Exploring the best spots in Europe often means cheap flights on Ryanair, heading off the main path or simply finding yourself somewhere totally unexpected.
Some people call that inconvenient. I call it winning.
I love hunting out the hidden gems of Europe, the places still waiting for the crowds to descend and those destinations that unexpectedly capture your heart. If you are like me and would rather point to a random island called Nisyro on a map and head there on a whim, then this list, my friends, is for you.
The other magical thing about exploring Europe is how easy it is to get between the smaller destinations thanks to the extensive bus and rail connections available, especially given buses can sometimes be the best way to reach the hidden gems of Europe.
Here are 20 unique places in Europe worth adding to your travel list in 2020…
1. Mantua, Italy
Perfect for? Lovers of Italian architecture and art, escaping the crowds in Italy.
After five trips to Italy in 2019, from the Dolomites in the far-north region of Trentino to the epic coasts in the heel of Puglia, I think it was going to be a given I’d discover a few of Europe’s hidden gems while here, and Mantua was one of the most surprising, earning it top spot on this years Europe hidden gems list – especially given so many of Italy’s top tourist attractions are quite simply put, overflowing with tourists.
To be honest, I’m shocked this city isn’t all over everyone’s bucket lists, and while it seems like local Italian tourists adore visiting, and those in the know head here, for most of us, we are sadly unaware of what an extraordinary city this is.
Located in the Lombardia region of Italy, it’s easiest accessed by car, although train connections from Verona, Venice and Milan can bring you here. Its best calling is the art and architecture that bring so many of us to Italy’s most famous cities, and here there is an abundance.
Home to the largest residential building in Europe, after the Vatican, Mantua (or Mantova) is surrounded by three artificial lakes, one coated in lilypads which call out for a sunset boat cruise. We have to thank the Gonzaga rulers for most of the grand architecture in Mantua, whose Ducal Palace presents some 600 odd rooms. While only some are open to the public, they are an architectural feast, with grand frescos and beautiful art and you can spend hours exploring them all.
Also impressive and worth a visit is the Te Palace (which has nothing to do with the drink) which also offers some rather grand halls, and perhaps my favourite spot, the Teatro Bibiena, a real Italy hidden gem if ever there was one – and I couldn’t believe that for less than a price of coffee we could tour it, and be the only visitors.
Combining this incredible architecture, indescribable art, the call of northern-Italian cuisine and wine, and the chance to take epic day trips across the Lombardia region from Mantua makes this city for me an absolute joy to discover, and I do hope to make it back one day.
How long in Mantua? A two day city break, or use it as a base for longer to take day trips from.
Why visit Mantua in 2020? The Mantova Music Festival promises another heavy-hitting list of performances in 2020 including Lenny Kravitz, a monh long Jazz Festival and the bloved Medieval festival.
How to get to Mantua? The nearest airport to Mantua is Verona, but trains from Verona, Milan and Bologna are the best connections if you are without a car between 1.5 – 2hours. Venice can connect to these stations and FlixBus offers various connections.
2. Bosnia and Herzegovina
Perfect for? Adventure activities, fascinating history, Ottoman architecture.
Can I get away with calling a whole county a Europe hidden gem? Well, I’m sure going to try! For the most part, exploring Bosnia and Herzegovina is still a relatively off the beaten path experience in Europe. I’ve been here twice now, and the second visit firmly cemented my love for the country. On both visits, I was on a road trip, as it’s the best way to get to some of the lesser-visited spots.
Sure, beautiful Mostar is rightly famed, and now getting very popular with daytrippers from Dubrovnik, and Sarajevo, the capital city, is starting to attract more and more visitors thanks to its affordable pricing, fantastic cultural mix, and historically significant, especially in relation to WWI, but the country offers so much more to experience.
For adventure lovers, the rafting around Konjic is fantastic, with the water so clear and illuminated it looks photoshopped, a common theme of all lakes you’ll find around the country. The water-based magic extends to the postcard-perfect Kravica Waterfalls and the monastery in a lake at Rama in Scit. For cultural adventures and hiking, head to Lukimor, one of the last remaining mountains villages, or if you are in the area in the winter months, Skiing is available.
