Think of Europe and countries like the United Kingdom, France and Germany come to mind immediately. There are of course many other amazing places on the continent; the search for the sun in the summer makes the Mediterranean resorts of Spain, Italy and Greece popular; history aficionados make their ways to the likes of Austria, Turkey and Russia; pristine nature backdrops entice nature lovers to Switzerland and the Nordic countries. There is something for everyone to look forward to!
And yet there are yet many more countries Europe with a less established exposure to tourism. They do not attract the significant tourist numbers even though they have plenty of things to offer. In no special order, here is a travel guide to some hidden gems of Europe that you can consider to enjoy a holiday a bit off the beaten path.
Serbia is central within the Balkan Peninsula, a country of plains in the north and mountains the south, many peaks exceeding 2,000 metres. Its national parks are off the beaten track destinations that deserve far more attention from travellers.
There are plenty of things to see and do including cruising the Danube, the iconic river on which the town of Golubac and its fortress was built, dominating the Danube at its widest where it enters Djerdap Canyon.
Tourists can visit mountain resorts and learn more about the history of the region in Belgrade Fortress, the Tesla Museum and the old city of Nis. There are two monuments in Nis on the banks of the Nisava River, the most important being to commemorate Constantine the Great and the end of the persecution of Christians in the 4th Century.
Likewise, the break-up of the USSR spawned several new republics with land-locked Moldova small yet with plenty to offer, particularly for lovers of wine. While politics and relative isolation has meant that Moldova’s wine production is not exported in any quantity to the markets of the west, the local red wine has been recognised as excellent, and cheap.
There are private tours to the wine producers; they involve sampling the products and buy some labels that few at home will have tasted before.
Its size is what probably counts against San Marino, and one of two other countries that figure in this top ten. A mountainous country within the borders of Italy, San Marino has an interesting history, and some landmark reminders of former times such as the Cathedral and the 11th Century Fortress. If you are passing, why not drop in even for just a few hours?
This new nation is gradually emerging on the tourist map. The region was under the influence of the Ottomans for 500 years and prior to that, Roman and Byzantine occupation as well. This means there are places of great archaeological importance as well as a natural environment well worth discovery in Macedonia.
Lake Ohrid, one of 50 lakes in Macedonia, is in the south west and slowly emerging as a significant tourist destination. St John’s Church at Kaneo overlooks this stunning Lake and from there the views over Albania are amazing while the Roman amphitheatre has a role in the summer music festival each year. Mother Teresa hails from the Capital, Skopje, a city of interesting streets, cafes, monuments, largely new and museums. Just outside Skopje there is Matka Canyon on the Treska River, and impressive ruins and caves just waiting to be explored.
Monaco is well known for the Grand Prix, a harbour full of expensive yachts, casinos and a high percentage of millionaire residents. The perceived cost of everyday life may be an important reason for it not attracting the ordinary tourists.
Tourists may well enjoy a day trip to see Monaco without spending too much money. Monaco-Ville is a medieval village, old houses in pedestrian streets, the Prince’s Palace, the Cathedral, the Jardin Exotique and the Oceanographic Museum are a few of the things to visit.
There is plenty to see and do in Luxembourg; it is just that it tends to be overshadowed by its much larger neighbours, Germany, France and Belgium. A small country, and fairly rich, there is still plenty of chance to escape the city to trek in the mountains and visit its medieval castles.
This stunning island deserves more attention though it is not a cheap holiday. Local guides can show tourists some unique natural features including volcanic black sandy beaches, glacial valleys, hot springs and waterfalls. The local cuisine has some interesting inclusions yet tourists who prefer to avoid local ‘’delicacies’’ will find no problem in doing so. Dried fish, shark, sheep’s head, blood pudding and dried fish are all on the menu of locals.
One of the best places to see the Northern Lights (Aurora) is Iceland and when it comes to experiences, the Blue Lagoon, a natural spa pool, is tremendous.
Between Switzerland and Austria, this Alpine country is no bigger than New York yet those looking for a destination off the beaten track can ski or hike during the summer, perhaps take a bike and explore or visit the castles on an organised tour?
Schloss Vaduz is home to the Royal Family but not open to the public. It makes a great photograph however and the spectacular Gothic Castle and church justifies your including Baizers on your places to visit in Liechtenstein.
It is perhaps politics that has kept tourists away from Belarus? It is still aligned to Russia, a dictatorship with communist beliefs yet it holds few of the attractions of cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg. Some travellers prefer places devoid of too many tourists; if that is you then the Mir Castle Complex, the old KGB Headquarters are interesting. Smaller towns such as Strochycy and Dudetki retain both a rural feel and a glimpse of what pre-Communist times were like in the region.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
This new Balkan state is becoming more popular with tourists recently though it lags behind its neighbour, Croatia. The highlight is Sarajevo; few cities have evidence of the religious diversity of the Balkans; mosque, synagogue, Catholic cathedral and Orthodox church in close proximity with the result that is it regularly described as the ‘’Jerusalem of Europe’’. The natural environment is worth exploring and the Adriatic Sea is just another of the reasons why the popularity of Bosnia and Herzegovina is on the rise.