Sometimes the chaos of a popular tourist city is enough to make any traveller run for the hills. Long queues, crowded viewpoints, expensive ticket prices and sold out attractions. These are undoubtedly some negatives to visiting the world’s most popular destinations. Fast forward to 2020, and health and safety regulations also mean that we should be avoiding crowds for the foreseeable future. This makes it the perfect time to shine the light on some of the quieter and underrated cities to visit in Europe. From ancient cultures to delicious food, each one has something special to offer. We have rounded up some of our favourites below.
Tirana – Albania
Albania has transformed itself since the disintegration of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe in the early 90’s. Independent cafes and restaurants are popping up regularly, transforming Tirana into a trendy and popular destination and making it an underrated city in Europe. There are a number of attractions worth visiting. This includes the massive main square where you’ll find the National History Museum, the Palace of Culture and the Et’hem Bey Mosque. The statue of Skanderbeg himself also sits proudly in the centre. Visit BunkArt2, a museum created in an underground bunker in the centre of town. Finally, enjoy the many eateries and boutiques before ending your evening in the sky bar. Here you can enjoy panoramic views over this ever changing city.
Wroclaw – Poland
If you want to experience colourful architecture and delicious Polish food without the crowds of Warsaw or Krakow, then Wroclaw is the place for you. The colourful town exudes everything you would expect from a quaint European city – a charming main square, busy restaurants, museums, parks and simply beautiful architecture. Spend your days strolling the ancient streets, exploring Cathedral Island or searching for gnomes. Definitely one of the most underrated cities in Poland!
Eger – Hungary
Nestled in the northeastern region of Hungary is a sweet little town known for one thing – wine! Eger has a unique charm that perfectly contrasts the hustle and bustle of the capital city of Budapest. Eger is shrouded in Ottoman influence and architecture. This is because of almost a century of Turkish rule in the 1500’s. This makes it a wonderful town to explore on foot. There are a number of historic sights found here, such as the northernmost minaret in Europe as well as a castle and cathedral. The highlight of a trip to Eger is spending time in the “Valley of the Beautiful Women”. This cluster of small wine cellars is where you can sample local blends and speak with the producers themselves. Make sure you try the Bulls Blood – a famous red wine which is produced in Eger.
Tbilisi – Georgia
One of the oldest continually inhabited countries in the world is Georgia. The country offers fantastic landscapes, ancient monasteries and some of the best wine in the region. The capital of Tbilisi is a canvas of cobbled streets and local boutiques, colourful buildings and incredible viewpoints. Visit the Narikala Fortress, which was built in the 4th Century and served as a fortification of Tbilisi throughout the centuries. Or the Holy Trinity Church, which is considered a sacred place for Georgians and one of the most recognisable structures in the city. The delicious local food and wine is one of the highlights of a trip to Georgia. Tbilisi is bursting with traditional restaurants where you can sample this!
Baku – Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan’s capital city exudes tradition and modernity all in one. Located on the eastern shores of the country on the edge of the Caspian Sea, Baku is a popular starting point for a trip through Azerbaijan and beyond. The three giant flame towers are perhaps the most known image of Baku and serve as offices, apartments and a hotel.
The city itself offers a host of activities to learn about the history of the country. This includes the old city of Icheri Seher, the historical centre of Baku, which dates back to the 12th century. It contains the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, a 15th century building that served as a stronghold in the middle ages and is now considered a “pearl of Azerbaijans’s architecture”, as well as the Maiden Tower, minarets and bathhouses. You’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants here as well as traditional carpet weavers and boutique shops selling handicrafts.
Maramureș – Romania
While not a city, the region of Maramures has made it onto the list for its rural beauty and unique offerings. Known as the Land of the Wood, the Maramures region is dotted with medieval churches and monasteries. It’s also known for its old-age farming techniques and a relaxed way of life. The UNESCO listed wooden churches are some of the best examples of wooden architecture in the region. They date back to the 17th century with insides adorned with fresco paintings and murals. Another popular attraction is the vibrant Merry Cemetery. Dating back to the 1930’s, the sea of colourful graves is the work of known artist Stan Loan Patras whose work represents old Romanian tradition. The image on the tombstones represents death in a humorous way. On top of these unique places, the Maramures offers experiences such as wood carving, egg painting and traditional Romanian cooking classes.
Prizren – Kosovo
The tiny nation of Kosovo declared self-independence in 2008, making it one of the newest countries in the world. While small in size, Kosovo boasts beautiful countryside and some fascinating architecture within the towns and cities. The capital of Pristina has a young energy and a small but fascinating number of attractions to see. This makes it one of the underrated cities in Europe. Marvel at the unique design of the National Library or wander down Bill Clinton Boulevard.
Prizren, The historical capital is one of Kosovo’s best kept secrets. With a stunning location along the Bistrica River and under the watchful gaze of the Sar Mountains, Prizren is compact and easy to explore by foot. Enjoy the small cafes and al fresco dining or take the short hike up to the castle ruins where you will be rewarded with fantastic views of the mountain range and terracotta coloured buildings below.
Veliko Tarnovo – Bulgaria
Veliko Tarnovo is a tiny and charming town in western Bulgaria. Built upon three hills, it offers beautiful views of the surrounding valleys and churches. The town is known as the historical capital of the second Bulgarian Empire. It’s beautiful architecture and rich history is what attracts many tourists to this corner of Bulgaria. There are a number of interesting cultural institutions such as the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of the Bulgarian Revival and the Constituent Assembly, as well as plenty of restaurants and charming little shops. Definitely one of the underrated cities to visit in Europe.