As one of the most accessible and beloved parts of the world, Europe is home to plenty bucket list–worthy places. History will draw you to ancient cities like Rome, Athens, and Lisbon, while culinary feats on nearly every corner call from Paris and London. And we can’t forget the rolling, robust lands of Ireland and Scotland. It could take a lifetime to fully immerse yourself in every destination.
While these iconic stops are definitely worth your attention, there are others that might not have as much search traffic, but can give you a whole new perspective on a place and its people. These little-known wonders — most of which are not-so-far from larger metropolitan areas — will add depth and dimension to your getaway, offering a unique opportunity to see and experience something beyond the usual circuit.
Below, seven underappreciated European gems you need to know about.
Scotland’s Outer Hebrides
Scotland’s Skye and the Hebrides snagged the seventh spot in this year’s World’s Best Islands in Europe ranking, but the former is arguably the most popular with travelers. Take a ferry ride beyond the Isle of Skye to explore what’s considered to be one of Europe’s last natural habits, the Outer Hebrides. This collection of islands — the largest being the Isles of Lewis, Harris, and North and South Uist — offers a full immersion into Celtic history, heritage, and charm.
You can hear locals speaking or singing in Gaelic, marvel at medieval churches, and see Neolithic standing stones up close. On Harris, where tweed fabric was originally woven, local artisans continue to craft capes, bags, and more traditional goods with the makings of an excellent souvenir. To visit, carve out your own schedule or book one of the many the tours that explore this region. This 11-day, 10-night optionthis link opens in a new tab from CIE Tours International includes whiskey tasting, beach hopping, and more. Depending on the season, you’ll want to pack layers, as summers can be ideal beach weather, but winters are often unforgiving.
The expansive island of Sardinia is just an hour-long flight away from Rome. If you’ve ever been to the Algarve on Portugal’s southern coast, you might recognize the jagged — and breathtaking — landscape that defines Sardinia’s 1,200 miles of coastline, blending beaches into mountains. There are two special qualities that set this destination apart from others: its Bronze Age stone ruins that look like beehives and its microclimate. Thanks to the headland behind Santa Margherita di Pula, which shields the coast from cold north winds, this region has 300 days of sunshine. Though it’s lovely to visit from March through December, June and July will give you the warmest ocean temperatures. For a luxe, beachfront stay, book the Forte Village Resortthis link opens in a new tab in Santa Margherita di Pula.
On your next trip to Greece, hop on an hour-long flight from Athens to spend a few days in the country’s “second city,” Thessaloniki. This Northern port offers plenty for history lovers, but it’s also got a modern liveliness to it. You can wander through ruins from the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Ottomans — thanks to its numerous occupations — and then make your way to Valaoritou Street for stylish cocktail bars and plenty of music. Since the heart of the city was entirely rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1917, the 20th-century architecture of this area will feel far away from the traditional Greek vibe. The city is also popular with locals because the beaches are also less crowded than on the islands. Don’t miss White Tower, Roman Forum, and the cobblestone streets of the historic quarter, Ano Polithis link opens in a new tab.
If you’ve already experienced the bath scene in Budapest, danced ’til dawn at the infamous five-story club in Prague, and ordered just-one-more cocktail while admiring the moonlit sea in Dubrovnik, set your sights on a lesser-known party destination: Belgrade. The capital of Serbia is becoming quite the watering hole for young travelers who, thanks to its many teeming bars and restaurants (and coffee shops to wake you up when morning comes). Here, you can experience splavovi — splav, for short — floating lounges anchored along the Danube and Sava rivers, each featuring a different musical genre. These tend to rage every night of the week, but if you need a break, make sure to see Beogradska Tvrđava, the historical fortress representing the city’s part in the Ottoman, Serbian, Austrian, Byzantine and Roman empires.
