20 Unique Destinations in Europe
Lake Komani, Albania
Photo: Enea Mustafaraj
Situated in northern Albania lies Lake Komani a man-made hidden gem destination which is often overlooked as a destination. It is still pretty much untouched by tourists and only recently have car ferries began to operate to Lake Komani making this hidden paradise accessible enough. One of the most common ways to explore Lake Komani is by taking a ferry tour from one of the companies such as Komani Lake Tours. Lake Komini is a great destination to get away from it all but there are plenty of things to other than taking the ferry tour if you plan on spending a few days here.
Along the Komani Lake is Shala River which is known as Thailand of Albania – we couldn’t agree more, it very much resembles Thailand’s Maya Bay minus the crowd. Crystal clear turquoise water surrounded by dramatic rocks covered with green plants rising up to the sky. Another jaw-dropping point along Lake Komani is Lumi-i-Shales – we will just let the pictures do the talking. Luxury hotels are yet to make it to this destination but along the Komani Lake and its river branches, you will find guesthouses situated right along the river offering an up-close and raw experience. Some of the standout guesthouses include Blini-Park Guesthouse and Eagles Land.
Cinque Terre, Italy
Located in the north-western region of Italy, lies one of the hidden gem destinations in Europe – Cinque Terre. A string of UNESCO listed seaside Italian villages, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. All the five villages are just moments apart – linked by train as the use of vehicles is kept to a minimum or if you are feeling active you can hike across the villages.
Perched on the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre offers a blend of colourful traditional houses, steep terraces of vineyards, viewpoints, sunsets, cliff diving and much more. The villages have changed very little in 200 years and are perfect for wandering or relaxing and watching the fishing boats or enjoying a meal in a waterside restaurant.
Each of the villages has its own charm and worth visiting. A hotspot worth visiting for the iconic view for lunch, dinner or just drinks is Nessum Dorma in Manarola where you can enjoy an Italian speciality that originates from this area – pesto.
The local wines are excellent, but the restaurant also has a comprehensive wine list of wines from all over the country. If you enjoy exploring an area on foot, the Sentiero Azzurro cliffside hiking trail is spectacular.
Although not officially part of the 5 Cinque Terre villages, Porto Venere which is 20 bus ride or car ride away from La Spezia is also a ‘must visit’ while in the region. A protected area with trails and dive sites, beaches, boat trips and the historic church of St Peter perched on a rocky point.
Luxsphere recommends: Manarola is the one to visit at sunset to watch the colours of the sinking sun and the numerous twinkling lights of the town as they appear.
Triglav National Park, Slovenia
Nestling in central Europe, Slovenia is a country well known for its breathtaking landscape. Being the first country in the world to have been declared a green tourist destination, it is rich in water resources and is home to some of the most picturesque lakes and rivers you will ever see.
Triglav is the country’s only National Park, in fact, it is one of the largest National Parks in Europe. You can plan a whole holiday around this natural park with plenty to do from exploring the nearby villages, hiking to explore waterfalls, relax by the calm lakes, canyons and much more. Some of the highlights of Triglav National Park include:
Lake Bled: Lake Bled is one of the country’s most popular attractions. This stunning lake has waters of emerald green, a pretty town on its banks that shares its name and a beautiful little church that perches on a tiny islet in the middle of the water.
Vintgar Gorge: Part of the Triglav National Park and located just 2 miles from Lake Bled is the most picturesque boardwalk through the canyon with clear water rushing underneath.
Lake Bohinj: This lake is very much loved by the locals, bigger than lake bled and less touristy. Towards the west end of the lake, you will find one of Slovenia’s most visited waterfall, Savica waterfall.
Vogel Cable Car: Enjoy the panoramic view from the top of Mount Vogel. You can take the cable car or even hike to the top.
