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The Most Underrated Cities in Europe

Seasoned travelers let us in on their secret spots, from Norway to Portugal and beyond.

Condé Nast Traveler

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No shortage of love and adulation has been bestowed upon the continent of Europe. But are the songs of praise sung out with equal distribution? London, Paris, Rome—the great cities, capitals of culture as they are, will never be overrated. However as the spotlight shines ever brighter on these metropolises’ glory, their neighbors (all with charms of their own) get less traffic. Indeed, certain cities in Europe are very much underrated. Whether that’s because the place has blossomed only recently, possesses a quieter beauty, is harder to reach, or boasts straight-up haters is beside the point—underrated is underrated, and it behooves the smart traveler to explore paths untrodden.

To help you do so, we've turned to our network of travel specialists and Europe-based writers for the lowdown on the most underrated European cities. We've included everything from medieval spa towns in the Black Forest of Germany to an outpost in Northern Italy made famous by one William Shakespeare. All are worth a visit—read on to learn why.

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Aalborg, Denmark

“If you want to do a deeper dive into Denmark, take a short flight from Copenhagen to the Jutland peninsula, which is stunning. It was historically a fishing area and famous in the Second World War for being home to some major battles. The city of Aalborg has seen a transformation, going from being full of fishing and tinning industry warehouses to having a large university population that is repurposing those industrial spaces into bars and restaurants. It’s not a place where you’ll find many tourists at all, so you get a more authentic glimpse of the Danish philosophy—hygge, and the concept of looking after each other. There’s a really good restaurant that I’d recommend called Tabu that does tasting menus rivaling Copenhagen at an incredible value.” — Sunil Metcalfe, sales director of Black Tomato

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Lukas Hodon/Getty

Koper, Slovenia

“Koper is a charming gem nestled in Istria that blends Venetian history, stunning coastlines, and mouthwatering cuisine. Old Town has labyrinthine streets where you can see the rich history of this once-thriving Venetian port city, plus churches and charming squares. Praetorian Palace is a Venetian Gothic building that now houses the city's tourist office and art exhibits. Koper remains an important port in the region, as it is close to Trieste, and marks an entry point to Central and Eastern Europe. This is the perfect base to explore the wonders of the peninsula and its vineyards, olive groves, and medieval hilltop villages—do not miss the homestead Nona Mima.” —Matej Knific, co-owner and co-founder of Luxury Slovenia

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Sibeesh Venu/Unsplash

Sligo, Ireland

“Don’t get me wrong, Galway has its gems, and Cork is a joy, but Sligo is like a worn leather chesterfield, and is unphased by any coolness bestowed upon it. Perhaps this is what drew so many writers, and why Yeats preached its gospel, something of a savage beauty. It is also why this place plays such a central role in Irish mythology from Moytura to Fionn and the Fianna. In Ireland there is a phrase about “thin places,” geographies where the veil between the natural and the supernatural is thin, and mythologies, and spirits seep through. This town is steeped in thinness. It is why Sligo has such music and even its own genre of fiddle style. You can feel the gods in giant rock walls like the Benbulben, a large flat-topped rock formation just on the outskirts of town. It is also a sandwiched gateway to Donegal, a border town, a place of transition, which adds to the magic. Too much of the rest of Ireland and parts of Europe become swollen by the icon of themselves in the eyes of the tourism industry, they become caricatures; Sligo, somehow, is immune to that, it feels and lives honest.” — Tyler Dillon, travel planner at Trufflepig

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Verona, Italy

Verona really delivers for someone who might just have a few days to observe local Italian life and see amazing sites. The city is packed with incredible architecture and stories, from Shakespeare to the operas that still happen in the intact Coliseum. I think it’s a surprise for people who come to what they might consider a second-tier city. You also have the benefit of the countryside and being in the Amarone wine region.” — Georgia Yuill, experience designer at Butterfield & Robinson



Tirana, Albania

"A visit to Tirana offers at once a glimpse into Albania’s unsettling (yet captivating) recent history and an invigorating taste of a vibrant, rapidly evolving capital. The city combines fascinating architectural reminders of the country’s communist chapter with a distinctly youthful energy, perhaps best encapsulated by the metamorphosis of the monumental 1988 Tirana Pyramid into a youth-focused cultural hub. The city center is walkable and full of places to simply ‘be’ (take a seat on the sofa-esque benches of Skanderbeg Square, iced coffee in hand), with nature never feeling too far away—courtesy not least of the vast Grand Park and majestic Mount Dajti, which flanks the city.

