When choosing which cities to visit on a trip, it is almost inevitable that the capital of the country will be included on your itinerary. Alive with people, culture, history, activities, festivals and food, European capitals are always enjoyable, but other cities offer their own unique character – and much smaller crowds.
- Krakow, Poland
One of the oldest cities in Poland, Krakow dates back to the seventh century and has therefore long been an important cultural, academic and artistic hub. Krakow’s entire old town is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so if you’re dreaming of getting lost in cobble-stoned streets and climbing castles, this is the place to do it.
Krakow’s sad story in World War II, when it was the headquarters of the Nazi’s General Government, means there is plenty of history here. The Jewish ghetto remains and is a sombre place to wander, and for those that wish to visit perhaps the most notorious WWII concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the drive there takes little over an hour from Krakow.
- Dubrovnik, Croatia
Always beautiful and a popular destination for tourists, but brought to greater prominence by its role in Game of Thrones where it acts as King’s Landing, Dubrovnik is not exactly undiscovered – but its appeal remains.
The red rooves and white marble streets of the old town, surrounded by walls offering spectacular views of the city, coast and sparkling Adriatic Sea, come together to form an extremely pretty picture.
If you need to escape the crowds, hop on a ferry to Lokrum – a ride of roughly 20 minutes that delivers you to a peaceful island with quiet coves ideal for swimming and forest paths for wandering.
- Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is technically a city, but walking the streets of the old town it certainly does not feel that way. The charming historic centre is postcard-perfect, with squares and well-trodden stone streets dotted with chocolate shops, lace stores and take-away outlets serving up hot waffles. A meandering river, edged with grassy banks and paths through passages of shady trees, surrounds the old town.
- Lausanne, Switzerland
With a rather grand location on Lake Geneva, Lausanne offers something for everyone. If you like history, visit the 12th century Gothic cathedral. If you prefer wandering and browsing, explore the hilly old town and its shopping district. If you’re a fan of museums, science and fine art, head to the 19th century Palais de Rumine. And if you like sport, this is the home of the International Olympic Committee, with the lakeside Olympic Park and the Olympic Museum.
- Pisa, Italy
There is no denying Rome is an incredible city, and that Italy offers many metropolis worthy of a visit, but Pisa tends to be overlooked by many. Famed for its Leaning Tower, tourists often visit Cathedral Square and not much else – but the city is home to grandiose squares, a river lined with lively cafes, and dark archways that beg visitors to discover what lies beyond them.
Not only that, the cathedral is often overshadowed by its (leaning) bell tower, but is an impressively beautiful building in its own right. Visit, and be sure to wander a little beyond the confines of the square.
Courtney Gahan is an Aussie serial expat, traveller and freelance writer who has bartered with Moroccan marketeers, seen the sun rise at Angkor Wat and elbowed her way through crowds on NYE in NYC. Currently based in Amsterdam.