While Europe is by no means lacking in attractive locations to visit, its major cities can be an overload to the system, particularly given tourism’s slow travel trend. Rushing from one major hub to the next can be stressful and take away the benefits we crave from our precious time away from responsibilities and pressures.
These top destinations were chosen by travellers who posted their photographs onto social media sites Pinterest and Instagram, which were analysed and ranked by Uswitch.com according to popularity.
Each location is quaint and authentic, serving as a way to break up a high-energy European adventure with some much-needed tranquillity, and many of these destinations deserve a deeper exploration with their surroundings in mind.
Whatever your needs may be, these spectacular locations are not only rich in culture and history, but also natural beauty.
With its breathtaking scenery and magical sunsets, Oia is an important part of Santorini island’s identity. Perched on top of a cliff, this traditional settlement serves as a source of inspiration for poets, artists and photographers for its whitewashed architecture with bursts of colour, not to mention its prime location overlooking the Aegean Sea and still-active Nea Kameni volcano.
A guided hike up the volcano offers views of Santorini’s cliffs, and once visitors have absorbed the views, Oia not only offers impressive luxury accommodation, but also the opportunity to explore the nearby island of Thirassia. Check out the alleyways with their many hidden gems, and try the locally prepared fresh fish in one of the taverns.
Göreme is part of the Cappadocia region of central Turkey. Famous for its otherworldly ancient rock formations, it stands out from other places because its caves continue to be inhabited by people, including visitors who can choose to stay overnight for an authentic experience. In fact, on closer inspection, you’ll notice that luxury spas, guesthouses and hotels have been carved into the rocks.
If you don’t fancy a hot air balloon ride, which has become almost synonymous with Cappadocia, you can opt to enjoy the view from one of the rooftops or viewing terraces. From Göreme, you can also choose from a selection of hiking trails.
This UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site has been mining salt for 7,000 years and archaeologists continue to make discoveries in the salt mountain of Hallstatt. In addition to its rich history, this enchanting lakeside town, situated south-east of Salzburg, has gained international recognition for its majestic mountains and crystal-clear lake that visitors can enjoy throughout the year with myriad outdoor adventures on offer, including biking, hiking, boating and skiing.
Daytrips exploring the Dachstein Salzkammergut region’s surrounding areas are also an option with high-altitude viewing platforms and nearby caves. During inclement weather the World Heritage Museum and the iconic church provide a journey into the town’s fascinating past. The very fact that a replica of the village exists in China speaks to its ability to leave a lasting impression on visitors.
Vernazza belongs to a series of fishing villages situated along Italy’s north-western coastline in an area known as Liguria. Accessible via ancient footpaths, the five towns are famous for their rugged beauty and are set against a backdrop of steep terraces that locals have cleverly made use of to grow grapes and olives.
The village that best captures the beauty of the Cinque Terre, as it’s referred to, is Vernazza. Famous for its olive oil, pastel-coloured architecture and cosy harbour, this ancient traffic-free village is teeming with narrow alleyways, cafes and bars coupled with historical highlights and, of course, breathtaking views of the sea. For those curious to explore the other towns by foot, the Cinque Terre National Park provides a hiking trail that connects them.
Voted Spain’s most beautiful town in 2018, Albarracín is located east of Madrid, with a history that has been influenced by Muslims and Catholics. This walled historic complex was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest with its characteristic pink-hued buildings that are unique in Spain. Its cathedrals, palaces, manor houses and churches overlooking the Guadalaviar River pair well with a daytrip to the Natural Park of Los Pinares de Rodeno or the nearby city of Teruel.
Furnas is a lush region to the east on the island of São Miguel, Azores that is home to a large lake and a dormant volcano whose presence can be experienced via hot springs, steam holes and thermal pools. Rich in biodiversity, the region’s natural wonders can be explored in the parks and gardens like Terra Nostra and Grena Park that are often accompanied by outdoor bathing.
An essential part of the experience is to try a local dish, cozido, in one of the many restaurants that serve it, which is a meal cooked underground using geothermal energy in one of the steaming holes.
The island of Folegandros is ideally situated close to the other Cyclades islands such as Mykonos and Santorini, which are accessible by ferry. Boasting an untamed landscape and peaceful vibe, the villages comprising Folegandros are typical of the region – whitewashed with blue-domed churches above the inviting waters of the Aegean Sea.
Despite its attractive qualities and close proximity to Athens, this island is comparatively untouched by tourists, making it an appealing destination for those seeking more solitude and relaxation. In the evening when the village squares come to life, visitors can taste local delicacies as the sun sets over the island.
A small alpine town situated amid the Bernese Alps in the Jungfrau region, Wengen’s scenery and tranquil setting make it particularly appealing for those seeking the ultimate Swiss experience. The year-round snow-capped peaks and wooden chalets provide a dreamy landscape that is open to visitors from summer through to winter, which is free of cars and can be reached via rail. This village is close enough to Zürich, Lucerne and Bern for a daytrip.