Europe is hardly a stranger to tourism, with countries such as France, Spain and Italy frequently topping the world’s most popular destination lists. However, the continent has a wealth of other countries in addition to these big names, all with plenty to offer visitors and just a fraction of the crowds. From charming cities, to ancient forests and uncharted mountain ranges, here are nine underrated locations you should consider visiting on your next trip.
For active exploration: Slovenia
Nestled between Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia is an undiscovered dream for outdoorsy types. From skiing on snow-capped peaks in the Julian Alps and hiking through untouched forests, to exploring the magical subterranean caverns of the vast Postojna Cave, the opportunities for adventure are endless. Plus with glittering lakes, majestic waterfalls and flowing turquoise rivers to admire, the views are unforgettable. Do try the Bled Cake at Lake Bled too.
For pristine wilderness: Finland
With far fewer tourists than neighbouring Norway and Sweden, Finland offers the perfect chance to lose yourself in the towering forests and crystal-clear lakes of the country’s idyllic national parks. Add a dash of wildlife such as brown bears and elk roaming free; then chuck in the Midnight Sun and Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) lighting up the sky, and you won’t know where to look!
For a peaceful escape: Estonia
With a population of just 1.3 million, Estonia is one of the least densely populated countries in Europe and has also flown under the radar when it comes to mass tourism. Its capital Tallinn is an alluring mix of medieval streets, modern business districts and seaside promenades, while the rest of the country is roughly 50% forest, making it easy to escape the hustle and bustle and find some solitude.
For classic charm: Luxembourg
Tiny landlocked Luxembourg is often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbours France and Germany, but its fairy tale capital, medieval castles and picturesque villages make it well worth a visit. Despite its small size there’s plenty of nature to explore, with well-maintained bike tracks and hiking trails criss-crossing the forested hills and vineyard-lined valleys.
For dramatic landscapes: Iceland
Few places inspire as much awe in us for nature as Iceland. Known as the Land of Fire and Ice for good reason, it’s home to both some of the world’s most active volcanoes and some of Europe’s largest glaciers. It’s also a paradise for hikers, with epic trails that meander alongside rugged mountains, hot springs, lava fields and cascading waterfalls that will take your breath away.
For getting off the map: Liechtenstein
This diminutive sliver of a country sits nestled in the mountains between Switzerland and Austria. Being so small it has no airport of its own, but access via road or rail from surrounding countries is a breeze. Once you make it in, there are plenty of spots for skiing without the usual tourist crowds, as well as hiking and biking trails to explore.
For captivating castles: Romania
Most famous for its association with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Romania is a land of jagged mountain peaks, storybook castles with soaring spires, and medieval towns that seem unchanged by time. With fascinating folk museums and rustic villages showcasing the country’s traditional culture, plus walking trails for discovering its natural wetlands and wildlife, there’s plenty to hold your interest here.
For spectacular coastline: Montenegro
Located on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, Montenegro is a warm and welcoming country where sheer cliffs and forested mountains carpeted with flowers loom over pretty beaches and sparkling azure waters. The orange-roofed houses that hug the coastline complete this picture-perfect scene, and there’s always the option to head inland to really escape the crowds.
For real isolation: the Faroe Islands
To really get off the beaten track and into unexplored territory, the Faroe Islands, far out in the North Atlantic Ocean are perfect. Comprised of 18 different islands, it’s impossible not to fall in love with the archipelago’s plunging cliffs, adorable puffins, crashing waves and stark moorlands. Just be sure to dress for the weather, which can be both unpredictable and changeable.
Please note that there are currently travel restrictions in place due to COVID-19. Depending on which country you visit, hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions may be closed. Always check government advice before making any bookings.