Unexpected Cities You Need To See
Unexpected Cities You Need To See
There's far more to experience in Europe than its most popular (and most Instagrammed) cities. For every Paris or London, there is a yet undiscovered city located off the beaten path. And you can be the one to unlock its secrets. Ahead, we've selected some cities you may not have considered for your next European jaunt — but should. All are relatively affordable and worth a trip, even if it’s just for a long weekend. Sure, you can still go to Paris (and photograph the Eiffel Tower), but sometimes, it’s good to try something new. Read More:
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15 items, updated Dec 2018
Naples, Italy
Refinery29 Rome and Florence are the typical tourist destinations in Italy, but for a different vibe, consider heading to Naples. The nearby Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum are the first obvious must-visit stop, but Naples’ historic center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its ancient architecture. The city’s many art museums are worth exploring, as are its streets, which you'll want to stroll for hours on end. Of course, you’re also in Italy for the food, and you'll find plenty of it here. Check out L'Antica Pizzeria Brandi or La Cantina del Gallo — and if you tire of Italian food (unlikely though it may sound), there's always the noted Rumba Cuban Café. Where To Stay: Naples offers a variety of accommodations, from contemporary hotels to old, classic spots. If you want to tuck yourself away in what feels like a piece of Italian history with a modern vibe, check into the Hotel Piazza Bellini. Located in the heart of the city, the charming hotel runs less than $100 per night and its minimalist rooms reveal grand views of Naples’ colorful landscape. If you’re staying longer than a few days, the hotel also features full apartments for a slightly higher price tag.
Copenhagen, Denmark
Refinery29 In the past year, Copenhagen has become Europe's go-to culinary destination. Noma, voted the Best Restaurant In the World four years straight, is the spot you’ll want to book far ahead and then anticipate for months. Can’t get a table? Kødbyens Fiskebar, Relæ, and Radio all come highly recommended. The bicycle-friendly city is also easily traversed; explore the famous, brightly colored architecture along the canals or head to the Tivoli Gardens. The bohemian neighborhood of Christianshavn is a less touristy option, where you can check out the independent community’s eclectic, mismatched buildings. Where To Stay: Hotel Alexandra is a good bet for a centrally located boutique hotel in Copenhagen. For around $129 per night, it offers modern decor and a quirky vibe just 10 minutes from the train station
Brasov, Romania
Refinery29 If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting Transylvania, head to Brasov, Romania’s seventh-most populous city, a few hours north of Bucharest. The city is surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains and is a good base for exploring the country outside of its capital. Once you’ve seen the sights (including the famous Black Church and Citadel Fortress) take a rental car to Bran Castle, a.k.a. “Dracula’s Castle,” and Rasnov Fortress. If you visit during the winter months, there are also many ski resorts in the Carpathian Mountains, most notably Poiana Brasov. Where To Stay: If you’re visiting an old city, you should stay in a hotel that augments that experience. The Hotel Bella Muzica is situated directly in the historic center of Brasov in a building that has stood for more than 400 years (it's so old, in fact, that they aren’t allowed to install an elevator). The rooms are simple, but well-appointed, and there's a charming sense of the past throughout. The hotel runs around $69 per night, so you can stay as long as the city will have you.
Cork, Ireland
Refinery29 Located on the southern coast of Ireland, Cork was originally a monastic settlement in the 6th century. It’s changed a lot since then, and is now a great place to see a variety of historical sites and partake in cultural activities. The English Market, a covered food market, offers a slew of local fare, including fresh seafood, and is the perfect spot to pick up souvenirs for all your friends and family. For a stranger experience, the Cork Butter Museum details the history of the dairy industry. When you’re ready for a drink, head to the Franciscan Well Brewery to sample some local brews and then move to Sin E, an established pub that is the home of traditional Irish music in Cork. Where To Stay: The River Lee Hotel is one of Cork’s best reviewed accommodations, and is located (as its name suggests) along the river, near the city center. The hotel features clean, comfortably appointed rooms that offer views of the water and greenery, and is near to St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Shandon Steeple, and University College Cork. Rooms start at $113 per night.
Porto, Portugal
Refinery29 Located along the Atlantic coast of Portugal, Porto is a historic, vibrant city that is well-known for its port wine. It’s a hub of culture, from the contemporary Serralves Museum to the Casa de Musica to the Soares dos Reis Museum. Lello & Irmao is one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores, with its spiral staircase and stained glass windows, and 66 Avenida Brasil is a chic shop with its own café. If you’re interested in wine, there are over 50 port wine lodges around the city, including big names like Sandeman and Graham, and many are open for tastings and tours. For the hard stuff, head to The Gin Club, which offers over 150 different types of the spirit. For traditional (and inexpensive) food in town, hit up Luso. Where To Stay: Gallery Hostel, in keeping with the current “poshtel” trend, is essentially a local art gallery where you can also sleep. Those who don’t want to stay in the hostel’s dorm rooms can book private double or twin rooms (which include their own bathroom) for $72 per night. The eclectic, hip spot has free Wi-Fi, a library room, garden and terrace, art gallery, and cinema, which means you don’t technically ever have to leave the building. Of course, you’ll want to, since Gallery Hostel is located downtown between the art district and raucous nightlife of Miguel Bombarda Street.
