Growing up, I always wanted to visit different parts of Europe. As an adult, I have been travelling the continent, but have come to realize that there are a lot of other people doing the same thing. This leads to fatigue from the sheer volume of people that are always around in the top tourist destinations. If you want to explore Europe without the crush of thousands of other tourists, you might want to look at some of the more obscure places out there. There are a lot of towns and cities that fewer people know about, where you can enjoy the culture and history of Europe in peace.
1. Saaremaa, Estonia
There are a lot of people who do not realize that Estonia has islands. They actually have 2,222 and Sarremma is the largest of them. The island is known for its bread, beer and windmills while providing you with an old-world charm.
Some of the highlights that you can look forward to when visiting Saaremaa are the quaint villages with stoned fences and thatched roof houses as well as the group of 9 Kalli meteorite craters. There is also an amazing 13th-century castle on the island which is something that you have to see. If you are more into food than these attractions, you can sample the famous sour and sweetbreads on the island as well as the home-brewed beers on offer.
When travelling to the island, you will most likely be staying in the amazingly quaint town of Kuressaare. Almost half of the population of the island lives in the town making it a hub, but it still offers an easy-going charm. The highlight in the town is the castle which is a large moated castle located close to the seashore. The castle is in amazing condition and is what you expect from a textbook castle.
2. Vallnord, Andorra
There are a lot of people who forget about Andorra when they go through Europe, but you really shouldn't. I stopped in Andorra en-route to Spain and I am so glad that I did. The reason is Vallnord which is located in the northern-most valley of the country. Vallnord is home to 3 ski resorts which offer some of the best quality skiing.
The best thing about the resorts is that you only need one pass to visit all of them. Possibly the best resort of the 3 is Arcalis which is in the Ordino Valley. This is simply due to the snow staying on the ground for longer which means you can ski there late in the season. The resorts are linked by cable cars and are a haven for any skier looking for unexplored slopes away from the crowds.
One of the things that you need to remember when travelling to Vallnord is that there is no airport. Andorra is in the middle of the Pyrenees which makes it almost impossible to have a functioning airport. It also makes it hard to place a train station which is why the country does not have a train network. To get to Vallnord, you are going to have to take the train to either France or Spain and then hop on a bus. If you are thinking of exploring more than just Vallnord, it would be best to simply rent a car.
3. Giethoorn, Netherlands
If you are looking for a combination of Venice and the Shire from Lord of the Rings, Giethoorn is where you need to be. Like Venice, the town has almost no roads and only works with a series of waterways and bridges. Each home in the town sits on its own island and are connected by canal and bridges.
While Giethoorn is one of the obscure places that you need to visit in Europe, it is really more a day-trip destination. If you are staying in Amsterdam, you can easily visit the town in one day. A 2.5 hour train or bus ride will get you there from Amsterdam and you can then take a tour or rent a boat. When there, you have to get into a boat at some point or you will not experience the town as you should.
If you do want to spend longer in the town you can, but more than a weekend might be too long. I would recommend visiting when everything starts to bloom, after all, the Netherlands is known for their flowers.
4. Bornholm, Denmark
Bornholm is a different kind of Denmark than you might be used to. This island is located in the Baltic Sea and offers you a wonderful rocky retreat from the world while giving you everything you need from Denmark. I thought that you would have to fly to get to Bornholm, but you don't have to. You can easily get there by car or train as if you are coming from Copenhagen.
Once you are on the island, you should head to the Hammershus castle ruins. Anything ancient attracts my attention, but this is truly something else. The ruins contain the largest medieval fortification towers in Scandinavia and stand at an impressive 74 meters above sea level. The castle was built in the 13th century as a royal residence and was a base for the Danish crusades.
If old buildings are not your thing, you can also teat your taste buds on the island. Herring is a local specialty, but there are many other dishes that you can try. Bornholm has an amazing combination of wonderful local produce and aspiring chefs which produces a gastronomic wonderland.
5. Rauma, Finland
Another Scandinavian destination that you have to visit is the town of Rauma in Finland. This is one of the oldest towns in the country and was founded in 1442. What really makes this town one of the obscure places you have to visit is the long tradition of lace-making and the amazingly well-preserved wooden buildings. Taking a trip to Rauma is a bit like taking a trip back in time.
While in Rauma, you have to take a walk through the old town. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is the largest unified wooden town in all the Nordic countries. There are colorful wooden houses, cobblestone streets and beautiful public buildings that transport you to the long-forgotten past.
If you can, you should try and get to the town in late July. This is when the annual Lace Week event is held and it is something that you will probably never see anywhere else. The event consists of very interesting happenings and unique exhibitions including the privately-owned telephone museum. Rauma is also known for its craft boutiques which make shopping in the town a pleasure.
6. Kinsale, Ireland
When you think about going to Ireland, you probably think about Dublin or Cork. What you really should be thinking about is Kinsale in County Cork. This is not a truly obscure place to visit as Kinsale is generally busy with tourists, but it is a bit different to the beaten track. Kinsale has an amazing history which can be traced through the buildings from the landmark taverns to the Dutch style courthouse and medieval Desmond Castle.
Kinsale is a waterfront town and is the home of the Kinsale regatta. This is one of the oldest and longest-running regattas in Ireland and you should try making it to the town for this. There is also a Slow Food Movement in the town which has led to artisan food production. With this movement, you might feel like there are more restaurants and cafes per square mile here than in Dublin.
Kinsale is a great weekend destination or a great starting point for a trip around West Cork. There are a lot of things to see in the countryside around the town which makes it a great base point. If you like history, you need to take a trip to Charles Fort which is a fort built by the English in 1601 in the French style.
7. Bled, Slovenia
Bled in Slovenia is home to Lake Bled and this is an amazing place to visit. Lake Bled is located in the Julian Alps and you could not create a more picturesque place to relax. If you want calming waters and to get in touch with nature, you have to visit Lake Bled.
Lake Bled has everything you could want from a Romanesque tower complete with moat and drawbridge sitting high above the lake to sweeping forests. In the lake is a small island with a church and so many legends attached to it. The lake itself is a glistening masterpiece of calm glinting water that is only disturbed by a kayak paddle or the wings of a duck.
While at Lake Bled, you should look at renting a bike from the tourist centre. You can cycle around the lake and up to the iconic viewpoint of Ojstrica. You will have to hike to the vantage point when you see the road sign for the hill because you cannot cycle all the way. The hike is around 20 minutes, but the view is well worth the time and effort you put into it.
8. Grenoble, France
France is the home of the Eiffel Tower and the Palace of Versailles, but it is also home to Grenoble in the French Alps. Grenoble can offer you a breath of fresh air both figuratively and literally. The town is located in the Isere Valley and surrounded by the peaks of the Alps which give it a postcard look.
If you are going to head to Grenoble, you need to start your trip by exploring the Vieille Ville. This is an area of the town which has narrow cobblestone lanes, little squares and amazing old houses. You should start your exploration at the museum which provides an illustration of the town's history from ancient times to the 20th century.
If you are interested in French literature, you should head to the Grand Rue where you will find the Musee Stendhal. This is a typical 18th century Bourgeois residence and completely devoted to Stendhal's literary works. There are over 1000 publications in the museum on the subject of the author.
Europe has a lot of tourist destinations that everyone knows about. It also has a lot of more obscure destinations that have just as much to offer. If you want to get off the beaten track for a while, you can easily visit these more obscure places for a while.