But the real magic for me in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the little moments, whether it’s staying in a converted railway station in Zavala, a town with a population of two where you are serenaded by guitar playing owner pouring you their homemade wine before whisking you into epic caves or enjoying a chilled lemonade or Arabic coffee looking out on the Ottoman wonder village of Počitelj.
It feels like around every corner there is a new experience, place or person to bring a smile to your face, and I wholeheartedly believe if you want a real adventure, and to enjoy Europe off the beaten path, Bosnia and Herzegovina will bring you sheer joy.
How long to spend in Bosnia and Herzegovina? One to two weeks.
Why visit in 2020? A new national airline, Fly Bosnia, has recenly launched which mean easier and cheaper flights into the country, alongside new routes from more established airlines. Also, any year is the perfect time to visit one of my favourite countries in the world!
How to get to Bosnia and Herzegovina? Flights into the country are still relatively low, and mainly go to Sarajevo. Tuzla also has some budget flight options (I’ve flown here before and then taken a bus) and Dubrovnik, Croatia, provides a strong international arrival point to then cross the border by bus.
3. Vipava Valley, Slovenia
Perfect for? Food and wine, sustainable travel, outside activities.
But much of the country remains blissfully off the beaten path, and Vipava Valley is undoubtedly one of Europes best-hidden gems… for now!
Slow-travel and sustainability aren’t buzz words in Slovenia; they are a way of life, and nowhere is this truer than in Vipava Valley. A gorgeous set of greenery, hills and vineyards, you could easily mistake this for Tuscany at first glance.
The joy of visiting Vipava is in cycling or hiking between little villages, heading into the mountains, enjoying Paragliding with their famous winds, and sampling everything that is put in front of you. There is an unknown number of wine cellars here, as everyone seems to have on under their house. The most inauspicious home doubles up as a restaurant serving local delights and home-made wine, and the whole place is pretty as a postcard. Whether you want a couple of days of downtime with a foodie focus, or a week escaping modern life in favour for local flavours, this small part of Slovenia will deliver you back home feeling totally refreshed.
How long to spend in Vipava Valley? A long weekend to one week – this is a total slow travel destination.
Why visit Vipava Valley in 2020? For fitness fanatics who love running in nature, the successful Ultra-Trail returns here in 2020.
How to get to Vipava Valley? You can either fly into the Slovenian capital of Lljubljana, or the Italian city of Trieste and then drive or book a transfer.
4. Cuenca, Spain
Perfect for? Impressive architecture, city-side hiking.
This seriously underrated hidden gem in Spain was my final trip of 2018, and what a place it was to discover.
While most online discussion around this medieval city is on the Casa Colgados, the hanging houses which seem to dangle off the side of the rock, the whole old city is magical and deserving of its UNESCO world heritage status.
Perched upon a rock and with a history that can be traced back around 1300-years, the colourful houses, castle ruins, and cathedral packed with architecture spanning through various time periods come together to provide another world like feel. Stepping into Cuenca is like stepping back in town, and the surrounding nature of the karst mountains, coupled with the crystal blue river provides an awesome adventure playground alongside your city break.
How long to spend in Cuenca? I’d suggest two days here, a daytrip from Madrid as often reccomended is rushed and I’d avoid it.
Why visit Cuenca in 2020? Head here for the huge planned Easter Week celebrations!
How to get to Cuenca? You can quickly get to the out of town station of Cuenca AVE (Fernando Zobel) in under an hour by high-speed rail from Madrid. A slower train service goes directly to the new part of the city.
5. The Hague, The Netherlands
Perfect for? Politics and History, Beach Bars, Museums, Vegetarian Food.
One of my favourite city-breaks ever, it’s fair to say The Hague really really really shocked me with how cool it is, and how much is going on there, hence naming it a Europe hidden gem!
As a city more known for politics and social justice, I was impressed with the fantastic food and bar scene, especially for vegetarians, the in-depth and fascinating museums such as Humanity House, the never-ending selection of chic-clubs and bars along the gold sandy beach, and of course, the critical work the city does international for Peace and Justice.
I’ll admit before I visited I wasn’t sure how I’d fill a long-weekend in The Hague, but with Amsterdam about to burst, this second-city, and political capital of The Netherlands is a well worthy alternative. It might not have as many canals or as much coffee-culture as Amsterdam, but it more than makes up for it with the laid back vibes, friendly locals, and culture to gorge on. Seriously, if you are looking for a Europe city-break in 2020, you can’t go wrong with The Hague!
