Exploring the best spots in Europe often means cheap flights on Ryanair, heading off the main path or simply finding yourself somewhere totally unexpected.
Some people call that inconvenient. I call it winning.
I love hunting out the hidden gems of Europe, the places still waiting for the crowds to descend and those destinations that unexpectedly capture your heart. If you are like me and would rather point to a random island called Nisyro on a map and head there on a whim, then this list, my friends, is for you.
The other magical thing about exploring Europe is how easy it is to get between the smaller destinations thanks to the extensive bus and rail connections available, especially given buses can sometimes be the best way to reach the hidden gems of Europe.
Here are 22 unique places in Europe worth adding to your travel list in 2022…
Perfect for? Sustainable travel, hiking and biking, culture, art and escapism
One of my most recent Europe hidden gem finds is the Austrian region of Saalfelden Leogang, set in the Austrian Alps. While many would think of this corner of the world as the ideal winter ski destination, I visited at the start of summer to try and discover the #RealAustria, as the local tourism board call it – and boy am I glad I did!
The two towns that make up this region are adorable. Saalfelden is more urban, Leogang is more rural, and the entire valley is absolutely stunning. However, the main reason to venture to this part of Austria is for an unforgettable mountain experience atop the lofty peaks of the Asitz Mountain.
Reaching 655 metres at its highest, this is a wonderful winter ski destination also renowned for exhilarating and intense mountain biking routes. Locally known as ‘the mountain of senses’, there is much more to this part of the jagged range than just extreme sports.
Something of a secret Europe destination still, culture lovers will be well rewarded after riding the gondola to the top. An art and sculpture trail through the forest for the eyes, water features for the ears, herb gardens for the nose, a ‘nature cinema’, and most magically, outdoor concerts in the same performed to an incredible mountain lake backdrop.
You’ll also find these incredible wooden huts (TONspurs) on the mountain, where you can lay back and enjoy the view while listening to previous concerts playing through the headrest. Honestly, it’s one of my new favourite European destinations!
How long to spend in Saalfelden Leogang? A long weekend to one week – this is a total slow travel destination.
How to get to Saalfelden Leogang? You can either fly into Innsbruck or Salzburg and connect by train, or also from Munich in Germany. Train travel from the UK is possible, by overnighting and then taking the Alpine Express.
Perfect for? Picturesque cities and roman history, natural hikes, excellent local produce
Perhaps the least touristed region of Spain, Extremadura, which translates to ‘extreme-hard’, might conjure up images of wide-open dusty plateaus of olive grows at first glance. Yet, upon further inspection, it’s a region rich in gastronomy, culture and heritage that surely can’t stay as under the radar for too long.
Best avoided in the harsh summer heat and winter cold, the two provinces of Caceres and Badajoz are sandwiched between some of the most popular destinations in Spain (Andalusia and Castile and León) and, to the west, Portugal. But here, you’ll not only find the best Roman ruins in the country in UNESCO listed Merida, where amphitheatres, museums of mosaics, and ancient aqueducts will take you back in time, but an additional two UNESCO Heritage Site cities and further listed natural parks.
Discover the old city walls of Caceres, where the Old Town combines Gothic, Renaissance, Roman and Morish architecture with ease. Admire another feat in blended architectural styles at the pilgrimage site of The Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe. Hop between small villages like Hervas, famous for the white-washed Jewish quarter, or quaint cities like Plasencia, where narrow streets and grand cathedrals combine – this is secret Spain at it’s best!
Once you have finished taking in the urban history, heed the call to slow down as you meander through the impressive, bird-strewn landscape of Monfragüe National Park, or one of the many other biosphere reserves in the region, before rounding it all off with a feast of mouthwatering delights.
For, one of the best rewards of going off the beaten path in Europe to Extremadura is the excellent cuisine – and, given here was the birthplace of the famous, and true, Jamon Iberico, you are in for a treat. Whether you are sipping the local Cherry beer, devouring the creamy Torta del Casar cheese coated in the local smoked paprika, or dining on historic dishes like the breadcrumb-meat combined migas, you’ll not struggle to be well fed in Extremadura.
