Europe is a continent full to the brim with beauty and culture. The awe-inspiring architecture, vibrant arts scene and mouth-watering food, amongst so many other things, are enough to make anyone fall in love with the continent. But we don’t appreciate it anywhere near as much as we should. Most of us have fully explored at least one of the most popular European destinations, like Amsterdam, Paris and Barcelona. Of course, these cities are popular for a reason, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone visiting them. In fact, Amsterdam is one of my favourite places in the world. But there are so many other destinations waiting to be explored. If I’ve inspired you to take a chance on a less well-known destination, check out my top 5 underrated European cities.
A city that’s as beautiful as it is impossible to spell. Despite being the country’s capital, Ljubljana is incredibly small. In fact, the 280’000 residents could fill London 31 times over. But this doesn’t mean the city has little to offer – far from it! Start your day by visiting Prešeren Square. Lying in the heart of Ljubljana, this square is named after the poet France Prešeren, whose statue takes pride of place. Grab a coffee from one of the square’s many cafes, sit back and enjoy the atmosphere. It stays pretty lively here throughout the day, so there’ll always be something to see! Once you’re done, take a stroll over to the Triple Bridge. This amazing feat of architecture was designed by Jože Plečnik, and it remains one of Ljubljana’s most famous landmarks. But make sure you check out the rest of the beautiful architecture too – the city is full of it.
A great way to view it all in one go is to head up to Ljubljana castle. Some parts of the castle date back to the 16th century, when it was rebuilt after an earthquake caused considerable damage to the city. But it was in disrepair for a long time, so a lot of the architecture only dates back to 1969. The castle grounds are free to roam, and they boast a beautiful view of the city. If you don’t mind paying €10, you can take a look inside the castle too, and catch an even more spectacular view from the clock tower.
Of course, I can’t talk about Ljubljana without giving Lake Bled a mention. Although it receives a lot more attention than Slovenia’s capital, it’s still criminally underrated. A bus to Bled from Ljubljana takes just under an hour and costs around €7. Once you get there, take a boat over to the island and visit the Assumption of Mary Church. Make sure to ring the church bell and make a wish, as it’s believed that anyone who does will see their wish come true. If you’d rather explore the lake yourself, rent out a boat and get paddling. Just make sure you don’t lose track of time. You don’t want to end up rushing back to shore to get your deposit back like I did.
This picturesque city that lies in the South of Bosnia and Herzegovina is one that cannot be missed. Going to Mostar was a bit of a last-minute decision thanks to some plans that fell through, but I’m so glad they did. I fell head over heels for this city, and I’m sure you will too. The moment I arrived, I felt like I was stepping into a fairy-tale. To start your day off, head down to the Old Bazar. There’s a wide range of items on this cobbled market street, each one more beautiful than the last. You’ll struggle to find the room in your suitcase for all the art, clothes, jewellery and trinkets that you set your eye on, amongst so many other things. Once your shopping trip is complete, make sure to take a break at one of the nearby cafes. Sit back, admire the beauty of the market and watch the world go by.
For your next stop, head to the world-renowned Stari Most bridge. This work of wonder was constructed in the 16th century, and its wide arch and unique design solidified the bridge’s status as a triumph of Ottoman architecture. But disaster struck in November 1993, when Stari Most was destroyed as a result of the war (more on this later). Fortunately, UNESCO began restoring the bridge to its’ original design in 1998. The construction of the bridge that you see today was completed in 2004, and it’s just as beautiful and popular as it once was. Before you step foot on the bridge, you’ll see a small but powerful stone inscribed with just two words: ‘don’t forget’. Take a minute to reflect on the atrocities that this country endured, and the strength and bravery of the citizens who endured them, most of whom are still alive today.
Another must-see in this idyllic city is the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque. Although not the largest mosque in the city, it’s by far the most beautiful. Like Stari Most, the mosque was also substantially damaged in the war. It was fully restored by 2001 and it’s now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Highlights include a beautiful carpet which was gifted by the Austrian Monarch Franjo Josip, and a minaret which has stunning views of the old town. Go here at sunset on a clear day for a view that you’ll never forget.
This port city was never supposed to be a big stop on our European trip, but fate had other plans. Fortunately, we ended up falling in love with everything this city has to offer. Bari is most well-known for the Basilica San Nicola, one of the most important churches in Europe. Constructed at the end of the 12th century, this Norman church acted as a sanctuary for the relics of Saint Nicholas – a.k.a. Santa Claus! The fascinating history of the church combined with its beauty makes it the number one tourist attraction in Bari. Although Bari Cathedral fails to steal the limelight from San Nicola, it’s definitely still worth a visit. The highlight of the cathedral by far is the crypt. Pay €3 to head down there and explore the relics hidden beneath.