Situated on the north-western coast of Spain, Asturias is a wonderful blend of rugged coastline, stunning beaches, pretty fishing villages and amazing architecture. There is also great local food to enjoy including local cheeses, the popular Asturias cider and fabada asturiana (smoked meat and white bean casserole). Spain is always a destination for many, but it has many hidden destinations seldom gets explored.
Asturias is home to stretches of sandy beaches, cliffs and cove but one that truly unique is Playa de Gulpiyuri. Known as the secret beach in Asturias is enclosed by land and the sea reaches through underground tunnels. This inland beach can only be reached through underground tunnels and definitely worth exploring.
Cudillero is arguably one of the prettiest seaside towns in Asturias. Another town worth exploring is the harbour town of Gijón is lined with seafood restaurants, cider bards, rugged clifftops and much more. When you are in Asturias, one place you have to visit is the convent of Covadonga. This impressive convent stands on top of lake Covadonga.
Salzkammergut region, Austria
Photo: A Beijeman
Situated just east of Salzburg, Salzkammergut often coined as lake region in Austria has to one the hidden gem destinations in Europe. This beaut is home to over beautiful 50 lakes surrounded by the dramatic alpine mountains. In the summer months, the area is perfect for hiking, climbing and relaxing on one of the lakeside beaches, whilst in the winter it becomes a skiers’ paradise.
The village of Hallstatt is definitely worth a visit, the beautiful lake Hallstätter See (Lake Hallstatt) is not only Austria’s most famous lake but is also home to the World Heritage site ‘Welterbeblick Skywalk’. Hanging 350 meters over the Hallstätter See or Lake Hallstatt – we cannot recommend visiting this viewpoint enough! The unique panoramic views on offer overlook the magical lake, dramatic alpine mountains and surrounding village.
Zell Am See is another great place to visit to in Salzkammergut region. It is one of those postcard-perfect villages perched by the lake linked with brightly painted chalets, and the snow capped peaks in the background. This cute little lake village is also home to another jaw-dropping viewpoint, Gipfelwelt 3000 – which literally stands at the top of the Kitzsteinhorn glacier.
If you are in Athens, the beautiful island of Hydra beckons! This off the beaten path destination in Greece is just a two-hour ferry crossing from Piraeus. The most unique aspect of this destination in Europe is that there are no vehicles on the island, the main form of transport is donkeys, horses, mules and some water taxis. As if that wasn’t unique enough, Hydra is also home to one of the world’s most beautiful pharmacy – Rafalia.
The island gained overnight success in 1956 when it was featured in the Michael Cacoyiannis film ‘A Girl in Black‘ and later on in ‘Boy on a Dolphin’ – this is really when tourism started booming in Hydra, yet now, it is often overlooked. Hydra is possibly one of the most beautiful port towns in Greece, the port is lined with boats, the harbour has plenty of cafes and restaurants on offer overlooking the port. If you are feeling a little active there hiking routes that have been clearly marked. Our favourite route is the walk from Hydra town to the picturesque fishing village of Kamini – on your way back make sure to stop by the SunSet restaurant for some great views.
Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal
Whilst the Algarve is no longer the hidden gem of Portugal, but in the Azores is truly a unique destination to visit in Europe. If you love adventure, nature and exploring – you will love this destination even more. Made up of 9 islands, the Azores are known as the ‘Hawaii of Europe’. Sao Miguel is the largest of the islands and is perfect for nature lovers and born romantics, with dramatic viewpoints, hot springs, dolphin watching and diving to admire the rich marine life – there is something for everyone.
There are numerous quaint little villages and three pretty volcanic crater lakes – Sete Cidades, Furnas and Lagoa do Fogo. Sete Cidades the most dramatic and worth a visit as it is, in fact, twin lakes – one blue in colour and the other green.
Luxsphere recommends: Head to the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno viewpoint for a most impressive view of Sete Cidades and away from the tourist.
