Best European Cities for People Who Hate Crowds
There is no place like Paris — or Barcelona or Venice or any other classic European city renowned for its timeless beauty.
But while some people have no problem sharing their romantic walks down cobblestone streets with a horde of 30 people on a group tour — and there’s no shame in that — others prefer not to have to fight for breathing room while on vacation.
If you’re part of the latter group, don’t cross Europe off your travel list yet! With faith, trust and a little imagination, you can have the European trip of a lifetime in these incredible cities that attract fewer crowds by offering a bit of peace and quiet.
25. Zadar, Croatia
The oldest continuously inhabited city in Croatia doesn't get the same fanfare as Zagreb or Dubrovnik, but its Adriatic Sea location along the Dalmatian Coast is equally as fascinating sans the crowds. Old Town may get a bit more tourism than you'd like with narrow streets from ancient days, but leave behind the area to explore the nearby islands and parks. Ferries depart to various islands often.
Just be sure to suffer a pinch to see the Sea Organ, a set of stairs into the water that plays music as waves hit. (It's most popular at sunset.)
Must-See in Zadar: Plitvice Lakes National Park
Less than an hour outside of Zadar is a national park filled with multiple lakes and waterfalls. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of Croatia's largest (and oldest) national parks.
More than 73,000 acres in size, visitors will find boardwalks suspended over lakes and viewpoints ripe for stunning photos. The turquoise water gets its color from the limestone makeup of the rugged landscape.
24. Basel, Switzerland
Some of the quaintest (and quietest) towns of Europe can be found along the Rhine River, often not explored save by those enjoying a river cruise. Basel, Switzerland, is one such town that remains crowd-free. Situated in northwestern Switzerland, tucked between France and Germany, Basel is a medieval town with touches of influence from all three countries.
It's also home to one of the largest festivals held in Europe: the Fascnacht. This three-day carnival following Ash Wednesday takes place in the city's old town with musicians, parades and costumed performers.
Must-See in Basel: Rathaus
Basel's Rathaus, or town hall, dominates Marktplatz and is one of the most iconic buildings in the city. Built more than 500 years ago, the red-colored building was constructed in the Gothic style on the outside with an austere decor inside. It still serves as the government seat but is open for tours.
It makes an especially lovely backdrop to Marktplatz during the Christmas season when the square is filled with vendors and holiday lighting.
23. Salisbury, England
Accessible via train direct from the maddening crowds of London is the cathedral city of Salisbury, so named for its cathedral. Found where the Avon, Bourne and Nadder rivers converge, the small city is one of the most historic places in England, with remnants of ancient Roman fortresses and medieval architecture still the main style of the city center.
Plus, the town is less than 8 miles from Stonehenge.
Must-See in Salisbury: Salisbury Cathedral
Within the hallowed halls of Salisbury Cathedral is an original Magna Carta, "The Great Charter," written in 1215 that guaranteed rights, just and a fair trial to all people — a precursor to the Declaration of Independence in the U.S.
The church itself celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2020 and recently completed renovation work to restore the Gothic cathedral to its original splendor.
22. Sintra, Portugal
Just north of Lisbon is the resort town of Sintra, Portugal, which rests along the Atlantic Ocean yet is nestled against the mountains of the same name.
The city's heart is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and filled with palaces and castles of the royal family, 19th-century Romanticist architecture, Moorish history and buildings, and the Cabo da Roca coastline, "where the land ends and the sea begins."
Must-See in Sintra: Pena Palace
Overlooking the town of Sintra is the Pena Palace, a castle on a mountaintop providing dramatic 360-degree views — you can even see Lisbon on a clear day.
The palace resides in a park that was once land owned by the king, and the expansive gardens include more than 500 different tree species from around the world.
21. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana may be the capital of Slovenia, but this charming Slavic city is still relatively quiet as travelers make their way to larger Western European cities. Ljubljana hugs the similarly named river and is filled with parks and trees — just perfect for enjoying a book in the summer sun.
