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Travel tips

10 can’t-miss, underrated places to visit in Europe

Sep 20, 2021 by Emily Houston

Destinations like Florence, Barcelona, and Paris will always have a special place in our heart, but right now we’re swooning over more undiscovered destinations in Europe. Grecian sunset views in Naxos, anyone?

Whether you’re scoping out underrated European cities to visit (hello San Sebastián!) or wide-open areas that bring you closer to nature (looking at you, Verdon Gorge), our Small Group Tours bring you to some of the most unique places in Europe—and this list is your ultimate guide!

Woman at a winery with a glass of red wine and a field of grape vines.

1. Montalcino, Italy

Chianti may be the big name when it comes to Italian wine, but our local Tour Directors know that it’s not the only one you have to try on a tour of Tuscany. “Try a red wine apart from Chianti. I suggest Brunello di Montalcino. There is a long story behind the winemaking,” said Tour Director Filomena. What better place to try it than at Italy’s only female-run winery in Montalcino? Good news: You’ll visit the winery, which has been in winemaker Donatella’s family for over 400 years, when you travel there on a Food & Wine Tour of Italy.

You’ll hear the story of how Donatella subconsciously spoke the feminine form of the word cellar master when she went to hire one for her winery. This small shift in her language put her on the path to hiring a team of women to run her winery. “That was the beginning,” Donatella said. “It shows how the women are able to manage great wines, and it’s a symbol for the women in wine in Italy, but also all over the world.” You’ll meet the women progressing Italy’s winemaking traditions and sample their award-winning Brunello di Montalcino during a light lunch and wine pairing on tour.

See the list of the top 5 Italian wineries to check off your bucket list >


2. Naxos, Greece

Santorini and Mykonos beckon sun seekers from every corner of the Earth, but Naxos is the real gem of the Cyclades island chain. Why? Well, since so many people opt to visit those sister islands, it means there are fewer crowds on Naxos, which gives the island a more local feel. It’s one of the best perks of visiting underrated places in Europe. “This is my third time in Greece and this trip has completely blown me away… Naxos is truly an undiscovered gem! 10/10, would love to come back and explore the rest of these islands!” said traveler Nico.

Plus, the views that make Greece an oh-so-dreamy destination are available in spades on Naxos. It only takes one visit to the waterfront on a tour of the Cyclades Isalnds to figure that out! Walk along the seaside causeway to reach the Palatia Islet and view the Portara, a marble doorway that’s part of the unfinished Temple of Apollo. And don’t forget about the food! You’ll experience the best cuisine the island has to offer during a cooking class and a visit to the Eggares Olive Press Museum. It’s one of the oldest remaining olive mills on the island and while here, you’ll learn about the different stages of olive oil production and sample some for yourself.

Check out the list of the most beautiful beaches in Greece to visit during your free time >


3. Kinsale, Ireland

So, you want all the charming, small town Irish architecture and the Emerald Isle’s big city pub life? Well, we’d like to introduce you to Kinsale. It sits on the southern tip of Ireland, right where the River Brandon meets the Celtic Sea. This town is one of the best, less traveled to places to visit in Europe, and for good reason. Here, colorful row homes outline winding cobblestone roads and historic neighborhood pubs call to locals and travelers alike. The only thing more enjoyable than the craic (a.k.a. the fun) is the plethora of food-based activities to fill your time while on a Food & Wine Tour of Ireland.

Yes, we said it, the food really is the calling here! Ireland may be known for its Guinness and potatoes, but the island has so much more to offer. You’ll discover that during a food-themed walking tour and mead tasting. Kinsale Mead Co. makes award-winning meads and you’ll get learn about the fermentation process and the honey used in the mead. Then, sit down to sip a seasonal cocktail in the Meadery’s oak bar tasting room.

Read one traveler’s reasons to take a summer trip to Ireland >


4. East Fjords Region, Iceland

Everyone knows about Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon in western Iceland, but head east along the Ring Road and a more rugged, secluded side of the island will delight you. While only 3% of Icelanders live in the remote East Fjords Region, you’ll still find the small fishing villages, fjordal scenery, and native wildlife you come to see on our Iceland: The Golden Circle and Ring Road tour. “This was my favorite part of the tour because we saw areas of Iceland most people do not get to see. The lively landscape woke up the inner geologist in me, because we saw fantastic waterfalls, volcanoes, lava fields, glaciers, icebergs, fjords, geothermal mud pools, and more!” said traveler Kathy.

One of the signature sites of the East Fjords Region that’s sure to captivate your adventure-loving spirit is the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. You won’t just see the glacial landscapes, you’ll hop aboard an inflatable Zodiac boat for a cruise through them! As you pass between giant icebergs and head toward Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, you’ll try to spot wildlife like seals and arctic terns. Your guide will also speak about the highlights of the region and how the glacier lagoon came to be. Talk about being one of the most unique places in Europe to visit!

Get the inside scoop on what traveling to Iceland is like right now >


5. San Sebastián, Spain

You may think somewhere like Barcelona or La Rioja region would be Spain’s culinary capital, but that title belongs to San Sebastián. And any place with a too-tasty-to-be-true food culture has to make our list of underrated places in Europe. San Sebastián is tucked up on Spain’s northern coast, a mere 15 miles from the French border, and is flanked by the Bay of Biscay on one side and lush green mountains on the other. While the scenery here is second-to-none, the culinary traditions are what really make it worth the visit—particularly the pintxos. These Basquse Country specialties are bite-sized snacks skewered with a toothpick and you’ll sample some of the best ones on a Food & Wine Tour of Spain.

