Often overlooked but never underwhelming, these 8 so-called second cities give their bigger, more famous compatriots a run for their money. What second cities lack in size, they make up for with amazing things to do, see, taste, and snap. So if you’re planning a European city break, why not look beyond the well-worn streets of the continent’s capitals and head to these underrated destinations?
1- St. Petersburg, Russia If world-class museums and galleries, magnificent churches, and impressive theaters sound like something you’d enjoy, St. Petersburg is the place for you. Start by exploring the renowned Hermitage Museum. With over 1500 rooms, including a section in the Winter Palace, you could spend a lifetime wandering its opulent hallways. If you manage to pull yourself away from the Hermitage, take a stroll through the city, passing the picture-book Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood as well as crossing several quaint bridges that loop over canals. Just 30 km south of St. Petersburg lies the unmissable Catherine Palace. Once the summer residence of Russian Tsars, the beautiful palace is now a firm favorite of day trippers – and it’s easy to see why.
3- Hamburg, Germany Hamburg will steal your heart in the blink of an eye, especially at night when the lights come on and the harbor twinkles in the darkness. Wake up early on Sunday (or just head straight there from the nightlife hotspot of Reeperbahn) to check out St. Pauli fish market. As well as mingling with local traders, who jockey for the freshest fish at the best prices, you can pick up a tasty treat at the street food stalls that call the market home. No visit to Hamburg is complete without visiting the Elbphilharmonie, perhaps Germany’s (maybe even Europe’s) most striking piece of modern architecture. From the concert hall, you’re just a short walk from the Instagram-worthy canals and warehouses of Speicherstadt, Hamburg’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
4- Cork, Republic of Ireland Cork encapsulates everything that’s great about Ireland: fine food, friendly folks, and fantastic scenery. Sample the best of Ireland’s second city by taking a walk along St. Patrick’s Street, stopping by the English Market to pick up picnic necessities that can be enjoyed in Fitzgerald’s Park. Cork is also perfectly situated to explore the Emerald Isle’s wild coastline: Head west to the Cliffs of Moher or south to visit Mizen Head, Ireland’s southernmost point.
5- Graz, Austria Austria is a great place for food lovers, and Graz is no exception. For cake-hunters like myself, there’s nothing quite like sitting in a cute café with a fresh Kaiserschmarrn in front of you just waiting to be eaten. Burn off such creamy delights by walking up Schlossberg and enjoying marvelous views of the city. Schlossberg’s clocktower dates back to the 13th century and provides amazing photo opportunities. Before you leave, make sure to have a drink on the Murinsel – a futuristic structure that was built on the Mur River to celebrate Graz being named Europe’s capital of culture in 2003.
6- Split, Croatia It’s not every day you can sip a coffee while marveling at 2000-year-old architecture, but that’s exactly what awaits you in Split, Croatia’s charming second city. Head to Diocletian’s Palace and the Cathedral of Saint Domnius to gaze upon two of Split’s most famous ancient architectural beauties. As you stroll along the winding, narrow streets of the old town, you can’t fail to miss the warm sea breeze that calls locals and visitors alike to the sparkling Adriatic Sea. Once you’ve topped up your tan on the nearby beaches, take a day trip the fairytale-like Plitvice Lakes. The waterfalls and lakes on display at the national park will likely be the highlight of your trip.
7- Thessaloniki, Greece Anyone with a fascination with history will want to pay a visit to Greece’s second biggest city. First up, head to the harbor to check out the White Tower, Thessaloniki’s most famous sight. Standing at 34m tall, the one-time prison now houses exhibitions as well providing stunning vistas from its viewing platform. The tower’s main entrance gate, Arch of Galerius, dates back to 298 AD and is well worth snapping during a stroll of the old town. Continue your journey back in time with a day trip to the cliff-hugging monasteries of Meteora.
8- Bergen, Norway Even though it’s deemed one of the wettest cities in Europe, Bergen has so many incredible things to offer that you won’t mind a little rain. This charming Norwegian city stuns with fresh seafood (check out Fish Me at Bergen’s fish market), more museums than you can count, and picturesque fjords waiting to be explored. Catch the funicular up Mt. Floyen to see Bergen from above. There’s nothing quite like watching the sun go down from up there.
