The art, culture and heritage of Europe’s capital cities is a huge draw for visitors. The likes of Paris and Barcelona draw millions of travellers every year to explore the famous streets and experience the much-loved sights.
However, many of Europe’s smaller cities are overflowing with incredible spots to explore and enjoy, and those who choose to venture off the beaten path to explore them will be richly rewarded. From the historic cities of western Europe to the Mediterranean’s hidden gems, there are a wealth of lesser-known spots which are just begging to be explored.
Join us as we take a journey of discovery to some of Europe’s most beautiful overlooked cities.
1. Lyon, France
Lyon has been described as the ‘world capital of gastronomy’, making it an ideal destination for foodies in search of innovative flavour combinations. Speciality dishes from the city include Rosette, a delicious dried pork sausage that’s thinly sliced and served as an appetiser, and Cervelle de Canut, a smooth and creamy cheese dip made using fresh herbs, olive oil, shallots and seasonings.
Don’t miss: If you visit Lyon, be sure to take a trip to Lyon’s famed food hall, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, where your senses will be sent into overdrive by the sheer variety of impossibly fresh produce on offer.
2. Salamanca, Spain
Home to one of the oldest universities in Europe (Salamanca University dates back to the early 13th century), this compact Spanish city has a rich and fascinating history. The city’s cultural legacy is evident everywhere you turn. The unique and juxtaposing architecture of the city’s two cathedrals dominates the cityscape and encompasses more than five centuries of creativity.
Must see: The real magic of Salamanca sits at the top of the city’s medieval towers and hidden within the walls of its two connected cathedrals. The 15th-century altarpiece of the Old Cathedral consists of 53 beautifully painted panels depicting the life of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
One of Germany’s oldest, largest and most beautiful cities, Cologne is a hugely popular destination amongst the German population. Slowly, travellers from the rest of Europe are coming to discover the absolute joys the city has to offer, from the amazing Kölner Dom to the 12 Romanesque Churches of Cologne. There is absolutely no better way to explore Cologne than by river cruise, the approach to the ancient city is dominated by the Kölner Dom appearing over the horizon.
Must see: Museum Ludwig is home to a wonderful collection of works by Picasso. Get lost in Picasso’s unique world of cubism and surrealism as you wonder around the museum glimpsing his peerless works.
We have asked travel blogger, Clare Thomson of Suitcases and Sandcastles, to share two of her favourite lesser known European cities. Here are her picks:
Porto is a great destination for foodies and wine fans. You can indulge in tastings and tours at the various port houses and there are some excellent food tours of the city – sampling the famed local dishes which have strong links to peasant fare.
Be sure to visit Livraria Lello, one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. The art nouveau building with its stained-glass ceilings and curvaceous crimson staircase is said to have inspired J.K.Rowling when she was creating Hogwarts.
You’ll find the best views of the city from the top of Dom Luis Bridge, making it the perfect place to watch the sunset.
Don’t miss: The city’s cable cars aren’t the only way to take in the magnificent views of Porto. Skip the queues and pay a visit to one of Porto’s greatest architectural attractions, Clérigos Tower, instead. From here, you will enjoy one of the most impressive views in Porto.
The best way to explore the enchanting medieval centre of Bruges is on foot but it’s well worth taking a boat down the canals too.
Chocoholics will be in heaven here - there’s a chocolate shop around every corner and a museum where you can learn how the cocoa beans are harvested and watch chocolate being made.
Don’t miss: Escape the hustle and bustle of the centre with a visit to the city’s Begijnhof garden complex. The site is home to some beautiful manicured lawns and a 13th-century convent. This is, without a doubt, one of the best places in the city to enjoy some peace and quiet.
Would you like to explore these wonderful European cities on-board a luxury Emerald Cruises cruise? Our all-inclusive river cruises offer the opportunity to venture further into new cultures and experience the finest spots the continent has to offer. Click here to browse our upcoming river cruise itineraries, or give our friendly team a call today on 0808 252 5592 and we’ll be happy to help you.