6 overlooked and underrated cities in Europe

Not every destination can be a Paris, a London, or a Rome, but there are plenty of cities in Europe that are unfairly overshadowed by their bolder, brasher, bigger brothers.

Here is a small selection of cities that are rarely given their due – cities that will hopefully soon find their way onto the map.

For more underrated cities, click here.

Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius cathedral

Vilnius cathedral

While tourism in Riga and Tallinn has boomed in recent years thanks to the arrival of budget airlines, Vilnius seems to remain in the dark – and it’s hard to understand why. Vilnius has a beautiful old town, a fascinating and complex history and its own independent republic. The Museum of Genocide Victims is one of my favourite museums – and I like museums. Other highlights in Vilnius include: the Republic of Uzupis, the artisan quarter of the city; the views from the top of Gediminas Hill, and Trakai island castle – less than an hour from the city.

How: Ryanair fly from Leeds/Bradford, Liverpool, Luton, Stansted. Wizzair fly from Doncaster/Sheffield and Luton.
When: I was in Vilnius early May, 2011.

Read more about what Lithuania has to offer here.

Chester, United Kingdom

IMG_4777

People always seem surprised when I tell them how much I like Chester. Having lived in Manchester for four years, I had always overlooked the place. It wasn’t until I bought a Great Britain travel guide I realised I might be missing out: Chester boasts the most complete city walls in the country, the largest discovered Roman amphitheatre in the UK, and a whole host of beautiful medieval buildings. The city has visible claims to Roman, Tudor and Victorian heritage, making it an easy contender to cities like York. Easily accessible from anywhere in the UK, Chester is a perfect place for a day trip.

How: Easily accessible by road or rail.
When: I visited Chester in September, 2012.

Dresden, Germany

Streets of Dresden's old town

Streets of Dresden’s old town

Dresden is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited, yet I know hardly anyone who’s been. The city has a skyline that is almost unparalleled, amazing architecture, a history as both a former capital and the most bombed city in World War II, and an area akin to Manchester’s Northern Quarter. It’s not an easy city to get to, but it’s well worth it once you’ve arrived – within an hour’s drive of Dresden, you’ll find: Königstein fortress, one of the largest in Europe; the Bastei and the Elbe sandstone mountains; and Meissen, a ridiculously photogenic town on the Elbe best reached by a boat trip.

How: Ryanair fly Stansted – Leipzig/Halle, from where it’s under two hours by train.
When: I first went to Dresden in June 2011.

Read more about Dresden and surrounding Saxony here.

Gdansk, Poland

Gdansk Town Hall

Gdansk Town Hall

Though it might be a world away from Krakow, Poland’s biggest city on the Baltic has a charm all of its own. Having played important roles in the Second World War and the fall of communism in Europe whilst being passed between Prussia, Germany and Poland, Gdansk offers its visitors interesting museums and unique historical sites.  The city can also count stunning architecture and some excellent (and cheap) bars among its selling points. With most UK airports offering budget flights, and the town looking its best after the 2012 Euro Championships, now is a good time to go.

How: Ryanair fly from Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds/Bradford, Stansted, Manchester. Wizzair fly from Doncaster/Sheffield, Glasgow, Liverpool, and Luton.
When: I went to Gdansk early March, 2013.

Read more about my trip to Gdansk here.

Valencia, Spain

Yellow: Valencia

Yellow: Valencia

Though probably the most popular destination on this list, Valencia seems doomed to forever play second-fiddle to coastal bigger brother, Barcelona. But with of variety of festivals and events throughout the year, a great beach, and the out-of-this-world architecture of Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Valencia is becoming a popular destination in its own right – most notably among German students. The city also boasts its own language and history, and is the birthplace of paella. What more do you need?

How: Ryanair fly from Stansted, Manchester and East Midlands. Easyjet fly from Gatwick.
When: I was in Valencia April, 2012.

Kiev, Ukraine

St. Michael's Golden-domed Monastery in Kiev

St. Michael’s Golden-domed Monastery in Kiev

Ukraine scrapped tourist visas for EU citizens thanks to their 2005 Eurovision win, so getting there is surprisingly easy. Though not exactly Prague, Kiev certainly is beautiful, with plenty of monasteries and Orthodox churches, cobbled streets, wide tree-lined avenues and, inexplicably, a huge amount of House, M.D. tourist memorabilia. The city pays homage to both its traditional Kyvian Rus history, as well as the more recent Soviet rule – the Rodina-Mat WWII memorial complex is not to be missed. Organised tours to Chernobyl are another draw and certainly worth the money if you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime trip – not to mention the creepiest day out you’re ever likely to have.

How: Wizzair fly from Luton.
When: I visited Kiev and Chernobyl early November, 2010.

What are your favourite underrated cities? Comment below.

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31 responses to “6 overlooked and underrated cities in Europe

  1. I’d add Palermo to the list – dirt cheap, great food and great for mafia/godfather anoraks like me. How much was the Chernobyl trip and how long does it take to get there?