How long to spend in Extremadura? You’ll most likely want a car to make the most out of a week trip, although you could visit a few key cities by bus over a long-weekend.
How to get to Extremadura? The main airport of Badajoz has very limited options, but you can fly into Salamanca (closest), Madrid or Seville and transfer by bus or car in a couple of hours.
Perfect for? Food and wine, sustainable travel, outside activities.
I’m so glad to see Slovenia getting the attention it deserves, with the green capital of Ljubljana and the mystical-magic of Lake Bled becoming firm traveller favourites.
But much of the country remains blissfully off the beaten path, and Vipava Valley is undoubtedly one of Europes best-hidden gems… for now!
Slow-travel and sustainability aren’t buzz words in Slovenia; they are a way of life, and nowhere is this truer than in Vipava Valley. A gorgeous set of greenery, hills and vineyards, you could easily mistake this for Tuscany at first glance.
The joy of visiting Vipava is in cycling or hiking between little villages, heading into the mountains, enjoying Paragliding with their famous winds, and sampling everything that is put in front of you. There is an unknown number of wine cellars here, as everyone seems to have on under their house. The most inauspicious home doubles up as a restaurant serving local delights and home-made wine, and the whole place is pretty as a postcard. Whether you want a couple of days of downtime with a foodie focus, or a week escaping modern life in favour for local flavours, this small part of Slovenia will deliver you back home feeling totally refreshed.
How long to spend in Vipava Valley? A long weekend to one week – this is a total slow travel destination.
How to get to Vipava Valley? You can either fly into the Slovenian capital of Lljubljana, or the Italian city of Trieste and then drive or book a transfer.
Perfect for? Nature filled hikes, Atlantic ocean surf, geo-thermal activity
Imagine, if you will, a kind of Switzerland meets New Zealand, but on a much smaller scale and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. Located between Portugal and Canada and formed by volcanic activity, you’ll be spoilt for natural wonders on the nine islands of the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal.
Whether it’s responsibly swimming nearby dolphins or spotting the local whale population, hiking crater lakes that shimmer in hues of cerulean and shamrock, or taking in the geothermal activity bathing in the ocean or watching geysers bubble, you’ll be amazed – and that’s only on São Miguel island.
With a flurry of new flights launching in 2022, it’s fair to say this hidden gem of Europe won’t remain so for long – although some of the islands are bound to stay much less visited. Far-flung Flores – translated as flowers – but which should really be called Waterfalls, as a verdant escape of blissful hikes to cascading streams. On Pico, you can summit the highest mountain in all of Portugal, head underground in extinct Lava Tubes, or taste the unique local volcanic wine.
Sao Jorge, a personal favourite, serves up incredible faja (lava-spill) views on its network of impressive trails, while the otherworldly landscape of Faial, where an eruption in the 1900’s created a whole new black-desert like side of the island, will truly feel like another planet.
How long to spend in the Azores? Either spend a week explore the main island of Sao Miguel, grouping together a few islands like Pico, Faial and Sao Jorge, or take a three to four week adventure to explore all nine, most advisable in the summer months when weather is more reliable
How to get to the Azores? Sao Miguel has the main airport, with international flights, including to London and as of 2022 new direct flights to the USA. Terceira also has some international routes. From Lisbon, you can get flights to most of the islands, and once there, the local airline travels between all nine islands, while ferry services connect the local groups together.
Perfect for? Adventure activities, fascinating history, Ottoman architecture.
Can I get away with calling a whole county a Europe hidden gem? Well, I’m sure going to try! For the most part, exploring Bosnia and Herzegovina is still a relatively off the beaten path experience in Europe. I’ve been here twice now, and the second visit firmly cemented my love for the country. On both visits, I was on a road trip, as it’s the best way to get to some of the lesser-visited spots.
Sure, beautiful Mostar is rightly famed, and now getting very popular with day-trippers from Dubrovnik, and Sarajevo, the capital city, is starting to attract more and more visitors thanks to its affordable pricing, fantastic cultural mix, and historically significant, especially in relation to WWI, but the country offers so much more to experience.
