Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023
Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Off-The-Beaten-Path Gems in Italy
Italy is home to many famous tourist destinations like Rome, Florence and Venice that attract millions of visitors each year. However, venturing off the beaten path reveals a whole different side of Italy that is just waiting to be explored. From seaside villages to hidden hilltop towns, Italy has countless underrated gems for travelers looking to avoid the crowds.
One such town is Bosa located on the western coast of Sardinia. Its pastel-colored houses stacked on a hillside overlooking the Temo River are striking. Take a scenic stroll across the Ponte Vecchio bridge and browse the tiny shops and cafes along the cobbled lanes. The 12th-century hilltop castle that looms above town provides panoramic views.
Further inland in Sardinia, Orgosolo is a village covered in vivid murals depicting everything from rural life to political statements. Created by local artists, they add an eccentric vibe while also providing a window into the history and soul of Orgosolo. Don't miss the massive painting covering an entire building aptly called "All History in a Wall.”
The island of Pantelleria, located between Sicily and Tunisia, is an off-grid oasis combining volcanic landscape with turquoise waters. Trek to secluded hot springs or through vineyards growing the local Passito dessert wine. Cap your day with a soak in Pantelleria’s famous dammusi, stone buildings with domed roofs.
In Basilicata, the town of Matera may not be unknown but its UNESCO-listed Sassi districts deserve a mention. These ancient cave dwellings carved into the mountainside create a magical honeycomb of abodes, churches, and piazzas. Walking their narrow alleys is like time traveling to the 9th century BC.
What else is in this post?
- Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Off-The-Beaten-Path Gems in Italy
- Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Undiscovered Islands in Greece
- Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Charming Villages in France
- Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Majestic Castles in Germany
- Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Breathtaking Fjords in Norway
- Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Quaint Coastal Towns in Portugal
- Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Lush Countryside Retreats in Austria
- Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Vibrant Cities in Eastern Europe
Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Undiscovered Islands in Greece
Dotting the Aegean and Ionian seas, Greece has over 6000 islands—yet most travelers seem to only know the mega-stars like Santorini, Mykonos and Crete. By sailing just a bit off the typical tourist trail, you’ll find deserted beaches, quaint villages, ancient ruins and some of the best sunsets in the Med without the crowds.
Koufonisia, located between Naxos and Amorgos, feels like a lost paradise with only 500 full-time residents. Whitewashed Cycladic architecture is set amidst hills while waters in varying shades of blue lap the shores. Rent a boat to reach secluded coves and swim in the many sea caves. Don’t miss Angelis Cave where sunlight creates a magical blue illumination. Follow dusty trails inland to find the island’s only village, Chora, and dine on fresh seafood at family-run tavernas.
Further south, Folegandros charms with its rugged landscape carved by wild winds. Cliffs and rock formations slope down to crystal clear waters, creating perfect conditions for swimming and sailing. Don't miss a photo op at the iconic Church of the Virgin Mary perched on a precipice overhanging the sea. Sample local cheeses, meats and recipes using foraged herbs at the Food Festival held each September.
Lying between Athens and Crete, Kythnos remains mostly a secret outside of Greece. Hiking trails weave past thermal springs, olive groves and quaint villages with whitewashed square houses topped with red-tiled roofs. Soak in the hot springs near Loutra and then relax on Kolona Beach, a thin strip of golden sand connecting Kythnos to a small islet. Visit in summer during the Feast of St. Simeon to watch locals dive into the harbor to retrieve a cross thrown by the village priest.
Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Charming Villages in France
France is synonymous with sophistication, from the glittering streets of Paris to the sun-soaked vineyards of Provence. Yet some of the country’s most charming attractions are its small villages, untouched by time and overflowing with beauty. Cobblestone streets, flower-adorned buildings and historic churches await travelers looking to trade bustling cities for a taste of la vie en rose.