For stellar views and a sense of the landscape surrounding Tirana, head up Mount Dajti with the cable car, before taking a culinary journey through Albania at restaurant Mullixhiu, which feels like a country retreat on the edge of the Grand Park. To experience the best of Tirana nightlife, make a beeline for the Blloku neighborhood." — Elise Morton, travel writer and former Eastern Europe Commissioning Editor for Culture Trip



Zamora, Spain

" Zamora and its 60,000 inhabitants are about to see a boost in tourism thanks to the new AVE from Madrid (high-speed train), which takes just an hour. Reasons to visit are not lacking: We are talking about the city with the most Romanesque churches in all of Europe (24 exactly) all of them built around the 12th and 13th centuries. Furthermore, Zamora is one of the most important epicenters of modernist art buildings in Spain, perhaps the third after Barcelona and Melilla.

If Zamora is famous for something it is for its Holy Week, one of the most beautiful, dramatic, and shocking of Spain. (You can read about it here.) But no matter when you visit, be sure to taste the city’s traditional food, like the lesser known ‘arroz a la zamorana,’ rice cooked with meat and finished in the oven. And a secret: Zamora boasts of one of the best orchards of Spain, and its tomatoes are from another world; sample good wines from the famous Toro wineries, where LVMH is the owner of Numanthia." — David Moralejo, Head of Content at Condé Nast Traveler Spain



Narbonne, France

" Narbonne is located in Southwest France, but when most travelers head to southern France they either go to the area around Toulouse or straight to the more well-known towns east of the former Roman seaport—Montpellier, Arles, or further still, Marseille and the broader Provence-Côte d'Azur region. But there's tremendous beauty, close access to the beach, and plenty to see and eat [in Narbonne].

In lodging and wine, the destination here is Château l’Hospitalet Wine Resort, Beach and Spa, owned by Gerard Bertrand, among the pioneers of biodynamic winemaking in France with 16 estates (Bertrand is one of the biggest exporters of French wine in the U.S.). The hotel recently added new suites, restaurants, a spa, and a beach club, and guests can opt for wine tastings on the property. Travelers can also gosee the flamingos at the Regional Natural Park of Narbonne, go horseback riding through the park, visit the medieval historic city center, and stop by Narbo Via, a new museum designed by Foster + Partners focused on the ancient maritime capital’s Roman history." Lindsey Tramuta, journalist and author of “The New Paris” and “The New Parisienne”



Thessaloniki, Greece

"Thessaloniki may still be losing out to Athens when it comes to tourists, but Greece’s second city is well worth a visit. Come for the world-class food scene—Thessalonki was named Greece’s first ‘City of Gastronomy’ by UNESCO in November 2021—and stay for the fun, creative vibe (owing in part to the large student population). While its historical offering is perhaps a little less grandiose than the Acropolis, it is no less rich: think a well-preserved Roman forum, the frescoes of the Rotunda, and Ottoman hamams.

What many people don't know about the city—and, indeed, I was unaware of until I actually lived there—is its rich multicultural heritage. In the early 20th century, for example, Thessaloniki had the largest Jewish population in Europe, and the legacy of this Jewish community (particularly when it comes to architecture) is all around, if you know where to look. All of this while maintaining a decidedly relaxed outlook—Athens residents will often jokingly use the term ‘halara’ in relation to Thessaloniki, denoting the city's chilled-out atmosphere and slower pace of life." — E.M.



Ohrid, North Macedonia

"We all know the Balkans are home to some stunning seaside spots, but we shouldn’t forget about the region’s lakes! One of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes, Lake Ohrid straddles North Macedonia and Albania. The eponymous city of Ohrid on the North Macedonian shore is the perfect base for a lakeside break that combines sweetwater swimming and sunbathing with awe-inspiring nature (the lake is often referred to as the ‘European Galapagos,’ thanks to its dense biodiversity) and Byzantine religious history and architecture.

