Find hidden gems in Europe with this guide that gives you tips to find off the beaten path destinations

Finding Hidden Gems in Europe


Finding hidden gems in Europe is not always an easy task. Chances are, Europe conjures up images of cobblestone streets, castles, and historic cities for many of us. Because of this, many of the places that have that perfect trifecta can become packed full of tourists. No matter how beautiful a tourist site is, most people don’t want to spend their vacation jostling through crowds of people.

So how do you find those off-the-beaten-path destinations in Europe everyone seems to rave about? There are a few ways to find them for yourself! You can still visit top destinations and also get away from the crowds.

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Orava Castle in Slovakia
Slovakia is full of gems like Orava Castle

What is the Beaten Path in Europe?

The well-beaten path in Europe are those places that seem to be on everyone’s travel wish list. They pop up on countless itineraries both those independently created and on tour packages.

Many capital cities like London, Rome, and Paris are well on the beaten path. If a location has featured heavily in a popular show or movie, there’s a good chance that location is having its moment in the spotlight and is now firmly on the tourist route. A great example of this is the droves of tourists that Game of Thrones brought to places like Dubrovnik and Iceland.

While you aren’t going to find someplace undiscovered, you can find yourself away from the tourist hordes and get out of the rut of the established and expected travel itinerary.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with the beaten path. Places are usually popular for a reason. I like to do a mix of popular places and more off-the-beaten-path type places when I plan my itineraries.

The busy streets of Dubrovnik's old town with orange tiled roofs and shiny marble like streets. This is a must visit stop on any Croatia itinerary
Dubrovnik is both pretty and popular

How to Find Less Touristy Places in Europe

The best way to find hidden gems in Europe is to find them yourself. I’ve used a mix of the following seven tips to find offbeat travel destinations for my itineraries. While I have some destinations as suggestions, these can change fairly quickly based on what becomes popular on social media.

Get Out of the City

If you want to get off the beaten path, try adding some smaller towns or villages to your itinerary. Many cities are firmly on the beaten path so if you just stay in a city for your entire trip, it will be a bit more challenging to get away from tourists areas.

While smaller places are no guarantee they aren’t full of tourists, there is at least a better chance of it, especially if you choose carefully. Some towns are super popular because they are those cute fairytale-like towns (looking at you Hallstatt), that everyone wants to believe exists everywhere in Europe. And they kind of do. There are tons of cute towns worth exploring that hardly make it to people’s travel itineraries just because they are a little bit further away from main destinations. Some places do get popular because they are convenient for itineraries, especially tour bus itineraries.

Staying overnight in some of these smaller destinations almost guarantees you to get some time there without tourists. This is a good strategy for places that are popular day trips, almost no one stays overnight.

As an independent traveller, you have more options. When planning your trip, take a good look around that region and see what all of the options are. Or rent a car and drive between a few of these cute towns.

Possible Destinations:
Loire Valley of France
Exploring the Pueblos Blancos of Spain

Zell am See, Austria
Fairy Tale Villages of Alsace

One of the best Loire castles is Chateau d'Amboise that sits over the Loire River. Here it is at sunset.
Basing in Amboise, France, allowed exploration of many nearby towns and chateaux without the crowds

Second City Travel

Second-city travel is one of the more recent travel trends. If you haven’t heard of it, you probably will soon. It’s just as it says, it’s travel to lesser-known destinations in that country to reduce over-tourism in the most popular city. An example of second-city travel is visiting Lyon instead of visiting Paris. It’s a movement to spread out the tourism and get away from the crowds.

Surprisingly, some cities in Europe are just not on the tourist path. They may have plenty to offer but end up overshadowed by a bigger, more popular city in that country.

Countries are more than just their capital city. In fact, the capital might not be a good representative of the country as a whole. Look at some smaller cities in the country when planning your itinerary to try and get away from the crowds. These smaller cities are often underrated travel destinations that can offer you just as good (if not better!) of an experience while often being cheaper as well.

Possible Destinations:
Bilbao, Spain
Rouen, France
Cork, Ireland
Bologna, Italy

River Lee with buildings and a bridge in Cork Ireland
Cork has some of the same charms as Dublin but with much smaller crowds

Explore Different Neighbourhoods of the City

Even if you are into visiting cities, it’s possible to break away from the usual tourist hotspots. Tourist areas of cities tend to be fairly concentrated. If you only hang out here, chances are you will end up seeing a lot of other tourists, and very few locals.

