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Best hidden gems in Europe: unique places off the beaten path

Explore Europe's best-kept secrets in your next trip. Discover hidden gems, from natural beauty to cultural heritage, escaping the crowds and delving into the unknown.

7min

hidden gems in Europe

Exploring renowned European destinations like Paris, Barcelona and Venice is undeniably alluring. However, mass tourism often leads to overcrowded destinations and inflated prices that can detract from an authentic travel experience, specially during peak tourist season.

In this post, we'll explore why venturing off-the-beaten-path where natural beauty meets cultural heritage not only enhances your travel experiences but also contributes positively towards preserving these historic towns.

Let's discover the hidden gems of Europe...

Why should you look for hidden gems in Europe?

Unveiling the hidden gems in Europe, away from the bustling tourist hotspots, not only gives you unique experiences but also helps preserve these precious places for future generations to enjoy.

Overtourism has been linked with environmental degradation due to heavy foot traffic causing erosion and pollution. By visiting underrated European destinations travelers help distribute tourist numbers more evenly across regions, reducing strain on popular hotspots.

This conscious decision promotes sustainable tourism by minimizing negative impacts on nature while maximizing positive contributions towards conservation efforts at lesser known places. 

Beyond simply sightseeing, tourism is an opportunity to engage with different cultures. Yet when famous sites turn into international zones during peak seasons, true local culture gets overshadowed. Visiting lesser-known areas, however, encourages deeper interaction with locals, enabling travelers to learn traditions first-hand, enhancing overall understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures.

Another undeniable benefit of exploring Europe's hidden gems is that provides economic benefits for smaller communities.

More on this topic: 12 Underrated countries to visit for unique adventures.


Girl with a backpack walking in a walkway under a rock in Setenil de la Bodega, Spain

How to find amazing hidden gems in Europe

Finding those secret destinations and underrated European cities isn't as challenging as it may seem. It just requires a shift from traditional tourist mentality, some insider tips, and the right resources.

Adopt slow travel

The concept of slow travel is about immersing yourself fully into the culture, history, and lifestyle of a place rather than rushing through landmarks on your itinerary.

You might spend days wandering around historic streets or exploring UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are overlooked by most tourists. That means that instead of planning a "hop-on hop-off" kind of trip spending only one or two nights in major destinations, you would allow more time to soak in local culture and atmosphere. Flexibility is key in these cases.

Get in touch with the locals

Talk to the locals! They are the ones who live in that particular city or town and know its nooks and crannies. 

Don't hesitate to ask about their favourite eating spot or hidden places that are not listed on travel sites and guidebooks. With translation apps is easier than ever to communicate when you don't speak the local language and they don't speak yours. By doing this, even in popular European cities you can go off the tourist radar.

Check out these travel apps that will save you time and money in Europe.

Research history and culture in-depth

Digging deeper into areas' historical significance could reveal fascinating stories. For instance, when visiting Barcelona, the coolest activities might include attending traditional Catalan festivals or learning more about Gaudi's architectural genius beyond Sagrada Familia.

Do a thorough research before travelling to your chosen destination. Asking for suggestions about lesser known places on travel forums can lead to great discoveries.

Consider volunteering

A great way to experience the hidden gems of Europe is by volunteering. Not only does it allow you to immerse yourself in the local culture and community, but it also opens up opportunities for unique experiences that typical tourists may miss out on.

Worldpackers offers a safe platform where travelers can find volunteer opportunities across Europe, helping in different local projects for a couple of hours a day in exchange of accommodation and often food.

Many of these opportunities are located at lesser known yet very beautiful destinations, or even in rural off-the-grid communities. By volunteering you'll not only save money while traveling, but also have the chance to meet a lot of people (from local hosts to international volunteers), learn new skills and have a positive impact.

From teaching English in Spain to eco-volunteering at a winery in Sicily, there are a ton of possiblities to choose from according to your interests.

To get started, subscribe to the Worldpackers Community for free and start saving your favorite volunteer positions until you are ready to get verified.

Know more about how Worldpackers works: What is a work exchange and how does it work?


Group of velounteers having a meal

10 of the best hidden gems in Europe

Europe is a treasure trove of secret places and underrated destinations, just waiting to be discovered. Far from the bustling tourist hotspots are quaint towns and natural wonders offering unique experiences for those willing to venture off the beaten path.

1. Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain

Nestled within Andalusia's heartland lies Setenil de las Bodegas - an enchanting town known for its houses built into rock overhangs above Río Trejo.

The narrow streets lined with white-washed homes offer breathtaking views of sprawling olive groves and vineyards while an Arab fortress dating back to the Middle Ages stands as a testament to this historic town's rich past.

Check out volunteering opportunities in Andalusia region, including many in Cadiz and Sevilla, the closest cities to explore Setenil de las Bodegas.


View from a lookout of Setenil de las Bodegas, one of Europe's the hidden gems

2. Matera, Italy

The ancient city of Matera, famous as 'the underground city', boasts houses carved into rocks which were inhabited until the 1950s! 

Located in Southern Italy, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has been transformed from being considered 'Italy's shame' to one of Italy's most extraordinary destinations today.

Wander around Matera's historic streets exploring cave dwellings or experience local life by staying in converted cave hotels – an experience like no other!

Even better, why not to volunteer in Matera?


