Off the Beaten Track in Europe:
Where to Go on Holiday
Europe is one of the most-visited continents in the world for holidays, with 44 different countries offering a wide range of different climates, landscapes and cultures. It can often feel like popular destinations dominate recommendations of where to visit for a European break, and many travellers are now opting to eschew locations like France, Spain and Italy in favour of more alternative places instead.
The large size of the continent means that it is relatively easy to get off the beaten track in Europe and enjoy exploring destinations that are often wonderfully free of tourism. Whether you’re looking for unique stops for interrailing, hidden escapes for a romantic break or even just a holiday that will impress your friends, here are our top picks for European holiday destinations off the beaten track.
One of the best hidden gems in Europe is Albania, a small country in Mediterranean Europe that is top of our list for alternative holiday destinations. A large part of this country’s obscurity comes from the fact that it was relatively impenetrable until the 1990s when a history of strict leadership came to an end and Albania opened its doors to the rest of the world.
The lack of tourism in Albania means that the whole country has an ‘off the beaten track’ feeling, and adventurous travellers will love the range of scenery they get to explore undisturbed. As its reputation as a brilliant destination grows, travel companies are starting to offer small tours of Albania that focus on some of its most popular locations, but many visitors to the country are still choosing to explore under their own steam for a more authentic experience.
From the mountains to the forests and the miles of beaches that line the coast, Albania is a beautiful place full of hidden gems and natural beauty. If you’re wondering where to start when it comes to discovering the country, we recommend the picturesque city of Berat filled with white Ottoman cottages, or Lake Komani in the north of Albania that is the perfect location for outdoor adventures.
Poland is an up-and-coming holiday destination in Europe that is full of exciting towns and cities just waiting to be discovered. Not only are there several brilliant urban destinations that are perfect for unique city breaks, but the country is also home to plenty of beautiful rural hidden gems.
Whilst locations like Kraków tend to get a lot of tourists throughout the year, there are so many other parts of Poland that remain relatively undiscovered and perfect for travellers who prefer hidden places in the world for their holidays. It’s a great interrail destination for backpackers who want something a bit different from the normal travel experience, and is very easy to get to by either train or plane.
Poland’s Masurian Lake District is a highlight for those searching for alternative holiday destinations, found in the north and considered one of the most beautiful parts of the country. For an unforgettable city experience, try the historic centre of Gdansk which has beautiful old architecture everywhere and is a great alternative to the capital.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The political history of Bosnia and Herzegovina has meant that the country has remained relatively unexplored over the last century or so, making it a top-rated destination off the beaten track in Europe. Found in western Europe between Serbia and Croatia, this country has a fascinating blend of Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman culture and history that makes it a totally unique part of the world.
This is a great part of Europe to visit if you enjoy an adventure on your holidays, with plenty of outdoor activities available throughout the rural parts of the country. Fans of history and sightseeing will also be delighted with the range of attractions in Bosnia’s splendid cities, from walled Old Towns to impressive architectural structures.
The city of Mostar is a real highlight for travellers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the famous Stari Most bridge being the main attraction for most tourists. It’s a city with plenty of history but is also an ideal place just to walk around, indulge in some cafe culture, and enjoy the authentic feel of the city.
If you’re looking for alternative holiday destinations in Europe that are big on sustainability and a laid-back way of life, Slovenia should be at the top of your travel bucket list. This incredibly beautiful country is found in central Europe and is the ideal place to visit if you’re looking for outdoor adventure, untouched natural landscapes and a chance to disconnect from the rest of the world.
Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, has recently become quite a popular spot for European city breaks, offering a picture-perfect experience of splendid architectural styles, green and urban spaces, and lots of cultural attractions. However, the rest of the country remains relatively undiscovered and is a true hidden gem that has something for everyone on offer, from ski resorts to a historic Venetian port town.