After a relaxing morning by the water at Potpesh or Kaneo beach, wander the boardwalk and the charming cobbled streets of the UNESCO-protected town. For a history hit, head up to the cliffside Church of St. John at Kaneo or admire stunning vistas from Tsar Samuel’s Fortress, before discovering the Ancient Macedonian Theatre of Ohrid. Hearty local cuisine is what Viva Ksantika is known for, while Kaj Kanevche is a go-to when it comes to waterfront eateries. If you have a little more time, hop on a boat trip across the lake to the enchanting Monastery of Saint Naum." — E.M.



Gdańsk, Poland

"Often just visited as part of a cruise ship shore tour, Gdańsk actually has several days’ worth of great historic sightseeing (and great food!). Take a deep dive into WWII history at the Museum of the Second World War, one of the most comprehensive we’ve ever been to. You can also see where WWII started with a visit to the memorial site at Westerplatte.

Visit one of the best preserved castles in Europe at Malbork—the largest castle in the world (by land area). Meanwhile, explore contemporary history with a visit to the Solidarity Centre. Then take a boat on the Baltic Sea for the day, and enjoy innovative cuisine in the city center and excellent rustic cuisine in the countryside." — Gwen Kozlowski, president of Exeter International



Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

“Mostar is a beautiful medieval town with a mix of Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman architecture. It’s home to the iconic Stari Most bridge from which the city gets its name. There are many restaurants offering traditional and filling food such as dolma, vegetables stuffed with ground meat and rice; sarma, stuffed cabbage leaves; and fresh bread. The city’s relaxed energy makes it easy to turn an afternoon of strolling around the town into an evening enjoying comfort food while sipping rakija, the national spirit of Bosnia, and listening to the soothing sounds of the river." — Jessica Nabongo, founder of Jet Black and The Catch, and author of "The Catch Me If You Can"



Innsbruck, Austria

"Innsbruck doesn’t get the same level of exposure as Vienna and Salzburg, but it definitely deserves a visit. I am always pleasantly surprised by the varied level of activities here—from the most active to the most cultural and everything in between!

Some of the best things to do: Stay in one of the best resort hotels in Austria, just outside of town (the Astoria Resort Seefeld). Watch competitive skiers perform jumps at the Zaha Hadid-designed Bergisel Ski Jump. Get a behind-the-scenes exclusive experience at the Swarovski factory, just outside of town. Indulge in some hiking (or just amazing views) with a picnic on the Nordkette, with sweeping views all over the valley." — G.K.

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Dave Long/Getty

Pristina, Kosovo

“Often overlooked, Pristina is definitely worth a stop on a Balkan adventure for its laidback, young feel. There is a vibrant creative scene—check out LambdaLambdaLambda, the first international gallery for contemporary art in Pristina; and art spaces Stacion and Galeria 17. Pristina burst onto the global art scene in 2022, when Manifesta 14 (the nomadic pan-regional cultural Biennial) brought 100 days of exhibitions, workshops and events (not to mention artists, architects, and visitors from around the world) to the city.

The National Gallery of Kosovo is also worth a visit. There’s great cafe culture—Half & Half Café, Dit' e Nat', Soma Book Station—and foodie spots—Liburnia, Shpija e Vjetër, Taverna Tirona. You can get a sense of local produce at the Green Market. Architectural points of interest include the love-it-or-hate-it National Library of Kosovo, the Newborn Monument, and the statue of Bill Clinton (be sure to read up on the history before you come!), plus religious landmarks like the Zhamia e Madhe mosque, the abandoned Saviour Orthodox Cathedral, and the Cathedral of Saint Mother Teresa. A short drive from the city, you can visit the UNESCO-protected Gračanica Monastery followed by a stroll or picnic in Gërmia Park." – E.M.

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Liverpool, United Kingdom

"This northern city rarely gets the praise it deserves; as arguably the most musical town in the United Kingdom, it's spilling over with culture and creatives, and has the vibe of a slightly rough-around-the-edges city constantly bubbling with excitement. This year has seen more people than average visit Liverpool, thanks to the city's status hosting the Eurovision Song Contest, and there's a constant stream of tourists taking tours of The Beatles' childhood homes.

