By Emma Nolan
When deciding on a trip to Europe, the big names that regularly pop up are Paris, Rome, London, and Barcelona. Though these destinations are definitely worth the visit, let’s not forget about some of the lesser known locations that can be overlooked when planning to travel abroad.
Starting in the United Kingdom, Bristol, a city in the South-West of England, synonymous with the graffiti artist Banksy is fast becoming a choice location for city breaks in the UK. A mere stroll through the city streets and you’ll be captivated to the endless array of truly creative and intelligent street art.
Combine this experience with a trip to the Thekla, a cargo ship moored in the Mud Dock area of the city’s Floating Harbour which is now a nightclub that has since hosted acts like Portishead and Massive Attack, native to Bristol. This is one of the best venues to make the most of the drum and bass scene for some wild nights out.
The Floating Harbour in Bristol, UK. Photo by Robert Cutts.
In other parts of Great Britain, Scotland’s capital Edinburgh is a historical city with a lot going on. Catch a rugby match during the season at Murrayfield Stadium and warm up with some hot whiskies. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which takes place in August, is the world’s largest arts festival.
Spanning 25 days and featuring primarily theatre and comedy acts, it features musical and dance acts too. One of Edinburgh’s biggest attractions is Edinburgh Castle which overlooks the entire city from high up on Castle Rock, a must see touchstone of Scotland’s history.
The 2009 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Photo by Martie Swart.
Moving further south to Belgium, the city of Bruges located in the Flemish region of Belgium is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North. As it is a canal-based city, much of the sight-seeing can be done from boat tours, a classic part of the Bruges experience. A cruise down the Spiegelrei allows for a view of the sites that can’t be seen on foot. This Medieval city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as its gothic architecture is still beautifully maintained. Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood and Belfry of Bruges bell tower for a truly authentic medieval adventure.
For those in search of a warmer climate, the city of Valencia in Spain’s Catalan region on the Costa Blanca is wonderful destination for those who want to see the city sights and lie on the beach. Just a short train ride away from Barcelona, Valencia is the home of paella and boasts attractions such as the Turia Riverbed Gardens and the City of Arts and Sciences. Its long, sandy beaches such as, Playa de Malvarrosa and Playa Pineda, are just a stone’s throw away from the city centre.
The city’s beautiful Roman and Baroque style architecture combined with its modern and post-modern buildings provide a backdrop for the quirky little restaurants which line the windy little streets that weave in and out of cathedrals and the Colosseum de Valancia. Check out the Barrio del Carmen neighborhood in the old part of the city for great restaurants and nightlife.
A bird’s eye view of the Barrio del Carmen. Photo by davidd.
Staying in Spain, the city of Palma on Majorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean is a popular holiday destination for Europeans. The city of Palma itself has a long history of conquest resulting in a city that’s immersed in a variety of cultures. The Old City area of Palma is a maze of pedestrianized, windy streets, overlooked by the impressive “La Seu” Cathedral. The seafood on this island can’t be beaten, just take a stroll along the promenade on Playa de Palma and stop for some sangria in a restaurant by the sea.
Another great European destination off the beaten path is Slovenia’s Lake Bled located in the Julian Alps about an hour’s drive from the capital, Ljubljana. With numerous accommodations around the lake include hotels, guesthouses, private villas and campsites. There are endless things to do here in both summer and winter, such as the many water sports on the lake — fishing, golf, rock climbing, horse-back riding, kayaking, caving and even just going for a dip.
Lake Bled Island in Slovenia. Photo by Sébastien Bertrand.
Lake Bled boasts an absolutely stunning natural landscape, providing tourists with a never-ending supply of places to explore. There’s the Vintgar Gorge, the Iglica Waterfall, and Bled Island in the middle of the lake itself, among many more beautiful sights. This destination is also home to some impressive castles and churches which enhance the natural beauty of this area and provide some cultural and historical insight.
Croatia’s city of Dubrovnik, (many of you may recognise it as “King’s Landing” from Game of Thrones) is yet another beautiful coastal city on this route through Europe. Situated in the Dalmatia region on the Adriatic, Dubrovnik is a walled city with many beaches dotted around its coast. The ancient walls of Dubrovnik are a popular tourist attraction and a great place to view the enchanting Old Town from a height, transporting tourists back through time.
The walls of Dubrovnik. Photo by Jimmy Harris.
Just south of Dubrovnik is the island and national park, Mljet, known as the “greenest island” is home to many seaside villages and two of Croatia’s most beautiful sandy beaches Saplunara and Blace. Mljet is accessible by a short ferry ride from the city. The Dubrovnik Cable Car is a must while visiting Dubrovnik too; the panoramic views at the top are spectacular.
For the music lovers among us, if you happen to venture this far you may as well sample some of Europe’s finest music festivals. The Sziget Festival in Budapest is one of Europe’s largest music and culture festivals. Located on Obudai-Sziget, “Old Buda Island” in the Danube River in August, the five day long festival consistently has an impressive line-up with numerous stages and genres being represented so everyone’s taste is covered.
Though less obvious choices, these places are well worth the visit.