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You’ve heard of Venice and Verona, but a short 30- to 40-minute train ride from either of these known Italian destinations is Vicenza. Within the country’s northeastern Veneto region, you’ll be amazed by how little foot traffic this beautiful town hosts. It’s most known for its unique buildings, specifically those of 16th-century architect Palladio. If you enjoy spending hours winding through halls of art, you’ll find yourself sipping cappuccinos in between visits to the Basilica Palladiana and the Palazzo Chiericati. You might even catch a movie at the Teatro Olimpico, an outdoor theater that’s indoors. As a bonus? You can add “wandered through a UNESCO World Heritage Site” to your checklist, since the longstanding value and importance of the architecture in this town earned it a nod. If your budget allows, consider staying for a long weekend where you can talk about the beauty you’ve witnessed over wine al fresco at the Villa Valmarana Ai Nanithis link opens in a new tab.
It’s hard not to fall for the refined charisma of France — from the quaint, streetside cafes of Paris to the glittering grape vines of Bordeaux. But if you want to go off the grid? Head 45 minutes east of Cannes to find Vence, a small commune in the hills of the Alpes Maritimes. You might want to speak French, or at least attempt, when you pull into to this town, which is known for its landscape and the luxury destination spa at the Chateau Saint-Martin & Spathis link opens in a new tab. You may also want to pack your watercolor palette, as inspiration struck for many an artist — Picasso and Matisse, namely — in this idyllic Côte D’Azur perch.
Your next vacation might not be as expensive as you think. In some of the destinations below, the U.S. dollar will go further in 2019, with unexpectedly reasonable rates for lodging, activities, and dining; in others, I’ve unearthed hidden gems that are actually affordable. And while the cost of flights is never as low as most travelers want it to be, I’ve even found budget-friendly flights to many of these spots. Plan your next escape to one of these surprisingly cheap places to travel.
Affordable airfare is making the everyman’s bucket list trip a reality for 2019 (and we’re not just talking about flights from the West Coast). According to Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site, some flights to Hawaii actually cost less than $500 from East Coast and Midwest cities in 2018. The reason? Multiple major airlines announced new routes to Hawaii, creating fierce competition for the best fares—a trend that’s expected to continue in 2019.
Where to stay:Enjoy affordable accommodations at the Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel, located across the street from world-famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur and other parts of Malaysia offer an exotic vacation destination with a not-so-exotic price tag. “Although the country is relatively more well developed than its neighbors around Southeast Asia, the Malaysian capital has some of the world’s cheapest rates for five-star hotels,” says travel blogger Bino Chua of I Wander. You can stay at luxe hotels for under $200 a night—and at three- or four-stars for even less.
Currently, one Malaysian ringgit is equal to 24 US cents, which means your dollar will go a long way when it comes to meals and activities, too. And in many cases, you won’t even need to pull out your wallet—admission-free museums, walking tours, religious sites, and parks make it easy to save. As for transportation, “a 10- to 15-minute car ride within Kuala Lumpur will cost around $3 USD (or even less),” says Chua. If you hop on one of the purple GO KL buses, you’ll pay nothing.
Where to stay: You can regularly find rates under $100 per night at the newly opened Hyatt House Kuala Lumpur, which offers accommodations with kitchens and complimentary breakfast.
London is calling in 2019. “The fall in the value of the British pound means foreign visitors get more bang for their buck when visiting the U.K., with competitive prices on hotels, attractions, and shopping,” says Freddie Julius of Tourist England. “The U.K.’s political instability, the result of a lack of clarity in the Brexit negotiations, means this situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.”
Airfarewatchdog predicts more flight deals to the U.K., too, noting that airfares have been decreasing with competition from low-cost carriers and the introduction of basic economy pricing. London also offers a wealth of free museums and parks that have always made a trip across the pond a decent deal.
“Israel—which had its best year ever thanks to more than four million visiting tourists in 2018—meets the needs of every type of traveler, including the budget-conscious visitor, because of its delicious yet inexpensive food options, wide range of hotel choices, many free historical sites, and wonderful outdoor activities,” says Ellen Shapiro, North America PR Director for the Israel Ministry of Tourism.
