Alternative Europe: 13 Hidden Gems Off the Beaten Path

Are you looking for ways to avoid the crowded tourist hot spots in Europe, for a more authentic travel experience? I’ve got you covered! 

As cool as it may seem to visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or Venice with its beautiful network of canals, the reality is that once you get there, you may be surprised and overwhelmed by the amount of tourists. 

Luckily, there are many parts of Europe that are still filled with stunning places to visit with little to no tourists, and in this guide, I will introduce you to some of the best-hidden gems, plus tips on how to get off the beaten path. 

Let’s begin!

travel rural europe off the beaten path admiring nature views from above

Benefits Of Going Off the Beaten Path: 

Some of them are apparent, but what are the less obvious advantages you may encounter when visiting less touristy destinations? From my experience, some of them include: 

  • More authentic cultural experiences - You will engage with locals, their traditions, and lifestyles that are less influenced by tourism. You will experience places that maintain their original charm and are less commercialized. 
  • Find unique hidden gems - You may accidentally find hidden gems and unique attractions that are less known, and enjoy all by yourself unspoiled natural landscapes. 
  • Experience more peace and tranquility - You will enjoy quieter, more peaceful environments, ideal for relaxation and reflection. This includes skipping the rushing, long lines, and crowded attractions, making your travel experience more pleasant. 
  • Cost-effective - You’ll find such places to be much cheaper than popular, overcrowded spots. You’ll spend less on accommodation, dining, and other fun activities. 
  • Supporting local economies - By choosing less touristy destinations, you’ll positively contribute to the local economy by supporting small businesses and artisans. 
  • Supporting sustainable tourism - Overtourism has negative impacts, like increased pollution, loss of cultural identity, inflation, and overconsumption of resources. Going off the beaten path helps to promote sustainable tourism by reducing the environmental and social impact on heavily visited areas.

Top 13 Europe's Hidden Gems: 

1. Ljubljana, Slovenia 

Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, is known for its green spaces, lively cultural scene, and picturesque old town. I’m lucky I live nearby (a 2-hour train ride), so I visited the city a few times for day trips. 

It is very charming, with a compact and walkable city center. Through the center, there’s the Ljubljanica River and plenty of cute streets, shops, and coffee shops. 

What to Expect:

A blend of historical architecture, modern art, and outdoor cafes.

Things to Do & Visit:

  • Ljubljana Castle: A medieval fortress offering city views. 
  • Dragon Bridge: Iconic bridge with dragon statues. 
  • Tivoli Park: A large and beautiful urban park. 
workawayer solo travelling in Ljubljana, Slovenia river town

2. Brussels, Belgium 

Have you watched In Bruges? It is a movie filmed in Bruges, Belgium, and since then, the city has been struggling with excessive summer tourism. 

Brussels, on the other hand, is a much less popular touristy place, but it is famed for its architecture, chocolate, waffles, and beer. 

I visited it this year for the first time. To be honest, it wasn’t on my travel list - I went there for a concert, but in the end, I was pleasantly surprised. 

It may not have as many famous landmarks, but it still has many great sights located just a short walk from each other. 

What to Expect: 

A mix of historic sites, European Union institutions, and vibrant cultural life. 

Things to Do & Visit: 

  • Grand Place: A UNESCO World Heritage site with stunning architecture. 
  • Atomium: A futuristic building and museum. 
  • Comic Strip Route: Murals and museums dedicated to Belgian comics.
woman travelling solo sightseeing brussels belgium

3. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 

Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is rich in history and culture with plenty to offer. It retains its unique charm and cultural authenticity and allows you to experience local traditions, cuisine, and everyday life without overwhelming crowds. 

I haven’t been to Sarajevo yet, but I was passing by Bosna once and visited Sokolac Fort near Bihac. The nature around was mesmerizing and we were the only visitors there. 

Bosna is also one of the most affordable destinations in Europe, so if you are on a tight budget, it could be a great travel option. 

What to Expect:

A melting pot of cultures and religions.

Things to Do & Visit: 

  • Baščaršija: The old bazaar and the historical and cultural center of Sarajevo.
  • Sarajevo Tunnel Museum (The Tunnel of Hope): Tells the story of the 1992-1995 barricade of Sarajevo.
  • Vrelo Bosne: A beautiful park at the source of the Bosna River.
eco community brushing teeth outdoors alternative travel

4. Bratislava, Slovakia 

Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is a charming city on the banks of the Danube River, known for its medieval and Gothic architecture. I haven’t visited it yet, but I have some close friends from there, and from what I’ve heard so far it’s definitely worth the visit. 