UNESCO calls Ljubljana the "City of Literature," noting 850 books are published each year in the city that has more than 500,000 members at its library. It was also the first city to host the World Book Summit and is home to a university with students eager to soak up all the knowledge that these books provide.
Must-See in Ljubljana: Tivoli City Park
For those seeking solace when traveling, there is no better place than Ljubljana's Tivoli Park — the largest park in Slovenia. The park was designed by a Frenchmen in the 1800s and features a large pond for boating. Sculptures can be found throughout the more than 3-square-mile park filled with ornamental flower beds.
Within the park is the 17th-century Tivoli Castle (really a mansion) that was renovated in the Neoclassical style in the 19th century.
20. Tinos, Greece
If you want the beauty of Santorini without constantly having to duck out of people’s selfies, head to Tinos instead. A mere two hours away from Greece’s most Instagrammed island, Tinos’ whitewashed buildings perfectly juxtapose the intense color of the Mediterranean.
The island boasts mountains and rock formations that have forced its picturesque villages to contort to its geography. This is part of its undeniable charm.
You’ll be able to get a true glimpse into life on the island, while enjoying expansive beaches far, far away from the masses.
Must-See in Tinos: Church of the Annunciation
This stunning Renaissance-style church dating back to 1830 houses religious artifacts and offers prime island views.
19. Wroclaw, Poland
You would think that Wroclaw’s numerous cultural offerings would be better-known amongst outsiders, yet this Polish city continues to fly under the radar.
Sitting on the banks of the Ode River, there are plenty of statues and memorials to keep history-lovers busy for days, as well as cultural touchstones housing world-class collections of art.
Marvel at the streets of the Gothic Old Town and take in the scenery from Penitent Bridge for the perfect day, sans throngs of tourists.
Must-See in Wroclaw: National Museum
This riverfront museum is home to one of the country’s largest collections of contemporary art, including many by Polish greats.
18. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
After years of instability, the destination newly minted as Bosnia and Herzegovina is finally emerging as a must-see. The capital, Sarajevo, holds memories of the region's past, along with its hopes for the future. The old market quarter is brimming with cafés and restaurants, and you can still find vestiges of the chaotic market that was once the beating heart of the city.
Learn about Bosnian history in the city’s several museums, visit churches and mosques, and delight your taste buds with authentic Bosnian food. Burek — a flaky pastry stuffed with meat, cheese or spinach — might just change your life.
Must-See in Sarajevo: Lukomir Highland Village
About an hour-and-a-half drive outside Sarajevo, this popular day-trip stop offers a glimpse into village customs and culture, as locals talk about their life with visitors. Nearby, natural marvels like Rakitnica Canyon and Peruce Waterfall await.
17. Akureryi, Iceland
In recent years, Iceland has developed its own overtourism problems due to exposure from films like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and the music video for Justin Bieber’s song “I’ll Show You.” The good news is that most of the masses are heading to Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon, rarely daring to visit the country’s wilder northern region.
Known as the “Capital of the North,” Akureyri has all the offerings of a modern city surrounded by some of the country’s most breathtaking landscapes. For outdoor thrills, the city boasts a location at the head of Iceland’s staggering Eyjafjörður fjord — the country’s longest at more than 37 miles — as well as natural thermal pools, rugged mountains and spectacular waterfalls.
For cultural immersion, there’s the eclectic Akureyri Art Museum and a collection of galleries strung along the aptly named “Art Alley.” For late-night revelry, there's a surprisingly robust assortment of restaurants, bars and live-music venues.
16. Valencia, Spain
Despite being Spain’s third-largest city, Valencia is often passed over in favor of smaller cities like Sevilla and Granada. Only 2 million people come to enjoy the home of paella every year, a fraction of the 30 million who descend upon Barcelona.
Those who make their way to Valencia find an eclectic modern metropolis filled with theaters, cultural spaces and a vibrant mix of museums exploring everything from ceramics and illustration to medieval art and the natural sciences. On the city’s winding streets, the artistic education continues, with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements representing many important architectural periods.
