Europe is jam-packed with amazing cities, and yet it’s easy to visit the same ones again and again. If you fancy something a bit different from Rome, Paris and Berlin, then look no further. Our list contains eight fantastic cities off the beaten track – one is bound to take your fancy!
Portugal’s third-largest city, Braga is your typical university hub – it’s quiet in the day but really comes to life at night. Due to the large number of students living here, there’s a huge variety of budget bars, clubs and restaurants, which is perfect if you’re after an inexpensive holiday. However, there’s also plenty of nightlife for those who aren’t a fan of nightclubs; why not head to the theatre instead?
There’s much more to Braga than what goes on at night, though. The city is full of 17th and 18th century Baroque architecture, including Portugal’s oldest cathedral, which dates back to 1070! The wonderful Mediterranean cuisine is not to be missed either. Expect fresh fish and vegetables galore. As for drink, Port is in abundance, as its home, Porto, is just one hour away.
Leipzig may be full of youthful, hip creatives, but it’s by no means a destination that only the young will enjoy. Steeped in history, Leipzig is well known for having links to several giants of classical music, including Wagner, Bach and Mendelssohn. Art is big here too; Museum der Bildenden Künste boasts a world-class collection of paintings spanning from the 15th century right up until modern day. The building itself is magnificent too, as it’s a giant glass cube.
If you’re after more beautiful buildings, don’t miss Nikolaikirche, a church with Romanesque and Gothic origins. The story of this building is incredibly interesting as it played a big role in the collapse of the East German government.
When tourists head to Sweden, most stay in the buzzing capital, Stockholm, but Gothenburg arguably has a lot more to offer. Its picturesque waterfront is particularly stunning; you could spend your time visiting one of the museums or the aquarium. Alternatively, you could simply sit and watch the ships go by, while sampling some gorgeous fresh seafood.
If you’re holidaying with your family, then there’s plenty to keep you all happy. Thrill-seekers should certainly pay Liseberg a visit, Scandinavia’s largest amusement park. There are rides here to suit all ages, but the main attractions are Kanonen, which goes from 0- 75mph in just two seconds; AtmosFear, the tallest free-fall town in Europe; and Helix, which lets you experience weightlessness and boasts seven loops. There’s also Universeum, an incredible museum aimed at kids – though even the adults will be blown away by the living, breathing rainforest inside.
Although it’s a town and not a city, we couldn’t miss Loket off our list. It looks like the setting a fairytale – modern life hasn’t had a big impact on this incredible place. While it can’t offer a lively nightlife, it’s the perfect destination to visit if you’re after a relaxing, laid back break. Walking around the cobbled streets is a sheer joy thanks to the lack of traffic. In fact, you’ll want to do a lot of walking in Loket. It’s surrounded by water, so there are plenty of riverside strolls to enjoy. You could even rent a canoe and float along the river.
Loket Castle is the town’s centrepiece. One of the oldest stone castles in the country, all parts of this 12th century Gothic building can be explored, even the prisons and torture chamber. Loket is also home to the Leander porcelain factory, which was founded in the 19th century. As a result, every gift shop stocks porcelain goods – it won’t be difficult to find souvenirs!
If you want to avoid tourist-heavy areas then Tartu is the ideal place to visit. Known as Estonia’s intellectual and cultural hub, the city dates back to 1030, making it the oldest in the country. There’s a large student population here, thanks to the university, so there are plenty of inexpensive cafes, bars and restaurants to sample. The nightlife is also pretty upbeat too – from concerts to festivals, there’s always something happening.
Want to educate yourself on your break? Then head to one of the many museums here. They cover a whole host of subjects, from agriculture and aviation, to toys and even beer! Spend an afternoon enjoying the peaceful nature of the Botanical Gardens, which were founded by the university in 1803. It features both local and exotic plants and there’s space for children to run around. If you fancy going shopping instead, then it’s the Tasku Centre you should visit. It boasts great restaurants, clothing and shoe stores and much more.
The harbour city of Split is the perfect blend of ancient and modern. Take Diocletian’s Palace, for example – it’s a Unesco Word Heritage Site, and yet inside the Roman walls are hundreds of homes and dozens of shops, restaurants and bars. It has become the heart of the city and is an amazing sight to behold.
Of course, that’s not the only sight you should absorb whilst here. The Cathedral of Domnius is in near-flawless condition, as it has hardly been changed since its construction. If you do decide to have a nose around inside, the admission fee will get you into the Temple of Jupiter and its crypt for free, so it’s worth doing.
On a rainy day, we recommend a visit to Aquarium Split, which is home to 130 different Adriatic species. The kids will love being able to stroke the rays and, rather unusually, you can even catch a fish to take home for dinner.
Since Split is by the coast, fresh fish is a speciality here; however, spit-roasted lamb is also very popular. We recommend you try pršut, home-cured ham, and paški sir cheese, which tastes like a mix between mature cheddar and Parmesan, too.
Krakow is steeped in history, which is unsurprising considering it’s one of the oldest cities in Poland. Many of the buildings are in Gothic or Renaissance style and some of the streets are still cobbled, especially in the Old Town, where you’ll also find many historical churches and museums. Rynek Główny, Europe’s largest market square, is also located in the Old Town, and is overlooked by the impressive St Mary’s Basilica. The basilica is made up of two towers of varying heights – you’ll likely hear the hourly bugle call from the tallest one.
Wawel Royal Castle lies at the centre of Krakow and is well worth a visit – it’s been the royal residence for more than 500 years. As for the food, there’s something here for everyone. Beef, veal, poultry, pork and fish dishes are all popular, but veggies will be pleased to know there’s plenty for them to try too. If you’re looking for a sweet snack instead, you can’t go wrong with makowiec, a sweet poppy cake.
Rotterdam’s diverse community, unique architecture and energetic nightlife really do mean it has it all. Art fans will be pleased to know the city’s home to one of the best museums in Europe: Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. The collection spans all eras of Dutch and European art, but it’s the surrealist wing that really steals the show.
If it’s amazing architecture you want to see, the futuristic Markthal Rotterdam will blow you away. This arch-shaped building is actually an indoor food market, evident by the ceiling, which is adorned with images of fruit, vegetables and fish, among other produce. While you’re there, why not grab a quick snack?
Bitterballen is one of the snacks to look out for. It consists of minced beef or veal, beef broth and various spices and is battered in breadcrumbs. They taste best when dipped in mustard or mayonnaise. The sweet treats in the Netherlands are even better – Ontbijtkoek is a spiced cake made with rye, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and other spices and is great with a hot drink. Alternatively there’s stroopwafel, which is two very thin waffles sandwiched together with caramel. Place them over a mug of hot chocolate and let the caramel melt slightly. Divine!
You don’t have to always go to the capital to experience a country – sometimes it’s best to stay away from the tourist-heavy areas and discover your own favourite places. Hopefully the above locations have inspired you to wander off the beaten track once in a while.
Alpha Travel Insurance and alphatravelinsurance.co.uk are trading names of Infinity Insurance Solutions Ltd which is authorised and regulated by Financial Conduct Authority: FRN 528912 © Infinity Insurance Solutions. 1 Tower View, Kings Hill, West Malling, Kent. ME19 4UY. All rights reserved