The island has a lot more to offer from waterfalls surrounded by lush landscape, whale watching, beautiful beaches to tea plantations. Ponta Delgada is the island capital but other parts of the island have so much to offer Furnas is popular for its hot springs and live volcanic activity from the ground (geysers). Ribeira grande is great for surfing, beaches and the home to Europe’s only tea plantation. Vila Franca do Campo is a hot spot for whale and dolphins watching.
Just one hour from the Swiss capital of Bern is the Lauterbrunnen Valley in heart of the Alps. Often known as the valley of 72 waterfalls is home to the highest freefall waterfall in Europe – the Staubbach waterfall. Infact, the waterfall can be spotted from anywhere in the town. The steam of Staubbach waterfall is very striking especially after it has rained in the region. If you fancy getting up close there is a path that takes to a tunnel which runs underneath the waterfall.
It is a wonderful excuse to pull on your climbing boots to enjoy the marvellous Swiss countryside. Just down the road from Staubbach waterfall lies the Trummelbach Falls which are a series of ten glacier-fed waterfalls inside the mountain that can be accessed by a tunnel-funicular. As well as getting up close to these beautiful waterfalls, you can spot the high peaks of the Eiger, MÖnch and Jungfrau from Lauterbrunnen Valley.
The town of Murren in Lauterbrunnen offers a cable car service that will take you up to the top of Mount Schilthorn which is at 2,970m. Not only are spectacular views on offer, but there is also a revolving restaurant called 360°-Restaurant Piz Gloria.
Alberobello in the Puglia region in southern Italy is one of a kind destination in Europe. Alberobello is a UNESCO site known for its very distinctively shaped white-washed cottages called Trulli. The cobbled streets are lined with Trulli’s, there are more than 1,000 Trulli’s – many of them still lived in. These unique houses are made from dry stone walls using local limestone in a square shape with a distinctive coned roof that is topped by a small spire.
A wander around the hillside area known as Rione Monti reveals the local way of life as does the Rione Aia Piccola district. There is the two-storey Trulli Sourano which is now a museum displaying the traditional styles of furniture and tools. One of the best ways to explore Alberobello is on foot simply wander these unique streets and get lost. There is also an interesting walking tour of Alberobello. Click here to find out more.
Photo: Duane Huff
Regarded as one of the prettiest villages in France, Riquewihr is known for its hillside vineyards. It is steeped in history with cobbled streets and half-timbered colourful houses that were built in the 15th – 18th centuries. Explore the medieval Old Town of Riquewihr, where the town looks exactly as it did in the 16th century. Many of the traditional houses are now wine shops, one that is worth trying is Hugel et Fils which was established in 1639 and still running today this day.
Riquewihr is the perfect place to simply wander. There is the 16th century Dolder Tower that was a defensive gate into the village and there is the Thieves Tower which is a former prison with a display of instruments of torture – not for the faint-hearted!
Lofoten Islands, Norway
Norway’s’ untouched archipelago of islands – Lofoten Islands offer one of a kind experience. Situated above the Arctic Circle these islands would be a nature lover’s dream destination. Kayak between the islands, go fishing or hiking, discover off the beaten path fishing villages and so much more.
Offering a wonderful blend of craggy mountains, fjords, and a chance to even catch the northern lights (between September to mid-April) and midnight sun (between May and mid-July). It is also the world’s northernmost spot for surfing and offers some of the world’s most beautiful white-sand beaches. There are plenty of hiking trails around the Loften Islands with some of the most breathtaking views.
Reinebringen is the most popular hike, Ryten offers views of the Kvalvika beach, some of the other hikes include Svolvaer Fløya and Festvagtind offering views of the fishing villages and the archipelago of islands.
Nestled in the secluded corner of the stunning Bay of Kotor (locally known as Boka) is the medieval town of Kotor. This UNESCO listed city is a breathtaking beauty, with a backdrop of Dinaric alps and glistening sea. Kotor has a lot to offer itself but it is also a great base to explore other destinations in Montenegro such as Perast which is a lovely old town that stands on the bay just north of Kotor.