Explore the ancient biblical sites and colorful flea markets of Jerusalem; stroll Tel Aviv’s vibrant neighborhoods; go for a hike and sample wine in the north; or float in the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth) and Red Sea in the south—all of it can be done on a budget. Another way you’ll save? Many of the Holy Land’s hotels offer lavish, complimentary buffet breakfasts so you can eat shakshuka to your heart’s content (and, of course, you can fill up on cheap and delicious hummus and falafel everywhere you go).
Where to stay:Tal by the Beach Hotel Tel Aviv is a boutique hotel that won’t break the bank. Complimentary amenities include happy hours with hors d’oeuvres and bike rentals to explore the city.
Curacao is seriously underrated, and not just because of its beautiful beaches and candy-colored capital of Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Dutch-Caribbean island is also affordable, especially during the summer, when you can score round-trip flights in the $300 range from many major U.S. cities. Luxurious beachfront resorts are surprisingly affordable, too—think less than $200 per night. The food is surprisingly cheap as well, considering the island has one of the best culinary reputations in the Caribbean.
Where to stay: The Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort has a Four Diamond rating from AAA, yet it offers rates under $200 per night almost year-round. It also offers an all-inclusive option.
You don’t need to bring home John Legend’s and Chrissy Tiegen’s paychecks to vacation in Lake Como. Save by staying in the historic city of Como, which offers reasonably priced lodging and is the area’s transportation hub. “The Romans first identified Como as a holiday destination,” explains Shelley Clark, spokesperson for Como-based Lario Hotels. “Today, in addition to being the gateway to what many consider the world’s most beautiful lake, Como remains a world-class destination loaded with quaint charm and an impressive array of historical, cultural, retail, and dining options.”
Free and low-cost activities include exploring the nearby nature trails and fairy-tale villages that surround the lake and riding the inexpensive Como-Brunate funicular to the Brunate, the “balcony of the Alps.” You can even enjoy a bit of luxury for less at the Lido di Cernobbio, which offers a glamorous poolside experience for less than $25 per person.
Where to stay: You can find reasonable nightly rates at the hip Posta Design Hotel, located in Como’s medieval old town just a short stroll from the waterfront promenade.
Did you know the official currency of El Salvador is the U.S. dollar? Not only does this take the guesswork out of budgeting for a vacation, but everything is also very affordable in El Salvador, Central America’s smallest country. Admission to two of the country’s most famous sites—Joya de Cerén, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (known as the “Pompeii of the Americas”), and San Andrés, a pre-Colombian site—costs less than $5.
You can also hike the country’s highest volcano, take an inexpensive surf lesson at Playa del Tunco, and learn about the country’s coffee culture at El Carmen Estate. Bonus: More than a dozen U.S. airports offer direct flights to El Salvador; from New York, it’s only five hours.
Where to stay: The luxe Sal & Luz Hotel comes at a reasonable price, with a quiet location and fabulous on-site restaurant.
While Iceland is a relatively short flight from the East Coast, its pricey reputation has also kept many travelers at a distance. But that should change in 2019. “Right now, the U.S. dollar is worth 20 percent more than it was in early 2018,” says Mero Geesey of Carpe Mundo, a travel agency that specializes in Iceland. “There have also been a lot of new hotels and guesthouses that have opened up within the last year, and several new tour operators offering glacier hikes, snorkel tours, and more.”
Hidden Iceland, for example, provides travelers with intimate alternatives to overcrowded and overpriced experiences. “Instead of the Blue Lagoon, you can explore an ice cave as part of a two-day trip to a glacier lagoon that also includes searching for the northern lights,” says Ryan Connolly, cofounder and marketing manager of Hidden Iceland. “In the spring, travelers can play with newly birthed lambs at an authentic farm guesthouse.”
Where to stay: About an hour outside of Reykjavik, Lambastadir Guesthouse is located on a farm and features an outdoor hot tub and sauna.
