Many exceptional European cities get overlooked in favor of their more famous neighbors. If you’ve done the tourist trip and would like to see more of your favorite European country then read on, fellow traveler. Here are the best underrated European cities to visit.
Best Underrated European Cities
1. Bratislava, Slovakia
This former capital of Royal Hungary features cobbled streets, a cathedral from the 1300s, a fairy tale castle on a hilltop, and ornate palaces. Once a famous center for classical music (prior to the rise of communism), this Danube river city, the locals boast of their historic 18th-century center, architecture, and contemporary neighborhoods.
2. Bucharest, Romania
This Eastern European place offers travelers busy beer halls, peaceful parks, cool coffee shops, olden orthodox churches, Art Nouveau villas, and much more. Be sure to see the prominent Palace of Parliament (built by once-dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu), and sublime Cişmigiu Gardens. Get tickets for a show in the arresting Romanian Athenaeum as well.
3. Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
This is the often-overlooked capital of an often overlooked, little country. It comes complete with a definite fairy-tale feel from its quaint cobblestone streets and princely palace. Surrounded by vineyards and forested valleys, this city is also a great place for foodies. The Michelin Guide lists a surprising assortment of exceptional eateries.
4. Riga, Latvia
This lovely Latvian capital includes a regenerated riverside, an official UNESCO-listed medieval village, and restaurants that actually offer anything from traditional dishes to new Nordic delicacies. Stop at the city center to learn about the eclectic assortment of Art Nouveau, Baroque, Gothic, and medieval buildings. See everything from the spire of St Peter’s Church!
5. Belgrade, Serbia
This is reportedly one of the “most energetic” European capitals. Yes, it has an ancient citadel, attractive old town, and regenerated river districts but it’s also becoming a hip destination. It features designer hotels, cool clubs, an eclectic music scene, and experts confirm the “summer barge parties” along the Sava and Danube rivers “are legendary.”
6. Vienna, Austria
Although it’s famous for its culture and art, Vienna is often overlooked by Salzburg. Those that bypass Vienna do so mistakenly. See the popular Kunsthistorisches Museum with its Vermeers, Rubens, and Rembrandts. There’s also the Baroque palaces, the Vienna State Opera, St Stephen’s Cathedral, and the assorted Art Nouveau coffee houses.
7. Vilnius, Lithuania
This city was once a “European Capital of Culture.” It still has plenty to see though including the reportedly “largest medieval old town” in eastern and central Europe. It comes complete with bars, cafes, historic churches, parks, and restaurants. Other highlights of this capital city include the popular landmark Gediminas’ Tower, and the busy Cathedral Square.
8. Sofia, Bulgaria
Sofia might not be on every “city break” hot list, but with its galleries, museums, and lively nightlife, it should be. Bulgaria’s captivating capital also includes the former mineral baths, the distinctive, domed St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and the National Theatre. Finally, there’s also the city’s oldest park, the beautiful Borisova Gradina.
9. Podgorica, Montenegro
This little Adriatic country’s capital was specifically built here at the confluence of the Morača and Ribnica rivers. It includes striking bridges and the remains of its Ottoman-era beginnings. See the Clock Tower from the 1600s. Don’t miss Petrović Castle in the popular Kruševac area, and the home of the Centre for Modern Arts.
10. Valletta, Malta
This is the alluring ancient capital that is perfect for a weekend getaway. Here you will discover picturesque palazzos and olden churches, like St John’s Co-Cathedral which features paintings by Caravaggio. There’s also the great Grand Harbour and the Upper Barrakka Gardens which provide people with panoramic views of this reported ex-European “capital of culture.”
11. Vaduz, Liechtenstein
This fairy tale place is located in one of the least-visited European nations. Specifically, it’s between Austria and Switzerland. Vaduz is the capital.
It’s home to a German-speaking populace and exceptional alpine scenery. See Vaduz Castle which harkens back to the 1100s. This famous landmark is the home of the Prince of Liechtenstein.
12. Ankara, Turkey
Ankara has been the capital since 1923. It includes both historical and contemporary architecture. See the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Ataturk, the first president.
Ankara Castle is another historic attraction. Visit Gençlik Park. It features an amusement park, a pair of miniature trains, and 40+ vendor kiosks.
13. Bern, Switzerland
Bern is backdropped by the River Aare and snow-covered mountains. This rather relaxed capital city includes an official UNESCO-listed historic area, cafes, and shops. Be sure to check out the Einstein House and the related Einstein Museum, the Gothic Bern Minster, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the popular Zytglogge or clocktower too.
14. Pristina, Kosovo
This is the capital of the newest European nation. The city includes an apt, off-the-beaten-track feel to it. It has its own “old town” area complete with Ottoman-era architecture remnants. Be sure to see Rexhep Luci, the Museum of Kosovo, and the National Library building and learn something about the nation’s culture and history.
15. The City of San Marino, San Marino
This is the capital of the least-visited European nation. It’s located on Mount Titano and provides visitors with great views of the striking Apennines. The medieval center of Città is closed to automobiles. Explore the numerous ramparts, palazzi, and ancient arches. There is a lot of history here.
16. Moscow, Russia
Moscow is the capital of the world’s largest country. You’ll find such famous attractions as Lenin’s Mausoleum and St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square. Ah, but this is also a cosmopolitan city. It features awesome eateries and international shopaholics can confirm it’s “a top shopping destination.” See world-class ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre too.
17. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana is one of the most well-preserved European medieval old towns. It features edgy art galleries, sophisticated restaurants, and a lively festival scene. It also includes a historic center that is traffic-free and includes a unique blend of Art Nouveau, Baroque, and Renaissance architecture. Visit the National Museum of Slovenia to see ancient national treasures.
