Rome, Paris, Barcelona… When planning your next European vacation, look beyond the tourist hot-spots and head for somewhere slightly more off the radar. The following five destinations offer a similar mix of history and hedonism, but with far fewer crowds.
You won't find Hungary on the to-do list of many U.S. travelers. An architectural treasure trove that straddles the mighty Danube River, Budapest is a city of two halves. On the west of the river sits hilly Buda and on the east, the flatter Pest, with the two brought together by a series of bridges. Buda is home to the grand Buda Castle, the Hungarian National Gallery and sweeping panoramas of the city. Pest is alive with the city's best cafés, restaurants and bars — many of them housed within the city's ruins. Stay too long in those bars and you may need to visit one of the famous thermal spring baths — reportedly the cure for even the feistiest of hangovers. Finally, consider that Budapest is one of Europe's most affordable cities. What are you waiting for?
Best time to visit Avoid the summer months when the weather and crowds max out. March through May is slightly preferable to September through November, for spring generally brings better temperatures.
Back in 2004, Genoa enjoyed its moment in the spotlight as Europe's Capital of Culture. Since then it has slowly retreated back to its previous status as one of Europe's most impressive but underrated cities. For the traveler who detests the crowds in Rome, Venice and Florence, that's no bad thing. Described as “a city of marble, with gardens full of roses. A beauty that tears the soul" by French novelist Gustave Flaubert, this port city's beauty isn't always immediate. But take a walk up towards the old town and you'll unearth a maze of dark, twisting alleyways that open unexpectedly into bright ancient squares alive with history, gastronomy and hip, historic shops. That's the beauty Flaubert was referring to. And that's why you should go.
Best time to visit Temperatures peak in July, with average highs at 81 degrees Fahrenheit, lows at 69 degrees and the chance of rain relatively low. That said, any time between May and October should be comfortably warm.
Sitting 289 miles south of Paris, in the Rhône-Alpes region of south-eastern France, Lyon is a must-see for anyone wanting a big city with a small feel. It's also a city worth visiting for the food alone. Dubbed the gastronomic capital of the world, at the last count Lyon was home to more than 4,000 restaurants and multiple Michelin stars — and every one of those stars is fully justified. If you needed more of a reason to visit than to amaze your taste buds, then you can expect a postcard-perfect mix of busy boulevards, cobbled streets, chic shopping and the effortless sophistication France has become famous for. And then, of course, you can factor in the bars and the nightlife — none of which would look out of place in the heart of Paris. Lyon may only be France's second city, but it should be every tourist's first choice.
Best time to visit Despite its proximity to the Alps, Lyon enjoys a temperate climate throughout the year. July and August enjoy the highest temperatures but also the most demand. June and September make excellent alternatives, being neither as hot nor as crowded.
Perennially overshadowed by London, this northern powerhouse — just four hours up the road — has undergone a remarkable transition in recent years and should now be top of mind for any traveler. Recent regeneration has seen vast swathes ripped up and rebuilt, with buildings rising in all quarters and breathing new life through the city's streets. The results are highly impressive with a growing number of world-class museums, art galleries and shopping, and some of the finest bars, pubs, restaurants and high-end hotels Europe has to offer. Many Mancunians proclaim their city to be the greatest on earth, which is clearly stretching the truth. But as a relatively hidden and largely unheralded gem, Manchester ticks every box.
Best time to visit Manchester is a famously rainy city, but no one visits the UK for its weather. The best temperatures are likely to be found in July and August, but there are lighter crowds in April, May, September and October.
Despite being blessed with a dazzling array of sights and sounds, culture and cuisine, Portugal's capital is rarely mentioned in the same tourist breath as such European heavyweights as Paris, Rome or Barcelona. That's bad news for the Lisbon Tourist Board but excellent news for you. A low profile has kept prices down and your dollar will go a long way. A city of seven hills, Lisbon mixes narrow, cobbled alleyways with ancient ruins and historic cathedrals. It's a big city but compact enough that you can explore on foot as it spills down to a wonderful sun-kissed waterfront. What may appear sleepy by day comes alive at night. The central district of Bairro Alto and the reborn riverside Cais do Sodré offer some of Europe's most cutting-edge nightlife. Head there after dark and you may not re-emerge until it's light again. With those things and more combined, Lisbon has grown to become one of Europe's most exciting cities, yet somehow remains one of its best kept secrets.
Best time to visit July and August are the height of summer and typically the hottest months, but the first two weeks of June are your best bet. In June, the weather is excellent, the beaches and city not so crowded, and Lisbon parties are in the buildup to June 13, the patron saint day of Saint Anthony of Padua.
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