Aug 20, 2014

5 Surprising Destinations in Europe



Ever come across a destination while on vacation that absolutely surprised you? You know, that city or town you really had no interest in seeing, but totally blew you away in the best way possible? During our time living abroad, D and I encountered quite a few of these "hidden gems" while traveling all over Europe. Some we discovered as ports of call on our European cruises, others we just happened upon while traveling with friends. But what they all had in common was the ability to create major "WOW" moments unique to each destination. That's what's thrilling about traveling places outside of your typical interests. You never know what beautiful destination you might fall in love with! Here are a few of the cities D and I were most pleasantly surprised about...


Split was a stop on our most recent Adriatic cruise sailing. Dubrovnik was the highlight port of the cruise (for me at least), so our day in Split just seemed like a bonus. We weren't expecting it to present anything spectacular, but after disembarking the cruise ship and riding the tender boat to port, we immediately changed our minds! Split is nestled into the side of a small mountain range and is pushed right up against the Adriatic Sea, making for some gorgeous landscape contrasts. The views just from sailing into port were thrilling. Palm trees, white-washed stone buildings, crystal blue water...my photos hardly do it justice. Once we arrived at the port, the town opened up into a historic wonder with Diocletian's palace being the star attraction. I was nothing short of awe-struck for the rest of the day.

| EAT |
Restaurant Tifani--We stopped in here for a bottle of wine and a snack. Be sure to try the Croatian wines and nosh on local olives and cheese. The views at this place can't be beat! 
5 Poljana Kraljice JeleneSplit 21000 Croatia

FIGA Food Bar--Great cocktails and quick meals inside of an eclectic tight alleyway cafe. Not a lot of seating, but the fresh dishes make up for it.
Buvinina 1Split 21000Croatia

| SEE |
--Wander through Diocletian's Palace
--Shop vendor stalls around the palace
--Cathedral and bell tower of St. Dominus
--Cardo Maximus & the Peristyle
--Riva Harbor


Tallinn was hands down the best part of our Baltic cruise during the summer of 2013. I haven't written about it yet, but when I think of "diamond in the rough" type towns across Europe, Tallinn is the first destination that pops into my mind. We knew nothing about Estonia before traveling there. NOTHING. So, needless to say, we really had no expectations. We were totally enamored with the way this town has preserved every historic tradition Tallinn ever had. From restaurant waitresses wearing traditional garb and serving traditional fare (think wild boar, elk, & bear, yum!) to the medieval town fair and surrounding fortress wall, this town really wowed us with its historic pride. In addition, the city is just too darn cute. So much fun and absolutely unexpected.

| EAT| 
Olde Hansa--Excellent place to try traditional medieval Estonian delights right in the heart of Tallinn Old Town. Might I suggest the wild bear, elk, & boar sausages or the bear stew? Don't forget to wash it all down with a mug of honey beer! Such a fun place to eat.
Vana Turg 1Tallinn 10140Estonia

Hell Hunt--Great Scandinavian pub and restaurant to try local Estonian beers. 
Pikk 39Tallinn 10140Estonia

| SEE | 
--Tallinn Old Town
--Tallinn Town Hall Square
--Toompea Hill
--Oleviste Church & Tower
--Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
St. Catherine's Passage


As a bustling University town, Utrecht definitely had an eclectic life of its own. Between the students riding their bikes to class and ducking in and out of bars at the end of the day, this city really made me feel like I was back reliving my college days, only with much more stunning scenery. As if the gorgeous canal-lined streets weren't swoon-worthy enough, Utrecht also boasts a healthy craft & Belgian brew scene, great shopping, and lots of quaint cafes to keep you fueled an happy while exploring. Had we not visited here on a birthday trip with friends, we would have never had the pleasure of experiencing this jewel of the Netherlands.

| EAT & DRINK | 
Olivier--Belgian beer bar and restaurant housed inside of an old "hidden" church; original vaults, organ, and alter still intact. Menu includes 70 different beers and suggested dishes for pairing. Try the cheese croquettes, homemade bread with garlic aioli, and the local Utrecht brews. 
Achter Clarenburg 63511 JJ Utrecht, Netherlands

