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13 Underrated European Cities You Should Visit in Your Lifetime

There's so much more to Europe than the overcrowded cities that most tourists flock to. These overlooked cities are just waiting for you to visit.

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Old scenic street in Parma, Emilia-Romagna, Italy.iryna1/Shutterstock

Bologna, Italy

Recently ranked number one on Lonely Planet’s Best in Europe 2018 destination list, Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s foodie heaven. Bologna is the capital and largest city of the Emilia-Romagna Region in Northern Italy. Often overshadowed by the country’s popular cities like Florence and Rome, this region is a must-see for travelers planning a trip to Europe. Check out these 12 European islands you never thought to visit.

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Beautiful view of the historic center of Belgrade on the banks of the Sava River, SerbiaDatsenko Maryna/Shutterstock

Belgrade, Serbia

One of the oldest cities in Europe and built on the confluence of two rivers, Belgrade is the city that never sleeps. As one of the most underrated cities for nightlife, Belgrade is known for its floating lounges called splavovi, which are anchored along the Danube and Sava rivers during the summer. Each splavovi has its own musical genre and they aren’t limited to weekends only. Belgrade is also home to an ancient fortress built in 535 BC that sits atop a cliff.

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Dunure Castle at SunsetDale Kelly/Shutterstock

Ayrshire, Scotland

Sitting on the west coast of Scotland, Ayrshire is a destination with the perfect combination of island life, countryside towns, and sandy shores. Whether you’ll be exploring the nearby castles or driving down the coast, there are plenty of hidden gems to find along the way. Glenapp Castle is a European hidden gem—the five-star luxury castle hotel sits in an area of extraordinary natural beauty in Ayrshire. Here are the most underrated travel destinations in the world.

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Scenic summer aerial panorama of the Old Town architecture in Helsinki, FinlandScanrail1/Shutterstock

Helsinki, Finland

Beautiful and often overlooked, Helsinki has a vivid design, food, and wellness scene, and is capital of the happiest country in the world. Finnair offers a stopover program that lets travelers stop in Helsinki for up to five days on the way to or from other European cities, including Rome and Berlin. The stopover costs no additional airfare—it’s just a matter of time and planning—so consider this your excuse to explore more of Europe.

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Aerial view of Cologne, GermanyS.Borisov/Shutterstock

Cologne, Germany

A cultural hub to the region, Cologne is a city you don’t want to miss when visiting Germany. The awe-inspiring Cologne Cathedral is known for its gothic architecture and sweeping river views. Make sure to visit the Fischmarkt area, an old town square filled with restaurants, colorful old houses, a fountain, and outdoor cafes. Don’t miss these other popular destinations in Western Europe.

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Zurich, Switzerland - September 2, 2016: Man in a boat at Limmat River quay and St Peter Church in the city center of Zurich, SwitzerlandRoman Babakin/Shutterstock

Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich is an often overlooked travel destination in Europe. The Swiss banking metropolis offers canals, the stunning Lake Zurich, a lively art gallery scene, impressive medieval architecture, and a world-class food scene. Unlike other well-known European canal cities, Lake Zurich’s water is clean enough to swim in year-round. With views of the distant Alps, the luxurious Baur au Lac hotel is surrounded by its own park on the shores of the lake while still offering easy access to the bustling city. Fans of a soothing soak won’t want to miss these 10 heavenly hot springs across the globe.

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Pretty cottages along High Street, Broadway, Cotswolds, Worcestershire, England, UK, Western Europe.Caron Badkin/Shutterstock

Cotswolds, England

Cities and towns scattered throughout the sprawling English countryside are filled with some of the world’s most historic and amazing sights. The Cotswolds offers charming old-world ambiance mixed with natural beauty—its towns feel like storybook villages. The iconic Lygon Arms hotel in the Cotswolds village of Worcestershire has roots dating back to the 14th century, and guests can stay in the suite where Oliver Cromwell slept the night before the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Don’t miss these other 26 enchanting real places that look like they belong in a fairy tale.

