London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, these are usually the capitals that come to mind when drafting a must visit Europe bucket list. While these cities certainly merit their fame, eastwards you will find many other European capitals that offer a great amount of amazing sights and should therefore definitely be considered when planning your next Euro trip. Here are 8 of Europe’s best kept secrets that will delight you with their authenticity, their cultural wealth and their unexpected beauty.
1. Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Many people associate Bosnia & Herzegovina with the brutal civil war that raged throughout the country in the early 90s. What Bosnia should actually be known for, apart from its breathtaking natural beauty, depicted in this photo story, is its amazing capital city. Sarajevo is one of the most culturally diverse cities in Europe, with Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity & Islam all playing a major role in the city. This diversity is omnipresent in the city and has spawned a unique architectural and cultural variety which has given Sarajevo the nickname ‘Jerusalem of Europe’. In addition to the cultural attractiveness, Sarajevo also has a rich food & nightlife scene, blending Balkan, Turkish and Central European elements into a great melting pot.
2. Bucharest, Romania
The Romanian capital is one of the largest cities in Eastern Europe and has been nicknamed ‘Little Paris‘ thanks to its architectural beauty, its renowned cultural institutions and its large avenues. Having suffered severe damages over the last century, Bucharest is nowadays quickly reinventing itself without losing its historical charm. Apart from that, communist megalomania is ubiquitous in Bucharest. The city is in fact home to the largest palace in the world and avenues that are so large that one wonders if they were built for tanks rather than cars.
3. Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn is probably the most underrated city in Europe. The ‘Baltic pearl‘ combines charming cobbled alleys and medieval architecture with modern high rises and a buzzing nightlife scene. The Old Town contains several amazing sets of fortifications and some great viewpoints. The promenades on the Baltic shore are moreover an excellent place for a stroll and lined with beautiful parks. Tallinn’s museums and other cultural institutions are the perfect way to spend your days in the Estonian capital before spending a night out in one of the many nightlife spots this city has to offer.
4. Belgrade, Serbia
The Serbian capital is certainly not a major tourist destination but an extremely interesting city nonetheless. Belgrade is in fact home to a number of great museums, historical sights and a nightlife scene that smokes most of the competition from Western Europe. Belgrade is well known for its ‘splavs’, party boats that do not move on the river and its many other clubs and bars have become a global reference for night owls. Belgrade also has a large, well maintained fortress and a beautiful Old Town.
5. Ljubljana, Slovenia
The capital city of Slovenia is extremely unknown, cheap and beautiful. Akin to Bratislava, it is firmly undermined by its more popular neighbours, in Ljubljana’s case Italy and Croatia. That’s probably the reason why Ljubljana has remained such a hidden treasure. The city is in fact dominated by an imposing medieval fortress standing atop a hill which is a great sight in itself but also contains some fabulous museums and a castle. The city moreover offers a wide range of restaurant and nightlife options for very fair prices which is another reason to visit Ljubljana. As for many Central and Eastern European cities, Ljubljana cannot compete with the bigger cities in this area but is still worth a visit thanks to its architectural beauty and historical sights.
6. Vilnius, Lithuania
The smallest of the three Baltic capitals is without a doubt the least known and the least visited. Don’t be fooled though, Vilnius has a large variety of sights at its disposal which makes the Lithuanian capital one of the most underrated cities in Europe. In Vilnius you will find amongst other things a self-proclaimed fun republic called Uzopis, an enormous disused compound of Soviet military vehicles and several shooting ranges where you can test your skills with an AK-47 if you are into this sort of sport.
7. Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw is not the most visited city in Poland but a great capital nonetheless. The Polish metropolis has in fact risen from the ashes after the destruction of the Second World War and is now one of the most modern cities in Eastern Europe with a skyline unrivalled in this area. Warsaw is nowadays an academic, financial and cultural hub and a city on the rise which is why it should definitely be included on your Europe bucket list.
8. Bratislava, Slovakia
Bratislava is situated only 80km east of Vienna and yet most people skip this European capital due to its lack of well established sights and mostly due to the fact that it lies in the shadow of its larger neighbours: Vienna, Prague and Budapest. Although Bratislava cannot compete with the aforementioned capitals, the Slovak capital has a beautiful Old Town, a lovely river promenade lined with bars on boats and a stunning castle on the hill. Bratislava is by and large a very enjoyable city with a rich history and a great food and nightlife scene, after all the great cities of Vienna, Prague, Budapest and the lesser known city of Bratislava were all part of the same country a little over a century ago.