“It’s a cultural tradition to ‘hop’ from pintxo bar to pintxo bar, ordering a drink and various small bites at each one,” said staffer Jamie. “There are so many bars and so many different pintxos to try, and strolling from establishment to establishment is such a fun way to taste the best food in the city while experiencing local life.” Jamie’s pick for must-eat pinxto? The Gilda! Anchovy, a green olive, and a spicy pepper are stacked on top of each other to make one delicious bite.

Discover the complete list of activities to add to your Spain bucket list >


6. Maremma Countryside, Italy

The Maremma countryside is a unique region of Tuscany where time seems to have stopped and the traditional, centuries-old culture of the region is still alive. It’s here where meeting Tuscan cowboys, called butteri, and visiting their farms is a part of daily life. The quaint, medieval hamlets that dot this countryside are more than a site to see, they represent the rustic and longstanding history of Tuscany.

One of the best ways to explore the Maremma countryside on our Undiscovered Tuscany: Lucca, Siena & Maremma tour is by hiking from Sovana to Pitigliano. Sovana is often considered the Matera of Tuscany because of the many stone buildings. Coincidentally, Matera also makes this list of the best, less traveled to places to visit in Europe. So, if your Italy tour doesn’t take you far enough south to see Matera, Sovano will still give you the vibe of its twin city. Then, the hike begins! You’ll work up a sweat as you stroll along Via Cava, an excavated road dating back to pre-Roman times. Discover the history of the ancient road as you admire the towering walls. Then, end your hike in the hilltop town of Pitigliano.

See our Tour Director’s tips for experiencing Italy like a local >


7. Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia

While it may share a namesake and a history with its southern neighbor Greece, North Macedonia is a country all its own. Of all the Balkan countries, it’s certainly one of the most underrated and beautiful, thanks in large part to Lake Ohrid. This UNESCO-listed lake is not only the oldest in Europe, but is also one of the oldest in the world. While on our Greece, the Balkans & Croatia tour, you’ll see the lake from every perspective. First, walk up to the cliff-top Church of Saint John at Kaneo for panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Then, hit the water for a scenic cruise.

With its age, comes centuries of history. That’s why the Bay of Bones Museum is the perfect place to spend some time. This prehistoric settlement is located on Lake Ohrid and while here, you’ll attend an expert-led talk on local conservation efforts to protect the biodiversity of the lake. Coastal views and unique history? It’s no surprise this site makes our list of unique places to visit in Europe.

Find out why now is the best time to visit the Balkans >


8. Riga, Latvia

How does tasting Latvian specialties inside an old Zepplin hangar-turned-contemporary-market sound? Pretty delicious if you ask us. This experience is just one of the moments you’ll take part in while in Riga on an Adventure Tour of the Baltics. “The Baltics are an incredible and under-appreciated part of Europe. I personally loved to see the mix of medieval history and Soviet influence in these countries. Riga [is an] absolutely beautiful and safe city,” said traveler Phaedra.

As the capital of Latvia, Riga is easily one of the most underrated European cities with so much to offer. First there’s the city center, home to the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture in the world. Then, there’s the Old Town where you’ll see the House of the Blackheads. It was built for and used by a guild of unmarried merchants and ship owners over the course of nearly 600 years. It still stands today, welcoming traveler like you. The city also has its own culinary mainstays (hello Riga Black Balsam liquor!) you’ll get to indulge in during your visit. Your local guide will bring you to a local bar for a tasting of this herbal liquor, which was first created in 1752.

See the list of the most beautiful castles in the world—including Rundale Palace in Latvia >


9. Verdon Gorge, France

They don’t call the Verdon Gorge the Grand Canyon of Europe for nothing! While places like Paris and Bordeaux may get all the glory, this towering canyon forged by the Verdon River is not to be missed—and with a nickname like that you know it’s worth the visit. It’s located right in the Provence region, not far from the purple-hued fields of lavender that come to life in the summer. So while the gorge itself might be an one of the underrated places in Europe to visit, the region it calls home has been drawing travelers in for centuries.

The Verdon Gorge is the deepest gorge in France and is perfect for travelers looking to enjoy a more outdoorsy side of the country. You’ll hike through this straight-out-of-a-storybook landscape while of this French Riviera & Provence: Nice, Avignon & Aix-en-Provence tour. If the green foliage cascading down the towering limestone canyon walls don’t dazzle you, then the turquoise-hued water of the river below certainly will.

Check out this list of Emily in Paris filming locations you can visit in France >


10. Matera, Italy

This Southern Italian destination was named the European Capital of Culture for 2019, and we can see why. The Subterranean City is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and is home to the Sassi di Matera districts, which are known for their 9,000-year-old cave dwellings. Visiting the homes and chiese rupestri, or rock churches, gives you a peek at the unique way people in the city lived throughout the years. Being in the caves also makes you truly feel like you’re in one of the most undiscovered places in Europe. Fun fact: The architecture is sustainable! It’s built in harmony with the areas natural elements and the structures are naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

UNESCO named Sassi di Matera a World Heritage Site in 1993 and a growing tourism movement has helped preserve and share these unique underground buildings with the world. It even served as the backdrop for the 2017 Wonder Woman movie! You can indulge in the centuries of history, cuisine, and Basilicata wine here while on a Food and Wine Tour of Italy, just take it from traveler Kathy. “We had a fantastic time, we ate a LOT of good food, sampled many different regional dishes. Many tour highlights of places that I had never heard of, e.g. Matera. Overall go, you won’t regret it,” she said.

Let this list of other popular movies filmed in Italy inspire your next trip >

Check out all of our Europe Tours to find your next best travel adventure!

About the author | Emily Houston
Emily loves the simple travel moments—like watching hours pass by in minutes while sharing a meal and a laugh (or many) with her friends and family. Outside the office, you'll find Emily listening to anything and everything John Mayer, attempting to cook a New York Times recipe, or dreaming up her next trip.
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