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12 European Cities Will Be Overcrowded This Summer. Go to These Instead

All of the highlights with slightly fewer people around.

Travel has opened back up worldwide, and experts predict that 2023 could see a 30% increase in tourism numbers compared to 2022. That’s great news if you’re a hotel, airline, or otherwise tourism-focused business that’s struggled over the last few years. But, it’s not so great news if you’re hoping to tick that bucket list destination off your list without crossing too many strangers’ paths.

According to Google Flights data, 2022’s most popular European destinations included London, Paris, Rome, and Lisbon. And, sure, these magical spots are well worth a visit. But if you’re hoping for some European adventures this summer but would prefer to go somewhere a less tourist-heavy, these alternatives offer a similar experience without the crowds.

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Swap London for Brighton

London took the top spot on Google Flight’s ten trending destinations for 2022 list, and it’s easy to understand why. Cobbled streets and historic architecture sit alongside vibrant street art, global food markets, unique art galleries, and plenty of those quintessential red telephone boxes.  

Looking for London vibes without the London crowds? Take a train down to Brighton, London’s cooler, colorful sibling with the added bonus of a seafront. Brighton is well-loved for its quirky shopping streets, incredible food scene, and diverse cultural landscape. It’s known as the unofficial LGBTQ+ capital of Britain and is one of the most forward-thinking and friendly places to visit.

Still got London on the brain? Brighton is only around an hour on the train to central London, so it’s definitely possible to squeeze in both cities during your trip.

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Swap Paris for Riga, Latvia

Not only is Riga, Latvia, a more underrated version of Paris, but it’s also significantly cheaper. This means you can spend evenings strolling its historic streets and sipping in wine bars without checking your bank balance often. Paris is known as the city of romance, but Riga definitely offers similar vibes.

Swap the tourist-heavy Seine River for the far calmer Daugava and the Eiffel Tower for Riga’s Radio and TV Tower. Its impressive observation deck is open to the public and offers wonderful views of terracotta rooftops, market squares, and the river with its endless bridges. If you’re searching for Paris’ gothic architecture, head to Riga’s Old Town for a similar experience without the crowds.

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Swap Rome for Pula, Croatia

You don’t need to brave the tourists in Rome to see a Roman colosseum. Instead of battling it out for a glimpse of this historic masterpiece, head to Pula, Croatia, for Roman ruins that are actually in better condition than the Colosseum in Italy. Pula is sometimes known as “The Little Rome of Croatia,” and its wider peninsula, Istria, was actually under Italian rule for many years.

The result? A gorgeous port-side city that’ll have you second-guessing exactly where you are. Pula is not only architecturally stunning but is also a gem for all kinds of travelers. Dig into fresh seafood on a terrace in the center or wander up to the castle for an unbeatable viewpoint. During the year, you’ll also find gladiator fights and cultural events at Pula’s Colosseum.

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Swap Lisbon for Coimbra, Portugal

Lisbon’s pastel-colored buildings, iconic historical landmarks, and Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge ensure its perpetual popularity no matter the time of year. And that’s before we even mention the endless flow of Pasteis de Nata, sweet Port wine, and rich Bacalhau.

You’ll find all of the above and more in nearby Coimbra, located halfway between Lisbon and Porto. Accommodation in Coimbra is around half the price of Lisbon, with just as many gorgeous views. Set on the banks of the river Mondego, Coimbra is famed for having one of the world’s oldest universities (allegedly the inspiration for the Harry Potter series) with a slightly more laid-back pace of life than neighboring Lisbon. As the country’s former capital, it has a finger-on-the-pulse restaurant scene and plenty of centuries-old history.

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Swap Santorini for Milos, Greece

It’s easy to ferry-hop between Santorini and Milos, but if you’re hoping for a Greek wine tasting, fresh lemon-doused olives, waves crashing against unique rock formations, and more without finding yourself squeezed up against a handful of other travelers, Milos is the place to go.

Milos is staggeringly beautiful and, with its 75+ beaches, has plenty of space for everyone to discover their own patch of beauty. Check into a boutique hotel and spend your days soaking up the sunshine overlooking the ocean or discover pastel-toned fishing villages and those quintessential white villages. Watch the sunset from Plaka Castle or explore the island’s endless caves and rock formations on a boat trip.

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Swap Barcelona for Valencia, Spain

Tapas, wine, beaches, and art: it’s easy to understand why Barcelona is such a popular destination. But if you’re looking for all of the above with a little more breathing room, head to Valencia. With its historical old town, penchant for paella (its birthplace, in fact), and quiet beaches a short drive away, Valencia offers plenty of the same perks as Barcelona without the same tourist numbers.  

Valencia is best loved for being the City of Arts and Sciences, which means plenty of innovative museums and galleries to wander around. Valencia also scores a few extra bonus points for having more annual days of sunshine and being a little warmer during the peak summer months.

