We all know about Paris and Rome. We've added Santorini and Cinque Terre to our list of "must-see" places. Twenty years ago these sights were busy, today they are a tourist hell. Sure, some of them are worth a stop, but thanks to social media constantly promoting their beauty it's hard to visit without feeling like you're being suffocated in selfie sticks and Rayban Sunglasses.

Unique in every way, Europe encompasses thousands of years of history, dozens of independent countries, and enough small-town charm to put any Disney movie into real-life perspective. There's more to Europe than London, Amsterdam, and Berlin. In fact, the large towns feel more like America than tourists want to admit. You can walk down the street and easily find someone who speaks English, you're surrounded by other travelers and not by locals, and the true culture of a country isn't gift shops and expensive meals.

I don't mean to hate on big-city Europe. Many of them are beautiful, and fun, and have plenty of clubs that stay open until 5am. But if planning a trip to Europe, there are other cities not to be missed.

1. Bratislava, Slovakia


Easily one of my favorite places. Located in Slovakia, Bratislava still holds it's unique history while upholding modern touches. Well-known among Europeans, however easily looked over by Americans. Navigate through tiny cobblestone alleys and get lost in passageways between buildings. You can buy ice cream for a Euro, find quaint corners with no one around, and sit next to a riverbank overlooking the town's magnificent castle.

Slovakia has more castles than any other European country, dozens of natural hot springs for a relaxing spa day, and remains relatively inexpensive for American travelers. $8 will get you into a hot-spring waterpark. Yup, it's as cool as it sounds.

2. Innsbruck, Austria


Innsbruck was a blast. The people, the city, the environment. Even if the arrival was a bit rough.

Backpack ant infestation= dumping out an entire backpack and shaking out every piece of clothing, letting hundreds of dead ants fall onto the busy sidewalk. Hi world, no I'm not psycho.

The downtown square bustles with life day and night, while the mountains surrounding the town sit quietly with hundreds of hiking trails. A college downtown with a big international presence brings those from all over the world together to laugh, drink, and play beer pong with dice.

Innsbruck is the perfect town to do some couchsurfing, meet some friends, and make some crazy memories.

They also have .79 cent frozen pizzas. WIN.

3. Finse, Norway

I'll be completely honest here and say there's nothing in Finse. Nothing. There's a train station, backpackers hostel, an overly fancy lodge in the middle of nowhere, a couple residential houses, all surrounded by miles and miles of open tundra. And this is exactly why you must go.

Completely cut off by roads, the only way to Finse is by the Oslo-> Bergen train (also known as the most beautiful railway in the world).

Wild camping is permitted in Norway, which means backpackers can camp anywhere outside of town on the open tundra. That means spending the night next to a glacier, or by some reindeer, or on the banks of the town lake. Just be sure not to pick a night that's going to be in the 30s. Or a windy night where your gas stove won't stay lit and you have to end up eating cold hot dogs. Speaking from experience, of course.

What Finse does have, however, is beauty. An uninterrupted, serene, and magical beauty that very few places still have on Earth.

4. Grenoble, France

Also known as "The Gateway to The Alps". Surrounded by mountains, with free via ferrata routes, a quaint riverfront filled with small Italian restaurants and French cafes, home to the 1968 winter Olympics, the list goes on and on.

Hike to the top of Bastille, a 19th-century fort on the top of a hill overlooking the city. Many people run to the top of the hill as a workout (personally I say hell no to that), and there are various work-out stations along the route to the top (which I'll agree are quite awesome). But be careful in the dark caves toward the top as I've witnessed the Godzilla-sized spiders lurking in the corners (and to that I say an even bigger hell no).

They city is also a college town, with a very young and vibrant culture. The surrounding area has enough to keep a outdoor lover busy for weeks. And even though a city, Grenoble has a small-town presence among the mountains.

5. Vigo, Spain

On the western coast of Spain, Vigo's kind residents and beautiful shoreline will make visitors never want to leave.

The local residents went out of their way to make sure we were always comfortable and had everything we needed. After booking a last-minute Airbnb we showed up late at night with a ride from the train station, a jaw-dropping apartment, an assortment of chorizo, and a bottle of red wine. The place was $20/night. Even though our hosts spoke just a few words of English, we felt more at home than I ever imagined.

Just off the coast of Vigo is the Cies Islands, and as you know from a previous post I loved everything about the place. There are multiple ferries a day that takes you across the harbor offering views of the rolling landscapes and drop you off on sandy beaches straight out of a Caribbean dream.

Vigo was my first introduction to Spain, and I must say that Spain's hospitality and friendliness remains the best I've seen.

6. Cheb, Czech Republic    

Probably the most picture-perfect European town in existence. Honestly, I don't even need to talk about Cheb besides the fact that it's inexpensive. I'll let pictures do the rest of the talking:

7. Quedlinburg, Germany

From above Quedlinburg is dotted with red roofs, while down on the streets old German houses sit side-by-side.

There are tea rooms, and mustard shops, antique stores, and wood carving studios. You walk through steel doors and back into time before big skyscrapers and bustling freeways.

It is the pinnacle of an old German city, perfectly preserved and still thriving in a modern society.

Perhaps the best part was the gelato shops with milchreis flavored gelato. Milchreis, a traditional German dinner, turns out can be good in both meal and dessert form.

I could wander those streets for hours, window shopping and forgetting about the crazy world surrounding it.

8. Salir Do Porto, Portugal


A tiny town with not much more than a small beach shack serving seafood. The uniqueness comes from the location where two rivers meet the ocean. Somehow creating giant sand dunes and soft beaches that continue down the shoreline for miles.

The train station consists of nothing more than a cement shelter and it doesn't take long to realize this is no tourist attraction. There are rocky trails used by fisherman that lead around rocky cliffs. On top of the cliff sits remains of an old church overlooking Salir Do Porto and Sao Martinho Do Porto, the nearby town across the bay.

It is essential to stay here for an entire day to witness the changes to the beach landscapes as the tide comes in and out. At high tide, the beach is relatively small, but as time continues and low tide approaches slowly you'll watch the massive river become a small stream, and the small beach extends for hundreds of feet into the ocean.

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