Bastille Day is one of the most iconic national days in the world. Who hasn’t heard about the French Revolution, the storming of the Bastille prison, and the Man in the Iron Mask (or is the latter just a myth?). Few people, Parisians included, realize that many traces of this legendary revolution can still be spotted on, around and under Bastille Square. But Bastille is not just about the past. Follow our behind the scenes guide as we reveal what this amazing district has to offer.
1- Walk Paris’s hidden high line
New York’s high line has nothing on Bastille’s Coulée Verte. Spanning until Bois de Vincennes, this 5km-long, elevated walkway is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Make your way down Rue de Lyon, passing the Bastille Opera, until you reach a red-brick viaduct. Up to 10 meters above street level, passing through parks and caves, crossing bridges and skirting roofs, the Coulée Verte will make you view Paris from a whole new angle.
2- Be in three arrondissements at once
Bastille Square straddles three of Paris’s hippest districts: the 4th, 11th and 12th. If you stand by the July Column in the heart of the square, you’ll just about be in all three places at once. For a lively weekend, step into the 4th district and explore the Marais quarter. To soak up a village feel, make your way to the 11th district with its farmers’ markets and cobblestone alleys. Finally, head to the 12th district for open green spaces at the Vincennes woods and waterfront fun by Bercy.
3- Go on an underground boat ride
What better way to cool off on a hot summer’s day than by enjoying a boat ride? And not just any boat ride! Embark on a subterranean journey in the belly of Bastille. Starting off in the Arsenal marina, where the old moat was located, this boat ride takes you on a 2km underground crossing all the way to the charming Canal Saint Martin. Sshh, added bonus: this canal, with its typical iron bridges, is one of Amélie’s hangout spots.
4- A blast from the past
In true Robert Langdon fashion (to all the Da Vinci Code fans out there!), trace the former location of the Bastille fortress, which was located on Bastille Square until its destruction shortly after the French Revolution. Spot the dark red stones in the pavement outlining the fort’s dungeons. Use Google Maps for a hint or find out about the old fort’s exact location on a commemorative plaque by the corner of Rue Saint Antoine and Rue Jacques Coeur.
5- Step back in time
If you’re intrigued and hungry for more, head down to the Bastille metro for a peek of the remnants of the fort. Stand on the platform of metro line 5, headed to Bobigny and admire what’s left of the fort’s moat wall. Head over to line 1 for a fresco detailing scenes of the revolution as well as a sign indicating the location of the Tour de la Liberté, one of the forts eight towers. Why go to the Louvre when you’ve got the Parisian metro?!
Leave Europe’s crowded beaches behind with our guide to the continent’s most amazing coastal destinations. From idyllic beaches and colorful towns to amazing cliffs and secret islands, Europe’s coastline is full of surprises – and we’re here to show you the best seaside escapes on offer.
1- Sylt, Germany
An endless beach, beautiful blue skies, and impressive dunes are not things that come to mind when you think of Germany. Yet this is precisely what awaits you in Westerland, a little town in Sylt, Germany’s northernmost island. Walk through the town center, past quirky stores and cute cafes until you reach the sandy beach that stretches for kilometers. Explore the island by bike and try to keep count of the red and white striped lighthouses that are scattered across the island.
2- Étretat, France
It doesn’t matter if you’re not a morning person, watching the sun rise over the famous white cliffs of Étretat is something you simply have to witness. To make the most of your early start, head to the Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde for the perfect view of the sun rising over the cliffs. Afterward, take a stroll along the clifftop and enjoy sweeping views of the coastline. Recharge in the small town of Étretat, which like most towns in Normandy, is a great place to enjoy fresh seafood and a refreshing glass of wine at the end of the day.
