The Hidden Gems of Europe
Collected by Alison Cornford-Matheson, AFAR Local Expert
I've spent the past 8 years exploring the hidden gems of Europe and there is still so much more to uncover. This is a collection of my favourite European Highlights and some I still long to visit.
Nordurljosavegur 9, 240 Grindavík, Iceland
Iceland’s largest and most famous geothermal spa lies around an hour outside Reykjavik, quite close to Keflavik Airport. With a dramatic setting amidst large black lava boulders, the steam-filled, creamy-blue pool area is a striking and...
Hamzalısüleymaniye Mahallesi, Akropol Cd. No:6, 35700 Bergama/İzmir, Turkey
“The ruins of himself! now worn away, with age, yet still majestic in decay.” —Homer. The best way to see the Acropolis of Pergamon is to take the cable car up (they will try to sell you a return ticket, but insist on one-way) and then walk down...
Freyr 12, 5540 Hastière, Belgium
With hundreds of castles and chateaux in Belgium, open to the public, it's hard to know which ones to visit. The castle of Freÿr, in Wallonia, is a great place to start. This grand building has remained in the same family for 20 generations and...
Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4, 1118 Hungary
Throughout Budapest are a whopping 123 therapeutic hot springs, but these, in the stately, slightly dusty Hotel Gellért (built in 1918) might be the most famous. The communal bath in the center of the hotel spa is for everyone, but the most...
10 Place de l'Opéra, 75009 Paris, France
The Palais Garnier, the national opera house of Paris, is a magnificent building dripping in ornate details and glittering with gold. The five-ton chandelier, made famous in The Phantom of the Opera, still takes center stage in the auditorium. It...
Paseo de Cristóbal Colón, 11, 41001 Sevilla, Spain
Colour, music and dancing are an integral part of life in Andalusia, Spain. For a taste of the region's Flamenco, head to El Patio Sevillano in Seville (Sevilla). A variety of dancers, in colourful traditional costumes, will whirl and stomp across...
Calle Real de la Alhambra, s/n, 18009 Granada, Spain
A visit to Granada, Spain isn't complete without a stop at the Alhambra. The Moorish architecture, robust gardens, and stunning views of Granada combine to make a truly memorable experience. Start your day with a tour of the Generalife Gardens....
1000 Brussels, Belgium
Every even-numbered year, for a week, in August, Brussels' beautiful Grand Place is even more stunning. The ground is covered in 600,000 flowers, creating a unique pattern. Thousands of visitors flood the market square to capture the perfect photo...
Calle Cardenal Herrero, 1, 14003 Córdoba, Spain
The landmark cathedral in Cordoba, Spain is the Mosque of Córdoba. You might be amazed by the bell tower, the stone path, and the orange trees. However, the moment you stepped into the prayer hall, it will take your breath away.
Estrada de Monserrate, 2710-405 Sintra, Portugal
While the tourist hordes in beautiful Sintra, Portugal, are flocking to Pena Palace, head instead to Monserrate. The gardens here are massive and have been recently restored. We wandered here for hours without hardly seeing another person. The...
Gibraltar GX11 1AA, Gibraltar
The weird and wonderful pile of rock, known as Gibraltar, is worth a day-trip if you are visiting Andalusia, Spain. There are plenty of strange sights: the airport runway crossing the main street, a concert hall inside a cave and miles of tunnels...
Calle Judíos, 14004 Córdoba, Spain
If you are looking for truly unique and beautiful gifts from Andalusia, Spain, look no farther than the Zoco Artisan Market in Cordoba. This shop is filled with jewelry, hand painted tiles, shawls, pottery and other local crafts. There are...
Rue de l'Abbaye 55, 1495 Villers-la-Ville, Belgium
Most people know some of Belgium's best beer is brewed by monks in abbeys. These abbeys are still active and thriving. However there are many ruined abbeys dotting the countryside. Villers Abbey is one of the most beautiful and atmospheric. The...
Praça do Império 1400-206 Lisboa, 1400-206 Lisboa, Portugal
Jerónimos Monastery, also known as the Hieronymites Monastery, or Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Portuguese, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Lisbon. This stunning building took 100 years to build and it's no wonder once you experience the level of...
Calle Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, 11, 11688 Zahara, Cádiz, Spain
While on a road-trip through Andalusia, we spent a day exploring the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. The twisting mountain roads took our breath away at regular intervals. The region is famous for its Peublos Blancos (or white villages). One was...
Station House, Dart Bridge Rd, Buckfastleigh TQ11 0DZ, UK
Otters and Butterflies may seem like an unlikely combination, but you'll find them together at the Buckfast Butterflies & Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary, in Dartmoor National Park. I can think of few animals more adorable to watch than playful otters,...
Athinas, Athina 105 51, Greece
The noisy, smelly, chaos of Athens Central Market is an experience no foodie (or photographer) should miss. The colours, shapes and patterns are a compositional dream, but the market is not for the squeamish. You can find every conceivable...
Buizingen, 1501 Halle, Belgium
Hallerbos (Flemish) or Bois de Halle (French) is a beech forest just south of Brussels. It's a popular spot for walking, cycling and horseback-riding. Every spring, for a few short weeks, the forest makes a magical transformation into a blue...
Athens 105 57, Greece
In front of the Parliament House in Athens, the Evzones, an infantry unit of the Greek Army, guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Evzones wear traditional Greek red and blue uniforms. The changing of the guards takes place every hour and...
Ul. Svetog Đurđa 14, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik's City Walls are the longest and most complete in Europe. They also offer a fascinating way to see the city. While making the circuit of the city, you can peer down on the narrow streets below, peek into secret courtyards, and catch a...
Nordurljosavegur 9, 240 Grindavík, Iceland
The weather outside may be frightful, even in summer, but the waters of the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in Iceland are always delightful. We visited the Blue Lagoon Spa during an 8-hour layover in Reykjavik. All inclusive round-trips are available...
Budapest, Andrássy út 22, 1061 Hungary
Budapest, Hungary is brimming with art, culture and a touch of decadence. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Hungarian State Opera House on the luxurious Andrássy Way. If you don't have the time or money to take in a concert in this...
2 Rue du Château, 64000 Pau, France
If you're looking for the prefect French vacation destination, the picturesque city of Pau, in Southwest France, may just have it all. Its location is perfect, almost equidistant from the stunning Pyrenees Mountains, for hiking and skiing, and the...
Sankt Annæ Gade 29, 1416 København, Denmark
You can see the black and gold spiral steeple of the Church of our Saviour, or Vor Frelsers Kirke, all over Copenhagen. It's not until you are standing beneath it you realize that golden spiral is actually a staircase—on the outside. If you are...
Øster Voldgade 4A, 1350 København, Denmark
Unfortunately I spent most of our trip to Copenhagen in soggy tennis shoes cursing the weather and complaining that we couldn’t picnic in the rose gardens of Rosenborg castle. To escape a sudden downpour we hustled inside the castle to quickly dry...
Rue au Beurre 46, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
If you could only do one thing in Brussels (and frankly, that would be a tragedy), it would have to be a visit to the Grand Place. Also called the Grote Markt, in Flemish, Grand Place is Brussels’ UNESCO-listed central market square. Standing in...
Rue Montagne de la Cour 2, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
My favourite building in Brussels is the Old England on Mont des Arts, just around the corner from Place Royal. It’s a striking concoction of steel and glass in the Art Nouveau style Brussels is so famous for. But what’s on the inside is just as...
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