Make Your Next Trip to Europe Minus The Crowds
While the Northern hemisphere has just come out of the throngs of sweltering summer and heads for what is shaping up to be a cold winter, we thought we’d round up a few destinations in Western Europe that won’t disappoint. Beyond the romantic clichés of croissants under the Eiffel Tower and scones under Big Ben, lie a sea of pristine coastal towns and grand architecture in the less frequented cities of Europe. Consider this your comprehensive guide of Western European destinations for the traveler who wants to avoid the tourist crowds.
Calabria, Italy – good for your soul, good for your Instagram feed
Even the briefest glance at Instagram will reveal Positano and the Amalfi coast as one of the most aspirational destinations in Italy. Every square centimetre of the coastline has been documented on Instagram, and for good reason: the dramatic cliffs with small towns precariously hovering over the aquamarine ocean are a sight to behold. Even the Amalfi Coast Google Maps pin is subtitled “picturesque coastline with steep cliffs”. But with such a degree of exposure, the Amalfi coast and Positano have become crowded with throngs of tourists doing “tourist things”.
Cue Calabria, the “toe” of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula. This region of Italy features the same crystalline blue water and dramatic cliff faces along the shore, but is somewhat less touristy than the rest of the country. It also boasts spectacular hiking trails in its vast National Parks, that are littered with beautiful lakes and waterfalls amongst the lush, dense and mostly untouched vegetation. The mountainous area is also perfectly suited to biking, horseback-riding, fishing or, in the colder winter months, cross-country and downhill skiing. If you want to really get into the local “vibe”, on the outskirts of town, you can find “rustic” accommodation in the form of “agiturismo”. Travellers can stay in farm houses and experience rural Italian family life. Often the rate will include breakfast and sometimes dinner with the family! So, there you have it: a destination in Italy that offers all the same attractions as the Amalfi Coast and is, dare we say, equally as instagrammable.
Berlin, Germany – great beer, need we say more?
When it comes to traveling in Europe, Germany isn’t exactly the most glamorous destination that comes to mind. But what it lacks in Mediterranean flair, Berlin makes up in its pure abundance of cultural experiences and glistening nightlife. The culturally explosive city has a year-round offering of exhibitions by various contemporary and classical artists, as well extraordinary museums. When it comes to entertainment, there is no shortage: chances are high that on any given night, you’ll find some world-famous band or DJ performing.
Thanks to the city’s extensive public transportation network, getting around is easy. Food and drink (especially beer!) come at a very reasonable cost and due to a fairly competitive hospitality market, accommodation is abundant and reasonably priced. Depending on your preferences, the nightlife could cost you a fair amount, but for day outings the city is littered with idyllic lakes that offer the perfect respite from the bustling city.
Porto, Portugal – an abundance of culture and excellent wines
You might know Porto from images of the Ribeira neighbourhood: cobbled streets lined with colourful 18th-century townhouses on the riverbank of the Douro River. And this is only the beginning of the city’s charm! From its ancient cathedrals to its contemporary museums, this vibrant city has so much to offer.
Step one or two streets back from the waterfront and explore the excellent local restaurants that pair good food and affordable prices. Spoil yourself with the city’s famous namesake Port wine. Porto also offers an abundance of cultural experiences. Visit the Serralves Musuem, which is set in an exquisite park and holds a major modern art collection, as well as hosts performances of music and dance. Marvel at the modern cultural landmark that is the Casa Da Musica and if you’re lucky you’ll catch the orchestra rehearsing. Beyond the arts, Porto boasts a plethora of fun public markets such as Mercado Do Bolhao which is set in a beautiful neoclassical building or Mercado de Portobelo a small market where antique dealers and designers sell their wares.
Milos, Greece – an otherworldly experience without the crowds
Milos is a volcanic greek island in the Aegean sea, about which one of the greats of modern Greek literature, Nikos Kazantzakis, once wrote: “Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the fortune to sail the Aegean sea”. This should come as no surprise once you’ve flipped through some photos of the island: the sea water is a shockingly clear, aquamarine colour that makes you want to dive right in.
With its 72(!) different beaches and spectacular rock formations, Milos offers more than enough entertainment that will cost you absolutely nothing. You can swim in the caves at Klefitiko, where an arena of white cliffs surrounds the crystal clear water, or you can explore the bone-white volcanic rock at Sarakiniko, that make for a majestic, otherworldly landscape.
The island offers several accommodation options, and, since you’ve passed the backpacking phase of your life, there are many stylish, affordable AirBnB’s available. In terms of food options street vendors and local markets offer superb alternatives, with Souvlaki (a delicious meat and vegetables skewer or wrap – the ultimate Greek street food!) being a hot favourite.
And there you have it: four perfect destinations in Europe that will be less crowded than their more popular counterparts. Even so, we’d advise to book your trip slightly off-season if possible, so as to make the most of accommodation availability, as well as avoiding the majority of tourists. What’s more, with these four Western European destinations, we’ve only scratched the surface, once you look further east, there are many more exciting European cities waiting to be explored.
Watch this space for more on that coming up soon.