Chief among these idyllic locales is Gordes, perched on the edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse in Provence. From afar, its stone houses blending into the cliffside appear almost like a frosted wedding cake. Get lost wandering the tiny lanes, stopping to shop for lavender sachets and soaps made nearby. For the best views of the surrounding valley and Luberon mountains dotted with long-needled pines, make the short hike up to the ruins of a 12th-century castle.
Further north in the Loire Valley, wander the Touraine countryside to find Sancerre crowning a hill surrounded by vineyards. Sample some of the region’s best Sauvignon Blancs paired with wedges of chèvre cheese made from local goat milk. The excellent local wines explain the village’s unusually high concentration of excellent bistros and cafés. Nearby, don’t miss the atmospheric Cro-Magnon cave paintings within the Grotte du Trilobite.
Those enticed by Brittany’s dramatic coastline should add Rochefort-en-Terre to their list. The village fans out from a rocky promontory overlooking the Gulf of Morbihan. Moss carpets the shingled roofs of the village’s houses, with trails of ivy climbing the stone facades in emerald tendrils. At the market, vendors sell crêpes made with buckwheat flour, cider, and buttery cookies called kouign-amann. Since it was named a “Petite Cité de Caractère” in the 1970s, the distinctly Breton architecture has been beautifully preserved.
Like something from a fairy tale, Collonges-la-Rouge charms visitors with its medieval turrets and towers. The reddish sandstone used to construct its foundations, hence its name, glows like embers when hit by the rays of the setting sun. Take an evening stroll over the stone bridge crossing the Cère River and admire the multi-hued houses lining the banks. Dine at La Table du Terroir to sample regional specialties like duck breast and Limousin beef.
With so many beautiful villages scattered throughout France’s diverse countryside, tour its backroads to unveil this charming and authentic side of the country. Leave the guidebooks behind and instead, get lost among flower-filled squares, ancient churches and lazy cafés. Let serendipity be your guide.
Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Majestic Castles in Germany
Beyond Berlin's vibrant nightlife and Munich's beer gardens lies a Germany brimming with fairy-tale landscapes of mist-veiled forests and rivers meandering past sloping vineyards. Majestic turreted castles crowning craggy cliffs add a uniquely Germanic character. Though many travelers flock to King Ludwig II's Schloss Neuschwanstein, made famous by Walt Disney, Germany overflows with spectacular castles and palaces just waiting to be discovered.
Rising from an island on the Rhine River, Schloss Stolzenfels looks straight out of a Brothers Grimm storybook. My wife and I wandered the sprawling gardens and admired the towers and turrets reflected in the river's smooth surface. Inside, the grand halls and staterooms display ornate furnishings and ceiling frescoes. While quite touristy, watching riverboats pass by from the palace balcony while sipping Riesling wine made it easy to embrace the fairytale surroundings.
For a more ruined aesthetic, Burg Eltz charmed with its richly decorated rooms inside contrasting with the crumbling exterior. Tucked deep in the forest above the Moselle River, it remained untouched for centuries. I felt like an explorer stumbling upon a hidden treasure. From the kitchen with its enormous fireplace to the frescoed chapel, this is one of Germany's best-preserved medieval castles.
Further down the Romantic Road, Burg Hohenzollern was the childhood dream castle I had imagined. Perched on a conical hill rising sharply from the countryside, its imposing silhouette looks like something conjured up by Walt Disney himself. While tourists clog Neuschwanstein, I found solitude wandering the grounds. The panoramic views over the Swabian Alps alone warranted the visit. Inside, I was fascinated by the original furnishings belonging to the Prussian royals. Rediscovering my inner prince, I could have spent hours getting lost in the castle's nooks and crannies.
Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Breathtaking Fjords in Norway
Norway’s west coast is indented by over 1,190 fjords created from retreating glaciers during the Ice Age. While the fjords are well known for their beauty, many travelers simply view them briefly on a cruise or from coastal towns. Venturing further reveals remote hamlets, roaring waterfalls and uncrowded trails allowing you to immerse yourself in the mighty landscapes.