What to Expect:

A compact city center, historic castles, and a vibrant cultural scene.

Things to Do & Visit: 

  • Bratislava Castle: Panoramic views and historical exhibits. 
  • Old Town: Stroll through medieval streets and squares. 
  • UFO Observation Deck: Stunning views from the iconic bridge tower.
solo workawayer sightseeing in Bratislava, Slovakia palace trees

5. Plovdiv, Bulgaria 

Plovdiv is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with a history dating back over 8,000 years. 

You can still experience authentic local life, interact with residents, visit numerous archaeological sites & historical landmarks, and enjoy the city without large crowds. 

What to Expect:

Ancient ruins, vibrant arts scene, and historical charm.

Things to Do & Visit: 

  • Ancient Theatre: A well-preserved Roman theater still in use. 
  • Old Town: Cobblestone streets and colorful houses. 
  • Kapana Creative District: Art galleries, cafes, and shops. 
everyday living in the mountains of bulgaria doing laundry scenic

6. The Azores, Portugal 

The Azores are a group of volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean, known for their stunning landscapes and biodiversity. 

In fact, the Azores archipelago is a prime example of under-tourism; it is much less touristy than Madeira, and the ideal location if you’re seeking an escape from crowded destinations. 

What to Expect:

Dramatic cliffs, hot springs, and lush greenery. 

Things to Do & Visit: 

  • Sete Cidades: Twin crater lakes with breathtaking views. 
  • Furnas: Hot springs and geothermal cooking. 
  • Whale Watching: One of the best places in the world for spotting whales. 
traveller doing yoga at a natural pool in portugal nature loving

7. Sintra, Portugal 

Sintra is a fairy-tale town about half an hour from Lisbon, known for its romantic 19th-century architecture and lush landscapes. I was visiting Lisbon and then went with a couple of friends to Sintra and the surrounding nature. It was a magical, peaceful, and beautiful experience. 

What to Expect:

Palaces, gardens, and mystical forests. 

Things to Do & Visit: 

  • Pena Palace: Colorful palace on the top of the hill. 
  • Quinta da Regaleira: A gothic mansion with gardens and secret tunnels. 
  • Moorish Castle: Ancient ruins with panoramic views. 
visiting sintra portugal as a travel group best european destinations

8. Lemnos, Greece 

Lemnos is one of the least touristy Greek islands. I was there last summer and was impressed that the island offers so many fun things, but has very few tourists. The general feel is very peaceful and serene.

There were many unspoiled beaches and cute traditional villages that we explored. It was the perfect location to rest and do fun adventures, with few to no tourists in sight. 

What to Expect:

Tranquil beaches, ancient ruins, and authentic Greek culture. 

Things to Do & Visit: 

  • Keros Beach: A haven for windsurfing and kitesurfing. 
  • Hephaestia: Ancient ruins of a once-great city. 
  • Ammoudies: Sand dunes of Lemnos, also referred to as the Lemnos Desert
sea adventures in greece Mediterranean travel diving

9. Istria, Croatia 

Places like Dubrovnik in Croatia are suffering from over-tourism, but many different hidden gems are less known and worth visiting. 

Istria is a region known for its beautiful coastline, medieval towns, and wine regions. Luckily, I have some of my best friends living there, so I had the chance to explore the area, and let me tell you - it is perhaps one of my favorite options from this list. 

What to Expect:

Coastal beauty, historical towns, and delicious cuisine.

Things to Do & Visit: 

  • Rovinj: A picturesque town with narrow streets and a beautiful harbor.
  • Pula Arena: A well-preserved Roman coliseum. 
  • Motovun: A hilltop town famous for its truffles and vineyards. 
travel couple admiring natural pool in Istria, Croatia best underrated destinations in europe

10. Trieste, Italy 

Trieste is a cosmopolitan city on the Adriatic coast, known for its mix of Italian, Slovenian, and Austro-Hungarian influences. It is often described as an underrated destination since it has a lot to offer, but it doesn’t attract the same number of tourists as some of Italy’s more famous cities. 

What to Expect:

A relaxed and unhurried vibe, making it a perfect destination for leisurely exploration, historic architecture, and a beautiful seafront. 

