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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.