5 Underrated Places to Go in Europe in 2023

Dreaming of a vacation in Europe? Get inspired by AFAR’s Next List, a new series revealing the next great places to visit this year.

Ancient amphitheater by the sea. Boat on the water.

In Knidos—a city that belonged to Greece in the 5th century and beyond—travelers can explore an ancient amphitheater.

Photo by Rena Effendi

If you’re keen to take a trip across the Atlantic this year, why not skip the classic destinations and try somewhere a little more unexpected?

We’ve pulled together five noteworthy places with compelling reasons to visit right now, from an easily overlooked island nation in the Med to a Mittel European capital that’s worth considering year-round rather than only at Christmas.

1. Türkiye

Istanbul’s energy is undeniable right now: The $1.7 billion Galataport complex finally opened in 2021, adding a ritzy new waterfront destination with over 200 shops and restaurants to a reimagined cruise terminal, while the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art has a new home in Karaköy designed by Renzo Piano. The Blue Mosque, the only one studded with six minarets in Türkiye, reopened on the first day of Eid after years-long renovations, and multiple new luxury hotels are popping up, including both a Mandarin Oriental and a Peninsula.

Beyond Istanbul, don’t forget the stunning beaches of its Aegean-facing shoreline—try the Turquoise Coast known as the Datca Peninsula, where the water is so blue it deeded us the very word (turquoise derives from the French word for Turkish). Expect olive and almond groves, small villages, and ancient sites like Knidos. All that plus the continued softness of the local currency, the lira: In September 2021, a buck was worth around 8 lira, but now expect it to buy nearly 20.

Where to stay

Book now: Peninsula

The brand-new Peninsula is an instant landmark, straddling four buildings in Karaköy; the rooftop Turkish restaurant has swoony views, and there’s an enormous, 18,000-square-foot spa and hammam.

How to get there

Turkish Airlines has direct, nonstop service to Istanbul from 11 hubs across the USA, including New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Children swimming in the water by some rocks

The nation of Malta, located in the Mediterranean Sea, offers postcard-worthy swimming spots.

Photo by Jessie Beck

2. Malta

Come to this tiny three-island nation in the southern Mediterranean for a thrilling mashup of cultures. Its adjacency to Sicily confers a dollop of dolce vita–style good life to the vibe here, as well as superb food. Try a square slice from Casa Sotto pizzeria in the heart of the capital, Valletta. While it acted as a bulwark for Christianity during the crusades, thanks to the Knights of Malta, the wealth aristocrats funded much of the building here—resulting in postcard-pretty Valletta, which has more than a whiff of Venice to its architecture.

The chance to connect with local culture is much improved here, too, given that almost everyone speaks fluent English. Malta was most recently a British possession, and it’s left a palpable imprint on everything from language to shopping. (Main street staple Marks & Spencer has a large outpost in central Valletta.)

There’s newfound homegrown energy here, too, including the soon-to-open contemporary art museum, MICAS (set to open in 2024), and Villa Bologna Pottery, a decades-old atelier that was revived by a young British Maltese couple and still produces charming, midcentury modern–style plates, bowls, and ornamental ceramics.

Where to stay

Book now: The Phoenicia

The Phoenicia is the handiest base for Valletta, located just outside the city walls. Stay here and you won’t need to rent a car (driving in Malta can be chaotic).

How to get there

There are no intercontinental flights to Malta from North America. Its historic links with Britain mean that the easiest routing is via London, from which there are countless flights on airlines, including British Airways and Air Malta.

Tourists enjoying the scenic summer view of Nyhavn pier. Colorful building facades with boats and yachts in the Old Town of Copenhagen, Denmark

To see some of Copenhagen’s fantastic architecture, head to places like Nyhavn.

Photo by studiolaska/Shutterstock

3. Copenhagen, Denmark

The Danish capital has just assumed the mantle of UNESCO’s world hub for architecture in 2023. No wonder, given that it’s been known for design-forward thinking for decades. See the work of Arne Jacobsen and company at the 2022-renovated Design Museum, which sits in a gorgeous rococo mansion just north of the historic center. Or check out the work of its leading contemporary starchitect, the prankish Bjarke Ingels—his yin and yang–shaped Panda enclosure at the zoo is a standout.