Ghent, Belgium
Refinery29 Brussels may attract most of Belgium’s tourists, but Ghent is also worth a visit. The Flemish city, which dates back to the Middle Ages, has several museums that showcase the history of Flemish art, while the Ghent City Museum reveals its past and legacy. On the culinary side, this is your best bet for a vegetarian vacation: Ghent has the most vegetarian spots per capita in Europe and promotes a meat-free day on Thursdays. Some of the most popular restaurants include Avalon, Komkommertijd, and Greenway Foods. The city, known for its beer, also has several noted cocktail dens worth visiting, including The De Alchemist, The Mosquito Coast, and basement speakeasy The Old Fashioned. Where To Stay: Hotel Carlton is a good, inexpensive choice. The family-run hotel is located adjacent to St-Pieters-Station and is on the route of the city’s major transportation lines. The nearby Citadelpark is home to two art museums — the SMAK (museum of modern art) and MSK (museum of fine arts) — and the city center is a 20-minute walk. Rooms run around $100 per night.
Helsinki, Finland
Refinery29 Helsinki has been called Europe’s “hippest city,” and many of its offerings support that claim. Its bars (like chic cocktail joint Liberty or Death and wine spot Vin Vin) and restaurants (like Chef & Sommelier) are equally cool and eclectic. At night, the Korjaamo Culture Factory is a central hub for culture, hosting everything from comedy to live music, with an art gallery and pub. If you go during the winter months, be sure to experience the region's famous saunas, the most popular of which is the Kotiharjun Sauna. Shoppers will also be in heaven, especially those with an interest in sustainable and eco design. Some of the trendiest are Globe Hope, Urban Story, and Ekolo. Where To Stay: The colorful circus-themed Scandic Paasi is a modern boutique hotel near Hakaniemi Market Square and the Helsinki Cathedral. It runs around $140 per night and includes free Wi-Fi.
Helsinki, Finland
Refinery29 A slightly cheaper option is the GLO Hotel Art, with its minimalist rooms, bicycles, musical instruments, and art supplies available to borrow.
San Sebastian - Donostia, Spain
Refinery29 Just 12 miles south of the French border, San Sebastian is a seaside Spanish city that draws a lot of visitors, especially during summer. It's a cultural hub, with numerous festivals and artistic events throughout the year, and was selected as the EU’s European Capital of Culture for 2016. San Sebastian is also a good choice for food lovers, especially as it’s home to Basque cuisine. If you have money to spare, check out Arzak, a three Michelin star restaurant that is considered one of the most innovative in the world. Mostly, though, you’ll want to head to one of the beaches, probably Playa de Gros or Playa de la Concha, and make your home in the sand. Where To Stay: In San Sebastian, location is key — you want to be near the ocean and within walking distance to Old Town. Pension Casa Nicolasa offers both, and for around $150 a night, you can book one of their new, well-decorated rooms. It’s centrally located, near both of the city’s main beaches and nestled in the center of Old Town, in close proximity to plenty of restaurants and shops.
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Refinery29 You may not have heard of Ljubljana, but the Slovenian city is a hipster mecca, swarming with cool cafés, bars, and restaurants. There are numerous historical sites, like Ljubljana Castle, Dragon Bridge, and Triple Bridge, but it’s also home to more alternative destinations. The graffiti-covered neighborhood of Metelkova is the city’s cultural center and nightlife hub, while Tovarna Rog is a former bicycle factory that now houses contemporary art. It’s a literary destination, too: In 2010 Ljubljana was named the UNESCO World Book Capital, and features six Library Under the Treetops in parks around the city with free books. Where To Stay: Just a few minutes from old town, Hotel Cubo is a stylish, modern choice (for only around $115 per night). The rooms are spacious, especially by European standards, with free Wi-Fi and an on-site restaurant. Better yet, the location is close to every major attraction and site in Ljubljana, including the Slovenian Philharmonic, the National and University Library, and various bars and eateries.