How long to spend in The Hague? A long-weekend city break.
Why visit in 2020? A range of 75 Anniversary events for Peace and Justice and the Invictus Games make this year an exciting time to visit The Hague.
How to get to The Hague? The Hague can be quickly reached by train from Amsterdam airport. Rotterdam/The Hague airport is closer, but public transport times are similar.
6. Durham, England
Perfect for? Castles, TV & Film Locations, Museums, Nature.
If you are looking for the quintessential British experience that has it all, then don’t look any further than a visit to Durham. Durham’s city boasts a UNESCO listed castle and cathedral, while the rest of the region is packed full of hidden gems with history, nature and one of the best museums I’ve ever visited.
Durham city itself is most famed for the castle and cathedral, both spectacular and deserving of a few hours to tour, while cool cafes, river water sports and historic architecture are close by. Outside of the city, you have the Durham Heritage Coast, ideal for hiking and relaxing, and plenty of castles and green rolling hills in the region, with Raby Castle the favourite of those I visited. Durham is also reasonably easy to get around by public transport for those not wishing to hire a car, which is a huge bonus when visiting England.
Be sure to visit Beamish Museum, a living museum which I ended up spending a full day in, it was that good! Imagine a museum meets theme park vibe, where everything is fully interactive, and you can discover the history of England from the 1800s onwards. From old-school sweet shops and photography studios fully staffed to vintage trams and busses driving around, the chance to see history played out, there are actors in the ‘homes’ and ‘schools’ for example makes this an excellent opportunity to experience history.
How long to spend in Durham? I’d suggest at least a long-weekend to experience the city, a couple of castles and the fantastic Beamish Museum.
Why visit Durham in 2020? In 2020 Durham is celebrating the Year of Pilgrimage, with new walking trails opening and a calendar of events.
How to get to Durham? Durham is well connected to London and Edinburgh via train, and Newcastle International Airport is a short drive or public transport connection away.
7. Erfurt and Thuringia, Germany
Perfect for? Beer and Bratwurst, Charming city-centre, regional hidden gems.
I really really enjoyed my time in Erfurt, its a relatively small yet charming city, and is the capital of the Thuringia region of Germany, which is certainly not as known as other parts of the country.
Dating back to around 700 AD, the city slowly built up as an essential trading destination in the Middle Ages and thanks to the old town surviving WWII you can still experience it very much as it once was. Home to Germany’s oldest university, the city has a young vibe, and in the summer months when I visited beer-gardens were overflowing, and every street felt alive – and the ice cream parlours are fantastic!
The main attractions in the city are the imposing cathedral, castle and the Merchants Bridge, an adorable cobbled street crossing packed with tiny boutique spots. There are countless photography opportunities in this Europe hidden gem, and beyond the city, the region has more to offer.
Combine your visit to nearby Weimar and Gotha, ideal for the classical culture and the arts of this region, especially Weimar where the library is well worth travelling for, and the vibe is positively stately.
How long to spend in Thuringia? A weekend city break in Erfurt, to one-week exploring the region.
How to get to Erfurt and Thuringia? Erfurt airport has limited seasonal flights, but Frankfurt airport provides train transfers in under two hours, and discounted train tickets are offered to those staying in the region.
8. The Alentejo, Portugal
Perfect for? Wine escapes, Vineyard sleeping, Rugged coastline.
If you want beach and sun you head to the Algarve if you wish to jump on hill bound trams through colourful streets, to Lisbon, and for fantastic wine and cafe-culture along riverbanks to Porto – but Portugal, as I’m fast discovering living here, has so many Europe hidden gems they likely deserve their own article.
So, picking where to include on this list was hard, Braga in the north is an absolute treat, The Azores packed with natural wonder, and in the lesser-visited mountains you find amazing villages carved into stone, but I settled on The Alentejo, the somewhat barren land that links Algarve with Central Portugal.