For adventure lovers, the rafting around Konjic is fantastic, with the water so clear and illuminated it looks photoshopped, a common theme of all lakes you’ll find around the country. The water-based magic extends to the postcard-perfect Kravica Waterfalls and the monastery in a lake at Rama in Scit. For cultural adventures and hiking, head to Lukimor, one of the last remaining mountains villages, or if you are in the area in the winter months, Skiing is available.
But the real magic for me in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the little moments, whether it’s staying in a converted railway station in Zavala, a town with a population of two where you are serenaded by guitar playing owner pouring you their homemade wine before whisking you into epic caves or enjoying a chilled lemonade or Arabic coffee looking out on the Ottoman wonder village of Počitelj.
It feels like around every corner there is a new experience, place or person to bring a smile to your face, and I wholeheartedly believe if you want a real adventure, and to enjoy Europe off the beaten path, Bosnia and Herzegovina will bring you sheer joy.
How long to spend in Bosnia and Herzegovina? One to two weeks.
How to get to Bosnia and Herzegovina? Flights into the country are still relatively low, and mainly go to Sarajevo. Tuzla also has some budget flight options (I’ve flown here before and then taken a bus) and Dubrovnik, Croatia, provides a strong international arrival point to then cross the border by bus.
Perfect for? Epic hikes, incredible food and wine, affordable prices
Spanning from Georgia to Azerbaijan and connecting two continents, the Georgian Caucasus Mountains offer incredible hiking trails in the warmer months, through to snowy escapades in the winter – when certain stretches become inaccessible.
Georgia, especially the capital city of Tbilisi, has been growing in popularity in the digital nomad community for years, thanks to the one-year visa and low nomad tax rates, but you can find the real magic of the nation amongst the highest peaks.
Dormant Mount Kazbek, climbing to an elevation of 5055 metres, is a real sight to behold, and the surrounding area around Stepantsminda, a town set in the valley, is one of the most popular year-round destinations thanks to its position on the main Georgia – Russia highway keeping it accessible. Monasteries sit above the clouds, friendly dogs will volunteer to be your trekking ‘guides’, and hospitable homestays will start as a place to crash and quickly become a home with new friends.
Don’t miss experiencing the warmth and charm of Georgian hospitality, served up with some of the worlds best and oldest wines, local spirit chacha, and mountains of delicious food. From the twisted dough dumplings of Khinkali to the cheese-stuffed Khachapuri bread, the mountains will soon feel secondary to the gastronomic delights that will never stop being delivered to your table!
How long to spend in Georgia? Well, this really is very open-ended thanks to the very liberal one-year visa policy. Give yourself a two week trip to enjoy some hikes, a few days in the city, and perhaps a dash over to Batumi, the nations slightly bizarre Black Sea coastal city.
How to get to Georgia? Tbilisi (the capital city) has regular international flights, while Kutaisi airport is where you’ll find most of the budget airlines operating from across Eastern, and sometimes central Europe.
Perfect for? Politics and History, Beach Bars, Museums, Vegetarian Food.
One of my favourite city-breaks ever, it’s fair to say The Hague really really really shocked me with how cool it is, and how much is going on there, hence naming it a Europe hidden gem!
As a city more known for politics and social justice, I was impressed with the fantastic food and bar scene, especially for vegetarians, the in-depth and fascinating museums such as Humanity House, the never-ending selection of chic-clubs and bars along the gold sandy beach, and of course, the critical work the city does international for Peace and Justice.
I’ll admit before I visited I wasn’t sure how I’d fill a long-weekend in The Hague, but with Amsterdam about to burst, this second-city, and political capital of The Netherlands is a well worthy alternative. It might not have as many canals or as much coffee-culture as Amsterdam, but it more than makes up for it with the laid back vibes, friendly locals, and culture to gorge on. Seriously, if you are looking for a Europe city-break in 2022, you can’t go wrong with The Hague!
How long to spend in The Hague? A long-weekend city break.
How to get to The Hague? The Hague can be quickly reached by train from Amsterdam airport. Rotterdam/The Hague airport is closer, but public transport times are similar.