One of the most spectacular regions lies within Nordfjord which runs for 106 miles from the central coast to the western frontier near the villages of Loen and Olden. A car ferry took me across the stunning Geirangerfjord, its deep blue waters reflecting the snow-dusted mountains plunging straight into the sea. I felt insignificantly small surrounded by nature’s grandeur. Stopping frequently to marvel at thundering waterfalls like the Seven Sisters, it was easy to understand why ancient Norse myths credited these landscapes to the work of giants.
In Olden, I embarked on an alpine hike through Oldedalen Valley to witness Briksdalsbreen glacier, an offshoot of Europe’s largest ice cap. Approaching closer, its cracked and crevassed surface sparkled brilliantly in the sunshine. The sound of ice calving into the milky turquoise lake below punctuated the silence. Few other visitors braved the strenuous trail, allowing long moments to sit quietly and absorb the view alone.
Nearby Loen enticed with rugged peaks ripe for climbing and Lake Lovatnet, an emerald beauty tucked between towering cliffs. After summiting Mount Skåla, I soaked my tired muscles in the geothermal pool at Hotel Alexandra, its floor-to-ceiling windows framing a perfect fjord view. The hotel's gourmet restaurant also sources many ingredients like lamb and reindeer from local purveyors.
Though the Sognefjord stretches 127 miles inland, its slender inlets remained unspoiled. Ferries provide access deeper into the fjord’s reaches. In Balestrand, I stayed in a hotel from the late 1800s overlooking the fjord’s tranquil blue waters. Beyond the village, the fjordscape grew increasingly wild and uninhabited. A hike up to a historic stone church ended with stunning panoramas out over this Norwegian paradise.
Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Quaint Coastal Towns in Portugal
Portugal’s wildly scenic coastline is indented with storybook villages seemingly frozen in time. Centuries-old traditions live on through the fishermen mending nets by hand, busy markets filled with the morning’s catch, and the soulful melodies of fado music drifting from humble tavernas. Venturing off the heavily touristed Algarve reveals fishing towns backed by steep cliffs, lively surf havens, and island sanctuaries with an intoxicatingly nostalgic charm.
Tucked into the Costa Vicentina Natural Park, Cerveira proudly embraces its maritime heritage. I watched weathered fishermen guiding colorfully painted boats out of the natural port, oars pulling strongly against the current. Locals gladly shared their fresh sardines just pulled from the sea, best savored simply grilled over an open fire in the pine forest behind town. Surf culture also thrives along Praia de Vale do Lobo, where lessons and rentals are easily arranged. Nights were spent at small family pensions serving regional specialties washed down with crisp Vinho Verde while swaying to melancholic fado ballads.
Further up the coast, Nazaré charmed with its lively beach scene. Picturesque wooden fishing boats bobbed in the harbor while surfers rode barrels on Praia do Norte’s legendary waves. Locals spoke excitedly of Garrett McNamara’s world record 78-foot wave conquered here. Watching daredevil surfers from the 17th-century fortress perched high above the sea was a highlight. Cobbled lanes wove up to the main plaza rimmed by seafood restaurants. At sundown, I watched fish auctions by lantern light on the weathered docks following generations-old traditions.
Enchanting Berlenga Island felt worlds away from the mainland, just 5 miles offshore from Peniche. The daily ferries delivered me to an island paradise of secluded coves, dramatic rock formations and the preserved medieval Forte de São João Baptista crowning all. I found deserted beaches to spread my towel on and explored tidal pools teeming with starfish. Meals of grilled fish, Muscatel wine and orange cake came courtesy of the local restaurants lining the island’s only settlement. Watching the fiery sun dip into the sea while lounging on the 17th-century Forte’s ramparts provided an unforgettable end to the day.
Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Lush Countryside Retreats in Austria
Beyond Vienna’s imperial palaces and Salzburg’s Baroque churches lies an Austria that trades urban refinement for Alpine authenticity. In the countryside, three-century-old farmhouses welcome guests seeking crisp mountain air, endless hiking trails through wildflower meadows, and meals showcasing organic produce plucked straight from the garden. For travelers yearning to disconnect among nature’s majesty, Austria entices with its rural tranquility.
