Everyone aspires to scale the Eiffel Tower of Paris, or circle Rome’s great coliseum. People flood Amsterdam for its arts and party scene, and Barcelona for the heavenly beaches. But where popularity flows, a heavy-handed tourism industry is sure to follow. Why not book your next trip to Western Europe in a city with a more stable tourist to local ratio? There are many oft-forgotten cities whose attractions are every bit as robust as their more famous counterparts. So take some time, and review the most underrated cities of Western Europe.
Finland is the odd duck of Scandinavia seeing as most tourists opt for Oslo or Stockholm over Helsinki. Their loss though since Helsinki deftly weaves urban centers with natural features like no other. The waterfront, and the 300 islands within it, demands attention from every vantage point; not surprising with 120 km of shoreline. And with the ocean comes seafood that couldn’t be fresher if you tried, which in turn begets excellent cuisine and food festivals. Pro tip: Hit up the urban saunas dotting every district—some traditional, others new and hip—which pay grand homage to Finland’s signature past time.
You haven’t done true Spanish-style barhopping until you’ve waltzed between Seville’s famous tapas bars. Come morning, there’s the great Gothic cathedral to dazzle your lens, and Reales Alcázares Palace for a taste of the city’s Moorish history. Excited cheers land in earshot of these attractions, echoing out of Spain’s most iconic bullfighting arena, Real Maestranza de Caballería. Check for festivals during your stay because Seville’s burst with high energy. The springtime Feri de abril de Sevilla trumps all, whence flamenco dancers and colorful stalls morph city plazas into hotspots for vintage Spanish culture.
Along the shores of the Rio Douro rests the riverside town of Porto, an aged outpost from days of Roman rule. Rolling hills of flashy red-tiled housing blocks, haunting spires jetting out of 18th century cathedrals, golden gondolas floating by in displays of lethargy… You’d swear the scene was ripped straight from a Renaissance painting. Activity abounds from the ever changing city center; locally made paintings, artsy trinkets, traditional Portuguese cuisine, and wine cellars. In fact, Porto’s wine scene draws enthusiasts from all over to sample Porto’s signature labels like Vinologia.
The photogenic fairytale quaintness of Bruges’s slant-roofed townhouses wowed large audiences during the release of In Bruges. The medieval-era structures remain remarkably intact, renovated into restaurants and shops. The maze of cobbled walkways darting around centuries old churches and over canals enchants visitors to get lost in wonderment. Though should that happen, take to the skies and you’ll doubtlessly spot the city’s iconic belfy of Bruges. Come snack time, visit the many handmade chocolate shops that give Belgian chocolate its well-deserved reputation as being the best.
Shakespeare thought most highly of this romantic Italian city since three of his plays took part within; most notably Romeo and Juliet. A tour of the city’s Romanesque churches and decaying forts demonstrates why Shakespeare loved Verona. Add to that the Verona Arena, a Roman amphitheater where internationally acclaimed opera performances are held to this day. Markets like Piazza delle Erbe are sublime locales for fresh produce and handicrafts, but Piazza Zeno can’t be missed for its antiquarian sales. And any visit would be incomplete without seeing Juliet’s balcony at the Casa di Guiletta.