Sights unseen: Top 10 must-see European destinations
Bursting with beauty, history and culture are a multitude of intimate and lesser-travelled European destinations that every keen traveller must see in their lifetime.
From Greece’s colonnaded Parthenon to a finger-like peninsula whose highest peaks are home to Orthodox Christian monasteries, your next epic and equally dreamy summer holiday escape to Europe is right at your fingertips.
Here are 10 magical destinations you must experience for yourself and add to your bucket list.
1. Tallin, Estonia
Estonia may be one of the smallest countries in Europe yet it boasts a culture and history as vibrant and insightful as any other. In Tallin, the charming capital of Estonia located on the coast of the Baltic Sea, you can immerse yourself in a number of experiences – everything from a brush with old civilisation and the meticulously-kept medieval streets of the Old Town to suppers and heavenly homemade cuisines. This includes cinnamon roasted almonds, which are a must-try from an Old Town street store or treat yourself to the special sweet taste of marzipan that holds an immensely fascinating and meaningful history.
Once under the rule of Russia, the newly independent country is the perfect place to journey through for a touch of the old and the new. Those who admire fine art must add the Kadriorg Art Museum at the Baroque Kadriorg Palace to their to-do list, which was once a summer home for Catherine I of Russia.
The perfect blend of modern culture and ancient history, stop in during an immersive 15-day Baltic Sea journey which will see you exploring northern Europe with Viking Cruises.
2. Puglia, Italy
Roaming around Puglia, better known as the “boot” of Italy, might be the most beautiful view to cast your eyes upon. The white-washed towns of Ostuni and Alberobello are two cities visitors may never want to leave as the tree-lined, sunny streets are just one part of what makes Puglia a sight to behold.
The beloved city, which is responsible for over 60 per cent of Italy’s olive oil production, is home to centuries-old olive trees. The history built from beneath the soil of the pristine city should be more than enough to entice any traveller to feast on the Pugliese cuisine.
The Romanesque Basilica of St Nicholas is a must see for all culture-hungry travellers. Built late in the 11th century, the stunning church took nearly 100 years to complete. With clean, simple lines and cream coloured stone, this cathedral is well worth exploring for yourself.
3. Troy, Turkey
An archaeological wonder, the story of Troy is one that has amazed and astounded for generations. Located in Western Turkey, the ancient ruins of Troy are a marvel that date back to approximately 3000 BC and have been preserved so remarkably well, visitors will be able to experience a genuine glimpse of what the region’s former glory was once like.
The legendary ancient city was made famous by The Iliad – an epic poem written by Greek author Homer, who in this particular body of work detailed specific events of the final weeks of the Trojan War. The incredible prose has become an iconic piece of work and is considered the earliest writings in the whole of the Western literary tradition.
Culture-hungry travellers should not pass up the privilege to witness the ancient ruins of Troy for themselves. They offer an immersive insight into a world that once was but no longer exists and are surrounded by legends and myths all pointing to the fascinating and meaningful history readily available.
Along with visiting the glorious ruins of Troy, travellers will be able to visit the tranquil memorial site from World War I, the battlefields of Gallipoli.
The long-fought campaign was one of the deadliest and extensive battles fought during the war and has a sombre history, which you can retrace with a ferry ride across the Dardanelles straight to Eceabat on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
4. Mostar, Bosnia
The scenic city of Mostar is a sight any traveller may not ever want to leave. Best known for their landmark ‘Old Bridge,’ the small town is a true symbol of peace and unity in a region once absolved in conflict. Stari Most is a 16th century, ottoman-style bridge and is by far Mostar’s most beloved and iconic architectural landmark. Stretching just 28 metres across Neretva River, Stari Most has become a symbolic reminder of harmony and multiculturalism.
Along with the abundance of street art, abandoned buildings and ancient mosques and churches, there is a mystique quite unlike any other destination you will travel to.
While Bosnia might not be located on a coastline, you can explore this destination from Croatia during the Empires of the Mediterranean itinerary with Viking Cruises. The intimate locations are just simple reminders that journeys like these are hard to come by.
5. Rethymno, Greece
One of the best-preserved medieval cities in Greece, Rethymno is the third biggest city of Crete in the Greek Islands, and is a lively, animated town you won’t want to miss a second of. The dreamy seaside town is the perfect balance between the old and the new – stroll along the 16th century cobblestone streets while taking in the arched doorways, stone staircases and ancient remains of what once was.
The cosy old town and its tavernas will be a breath of fresh air on your 25-day journey through the cities of antiquity and the holy land where travellers will get the opportunity to explore the wonders of the Mediterranean with Viking Cruises.
