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Perhaps you’ve done the European tourist thing and want to see what else Europe has to offer. Or maybe, you just have a serious need for something off the beaten path, something unfamiliar or under-discovered. Maybe you and everyone else is tired of the same Eiffel Tower photos and you’re yearning for new content. Whatever your reasons, here are 10 hidden gems in Europe, in no particular order, that should be on your radar and 3 photo-worthy spots at each location that should be on your Instagram. Be sure to read our blog post on how to find cheap flights.
- Bregenz, Austria
- The Lofoten Islands, Norway
- Cuenca, Spain
- Marazion, Cornwall UK
- Kaysersberg, France
- Agios Nikolaos, Crete, Greece
- Killarney, Ireland
- Saxony, Germany
- Cochem, Germany
- Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
Keep reading for these European city locations, backgrounds, why we put them on the list, and what to do when you get there! Even more, check out our post on the 12 of the most romantic vacations to get ready for Valentine’s Day or an Anniversary.
Not only is Austria typically not on everyone’s travel list, but Bregenz is a unique city that’s home to some of the most beautiful hiking views on this side of the Atlantic. Pfander mountain towers over Bregenz and can be easily reached through a gondola named the pfanderbahn. At the top, you’ll have access to many trains and scenes that you can’t get anywhere else.
After a long morning of hiking, you can dip down into their performing arts festival. No matter if you love opera or prefer something more modern, visit the Platz der Wiener Symphoniker during their July performances and experience the show of a lifetime. Artists, architects, and musicians alike come together to bring a jaw-dropping performance you will never forget. They begin just before sundown where you can take in the Lake of Constance coupled with the Alps and perform into the night where the real experience happens. This is definitely something you’ll need to see for yourself.
This is a great location to launch into other incredible cities in Austria like St. Wolfgang and uncover their beautiful lakes, rivers, and salt mines! Or take a trip to Hallstatt for the “blue hour” at dawn and dusk for a truly spectacular sight.
Where to pose for this Instagram worthy European city:
- Top of Pfander mountain on a clear blue sky day
- Platz der Wiener Symphoniker next to the stage during festival season
- In the salt mine of St. Wolfgang
The Lofoten Islands, Norway
Continuing down the nature trail, Lofoten Islands offer pristine natural views that make you feel as if you’ve made a major land discovery. Catch the Northern Lights, the midnight sun, fishing, and rich landscapes while visiting this remote European city.
Fishing is the reason many people moved to Lofoten and for some is the reason they have stayed. With so much fishing history, you can believe that you’ll find the best seafood you’ve had, prepared by a group of people whose family history was built on it. Feel like one of the original villagers by staying in a fishing cabin or “rorbua” with traditional red brick roof and yellow siding.
Nature is king here so catch an eagle soaring across the water, cod served as jerky, and hikes that will take your breath away. It really reminds us of Vancouver Island in Canada. Locals and fellow travelers alike will encourage you to rent a kayak to explore their waters even further. Taking a step away from the village and back into these gorgeous views will make the trip to this small fishing city worth your while.
Our suggestions for the perfect IG photo op:
- On a kayak traveling down a back waterway
- Munching on your first cod jerky
- The Northern Lights (of COURSE)
But, there are way more spots to see while in Norway so go check out the best places to see in southern Norway.
Switching gears from nature to a tucked-away city. Cuenca is a European city that brings history to every step you make around the small town. Built in the 12th century, Cuenca is so well preserved that in the 1990’s it earned a UNESCO World Heritage site seal. Cuenco developed a “new” city just up the river from their original Medieval village that the train from Madrid will take you straight to.
While following the streets North to catch the sunrise or sunset among buildings that seem about to slip down the cliff (casas colgantes), dip into an alleyway or two on your way. Here, you’ll find the colorful architecture, shops, and cafes you’re looking for. The city offers a halcyon feel that draws you in with varying architecture spanning thousands of years.
The crystal blue river that runs along the two villages adds a certain sparkle that catches your eyes in a way you could have sworn you just saw something in the water. Take a break from the city and drop into the forest nearby. Here you can get lost among the trees and enjoy a change of pace walking along the limestone rock.