This wine-region serves up not delicious grape-led drinks but also has a whole cuisine unto itself, which is fantastic. You also have a piece of all of Portugal here, from the wind-swept coastline perfect for surfing or getting lost among sand-dunes, high-end winery hotels offering boutique luxury next to adorable villages, or the two main city’s, Beja and Evora, which have fantastic tile-work (azulejos) and Roman architecture. The Alentejo would be the perfect one-week Portugal road trip, jumping between beaches, wineries and culture, and with a fraction of the crowds of the more well-known spots.
How long to spend in The Alentejo? A weekend in one spot, to one week exploring the large region.
Why visit The Alentejo in 2020? Tourism is exploding in the likes of Porto and Lisbon, so enjoy the slower pace in the Alentejo with various new eco-tourism and wine hotels opening.
How to get to Alentejo? Depending which part of the region you wish to visit, Faro or Lisbon airports could both work – a car is required to easily explore, however bus connections to Evora and Beja are an alternative.
9. Lake Komani, Albania
Perfect for? Off the grid escapes, waterspouts, outdoor hiking.
In the north of Albania, you can find a hikers and nature lovers paradise. The one day hike from Valbona to Thethi in the Accused Mountains is just breathtaking and for now remains a pretty secret spot in Europe. Lake Komani shouldn’t be missed before or after your outside adventures, depending on which direction you come from.
This relatively flat lake made me think of Norway, cutting through the valley with the rising green cliffs on each side. You can directly take the passenger ferry to go across to the other side but for some real R&R book a stay at the stone house in the middle of the lake, free from electricity but complete with homemade cheese, honey and liquor. The day tours provided by Molla Molla also arrange excursions and stays at the farmhouse, you can read more about Lake Komani here.
How long to spend in Lake Komani? A couple of days as part of a greater Albania trip.
How to get to Lake Komani? Lake Komani is around a 4-hour drive from both Tirana airport and also Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro – buses can bring you to the nearest city, then arrange local transfers.
10. Bansko & Pirin National Park, Bulgaria
Perfect for? Winter trips, great value skiing, mountain hiking, old-town relaxing
Some what of a last minute addition to the list, and my first ‘Europe hidden gem’ trip of 2020, I’m just back from Bansko where I attempted to learn to Ski. What I learnt is even if Skiing isn’t going to become your newest passion, it’s an ideal destination to spend a week in as there is much more there than the slopes.
This fantastic value skiing destination in Bulgaria has been growing in popularity over the last few years, yet still remains extremely affordable. For example, my chalet rooms including dinners, breakfasts, transfers and drinks with Snomads usually goes for about £300 a week, and lesson and lift-passes are much cheaper than the likes of Italy or France. The £1.25 G&Ts went down rather well too. All this makes it an ideal first Ski destination, or for a mates holiday where people are at varying levels, as they really are geared up with all types of slopes.
Beyond the Skiing though, which is at the top of the mountains some 30-minutes Gondola ride from the resort town, you’ll find all you need with restaurants, bars, rental shops and other activities like ice-skating. There is also a beautiful old town with lots of traditional buildings, house museums, and a small but stunning Orthodox church.
If you visit outside the ski season, you’ll still be able to enjoy the old-town, and head into the Pirin National Park for some hiking and lake hunting instead of the pistes.
How long to stay for? A long-weekend to one-week – depends how long you want to ski for, I also highly suggest you tie it in with visits to nearby Plovdiv and Sofia on one trip.
Why visit in 2020? The Audi FIS Womens Ski World Cup takes place here in January, so you can be assured the slopes will be showered with attention for the event and in pristine condition.
How to get to Bansko? Flights into Sofia are usually greeted by Ski transfers from your lodge.
11. Brisighella, Italy
Perfect for? Medieval village vibes, slow travel.
When you think of the Italy from the movies; you know the one, hair flying in convertible cars, verdant green hills of vines, castles towering above little red roof towns, you’re essentially thinking of Brisighella.
This too cute to believe Italy hidden gem was my first day trip in Emilia Romagna and it stayed my favourite. The picturesque streets with little cafes and gelato shops sit under the three hills of the town; one clocktower, one castle and one church. You can enjoy a casual stroll between the three and visit them before noshing down on all the gelato below. We saw one little tourist group there but other than that, on a blissfully sunny June day it was devoid of tourists, making this a true off the beaten path Italy experience.