Rooie Dop Brewdungeon--Local craft brewery bar featuring unique brews including a coffee porter, an oatmeal stout, and a fruit white IPA.
Oudegracht a/d werf 5, 3511 Utrecht, Netherlands 

| SEE | 
--Visit the Dom tower
--Walk the canals (picture-perfect in every way!) 
--Venture just outside of town to Castle De Haar



I was shocked by the beauty of Kotor and surrounding Kotor Bay in Montenegro. Montenegro is a country most people don't even know exists, but man, once you've floated through its fjords, drenched in sunlight with mountains towering overhead, you'll never ignore this tiny country again! As if the beautiful sea juxtaposed against the lush mountain landscape wasn't already perfect enough, wandering through Kotor's walled city is icing on the cake. This up-and-coming city is truly a destination to watch! I'm excited to see how tourism blossoms here over the coming years.

| EAT |
Galion--Beautiful views and excellent seafood. Terrace of the restaurant floats over the sea!
Suranj bbKotor 85330Montenegro

Restaurant Cesarica-- Mediterranean cuisine. Again, go for the seafood!
Stari grad 375Kotor 85330Montenegro

| SEE |
--Old Town Kotor
--Walk the city walls
--The Church of Our Lady of the Rock
--Kotor Castle of San Giovanni (St. John)
--Venture up to Mount Lovcen to experience the 25 switchback turns drive and breathtaking scenic views of the city and bay.


Bamberg is one of those unsuspecting German towns that enchants you from the second you begin to walk through it. Colorful half-timbered houses, rushing water, quiet canals, and all the fabulous German beer you could possibly want stuffed into one charming city. Very easily navigated and day-trip worthy! D and I loved our day here, and have been spreading the world about beautiful Bamberg ever since.

| EAT |
Schlenkerla--Home of Bamberg's claim to fame, Rauchbier (smoked beer)!
Dominikanerstrasse 6, 96049 Bamberg, Germany

Klosterbrau Bamberg--Traditional German fare and excellent brown beer.
Obere Muhlbrucke 1-396049 Bamberg, Germany

| SEE |
--Bamberg Alstadt (Old Town)
--Altus Rathaus (Old Town Hall)
--Bamberger Dom (cathedral)
--New Residenz (tour not in English)
--Little Venice (Bamberg's famous canal area)
--Bamberg Brewery Trail

What are some destinations that have surprised you in your travels?

38 comments:

  1. I am soooooo glad you have Tallinn on this list! I've gotten the impression you weren't a fan of your Baltic cruise, and after we visited Tallinn, I couldn't help but think "how can someone not like this town?!?!?! I LOVE IT!!!" Seriously. I love it! And I am very excited for Split next week but so so so so super bummed we couldn't squeeze in Kotor :( hope you're settling well!

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  2. Great list! I live in Vilnius, Lithuania and have been really wanting to make it up to Tallinn. Now I really can't wait

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    1. Thank you! And now I was to visit Lithuania! Ha! Hope you make it to Tallinn someday...it's a true gem!

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  3. great post, thanks for the tips http://thewanderlusthasgotme.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/volunteering-and-working-abroad.html

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  4. I love all you travel post. I was just in Berlin last week and loved it there. Going to have to check Bamberg out.

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  5. We were just in Split a few weeks ago and I agree, it definitely was a place that surprised us in a good way!

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    1. Awesome! Glad to hear you felt the same way! It was such an neat city...loved the history!

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  6. I feel really honored, what Estonia, Tallinn, is in your list. I have had the same impression, what you did not like that cruise so much. So, I am curious, what went wrong (but did not have time ta ask this in person). Anyway, I am really glad, you liked Tallinn!

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    1. Half the reason we loved it so much is because of your recommendations, Milja!! So, thank you!! And I'll be sure to blog about our Baltic cruise someday soon. So many people are curious as to why it was my least favorite cruise we took...but honestly, it mostly had to do with the ship, not the ports! Lots of stories to come! :)

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  7. Surprising visits - The Hamptons and the North Fork of Long Island were beautiful and both very different, Winter Park in Orlando was delightful and Park City, Utah, which even though it had so much Olympic attention I didn't think it would be my favorite part of a trip out west.

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  8. Loved this post, Casey! G and I are planning a long trip to Europe next summer but most of the places we're going are to be expected. I'd love to plan another trip someday to see all of the little gems-- that town in Estonia looks so fun!