The charming old center of Copenhagen, notably the candy-colored buildings around Nyhavn, remains a must-see, but make sure to cross the pedestrian bridge there and walk (or cycle, the preferred Danish transit method) to Refshaleøen, the former shipyard that has been reborn as the city’s funkiest new neighborhood. The B&W flea market there can be a fine place to pick up well-priced midcentury goodies, while La Banchina is a tiny restaurant with its own on-site sauna, housed in a hut that was once a ferry waiting room. The terrace out front is lively on a summer’s day, as locals take dips in the water and sips of beer from the nearby Mikkeller Baghaven brewery.

Where to stay

Book now: Hotel Danmark

There’s been a 34 percent increase in hotel rooms since 2019, widening the options beyond classics like the d’Angleterre: Try the Hotel Danmark, which has a great rooftop bar-restaurant and bargain-priced bunk bed rooms ideal for a group of friends or a family.

How to get there

Nordic airline SAS has its HQ in Copenhagen, and it flies to multiple cities nonstop stateside, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston.

View of the Karlskirche church in Vienna

Karlskirche Church is just one landmark in Vienna, one of the world’s most livable cities.

Photo by Anikin Dmitrii/Shutterstock

4. Vienna, Austria

Sure, Vienna’s a slam dunk in the festive season, all twinkly lights, Christmas markets, and cozy fireside glamour, but consider a jaunt there when the weather’s balmier. The Danube bisecting the city becomes a social thoroughfare in the sunshine, a place to linger and chat: Enjoy a drink on Motto am Fluss, the riverboat-turned-restaurant that sits moored downtown, or paddle a kayak down it. Ride a bike to trace its route into the woodlands nearby, and idle an afternoon or two at a wooden table in the gardens of one of the vineyards to the city’s west, in Neustift am Walde or Ottakring.

If you’ve come to Vienna for the cakes (no shame in making Sachertorte the impetus for any trip), don’t miss the Vollpension project, where seniors use their baking know-how to bolster their incomes in a pro-social café, which just launched a studio for in-person classes. Pick from an assortment of recipes doled out by a roster of sprightly locals, from apple strudel to Sacher-style chocolate gâteaux.

And if all that inspires you to consider a permanent move here, you’re in luck—Vienna consistently ranks as one of the world’s most livable cities.

Where to stay

Book now: Amauris

The generic Ring Hotel on the Ringstrasse, between the Vienna State Opera and the Musikverein concert hall, reopened after a gut renovation as the much-improved, 62-room Amauris, a glamorous, marble-heavy crash pad.

How to get there

Austrian Airlines services Washington, DC and New York–JFK year round with nonstop flights; there’s additional service over summer from Los Angeles (LAX).

La Seu, the gothic medieval cathedral of Palma de Mallorca, Spain

With an increased number of flights, Palma sights like La Seu are more accessible.

Photo by Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

5. Mallorca, Spain

It’s the second summer for United’s nonstop flight to Mallorca’s capital, Palma, from Newark—and there are more flights per week than last year, a sign of the carrier’s confidence in this as a new need-to-see destination.

Pause in the capital for some sightseeing, specifically the Gothic masterpiece of the cathedral known as la Seu. (Look for the cardinal’s hat, suspended from the ceiling in one annex, which is said to presage disaster if it ever falls.) Book a session at the upscale hamman here, Al Andalus, a nod to the Ottoman influences over the island in past centuries.

Next head inland for countryside that’s more like Tuscany or the Hudson Valley than a Mediterranean beachfront: Hire a bike to crisscross the Tramuntana mountain range (e-bikes are a smart option, as some climbs can be steep), or tackle one of the dedicated cycle routes laid out more than a century ago by a forward-thinking Mallorquin, civil engineer Antonio Parietti. Don’t miss the upscale, artsy enclave of Deia, on the west coast, which has long welcomed writers and other creatives—I Claudius novelist Robert Graves called it home, but everyone from Mick Jagger to Mark Knopfler has played there too.

Where to stay

Book now: Son Net

Son Net is the standout among a cluster of brand-new hotels opening in response to the island’s rising profile. Book one of the trio of rooms 41, 42, or 43, which sit on their own self-contained terrace.

How to get there

United’s new nonstop route is a no-brainer, making the island much more readily accessible than previously from North America.

Our new series The Next List reveals under-the-radar spots in well-trod places and the next great (less-crowded) places to visit this year. Check out our picks for where to go next in France, Italy, and Greece too.

British-born, New York–based Mark Ellwood has lived out of a suitcase for most of his life. He is editor-at-large for luxury bible Robb Report and columnist for Bloomberg Luxury. Recent stories have led him to hang out with China’s trendsetters in Chengdu and learn fireside raps from cowboy poets in Wyoming.
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