Be sure to check out the surroundings including the old quarry caves which now host live music performances underground, the excavation site of the old castle which offers terrific panoramic views and head to the mountains for some fantastic fresh food and fresh air at the Parco Carnè visitor centre.
How long to spend in Brisighella? Two days as part of an Emilia Romagna week visit.
How to get to Brisighella? From Bologna (which has a well connected airport) you can take a train to the closest city, before changing onto a regional train service.
12. Nisyros Island, Greece
Perfect for? Escaping it all, white-washed villages, volcanic hiking.
The volcanic island of Nisyros in Greece turned out to be one of my most unexpected discoveries of 2018. I didn’t know I was going to Greece until I got invited there, on a second date. Sadly, the romance never blossomed, but I did replace it with a new lover: Nisyros Island.
This Europe hidden gems is unique in that it is all a volcano, and around the edge, with charming whitewashed villages with signature blue frames play home to close-knit communities. In the middle of the island, you’ll find the space like landscape where the crater of this active volcano bubbles away, and you can take your adventurous ass right down into it, sulphur fumes and all.
For many, Nisyros Island is a day trip, usually from Kardamena, a small resort town in Kos where I was spending the week. For those who want to experience a little more of Nisyros Island, then I’d recommend staying for a few nights. There are a few different villages around the edge you could then explore at your own pace, but even just taking some downtime on the black sand and rock beaches, or reading a book with a Greek coffee along the waterfront, is a holiday enough. If you want that simple Greek lifestyle but without the overwhelming crowds of say Santorini, and don’t mind trading in a few photo opportunities for lazy afternoons strolling between mountain villages, an escape to Nisyros is a good bet.
How long to spend on Nisyros? You can day-trip from Kos, spend a couple of days hiking, or spend a week or more just escaping it all.
Why visit Nisyros in 2020? New boat tours are rumoured to start including it on itineraries, so head here now while it’s still relatively undisturbed.
How to get to Nisyros? The easiest international way to get here is to fly to Kos island and then from Kardamena take a boat to the island.
13. The Ore Mountains, Saxony
Perfect for? Christmas lovers and historic traditions.
If you think of Christmas Villages, then you are likely thinking of the Ore Mountains.
Located in the depths of Germany’s Saxony region, this is truly where Christmas comes alive, and somewhat all year round. With countless wooden carving stores, candle makers, Christmas angel designers and a whole host of other winter magic and tradition here, it’s a joy to visit in the festive season, but that rubs off to other parts of the year.
The Saxony region of Germany impressed me no end, from the post-war rebuilt grandeur of Dresden to the more funky and modern vibe of Leipzig that wasn’t really my thing. But it was my second visit, to more remote towns and hidden gems, such as The Ore Mountains, that really captivated me.
With mining traditions such as concerts in underground caves, and belly-busting feasts kept alive, right through to the annual Christmas parades, this is a totally different side of Germany to the stereotypes of Bavaria, bright-lights of Berlin, or savvy finance capital fo Frankfurt.
How long to spend in the Ore Mountains? Stay a couple of days, or combine with a road-trip through Saxony.
Why visit Saxony in 2020? The Paralympic Skiing events will take place here, while the 500 Year of Industrial Heritage takes centre stage for the events calendar.
How to get to The Ore Mountains? Leipzig and Dresden’s airports offer flights, while Berlin by train is relatively quick and easy. Around the mountains, a car will be required to explore, but for the Saxony region itself, trains and busses offer good connections.
14. San Marino
Perfect for? Peculiar museums, epic view points, medieval history.
Yep, another country on the list – but this pocket-sized nation is somewhere rather special.
Entirely surrounded by Italy, the Emilia-Romagna region to be precise, San Marino is the oldest republic still in the world and offers some quirky reasons to visit, which is why I think it is still a Europe hidden gem. Between the three towers, striking location on top of Mount Titano, and a handful of bizarre museums, it’s a super exciting spot to visit.
With many people making the mistake of taking a day-trip here like its a museum, staying overnight will not only give you incredible sunsets and sunrises but when I stayed there in June it felt like we have it all to ourselves – such as being locked in a museum after all the staff have gone home!
