Slovenia is a rather small country just next to Italy and Austria, but it has so many cool things to offer. One of the best things about the country is that its small size makes getting around pretty easy. The whole countryside is beautiful, so taking a train will give you stunning views.
Highlights are the beautiful Slovenian Alps or just walking around the small capital Ljubljana. True, you may not find any world-famous landmarks in the capital, but this only gives you time to enjoy the relaxed city. Some compare it even with some of the Bohemian quarters in Paris (minus the air pollution and unfriendly people).
Another great trip is to visit Lake Bled with its stunning blue water and little castles and churches.
Slovenians are lovely people with a cosmopolitan attitude. A lot of them can speak English, Italian, or German, which makes communication easy. The country is definitely underrated.
Bulgaria gained admission to the EU in 2007. Many people are quite negative about Bulgaria, complaining about its corruption problems and apparent poverty. While the country is still facing several challenges, you will be surprised at how full of positive energy and life the country is. It offers an exciting mix of Slavic, Turkic, Russian, Romanian, and Bulgarian elements that make up its unique culture.
Sophia is a beautiful and exciting city with plenty of cathedrals, which are all worth a visit. Another highlight of Bulgaria is the food. As you would expect from a country with so many influences, you can choose from a great variety of different dishes.
Also, the people are incredibly friendly. The only downside is that many people struggle to speak English. Keep in mind that Bulgarian is written in Cyrillic, and you may need some assistance. However, if you address young people or people who work in tourism, most of them will speak good English. Some older people can speak Russian.
Tip: Visit Bulgaria during the winter. Bulgaria gets quite snowy in winters, which make it look like a real winter wonderland. However, if you struggle with cold weather, you can always head to the Black Sea with its lovely mild climate.
Astonishingly, Romania doesn’t show up on more travel bucket list. Romania’s countryside, particularly in the Carpathians, offers fantastic hiking opportunities (however, be aware of bears!) and breathtaking views, often including exotic castles that randomly show up in the distance. Yes, the scenery sometimes may remind you of Dracula and his vampire community, but that makes it so unique. Or you can visit a few of the massive ancient Romanian churches – there are so many, so the choice is yours.
The cities Sibiu, Sighisoara, or Brasov are awe-inspiring too.
And Bucharest is especially fascinating for those who like Cold War history and Brutalism right next to 18th-century Baroque buildings. Plus, here you find the heaviest building in the world made out of pure marble: the Palace of the Parliament, the seat of the Parliament of Romania.
Romanian is a fascinating language that is actually a Latin Romance language similar to old Italian or French with many Slavic loan words. The people are incredibly friendly, and you will be impressed by the colorful clothes and great music of the Romani people, one of Romania’s largest minorities.
People think that Belgium is a bit boring, which is probably due to its small size and high urbanisation and lack of countryside. But it is definitely not true. Belgium is a fascinating patchwork country full of impressive buildings and beautiful cities. It has strong elements of French and Dutch culture blended into a unique Belgian one. Actually, the small size is rather an advantage because it allows you to visit stunning historic cities like Bruges and Ghent within a short period.
And arty Antwerp, known for its diamond industry and trade, is today a go-to place for fashion, design and contemporary art. And of course Brussels, the centre of European institutions. Apart from its almost 90 museums, diverse architecture, and beautiful parks, you can enjoy some of the best food in Europe with world-famous chocolate makers and high-quality beer. It’s truly a food lovers paradise. If some of it gets too pricey for you, hop on over to the many Moroccan or African restaurants and takeaways from the immigrant groups in the country and enjoy their excellent food!
Luxemburg is just next to Belgium and the Netherlands and makes up part of the Benelux countries. The people here speak French, German, and Luxembourgish.
It’s true, Luxemburg is tiny, and many people expect little of it, maybe also because of its reputation as a tax haven. However, while Luxembourg is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it is also a very safe and relaxed place to visit. The whole country can easily be seen in one or two days. And you will be surprised to find that Luxemburg offers a beautiful hilly and diverse countryside.
It has one major city, Luxembourg City, which is one of three official capital cities of the European Union (besides Brussels and Strasbourg). The city is easy to explore by foot and has two levels. The upper level is the old town, a maze of pretty little streets, restaurants, and museums. In the lower part of the city, you will find some more restaurants and bars, houses, gardens and canals that are very picturesque.
Next to the Baltic Sea and below Finland, there is Estonia. A very underrated country and another unique one often missed by travelers in Europe. Estonia has verdant forests, glorious Baltic beaches, and a beautifully-preserved medieval city: Tallinn. The entire walled Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
But Tallinn is not even the only major city in Estonia. There is also the university town of Tartu, with its enchanting riverside and ruins on the hills to explore. Another popular destination is the spa town of Haapsalu, with its therapeutic mud baths and the beautiful old castle.