But Valencia’s biggest draw is arguably its clean, soft-sand beaches, which are hardly desolate, but far less claustrophobic than Spain's most famous shores.
Must-See in Valencia: Las Arenas Beach
You can't go wrong with any beach in Valencia, but Las Arenas, with its seaside bars, charming fisherman’s quarter and restaurants serving authentic tapas, will make you hesitant about heading home.
15. Aberdeen, Scotland
Skip Edinburgh and head to Aberdeen, an oft-neglected part of the United Kingdom that deserves a lot more love.
Known as the “Granite City” because of its marvelously preserved architecture, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an ugly — or crowded — street here. Visit castles, climb sand dunes and tour breweries, all without worrying about lines, massive tours or steep tourist prices.
Must-See in Aberdeen: Maritime Museum
One of Europe’s most underrated maritime museums features fascinating exhibits on shipbuilding and, uniquely, the oil industry, in a scenic harbor-front setting.
14. Kotor, Montenegro
Sadly, many people outside of Europe ignore the existence of Montenegro. This young nation gained independence 13 years ago and is now considered one of the continent’s best-kept secrets. If you want medieval fortresses overlooking the Mediterranean, look no further than beautiful Kotor.
The UNESCO-recognized Old Town is dotted with clay roofs that contrast the blue waters of the bay and the green mountains surrounding it. And you won’t be rubbing elbows with fellow travelers as you take in the city’s beauty: It receives a mere 140,000 tourists per year. (To put that in perspective, the nearby town of Dubrovnik, Croatia, receives nearly 1.3 million tourists a year.)
Must-See in Kotor: St. John’s Hill
The town’s crown jewel reserves its awe-inspiring views for those willing to climb up a steep and long staircase. (Spoiler alert: The trek is definitely worth it.)
13. Aarhus, Denmark
There’s no denying that Copenhaguen, with its Little Mermaid statue and colorful Nyhavn, is a must-see. But if you want to go against the current and leave the well-beaten path, take a detour to Aarhus instead.
The second-largest city in Denmark, Aarhus claims distinctive attractions like an underground Viking Museum and an open-air ethnographic museum, Den Gamle By — not to mention quiet beaches with calm, swimmable water.
Must-See in Aarhus: ARoS
Art connoisseurs enjoy visiting the city’s contemporary art museum, home to Denmark’s largest art collection outside Copenhagen and special exhibits like an exploration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The museum’s Wine and Food Hall, serving locally sourced fare, is worth a pilgrimage on its own.
12. Utrecht, Netherlands
Utrecht welcomes about 4 million yearly visitors — a small number compared to the nearly 20 million who converge on the streets of nearby Amsterdam every year. The country’s fourth-largest city continues to hide in plain sight from tourists, a fact that you can certainly use to your advantage.
Stroll along the city’s canals, just as lovely as Amsterdam’s and featuring wharf cellars — former wharf storage facilities — housing excellent cafes and waterside terraces. Carve out time, too, to take day trips to nearby castles.
Mostly, enjoy a taste of the Netherlands without the hassle of dealing with drunk Eramus students on every corner.
11. Bologna, Italy
Rome, Florence and especially Venice are poster children for overtourism. We recommend you head to Bologna instead.
The city see about 1.3 million tourist arrivals each year, far less than other Italian cities (Venice alone receives 20 million!).
What’s more, Bologna is considered the gastronomic capital of Italy — an incredible feat in a country renowned for its delectable cuisine. The city is the biggest in the Emilia-Romagna region, which gave the world such essential foods as balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese and mortadella.
Eat your way through the Old Town, then visit museums you won’t have to wait hours to get into.
Must-See in Bologna: Piazza Maggiore
The main square of Bologna dates back to the 13th century and remains a gathering place for locals and tourists alike. It is flanked by gorgeous palaces and features in its center a riveting statue of Neptune.