3- Durdle Door, UK
The UK is more than just rain, cloudy skies and fish and chips. Just a three-hour drive from London is Durdle Door, an impressive limestone arch on the awesomely named Jurassic Coast. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean dinosaurs are roaming around or that Jeff Goldblum will guide you along the coast, but if you’re lucky you will find a fossil or two! As well as fossil hunting, walking the South West Coastal Path provides you with incredible views of the dramatic cliffs and hidden coves.
4- Atrani, Italy
Tourists traveling to the Amalfi Coast usually just visit the likes of Positano, Sorrento and Capri. They make a huge mistake by missing the charming, medieval town of Atrani, one of the most relaxing spots in the region. Atrani stuns with a large viaduct behind the beach that hugs the whole town. Being one of the oldest settlements in Italy, much of the medieval structures remain intact so be sure to wander around the historic center. As you take a stroll, you’ll see street vendors selling huuuuge lemons. Pick up a glass of fresh lemon juice before departing. You’re unlikely to find a more refreshing drink in Europe.
5- Rovinj, Croatia
If you can’t decide whether to visit Italy or France for your next vacation, fear not as there is a place that combines the most beautiful aspects of both countries. With it’s French Riviera charm and Italian atmosphere, the little town of Rovinj in Croatia is something right out of a magazine. The church of Euphemia is the pride of locals. It was built in 1725 and overlooks the town, beaches, ocean and neighboring islands. Visit the local market in the harbor to buy self-made liquor, jewelry, fresh vegetables and much more.
6- Hirtshals, Denmark
A cute village with a giant lighthouse is not something you want to miss, so pack a tent and your wanderlust and set out for Hirtshals in northern Denmark. Unwind on the beach below the 57-meter high lighthouse (Hirtshals Fyr) and watch boats and ferries go by. You can sail to Iceland, the Faroe Islands and even Greenland from here – the locals don’t call it the Gateway to Europe for nothing. Before you leave, you have to try Guf, a type of Danish soft ice.
7- Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
Those of you who’ve already heard of Sveti Stefan were probably disappointed to learn this stunning island is a private hotel – and a pretty pricey one at that. But don’t worry, you don’t need to be on the island to enjoy the beauty of Sveti Stefan, which has been dazzling locals, tourists and celebrities alike for centuries. It’s just 15 minutes away from Budva, a beautiful Montenegrin coastal town, so snap some pics from the mainland before treating yourself to an unforgettable dinner on Sveti Stefan.
8- Bodrum, Turkey
Combine your perfect Mediterranean getaway with one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Bodrum. Unfortunately, it was largely destroyed at the beginning of the 14th century, but the rubble was later used to build the imposing Bodrum Castle. The resort city has a whole lot more to offer than just the Mausoleum. Soak up the sun on the amazing beaches that line the peninsula or unwind in a Turkish bathhouse, including Tarihi Bardakçı Hamamı, the oldest in the city. If you want to explore Bodrum, head to the farmers market in the old town for an authentic taste of Turkey.
Portugal has everything you need for a dream vacation. Spend your time unwinding on idyllic beaches, hiking breathtaking cliff passes and eating your way through a mountain of pastel de natas thanks to our guide to the country’s most unmissable spots.
1- Take to the waves Listen up surfers: forget Australia and Hawaii. The highest wave ever surfed (24m) was in Nazaré, just a few kilometers north of Lisbon. Even if you’re not that into surfing, from the lookout point of Miradouro do Suberco, you can enjoy spectacular views of the ocean crashing against the rugged coastline. The biggest waves usually occur in early November, but you’ll need a bit of luck to catch an elusive 20m one. Unfortunately not all of us are able (or crazy enough) to surf waves as high as a house, but luckily Portugal has more surf spots to offer than just Nazaré. On Arrifana Beach in the southwest of the country, perfect surf swell awaits you on a stretch of coastline that’s lined with high cliffs.
2- Unwind on a deserted island An uninhabited island that’s basically just one giant beach with a little restaurant on sounds pretty damn perfect in comparison to the touristy alternatives on the mainland. Soak up the sun, swim and repeat all day – with absolutely nobody disturbing your peace. The nature on Ilha Deserta is still relatively untouched, and its remoteness will make you feel like you wandered into paradise. Instead of spending the entire day on the island, you can take a catamaran tour that visits both Ilha Deserta and Ilha Farol. The latter is ready-made for hiking enthusiasts since there are no roads or vehicles.