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    1. Woo hoo thanks, Kayli! I'd probably travel to see those same expected places if I only got to visit Europe every so often (which will be my life from now on, sad!). That's what was nice about living there, we were able to visit so many other cities that would have never been on our travel radar otherwise! I hope you have an awesome Eurotrip!! Can't wait to see photos!

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  9. Most of these places I've never even heard of, but they all sound so great. I really want to explore more European cities that aren't as well known. Bamberg looks amazing!

    Emma x
    Writing Essays With Wine

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  10. Nice list, I am glad you included Montenegro!!! It is an amazingly gorgeous country.
    Katie
    www.worldwidevegetarian.com

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    1. Montenegro was such a treat!! I'm beyond happy we got to experience it. I hope to have more time to explore the rest of the country someday.

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  11. Oh some bloody great places, places I will never get to visit

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    1. Oh, sure you will!! You just never know! :)

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  12. This is amazing! Thanks for shRing I had never heard of these places before!!

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  13. Thanks for including my hometown!! However... it's spelled UtrecHt and the CH is pronounced as a G. Which castle outside town do you mean? Oud-Zuilen, Haarzuilens? We have many of them ;-)

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    1. Thanks for catching my title slip up! Of course I'd it spell correctly everywhere but the header...that'll teach me to write before coffee! And the castle I mean is Castle De Haar. I've added that official name in as well. Such a beautiful fortress!

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  14. I absolutely love this list! Both Montenegro and Croatia are two of my favourite destinations, and I love that neither were very popular up until a few years ago!

    A destination that surprised me was Warsaw. I expected a rather dull, eastern bloc city, and mainly planned on enjoying the spa at the hotel, but the city was so vibrant, with such an interesting history! A lot of the old parts of the city were ruined during the war, which makes it speak to you in a way that other cities don't. :)

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    1. Another Poland surprise city! Man, I really need to get myself back there for more sight-seeing! Sounds like fun. :)

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  15. Great list, all these places look beautiful! I love the picture of Bamberg with those half-timbered houses. I would say a place that surprised me was Gdańsk, Poland. It was a beautiful city with an interesting history. And in its neighboring town, Sopot, I was surprised to find beautiful white sand beaches. Never knew Poland had such nice beaches on the Baltic Sea!

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    1. Thank you! I was only every able to visit one city in Poland, but maybe someday I'll make it back to explore other areas. That Polish beach would be a very unexpected surprise for me, too!

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  16. KOTOR IS unreal! And I'm really dying to get to Bamberg soon!

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  17. Really good list :) I hope to visit Tallinn very soon.

    http://www.madelinefedmont.com/fascinated-falls-niagara-falls-canada/

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  18. I felt that way about Geneva, Switzerland. I went to visit a friend who was studying there when I was in England and it turned out to be a really neat place. I also feel that way about Bath and Brighton and Edinburgh and well, so many places in the UK :-)

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  19. ....and then I pinned every last one of these to my pinterest European wanderlust boards. Love this.

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  20. Croatia is definitely on my list for a one week trip next spring, read so many great things about the country and the scenery is amazing. I can't decide where to go first!

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  21. As i am from Bamberg, i can tell you its realy worth a visit !
    I love the old houses, the river aaand did you know that the movie three musketeers was
    filmed here ? :)
    http://theeighthforest.blogspot.de/

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  22. What a great post! I've never heard of Bamberg, but would love to visit - looks like something striaght out of a fairy tale :)

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  23. Split looks beautiful! I've seen quite a few bloggers going there this summer and it looks so picturesque <3

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  24. Fantastic list you have put together! Tallinn is beautiful, we got the ferry once from Finland and got a lot of skin care and massages in Tallinn. :) We have had our eyes on Split for some time now, it's meant to be stunning.

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  25. I was in Europe most of the year but the most unexpectedly gorgeous place was Cinque Terre, Italy.
    It's comprised of five little fishing villages with colorful houses perched on the cliffsides overlooking the ocean! It got under my skin and stays there to this day.

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  26. I love this list! I've been looking to travel to the smaller towns and cities in Europe, and this is the perfect list! I especially love how you included where to eat and what to do!

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  27. I just stumbled upon this post, and I was so happy to see that you included both my hometown, AND my favorite café. You know what's up, girl.

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