Cultural Experience | Reykjavik

Hidden Gems of Europe

8 underrated European cities that offer authentic, intimate travel experiences.

Travelers flock to Europe because of its abundance of beautiful cities within close proximity of each other. Paris, Rome, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, all these incredible places attract tourists from all over the world, and these famous cities are absolutely worth a trip. But for those adventurous souls who crave to explore the unknown and discover the hidden gems of Europe, here are some cities around the continent that are often overlooked by tourists.

Riga, Latvia
This adorable Baltic city is overflowing with a warm, local culture and eccentric colorful buildings laced with quirky decorations. The Daugava River cuts through the city, adding quaint bridges to the city’s humble parks, historical monuments and Central Food Market.
The uniqueness of Riga stems from its magnificent architecture, and the powerful forms of Art Nouveau-inspired buildings cluster around Albert Street. During the winter, the precious city looks like the inside of snow globe, with the fluffy snowflakes layering themselves on top of the gingerbread-like houses and covering the rows of Christmas trees.

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Oban, Scotland
Located on the western side of the Scottish mainland, Oban represents a quaint port town where ferries constantly come and go to connect people to the islands of the Inner Hebrides. Loads of amazing, locally-run bed and breakfasts are scattered throughout the town to give visitors a pleasant stay, and the quiet, cozy atmosphere of the area creates inevitable feelings of comfort and happiness.
Be sure to try the local cuisine, which includes lots of fresh fish, buttery shortbread, and Scotland’s traditional whiskey. Eeusk is a great restaurant overlooking the harbor, which is a bit expensive but offers delicious, high-quality food.

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Cologne, Germany
Resting on the Rhine River, Cologne is home to a traditional Old Town, a busy modern shopping street, and the monstrously beautiful Cologne Cathedral. Spend your time visiting museums, drinking cheap German beer in the numerous pubs and restaurants, climbing the Cathedral’s 533 steps for a panoramic view, or walking along the riverfront parks.

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Murcia, Spain
Spain’s smaller cities are often overshadowed by the popular Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville. Murcia resides near the country’s southeast coast, and therefore has warm, sunny weather and flavorful local cuisine. There is only one hostel, The Cathedral Hostel, which is centrally located and has cheap prices for student travelers. With endless numbers of churches, cathedrals, and gorgeous buildings, Murcia is perfect for lazily meandering through the vibrant streets and marveling at the ornate Spanish architecture.

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Reykjavik, Iceland
Though Iceland is known for its majestic, rugged natural phenomenons, Reykjavik represents a pristine, modern city where you can immerse yourself in the rich Nordic culture. Sample some of the odd Icelandic foods including sea salt infused with black lava, whale and puffin meat, and the thick, dairy product known as Skyr.
Attractions in Iceland’s capitol include interesting art museums, a busy food and antique market, and the shimmering Harpa concert hall. Local shops sell fuzzy, handmade woolen clothing to protect against the cold, and the tap water in Iceland is unbelievably fresh and clean. The whole city gives off classy and peaceful vibes that make for a refreshing and exciting experience.

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Kotor, Montenegro
This well-preserved, historical town resides in a small bay on the Adriatic Sea. The narrow maze of streets hosts tightly packed souvenir shops and traditional cafes, and the Old Town has even earned a spot on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sights. Climb the steep, stone wall that snakes up the surrounding mountain and ends with the most breathtaking view of the turquoise bay and the coastal towns.

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Giazza, Italy
Tucked away in the hills of Italy’s northern Veneto region, this small town is surrounded by the towering mountains of the outer Alps and is crawling with natural beauty. Wander through the forests to find picturesque rivers and waterfalls, or drive up the winding roads into the mountains and absorb the powerful views. English is rarely spoken in the village center since Giazza is not popular with tourists, but this allows for an authentic insight into the rich, Italian culture. Definitely indulge in a proper, three course meal at a small local restaurant and taste the fresh simplicity of Italian cuisine.

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Warsaw, Poland
Though Warsaw is Poland’s capitol, it still remains relatively low on people’s Must-See lists when traveling Europe. But this city will surprise any visitors who have low expectations. After its annihilation in WWII, the area has been completely rebuilt and transformed into a sleek, modern metropolis complete with parks, gardens, and nightlife.
Visiting the Old Town allows one to step back in time and walk through a tangible embodiment of Warsaw’s history. Many traditional churches remain standing, and you can still see bullet holes and damage in some older buildings. The Old Town Market Place was destroyed by Germans in the war but has been rebuilt exactly the same as it was before, so the area still maintains its prewar antiquity with faded yet colorful paintings on the tightly packed buildings. The more modern areas of Warsaw are very clean,  attractive, and welcoming, but the Old Town is saturated with history and exceptionally beautiful.

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Hidden Gems of Europe

Gabrielle Boucher

University of Tampa | 13 stories

As a 20 year old International and Cultural Studies major, I'm in love with traveling and writing about my experiences. I'm currently studying abroad in London for a year, so I've been exploring as much of the city as possible and also venturing to other European destinations. Writing about travel, food, nature, and culture makes me happy, and my insights will hopefully inspire others to embark on their own adventures.

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