Meet Europe’s Most Popular City’s Little Sister Worth Exploring

Find out where to go for a lesser known but more authentic experience

Words by Emma Tiernan
May 25th, 2018

European cities in recent years have gained serious popularity when it comes to tourism. While Europe has always been a go-to for holidaymakers, in recent years, many smaller countries have noticed a huge spike in tourism. Many travellers now feel that the old world charm of Europe is somewhat ruined by the vast amount of people also visiting and a result, globetrotters are seeking out the lesser known places to explore for a taste of authenticity and an escapism from the overly written about popular choices.

Popular Destination: Barcelona 

According to Statista, over eight million people visited the Catalonian capital in 2017 to catch a glimpse of the Gaudi masterpieces, however, Barcelona has become difficult to enjoy due to the vast amounts of tourists paving the streets and the long queues for all the main attractions. The sheer amount of tourists has become a huge concern for locals so much so that their Mayor actually ran on a platform of putting regulations in place to control the number of visitors. 2017 saw a law passed to help regulate tourism in the city, limiting the number of hotel rooms available at one given time.

Where to go Instead: Seville

While the southern Spanish city may not have the Gaudi architectural influence that Barcelona has, it does have its own architectural stamp which is unique to cities in the south of Spain. The architecture reflects their history with a mix of Roman, Moorish and Spanish influences. Visit the stunning Alcázar of Seville, a palace built by a Christian king on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress, to see examples of the mix of styles.

Seville is dubbed as the most Instagrammable city in Spain, and with it not being as popular as many of the other Spanish cities it is the perfect alternative to Barcelona.

 Popular Destination: Dubrovnik

Thanks to the popularity of Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik has become one of the ‘must visit’ places in Europe. Masses of tourists pack the small winding streets of Dubrovnik’s old town making it hard to appreciate the beauty of the white limestone streets, the Baroque style buildings and the view of the Adriatic sea.

Where to go Instead: Split

Just a three-hour drive from Dubrovnik is Croatia’s second largest city Split. Split has long been overlooked as a port city, with many people taking boats out to the islands of Hvar, Vis and Koralla. In many ways, Split is similar to Dubrovnik, with the same old town streets and the glistening waters of the Adriatic sea. However, what you will find is that the streets are quieter, which makes them easier to leisurely stroll through.

The city is home to UNESCO world heritage site Diocletian’s palace which is the best preserved Roman palace in the world. Located inside the palace, you will find many restaurants and bars. With remains of the old city wall and ancient buildings mixed in with the modern, Split is the perfect mix of old and new.

Popular Destination: Iceland

Iceland has become one of the hottest places to visit in the last couple of years. Popular because of its breathtaking landscape and wild nature, hordes of tourists flock there, especially during the months of winter and spring to best see the Northern Lights. However, with an increasing number of tourists visiting each year, it is more difficult to appreciate the beauty of the land with hundreds of other people standing around taking selfies. With a population of only 334, 252 and the number of visitors surpassing 2 million in 2017, it is safe to say that Iceland is overrun with tourists.

photo: credit @exploreiceland
photo: credit @exploreiceland
photo: credit @exploreiceland

Where to go Instead: Faroe Islands

If your main reason for visiting Iceland is to see the stunning landscape then a great alternative is the Faroe Islands. With a majority of their visitors coming from Denmark and other Nordic countries, they are quite literally Europe’s best-kept secret. Now the Faroe Islands may not have Iceland’s glaziers or its blue lagoon, but it does have breathtaking fjords, luscious green valleys and dramatic mountains with the wild Atlantic Ocean as its backdrop. Plus, with only 159,759 visitors in 2016, they experienced a twelveth of the visitors that came to Iceland. The islands are dotted with picturesque villages with turfed roofs, and their capital Tórshavn, home to 40% (around 20,000) of the population which makes it one of the smallest capitals in the world.

photo: credit @visitfaroeislands
photo: credit @visitfaroeislands
photo: credit @visitfaroeislands

Popular Destination: Copenhagen

Since the rise of Hygge, Denmark has become a very popular destination and none more so than the Danish capital, Copenhagen. While the Scandinavian city is known for its design, coloured houses, and one of the best gastro scenes in Europe, it also means that many people flock to the island capital. Trying to dodge tourists walking down Strøget or catching a glimpse of the Little Mermaid has become somewhat of a hassle with all the tourists.

photo: credit @foxdanmark
photo: credit @polabur
photo: credit @thefraserjames

Where to go Instead: Tallinn

If you are looking for a weekend getaway in the Scandinavian countries but would like to dodge the Scandi price tag, then you should consider checking out the Estonian capital. Estonia is part of the Baltic countries, however, Tallinn takes more after its Nordic neighbours. All the way back in the 11th century the land was first laid claim to by the Danes, it then altered between Sweden, Denmark and Germany until the Russians took it over. As a result, the city has a mix of all these cultures. Expect to find the gastro scene influenced by Scandinavian and German food.

The skyline of the Estonian capital hasn’t changed much since the Middle Ages which give the city its fairytale charm. Tallinn has also been dubbed as the Silicon Valley of the Baltics with many start-ups arising since the fall of communism. Explore old Soviet factories that have been transformed into a hub of start-ups, design shops, restaurants, cafés, bars and art installations in the city of Telliskivi. At a fraction of the cost of its Nordic neighbours, Tallinn is a hidden gem.

Popular Destination: Lisbon

The Portuguese capital has been gaining attraction as a popular tourist destination for the last couple of years. While Lisbon is stunning in its own right, it faces the same issue many European capitals have and that is the overpopulation of visitors it receives every year.

photo: credit @jophiexd
photo: credit @cucolii

Where to go Instead: Porto

Instead of opting for the capital, go further north to the second largest city in Portugal, Porto. Porto brings life down to a slower pace; enjoy a coffee and a Pastéis de Nata in a local café, walk through the sleepy streets of the old town or spend the evening dining on seafood. Away from the crowded streets of Lisbon, in Porto, you get a taste of real Portuguese life.

Similar to Lisbon, Porto also has cable cars and coloured houses that dorn its winding streets. It has the Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop with beaches dotted across its coastline. It is the perfect escape if you are looking for a more laidback getaway in Portugal.

photo: credit @cizeronechannel
photo: credit @scagliaphotography
photo: credit @babsdss