20 December 2018
Seeing the Eiffel Tower come to glittering life in Paris, sampling some of the world’s finest cuisine on the ancient streets of Rome, taking a canal-boat tour past the unique architecture of Amsterdam, and exploring the fascinating history of Berlin are some of our favourite experiences in Europe. But the continent is not all about these headline cities. We’ve shared our top picks for smaller destinations that pack a big punch without the crowds.
Siena is often overshadowed by its neighbours Florence and Pisa and by the rolling Tuscan countryside with its famous vineyards. But don’t discount this pint-sized city – it’s one of Italy’s most beautiful, with honey-coloured streets, wonderful restaurants and Instagrammable spots aplenty. If you head there on 2 July or 16 August, you’ll also see the grand Piazza del Campo transformed into the arena for the famous bi-annual Palio horse race.
“Siena was stunning, with cobbled streets and traditional shops, bars and restaurants. I would definitely recommend this for a romantic getaway. The hotels are small and friendly, and the people go out of their way to make you feel welcome. It’s a stunning part of Italy and I would certainly return.”
Tracy, Travel Counsellor
Just 9km south of The Hague, this canal-threaded city – a ‘mini-Amsterdam’ of sorts – is the ultimate Dutch day-trip destination. Famous as the hometown of Golden Age artist Johannes Vermeer, it also boasts the Royal crypts and white-and-blue Delft earthenware. Visitors can still tour the workshops where this hand-painted pottery has been made since the 16th century. Otherwise, wander this serene, timeless city and stop for a canalside coffee to watch the world go by.
A short drive from Munich, Nuremberg and Stuttgart, this is one of Germany’s most charming destinations. Spend a day just wandering through its well-preserved medieval old town, which still has its intact 14th-century walls. Look over the town from the top of Town Hall Tower, stroll along the tops of its walls, visit Little Square, which is where you can find Rothenburg’s iconic photo opportunity (as seen above), and learn all about the city’s history on a Night Watchman’s Tour, where you’ll hear captivating stories about local life during the Middle Ages and wartime.
One of Albania’s most historic cities was the birthplace of Albanian national hero Skanderbeg, who in the 15th century ruled over the region and made Krujë one of the most important centres in the resistance of the Ottoman Empire. Today it is a popular day-trip spot. Visit the Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg Museum inside Krujë Castle to learn about Albania’s history and wander around the Old Bazaar of Krujë to pick up some souvenirs.
Lined with a mix of Renaissance and Baroque homes, this unspoilt medieval marvel with its UNESCO-listed Old Town is a maze of twisting alleys built around the extensive Cesky Krumlov Castle complex, which you can visit. Make sure to stop by the Gypsy Pub, too –one of the town’s liveliest places, it has live music and a vast selection of beer (appropriately for this nation with the world’s highest beer consumption per head).
If you would like to visit one of these fascinating destinations, contact your Travel Counsellor.