6. Shetland and Orkney Islands, Scotland
Travelling to Shetland, Scotland is sure to be the remarkable experience you wish you’d had sooner while immersing yourself in a 15-day cruise from Bergen, Norway to London, England.
Along the way, as you wind your way around the British Isles, travellers will have the opportunity to witness the famous Shetland ponies grazing along the roadside, on the beaches and along the dappled hillsides of the Shetland Islands.
During the British Isles Explorer cruise with Viking Cruises, travellers are given the opportunity to learn about the meaningful history surrounding Orkney Islands – from the 5,000-year-old circle of stones to the remarkably preserved Stone Age settlement of Skara Brae that is estimated to have been built between 3000BCE and 2500BCE, and is one of Scotland’s most fascinating villages.
This enriching experience is one you won’t want to pass up.
7. Trømso, Norway
Deemed the “Gateway to the Arctic,” Tromsø is the second largest city in Norway which offers both natural wonders, vibrant cultural elements and unique structures specific to the famous city.
Whether you seek adventure, natural beauty or romance, you will find a mingling of activities to suit your needs – from an exploration through the stunning and “daring” Arctic Cathedral created in 1965, to learning about exciting arctic expeditions and dog sledding.
Embark on an epic 15-day voyage Into the Midnight Sun through the UK and Scandinavia and visit Trømso, where travellers will have the opportunity to witness 24 hours of daylight, and the magical ‘Midnight Sun’, during the Scandinavian summer.
Alternatively, those wanting to explore the pristine natural beauty of the world’s northernmost city during winter in search of the northern lights can choose a 13-day In Search of the Northern Lights cruise.
8. Koper, Slovenia
One of Slovenia’s largest coastal towns, Koper is the country’s best kept secret. A city with a bountiful history, it carries the legacy of the Venetian Republic where the large and abundant town became a force to be reckoned with in the 15th and 16th century.
Those with the rare opportunity to wander through the rich architecture will not be left disappointed. In Tito Square, travellers can admire the uniquely built Venetian-Gothic Praetorian Palace. The beautifully ornate building once served as the municipal seat for many generations and has since become one of the city’s most popular landmarks to explore.
The glorious town, which is Slovenia’s only port city, is visited during a 10-day voyage to nine magnificent locations throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.
9. Lucca, Italy
Located in the Tuscany region of Italy, Lucca is a remarkably preserved city bubbling with a rich way of life that visitors will be entranced by. The charming fortified town is a peaceful rest away from the hustle and bustle of busy Italian life, with an old charm you just can’t beat and a step into a life much different to the world we live in now.
A fortified wall encloses the entire town – a distinctive reminder of the city defence that existed many years ago.
A place of divine interactions and real experiences with the locals of Tuscany, Lucca is a lovely reprieve filled with its own culture to digest – from unique Lucchese cuisine to a pedestrian promenade that has become one of the city’s most beloved features.
During a call to Florence, travellers can choose to explore Lucca during your discovery of the Mediterranean’s most historic ports, from the fabled towns of Tuscany to the French Riviera’s seaside treasures in Marseille and Monte Carlo.
10. Montpellier (Sète), France
The seductive city of Montpellier is a vibrant and culturally diverse gem in the south of France and is the perfect destination to journey to.
Cultivated by over 1000 of years of history, the charming, architecturally designed town is filled with a healthy mix of history, art, antiquities and ample amounts of sunshine.
The thin strip of land boasts the perfect blend between modern and ancient with its medieval streets, waterfront homes and the buzzing canal linking the Mediterranean Sea to its enclosed saltwater lagoon of Ethang de Thau.
Travellers looking to find serenity and belonging in the bustling city will enjoy Cimetière Marin – a monumental cemetery that is the resting place for generations of former inhabitants of Montpellier. Immortalised by local poet Paul Valéry, it offers brilliant views of the sea all the way to Sardinia.
Later, voyagers can experience what makes Montpellier’s culinary scene a destination to completely immerse yourself in. See why their seafood delicacies are what they are known for as you watch local fisherman bring in their daily catch on France’s Mediterranean coast.
While there are plenty of destinations to choose from, it’s best you get packing now – for the best holiday is just around the corner in this chilly southern hemisphere weather.
The perfect solution to keep the winter chill at bay is by jumping on the next sojourn to explore some of the most intriguing and diverse locations Europe has to offer, many of which are best accessed by water.
This article is brought to you in conjunction with Viking Cruises.