Old town of Matera at sunset

3. Groningen, Netherlands

If you're seeking a Dutch city break outside Amsterdam or Rotterdam, then Groningen should be your next stop.

Known as 'The City Of Talent', this university town in the northernmost part of the Netherlands, combines centuries-old buildings like the Martinitoren clock tower and the Martinikerk gothic church with futuristic architecture in its Groningen University and Groninger Museum, which showcases modern and contemporary art.

Experience the city like a local by volunteering in Groningen.


Colorful houses reflecting on a lake in Groningen

4. Kazimierz Dolny, Poland

Poland is not among the most touristy destinations in Europe, but its two main cities - Warsaw and Krakow - get quite a lot of them in high season.

On Vistula River banks hides Kazimierz Dolny - a small town renowned for its well-preserved Renaissance architecture and cobbled streets. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it offers history enthusiasts an immersive experience beyond mainstream Polish cities.

Immerse in Polish culture by taking part in a work-exchange program in Poland.


Cobblestone street in old town of Kazimierz Dolny, one of Europe's hidden gems

5. Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mostar, another one among Europe's hidden gems known for its iconic Stari Most (Old Bridge), is a city where east meets west. Its narrow streets buzz with shops selling traditional crafts while cafes serve Bosnian coffee against stunning views of emerald rivers below.

Don't miss out on visiting Kravice Waterfalls nearby - it's truly a paradise for nature lovers!

By volunteering in Bosnia you can have a real cultural immersion in this fascinating country.


Wide view of historical part of Mostar with stone bridge over a river

6. Prizren, Kosovo

Contrary to what many believe, Kosovo is a country that is rapidly recovering from the war and is now very safe to visit, welcoming tourist with warm hospitality.

Among many beautiful destinations, Prizren is the jewel of the crown - A UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled at the foot of the Sharr Mountains that offers a blend of Ottoman architecture and Kosovan culture.

Stroll through its cobbled streets and visit the Arab fortress dating back to the Middle Ages for panoramic views over this historic town.

Explore this intriguing and often misunderstood region of Europe with the guide to backpacking the Balkans.


Stone bridge, mosque and traditional houses in Prizren, Kosovo

7. Sighisoara, Romania

In Transylvania rests Sighisoara - an inhabited medieval citadel that has stood strong since middle ages times.

With vibrant buildings lining up along historic streets; it gives visitors a chance to step back in time without dealing with crowded popular tourist sites.

Get way off the tourist trail by volunteering in Romania.


Aerial view of Sighisoara, one of the best hidden gems in Europe

8. Triglav National Park, Slovenia

Nature lovers shouldn't miss out on Triglav National Park when visiting Slovenia.

Amidst the Julian Alps' towering peaks, Lake Bohinj is considered one of the most beautiful lakes worldwide due to its pristine waters reflecting the surrounding mountainous landscapes. Opportunities for hiking abound, from leisure walks to multi-day treks. The Triglav Summit Hike (Krma Valley Trail) and the Seven Lakes Valley Hike are two of the most popular choices.

Fully immerse in the countrie's natural beauties and culture by taking part of a work-exchange program in Slovenia.


View of lake sorrounded by forest in Triglav National PArk

9. The Albanian Alps

One of Europe's hidden gems, the Albanian Alps offer breathtaking landscapes with little to no crowds. Nestled between Montenegro and Kosovo, this underrated destination boasts rugged mountains that touch azure skies, sparkling rivers carving through deep valleys, and picturesque villages.

You'll find yourself walking narrow streets lined with Ottoman-era houses or hiking trails leading to stunning vistas. 

The small city of Shkoder is the best starting point to explore the Alps. From here you can reach Valbone for the fascinating Valbone to Theth hike.

At Worldpackers you can find volunteering positions in Shkoder and other Albanian destinations.


Couple reached a lookout point after a hike in the Albanian Alps

10. Faroe Islands

If you really want to get off-the-beaten-path, few places are as far from tourist's radars than the remote Faroe Islands.

Located midway between Norway and Iceland, in this archipelago untouched nature coexists harmoniously with vibrant Nordic culture.

The islands are dotted with charming hamlets connected by labyrinthine roads etched into green hillsides while dramatic cliffs plunge into the roaring North Atlantic Ocean below. In the capital Tórshavn, explore the historic town center "Tinganes"; its cobbled streets lead past colorful turf-roofed buildings housing cozy eateries serving local delicacies like fermented mutton or puffin meat!

While most tourist go to Iceland, Sweden or Norway to see the Northern Lights, the Faroe Islands are a much quieter alternative to have this unforgettable experience.

Intriguing folklore tales echo around these parts too. From ancient sagas involving Vikings' exploits at sea right down to today when locals still believe in the existence of "huldufólk" (hidden people) residing amidst their picturesque landscape.

Travel to this part of the world isn't cheap, something that deter many travelers, making it even more isolated. 


Town on both sides of a fjord in Faroe Islands, one of Europe's hidden gems

These hidden gems in Europe offer an escape from the crowds, a chance for authentic cultural exchange, and an opportunity to support local economies, holding unique experiences that mainstream tourist spots can't match.

We've seen 10 of our favorites destinations, but of course there are many more to discover!

If you like these tips, follow Worldpackers social media to keep up with the news: we are on Instagram and Tiktok.



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