Though we always know it’s coming, the end of the calendar year never ceases to be a dizzying whirlwind of business obligations, social engagements, and stress-inducing holiday travel. But busy as December promises to be, there’s good reason to burn a few vacation days in November, when you’re still looking for great things to do in fall, the weather hasn’t yet taken a turn for the worse, and the shoulder season in most desirable destinations is in full swing. Here are eight best places to visit in November.
The Iberian Peninsula
Places like Lisbon, Portugal, and Andalucía, Spain, are often overrun with tourists during the summer months thanks to their temperate climate and easy accessibility to the sea. But November is an ideal time to visit the southern reaches of the Iberian Peninsula: the scene is more laid back, the weather is generally pleasant (hovering around 70 degrees during the day), and the area’s UNESCO World Heritage sites (Sintra, La Alhambra) shimmer like jewels in the autumn sun. If you’re staying in Spain, the Costa del Sol towns of Málaga and Marbella offer plenty of alternatives to the beach, from world-class museums to championship golf courses.
Whether you’re an adventure seeker or an urban wanderer, November is a prime time to visit Argentina. In Buenos Aires, spring brings with it a profusion of jacaranda blossoms along the tree-lined boulevards, as well as an uptick in the city’s social engagements, from polo matches to ballet performances, but hotel rates remain reasonable. Meanwhile, the grapes peak during November’s harvest season in Mendoza, and the weather is perfect for exploring the breathtaking natural wonders and quaint villages of Argentina’s Lake Region, in the heart of Patagonia.
3. The Caribbean
December is the start of the high season at Caribbean resorts: snowbirds fly south for the winter, and the holidays mean vacation time for parents with school-age children. If you’re looking for a quiet beach holiday, plan for November. Although it’s the tail end of hurricane season (opt in for travel insurance) the weather is picture-perfect and hotels and airfare are available at discounted rates. And unlike other off-peak destinations, most island activities remain open and plentiful throughout the low season.
There’s never a bad time to visit the Holy City, but if you’re looking to beat the heat head there in November, when temperatures remain in the high 60s and low 70s—ideal for walks to the Battery and bike rides to view Charleston’s antebellum mansions and row houses. The city’s celebrated food scene also comes alive in the autumn, when the harvest makes some of the region’s best ingredients available. Sample them at iconic restaurants like Husk and FIG, or inventive newcomers like The Grocery and Xiao Bao Biscuit.
5. Hong Kong
Hong Kong is famous for its dismal weather—rain and humidity are the biggest complaints—but go in November, when typhoon season has passed and blue skies are a regular occurrence, and you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. Camp out on a golden stretch of sand on nearby Lamma Island, hike the wilds of Lantau Island (the sunrise from Lantau Peak is legendary), or wend your way through the street-food stalls in Wan Chai—activities that seem all but impossible at other times of the year.
The Rocky Mountain State is typically regarded as a wonderland for winter enthusiasts, but Colorado shows a softer side in November, when ski runs are fringed with colorful foliage and double as hiking and biking trails before the big snows come. Fly-fishing is another autumn favorite, but if retail therapy is more your thing, the cooler days make shopping the Victorian streets of Telluride or the tony boutiques of Aspen a pleasant afternoon idyll. Of course, ski season is just getting underway in places like Vail and Beaver Creek, but seek and you may just find an early bird special.
7. New Zealand
The adventure sports capital of the world becomes even more of an adrenaline-junkie’s playground in November, when the warm spring season lets you have your pick of all the country has to offer, from white-water rafting and glacier hikes to horseback riding and swimming in primordial lakes and untouched bays. Head to North Island if soaking in hot springs and sunbathing on pristine beaches is more your speed.
From whale watching off the coast of Oahu to sunbathing in Maui, November is one of the best times to visit the Hawaiian islands. And shoulder season on the Big Island means more affordable hotel rates before tourists descend in full force for the winter holidays. And though there’s an uptick in rainfall, there is still plenty of temperate, sunny weather for snorkeling, ziplining, or hiking.