Perfect for? Lovers of Italian architecture and art, escaping the crowds in Italy.
After five trips to Italy in 2019, from the Dolomites in the far-north region of Trentino to the epic coasts in the heel of Puglia, I think it was going to be a given I’d discover a few of Europe’s hidden gems while here, and Mantua was one of the most surprising, earning it top spot on this years Europe hidden gems list – especially given so many of Italy’s top tourist attractions are quite simply put, overflowing with tourists.
To be honest, I’m shocked this city isn’t all over everyone’s bucket lists, and while it seems like local Italian tourists adore visiting, and those in the know head here, for most of us, we are sadly unaware of what an extraordinary city this is.
Located in the Lombardia region of Italy, it’s easiest accessed by car, although train connections from Verona, Venice and Milan can bring you here. Its best calling is the art and architecture that bring so many of us to Italy’s most famous cities, and here there is an abundance.
Home to the largest residential building in Europe, after the Vatican, Mantua (or Mantova) is surrounded by three artificial lakes, one coated in lilypads which call out for a sunset boat cruise. We have to thank the Gonzaga rulers for most of the grand architecture in Mantua, whose Ducal Palace presents some 600 odd rooms. While only some are open to the public, they are an architectural feast, with grand frescos and beautiful art and you can spend hours exploring them all.
Also impressive and worth a visit is the Te Palace (which has nothing to do with the drink) which also offers some rather grand halls, and perhaps my favourite spot, the Teatro Bibiena, a real Italy hidden gem if ever there was one – and I couldn’t believe that for less than a price of coffee we could tour it, and be the only visitors.
Combining this incredible architecture, indescribable art, the call of northern-Italian cuisine and wine, and the chance to take epic day trips across the Lombardia region from Mantua makes this city for me an absolute joy to discover, and I do hope to make it back one day.
How long in Mantua? A two day city break, or use it as a base for longer to take day trips from.
How to get to Mantua? The nearest airport to Mantua is Verona, but trains from Verona, Milan and Bologna are the best connections if you are without a car between 1.5 – 2hours. Venice can connect to these stations and FlixBus offers various connections.
Perfect for? Beach days, good shoulder-season weather
Madeira, one of my favourite islands in the whole world, is another Portuguese destination enjoying a moment in the spotlight. But Madeira isn’t just one island, and the ‘baby-sister’, if you will, of Porto Santo, remains on the best off the beaten path Europe beach escapes.
With limited flight options, and most people arriving by ferry from Madeira, the 9km stretch of golden sands, backed by rolling hills and easy hiking routes, makes for a perfect beach escape whether with friends, family, or a loved one.
With a mixture of accommodation options, ranging from upscale resorts, to down to earth home rentals, Porto Santo is all about easy days spent relaxing, whether it’s cycling around the island, enjoying on the peaceful trails, or just sipping a cocktail at the beach.
How long to spend in Porto Santo? You could enjoy a beach vacation for a week, or make it a short-visit combined with Madeira
How to get to Porto Santo? While there are a few flights to the island directly, mainly from Lisbon, the ferry from Madeira is under three hours.
Perfect for? Impressive architecture, city-side hiking.
This seriously underrated hidden gem in Spain was my final trip of 2018, and what a place it was to discover.
While most online discussion around this medieval city is on the Casa Colgados, the hanging houses which seem to dangle off the side of the rock, the whole old city is magical and deserving of its UNESCO world heritage status.
Perched upon a rock and with a history that can be traced back around 1300-years, the colourful houses, castle ruins, and cathedral packed with architecture spanning through various time periods come together to provide another world like feel. Stepping into Cuenca is like stepping back in town, and the surrounding nature of the karst mountains, coupled with the crystal blue river provides an awesome adventure playground alongside your city break.
How long to spend in Cuenca? I’d suggest two days here, a day trip from Madrid as often reccommended is rushed and I’d avoid it.
How to get to Cuenca? You can quickly get to the out of town station of Cuenca AVE (Fernando Zobel) in under an hour by high-speed rail from Madrid. A slower train service goes directly to the new part of the city.
