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Pamukkale, Turkey
Photograph: Shutterstock

The 14 most underrated travel destinations in Europe

As many places across the continent battle with overtourism, these overlooked destinations are waiting to be explored

Edited by
Grace Beard
Contributors
Time Out editors
&
Time Out contributors
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It goes almost without saying that Europe is full of incredible places. But a lot of those places are also kind of obvious. Barcelona, VeniceAmsterdam, the Amalfi Coast… yes, they’re amazing. But the problem is that everyone and their mums want to go there, meaning many of the continent’s capitals, cultural hubs and beauty spots are majorly overcrowded and eye-wateringly expensive. Some of these major travel destinations have even started saying that they want tourists to stay away.

But for every place that’s bursting at the seams with visitors, there are a host that are unfairly overlooked: places where you can spend hours and not see another tourist, or at least low-key alternatives to the regular holiday hotspots. So here’s what we’re suggesting: this summer, save yourself the neck crane trying to glimpse the Mona Lisa. Skip the Vatican queues. Step out of the Sagrada Família crowds – and travel to some of the continent’s lesser-known destinations.

From the Balkans to the Baltics, from the North Atlantic sea to the Adriatic coast, we’ve tapped up seasoned travel writers and local experts to uncover Europe’s underrated cities, islands, regions, beaches, towns, lakes – and everything in between.

Looking to venture outside of Europe? Read our guide to the most underrated destinations in the world.

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Europe’s most underrated travel destinations

Faroe Islands
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Faroe Islands

When you think of an island paradise, the rocky, weather-beaten Faroe Islands probably aren’t exactly what comes to mind. But brave the elements and you’ll be rewarded with pinch-me-I’m-dreaming views around every corner: tumbling waterfalls, grassy slopes, quaint towns and towering mountains. Six of the archipelago’s 18 islands are connected by tunnels, making this an ideal road-trip destination. Buckle up for a land where sheep rule the roads, pyramid-shaped peaks offer abundant hiking and seabirds, seals and whales are common sights along the coastline.

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Lowri Llewelyn Contributor, Time Out Travel
Tartu, Estonia
Photograph: Arcady/Shutterstock.com

2. Tartu, Estonia

One of the three European Capitals of Culture of 2024, Tartu is the creative, intellectual centre of the Baltics, where city life revolves around its prestigious seventeenth-century university. Wander the streets on the lookout for lively cafés and experimental architecture: the National Archives blends Nordic and Baltic influences with a postmodern exterior, while Snail Tower’s Neolithic-inspired spiral top and irregular windows will catch your eye. In the summer, outdoor festivals take over the city, including Tartuff, a festival dedicated to romantic films, and the IDeeJazz festival. In December, a whole ‘Christmas City’ comes to town, brightening up dark nights with twinkling glass huts and ice rinks.

Shafi Musaddique Contributor, Baltics
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Pamukkale, Turkey
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Pamukkale, Turkey

Pamukkale, neighbour to the ancient Roman spa city Hierapolis, is a town known for the mineral-rich thermal waters flowing down white travertine terraces on a hillside. The Unesco World Heritage Site is made out of luminescent, snowy limestone, naturally formed over thousands of years. Its Turkish name fittingly translates to ‘cotton castle’. Travellers can take a dip in the travertine pools, walk around and take in the wonder, or hop on a hot air balloon ride for an even more breathtaking view. While in town, you might also want to stop by some of Pamukkale’s Roman ruins, including the well-preserved amphitheatre and the antique Roman pool.

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Beril Naz Hassan
Writer, Time Out Travel
Ponza, Italy
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Ponza, Italy

An offshore beach playground for Romans escaping the capital in the summer, Ponza has somehow flown under the radar as international travellers flock to the more well-known Italian isles of Capri, Sicily and Sardinia. More fool them. Life on this five-mile rocky island is ruled by the water: swimmers take to natural pools and dip into ancient grottoes; sunbathers fill sandy beaches in crescent-shaped coves; diners enjoy fresh seafood at harbourfront restaurants (you can almost feel the sea lapping at your toes at Cala Feola’s La Marina, where tables are splayed over the rocks in low tide). Ponza is only a ferry ride away from Rome or Naples – though you’ll enjoy a much shorter journey from the coastal city of Terracina, another of Italy’s overlooked seaside destinations.

