5 Lesser-Known European Travel Gems

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Please join me in welcoming guest blogger, Jordan Campbell. Jordan is on a mission to complete the 40×40 Challenge … 40 countries by age 40. In her newly released blog, Global Debauchery, she divulges wild tales of travel mishaps and dishes valuable cost-saving tips. Join Jordan in her adventures as she finishes off her last five countries!

We’re all familiar with the allure of Paris, Rome, London, Barcelona… and these cities are rightly deserving of their reputations. Everyone should see the Sacre Coeur or the Trevi Fountain once in their lifetime. But where can you go for a truly amazing experience outside of the standard European tourist destinations? Here, I’ll reveal five lesser-known European travel gems, guaranteed to create memories of a lifetime.

lesser-known European travel gem

Bratislava sits on the Danube River where the Austrian, Hungarian and Slovakian borders all come together. Image credit: Jordan Campbell

Lesser-known European Travel Gem #1 – Bratislava, Slovakia

An hour’s drive from the more opulent Vienna, Bratislava sits right on the Danube where the Austrian, Hungarian, and Slovakian borders meet. As you exit the city’s Eastern Bloc sector and cross the river, the quaint Staré Mesto, or “Old Town,” awaits. Dating back to 500 BC, this tiny capital is much older than its larger metropolitan neighbors Prague and Budapest, and its Old Town maintains the charm of a fairytale medieval village. Get lost roaming the cobblestone alleyways as you gradually climb your way up to Bratislava Castle. Take a break (or two) at one of the many side-street cafes and enjoy some authentic Eastern European comfort food, perfect after a long day of sightseeing. Bratislava might be overshadowed by the decadence of Budapest and Vienna, but its humble charisma far outshines either.

lesser-known European travel gems

Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, is just 2-1/2 hours from Venice, making it a worthy day trip for those with a little extra time. Image credit: Jordan Campbell

Lesser-Known European Travel Gem #2 – Ljubljana, Slovenia

A lot of folks forget about Slovenia, a tiny little country nestled between Italy and the increasingly popular Croatia, but its capital city of Ljubljana is anything but forgettable. The 2016 Green Capital of Europe is a cozy walkable town, featuring numerous elaborate bridges that criss-cross the Ljubljanica River. The Ljubljana Castle perches high on a hill overlooking the whites, pinks, and yellows of the town’s grand architecture. This city has the perfect mix of history, architecture, and shopping, and it has an incredible restaurant scene lining the meandering river. Only two and a half hours from Venice, a must-see if you’re in the area.

Lesser-Known European Travel Gem #3 – Brașov, Romania

Not many people think of Romania as a top European travel destination, but the traditional mountain villages of Transylvania cannot be missed. Largely German-influenced, Brașov is a particularly special mix of old and new, town and country. On just a short drive to Castle Bran (Dracula’s Castle), you’ll encounter horse-drawn carriages and farmers working the fields by hand. Stroll the Piata Sfatului by day and go bear watching by night. (Yes, Romania has one of the largest brown bear populations in Europe, second only to Russia.) Enjoy a full-course authentic dinner for two at a whopping price of $20, tip included. One could easily spend several days in this region without any shortage of fun-filled activities or amazing sights. Visit Brașov now, though. Its rock bottom prices won’t last forever.

Lesser-Known European Travel Gem #4 – Capri, Italy

Capri is already a tourist hotspot, but if you ask folks what Italian islands they most want to visit, typical responses might include Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia. Don’t count out the little guy, though. This luxurious retreat juts right out of the Mediterranean declaring its impressive beauty. Clusters of white and pastel homes rest cliffside, flanked by countless rock formations in the surrounding waters. Get lost shopping in winding alleys, take in some history at Tiberius’ Villa Jovis, or enjoy a boat ride to the Blue Grotto. If the posh prices deter you, make a day trip of it; Capri is only an hour’s ferry ride from Naples.

lesser-known European travel gems

The cobblestone streets of Old Town Sozopol give the city a uniquely European flair. Image credit: Jordan Campbell

Lesser-Known European Travel Gem #5 – Sozopol, Bulgaria

When you imagine an idyllic beach vacation, Bulgaria probably isn’t what you had in mind. The Black Sea coast, however, is a favorite of many Eastern Europeans, and Sozopol is quintessential Black Sea Bulgaria. As the oldest settlement in the country, this little Thracian town sits pleasantly on a sunny peninsula. Old Town is filled with traditional wooden houses on cobblestone streets, while New Town boasts small resorts and restaurants. Both flaunt gorgeous sandy beaches with crystal-clear turquoise waters. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a seaside Zagorka beer.