This tiny republic is the 5th smallest country in the world and its a genuinely fascinating. They use the Euro although they aren’t in the EU and have individual San Marino coins. They have two presidents at any time who serve six months each. They have their own calendar. You get the point, it’s a pretty unique place, and as such, you should undoubtedly make the time to ‘pop over the border’ from Italy to this still relatively undiscovered gem – especially as it’s becoming more and more popular!
How long to spend in San Marino? Don’t listen to those who say do a day-trip, spend at least one night here – you can combine it with a visit to Emilia Romagna, the Italian region famous for its food which surrounds the republic.
Why visit San Marino in 2020? San Marino is apparently the fastest-growing EU destination, so get in now before this lesser visited Europe spot is totally famous!
How to get to San Marino? Outside Rimini train station, regular coaches depart for San Marino. Rimini has it’s own airport, while Bologna airport provdes an alternative option.
15. Tara Canyon & Pluzine, Montenegro
Perfect for? White water rafting, outside hiking.
One of my favourite stop during my Montenegro road trip, Tara Canyon and the inside of the country is absolutely gorgeous!
It seems like word has caught on about the magic of Montenegro, with countless friends and family flocking to the incredible UNESCO old-town of Kotor, and cruising along the sometimes crowded coastline, but if you head inland to the mountains which gave this county its name, you’ll be rewarded with a true off the beaten path in Europe experience.
Durmitor National Park is a must-visit, but head in the direction of Pluzine to discover a Europe hidden gem. Here we stayed in a cabin on a lake, sinking shots of Raki (a local homemade liquor) with our host as the sunset around us. Beyond here is the incredible drive that takes you around Tara Canyon, with towering black cliffs and incredible cerulean waters, it’s a fantastic spot for some off the grid adventures, both hiking, and white water rafting.
How long to spend in Pluzine? Two days as part of a Montenegro road trip.
Why visit Montenegro in 2020? New flights to Tivat are scheduled to start in 2020 which is great news, as the capital’s airport Podgorica is slightly uninspiring and doesen’t offer many flights.
How to get to Tara Canyon? You’re gonna need a car to get here and truly explore Montenegro, although if you come on a tour to stay at one of the water-rafting camps here transfers can be arranged.
16. Murcia Region, Spain
Perfect for? Beaches, vineyards, tapas, cities, culture and history.
If you are looking for excellent value tapas, fantastic wine, and a whole host of history and culture, then the Murcia Region of Spain is the Europe hidden gem for you!
With a revamped airport opening in the region in early 2019, and Murcia being awarded the Gastronomy Capital of Spain for 2020, don’t expect it to stay an off the beaten path spot forever though.
I spent a week driving around Murcia, from the wine towns of Bullas and Yecla, where delicious tasing menus with wine are as low as €40, to exploring the capital of the region Murcia with its towering Cathedral, and the coastal Roman relics and ruins of Cartagena. The local wine, Monastrell, is delicious and a bargain, there is enough culture and history to drown you for days here.
With unique accommodations options at affordable prices, such as staying in castles, vineyards, even windmills in orchards or even looking out on a Roman Amphitheatre, it’s a part of Spain that deserves way more attention. Oh yeah, and it has a long stretch of beautiful beaches, so you really can have it all!
How long to spend in Murcia? Have a weekend city-break in either Murica or Cartagena, or take a week to explore the region.
Why visit Murcia in 2020? Apart from the re-opened airport and flight routes, in 2020 Murcia will become the Spanish Capital of Gastronomy – yum yum!
How to get to Murcia? The new regional Murcia airport has lots of new flights, mainly to the UK, alternatively, Alicante airport is just outside the region.
17. Sutherland and Moray, Scotland
Perfect for? Castles, Coasts, and Scottish hidden gems.
Scotland has indeed been basking in the tourism spotlight in recent years, with the Edinburgh Festivals going from strength to strength, the Isle of Skye hitting peak tourism, and new coastal drive routes with numerical names popping up, so much so without heading to the far-flung islands it’s getting harder and harder to find hidden gems in Scotland.
Sutherland and Moray are two parts of the country I loved during my road trip there, and you can base yourself bang in the middle in Inverness if you want to try and explore by public transport, or get a car for the ultimate Scotland road trip.