Oslo, Norway
Refinery29 Norway’s capital is one of Europe’s fastest growing cities, and has so much to do, you may need an entire week to see it all. Vigeland Museum and its neighboring Vigeland Park (pictured) reveal the history of the acclaimed Norwegian sculptor, while the Viking Ship Museum displays several actual Viking ships. Once you’re done exploring the tourist sites, check out Grünerløkka lufthavn, a cultural organization housed in an old school building, where you can check out art and drink at the local café. Lokk restaurant is known for its soups, and Mathallen is a massive indoor food market where you can find the best of Oslo’s local food scene. For cocktails, grab a stool at Sense or Baroque. Where To Stay: Oslo’s accommodations aren’t the cheapest, but you can find a budget option at the centrally located Thon Hotel Munch. The hotel (approximately $130 a night) has simple, clean rooms that are fairly small, but are more than adequate if you spend your days and nights out on the town. The rooms also come with breakfast (served in a very brightly colored dining room) and Wi-Fi.
St-Paul-de-Vence, France
Refinery29 In the mountains north of Nice, is the small, walled city of Saint-Paul de Vence, one of the oldest medieval towns in the French Rivera. Today, the town is best known for its relationship with modern and contemporary art (and its incredible views). It houses the grave of painter Marc Chagall, who lived and worked there for almost 20 years. You can visit the Maeght Foundation, a museum featuring modern art, and numerous galleries throughout the city. The only guidance you need when it comes to restaurants is to pick one with outdoor tables that overlook the hills — and then order a glass of rosé, which comes from the nearby region of Provence. Where To Stay: There are two parts to Saint-Paul de Vence: inside the city’s rampart walls, and outside. You’ll want to stay inside, even though that means trickier access for taxis. L'Hostellerie Les Remparts is a small, eight-room two-star hotel that will get you prime location access, even though its rooms are less than luxurious. Rooms vary in price, but the smaller ones will run you about $80 per night. Any amount of money, though, is worth it for the view (you’ll see).
Stuttgart, Germany
Refinery29 Stuttgart is a smaller, quieter alternative to Berlin or Munich. The city’s Mercedes Benz and Porsche Museums are popular among car junkies, while its opera, ballet, and philharmonic draw in the more cultured tourists (although it’s totally cool if you’re into both). Stuttgart has a huge array of parks and outdoor destinations, and if you’re there during the colder months, it’s still worth walking around to see the city’s architecture, especially around Schlossplatz, one of the public squares. In the evening, park yourself in Mos Eisley, a 1960s-style cocktail bar, or Weinstube Kachelofen, a traditional German pub. Want to do something really off-beat? Stuttgart houses the SchweineMuseum, which contains more than 50,000 pieces dedicated to pigs. Where To Stay: Every room in boutique hotel Der Zauberlehrling (which means “the sorcerer’s apprentice” in German) is different, each with its own vibe and theme (Black Box and Titanic are particularly notable). The prices range drastically, so there are options for every budget, whether you want to save or splurge during your vacation. The hotel is located in downtown Stuttgart, near several metro stops, but is on a side street — so you won’t feel overwhelmed by the crowds or noise.
Tinos, Greece
Refinery29 The small Aegean island of Tinos is a good alternative to Mykonos or Crete, which are practically overrun with tourists. The island has small, picturesque villages, pristine beaches, and plenty of historical architecture, and you won't feel like you're competing with every other traveler in Greece to get a spot on the sand. Not into sunbathing? The Museum of Marble Crafts, Panayia Evanyelistria Cathedral and Museums, and Chalepas Museum are excellent cultural alternatives. If booze is your thing, check out Cyclades, a small microbrewery in Tinos Town. Where To Stay: For a very cheap stay (approximately $35 a night) check out the Vincenzo Family Hotel, a small family-run guesthouse near the beach. The hotel, which has a jacuzzi and hamam, is located in Tinos’ main town, close to the port and the church of Panagia Evangelistria. The rooms are basic, but clean and well-kept, and many also have balconies. Plus, you can take all that money you saved and eat and drink your way through town.
Vienna, Austria
Refinery29 Vienna is slowly becoming one of the must-see cities in Europe, largely because of its historical architecture and artistic legacy. The city, Austria’s capital, stretches alongside the Danube River and is known as the “City of Music,” thanks to its longtime contributions to the art and its many theaters and opera houses. If you’re not inclined to spend your vacation at a classical opera, you can sightsee at the baroque Schonbrunn and Belvedere Palaces, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the 826-foot-high Danube Tower. When it comes to nightlife, try to score an invite to Extrazimmer, a speakeasy cocktail bar that requires some digging to access. Naschmarkt — Vienna’s largest market, with over 120 stalls and a Saturday flea market — is also worth a visit. Where To Stay: 25hours Hotel Vienna, located in the museum district, is a funky, hip option that won’t break the bank. Rooms run as low as $124 per night and include Wi-Fi and free bicycles to ride around town. The contemporary decor is bright and circus-themed (beware, those with clown phobias), and all of the higher-end suites feature kitchenettes. It’s also a good option for those looking for a party: The rooftop bar offers a DJ and live music events weekly.
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