If you’re ever considering a visit to Vienna or Venice, plan a stop-off at one of these more obscure beauties. Quaint, charming, and friendly, they’re sure to deliver an experience you won’t regret. What is your favorite lesser-known European travel gem?

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97 thoughts on “5 Lesser-Known European Travel Gems

  1. Alicia

    Those look wonderful. The Soviet Union had multiples of faults, but the oppression and isolation had the unintended effect of keeping many of the satellite “Republics” untouched. As you say, it won’t last long down that modernization is just a short flight away!

    I’ll have to check out the homeland!

  2. Jeff Rasley

    Nicely written, Jordan & Cher. I’ve wanted to visit Capri for years – now more than ever. And, I need to spend more time in Bratislava than a night train stop between Prague and Budapest.

  3. Alli

    I like the idea of the 40 by 40 challenge that Jordan is aiming for. I would love to visit all of these lesser known gems. The photos are breathtaking! I would love to walk those cobblestoned streets of Sozopol.

  4. Ashley

    I am not at all well traveled. I am loving this list of dream destinations. I think I want to check out Sozopol the post. I’ve heard wonderful things about the Black Sea coast.

  5. alexandria

    Traveling to these types of places, makes me nervous. I know that sounds lame, but I just feel like they’re so different that I would get discouraged. Obviously, I’ve never been out of the country. lol.

    1. Jordan

      You could start out with something easier, like England or Ireland. No language barriers. Most everyone speaks English in all of the listed locations, so it’s not as tough to navigate as you might think! 😉

  6. Lynndee

    I’ve never been to any part of Europe, but I’ve always been mesmerized by the beautiful structures even just in photos. I hope I get to visit even just one of those places someday. 🙂

  7. Melissa

    I have never left the U.S., well except that one time I ended up in Canada by accident but that’s a whole story in itself. I would love to visit some of these places, intentionally of course.

  8. Kathy

    I would love to check those places out someday. Europe is one of the places I’d really love to go. It’s on my list of places I’d love to travel. Those photos are very beautiful!

  9. Travel Quest

    Wow way to go Jordan just travel while you can good luck to your journey. We love to travel too but only in US that’s is all we can afford right now. Good thing US has 50 states so we still have more places to go 🙂

    1. Jordan Campbell

      Thank you! I met a guy in New Zealand once who said he’d been to 78 countries and wanted to visit 100 by the time he died. I asked him what his favorite country was so far and he said the United States! PLENTY of gorgeousness here!

      1. Cherri Megasko Post author

        Jordan … I love that comment. I think all too often we – including myself – get hung up on traveling abroad and forget about all the wonders right here under our feet!

  10. Yona Williams

    I don’t know why Bratislava is ringing a bell with me, but I think I heard about it in a movie before. You really don’t hear much about Slovenia. I have someone I trade art cards with that lives there, so it’s cool to get mail from there.

  11. Travelwith2ofus

    This is such a great list for me because I love those little known gems. Honestly, I never associated beaches with Bulgaria. Surprisingly I have heard about Ljubljana and plan to visit.

  12. Mags

    These towns look absolutely adorable. I have heard a lot about Slovenia lately. How easy are these towns to navigate if you don’t know the language?

    1. Jordan Campbell

      Very easy! Most everyone speaks English. The only town my husband and I had any trouble navigating was Sozopol, where fewer people speak English and they use the Cyrillic alphabet, but we made it eventually. Lol.

  13. Maya

    Even though I’m not a fan of Bratislava, I’m glad you inculded my home country. If anybody asked me, I would tell rather tell them to go to Banska Stiavnica and to one of our national parks. I’ve heard so much about Ljubljana, would love to visit their capital.

  14. Jenna

    All of these towns look amazing–I would love to visit them all! I really want to visit Romania, so Brasov would be fun to check out. Would love to see a bear or two! I would have never guessed they had so many bears there!

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