In this list, we are taking a look at cities and towns across Europe unjustly overshadowed by their celebrated neighbors. We insist you give these underdogs a chance next time you are planning a city break – keep reading to discover why.
Let others take the risk of accidentally stepping onto the consecrated bike paths of the nation’s capital – while some are being absorbed by the mob of selfie-stick armed vacationers to Amsterdam, you may as well be headed southwards – to the animated city of Utrecht. The town’s irresistible appeal lies in its authenticity and compact size – expect to see the iconic row houses and charming canals, all in the intimate setting of an unhurried university town.
It is simply inconceivable how Menton managed to stay under the tourist radar thus far (perhaps, much due to its proximity to jewels of the French Riviera like Nice and Monaco), given its bafflingly scenic setting against a mountain backdrop and the picture-perfect colorful patchwork of buildings cascading down towards the water via a labyrinth of narrow windy streets. Those who make it to the top will be duly rewarded with sweeping views of the coastline. Best times to visit are the summer months and February, when the annual Fête du Citron (Lemon Festival) takes place.
Our next pick may well be considered an underdog to two massively popular cities at once – those of Prague and Vienna (for its proximity to both). Like Prague, Bratislava was once part of Czechoslovakia, but while the Czech capital went on to become a darling destination for European city breakers, Bratislava remains relatively obscure – a fact to take advantage of, as long as time permits. Here, socialist architectural monuments mix in with medieval-looking old town streets (packed with some great, affordable eateries), all against the scenic backdrop of a dramatic hilltop castle.
Although postcard-ready Dubrovnik has been mercilessly stealing the spotlight from other Croatian cities for decades, there now seems to be a new contender to the throne emerging on the horizon. Zadar might not offer as much eye-candy, but it certainly is a city that feels very real – alive yet not crowded, modern, but still very much tied to its history via ancient Roman ruins and Romanesque churches dotting the old town. The seaside setting helps make the area appealing to vacationers, who can be spotted lounging on and around Zadar’s unique Sea Organ (a local attraction that emits harmonic sounds as water pushes up against it from below).
The true gem that is Malaga is getting increasingly harder to keep hidden – fame of its old-world appeal is spreading by the hour, attracting hundreds to its spectacular golden beaches, swanky promenades, and a handful of excellent art museums (Picasso Museum and the recently inaugurated Centre Pompidou are ones to especially look out for). Unlike the steamy hot and exorbitantly hyped Seville, Malaga enjoys a breezy location on the Spanish Costa del Sol, and offers no fewer cultural pursuits and entertainment than its fabled Andalusian cousin.
Exhausted with an endless stream of international holidaymakers, Venice is overflowing with (quite literally) millions of ravenous tourists, while the nearby Verona remains reserved exclusively for those few in-the-know. Unlike the museum-like, static Venice, Verona is a living, breathing city full of history. It served as backdrop to Shakespeare’s legendary Romeo and Juliet (Juliet’s balcony is still to be seen in one of the town’s squares), and hosts a grand annual opera performance in its ancient open-air Roman amphitheater.
Endlessly elegant Dresden rarely figures on field trip itineraries of those visiting the sprawling metropolis of Berlin – and very unjustly so, for the polished German city has been beautifully restored ever since its (nearly) complete demolition during WWII. Must-sees include the monumental Rococo-style Zwinger palace, Baroque Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), and the city’s skyline dominated with church domes and soaring spears.
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