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Grace Beard
Travel Editor
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Ullapool, Scotland
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Ullapool, Scotland

Despite only being home to a population of 1,500, this tiny village in the Scottish Highlands has a surprising amount to offer. You can lap up the gorgeous scenery at nearby Corrieshalloch Falls, scramble up Stac Pollaidh mountain – or even hop on a ferry to the Outer Hebrides. After all of that fresh air, you’ll probably want to warm up in one of the town’s many cosy pubs, or tuck into its seriously booming food scene. The Seafood Shack serves up some of the freshest langoustines you’ll ever eat, while The Dipping Lugger, a new restaurant on the shores of Loch Broom, already has 3AA Rosettes and spotlights local produce. Our tip: while you’re there, tune into radio station Lochbroom FM for a taste of local life.

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Chiara Wilkinson
Features Editor, UK
Albanian Riviera
Photograph: StoriesFromAnywhere / Shutterstock.com

6. Albanian Riviera

Beyond the towering communist hotels in the Albanian beach cities of Durrës, Sarandë, and Vlorë lie unspoilt seaside towns, accessible via vertiginous mountain roads that hug the Adriatic coastline. Among them is the semi-abandoned village of old Qeparo, its picturesque white-stone buildings serving as remnants of the past and glimpses into the future. After most of the villagers left for Italy in the ’90s, Albanians are slowly returning to renovate dilapidated buildings into family homes and boutique guesthouses like Villa Rustic or Las Villas de Qeparo. The sea here is remarkably clean and swimmable even in winter. Don’t miss the Karavasta Lagoon, a coastal national park and haven for pelicans and rare wildlife. Further south, between Vlorë and Sarandë, is Tragjas Vlorë: a fishing town ringed by hills and hiking trails. Try mountain cuisine cooked over an open fire at guesthouse Sofra e Vjeter.

Camilla Bell-Davies Contributor, Balkans
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Vilnius, Lithuania
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Vilnius, Lithuania

This tiny Baltic capital is celebrating its 700th anniversary in 2023, so this is an ideal time to discover the city’s fascinating and often tumultuous history. Start on Gediminas Hill, named for the city’s founder, and take in views across the Old Town. Next, head down towards the dazzling Gate of Dawn, a mark of the time Lithuania was Catholicised on its unification with Poland (together, they formed one of Europe’s biggest states). The Station District, meanwhile, bears the influence of the Russian Empire. And all over the city, but especially further south, Soviet buildings make for an eerie reminder of the region’s dark recent past. These days, many of them – from clubs Kablys and Loftas to prison-turned-cultural space Lukiškės 2.0 – offer the best nightlife this side of Berlin. Here’s to 700 more years (but with less war, please).

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Huw Oliver
UK Editor
Imotski Lakes, Croatia
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Imotski Lakes, Croatia

Across most of the Dalmatian hinterland that separates Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina, you’ll only find goats and old locals wandering the barren terrain. Interrupting this moon-like landscape, two bright lakes are each named after their water colour, fringing the solitary yet thriving town of Imotski. Visitors arrive by car or bus to swim in the Blue Lake (Modro Jezero), a deep sinkhole whose azure waters reach 90 metres in spring, but only a few feet in summer. Nearby, the Red Lake (Crveno Jezero) is admired from above, the rusty-reddish hues reflecting the iron oxides discolouring the sheer cliff faces. Tourist rentals and modest restaurants attest to Imotski’s growing popularity.

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Peterjon Cresswell
Editor, Time Out Crotia
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Birmingham, England
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. Birmingham, England

The UK’s second-biggest city is shaking off the dust of its industrial image. Go beyond the shopping centres, museums and bars of the city centre and discover a place of surprising beauty: we’re talking leafy strolls along a disused railway route on the Chad Valley walk, towering conifers and sweeping city views at ‘the Lickeys’, the quaint Quaker village of Bournville – and, of course, miles and miles of picturesque canals. A good walk calls for a great meal afterwards, and in Birmingham you’re spoiled for choice. The city has more Michelin stars than any UK city outside London, and buzzy neighbourhoods like Stirchley and Moseley boom with independent restaurants (we recommend Stirchley’s compact, women-run Verbena). It’s certainly no surprise to Brummies that their beloved city was crowned the country’s most exciting foodie destination by the Good Food Guide 2022.

