20 Fabulous European Destinations That Are Off The Beaten Track

You’ve already seen the Eiffel Tower. In fact, the day you went there with your bottle of wine and baguette, hundreds of tourists had the same idea. It was great, but you felt somehow mildly disappointed. This time, you are determined to have more of an authentic experience. Here are some beautiful destinations that offer the intrepid traveler a little genuine mystery and local color.

20. Katwijk aan Zee

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This North Sea beach town is just Northwest of Leiden, the Netherlands. Katwijk has miles of beautiful white sand beaches along which you can ride a rented bicycle, and thanks to the Gulf Stream, the water is warm enough for swimming.

19. Groningen

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Groningen is the largest city in northern Holland, with a population of almost 200,000. It has a great outdoor market on Saturdays and is an ideal base for exploring the north coast of Holland. In the summer, adventurers can go “wadlopen” — walking out across the low tides of the Waddensea to a band of islands located a few kilometers from the shore.

18. Kroller-Muller Museum

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Located in the middle of a national park, this small museum near Arnhem, the Netherlands has one of the best Vincent Van Gogh exhibits in the world. The Kroller-Muller was once the private home of Helene Kroller-Muller, who collected 11,500 works of art in her lifetime. Open since 1938, the museum also has an outdoor sculpture garden and miles of trails on which you can ride free bicycles provided by the museum itself.

17. Ostia Antica

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A large, partially excavated ruin, Ostia Antica was once the harbor city of ancient Rome. You can wander among the splendid frescoes and mosaics of the site for hours, taking in literally hundreds of years of ancient Roman civilization — without experiencing the crowds of nearby Rome.

16. The Mega Spileo Monastery

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Located near the town of Kalavryta, on the Greek Peloponnese, this monastery dates back to 362 AD, when a shepherd girl found an icon attributed to the apostle Luke in a cave. Although the original monastery was burnt down almost a thousand years ago, you can still see the cave that houses the icon as well as many other important relics. It is a magical place that you approach on a goat path through the woods, with splendid views of the surrounding countryside.

15. Mystras

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In the 14th and 15th centuries, Mystras was an important Byzantine capital; since the nineteenth century, this site in the Peloponnese region of Greece has been abandoned. The site contains a castle, a monastery, and a citadel. In late spring, these romantic hillside ruins are alive with wildflowers.

14. Vergt

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This village just to the southeast of Perigueux, in the South of France, is located in the middle of strawberry fields. Come for the Strawberry Festival in late May and enjoy the excellent hospitality of the locals, who host a communal meal for the occasion and put on a show of traditional clog dancing. There is also a strawberry tart that measures three meters across — just saying.

13. Ronda

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Ronda, a city in the province of Malaga, Spain, is best known for its “new bridge” spanning the 100 metre Tajo Gorge. It makes a great base for exploring surrounding villages like Setenil, whose houses were built right over a series of prehistoric cave dwellings in the canyon walls.

12. Ravenna

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Once the capital city of the Holy Roman Empire, and later the capital city of the Ostrogoths, Ravenna was recaptured by the Byzantine Empire in the sixth century AD. This city near Bologna, Italy has some of the finest Byzantine mosaics in the world. You will tour the churches that house them in open-mouthed astonishment, and that’s a promise.

11. Coimbra

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This city in central Portugal is a welcome relief from the heat and confusion of Lisbon, the capital city. Founded in 1290, the University of Coimbra is located at the top of a hill overlooking the city and surrounding countryside. Coimbra is also one of the best places to hear Fado, the traditional music of Portugal.