Travel Guide | Belgium

European Hidden Gems for Young Travelers

Check out these 10 overlooked destinations for a glimpse of off the beaten path Europe for young travelers.

1) Aarhus, Denmark

Situated on the Jutland peninsula, Denmark’s second largest city is an interesting mix of cosmopolitan and quaint. With one of the youngest populations in Europe, Aarhus’ vast amount of university students makes it a perfect destination for 20-somethings to explore. Discover the city on foot and head to the Tivoli Friheden amusement park. In June, hit up NorthSide Festival, a three-day festival covering big names in music across all genres. Slightly harder to get to, Aarhus can be reached by a variety of discount airlines servicing nearby Billund Airport.

image aarhus denmark

Photo Credit: Angela Serednicki

2) Belgrade, Serbia

The historic past of Serbia can be seen throughout its dynamic capital. Being a large city, Belgrade showcases high rise buildings alongside remnants of socialist blocks and Ottoman relics. With inexpensive prices and a bustling nightlife scene, it has been ranked as one of the best places to party in the world. Younger travelers are starting to flock to the Serbian city in the hopes of soaking in the culture by day and taking on Belgrade by night. Its central location makes it a perfect spot to start exploring Eastern Europe.

3) Bilbao, Spain

Bilbao, capital of the Basque Country in the north, is often overlooked by travelers to Spain. Speaking a different language and carrying different customs, the city is distinctly unique. Wander the streets to find the infamous Guggenheim Museum for a look into the world of contemporary art. Head to BBK Live in July, Bilbao’s rock and pop music festival that was deemed the Best Medium-Sized European Festival from 2009-2011. The city is a hub for discount airline Vueling, making it easily accessible from other parts of Europe.

4) Cluj-Napoca, Romania

The second largest city in Romania, considered to be the unofficial capital of Transylvania, was voted as the European Youth Capital for 2015. Cluj-Napoca boasts a large student population that takes advantage of the city’s vibrant nightlife and cheap prices. Check out Untold Festival during summer, a new music and cultural festival that transforms the entire city into a fairytale wonderland while showcasing the world’s best DJ’s (More: Overlooked EDM Festivals in Europe). Cluj-Napoca is serviced by the low-cost airline Wizz Air with destinations all over the European continent.

5) Ghent, Belgium

Belgium’s well-preserved medieval wonder, Ghent, is located in the Dutch-speaking part of the country. With a vivid historical past dating back to the Middle Ages, the Flemish city was once one of the richest and most powerful cities in Europe. Today, Ghent is home to many foreigners, artists, and a huge student population. Take on the city’s canals and vibrant nightlife scene for an unforgettable experience. Check out Gentse Feesten, a 10-day music and theater festival in July that is attended by nearly two million visitors every year. The best way to get to Ghent is by train or bus from neighboring countries.

6) Ljubljana, Slovenia

Experienced travelers are calling Ljubljana one of the most underrated destinations in Europe. With a skyline filled with Baroque architecture and a hilltop castle, the Slovenian capital is characterized by its immense beauty. The city is well-connected with the rest of Europe due to its close proximity to other major points of interest, making the low prices of Ljubljana worth a visit between larger cities.

7) Lugano, Switzerland

Situated in the Italian-speaking portion of Switzerland, Lugano offers visitors incredible lakeside views of the Alps. With a variety of activities such as boating, hiking, mountain biking, and swimming, the small Swiss city is a summer paradise for the adventurous. Although it caters towards the luxurious traveler, the high prices and amazing scenery are worth a visit. Lugano is located on the border with Italy, making it easily accessible via train to other parts of the continent.

8) Porto, Portugal

Due to being a hub for Ryanair, Porto is beginning to see an influx of budget-minded travelers (More: Surviving Europe’s Most Infamous Budget Airline: Ryanair). Portugal’s second largest city was named the European Best Destination in 2012 and 2014. Located on a hillside, Porto offers stunning views of the Douro River and the mix between medieval and contemporary architecture that dominates the skyline (More: Experience the Enchantment of Porto, Portugal). Head to NOS Primavera Sound in June for a diverse line-up of world-renowned artists spanning all musical genres.

image porto portugal

Photo Credit: Zoe Radner

9) Riga, Latvia

Increasing in popularity, the largest city in the Baltics was named the European Capital of Culture in 2014. The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with distinct architecture located alongside the Daugava River. Riga is known for its pristine nightlife that won’t break the bank, making it a perfect stop for young travelers. The Latvian capital is also well-connected for further European travel by ferry, bus, train, or plane.

10) Thessaloniki, Greece

Greece’s second largest city is renowned for its well-preserved Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman architecture and relics. With a rich historical and cultural past, Thessaloniki was also voted as the European Youth Capital for 2014. Yet another university city, Lonely Planet has rated it as one of the world’s ultimate party spots. Thessaloniki is a perfect beach destination to start exploring the Balkans, and the airport is serviced by many low-cost air carriers.

Ben Rissler

American University | 8 stories

Ben is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C. majoring in International Studies. He loves trying new foods, going to electronic music festivals, and looking up where to go next. In spring 2015, Ben studied abroad at the Freie Universität Berlin in Germany. He loves to share his passion for the world with others and hear about other people’s experiences overseas. Throughout his travels, Ben has been to 20 countries spanning Africa, Europe, and North America. Follow @benrissler on Instagram for more travel inspiration.

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