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Grace Beard
Travel Editor
Dordrecht, Netherlands
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Dordrecht, Netherlands

As historic and picturesque as the centre of Amsterdam, but with nothing like as many tourists, Dordrecht is the perfect spot for a bite-size Dutch city break. Perched on a broad bend in the Oude Maas river, its medieval harbour is chocolate-box pretty. There are Old Masters aplenty at the venerable Dordrechts Museum and indie shops and restaurants along the lovely stretch of Groenmarkt, while the culture hub of Energiehuis and the garden restaurant at Villa Augustus (a cool hotel in a converted water tower) are well worth the short stroll from the city centre. And if you’re here for long enough to skip town, the Netherlands’ biggest national park – the Biesbosch – is right on the doorstep and easy to reach on an idyllic half-day boat trip.

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James Manning
Content Director, EMEA
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Extremadura, Spain
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Extremadura, Spain

In a country known for its beaches, it's difficult for an inland destination to stand out – especially one without any major cities. That’s why you probably haven’t heard of, much less visited, the western region of Extremadura, on the Portuguese border. It might be miles from the sea, but it’s far from barren – in fact, Extremadura boasts the longest freshwater coastline of any Spanish region, and you can even hit the beach at Isla del Zújar. Spot Iberian pigs roaming around sprawling dehesa woodlands; explore three biosphere nature reserves and a Unesco-recognised geo-park; and discover the region’s heritage sites, including the ancient Roman amphitheatre of Mérida and the enchanting historic district of Cáceres. And then there’s the food: hearty migas, local cheeses, the humble patatera sausage and local cava from Almendralejo. Extremadura truly has it all… except for hordes of tourists.

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Noelia Santos
Editora, Time Out Madrid
Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Banja Luka is the capital of Republika Srpska, the lesser-visited Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The lack of tourist traffic means you can admire the Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and Ferhadija Mosque at your leisure. Each strikingly rebuilt post-conflict, they form part of a relaxed sightseeing agenda spanning 2,000 years, factoring in the panoramic Roman fortress Kastel and Habsburg façades. Lively café terraces abound, carnivores will have a field day at the many Balkan restaurants, and the hotel stock includes a top-floor pool and a landmark dating back to 1885. Affordability underscores all areas of hospitality, and despite the lack of international visitors, English-speaking staff are a common feature.

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Peterjon Cresswell
Editor, Time Out Crotia
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Lake Annecy, France
Photograph: Shutterstock

13. Lake Annecy, France

A speedy, affordable and direct train ride from Paris, the mountainous shores of Lake Annecy are a tempting alternative to the heaving coastline of the French Riviera. After all, who needs the sea when you’ve got the clean, clear, ultra-refreshing waters of an Alpine lake to swim in? The views are also spectacular, especially from the grassy ‘beaches’ at Talloires and Menthon-Saint-Bernard. And if the weather turns cloudy, no problem – just spend a few hours poking around the supremely pretty town of Annecy. It feels like a crazy blend of France, Switzerland and Venice: lakeside gardens, medieval alleyways and canals, and a serious penchant for melted cheese.

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James Manning
Content Director, EMEA
Matera, Italy
Photograph: Shutterstock

14. Matera, Italy

The city of Matera is a masterclass in reinvention. One of the oldest Italian settlements, with recent recognition as a Unesco World Heritage site, its peculiar but haunting beauty sits apart from the Amalfi Coast or Naples, three hours away. Carved into rocky mountains in Italy’s southern Basilicata region, Matera was once considered the shame of the country due to the poverty-stricken conditions of its cave-dwelling inhabitants. Now, the serpentine, tumbling town is split into two districts filled with unique exhibition spaces in caves, rock churches, boutique hotels and restaurants. Go back in time in the cavernous, cat-filled old town, see why modern filmmakers find Matera a muse, or soak up the skyline at the Belvedere Pascoli lookout. History is built into the limestone layers of Sassi di Matera, the atmospheric cave dwellings that make up one of Italy’s most extraordinary destinations.

Chloe Johnson Contributor, Time Out Travel
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