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Panoramic view of Old city of Porto (Oporto) and Ribeira over Douro river, Portugal. Concept of world travel, sightseeing and tourism.DaLiu/Shutterstock

Porto, Portugal

Are you a wine lover? Porto is one of the top wine destinations in the world, featuring grapes grown in the region’s Douro Valley. Porto is a vibrant city that is worth visiting before it becomes overrun with tourists, because it is rapidly becoming one of Western Europe’s most desirable destinations. The city boasts extensive history, buzzing nightlife, and scenic boat rides. Don’t miss these other places travel experts recommend visiting in 2018.

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Beautiful view to church and castle in Cesky Krumlov, Czech republicVeronika Galkina/Shutterstock

Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

While Prague might be the more obvious destination, the southwestern castle city of Český Krumlov is one of the Czech Republic’s finest medieval sites. Its Old Town is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, a maze of twisting alleys built around the extensive Český Krumlov Castle. The city is also one of the most picturesque towns in Europe, making visitors feel as though they’ve stepped into another era.

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Famous old colorful buildings at Market square in Bruges, Belgium. Popular Flemish city with almost intact medieval architecture. Motion blurred peopleMadrugada Verde/Shutterstock

Bruges, Belgium

If you’re looking for cobblestone streets and dreamy canals, Bruges is a European city that will immediately capture your heart. The lively city has a rich culture and is a true hidden gem. History buffs should check out The Bruges Begijnhof, which has been a World Heritage Site since 1998. Be sure to check out these 12 tips for stress-free travel before you book.

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Innsbruck cityscape, AustriaAdisa/Shutterstock

Innsbruck, Austria

Love hiking and outdoor sports? Innsbruck is the ultimate European destination for adventure and recreation year-round. In fact, the town has hosted the Winter Olympic Games twice (in 1964 and 1976). Innsbruck is nestled in a unique location where the mountains meet the valley, and which makes the city feel one with nature. Before your getaway, learn how to pack a light carry-on for a hassle-free trip.

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Streets, canal and Thiou river in Annecy, FranceAndrii Lutsyk/Shutterstock

Annecy, France

Tucked away in southeastern France, Annecy is a charming, medieval village within the Rhone-Alpes region. It’s known for its crystal-clear blue lake waters, snow-capped mountains, historic markets, and active culture. Biking, hiking, boating, swimming, and even paragliding are all common activities for residents and visitors. Surrounded by the picturesque Alps, visiting Annecy feels like stepping into a fairy tale. Located on the edge of Lake Annecy is Auberge du Père Bise, a famous hotel with 23 rooms and suites owned by Michelin star chef Jean Sulpice and his wife, Magali. The hotel has housed celebrities and politicians from the world over, and it continues be a prime vantage point for lake viewing.

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Sofia Bulgaria Beautiful sunset over Temple St. St. Cyril and Methodius against the backdrop of Vitosha MountainBoyan Georgiev Georgiev/Shutterstock

Sofia, Bulgaria

Want to visit a city that lies at the foot of popular ski mountain Vitosha? Sofia is Bulgaria’s often overlooked, laid-back, culture-filled capital. Offering stunning views of Narodno Sabranie Square and Alexandar Nevski Cathedral, the ultimate luxury hotel InterContinental Sofia helps give travelers a full immersion into this destination. While you’re in Bulgaria, check out the most popular travel destinations in Eastern Europe.

Lindsay Paige Stein
Lindsay Paige Stein is a New Yorker who has a passion to explore the world. While traveling to 25 countries (and counting), she created, a blog about her love for food, travel and culture. In her spare time, you'll find Lindsay dreaming up her next big adventure, practicing yoga or discovering a new hidden-gem restaurant. You can follow her on Instagram @nomnomblog and @lindsaypaigestein.