Perfect for? Castles, TV & Film Locations, Museums, Nature.
If you are looking for the quintessential British experience that has it all, then don’t look any further than a visit to Durham. Durham’s city boasts a UNESCO listed castle and cathedral, while the rest of the region is packed full of hidden gems with history, nature and one of the best museums I’ve ever visited.
Durham city itself is most famed for the castle and cathedral, both spectacular and deserving of a few hours to tour, while cool cafes, river water sports and historic architecture are close by. Outside of the city, you have the Durham Heritage Coast, ideal for hiking and relaxing, and plenty of castles and green rolling hills in the region, with Raby Castle the favourite of those I visited. Durham is also reasonably easy to get around by public transport for those not wishing to hire a car, which is a huge bonus when visiting England.
Be sure to visit Beamish Museum, a living museum which I ended up spending a full day in, it was that good! Imagine a museum meets theme park vibe, where everything is fully interactive, and you can discover the history of England from the 1800s onwards. From old-school sweet shops and photography studios fully staffed to vintage trams and busses driving around, the chance to see history played out, there are actors in the ‘homes’ and ‘schools’ for example makes this an excellent opportunity to experience history.
How long to spend in Durham? I’d suggest at least a long-weekend to experience the city, a couple of castles and the fantastic Beamish Museum.
How to get to Durham? Durham is well connected to London and Edinburgh via train, and Newcastle International Airport is a short drive or public transport connection away.
Perfect for? Beer and Bratwurst, Charming city-centre, regional hidden gems.
I really really enjoyed my time in Erfurt, its a relatively small yet charming city, and is the capital of the Thuringia region of Germany, which is certainly not as known as other parts of the country.
Dating back to around 700 AD, the city slowly built up as an essential trading destination in the Middle Ages and thanks to the old town surviving WWII you can still experience it very much as it once was. Home to Germany’s oldest university, the city has a young vibe, and in the summer months when I visited beer-gardens were overflowing, and every street felt alive – and the ice cream parlours are fantastic!
The main attractions in the city are the imposing cathedral, castle and the Merchants Bridge, an adorable cobbled street crossing packed with tiny boutique spots. There are countless photography opportunities in this Europe hidden gem, and beyond the city, the region has more to offer.
Combine your visit to nearby Weimar and Gotha, ideal for the classical culture and the arts of this region, especially Weimar where the library is well worth travelling for, and the vibe is positively stately.
How long to spend in Thuringia? A weekend city break in Erfurt, to one-week exploring the region.
How to get to Erfurt and Thuringia? Erfurt airport has limited seasonal flights, but Frankfurt airport provides train transfers in under two hours, and discounted train tickets are offered to those staying in the region.
Perfect for? Off the grid escapes, waterspouts, outdoor hiking.
In the north of Albania, you can find a hikers and nature lovers paradise. The one day hike from Valbona to Thethi in the Accused Mountains is just breathtaking and for now remains a pretty secret spot in Europe. Lake Komani shouldn’t be missed before or after your outside adventures, depending on which direction you come from.
This relatively flat lake made me think of Norway, cutting through the valley with the rising green cliffs on each side. You can directly take the passenger ferry to go across to the other side but for some real R&R book a stay at the stone house in the middle of the lake, free from electricity but complete with homemade cheese, honey and liquor. The day tours provided by Molla Molla also arrange excursions and stays at the farmhouse, you can read more about Lake Komani here.
How long to spend in Lake Komani? A couple of days as part of a greater Albania trip.
How to get to Lake Komani? Lake Komani is around a 4-hour drive from both Tirana airport and also Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro – buses can bring you to the nearest city, then arrange local transfers.
Perfect for? Winter trips, great value skiing, mountain hiking, old-town relaxing
Some what of a last minute addition to the list, and my first ‘Europe hidden gem’ trip of 2020 was Bansko where I attempted to learn to Ski. What I learnt is even if Skiing isn’t going to become your newest passion, it’s an ideal destination to spend a week in as there is much more there than the slopes.
