15 Best Alternative European Destinations to Avoid the Crowds

One of the many sad legacies that the pandemic will leave us with will be a fear of other people.  No longer will we experience the thrill of a crowd and for a long while after our vaccinations, a mass of other people will feel like a threat.  Whilst there will be a thirst for new experiences, for travel, few will feel comfortable heading off to a popular tourist destination.  Popular tourist destinations are popular tourist destinations for a reason, they are unique. There is only one Venice, there is only one Colosseum.  What this list attempts to suggest is that there are other destinations where you can enjoy a similar experience, without the crowds. It will of course be a different experience, but it might just turn out to be a much more rewarding one.

Alternatives to Popular Cities

Aveiro instead of Venice

Aveiro is sometimes called the Venice of Portugal, but that is to do it a disservice, however, if you are looking to spend time in a beautiful city with canals then you should give Aveiro your serious consideration.  Set on a lagoon on Portugal’s west coast, Aveiro is famous for its gorgeous pastel coloured Art Nouveau houses and the brightly coloured boats which ply the canals. Nearby are the sandy beaches of Costa Nova with its vibrant weatherboard cottages and outstanding seafood restaurants.  It’s well worth renting some local holiday accommodation and giving yourself time to explore the area.

Dordrecht ipv Amsterdam

Dordrecht instead of Amsterdam

Just an hour and ten minutes by train from Amsterdam, Holland’s oldest city is an historical treasure trove. The ancient city centre has over 1000 historic monuments, including the Grote Kirk, Huis van Gijn – the old mayor’s house and the 13th century Augustine monastery, Het Haf.  It’s a great city for walking, or you can take a tour of the old harbours on an electric boat and when you are full to the brim with history, you can take time out and relax in one of the city’s outstanding restaurants.

Olomouc instead of Prague

Prague is a wonderful city but if you are looking for a similar architectural experience, without the crowds, hop on a train and make the two-hour journey to Olomouc.  The beautifully preserved old town is a World Heritage Site and a pleasure to explore on foot, enjoying as you do so, the 25 lavishly decorated fountains which adorn the squares.  St. Wenceslas Cathedral is a must see and boasts a spire which makes it one of the tallest buildings in the country.

Aarhus instead of Copenhagen

Three hours from Copenhagen by train, Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city, famous for its outstanding range of museums and rich cultural life. Two of its most celebrated museums are The ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, one of the largest art museums in Northern Europe, and the Moesgaard Museum, famed for its stunning architectural design.  There is also plenty of night life to be enjoyed and of course, as you would expect, world class restaurants.

Beach vacation alternatives

Alternatives to Popular Beach Destinations

Hvar Island, Croatia instead of Ibiza

Ok, it’s not Ibiza, but the ‘queen of the Croatian Dalmatian islands’ is something quite remarkable, in fact it’s considered one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world.  This is an unspoilt land of lavender, ancient olive trees and vineyards, with a rich cultural and historical heritage.  Explore the coastline and secluded coves by boat and though it may not be Ibiza, there is nightlife. Go now before everyone else discovers it.

Durdle Door, Dorset, instead of Nusa Penida, Bali

Your initial reaction may be that this is an alternative too far but bear with me. Nusa Penida is justly famous for its spectacular views of sublime beaches, but most of those beaches are inaccessible and those that are have dangerous currents. It’s also an eighteen-hour flight from the UK. Durdle Door is a comparably spectacular limestone arch, situated on coastline which is a World Heritage Site. Avoid school holidays and weekends, but if you time it right you’ll have this amazing view, with a beach from which you can bathe safely, all to yourself.

Alternative European Destinations to avoid the crowds 5

Ikaria instead of Mykonos

Get an old hippy to tell you about the Greek Islands in the sixties and they’ll wax lyrical about hopping from unspoilt island to unspoilt island. Sadly, too many people following in hippy footsteps have turned most Greek islands into 24-hour party money machines. But there is at least one survivor: 10 miles southwest of Samos lies Ikaria, one of world’s five blue zones, regions remarkable for their longevity and health. The mountain landscapes and unspoilt beaches of Ikaria are dotted with religious and archaeological sites and if you crave a Greek island experience, without the tourism, seek it out before it’s too late.

