Hidden Gems to Visit on Your Next European Vacation

As spring progresses and the end of the school year nears, many of us are looking ahead to summer plans. And after missing out on travel adventures during the peak Covid years, many of us are seeking itineraries that take us to new locations outside the United States.

While you may be familiar with the classic European vacation spots, perhaps this is the year you try a location that doesn’t always make the top 10 travel cities lists. Europe is bursting with culture, history, and nature — you simply need to know where to look.

Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway or a family-friendly trip, these destinations can be tailored to suit your needs.

Marseille, France

Marseille is one of Europe’s oldest continuously settled areas — it was first founded by the Greeks in 600 B.C. Despite its storied history, for many years, it was regarded as an unsafe, unhip port city.

Its reputation has been shifting in recent years, as the city has attracted incredible artists, chefs, and creatives who seek an escape from the bustle of Paris.

You can still enjoy all of the creature comforts of a major metropolitan area in Marseille. You’ll find outposts of classic French brands like Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Montblanc. Hotels like the InterContinental Marseille – Hotel Dieu near the port or Le Petit Nice – Passedat, nestled along the coastline, offer luxury accommodations.

When you leave the main road surrounding the port and wander up into the historic Le Panier neighborhood, you’ll find adorable cafés and local shops tucked into corners and perched atop winding streets. Be sure to buy some of Marseille’s famous soap, and stop by L’Atelier du corail for jewelry featuring coral the owners have dived for in the Mediterranean and crafted themselves.

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After a day of exploring the city, enjoy a full meal at Sépia or wine and tapas at its sister location, Julis. If you wish to keep the party going, stop by Andia for late-night tiki drinks and a festive atmosphere.

Strasbourg, France

For an entirely different kind of French experience, visit Strasbourg, located in the Grand Est region (formerly Alsace) in the Northern part of the country.

The German influences in the city are evident in both its architecture and its cuisine. If you wish to learn more about the rich history of the region, visit the Alsatian Museum, located in an old home with historically accurate room recreations.

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Or, for a less formal history lesson, simply stroll the cobblestone streets of the Le Petit France neighborhood. The 16th-century timber-framed houses feel straight out of a fairy tale — if the little ones are with you, they may expect Belle and Gaston to appear around the corner.

To experience traditional Alsatian food, which straddles French and German cuisine, visit Restaurant au Pont Corbeau or Le Bistrot d’Antoine. Enjoy a hearty stew or savory pie, and sip on a Riesling or local beer. Then stop by Maison Alsacienne de Biscuiterie for a classic dessert.

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Stay at the Régent Petite France, where you enjoy proximity to the city’s attractions and the relaxation and comfort of an on-site spa.

Lake District, England

For a lakeside retreat that’s a bit closer to home, consider the Lake District in England. This historic region in the northwest part of England is dotted with glacial lakes and is an ideal spot for a family adventure.

Lake Windermere, the largest of England’s lakes, offers water sports, including boating, swimming, paddle boarding, and more. If your family enjoys a jaunt in the woods, you may hit the hiking or biking trails and work in a visit to the Aira Force waterfall.

For the little ones, consider a day trip to author Beatrix Potter’s home and see the gardens that inspired her to write classics like Peter Rabbit. Or take a ride to the Lakeland Motor Museum and enjoy its vast collection of 20th-century automobiles, motorcycles, and more.

To complete your English countryside experience, book your stay at the Langdale Chase, a manor built in 1891 and recently restored to accommodate modern guests while honoring the history of the property.

Costa Smeralda, Sardinia, Italy

If you seek a quintessential Mediterranean beach vacation, look no further than Costa Smeralda. Known for its stunning crystalline waters, this spot on the northern tip of Sardinia has long been a luxurious getaway destination.

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As the summer progresses, temperatures can soar upwards of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so spending time on the beach is a must. Or, escape the sun entirely and plan a day trip to Neptune’s Grotto, a two million-year-old cave with cool underground passageways filled with stalagmites and stalactites.

You may also choose to lounge at your resort. The Belmond’s Costa Smeralda location (which reopens in May 2024) and Marriott’s Hotel Cala di Volpe offer calming seaside pools.

To end your day, visit the Michelin-starred Somu for an elegant tasting menu that celebrates local cooking traditions and ingredients.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

The Central European country of Slovenia stands at the gateway to the Balkan peninsula. It receives far less attention from travelers than its neighbors, Croatia, Italy, and Austria, which makes it a perfect addition to our hidden gems list.

The country is small enough that you can enjoy time in the capital, Ljubljana, while also planning day trips to other noteworthy sights. When you arrive in the capital, check into the Zlata Ladjica, the oldest hotel in the city, dating back to the 18th century. 

After you’ve unpacked, consider embarking on an unofficial biking tour. Ljubljana has been named one of the top 20 cyclist-friendly cities, and it boasts a bike rental system similar to the Citi Bikes in New York or Bluebikes in Boston.

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As you pedal around, look for signs of the city’s ancient Roman history—2,000 years ago, Ljubljana was the Roman city of Emona. Plus, stop at one of the cafes and enjoy a leisurely coffee as you people-watch.

End your day with a meal at Ljubljana Castle, where you can enjoy traditional Slovenian cuisine from one of the country’s most lauded chefs.

As for day trips, plan to visit the Soča River. The gleaming waters begin in the Julian Alps, which means the river is a pristine, if chilly, place to take a dip on a hot summer day.

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If you prefer to take a culinary day trip, head to Maribor to see The Oldest Vine Museum, which, as its name implies, is home to the world’s oldest grapevine. You can tour the wine-making facilities, stroll through the vineyards, and enjoy a wine or juice tasting at the end of your visit.

No matter where you venture this summer, may your trip be filled with sunny days and thrilling adventures!