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Swap Amsterdam for Utrecht, the Netherlands

If you’re a fan of the traditional wobbly Dutch houses, canal-side bars, and cobbled walkways, you’ll love Utrecht. This university town is only a 30-minute train away from Amsterdam and is reminiscent of what the capital used to be like before becoming quite so tourist-heavy.

Check out the iconic 14th-century Domtoren Tower or wander around the city’s museums or cultural landmarks. While it’s the fourth largest city in the country, Utrecht’s rustic restaurants, historical monuments, and intimate cafes still retain a cozy vibe. This beautiful city packs a lot into a small area, with shopping malls, green spaces, lively bars, and more tucked down its side streets.

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Swap Copenhagen for Aarhus, Denmark

Charming side streets, chic harbor-side restaurants, and many beautiful parks: Aarhus is an underrated city for many reasons. Although smaller in size than Copenhagen, Aarhus is home to a number of cultural hotspots like The Old Town Museum and the ARoS Art Museum.

Foodies, in particular, will fall for this beautiful spot: with one of Scandinavia’s top culinary scenes located inside its borders, this is a city that goes above and beyond the standard Smørrebrød. Dig into flødeboller (chocolate-covered marshmallow treats) and wienerbrød (Danish pastries) while wandering this city’s stately cathedrals and buzzing marketplaces. Its breathtaking views of the bay and surrounding countryside offer the same laidback lifestyle as Denmark’s capital without its price tag or crowds.

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Swap Munich for Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg goes above and beyond with its dedication to tradition and, if you’re looking to experience German culture without the crowds, is one of the best for providing all the highlights. This city’s storybook-like beauty provides the perfect backdrop for all kinds of travelers, with plenty of winding backstreets offering a haven for lovers of history, architecture, or food.

A feast for all of the senses, take a trip to Nuremberg to discover its local gastronomic delicacies like bratwurst and gingerbread, its traditional bars where you can sample locally brewed craft beers, and its endless array of grandiose churches dating back centuries. While many of Munich’s restaurants have tiptoed away from local origins in recent years, Nuremberg is still filled to the brim with traditional Franconian cuisine.

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Swap Prague for Warsaw

If you head to Poland instead of the Czech Republic, you’ll be swapping Prague for Praga. This street-art-filled district is one of the city’s coolest, located close to Warsaw’s famous Old Town with its restored colorful buildings. The obvious swap here may have been Prague for Krakow, but Poland’s coolest second city is an intriguing and vibrant one, filled with culture, history, and impressively grand architecture.

The city was almost completely destroyed during World War II but was rebuilt in almost exactly the same way. And now? You can fill your iPhone camera roll with as much traditional architecture as you can, in a much better state than you’d expect from such historical-looking buildings. While both Eastern European cities have plenty to offer, Warsaw’s diverse music scene, mouthwatering cuisine, and rich history make this a great swap.

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Swap Corfu, Greece, for Himarë, Albania

Spoiler alert: on a clear day, you can actually see Albania from Corfu. And, if you’re looking for idyllic Mediterranean beauty with all the trimmings and less of the crowds, Albania’s town of Himarë is a perfect choice. Located on the Albanian Riviera, Himarë has serene beaches backed by verdant mountains with stunning views over the Ionian Sea.  

While travelers flock to Corfu for its lively coastal towns and upmarket hotels, Himarë offers a more peaceful experience by preserving its age-old shoreline traditions and fishing villages. It also ticks all the boxes for different types of travelers: during the summer months, you’ll find a few international music festivals dotted along this stretch of the sea. Its small hamlets, picturesque harbors, and ancient ruins ensure a similar experience to Corfu in a far quieter environment.

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Swap Lake Como for Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled is regularly touted as the “Lake Como of Slovenia.” Both lakes come with towering mountain backdrops, picture-perfect towns, and an endless array of nature-filled activities. But, if you’ve fallen in love with the Italian lakes but would prefer a slightly less Instagrammed backdrop, head to Slovenia instead.

Set in the gorgeous Slovenian Alps, Lake Bled is home to snow-capped mountains, clear blue skies, and crystal-clear waters just waiting to be explored. Visit the historical castles, and awe-inspiring churches tucked away around its shoreline, or take a day trip to Škofja Loka for hot springs, lush greenery, and medieval buildings. And don’t skimp on Slovenian food, either. Try Tolminc cheese, made with cream and sheep’s milk, or dig into traditional rolling cakes made of puff pastry and filled with jam.

normcarr4468 April 27, 2023

Whoever wrote this has never been to Brighton in the summer. It gets packed with tourists.

fouDor April 15, 2023

swapping Paris for Riga or London for Brighton? A bit farfetched...

freshy17 April 12, 2023

I totally agree with Lake Bled, Nurenberg, Valencia, Utrecht but how in the name of God could you swap ROME for Pula? I've been to Pula and its nice. The anfitheater is very pretty and thats about it. Nothing much to see there.