My wife and I found our slice of heaven at Blaue Traube, a family-run inn and winery in Wachau Valley. Our days passed in bucolic bliss - sipping Grüner Veltliner on the terrace overlooking apricot orchards while cows grazed on distant hills. Evenings meant retreating to our suite with its rough-hewn wood floors and ceilings for a bath in the copper clawfoot tub before dinner in the candlelit restaurant. Chef Mario prepared a mouthwatering five-course menu infused with local ingredients like foraged herbs and just-caught Zander fish. It was the type of place we never wanted to leave.
Further west in Tyrol’s Zillertal Valley, Rieserhof’s remote setting provided sanctuary among the rugged Kitzbühel Alps. The chalet-style hotel blended traditional charm with modern amenities like an outdoor infinity pool providing stunning panoramas over the surroundings. Hiking trails started right from the doorstep and led to scenic summits and remote alpine lakes. At dinner, I feasted on Austrian classics like Wiener schnitzel and apple strudel, before retiring to the spa for a relaxing massage aided by the sound of a bubbling brook.
On the shores of Lake Neusiedlersee, we pedaled through the countryside to reach Weingut Weninger in Burgenland. Vintner Franz Weninger personally led our vineyard tour before an alfresco tasting on the patio, the sinking sun glistening off the adjacent lake. I left tipsy not just on world-class Blaufränkisch wines, but also the beauty of my surroundings. This was Austria at its most authentic.
Hidden Gems: The Top 10 Underrated European Destinations You Should Visit in 2023 - Vibrant Cities in Eastern Europe
Beyond Western Europe’s grand capitals like Paris and Rome exists a lesser-known but no less captivating Eastern realm waiting to enthral intrepid travelers. From majestic imperial boulevards to cobbled alleys revealing trendy boutiques and cafés, many visitors are surprised to discover the cosmopolitan side of cities like Krakow, Prague and Budapest.
While places like Prague and Dubrovnik teem with tourists ticking off their bucket lists, venturing further east provides a more authentic glimpse into this resurgent region. In Lviv, Ukraine, I felt like I had uncovered a Baroque jewel box hidden from the mainstream. This once prosperous trading center exudes old-world charm with ornate buildings decorated in pastel shades of lemon, pistachio and caramel. The picture-perfect Rynok Square bustles with lively cafés and restaurants spilling onto the cobblestones. At night, the medieval streets glow under the warm light of antique gas lamps. Beyond its architectural delights, Lviv’s dynamic energy and creative spirit shines through in its thriving cafe culture, contemporary art galleries, and fashion-forward locals.
Wandering the steep streets of Ljubljana, Slovenia felt like stepping into a real-life fairy tale. Bridges designed by Jože Plečnik, Slovenia’s most famous architect, arch gracefully over the emerald Ljubljanica River slicing through town. Street performers and open-air markets line the riverbanks as kayakers drift lazily by. But Ljubljana also wows with its cutting-edge design, from quirky sculptures to its sleek galleries and museums. At the Central Market, I sampled local delicacies like Carniolan sausage and potica cake. Come sundown, students sip craft beers on outdoor patios along the river. What truly charmed was Ljubljana’s perfect balance of small-town coziness and contemporary cool.
Beyond playing host to crazy bachelor parties, Budapest seduces with its distinct dual character courtesy of the separate Buda and Pest sides flanking the Danube. In Buda, funiculars climb past Baroque palaces and medieval streets winding up to Castle Hill. Across the river, Pest flaunts its glamorous side with ritzy Andrássy Avenue and the stately Hungarian State Opera House. Late nights kicked off at ruin pubs housed in abandoned buildings before grabbing a langos bread and heading to the steaming thermal baths. Budapest blends continents and eras into an intriguing East-meets-West tapestry.