Have you ever wondered if there are alternatives to popular European destinations? Ones that are less crowded, off the beaten path? Maybe you have already visited some famous spots and are wondering where to go next? Well, look no further. Here you will find a list of some lesser-known alternatives. While they may not as big and famous as their similar counterparts, these places are still definitely worth a visit.
Instead of Cinque Terre, Try Golfo Paradiso
One of the most famous images of the beauty of Italy is taken from a walkway looking back at the town of Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy. Most famous = super crowded. Most people will tell you to stay away from this area entirely in the summer. To put it in perspective, Cinque Terre has about 4,000 inhabitants but gets 2.4 million visitors every year.
What do you do if you want to experience that picturesque seaside Italian village but can't handle the congestion of mass tourism? The answer is Golfo Paradiso. Golfo Paradiso is located quite close to Cinque Terre but is much less known to tourists. You will be able to reach Golfo Paradiso (sometimes called “the other Cinque Terre”) easily by train from Genoa.
For anyone who might be taking a cruise in this area of Italy, you may dock in Savona. If you are renting a car for the day, Golfo Paradiso is just over an hour's drive.
The Golfo Paradiso area also has 5 small towns just like Cinque Terre. If you don't like one, move on to the next! You have the choice between Camogli, Pieve Ligure, Sori, Bogliasco and Recco. Each of these little towns boasts incredible views and a ton of charm.
There are many things to do in the Golfo Paradiso area such as whale watching, swimming, walking trails, breathtaking views and great restaurants and cafes. With fewer tourists than its cousin Cinque Terre, you can actually experience all of the activities the region has to offer rather than spending your time in line.
Instead of Barcelona, Try Girona
To be clear, I am not saying that you shouldn't visit Barcelona. It's a world-class city that's on most people's to-do lists. If you can't quite make it all the way to Barcelona or prefer a smaller, less touristed town, consider Girona, Spain.
Girona is still a big enough city, with a population of almost 100,000, to have all the culture and amenities you would want. There are attractions such as churches and museums that are significantly cheaper and easier to navigate than anything you would find in Barcelona.
Girona, especially the charming old town, is walkable, unlike the more spread out Barcelona. If you like to walk around and experience a city rather than spending your valuable vacation time on buses or underground on the metro, Girona is a good fit for you.
Similar in culture to Barcelona, Girona is within an hour's drive of the amazing beaches of the Costa Brava. Also, if you are already in the South of France in places such as Toulouse or Perpignan, Girona is much closer by car or by train than Barcelona. Girona is a great option to experience Spain on an easier level.
Instead of Athens, Try Paestum
Again, I am not saying that you shouldn't visit Athens. It's a wonderful city full of welcoming people, fantastic Greek ruins and my favourite food. I have loved the time I have spent there. But, with vacation time at a premium, it's not ideal to always be on trains, planes and buses moving from country to country. If you can't leave Europe without seeing Greek ruins, then think about visiting Paestum in Italy.
With the Temples of Hera I and II and the Temple of Athena, Paestum is where you will find the best and most well-preserved ancient Greek ruins in mainland Italy. Paestum has these temples, tomb paintings, an archaeological museum and a Roman amphitheatre to keep you busy all day. Chances are, if you are visiting Europe, you will already be in Italy so Paestum is a logical choice for a sample of Greece without getting on a plane.
The ancient Greek ruins and other attractions in Paestum are much less well known than let's say the Parthenon. You will have fewer heads in your photos and be able to see all the sights fully without other tourists frantically jockeying for position to get the best possible picture.
Paestum is within an hour's drive or train ride from Salerno, another popular cruise ship destination. Most people travelling to the famous Italian Amalfi coast will at some point be in Salerno. Consider adding a day to make the short trip to Paestum to get a small taste of ancient Greece in Italy.
Instead Of Lascaux, Try Niaux
If you're into really old things, you would probably appreciate some cave paintings from say 17,000 to 12,000 years ago. I am. And if you are too, then you should make a special visit to Niaux to take the tour of the Niaux Cave.
You can reach this French Palaeolithic site within about an hour by car from Toulouse and an hour and a half from Carcassonne. One downside is that you really do need a car to get here. Although you'll be spending some time in the car, the area in which you'll be travelling is an attraction on its own. Niaux is situated in South-Western France in the awe-inspiring French Pyrenees. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon if you ask me.
Unlike Lascaux, which is a reproduction of the cave and its paintings, Niaux is real. You get to experience the actual paintings. Not a replica. Due to concerns of preservation, the number of people allowed in the cave at any one time is limited and all rules must be strictly followed. It's a very small price to pay to get to see these paintings in their true setting.
Another thing to keep in mind, because you will be walking in a cave that they keep as undisturbed as possible, is that you need to be steady on your feet. The terrain is natural and therefore uneven. Bring good walking shoes and a sweater. The cave stays at 12°C year-round.
The Niaux site conducts tours in French and English but they do fill up in the summer so this is something you will want to book as early as possible. With your entrance fee of only €12, you get to see the paintings of course and since the tour is guided you get information on the history of the cave and the surrounding area. It really helped me to imagine what it might have been like for the inhabitants so many years ago.
There you have it: some great alternatives to popular European destinations to consider adding to your next travel itinerary. I recommend each of these destinations as I have thoroughly enjoyed them all.