    • Chernobyl trip came to about £70pp – but that was for a group of 12 of us, think it can be a lot more for smaller group, though you can tag along with others. From Kiev it’s about a two hour drive. Our guide picked us up from our hostel, and we watched a documentary on what happened on the way – perfect to get you into the eery mood. Cost included transport there and back, a big traditional Ukrainian lunch and all the paperwork necessary. Would definitely recommend!

  2. Pingback: Lithuania: the best country you’ve never been to | Continental Breakfast·

  3. Ashamed to say I’ve not been to any of these yet! I’d add Belfast, great weekend city break destination, and St Jean de Luz which is right next to Biarritz with great beaches at a fraction of the cost.

  4. Vilnius is a worthy inclusion. On my list I’d have Tallinn, Haarlem, Ghent, Freiburg, Bilbao, Lucca…

    Not all exactly overlooked of course, but less well known than some others.

    Nice post! Thanks for following my blog; yours looks really interesting too.

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  6. I would add most of Spain outside of the usual Madrid and/or Barcelona. So sad most people only know these two cities of my country, while there are lovely places in the north (in my Asturias, for example), center, and south of the Iberian peninsula. I’d say places like Gijón, Oviedo, La Coruña, Vigo, Salamanca, Santander, Zaragoza, Girona, San Sebastián-Donostia, Bilbao, Pamplona, Santiago de Compostela, Huesca, Murcia, Granada, Málaga, Almería, Mallorca, Sevilla, and anywhere in the Canary Islands. So many!

    • I really liked Kiev – it was far more beautiful than I was expecting coming from Moscow. I loved the cobbled streets everywhere. Such a shame the weather wasn’t great – would love to go back in Spring.

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  8. Your blog is fantastic John, a delight to go through.

    I haven’t been to any of the cities on your list, but would love to. I have only visited London, Paris and Spain in Europe; and unfortunately while in Spain made it only to Madrid, Barcelona and Ibiza. I would love to go back for a visit to Valencia. 🙂

    • Thank you very much – I’m glad you’re enjoying it! I haven’t been to Madrid or Barcelona yet, but I absolutely loved Valencia.
      Would definitely recommend heading further East next time you’re in Europe – Germany, Poland, the Baltic States… all beautiful!

  9. Great list–been to all but Chester! After spending a year in Poland and 5 months in Valencia, glad to see they’ve both made it on the list! Kiev too–those cathedrals are amaaazing. I’d like to contribute Tallinn, Riga, Warsaw, Ronda (Spain), Annecy (France), Milan, Wroclaw (Poland) and Lyon (France) 🙂 I could keep going, but the list would get too long… !

    • Wroclaw is definitely on my list to visit soon, and been to Tallinn and Riga, too, but didn’t think they held a candle to Vilnius, but I am a self-confessed Lithuania-phile!

      I love Valencia – jealous you got to spend so much time there!

      • Really? Because for me, it was the opposite: Vilnius didn’t make much of an impression on me, but I liked Riga and then when I arrived in Tallinn, I fell in love ! The thing about Polish cities is that they were mostly destroyed in the war (except Krakow and a few others), and have since been rebuilt, so while the centre is very beautiful, it’s usually small, and they’re all pretty alike (in contrast to Spanish or French towns that seem to have a lot more variation). Visiting at least one or two Polish cities is so worth it though ! (as long as you don’t choose Lodz). The best part about Valencia was Las Fallas, a festival that celebrates the coming of spring by building then burning down hundreds of statues. Bizarre, but very interesting! Well, I’m a self-confessed Europe-phile, or however you say obsessed with travelling in European countries !

      • I was really surprised by Vilnius when I got there, and I think the city has a lot to offer. Riga and Tallinn are lovely, but Tallinn is a bit small – tiny, even and Riga seems to lose a lot of charm outside of the old town. I’ve been to Gdansk in Poland, but nowhere else yet. Eager to see a few more places – particularly cities that used to be part of Germany. Very jealous you’ve experienced Las Fallas first hand!

  10. Of these I’ve only been to Chester, which I agree, is lovely. They all sound well worth a visit and I’ll add them to the list, especially Dresden

    • I really like Chester – it definitely doesn’t attract as much tourism as it deserves. Dresden is absolutely beautiful. I think the city would flourish a good Ryanair or budget airline connection.

    • I can’t say anything about the beaches as it was FREEZING during my visit (though I hear Sopot is the ‘Polish St Tropez’), but the bars we went to were great. And everything was so cheap! Definitely worth a visit, I’d say.

  11. Pingback: 6 (more) overlooked and underrated cities in Europe | Continental Breakfast Travel·

  12. Accidently found this post, as you mentioned it in the last note with some more overlooked and underestimated cities. Well, funny to find two of cities I ve been living in (and actually born:Gdansk) and the city I am curretly living in, which is Dresden. But well, I think they are still gaining more and more popularity among tourists, and they simply love it ; )

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