But there's an incredible amount of new restaurants, indie venues and heritage buildings that often don't make it onto people's must-see lists. From the Baltic Triangle—an industrial hub home to trendy locals and memorable street food—to dockside gallery Tate Liverpool and the truly beautiful Sefton Park, Liverpool has plenty of areas that feel like local secrets, but and deserve far more kudos. Of course, what gives Liverpool its heart is the people; friendly, welcoming and ever proud of their hometown, Scousers are always happy to stop and chat. Just be sure to research some of the local lingo before you go!" — Abigail Malbon, acting global director of audience development at Condé Nast Traveler

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Vilnius, Lithuania

"Often playing third fiddle to the Baltic capitals lucky enough to be situated on or near the sea, Vilnius is an affordable city with many stories to tell. Fiercely proud of having thrown off the shackles of Soviet occupation three decades ago, Lithuanians are keen to show the world just how fun, independent, and creative they are, through art, cuisine, or the lovingly completed restoration of the city’s large Old Town.

A must in Vilnius is to spend some time in Uzupis, the tongue-in-cheek breakaway republic on the other side of the river that’s a popular neighborhood for artists to live and work in. Vilnius is a city with no shortage of spectacular viewpoints. Climb Gediminas Hill in the center of the city, with its castle ruins, or the iconic Vilnius Cathedral belfry, or—our favorite—the slightly hidden bell tower of St. James Church. This is also the ideal city to enjoy modern Lithuanian cuisine. Reimagined and lighter versions of traditional dishes are served in well designed spaces where the Michelin-starred Nordic kitchen experience of many of the country’s chefs will become obvious." — Jay Ternavan, founder and CEO of JayWay Travel



Tbilisi, Georgia

"Food, wine, Silk Road history, fantastic museums—what doesn’tTbilisi have? And yet, so many American travelers ignore it. While Tbilisi (and Georgia in general) was just starting to get popular with U.S. travelers before COVID-19, it has yet to fully bounce back and is wonderfully not full of Americans right now. Don’t miss the national dish of Georgia, khachapuri: baked cheesy bread from a stone oven accompanied by fresh herbs. Try it in four different styles!

I love the Georgian National Museum with everything from ancient gold treasures to their exhibition on the horrors of the Soviet era. No visit to Tbilisi is complete without a wine tasting outside of the city and lunch in the cellars. I also love taking a couple hours to enjoy the ancient and still operable Turkish public baths that date to the Silk Road and Ottoman eras in the center of Old Town. For Jewish travelers, there’s a wonderful old synagogue in Old Town. Don’t miss learning the finer points of making your own khachapuri at one of the leading restaurants of the city!" — Greg Tepper, founder of Exeter International



Vila Real de Santo António, Portugal

"Just on the other side of the Guadiana River from Spain, in Portugal’s Algarve, is the whitewashed town of V.R. de Santo Antonio. What was once a somewhat grimy border town feels lighter and airier now that the vehicle ferries have been supplanted by a bridge, meaning most travelers that make the crossing between the two countries rarely pop down to have a look. Much to the benefit of the rest of us: the town was the first outside of Lisbon to be remodeled according to the “Pombaline” design after the 1755 earthquake and the whitewashed storefronts and dazzling calzada (hand-cut stone tile sidewalks) give the town a much more Mediterranean air.

Nearby you have the Knights Templar fort of Castro Marim and under its shadow, the ancient salt pans used since Roman times where you can go for mud/salt baths before heading a few kilometers west to the beautiful beaches of Cacela Velha and the start of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. This is altogether some of the most authentic Algarve at its finest and a far cry from the overtouristed central belt—and made all the more tantalizing now that a smart boutique hotel, the Relais Chateaux  Grand House, has opened. The hotel features light-filled rooms recalling the Belle Époque, many with views onto Vila Real’s Marina, in addition to a wonderful beach club annex right on the water just a few minutes away (where in-house guests have priority)." — Sebastian Lapostol, senior trip planner at Trufflepig Travel Inc.



Opatija, Croatia

"Although today it is often overlooked in favor of cities like Dubrovnik or Split, it is Opatija in the north that is the cradle of tourism in Croatia. Nicknamed “Vienna by the sea” due to its handsome Belle Époque architecture, the Opatija Riviera, a 30-kilometer stretch of land nestled between the wooded slopes of Mount Ucka and the rocky coastline of the Kvarner Gulf, was once the most visited seaside resort of the Austro-Hungarian elite. The area was hailed as a health and wellness retreat, its unique micro-climate offering the ideal ingredients for therapeutic and restorative travel. Still today, Opatija continues its tradition as a center for wellness, attracting visitors seeking to relax and rejuvenate at its numerous spas, enjoying treatments and therapies.