This fantastic value skiing destination in Bulgaria has been growing in popularity over the last few years, yet still remains extremely affordable. For example, my chalet rooms including dinners, breakfasts, transfers and drinks with Snomads usually goes for about £300 a week, and lesson and lift-passes are much cheaper than the likes of Italy or France. The £1.25 G&Ts went down rather well too. All this makes it an ideal first Ski destination, or for a mates holiday where people are at varying levels, as they really are geared up with all types of slopes.
Beyond the Skiing though, which is at the top of the mountains some 30-minutes Gondola ride from the resort town, you’ll find all you need with restaurants, bars, rental shops and other activities like ice-skating. There is also a beautiful old town with lots of traditional buildings, house museums, and a small but stunning Orthodox church.
If you visit outside the ski season, you’ll still be able to enjoy the old-town, and head into the Pirin National Park for some hiking and lake hunting instead of the pistes.
How long to stay for? A long-weekend to one-week – depends how long you want to ski for, I also highly suggest you tie it in with visits to nearby Plovdiv and Sofia on one trip.
How to get to Bansko? Flights into Sofia are usually greeted by Ski transfers from your lodge.
Perfect for? Medieval village vibes, slow travel.
When you think of the Italy from the movies; you know the one, hair flying in convertible cars, verdant green hills of vines, castles towering above little red roof towns, you’re essentially thinking of Brisighella.
This too cute to believe Italy hidden gem was my first day trip in Emilia Romagna and it stayed my favourite. The picturesque streets with little cafes and gelato shops sit under the three hills of the town; one clocktower, one castle and one church. You can enjoy a casual stroll between the three and visit them before noshing down on all the gelato below. We saw one little tourist group there but other than that, on a blissfully sunny June day it was devoid of tourists, making this a true off the beaten path Italy experience.
Be sure to check out the surroundings including the old quarry caves which now host live music performances underground, the excavation site of the old castle which offers terrific panoramic views and head to the mountains for some fantastic fresh food and fresh air at the Parco Carnè visitor centre.
How long to spend in Brisighella? Two days as part of an Emilia Romagna week visit.
How to get to Brisighella? From Bologna (which has a well connected airport) you can take a train to the closest city, before changing onto a regional train service.
Perfect for? Escaping it all, white-washed villages, volcanic hiking.
The volcanic island of Nisyros in Greece turned out to be one of my most unexpected discoveries of 2018. I didn’t know I was going to Greece until I got invited there, on a second date. Sadly, the romance never blossomed, but I did replace it with a new lover: Nisyros Island.
This Europe hidden gems is unique in that it is all a volcano, and around the edge, with charming whitewashed villages with signature blue frames play home to close-knit communities. In the middle of the island, you’ll find the space like landscape where the crater of this active volcano bubbles away, and you can take your adventurous ass right down into it, sulphur fumes and all.
For many, Nisyros Island is a day trip, usually from Kardamena, a small resort town in Kos where I was spending the week. For those who want to experience a little more of Nisyros Island, then I’d recommend staying for a few nights. There are a few different villages around the edge you could then explore at your own pace, but even just taking some downtime on the black sand and rock beaches, or reading a book with a Greek coffee along the waterfront, is a holiday enough. If you want that simple Greek lifestyle but without the overwhelming crowds of say Santorini, and don’t mind trading in a few photo opportunities for lazy afternoons strolling between mountain villages, an escape to Nisyros is a good bet.
How long to spend on Nisyros? You can day-trip from Kos, spend a couple of days hiking, or spend a week or more just escaping it all.
How to get to Nisyros? The easiest international way to get here is to fly to Kos island and then from Kardamena take a boat to the island.
Perfect for? Christmas lovers and historic traditions.
If you think of Christmas Villages, then you are likely thinking of the Ore Mountains.
Located in the depths of Germany’s Saxony region, this is truly where Christmas comes alive, and somewhat all year round. With countless wooden carving stores, candle makers, Christmas angel designers and a whole host of other winter magic and tradition here, it’s a joy to visit in the festive season, but that rubs off to other parts of the year.