While Inverness itself doesn’t conjure the fame of Edinburgh or Glasgow, there are plenty of hidden gems to explore a short journey away. In Sutherland, the star of the show is Dunrobin Castle, a grand old building set in perfectly manicured gardens, while Moray has the impressive ruins of Elgin Cathedral to admire. Along this stretch of coast and road you’ll find plenty of cute towns and killer views, and hopefully, avoid the crowds heading to the west-Highlands and famous spots like Glencoe.
How long to spend here? Best enjoyed as part of a Scotland road-trip, or use Inverness as long-weekend base to explore from.
Why visit in 2020? As other parts of Scotland, including key islands suffer with overtourism, head here as part of Scotland’s year of coast and waters.
How to get to here? Inverness is the main capital city of the greater Highland region, offering many flights. Alternatively, start your road-trip from Edinburgh.
18. Kyiv, Ukraine
Perfect for? History, gold-domed churches, great value food and beer.
I thought this year I’d throw in a capital city of good measure, as there are a surprising number of cities across Europe that are still relatively off the beaten path for most travellers. Torn between Tallin, Warsaw and Luxembourg, I then remember just how much I loved Kyiv on my flying visit there earlier this year.
Ukraine might not have had the fairest coverage in recent years, but as Chernobyl seems to become somewhat of a tourist destination in itself, hopefully, Kyiv and the rest of the country, including hidden gems such as Lyiv get more recognition.
A relatively green city, with stretches of river beaches entertaining comedy clubs, a fantastic food scene peppered with great value Georgian restaurants, and lots of gold-domed churches to admire, Kyiv is an ideal city-break in Europe that is relatively affordable and under the radar.
How long to spend in Kyiv? An ideal weekend city-break, I spent just over a day here and it was rushed.
Why visit Kyiv in 2020? Ukraine and Kyiv haven’t had the best few years in the news, so head here yourself to discover a bit more of the country away from the headlines.
How to get to Kyiv? As a capital city, the airport is well served with international flights.
19. Valsugana, Italy
Perfect for? Water sports, mountain hiking, spa and relaxation.
Valsugana offers up epic hikes, lakes perfect for watersports, and all against snow-capped mountains and an alpine tree decorated backdrop. While Lake Garda might be the most famous lake around here, those in Valusgana, such as Lake Levico, still have those Europe hidden gem vibes about that.
I was also amazed to find out that numerous lakes had been awarded the blue flag award for beach and water quality, something I had assumed was just reserved for beautiful beaches. Once you see the bright cleanliness of the lakes and the families relaxing on the beachside shores though, you’ll quickly see why this region deserves these accolades.
I stayed in the Valsugana region for my lake-side escape, and it was the perfect off the beaten path Italian experience, but there are also charming little villages here, bespoke wine producers, mountain biking and Dolomite views and even art galleries in the hills!
How long to spend in Valsuagna? A couple of days as part of a Trentino trip, or spend a week here on a relaxing nature holiday.
Why visit Valsugana in 2020? Following devastating storms in Italy during late 2018 that I got caght up in, the Trentino region was hit hard with countless trees torn up. For a destination with such a focus on sustainable tourism it should be celebrated, so head here and support the business hit by the storms such as Arte Sella.
How to get to Valsuagana? You can take the train down from Austria, or up from Verona to Trento, where the regional line connects with Valsugana. Local cards supplied with accommodation provide free regional public transport and entry to many attractions.
20. Kutna Hora, Czech Republic
Perfect for? Bone-chilling churches, forest adventures, gothic grandeur
Whilst Prague may be one of the hottest must-visit cities in Europe at the moment, the historic and impressive city of Kutna Hora is still a relatively under the radar gem. It makes for a great day trip from Prague although spending a night there is never a bad idea.
Discover the cobbled streets, grand architecture, an incredibly impressive cathedral and pay a visit to the unique ‘Bone Church’ which is, as you might have guessed, adorned with bones. With lush woodland surrounding the city and plenty of Pilsner on tap, it’s a perfect slice of Bohemia without the crowds of the Charles Bridge.
How long? An two-day visit with an overnight stay will give time to see the city and enjoy the nature
Why visit Kutna Hora in 2020? Althouugh it’s been a few years since I visited last, in recent yers the bone church has become a bit of a Instagram magnet, and a photoraphy ban in 2020 should limit this.
How to get to Kutna Hora? Trains from Prague take around one hour.
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