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3 Off-the-Beaten-Path European Cities for your Bucket List

A little peak into three hidden-gem cities you’ll want to hit on your next Euro trip.

When most people think of Europe, they envision pinot noir under the Eiffel Tower, a tour through the Roman Coliseum or a stroll on a Barcelona beach with an Alhambra lager in your hand. All activities with their own merits, but the Old World is full of less cliche spots to spend your summer vacation. Here, three cities with plenty of charm and unique perspectives to consider for your next Euro trip.

Woman tourist along canal in Bruges, Belgium
Bruges, Belgium

Bruges was the setting of the film In Bruges (surprise, surprise). Located in Belgium, Bruges is often referred to as “The Venice of the North,” thanks to canals galore. But unlike Venice, Bruges isn’t bustling with over-priced gondola rides and tourists—instead, visit to soak up its sleepy charm. Bruges is a city that’s not really with the times, and its ok with it: case in point, the Hotel Ter Brughe, which rocks a 16th-century vibe with high, arched ceilings and a proper iron key for your door (you better hope you don’t lose it).

It may seem a little cheesy, but a carriage ride through the cobblestone streets is actually the best way to get your bearings in the city. Get dropped off at the Belfry of Bruges: the bell tower gives you a majestic view of the city, worth every one of the 366 steps. For those weary legs who can’t bear the climb, not to worry, Salvador Dali is here: while everyone is lined up around the block for the Picasso museum, Dali’s museum lies right under the Belfry. Go for the incredible surrealist artwork, stay for the romantic advice: on his first date, Dali painted his armpits blue, perfumed himself with goat manure, and proposed. (Spoiler alert: She said yes, and became his lifelong wife.)

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Under the tutelage of their famous head chef Geert Van Hecke, many of Europe’s finest chefs have trained at De Karmeliet, so make this your dinner stop. With its white tablecloths, high ceilings, and sharply dressed servers, it gives you that feeling of being at the upper class dinner on the Titanic (this time, though, with no icebergs to ruin the night). That may sound a little stuffy, but the look belies a relaxed and cozy atmosphere. Expect twists on classic French cuisine here, like baked goose liver with cherries and carrots, or roasted red mullet and baby squid.

After dinner, the best nightlife might just be found seated on a quiet bench. Stop and watch the world go by in a city that still seems to preserve its centuries-old ways: take in the buildings, take in the history, and most of all let the peacefulness of this city seep into your heart, and carry that with you when you leave.

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Porto, Portugal

Our favourite thing about Porto? You can almost explore every part of it sitting on a boat. And one of those sights you’ll take in as you drift along the serene river is the Maria Pia Bridge, built by Gustave Eiffel—the same Gustave Eiffel who built the Eiffel Tower. Who needs Paris?

But Porto’s character is enjoyable by foot, too, so hop out of that boat and hit the old quarter: Riberia is the soul of Porto, packed with bright colours, weathered buildings, and tight alleyways well-worth exploring

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But it’s not all boho vibes here in the Old Quarter: just take a look at Cafe Majestic, famous for its extravagant mirrors and jaw-dropping chandeliers. Luckily, the food is just as exquisite as the interior, with dishes like duck magret perfumed with port wine on offer.

A nice walk is the perfect post-lunch activity, and luckily there’s plenty to explore. Just 15 minutes down the main street called Praça de Dom João is the district of Miragaia. Stop here for a selfie or three in front of buildings stacked up on top of each other like Lego blocks.

Come dinnertime, you’ll want to settle in for an authentic Portugese meal, and there’s no better place to do it than the 70-year-old Chez Lapin. Each of its three rooms allow for a privileged view of the Duoro River, but the view and ambiance aren’t the only thing that will lure you in—there’s also the smells of baked octopus and bacalhauà lagareiro (baked salt cod with potatoes) coming out of Chef Lapin’s kitchen. Afterwards, it’s back to your room at the Yeatman Hotel across the Duoro river, where the infinity pool will give you the peace and serenity you desire after a long day of exploring.

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Verona, Italy

Though any trip to Italy will involve a trip to a cathedral or two, let’s be honest with ourselves: people don’t go to Italy to pray, they go there to mangia. Verona may be home to the best polenta in the country, but it also knows how to carboload like the best of ’em. (Apologies to the gluten intolerant!) So sign yourself up for the Verona Food Tour for three-and-a-half hours of eating your way through the city, and then grab an espresso at the Via Roma 33 Cafe—you’ll need the fuel for the marathon of snacking to come. The highlight of the tour? A small tortellini workshop, where masters of their craft will teach the traditional way to make pasta from scratch… or maybe the ample opportunities to drink wine at every stop.

And when you need a break from the food fest, check out a show at The Arena of Verona (this summer’s lineup includes Carmen, Aida, La Traviata, Roberto Bolle and Friends, Turandot, and Il Trovatore). Built 50 years prior to the Roman Colosseum, the Arena hosts the Verona Summer Opera Festival annually, an 89 year tradition.

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Check in to the Byblos Art Hotel Villa Amistà, designed by Italian Alessandro Mendini, who created a space where the bright colours and plastic shapes of contemporary art combine with 17th century paintings and marble. The old-meets-new rooms are each designed by a big-name designer (Ron Arad, Eero Aranio, and Marcel Wanders among them), making them the perfect home base for your Verona adventures. 

 

Want some more ideas for international travel? Check out our getaway guides!

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