10 hidden gems in Europe you should know about

Photo of Anna HardyPhoto of Anna Hardy
By Anna Hardy

9 September 20237 min read

Aerial view of an old fortified town located beneath steep cliffs on an island in Greece

As Brits faithfully return to Benidorm’s beaches each summer and the queue grows ever longer for a picture of that Pisa tower, it might seem there’s little left of Europe that’s untouched by the tourist scene.

But go beyond the mainstream holiday destinations and you’ll find there are still plenty of places that remain delightfully under the radar.

From postcard-perfect villages to off-the-beaten-track Mediterranean islands, here are ten lesser-known gems in Europe that you should know about.

1. Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sat on the bank of the Neretva River in the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s countryside, Konjic is still unnoticed by the masses. While its picturesque surroundings are enough to add it to your holiday hit list (picture sun-dappled forests, waterfalls and mountain panoramas), it's the exhilarating range of adventure activities that really puts it on the map.

Thrill-seekers and adrenaline-junkies will be in their element, with rafting, hiking, canyoning, mountain biking and canoeing all on offer in this little town. If winter sports are more your cup of tea, visit in December and February for snowboarding and skiing.

Pair your action-packed itinerary with a cosy guest house stay or pitch up your tent for a camping holiday to fully embrace Konjic’s back-to-nature charm.

2. Pico Island, Portugal

Portugal’s Azores archipelago hasn’t quite hit the tourist scene and even those in the know tend to visit its largest island, São Miguel. Pico, the second largest and home to just 15,000 residents, is even further off the beaten track.

A treasure trove of volcanic landscapes – from ink-black lava fields and caves to geothermal springs and lagoons – Pico is an explorer’s delight. Lace up your boots to scale Mount Pico, Portugal’s highest point, seek out traditional villages like Lajes do Pico, or visit its lush vineyards, which produce some of the Azores’ best ​​Verdelho wines thanks to the island’s nutrient-rich soil.

For something a little more laidback, stay in Madalena or Sao Roque for an idyllic mix of sightseeing and beach time.

3. Marken, The Netherlands

Located in the Netherlands’ Waterland region, little Marken is wonderfully unaccustomed to the crowds that descend upon Amsterdam, just 30 minutes away.

Its painted wooden houses and pitched roof cottages look like something from a children’s pop-up book, tucked on the banks of canals and surrounded by gardens and farmland. Visit for a taste of traditional Dutch lifestyle – dip into the sweet cafes and souvenir shops that pepper the waterfront and watch the sailboats bob in the harbour.

Unsurprisingly, accommodation is limited, with a handful of B&Bs and holiday lets summing up your options. But even if you don’t stay directly in town, a day trip here is enough to be truly enchanted.

4. Berat, Albania

With a nickname like the ‘Maldives of Europe’, it’s no surprise that Albania’s beach resorts are now firmly on the tourist map. But they’re just the start of its untapped charms. Enter Albania’s most endearing city, Berat.

This ‘city of a thousand windows’, named for its distinctive Ottoman houses that spill down the hillside, is a UNESCO-listed marvel of historic mosques, old town quarters and home-style Albanian restaurants. While not exactly ‘hidden’ from tourists, it moves to a more laidback beat than Albania’s other cities.

Top of your itinerary should be Berat Castle – its fortress ruins offer panoramic views across the city's terracotta rooftops – and outdoor adventures to the nearby Osum Canyon and Bogove Waterfall.

5. Monemvasia, Greece

Carved into a sea rock connected to the mainland only by a causeway, this Peloponnese town is quite literally Greece’s hidden gem. Gazing out across the cerulean waters of the Myrtoan Sea and encased within stone ramparts, it's easy to compare Monemvasia to Dubrovnik, but there’s one difference: tourists are still yet to find it.

You can’t help but fall in love with the pedestrian-only cobblestone streets, Venetian stone mansions, Byzantine churches and artisan cafes that make up this incredibly preserved medieval town.