10. Brasov, Romania
Despite its vampire-connected fame, Romania as a whole continues to escape the tourist mania that afflicts many other European countries. Nestled within the imposing Carpathian Mountains, Brasov promises mystery, as if the entire town was hiding an intriguing secret.
For the best views of the city, visit the Black and White Towers or hike to the summit of Tampa Mountain, looming above Brasov at an elevation of more than 3,000 feet.
Must-See in Brasov: City Square
The city's hub has several well-preserved medieval buildings and a history of executions, making for a dark, if fascinating, history lesson. Every winter, it also hosts one of Europe’s best Christmas markets, not yet discovered by the throngs.
9. Galway, Ireland
Even in a relatively small country like Ireland, tourists tend to congregate around the most famous city of Dublin. Luckily for Galway, this means that its effortless allure has largely escaped the pressures of tourism. With only about 1.5 million annual international visitors, you are not likely to have to push your way through to the city’s magnificent sights.
Galway typifies Europe’s historic-meets-modern ethos. About a fifth of the population is made up of students, ensuring a plethora of hip restaurants, bars, and annual arts and music festivals. But it is also home to medieval town walls and historic attractions like the circa-1320 St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church.
The Galway Cathedral, completed in 1965, is a gorgeous attraction that straddles the line between old and new.
Must-See in Galway: Lynch’s Castle
Don’t skip a visit to this stone beauty, where you can learn about the 14 tribes that once shared power over the region.
8. Riga, Latvia
If Baltic cities keep coming up, it’s because this region is seriously underrated and seriously undercrowded.
Like the other Baltic capitals, Riga continues to be somewhat of a secret and perfectly balances tradition with modernity. However, the city has a particular air that that sets it apart from other capitals, probably because of its unique architecture. Riga boasts a large collection of Art Nouveau structures, which live side by side the medieval squares of its Old Town.
The Latvian capital is also well-known for its superb gastronomical offerings. Be prepared to eat a lot of (excellent) smoked fish.
Must-See in Riga: The House of the Blackheads
The building that most exemplifies Riga’s distinctive architecture is hard to miss. Its white and orange facade does not follow straight lines and has no sharp corners, but seems to move with an organicity that almost breathes life into it.
7. Olomouc, Czechia
The ancient Moravian capital has long been forgotten by international visitors who are mesmerized by Prague’s charm and Ceský Krumlov’s beauty. But Olomouc holds its ground with an extensive and interesting history, as well as a large student population that keeps it lively and modern. (Make sure to indulge in the thriving microbrewery scene.)
The city also boasts the largest per-capita concentration of churches and religious buildings in all of Czechia, and one of its best religious institutions: the fascinating Archdiocesan Museum, featuring a collection of paintings and sculptures collected by bishops since the 16th century.
Must-See in Olomouc: Holy Trinity Column
The city’s most iconic landmark stands in the center of its central square, and is recognized by UNESCO for its Baroque design and fine religious sculptures.
6. Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Sandwiched between Belgium, Germany and France, the tiny country of Luxembourg is often forgotten. But one person’s skipped country is another’s crowdless mecca. Here, Luxembourg City has all the best features of a typical western European city: a river framing it, preserved historic buildings and a castle perched at the top.
The city has its fair share of landmarks, including gilded palaces and cathedrals. But the best thing to do is to simply get purposely lost in its streets, looking for hidden local restaurants and artisan stores.
Must-See in Luxembourg City: Passerelle Viaduct
Also known as the Old Bridge, this towering architectural masterpiece with long arches serves as a striking connection to the Old Town.
5. Bergen, Norway
This long Scandinavian country has seen a rise in the numbers of tourists chasing its northern lights and looking to Instagram themselves on the famous Trolltunga rock formation. But social media has not yet given Bergen away as a fantastic destination.
The second-largest city in Norway, Bergen is marked by dramatic landscapes that provide opportunities for outdoor adventure. Hikes, fjords and proximity to the sea make Bergen a nature-lover’s dream.