Explore the old town of Kotor by simply getting lost in the narrow cobbled streets, stumble upon cafes and Venetian palaces along the way. It is fun to climb the San Giovanni Fortress – to see the city from a completely different perspective and also to take a boat trip out to the church of Our Lady of the Rocks that sits on a small rocky island. Kotor has a rich calendar of events with colourful festivals all year through. The perfect time to absorb the sheer magic of Kotor is as the sun sets and the lights on its defensive walls encircle it like a golden halo.
Tucked away in the untouched northwestern coast of Ireland lies one of the hidden gem destinations in Europe – Donegal. Land of unspoilt grandeur with rugged landscapes, castles, unspoilt beaches and local charm. Donegal is the perfect destination to get away from it all, with very limited tourists, in fact, this it is also well-loved by celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker.
The town of Donegal makes for a great starting point, located by the mouth of Donegal Bay with the Blue Stack Mountains making a dramatic backdrop. In the heart of Donegal town is the Donegal Castle which offers a unique slice of history. Donegal is part of the most famous coastal roads in the world – Wild Atlantic Way. Drive through Glengesh Pass which is on the Wild Atlantic Way, with endless sloping mountainous terrain, dotted along the way are charming old cottages, farms and don’t be surprised if a sheep or two cross your path along the way.
If you are feeling adventurous attempt climbing Mount Errigal, or visit Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) cliffs which will make you feel like you are at the edge of the earth. There are plenty of coastal routes which are ideal for walks or bike ride. Ireland’s most remote inhabited island, Tory island is also within easy reach if you are up for meeting with some Irish Royalty.
Donegal is also home to someone of the most unique Airbnb’s like the Hobbit Pod and The Hide. Given the long coastline unsurprisingly, Donegal hosts some of the most beautiful beaches, in fact, Portsalon Beach was once also voted as the second most beautiful beach in the world.
Mostar – Bosnia & Herzegovina
Mostar is one of Europe’s best kept secret destinations, whether you are planning to spend a few days here or just passing by on a road trip through Bosnia and Herzegovina is a destination worth exploring.
The jewel of Mostar is the iconic Stari Most, a 16th century, Ottoman-style bridge that connects two sides of the city. Along with the rich history what makes this place more interesting is people jumping off the bridge into the cold water. The locals have been jumping off this bridge for the last 450 years as a means of passing time and now it has been attracting tourists who join in on this tradition, while crowds cheer on. Around this iconic bridge, you will find some cafes offering the best views of the bridge.
There is so much to do in Mostar, charming little alleyways filled with shops and markets, great hiking routes along forested trails and numerous holy sites to visit. Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque is well worth visiting for the small fee charged as there are fantastic panoramic views to enjoy from the top of its minaret. If you fancy just enjoying a relaxing day, the 25-metre high Kravivc waterfall lies just 40 kilometres away and has a lovely large lake for swimming.
Stavanger, which is often known as the gateway to the Norwegian Fjords is a perfect destination for a weekend getaway in Europe. Stavanger has a lot to offer from museums, street art, cultural events, incredible hikes and stunning scenery. Summer is when this destination truly comes alive, the harbour is buzzing with cafes and restaurants.
Many of the major attractions in the city are in close proximity making it easy to explore on foot. Just a short walk from the harbour is the old Stavanger, known as Gamle Stavanger. This historic area is lined with well preserved traditional white wooden houses, in a narrow cobbled street which is well worth a visit.
Stavanger is also an adventure lovers dream, with boat trips to the nearby fjords, with great hiking opportunities. One of the most popular hikes is Prekestolen also known as the Pulpit Rock, the views are simply jaw dropping with the blue waters of Lysefjord far below you.