Highlights of Slovenia include the Vipava Valley, which is not only a wonderful place to enjoy walking or cycling holidays but also a brilliant destination for an alternative wine-tasting trip. The region of Bohinj in the stunning Julien Alps is another great spot for hidden escapes, with plenty of lakes, waterfalls and mountains that make it perfect for hiking, watersports or skiing.
The mixed publicity that Ukraine has received in the past means that it is a place that has remained largely undiscovered by travellers. The large size of the country means that there is a very diverse range of experiences on offer, from modern cities to huge expanses of rural landscapes.
Ukraine’s residents are known as being some of the most hospitable and friendly on the planet, so you’re bound to receive a warm welcome whichever part of the country you visit. There is plenty of history to be discovered whether you’re out in the countryside or exploring the busy towns and cities, from remnants of ancient history to more recent evidence of political conflict.
For a truly unique holiday experience, travellers can visit the deserted site of Chernobyl, the most radioactive place on earth, and learn about the tragic disaster that left this area of the country completely deserted. If you’d prefer something a bit lighter for your holiday, the capital of Kyiv is an incredibly underrated European city that is filled with culture, food and sightseeing spots.
Montenegro is a small Balkan country that is a fantastic place to get off the beaten track in Europe and enjoy one of the best hidden gems on the continent. This is a destination that remains quiet and free of tourists the whole year-round, making it an ideal spot for travellers who prefer to explore without the interruption of crowds.
Many visitors to the country spend their time on the coast of Montenegro, which is covered in picturesque, whitewashed towns and golden sand beaches. Inland, there are mountain ranges and the Durmitor National Park which are both perfect for hiking expeditions or off-road adventure.
A lot of people find that the best way to enjoy Montenegro is to travel around its various locations during a holiday so that you get a taste of everything that country has to offer. The city of Podgorica makes a great alternative backpacking or interrail destination, or the UNESCO World Heritage old town of Kotor is the perfect place for fans of history and medieval architecture.
Whether your idea of a perfect holiday is a weekend filled with cultural sightseeing or a few days spent exploring the wilderness of a new country, Bulgaria has it all. Found in the Balkan Peninsula in southeast Europe, it’s a small destination that is overflowing with different attractions and an ideal place for a holiday that is off the beaten track.
Up until recently, Bulgaria was frequently ignored when it came to lists of the top European travel destinations, and it’s only thanks to modern tourist infrastructure developments that the country is now beginning to be explored. Nowadays, more and more people are looking for locations without lots of other travellers which they can explore themselves, and Bulgaria certainly delivers on that front.
The country’s capital city of Sofia is a great choice for a budget cultural city break, or you can visit the dramatic Black Sea coast for a unique beach resort holiday. Serious walking or climbing fanatics will enjoy Bansko in the Pirin mountains which is a great place to base yourself for a hiking holiday or for a skiing trip in the winter months.
Getting off the beaten track on your holidays is becoming more and more popular, and whilst some undiscovered destinations are starting to get more firmly established, there are still plenty of hidden places in Europe that are perfect for an alternative break. Many adventurous holidaymakers are looking for untouched landscapes and unexplored terrain, and whilst Europe has plenty of this to offer there are also lots of wonderful hidden cities and towns that are ideal for those seeking a more relaxing trip away from the rest of the world.
Many of the destinations we have listed won’t stay undiscovered for long. So pack your suitcase and get out there soon to enjoy their hidden gem status whilst it lasts!
What is the most underrated country in Europe?
There are plenty of contenders for the most underrated country in Europe, many of which have been featured in this article. Places that are frequently considered some of the best hidden gems on the continent are Austria, Finland, Montenegro, Poland, Albania and Slovenia.
What is the cheapest month to fly to Europe?
Autumn and winter are generally thought of as the cheapest months to fly to Europe, with the period between late October and late March being the best time to travel on a budget. Flying out in the middle of the week is also much cheaper than travelling at the weekend, and it’s worth checking when the peak tourist seasons are for different countries to find more specific discounts.