There are plenty of things you can see and do in Bari, from churches to the castle and everything in between. But by far the best thing to do is just amble through the city. Head to the old town and admire the Italian architecture and window shop for your ideal Italian getaway home – mine’s the one with the biggest balcony and prettiest shutters. Make sure to get yourself some gelato too, as the stuff I had in Bari is the best I ever had. And speaking of food, you’ll find some of the best in Italy here. Focaccia and olive oil is a simple classic that Bari does better than anywhere else. In the evening, soak up the atmosphere of this traditional Italian town by heading down to Port Vecchia. People-watching beneath the sunset is a memory I hold close to my heart. A perfect end to a perfect day.
Yes, Bosnia and Herzegovina takes up two spots on this list. But the country as a whole is so underrated, it definitely deserves it. The country’s capital is certainly not to be missed. Start off by going back in time and exploring the charming and historic old town. The bazaar is the cultural centre of the city, and simply being there is an experience in itself. All your senses will be elevated as you wander through the narrow cobbled streets. The shops are ablaze with colour and the scents from the restaurants are so good that you can almost taste them – it’s impossible to not get drawn in. To bring yourself back into the present day, try strolling through the modern part of the city and keep an eye out for street art – Sarajevo’s famous for it. Make sure to look out for a Sarajevo Rose. These are craters from the war which had been filled in with red resin, to symbolise the lives lost in the city.
Next, head to the river to admire the Latin bridge. Not only is it a triumph of Ottoman architecture, but it has a rich history too. In 1914, after 3 attempts, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was murdered by Gavrilo Princip. This sparked a huge uproar, not just from Austria but from countries throughout Europe. To keep a long story short, this bridge is basically where the First World War started. Keep an eye out for the plaque which stands where the Archduke and his girlfriend were murdered. Standing in a spot with so much history behind it is pretty indescribable. Whilst you’re in this area, check out the City Hall too. The architecture is simply remarkable, inside and out. The stained-glass ceiling is a particular highlight.
Of course, no trip to the capital is complete without learning about the history of the country. Gallery 11/07/95 is by far the most educational but heart-breaking art gallery I’ve ever visited. The rooms are filled with photographs taken during the war, as well as videos of war survivors sharing their stories. It gets dark, it gets emotional, and you’ll find the information hard to process. This might not sound like most people’s idea of a good time. But it isn’t supposed to be. Instead, the museum acts as a stark reminder of the brutality that the citizens of this country had to endure, in incredibly recent history. It shows us the human cost of war. Visiting this museum won’t be the most fun part of your trip to Sarajevo, but it will be the part that sticks with you the most. And one thing’s for sure – after your visit, you’ll have nothing but admiration for the citizens of Bosnia.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Is putting my home city on the list a little bit biased? Maybe. But I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t believe that it was worth a visit. Whenever I see a list of the best places to visit in the UK, I can’t help but feel a twinge in my heart when Newcastle is inevitably forgotten. The city has so much to offer. If you’ve never been, you need to change that pronto. Start your day off at Grey’s Monument. Standing at 135-feet high is a statue of Charles Grey, who oversaw the abolition of the slave trade in the UK. The Monument is the heart of the city, and there’s always something going on there. From buskers to protests, it’s certainly never dull! If you want to admire the Monument from a distance, go to the top floor of Waterstones opposite Monument, grab a tea from the cafe, (Earl Grey preferably) and enjoy the view.
When you’re ready, make your way down Grey Street and take in the beautiful architecture that surrounds you. Keep an eye out for the Theatre Royal at the top of the street – this grade I listed building truly is something to behold. At the end of this street, you’ll reach the Quayside. Take a stroll alongside the river, until you reach the Millennium Bridge. Not only is this a masterpiece in itself, but standing in the middle will give you a view of Newcastle’s infamous Tyne Bridge. If you’re a fan of modern art, head to the other side of the bridge to check out the Baltic. It’s completely free, and there’s always something interesting to see. Even if you’re not an art fan, it’s still worth the trip just to get to the viewing platform on the top floor.
If you’ve had enough of the bustling city and you want a more chilled out experience, take a bus or metro over to Jesmond Dene. This sanctuary of calm is the perfect place for an afternoon stroll. Grab a drink from the cafe and walk along the river. The park is huge, so there are plenty of paths that you can choose from. I’ve lived here for 5 years and I’ve visited for all of my life, and I still don’t feel like I’ve fully explored it! If you’re a nature lover, make sure to visit Pet’s Corner to see all the animals- the goats are my personal favourite!
Where are you going first?
We’re all guilty of sticking to visiting the ‘touristy places’ most of the time. When you’re ready for your next holiday (which is pretty much the day after your last one, right?), make sure to look back at this list for some inspiration. Where do you want to visit first? Let me know in the comments below!
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