Things to Do & Visit: 

  • Piazza Unità d'Italia: One of the largest seafront squares in Europe. 
  • Miramare Castle: A romantic castle with stunning sea views. 
  • Canal Grande: A picturesque canal lined with cafes and shops.
mixed group of workaway travellers and host smiling at camera after mucking out in europe Italy eco building project

11. Faroe Islands 

The Faroe Islands are a remote archipelago between Iceland and Norway, known for their dramatic landscapes, including rugged cliffs, rolling green hills, deep fjords, and picturesque villages. 

The scenery is breathtaking and offers countless opportunities to explore! Since the islands are remote and less accessible, it helps maintain their tranquil atmosphere. 

What to Expect:

Rugged cliffs, green valleys, and a unique blend of Nordic culture.

Things to Do & Visit: 

  • Mykines: An island famous for its puffin colonies. 
  • Saksun: A picturesque village with a stunning lagoon. 
  • Tórshavn: The capital city with charming wooden houses and cultural sites. 
workawayer reading a book and looking over faroe islands backdrop peaceful travel moment

12. Aarhus, Denmark 

Aarhus is Denmark's second-largest city and has a rich history dating back to the Viking Age. The city is known for its vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, galleries, theaters, historical sites, and contemporary architecture. 

What to Expect:

A mix of modern art, music, and historical landmarks. 

Things to Do & Visit: 

  • ARoS Aarhus Art Museum: Famous for its rainbow-colored rooftop walkway. 
  • Marselisborg Dyrehave: A beautiful park, where you can observe a variety of wildlife, especially deer. 
  • Moesgaard Museum: Exhibits on Danish prehistory and Viking history. 
workaway travel community in denmark enjoying al fresco meal

13. Berat, Albania 

Final on the list we have Albania! It is arguably one of the most underrated countries to escape the crowds. The options for exploration are endless, but if I have to pick one, let me introduce you to Berat, also known as the "City of a Thousand Windows." 

It is a charming city located in southern Albania, known for its well-preserved Ottoman architecture, ancient history, and stunning natural scenery. Near Berat, there are plenty of natural hidden gems to explore, such as the Osum Canyon, or Bogove Waterfall. 

What to Expect:

Historic charm, stunning vistas, and a rich cultural heritage.

Things to Do & Visit: 

  • Berat Castle: Ancient fortress with panoramic views. 
  • Mangalem and Gorica: The two old quarters with characteristic architecture.
  • Onufri Museum: Located in the castle, showcasing Byzantine art. 
trio on a bench admiring views of albania landscapes

Final Tips 

Embrace slow travel 

Slow travel has plenty of benefits, like creating more meaningful connections, supporting local communities, and being kinder to the environment. 

Do a work exchange 

A fantastic way to explore a destination better is to do a work exchange. Such experience will allow you to immerse yourself in the local community, contribute to meaningful projects, and gain a deeper understanding of a culture. If you’re curious to try it out, here are the top 10 tips to get the most from your first Workaway adventure! 

Interact with locals 

Slow travel and volunteering can provide unique opportunities to connect with locals on a deeper level. Engage in cultural exchange, learn from each other's perspectives, and forge lasting friendships with people from around the world. 

workawayer and host herding lambs through the woods

Respect the environment 

Practice responsible tourism by minimizing your impact on the environment and respecting local customs and traditions. Leave no trace, support sustainable initiatives, and contribute positively to the communities you visit. 

Stay flexible 

Be open to unexpected opportunities and changes in your itinerary. Some of my most memorable travel moments often happened when I embraced spontaneity and allowed myself to take a spontaneous detour from my original plans. 

Embrace travel twists

Traveling off the beaten path often comes with its share of challenges, such as transportation delays, accommodation issues, or unexpected closures. But these twists and turns can make your adventure even more exciting and unforgettable. Embracing these challenges with a flexible and positive mindset will allow you to fully appreciate the hidden gems Europe offers!

group of travellers hitchhiking on the road and smiling

So here you have it - 13 amazing spots to escape the crowds, and get off the beaten path.

Of course, there are many more places, but those are some of my favorites that I visited or heard about. 

If you're looking to explore off the beaten path, Workaway is an excellent option. The platform connects travelers with hosts around the world, offering different work exchange opportunities! 

It’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself in local culture, create meaningful friendships, and discover hidden gems that most tourists never see. If you want to know more, here are some essential steps that will prepare you for your first Workaway experience! 

Would you add some to this list? Share your off-the-beaten-path adventures in the comments below! 

off the beaten tracktravel destinationsEurope

About Merilin

My name is Merilin, a 28-year-old imperfect zero waste advocate, passionate about sustainability, veganism, and living harmoniously with nature. I love developing recipes for healthy & vegan sweets, t... show more...

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