The Saxony region of Germany impressed me no end, from the post-war rebuilt grandeur of Dresden to the more funky and modern vibe of Leipzig that wasn’t really my thing. But it was my second visit, to more remote towns and hidden gems, such as The Ore Mountains, that really captivated me.
With mining traditions such as concerts in underground caves, and belly-busting feasts kept alive, right through to the annual Christmas parades, this is a totally different side of Germany to the stereotypes of Bavaria, bright-lights of Berlin, or savvy finance capital fo Frankfurt.
How long to spend in the Ore Mountains? Stay a couple of days, or combine with a road-trip through Saxony.
How to get to The Ore Mountains? Leipzig and Dresden’s airports offer flights, while Berlin by train is relatively quick and easy. Around the mountains, a car will be required to explore, but for the Saxony region itself, trains and busses offer good connections.
Perfect for? Peculiar museums, epic view points, medieval history.
Yep, another country on the list – but this pocket-sized nation is somewhere rather special.
Entirely surrounded by Italy, the Emilia-Romagna region to be precise, San Marino is the oldest republic still in the world and offers some quirky reasons to visit, which is why I think it is still a Europe hidden gem. Between the three towers, striking location on top of Mount Titano, and a handful of bizarre museums, it’s a super exciting spot to visit.
With many people making the mistake of taking a day-trip here like its a museum, staying overnight will not only give you incredible sunsets and sunrises but when I stayed there in June it felt like we have it all to ourselves – such as being locked in a museum after all the staff have gone home!
This tiny republic is the 5th smallest country in the world and its a genuinely fascinating. They use the Euro although they aren’t in the EU and have individual San Marino coins. They have two presidents at any time who serve six months each. They have their own calendar. You get the point, it’s a pretty unique place, and as such, you should undoubtedly make the time to ‘pop over the border’ from Italy to this still relatively undiscovered gem – especially as it’s becoming more and more popular!
How long to spend in San Marino? Don’t listen to those who say do a day-trip, spend at least one night here – you can combine it with a visit to Emilia Romagna, the Italian region famous for its food which surrounds the republic.
How to get to San Marino? Outside Rimini train station, regular coaches depart for San Marino. Rimini has it’s own airport, while Bologna airport provides an alternative option.
Perfect for? White water rafting, outside hiking.
One of my favourite stop during my Montenegro road trip, Tara Canyon and the inside of the country is absolutely gorgeous!
It seems like word has caught on about the magic of Montenegro, with countless friends and family flocking to the incredible UNESCO old-town of Kotor, and cruising along the sometimes crowded coastline, but if you head inland to the mountains which gave this county its name, you’ll be rewarded with a true off the beaten path in Europe experience.
Durmitor National Park is a must-visit, but head in the direction of Pluzine to discover a Europe hidden gem. Here we stayed in a cabin on a lake, sinking shots of Raki (a local homemade liquor) with our host as the sunset around us. Beyond here is the incredible drive that takes you around Tara Canyon, with towering black cliffs and incredible cerulean waters, it’s a fantastic spot for some off the grid adventures, both hiking, and white water rafting.
How long to spend in Pluzine? Two days as part of a Montenegro road trip.
How to get to Tara Canyon? You’re gonna need a car to get here and truly explore Montenegro, although if you come on a tour to stay at one of the water-rafting camps here transfers can be arranged.
Perfect for? Castles, Coasts, and Scottish hidden gems.
Scotland has indeed been basking in the tourism spotlight in recent years, with the Edinburgh Festivals going from strength to strength, the Isle of Skye hitting peak tourism, and new coastal drive routes with numerical names popping up, so much so without heading to the far-flung islands it’s getting harder and harder to find hidden gems in Scotland.
Sutherland and Moray are two parts of the country I loved during my road trip there, and you can base yourself bang in the middle in Inverness if you want to try and explore by public transport, or get a car for the ultimate Scotland road trip.