For a romantic hideaway, you won’t do better. Take your pick of boutique B&Bs and elegant hotels housed within medieval buildings and mansions for a secluded city escape, or combine a few nights in Monemvasia with a longer holiday exploring mainland Greece.

6. Procida Island, Italy

Often overlooked for its better-known neighbours, Ischia and Capri, Procida has so far remained a secret spot for Italians enjoying a summer staycation. But this underrated island deserves a spotlight all of its own.

You’ll want your camera at the ready when you arrive at Procida’s Marina Grande. Buildings of every colour tumble along the waterfront, from soft pinks and yellows to bright blues and oranges. Parasol-shaded cafes line the marina and painted fishing boats bob in the water as if it were a paint-by-numbers picture.

While it’s just over four square kilometres in size, there’s plenty to do here. Visit cute boutiques in Marina Chiaiolella, marvel at extravagant churches, relax on black-sand beaches and feast on lingue di Procida, the island's sweet pastry filled with lemon cream.

7. Veli Losinj, Croatia

Whether you find your way to Losinj as part of a island-hopping trip or choose to spend your whole holiday on this laidback Croatian island, base your stay in the under-the-radar town of Veli Losinj.

Tucked in a narrow bay on the southeast side of Losinj, this photogenic village bustles with cafes, bars, craft shops and hotels, all kept in time by the chiming bells of St Anthony’s church. On the fringes, you’ll find quieter apartments and guesthouses draped in bougainvillea.

Beaches should be at the top of your holiday itinerary here, with rocky coves and soft sandy stretches to discover – pine-fringed Veli Zal is one of the best. Alternatively, souvenir shop at the morning markets, rent bikes or take to the water to spot bottlenose dolphins.

8. Visby, Sweden

There’s a reason Visby is a firm favourite of Swedes for their summer getaways, and it's not just that it has some of the best saffron pancakes going.

Prepare to be charmed by this perfectly preserved medieval town on Gotland island, where traditional 12th-century houses, flower-filled window boxes, cobbled streets and astounding church ruins are all wrapped up by a 3.5km ring wall.

If its beauty wasn’t enough, Visby has something for all interests. History buffs can check out Viking-age silver at the Gotland Museum or admire Saint Mary's Cathedral, nature lovers can idle among the blooms of the 2.5-hectare Botanical Garden, and avid shoppers can pick up ceramics and woollen handicrafts in the local shops. Did we mention it has beaches, too?

9. Perast, Montenegro

Sometimes it's the tiniest places that make the biggest impact, and Perast doesn’t need a load of tourists to prove it's one of Montenegro’s best destinations. With a romantic waterfront spot on Kotor Bay and just a couple hundred residents, it feels a world away from popular Kotor, just 20 minutes south.

Home to 17 baroque palaces and 19 Venetian-era churches, there’s beauty to be found around every corner here. The chapels on Perast’s islands of St George and Our Lady of the Rocks are hard to miss; as for the palaces, the best way to appreciate their grandeur is by staying in them – several now host dreamy hotels.

In the evenings, sup on seafood from a restaurant patio, watching the sunset drench the bay in ruby and plum hues.

10. Mittenwald, Germany

The Altstadt (old town) is easily the showstopper of this medieval town in the Bavarian countryside. Watched over by snow-capped Alpine peaks, its intricate frescoed buildings and pastel windows fill the streets with colour – the dazzling St Peter and Paul church is the highlight of them all.

Yes, the town has restaurants and hotels that cater to tourists that make their way down from Munich, but these are easily outnumbered by cheery local cafes, flower-adorned guesthouses and the traditional violin shops that Mittenwald is known for.

Of course, no trip to Bavaria would be complete without a stein of beer and you can have your fill at the Mittenwald Brewery. Or time your visit with the region’s brilliant bovine spectacle that is almabtrieb, the annual ‘homecoming’ of cows from the mountains.

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