portion of one day to visit the simply incredible Rila Monastery, which is widely considered to be the most impressive Eastern Orthodox Monastery in the region and some say the planet.
4. Mdina, Malta
If you read science fiction as a kid and you pictured what a foreign city’s ancient walled capital city might look like, you were probably picturing Mdina. The city has been around since antiquity and was once the capital of Malta. Nowadays, it only boasts a population of around 300 people, which gives rise to its nickname as the “silent city.”
Malta’s modern-day capital is Valletta, which is likely where you’ll land or come ashore. From Valletta, the drive is less than thirty minutes, so there’s no excuse not to get to Mdina if you’re already on the island of Malta. It is, in some respects, the highlight of Malta.
When you arrive in Mdina, you might actually recognize it if you’re a Game of Thrones fan. Scenes were filmed in Mdina in season one to represent King’s Landing. That right there should give you some indication of how magnificent and resplendent Mdina really is.
It’s not necessarily a place you’d stay overnight, but throw this onto your 2018 summer bucket list and see if you can work a little magic to get to this ethereal city.
5. Porto, Portugal
Porto has got it all, but without the crowds, you’d find in other cities of similar stature. What’s wonderful about Porto is that it offers an unlimited menu of viewpoints that offer stunning views of the city. If you’re a travel photographer or Instagram enthusiast, you’re not going to be disappointed.
The enormous bridges running across this port city are something to behold, but it’s the alleyways and minutiae of the Porto that seal the deal. You’ll find artistry and architecture worth appreciating at every turn. At the end of the day, you get to sit by the Duoro River and enhance the sights with some delicious Portuguese food, surprisingly good Portuguese wine, and, of course, a touch of port. It is Porto, after all, right? In general, It’s not necessarily cheap when considering eastern European prices, but compared to its western European counterparts, the prices in Portugal are an absolute steal.
If you’ve got the time, think about driving from Lisbon to Porto along the N222, one of the world’s most beautiful road trips that sweep through the wine region. However you get there, you’ll quickly realize that Porto won’t be a secret for much longer, so head there this summer to bask in all its glory.
6. Seville, Spain
Seville rivals any city in Europe by any standard. As with Mdina, it too was featured in Game of Thrones, as the city of Dorne. It’s not surprising considering there’s an almost mythical quality about Seville. It’s the capital of Spain’s Andalusia region, and it is jam-packed with culture.
The days can be hot, but there’s plenty of natural vegetation and shade in the city, occasionally from large, plush orange trees. Once it does cool down and the sun fades away, then the real fun starts. Tapas in Seville are outstanding, and quality flamenco bars can be found in every nook and cranny of the city. If you’re into late nights (or early mornings as it were), then the locals will surely accommodate that preference.
In some ways, Seville is already on the travel circuit, but it still has to be considered an up and coming destination if only because of the gap between how much it’s visited and what it actually offers. Seville is one of the great cities of Europe, period, and that makes it worth a visit in the summer of 2018. If you can, try to go at the beginning or end of summer though, as it can get awfully warm at times!
7. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Tucked beside the Miljacka River, Sarajevo is one of Europe’s most interesting cities. It’s still emerging from a not so distant war that ravaged the nation, but its growth and recovery is staggering. The stories which you can find in Sarajevo, for better or worse, you’ll carry with you for a lifetime. It’s a place that deserves a visit because it’s a place to learn a history that far to people know and understand.
Beyond that, Sarajevo offers beautiful far reaching views, and it’s a pleasant place to walk around. In Sarajevo, you’ll also find some of the most bizarre, unusual, and fantastic bars on the continent. An eccentricity is an art form in this city.
It’s a memorable place that doesn’t come with a big price tag, so don’t hesitate.
Takeaways on the best up and coming summer 2018 destinations
Taking a flight to a place that you don’t know much about is an enlightening experience. When our hearts and minds are void of expectations (such as you might have headed to Budapest, Prague, Paris etc.), then the possibilities are endless. You can connect with a city like Sarajevo or Tbilisi when you don’t go there expecting to land in a posh city like Marseille.
You can appreciate the parks and central squares of Sofia when you aren’t expecting the ornate central squares of Belgium. You can fall in love with the colours of Tallinn if you aren’t set on seeing the shores of Stockholm.
What you get out of travel, in the end, is about how expectations line up with reality. When it comes to lesser-known or travelled to destinations, it’s worth tossing aside what you think a place might be and going to see what it truly is. This summer seems as good a time as any, don’t you think?
Feeling inspired to start the adventure? Find your next tour to Europe right here.