While Inverness itself doesn’t conjure the fame of Edinburgh or Glasgow, there are plenty of hidden gems to explore a short journey away. In Sutherland, the star of the show is Dunrobin Castle, a grand old building set in perfectly manicured gardens, while Moray has the impressive ruins of Elgin Cathedral to admire. Along this stretch of coast and road you’ll find plenty of cute towns and killer views, and hopefully, avoid the crowds heading to the west-Highlands and famous spots like Glencoe.
How long to spend here? Best enjoyed as part of a Scotland road-trip, or use Inverness as long-weekend base to explore from.
How to get to here? Inverness is the main capital city of the greater Highland region, offering many flights. Alternatively, start your road-trip from Edinburgh.
Perfect for? Water sports, mountain hiking, spa and relaxation.
Valsugana offers up epic hikes, lakes perfect for watersports, and all against snow-capped mountains and an alpine tree decorated backdrop. While Lake Garda might be the most famous lake around here, those in Valusgana, such as Lake Levico, still have those Europe hidden gem vibes about that.
I was also amazed to find out that numerous lakes had been awarded the blue flag award for beach and water quality, something I had assumed was just reserved for beautiful beaches. Once you see the bright cleanliness of the lakes and the families relaxing on the beachside shores though, you’ll quickly see why this region deserves these accolades.
I stayed in the Valsugana region for my lake-side escape, and it was the perfect off the beaten path Italian experience, but there are also charming little villages here, bespoke wine producers, mountain biking and Dolomite views and even art galleries in the hills!
How long to spend in Valsuagna? A couple of days as part of a Trentino trip, or spend a week here on a relaxing nature holiday.
How to get to Valsuagana? You can take the train down from Austria, or up from Verona to Trento, where the regional line connects with Valsugana. Local cards supplied with accommodation provide free regional public transport and entry to many attractions.
Perfect for? Bone-chilling churches, forest adventures, gothic grandeur
Whilst Prague may be one of the hottest must-visit cities in Europe at the moment, the historic and impressive city of Kutna Hora is still a relatively under the radar gem. It makes for a great day trip from Prague although spending a night there is never a bad idea.
Discover the cobbled streets, grand architecture, an incredibly impressive cathedral and pay a visit to the unique ‘Bone Church’ which is, as you might have guessed, adorned with bones. With lush woodland surrounding the city and plenty of Pilsner on tap, it’s a perfect slice of Bohemia without the crowds of the Charles Bridge.
How long? An two-day visit with an overnight stay will give time to see the city and enjoy the nature
How to get to Kutna Hora? Trains from Prague take around one hour.
On the original version of this 2022 Europe Hidden Gems list, Kyiv was one of the top entries. Tragically the Russian invasion has caused misery and suffering for those living in Ukraine and, obviously, made tourism impossible. However, I leave this entry below as a reminder for future travel plans, when we can return to Ukraine and help support and re-build the nation through tourism.
Perfect for? History, gold-domed churches, great value food and beer.
I thought this year I’d throw in a capital city of good measure, as there are a surprising number of cities across Europe that are still relatively off the beaten path for most travellers. Torn between Tallin, Warsaw and Luxembourg, I then remember just how much I loved Kyiv on my flying visit there earlier this year.
Ukraine might not have had the fairest coverage in recent years (and now, with the war, that continues), but as Chernobyl seems to become somewhat of a tourist destination in itself, hopefully, Kyiv and the rest of the country, including hidden gems such as Lyiv get more recognition.
A relatively green city, with stretches of river beaches entertaining comedy clubs, a fantastic food scene peppered with great value Georgian restaurants, and lots of gold-domed churches to admire, Kyiv is an ideal city-break in Europe that is relatively affordable and under the radar.
How long to spend in Kyiv? An ideal weekend city-break, I spent just over a day here and it was rushed.
How to get to Kyiv? As a capital city, the airport is well served with international flights.
And that’s a wrap for this 2022 off the beaten path in Europe list this year – got any suggestions of where I should head next to add to this list, or have you visited somewhere above? Let me know in the comments and safe travels!
Check out my favourite suggestions of the best places to visit in Europe during the offseason.
If you want some help finding cheap flights in Europe, check out my guide to Europe cheap flights here.