Even aside from being a health retreat, Opatija offers much to travelers. The city boasts a number of grand cafes, well-maintained public gardens, tidy beaches, fine hotels, and excellent restaurants. Opatija’s privileged position at the eastern corner of the Istrian Peninsula also makes it the ideal jumping off point from which to explore other areas of Croatia. Within an one-hour drive, you will find yourself in the truffle rich forests of Istria, the green mountains of Risnjak National Park, or the pebble beaches of the Island of Krk." — W.R.



Appingedam, Netherlands

“My hometown of Appingedam is from the 13th century and quite charming. Tourists from all over come now to visit the beautiful canals, Hanging Kitchens, and De Vijgenhof Synagogue, the oldest in Holland at 135 years old. The B&B by the same name has just one bedroom and is very cute. I’d also recommend De Basiliek, a fabulous restaurant in an old church.” —Harmina Mulder, Netherlands travel specialist and owner of Travel By Harmina Inc.

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Liepāja, Latvia

“This is Latvia's own ‘ windy city’. Liepāja is known as the ‘city where the wind is born’ for the ever-present sea breeze, as well as an overarching spirit of independence and creativity. It’s a real music city—there’s the Great Amber Concert Hall (so-called for its yellow-orange gemlike facade), the Latvian Musicians’ Walk of Fame, the Ghost Tree memorial to Līvi, which is Latvia’s most famous rock band, and cool music venues like Wiktorija. The Holy Trinity Cathedral has the world’s oldest original mechanical organ, and there’s lots of non-music-related history in the form of the Karosta Naval Base and prison and the Northern Fort. The beach is amazing, too!” — E.M.

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Visby, Sweden

“It’s a small city on an island in the Baltic, and what makes it very unique is that it’s almost like a city of ruins. So much from medieval times is well-preserved and protected—it has an intact city wall, and even the street pattern dates back to Viking times. It is steeped in history. Around the year 1100, it was the financial center of Europe—the Wall Street of Europe. It’s one of my favorite places in Sweden, especially the Archaeological Museum. The entire island as a bonus—not just the city—is full of relics. We have clients that stay there for two to three nights because there is so much to see, and you can use it as a homebase to see Fårö island which was Ingmar Bergman’s home.” — Jan Sortland, general manager of Norwegian Adventures

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Gail Shotlander

Aalesund, Norway

“This is a very beautiful, also relatively small city stretching across some islands that overlook the ocean. In one direction, you have views of the open ocean, but in the backdrop there are these tall mountains so there is a steep contrast. The entire town burned down in 1904, it was a big disaster, but it was rebuilt by the emperor of Germany—he loved this city so much that he opened his own purse. The architecture is Germany’s version of the Art-Nouveau style, with small crooked streets where you can smell the sea and they sell fish and shrimps.” — J.S.

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Montreux, Switzerland

“Montreux sits on the East side of Lac Léman, about an hour by train or car from Geneva. A lot of people end up retiring here because it has so much peacefulness and understated elegance. When I see people go to Lake Como, I always wonder why they aren’t doing that here instead. Charlie Chaplin and Freddie Mercury spent their last days here, and not for no reason. It’s very French in terms of cuisine, there’s food markets and a jazz festival in the summer, and the views that you can get on a train trip through here are unrivaled. As you wind down the mountain into Montreux, the whole of the lake and the town appears before your eyes and it’s absolutely magical to me.” — S.M.

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Alexander Sorokopud/Getty

Baden Baden, Germany

“I’ve traveled extensively in Germany, and the place that has stuck with me most is Baden Baden—it’s in the Black Forest, about an hour West of Stuttgart (which you could choose as Germany’s most underrated city as well). It’s the most sophisticated place in the country, almost like the San Sebastián of Germany, and it’s known for its old world charm. People would flock here for its natural spas and extensive wellness facilities, and that legacy lives on in the Brenners Park hotel. Another benefit of coming here is proximity to France and the access to amazing dry riesling wines. In the summer, it is absolutely gorgeous for hiking.” — S.M.

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This post originally appeared on Condé Nast Traveler and was published July 31, 2023. This article is republished here with permission.

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