Top three spots to take the perfect picture:
- On the bridge connecting the old and new cities
- Among the trees in the forest
- On the edge of the city catching the sunrise or sunset
Marazion, Cornwall UK
St. Michael’s Mount of Marazion is a break from having to earn your nature views by hiking. Instead, you get to sit back and take in the luxuries of the world from a lawn chair… but first, you have to get there. This island can only be accessed during low tide where you can travel across the sand bar.
Okay… not only. You can take a boat as well during high tide as well but where’s the fun in that?
While exploring the city, you can’t miss the castle sitting on top of the rock mound that dates back to the 5th century. It is said that a fisherman saw St. Michael sitting on the rock just before the island and told him to build a city there. Of course, this is not unusual from the stories told dating back from 400AD. Fishermen have told tales of being lured toward the rock by mermaids, treasure, or back to safety by St. Michael’s gentle guidance.
This island is a world on its own and if you’re looking for something vastly different, discoverable, and comfortable this would be the island to check out first.
Instagram worthy scenes:
- Walking along the sand bar towards the castle
- Sitting on the rock where fishermen say they saw St. Michael
- From the top of the castle overlooking Marazion
Enter: wine country. If small towns settled in a valley of working vineyards and a chance to get away from France tourists is your aim for reading this list, Kaysersberg is the city you’ve been waiting for. You’ll find yourself sitting on your flat’s balcony taking in the gorgeous sunset with a glass filled with local wine in three hours or less. This is no doubt an off the beaten path European city and will become a repeated European destination each time you fly into Paris, which we think is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
If the location isn’t enough for you, the gurgling river running through the city will catch your interest while the small winding streets and 13th-century buildings will grab any part of your fancy that hasn’t already fallen in love with this unique European city. Walk across the 16th-century bridge for a perfect sunny view and maybe you’ll run into a friendly local that will give you your next dinner plan or the perfect pairing idea for their local wine.
The perfect time to visit? They say Christmas in Paris is magical, December in Kaysersberg is legendary. The entire city dresses up, the lights that brighten the streets at night and the locals who can’t get enough of the festive markets bring this gorgeous city to life.
France is always picture-perfect but this location during the December holidays makes it another jaw-dropping Instagram photo opportunity.
We recommend taking a photo at these spots:
- On the bridge watching the sunset
- Along the winding cobblestone streets covered in snow
- Sitting wine from the vineyard
Agios Nikolaos, Crete, Greece
As a smaller, lesser-known island of Crete, Agios Nikolaos offers beautiful luxurious views without the tourist visitors that a lot of Greece has been getting bombarded with. Sitting at just over 26 thousand people, this medium-sized city is the perfect place to sit back in “the cradle of civilization”.
Take in the “three faces of water” here. Start at the lake that is connected to the ocean through a small inlet. The lake, known as Voulismeni, is home to many folklore tales as a deep, dark-colored lake. Ask any local and you’re sure to hear a different story each time. By following the inlet to the ocean through a bridge that runs along the side of it, you’ll come to view a small island off the coast of Agios Nikolaos known as “Agii Pandes” (All Saints). Here, you can picture what life was like while building the city to what it is today with citrus trade.
Focusing on the town in front of you, you’ll find incredible art installations. Georgios Mamidakis brought art to the island in the last 1980s. He developed the art culture into a hotel that stands today as the only luxury hotel on the island known as the Minos Palace Hotel.
With so much art and beauty here, these are the spots that we recommend capturing for your Instagram before leaving:
- On the beach on Agios Nikolaos soaking up the sun
- Overlooking the port from Agii Pandes
- From inside the Minos Palace Hotel
There are numerous reasons to love Ireland. From the rolling hills, the castles with rich history, and of course the seemingly endless pubs you can visit, Ireland offers something for every adventurer.
Killarney sits in Ireland’s west end and is a perfect launching point for the Ring of Kerry or the Wild Atlantic Way. Both are excellent driving tours you can take on your own time and roll across incredible views that only Ireland mystery can offer.