Le Marche, Italy
Photo: Eric Huybrechts
Le Marche is one of Italy’s true hidden gems with hardly any or no tourist. Stretching for 100 miles along Italy’s eastern Adriatic coast of rolling countryside with fields of sunflowers, rich farming land and pretty hilltop towns. Le Marche is a region of olive groves and vineyards and has numerous family-owned businesses where it is fun to try wine and olive tasting. Being surrounded by the coast Le Marche also offers some stunning beaches.
Fano is a popular seaside resort with sandy beaches in the north and pebbles in the south and Senigallia has 13 kilometres of gorgeous sand. Make sure there is time to enjoy a lazy meal either of excellent seafood by the coast – Brodetto is the local fish stew – or of traditional regional dish. Vincisgrassi is the most popular pasta dish with meat and a béchamel sauce enjoyed with a glass of local wine!
The beautiful island of Gozo is the second largest of the 21 island’s in the Maltese archipelago. Sister island of Malta located just 20 minutes away by ferry. This tiny island is a tranquil haven and has a lot to explore, with its rugged coastline, secluded beaches, valleys and even a winery. If you are staying in Malta we highly recommend spending a day exploring Gozo – there’s plenty to explore!
The most common way to reach Gozo is via Malta, we also have a Malta guide for you. Click here for the Malta guide. There are beautiful blue lagoons and golden beaches to tempt and plenty of history including the Citadel in Rabat (also known as Victoria) which is a fortified site that was founded in 1500BC.
Not far away is Dwejra and the area known as Azure Window which was the site of a dramatic sea arch that sadly toppled into the sea in March 2017. There is also the Dwejra Tower to see in the vicinity which was used as a watch tower for centuries. Whilst in Gozo, you will have the chance to try many of the excellent local dishes and if you enjoy fresh fish, what better than to find a little restaurant overlooking one of the harbours?
Photo: Visit Kemi
For a unique cold holiday destination, Kemi in Finland on the Bay of Lapland is a place full of surprises. One of the most unique and popular things to do in Kemi is the Sampo icebreaker. The Sampo Icebreaker is Finnish ship which was used as an icebreaker by the government but now you can experience this for yourself. Witness the ice fields stretch across the water, you can also swim in the icy Arctic sea, float amongst the ice wearing a special suit. We highly recommend Polar Explorer Ice breaker.
Kemi is also home to a snow hotel, the rooms are beautifully decorated with ice carvings and you are provided with really warm sleeping bags. It is also offers a ice restaurant which has tables and chairs carved from ice. There’s even a Snowcastle which as you expect is only made from snow and ice.
One of our favourite places to stay in Kemi is the Seaside Glass Villas. especially in the winter months when it is snowing, there are seaside glass villas that are truly unique with two walls of glass and a glass ceiling. The villas are warm and cosy with amazing views over the frozen sea and of course watching the spectacular light show of the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of your bed is amazing.
Varenna, Lake Como
Overlooking the central stretch of beautiful Lake Como is the picturesque and traditional village of Varenna. Quieter and less touristy than famous Bellagio, Varenna is bursting with Italian charmm this gem in Lake Como is a must visit. It has everything you you expect from an Italian lake town, relax by the lake, visit the gardens of two villas, Villa Monastero and Villa Cipressi, get lost in the narrow alleys, indulge in a aperitivo by the waterfront watching the sunset.
This beautiful area in western Switzerland stands at an altitude of 1,000 metres and offers great holiday and sporting experiences all year through. Château-d-Oex is situated in spectacular mountain scenery, dotted with decorated wooden chalets. The area’s microclimate has made it a really popular centre for hot air ballooning and you can enjoy a flight all year round. In January every year, the resort hosts a huge international competition called Château-d’Oex International Balloon Festival. In the winter months, Château-d’Oex is transformed into a winter wonderland with four ski lifts and 20 kilometres of pistes.
In the warmer months, with the fast-flowing river Saane close by there are opportunities to enjoy canoeing, kayaking and white water rafting. This is the largest nature conservation area in western Switzerland so there is plenty of scope for nature lovers to enjoy the numerous mountain trails on bike or by foot.
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