3- Find your dream beach Portugal’s 900 km coastline is home to its fair share of unique beaches. One such beach, Miramar, is just a short drive from Porto. Here, embedded in dreamy white sand and built on several rocks, sits Senhor da Pedra, a picture-perfect little chapel marooned in the middle of the beach. If you find yourself further south, head to Praia do Paraiso (Paradise Beach). You can only reach the beach by walking down a set of cliff steps, but you’ll be rewarded with a stunning sandy beach that truly lives up to its name. The charming fishing village of Carvoeiro, which overlooks Praia do Paraiso, is well worth exploring.
4- Get lost in nature There are seemingly millions of different hiking tracks you can choose to tackle in Portugal – and with each route more breathtaking than the next, it’s tough to settle for just one or two. Arguably Portugal’s (and the world’s) most picturesque coastal path is known as the Fisherman’s Trail, a single track along the cliffs of the west coast. Even though the whole trail is 120 km long, it’s easily accessible meaning you can choose to hike as much or as little as you want. If you’re less of a hiker, you can enjoy the many different paths (or even kayak routes) in Arrabida National Park, just a short drive from Lisbon.
5- Meet the Venice of Portugal With its brightly painted gondolas peacefully floating through the canals, Aveiro easily gives Venice a run for its money. Each gondola (also called a Moliceiro) is unique, usually painted to depict traditional landscapes found around Aveiro. They were originally used to collect seaweed in the lagoon, but you’ll now see them taxiing locals and tourists. Make sure to also explore the city by foot – Aveiro boasts beautiful pastel houses, public gardens and a century-old train station with stunning blue azulejo tiles.
7- Do go chasing waterfalls After a quick forest hike in Serra do Açor, you’ll find yourself standing in front of the stunning 20m high Fraga da Pena waterfall. If you’re brave enough, you can go for a swim in the lagoon that sits underneath it, but only if you don’t mind very (and I mean very!) cold water. The closest ‘big’ town is Coimbra – it’s easy to reach from Fraga da Pena and the perfect starting point for a camping trip.
8- Venture to the end of the world We (hopefully) all know that earth is not flat, but when you’re in Cabo de Sao Vicente it sure feels like you’re about to fall off the edge of the world. At the most southwestern point of continental Europe, you’ll find an almost hundred-year-old lighthouse that sits perched atop cliffs that can reach up to seventy meters. You can enjoy “The Last Bratwurst Before America” from a little food stand while you take in the amazing scenery. In the unlikely case that you get sick of the view, just a kilometer before the lighthouse is Fortaleza do Belixe, a 15th-century fort that’s packed with history.
9- Explore Europe’s trendiest capital A trip to Portugal is incomplete until you’ve visited its artsy capital city. The age-old yellow cable cars will transport you from A to B in what may feel like the hilliest city in the world. No matter where the cable cars (or your legs) take you, you’ll soon realize there’s no shortage of things to do in Lisbon. Take in the views from Park Bar (an inexpensive rooftop bar in the city center), enjoy exhibitions at the MAAT and do not leave the city without enjoying a pastel de nata from Manteigaria, a famous little bakery that produces fresh batches every hour.
10 – Marvel at the almond blossoms Everyone’s heard of the gorgeous cherry blossom trees in Japan, but you’ll find something equally as beautiful at the very edge of western Europe. From late February until early March, the Douro Valley in northern Portugal becomes a flower paradise you really don’t want to miss. Legend has it that a young king had the almond trees planted to woo a Nordic princess. He hoped by covering the valley with white almond blossoms she would be reminded of the snow back home. We’re not sure if it worked – but it did leave us with a breathtaking natural spectacle to enjoy! Be sure to celebrate the blossom with the locals at the Folklore Festival of the Almond Trees in Mogadouro.