You generally only need to walk a couple of blocks away from tourist sites in cities to be able to see areas where locals live, shop, and dine. Just plan for yourself to have a little wandering time in your itinerary to give yourself a chance to find a neighbourhood that isn’t full of tourists and is full of European charm.

Another way to find these cute extra-European neighbourhoods is to research in advance. Check out neighbourhood guides to the city by locals and see what they have to offer. If you have a hobby or sport you like doing, this is a good way to find a neighbourhood you will enjoy by finding that thing, whether it’s a climbing gym or a specific type of food you enjoy. Especially for massive cities like Paris, London, and Rome, you may want a plan of action if you want to find less touristy neighbourhoods.

Get Into Nature

If you want to get out of the cities and into Europe’s outdoors, there are so many beautiful options. A lot of the parks in Europe are underrated and not on the typical international tourist itinerary. Others are swarmed by tourists and bus tours in the high season.

Many people skip visiting Europe’s nature parks entirely when planning a vacation. For most of them, you typically need a car to explore these areas. While Europe’s nature might only conjure images of the Swiss Alps and Austrian meadows, Europe has even more beyond that. You are spoiled for choice if you look for it.

When planning your trip, try to see if there are any nature parks in the region or country you are visiting. If you enjoy hiking, a good resource for this is checking out some of the popular trails on AllTrails. Some of my favourite experiences in Europe have been visiting parks or off-the-beaten-path beaches.

Possible Destinations:
Curonian Spit National Park, Lithuania
Paklenica National Park, Croatia
Bohemian Switzerland National Park, Czechia
Sierra de Grazalema, Spain
Camargue Park, France

Mountains and plains of Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park
Exploring the Sierra de Grazalema of Southern Spain

Do Your Research

Once you’ve chosen the region or country you are travelling to in Europe, read people’s itineraries. Check blogs and guidebooks for itineraries. Chances are, you will end up reading very similar itineraries over and over again. If you keep seeing the same itinerary, you will know what is popular and on the beaten path for Europe.

After you’ve figured out the top places for the country, do some deep dives. Flip to parts of the guidebook of places you’ve never heard of before, search online for first-hand experiences of off-the-beaten path in that location, and ask questions on travel forums. It’s harder to find off the beaten path but so rewarding to arrive there. It’s also way more exciting for a trip to be tailored to personal interests rather than a standard itinerary designed to keep everyone happy.

One way I’ve been finding destinations lately is to look on Google Maps and just browse around where I’m going to be to see if there are any places of interest. It’s how I learned about the Monastery of Hosios Loukas when I was going to be visiting Delphi from Athens. I also use this method at home to find new parks or hiking trails. I also found Kedrodasos Beach right next to the very popular destination of Elafonisi Beach this way.

Hosios Loukas Monastery with mountains in the back during Spring
Hosios Loukas Monastery

Look to Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe still has plenty of places that are not overflowing with tourists. Because many of these places do not have direct flights from North America, it means that there are fewer tourists. People also tend to just dismiss this massive region of Europe. I think partly from unfamiliarity with what Eastern Europe has to offer. So much of Eastern Europe is underrated that entire countries here are off the beaten path.

While Western Europe is a bit of an attention hog, look to the east and you will see plenty of amazing architecture, landscapes, and interesting culture. In many of the eastern parts of Europe, you can even do minimal research and just stick with a classic guidebook itinerary and still not have to deal with that many other tourists when you visit.

Possible Destinations:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ohrid, North Macedonia
Baltic Countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia)

The soft white sand of Palanga beach at sunset on the Baltic Sea
The sandy beaches of Palanga, Lithuania

Visit in the Shoulder Season

This is probably the easiest one of all. You don’t even have to change any of your plans or try to find off the beaten path places. This is my favourite way to visit Europe.

If you visit Europe in the shoulder season, generally March-May or June and September-November, you will see way fewer tourists. Not only will you see fewer tourists, but accommodation can also be cheaper and the weather is often nicer because you miss out on heatwaves.

Europe is also great in the winter off-season. There are just more excuses to eat tons of European food and desserts and to linger in museums.

If your travel style is to visit cities and you want to see all the top sights, this is the best strategy for avoiding crowds both on the street and in the museums.

Arc d'Triomphe in Paris is one of the top things to do in Paris and worth a quick look around during your two days in Paris
Paris is much more enjoyable in the off season

Exploring Off the Beaten Path in Europe

Finding destinations that aren’t featured on every recommended itinerary is a great way to tailor your vacation to your personality. It makes for a more comfortable travel experience as well and it’s nice to get away from the well-trodden path. I’ve used variations of all of these tips to get the most out of planning my travel itineraries to Europe.

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