Go to a place! Then go to another place that’s close to THAT place!
While Europe is undeniably one of the most desirable continents for travel, there are still plenty of lesser-known cities and towns scattered across this heritage-rich expanse—some might even be closer than you realize. Want to enjoy a hearty dose of authenticity and character? Venture to these enchanting destinations worthy of a side trip.
Simply describing Kotor as charming, doesn’t begin to do it justice. Limestone cliffs and cerulean waters serve as a dramatic backdrop for the red-roofed buildings, idyllic squares, and Romanesque churches (including Kotor Cathedral, which should be at the top of your must-see list) that punctuate its storybook old town. You’ll find a wealth of atmospheric eateries, too.
ETA: 1 hour, 30 minutes via car from Podgorica, Montenegro.
A multitude of cultural attractions await in Aarhus. Start by perusing Hans Christian Andersen-era houses at Den Gamle By, then walk to ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum for a crash course in classic and contemporary art. Ready to relive your days of youthful exuberance? Ride the roller coasters at Tivoli Friheden. Of course, no trip to Aarhus is complete without visiting Marselisborg Palace.
ETA: 3 hours via car from Copenhagen, Denmark.
This traditional fishing village turned extreme surfing destination lures adrenaline junkies with its immense swells. The behemoth waves at Praia do Norte are the stuff of legends—not to mention Guinness World Records. For fantastic photo ops, head to Nazaré Lighthouse. Also on the agenda: Catch some rays, feast on fresh seafood, and peep colorful wooden boats.
ETA: 1 hour, 25 minutes via car from Lisbon, Portugal.
The Albanian Riviera may not be on your travel bucket list, but it definitely deserves a spot. Situated on a sparkling bay and backed by rolling olive groves, this un-touristy gem is the picture of Mediterranean perfection. Another feather in Sarandë’s cap? Quiet beaches. Plus, archaeological ruins offer an intriguing glimpse into the past.
ETA: 30 minutes via ferry from Corfu, Greece.
Tossa de Mar, Spain
Steeped in tradition and sans an ounce of attitude, Tossa de Mar is a popular Costa Brava getaway. Spend your days seeking out secluded coves, admiring the ocean vistas, and savoring regional specialties. Be sure to carve out time for Castillo de Tossa de Mar. Standing guard atop a hill, this impressive 12th-century castle is not to be missed.
ETA: 1 hour, 20 minutes via car from Barcelona, Spain.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
When you think of Germany, what comes to mind? Modern cities like Berlin and Munich, perhaps. On the flip side, there’s Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a fairytale village that oozes medieval splendor. Half-timbered houses, well-preserved ramparts, and centuries-old churches (St.Jakobskirche showcases a remarkable altarpiece by German woodcarver Tilman Riemenschneider) transport travelers to the Middle Ages.
ETA: 3 hours via train from Munich, Germany.
Renowned for its fertile soil and spring-blooming tulips, Lisse has major petal power. This blossom-centric paradise is home to numerous fragrant flower fields and Keukenhof, the most famous bulb park in the world. Folks can also learn about the history of the local agriculture trade at Museum de Zwarte Tulp.
ETA: 50 minutes via train from Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Rovinj isn’t a hard sell. One of the few places people still speak Istriot, this fetching port on the Istrian peninsula hypnotizes visitors with sunny skies, scenic views, and nostalgic ambiance. It also boasts many fine examples of Venetian architecture. Not to be overlooked (and you literally can’t, since it’s visible from everywhere in Rovinj) is St. Euphemia.
ETA: 3 hours via bus from Zagreb, Croatia.
If you appreciate balsamic vinegar, Italian sports cars, and the arts, Modena is a great choice. In addition to delicious restaurants and gourmet shops, there’s the Enzo Ferrari Museum. Torre della Ghirlandina, a 283-foot-tall bell tower and symbol of the city, dominates the skyline. Opera is another point of pride for Modena, which makes sense given that it’s the birthplace of tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
ETA: 2 hours, 10 minutes via train from Milan, Italy.
Paris may win in the romance department, but Orléans has Joan of Arc bragging rights (she saved the city from English siege in 1429). Many notable landmarks pay homage to the French heroine, including Maison de Jeanne d’Arc and Cathédrale Sainte-Croix d’Orléans. For a change of pace, check out contemporary works at FRAC Centre.
ETA: 1 hour, 20 minutes via train from Paris, France.