If you’d like to stay in the Killarney area, hopping on the Ring of Kerry is an excellent way to see everything you can. Here, you can book a travel tour or hoof it on your own (just be mindful of local traffic laws and styles). You’ll find dramatic history in each destination on this trip including ruined castles, buildings, and forts that will take you right back in history. While taking in the history, don’t forget to stop and gaze at Skellig Michael, an old monastery still standing intact that represents Christian’s search for solitude they believed would bring them closer to God.
Killarney itself offers an incredible national park that features the Ross Castle. Although typically busy in the summer months, this castle and many you’ll find in Ireland represent the stronghold of Irish groups and workers while defending their home country.
After a long day of travel, site seeing, and adventuring, what better way to settle into town than a local pub? If you hadn’t already scoped out the best pub to visit upon arrival of Ireland, Courtneys Bar, or Murphy’s are excellent finds.
Killarney is an absolutely magical city but here are three of our favorite spots to that we deam Instagram perfect:
- A coastal stop on Ring of Kerry or the Wild Atlantic Way
- The perfect sunset in front of the Ross Castle
- The Skellig Michael monastery is a mysterious spot that is worth boating out to catch an up close photo
Saxony and Cochem, Germany
Germany is home to many awe-inspiring castles, history, landscapes, and unique cuisine that choosing a city here is almost impossible. Two standout, though, that are worth being on your European city travel radar: Saxony and Cochem.
Saxony lies in the eastern region of Germany and is home to a rich history, gripping rock formations, and its capital, known as the Florence of the North, Dresden. This is another beautiful town that you can visit any time of year but one where the winter months are the most captivating. If when you hear winter you think of sliding down a mountain as fast as you can and not so much sweaters and presents then you’ve picked the right place.
Atop one of the highest hills in this town is the Königstein Fortress. As one of the largest fortresses in Europe, the Königstein Fortress can only be accessed by crossing the plateau across the Elbe River.
Cochem is known for its own castle on top of a hill: Cochem Castle. This is another beautiful castle in the city of Cochem whose best view is from the river running at the bottom of the hill it rests on. If you don’t have access to a boat or canoe for this view, the “Skagerrak-Brücke” bridge is another fantastic vantage point to take in the beauty of this castle. From this point, the bridge gives way to beautiful space to take in not only the castle but the sunset over the vineyards of the village.
Looking for a little walk around Cochem? Walk “The Moselhöhenweg” and stroll the six-mile trail around the Moselle Valley. To view the entire trail, take a side route up to Alf and on your way, don’t forget to pause and take in the breathtaking views.
If you want to add one more stop while in Germany our friend Becky the Traveller has a great post on Spreewald.
Here are three spots you can’t leave Germany without photographing:
- The “Skagerrak-Brücke” facing the Cochem Castle
- The view from the top of Dresden in Saxon Switzerland National Park on Bastei Bridge
- Cross the bridge towards the Königstein Fortress is an absolute can’t miss
Last but not least, Lauterbrunnen is a Europan city you must have on your list of visits. In true Switzerland form, Lauterbrunnen features breathtaking mountain views. From waterfalls, rivers, the Alps, and lush green valleys, you can’t go wrong when visiting this destination. Located just an hour from the capital, Bern, you can dip away from the bustling city life that can come with beautiful destinations like Switzerland and really feel like a local in a small, breathtaking village.
Taking a natural route to this European city visit, your first step towards seeing all 72 waterfalls is Staubbach Falls located just at the end of the main street. The three most well-known mountains in the area, the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau can be seen from the main street as well here.
Needless to say, we held the best for last. Anywhere you choose to pose in this natural getaway is sure to make you everyone’s travel inspiration but here are three of our favorites:
- A summary photo in the Staubbach Falls
- The top of any of their Alps hiking views is a must
- Sipping wine from your BnB while taking the views and truly capturing your vacation relaxation
These are just a few of the MANY hidden gems in Europe and beautiful European cities that are off the beaten path. Deracinate your typical European travel itinerary and jump into a new adventure by picking any of these destinations. Whatever your reason for wanting to find a lesser-known European city, you’re sure to gain an experience no one else you know has had yet. But if you are looking for some Western Europe travel tips we’ve also got you covered.
We want to hear from you! Leave a comment and let us know if you have been to any of these cities or if you think we missed one.