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 #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 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 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?