18. Oslo, Norway
Oslo has a small, pedestrian-friendly historic center, modern architecture, and plenty of green spaces. Other highlights of this capital city include the mod Oslo Opera House and the distinctive Deichman Library. You can also explore the islands, check out the bar and club scene, or take a kayak down the Oslofjord.
19. Brussels, Belgium
Reportedly the European political center, it is also home to several “EU institutions.” It features some of the best European architecture and museums. Begin your visit at the great Grand Place. Art lovers should head for the popular Musée Fin-de-Siècle is great for art lovers, while chocolate lovers must see the Belgian Chocolate Village.
20. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina was founded in the 1400s by the Ottomans. Its Turkish roots are obvious in both the bazaar and historic Baščaršija. Nicknamed “the Jerusalem of Europe” due to its significant religious diversity, it includes a mosque, a synagogue, and a Catholic church. See The Tunnel of Hope museum too!
21. Belfast, United Kingdom
Belfast in Northern Ireland includes enough live music venues and friendly pubs. It also features such attractions as the MAC culture center, Ulster Museum, and the Titanic Belfast. There’s also St. George’s Market for fresh Irish produce, and the massive Mountains of Mourne and the famous Giant’s Causeway just a brief drive away.
22. Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw was heavily bombed during World War II. The remarkably rebuilt medieval old town is currently an official UNESCO World Heritage site. See the memorable Monument to the Warsaw Uprising and discover some history at the noteworthy Warsaw Rising Museum. There’s also the elegant Royal Łazienki Park and its Neoclassical palace.
23. Yerevan, Armenia
This capital city is quite interesting. Don’t miss seeing the nation’s symbol, Mount Ararat. Climb the Cascade stairway and take in the views of the mountain and the city. Stroll the narrow streets of the popular old quarter. Sample some traditional khoravats (barbecued meat). Take in the moving Armenian Genocide Museum too.
24. Tbilisi, Georgia
Veteran visitors confirm that the place to be here is the old quarter. See such historical sites as Narikala Fortress. This is the place where you will also find bars, cafes, and museums. This city also offers travelers some great food and wine. Relax at one of their popular traditional hot sulfur bathhouses.
25. Zagreb, Croatia
If you’re looking for a quiet escape, this capital city, known by some as “the city with a heart,” is for you. Nestled along the Sava River and backed by Mount Medvednica, includes the twin-spired Zagreb Cathedral, St Mark’s Church, art exhibitions, museums, open cafes, sports events, and music and theatre events too.
26. Baku, Azerbaijan
Situated between Asia and Europe, this oil-rich, ancient capital is on the sparkling Caspian Sea. The waterfront has been revitalized for tourism. Its old town, Icheri Shekher, is actually UNESCO-listed. It includes hammams, hawker stalls, multiple mosques, and palaces. The city also has a number of busy bars and nightclubs.
27. Andorra la Vella, Andorra
This is the highest European capital and one of the smallest. It’s 1,023 meters above sea level, so the country is popular for its ski resorts. Reported highlights of this city include well-preserved Romanesque architecture, noteworthy boutiques, and quite reputable restaurants. Be sure to see Casa de la Vall too.
28. Skopje, North Macedonia
This capital city reveals much of its culture and history within the mosques, cafés, and stall-lined streets of the old hillside bazaar known as Stara Čaršija. The majority of the city’s Byzantine- and Ottoman-era attractions are across the well-known 15th-century Kameni Most Bridge. Highlights include the traditional bathhouses and popular Fortress Kale.
29. Nicosia, Cyprus
This city is the world’s sole “divided capital.” It offers an abundance of insight into both modern and ancient Cypriot culture. The city’s southern half is the actual capital of the republic. The northern half, a.k.a. Lefkoşa is occupied by the Turks. See Laiki Geitonia and the educational Cyprus Museum.
30. Chişinău, Moldova
The capital city Chişinău has modern high-rises and standard Soviet buildings. Despite the general lack of charming buildings, it does have interesting museums, an open-air flower market, bars, and parks. Additionally, you can find a few pre-WWII structures such as an orthodox cathedral (complete with fantastic frescoes) that harkens back to the 1800s.
31. Tirana, Albania
Albania’s capital is marked by brightly colored buildings and wide streets. Highlights here include the Albanian National Museum, the National Gallery of Arts, and the Et’hem Bey Mosque. The latter is actually one of the few remnants of Ottoman architecture in the city.
32. Kiev, Ukraine
Kiev, “the city of a thousand golden domes,” is nestled on the banks of the distinctive Dnieper River. It features numerous art galleries, gardens, and great golden-domed churches. See Independence Square and the UNESCO-listed St Sophia’s Cathedral. It’s from the 11th century. See the caves complex called Kyiv Pechersk Lavra as well.
33. Helsinki, Finland
This cool capital has a lot to see. It has memorable museums and striking structures. See the Sibelius Monument and the famous Finlandia Hall which overlooks Töölönlahti Bay.
It also includes hip boutiques and distinctive designer hotels. Enjoy the food and steamy saunas too. Don’t miss the official, UNESCO island fortress of Suomenlinna either.
34. Minsk, Belarus
Most of the city was trashed during WWII then rebuilt during the next two decades as “a model Soviet city.” Veteran visitors praise the historic and interesting architecture. Specifically, the simple communist-era blocks, the 17th-century Church of Saints Peter and Paul, and the well-known statue of Lenin found in Independence Square.
35. Tallinn, Estonia
Located on the Baltic Sea, Tallinn has a rep as being a great palace for late-night bars and inexpensive beer, but there’s more here than that. There’s the old town from the 1200s complete with cobblestone streets, medieval spires, quaint courtyards, and pastel-colored houses. Check out Seaplane Harbour, and shop and dine in the cool Kalamaja district too.