Kotor, Montenegro, instead of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Post ‘Game of Thrones’, Dubrovnik (Kings’ Landing) has become even more popular with tourists, so if you are looking for a dramatic, fortified coastal town, you should consider Kotor on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast. The old town, a World Heritage Site, with its cobbled streets, ancient churches and orange roofed houses is set against an imposing backdrop of towering mountains.  If you are feeling energetic, you can hike up to Kotor fortress and admire the stunning views, if you’re not, you can browse the fascinating little shops or enjoy the delicious seafood.

Alternatives to Popular Towns

Brixham, U.K. instead of St. Ives

The twin attractions of the Tate Gallery and the Barbara Hepworth Museum ensure that St. Ives is always busy, so why not explore the less glamorous but equally fascinating fishing port of Brixham.  Life in Brixham centres around the harbour and Brixham’s famous fish market but there are many other diversions to entertain a visitor to the town.  Take a boat trip or kayak if you are feeling more adventurous. Visit the Berry Head Nature Reserve or Greenway, the private holiday home of the author Agatha Christie.

Conques, instead of Rocamadour, France

Rocamadour is the French clifftop village known for its complex of religious buildings, accessed by the Grand Escalier. In summer, the staircase is an endless procession of jostling tourists. The much less well known Conques, on the old pilgrim route to Compostela and in the heart of the Lot valley is one of the most beautiful villages in France.  Its abbey is a masterpiece of Romanesque art, famous for its mass of carving and its golden reliquary and the ancient streets with their half-timbered houses are full of charm.

Alternative European Destinations to avoid the crowds 7

St Wolfgang, instead of Hallstatt, Austria

Hallstatt is famed as Austria’s most beautiful town, an accolade which means that you can never enjoy it without the company of hordes of people. St Wolfgang also sits beside a mountain ringed lake, which is cruised by ferries, including an 1873 steamer. The Schafbergbahn is a steam powered railway which climbs to the summit of Mt. Shafberg from which there are stunning views of the surrounding mountains. It should not be too hard to find accommodation in the town with wonderful views over lake and mountains.

Alternatives to Tourist Hot Spots

Pula Arena, Croatia, instead of the Colosseum, Rome

Pula Arena is among the world’s six largest remaining Roman amphitheatres and the only one to have the four side towers still preserved. Built at the same time as the Colosseum, this amphitheatre originally had seating for 20,000 people. Today, the amphitheatre is still very much a working environment, film festivals, concerts and mock gladiator fights are held in the arena and in the underground passages, once used by gladiators, exhibitions explaining the history of olive and wine production are staged.

Myvatyn Nature Baths instead of the Blue Lagoon, Iceland

The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most famous spa and one of its most popular tourist attractions, if you want to go, you’ll need to book your entry weeks in advance, so why not consider an alternative spa experience. The Myvatyn Nature Baths are situated a short drive from Hverir in Northeast Iceland, they offer similar facilities to the Blue Lagoon, but they are much less crowded. So, if you fancy seeing the midnight sun, bathing in water at 38 degrees, in the middle of a lunar landscape and not surrounded by people, then Myvatyn might just be exactly what you are looking for.

Konigssee, Germany, instead of Geirangerfjord, Norway

Geirangerfjord, its deep blue waters surrounded by snow covered mountain peaks, is the most famous fjord in Norway. If you are looking for a similar, less popular location, consider Konigssee. This natural lake is in the southeast of Bavaria, close to the Austrian border and thirty kilometres south of Salzburg. Encircled by mountains, numerous waterfalls drain into its clear waters. At the western end of the lake sits the Baroque monastery of St. Bartholoma and high above sits Eagle’s Nest, which is now a restaurant with stunning panoramic views.

Alternative European Destinations to avoid the crowds 9

Peneda Geres National Park, Portugal, instead of the Italian Lakes.

The Italian lakes are undeniably beautiful, they are also undeniably busy. In summer, their roads become a tortuous shimmering snake of endless traffic jams. By contrast, the Peneda Geres National Park offers a spectacular variety of stunning landscapes and a wealth of biodiversity. Hike the wild landscapes, confident that you won’t encounter crowds or traffic jams. Enjoy ancient ruins, thermal bath and wonderful local cuisine and most of all, enjoy unspoilt nature.

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