Where are you considering for your summer trip to Europe? Europe is a tourist mecca from June to August, when the bulk of North American travelers have the time off of work and school to explore. But we think it’s a shame that folks mainly stick to the biggest cities – which also contend with massive crowds and wait times for attractions, while also being more expensive.
Now, if you’ve never been to Europe, you might want to the stick to the greatest hits. But if you have a little time to dig deeper, some of Europe’s most charming towns are found off the beaten path. Our search data shows people shopping for these lovely destinations about half as often as they’re hunting around the main capitals. We think these gems deserve a closer look on their own!
Instead of Prague try Bratislava, Slovak Republic
We’re not going to try and convince you that Bratislava’s architecture and history rivals Prague. But Bratislava definitely has its charms. And if you found Prague’s tourist season overwhelming, Bratislava is a quaint, and much more low-key town by comparison. When the Czech and Slovak Republics were separated in the 1990’s, Bratislava developed the reputation of being the more provincial and “country” little sister of the more glamorous Prague. It’s a rather apt take on this little city. Wander around the old town for a day or two, taking in some of the sights – the Little Blue Church (St. Elizabeth’s) is lovely, and the statue of “Cumil,” a worker who’s head pops out of a manhole are highlights.
Instead of Dublin try Belfast, Ireland
When people think of Ireland in the summer, the vast majority of them head to Dublin in the south. We’re here to lobby for a little more attention to be paid to Northern Ireland, which has stunning landscapes of its own, along with a tumultuous history to examine while you’re there. The country is easily traversed by rental car – hire one and see the south to the north and everything in between!
Instead of Rome try Dresden, Germany
There’s so much history in Dresden, situated close to the border of the Czech Republic. Yes, the city suffered massive devastation during World War II, and suffered decades of neglect by the Soviets after that. But Dresden has had something of a renaissance in recent years, with spectacular baroque palaces, museums and the exquisite beauty of the Elbe River on which it perches. If you’re dying to explore Germany, Dresden can be a gracious and relaxing place to experience the culture on your summer trip to Europe.
Instead of Vienna try Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana is perhaps the loveliest little city you’ve never heard of. This university town and the center of Slovenian history and culture has a compact, easily navigable city center, a lively café culture, and many cool bridges for you to take photos upon. Our favorite is the imminently instagrammable Dragon Bridge – with four of the mythical creatures perched at all four corners, it’s a iconic symbol of the city for proud Slovenians.
Instead of the French Riviera try Tallinn, Estonia
It’s hard to decide just which Baltic country to visit on your summer trip to Europe, but our hearts are with Tallin for blissing out in the summer months. Tallinn has some fantastic beaches (check out Pirita Beach for beautiful-people watching), and the weather is perfect for beach-going in July and August. The Old Town is a little jewel box, and you’re a less than 2-hour, affordable ferry ride from Helsinki, Finland for another interesting day trip. The cuisine in Tallinn is mainly seafood, owing to its location directly on the Baltic sea.
Instead of the Swiss Alps try Montenegro
There’s no shortage of spectacular vistas and mountains to climb in Montenegro – and at a fraction of the cost of Switzerland. Durmitor National Park, formed by glaciers is a can’t miss attraction for outdoorsmen and women. The Old Town of Kotor, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located in a breathtaking spot on the Adriatic Sea. We also recommend a visit to Lake Biograd, which sits in the middle of a rare primeval forest in the country’s smallest national park, Biogradska Gora.
Instead of London try Leeds, West Yorkshire, England
If you’re the sort of person who prefers the romantic, historical, bucolic idea of England, Leeds can be a fantastic home base for exploring the West Yorkshire area of the country. West Yorkshire has villages and moors and countless walks to experience. Leeds itself is a smallish city of less than a million people, but is miles away (both literally and figuratively) from London. You can get to London in just over 2 hours by train, if you’re craving all things cosmopolitan.
Instead of Oslo try Bergen, Norway
Bergen sits on the southwestern edge of Norway and is surrounded by many mountains and fjords. The longest and deepest fjord in Norway, Sognefjord, is a short day trip from the city. Picturesque wooden houses sit on the old wharf in Bergen, so if colorful architecture is right up your alley, you’ll adore these relics of the old trading economy.
Instead of Edinburgh try Aberdeen, Scotland
Aberdeen is the third largest city in Scotland with a small population of just around 220,000 people. It’s a remote, romantic town with a medieval city center and easy access to the Scottish Highlands, a must-visit for anyone with a love of big skies and amazing landscapes.
What are you waiting for? Take a walk on the wild side and explore a bit of off-the-beaten path Europe. For more tips and suggestions on best days to fly, check out our Europe Summer Flights page. We also recommend searching for specific routes using our exclusive when to buy tool.