The city’s historic houses and wooden walkways are recognized by UNESCO, but there are also modern museums and restaurants to give the city a dose of cosmopolitan charm.
Must-See in Bergen: Mt. Fløyen
At an elevation of more than 1,000 feet, this city mountain stuns. If you’re not into working for a view, you can simply take the funicular up to the top.
4. Vilnius, Lithuania
The history of this Baltic city goes back all the way to the 14th century, when it was a sort of mecca for religious minorities. Despite Soviet occupation, it managed to preserve the iconic Baroque architecture of its Old Town. In this city hub, traverse cobblestone streets past historic churches, palaces and shops.
One of the best things to do when visiting Vilnius is to go up the Bell Tower at St. John’s Church, and take in an astonishing panoramic view of the city.
Must-See in Vilnius: National Gallery of Art
Built as the Museum of the Revolution, this cultural institution reinvented itself as a contemporary and modern art gallery featuring important Lithuanian artists. Don't be fooled by its rather uninspiring facade; inside is a thoughtfully curated collection that shouldn't be overlooked.
3. Lyon, France
Although Lyon is one of France’s largest and most well-known cities, many tourists neglect it. The metropolis receives about 6 million annual visitors, one-fifth of the number who visit Paris.
You will rejoice in the lack of hordes as you explore what many consider to be the gastronomical capital of France. (Yes, more so than Paris!) Try saucisson dry-cured sausages, poulet de Bresse chicken and, for dessert, a tarte Lyonnaise. All are delectable regional delicacies.
Make sure also to give yourself time to walk around the gorgeous Vieux Lyon, where restaurants, cafés and shops abound.
Must-See in Lyon: Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
No visit to Lyon would be complete without a pilgrimage to its basilica. As you explore the historic quarter, look up to take in the majesty of this monument standing tall above the city, as if protecting it from harm. Head to the top by hitching a ride on the funicular.
2. Tallinn, Estonia
Sadly, the Baltic states as a whole are usually ignored by tourists. On the upside, this is part of the reason why they have so effortlessly retained their charm.
Tallinn, the Estonian capital, has risen with grace from its time under the hold of the Soviet Union. Its Old Town, a walled medieval city, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, defined by its iconic coned terracotta roofs, gothic architecture and cobblestones.
Perfectly complementing this preserved history is an eclectic sense of modernity. Art galleries, chic cafés, and high-end restaurants offer comfort and luxury to travelers, far from Europe’s tourist hot spots.
Must-See in Tallinn: Estonian Open-Air Museum
Those looking to immerse themselves in history should look no further than this extensive and involving attraction — a collection of 80 historic buildings from the 1`8th to 20th centuries, including farms, mills, a fire station and a schoolhouse. Every summer, costumed interpreters help tell the story of the country’s past, while guiding guests in lessons on blacksmithing, weaving and other old-fashioned handicrafts.
Best yet, the museum serves up some of the city’s finest traditional cuisine at its historic inn.
1. Frankfurt, Germany
Berlin has the cool factor, Munich has Oktoberfest and Hamburg has the beauty of the canals. But all three also have the crowds — 31 million, 14 million and 13 million annual visitors, respectively.
By contrast, Frankfurt receives fewer than 9 million visitors per year.
Many tourists forego this German city because it’s decidedly more modern than its counterparts. Unlike cities like Dresden, Frankfurt initially decided not to reconstruct its destroyed facades after the devastating destruction of World War II. Instead, it opted to build a modernized city on the ashes of the old one. And while this is certainly part of its charm, it also drives away visitors looking for that “Old Continent” feeling.
It appears as if Frankfurt has wisen up to this fact, having recently restored its Old Town to its pre-war glory. The newly completed quarter features a former Roman settlement and imperial palace. Visit now before the masses catch on.
Must-See in Frankfurt: Städel Museum
One of Germany’s finest museums showcases the works of artistic greats recognized by last name only: Rembrandt, Renoir, Picasso, Cézanne. In line with the city’s modern vibe, the museum also touts an excellent selection of contemporary exhibits.