Five Breathtaking European Cities Tourists Often Overlook

  • Basel, Switzerland
  • Ghent, Belgium
  • Granada, Spain
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Bucharest, Romania

Plenty of people dream of strolling the broad avenues of Paris or having a pint in a famous London Pub, but there are so many glorious cities to visit in Europe that often get overlooked. Each of these urban centers has a long history—which scholars have gone to great lengths to document—culture, architecture, arts and entertainments, and, of course, cuisines as unique as the peoples themselves. Below are five of the most beautiful places to visit in Europe to start any prospective traveler on their search for the perfect journey abroad.

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1. Basel, Switzerland

Because the town and its corresponding countryside look out over both the French and German borders, visitors will find a number of fascinating cultural influences. Even so, throughout its long history, this town has maintained a cultural identity that marks it as uniquely Swiss. First founded as a Celtic settlement in 120 B.C., the city has endured for more than 2,000 years and played host to some significant cultural moments. Basel has the most museums of any city in Europe, and the fabric of the city itself offers historical insight to visitors at every turn. But beyond Old Town and the Basel cathedral, visitors will delight in the public art, the Basel Exhibition Center, the Mittlere Brucke, and other natural or cultural sights.

2. Ghent, Belgium

Ghent is, by all accounts, a curio jewel box of a city. Often overlooked, this town is filled with beautiful architecture, history and art museums, and sweet views of well-preserved streets. Visitors can take in a show at the Minard Theater, wander the man museums that curate life, education, design, civic history, and the arts, enjoy the beautiful architecture of monasteries and cathedrals, and even wander the artistic cemetery at Campo Santo. There’s more to do in this charming town than can reasonably be accommodated in a single day, so visitors should pace their activities and stay for the weekend.

3. Granada, Spain

While many know it as the home of the Alhambra Palace, this lesser-known gem of a city nestles in some of the most beautiful Spanish countryside. Although Rome annexed it in the 5th century BC, it is also known as the last stand of the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula, which were driven out in 1492. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the palace is the only surviving example of a palatine city from the period. Today, this hilly region dotted with small villages is a beautiful amalgamation of Spanish and Muslim cultures. In addition to the palace, visitors can stroll the streets, indulge in a traditional bathhouse visit, and sample the vivid cuisine of the region in the many tapas bars.

4. Budapest, Hungary

It usually surprises visitors to learn that Budapest is two cities, rather than one. This fact has its roots in both cultural history and the geography, with a highland and a lower region bisected by the Danube. While the area has been continuously occupied since the second-millennium B.C.E, the two cities weren’t recognized until about the 12th century C.E. Visitors can tour several UNESCO world heritage sites, such as Castle Hill, on which the first castle was built by a monarch in the 14th century C.E., or Fisherman’s Bastion. The splendid preservation of architecture offers every guest of the city an awesome tour through the history of building—from the medieval period to the Bauhaus movement, and even the brief tenure of communist-era utilitarianism.

5. Bucharest, Romania

During the Belle Epoch, this city was known as Little Paris because of its shade-dappled avenues and gorgeous architecture. Artists, poets, and academics flocked to this center of culture and beauty in the east. While the region was first consistently inhabited around 500 B.C.E., the presence of the Roman Empire left marks on both the language and the culture that are still evident today. Visitors to this off-the-beaten-path city can stand in Revolution Square, a place named for the final moments of Ceausescu’s brutal Communist regime, and see centuries of history, architecture, and art by merely turning in a circle. The Kretzulescu Church, the Royal Palace, and its Great Concert Hall, and the Romanian Athenaeum all border this historical square.

While this list barely scratches the surface of all the gorgeous spots to visit in Europe, it provides an excellent beginning. Visitors to any of these cities will be reluctant to leave but will do so with the most exciting stories to tell. Paris, London, Madrid—these are lovely places to vacation. But Bucharest or Ghent offers a unique perspective that can only be gained by visiting such off-the-beaten-path European cities.