There is also the wilderness of the country, from the many moorland areas over the lakes and old forests. Not to mention the seasonal beaches of the country. And there are over 2000 Estonian islands in the Baltic Sea, and it turns out that each of them has its own unique sights and cultures to share.
The language is unique, only vaguely related to Hungarian and Finish but pretty much a world apart from every other EU language. Also, they are the most internet heavy country in the world, and apparently there are plans on making public transport and internet access free for all citizens. How cool is that?
The country of people with one of the world’s driest sense of humor has much to offer. It has almost 190 000 lakes, nestled between gorgeous unspoiled forests. Although the population is small and the cities are few, the scenery is really what is best about Finland. True, the summer is short (and irresistible with some excellent trekking in northern Finland!). But why not going in winter, when it’s magically snowy; or in autumn when the pure explosion of colour in the forests is just overwhelming. Also, Finland is the most reliable place in Europe to catch Northern Lights.
Finland is a unique country culturally. The nation is proud of the fact that nowhere is quite like Finland. Often mistakenly called Scandinavian, Finns are their own ethnic group and speak a complicated language not related to anything, except a little bit of Estonian and Hungarian. The only Finnish word which made it into other languages is “sauna”. The sauna is holy for Finns and closely associated with their wellbeing. Did you know that there are 5.5 million people and 3.3 million saunas in Finland, which can be found in homes, offices, factories, sports centres, hotels, ships and deep below the ground in mines? Needless to say that going into the sauna is a must-do when visiting Finland.
The country has great food too. Although it is not cheap, you typically get plenty (of fish!), and unlike some places, you never want more. A Finn will feed you well! Also, four times a year, Helsinki organises the Restaurant Day when ordinary citizens open their food joint. A genuinely affordable culinary enrichment to this cool capital. And after you’ve tasted the various specialties, browse Helsinki’s world-famous design district Punavuori and get some cutting-edge contemporary art and design.
In a nutshell, its an eccentric country right on the top of Europe, far off all the major routes but not worth missing out!
The only downside might be the lack of light in winter. So it comes as no surprise that Finnish people consume the most coffee in the world per capita with our 10 kg consumption per person yearly.
8. North Macedonia
Fancy half-finished neo-classical buildings next to quaint Slavic houses next to pirate ship themed pubs? Welcome to North Macedonia, officially the Republic of North Macedonia. It is a country in the Balkan in Southeast Europe and one of the successor states of Yugoslavia, from which it declared independence in September 1991. Mediterranean influences and rich in Roman, Greek, Ottoman, and Byzantine heritage, North Macedonia offers a fascinating cultural mixture.
The capital Skopje underwent an arguably slightly absurd makeover with numerous new government buildings, museums, and the National Theatre, and some of it has a touch of Las Vegas. However, you will still find an exciting cultural mixture with authentic attractions and markets full of tasty fried food.
If you want to get out of the city, just travel a few kilometres southwest of Skopje to the Canyon Matka, one of the most beautiful nature spots in the country. Here you can spend a day swimming, picnicking, and exploring its caves and monasteries.
Another highlight is Macedonia’s Jasen, a stunning nature reserve of which some say is still the best-kept secret among Europe’s national parks. Here you won’t find any deluxe hotels or upmarket ski resorts, but abundant opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, hunting, kayaking, and spelunking.
We stay in the “wild south”, just moving west into the neighbouring country Albania at the Mediterranean Sea. Albania gets a bad reputation, mainly because of its poverty and crime in the 1990s chaos of the post-cold war.
In reality, Albania is a stunningly lovely Mediterranean country with ancient ruins, blue lakes, high mountains, and gorgeous beaches. The food is excellent, and the people are very friendly and hospitable. Albania is a Muslim majority country and has its own language group making it different from other European countries.
As tourism is only just picking up, Albania is still a cheap country by European standards. So it’s time to go now while you still can enjoy a free visit to ancient ruins (unlike in Italy, Greece or Spain where ancient ruins are often crowded with tourists and inaccessible).
10. Bosnia and Herzegovina
Like Albania, Bosnia is one of the few Muslim majority countries in Europe, sharing a unique culture and the deep warmth of the people. Bosnia has the charm and beauty of the other Balkan countries but adds its own Islamic flavour. In its East-meets-West atmosphere, you find Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Southern Slavic attributes. The diverse and often untouched countryside features medieval villages and castle ruins, raftable rivers, impressive lakes, and grandiose waterfalls. Not to forget the craggy Dinaric Alps where you can enjoy a hike in summer or bargain-value skiing in winter.
It’s unfortunate that Bosnia’s reputation is still marred by the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, where Bosnia was heavily damaged. The scars left by Europe’s most recent war are still there, and the memorials are very moving. In Sarajevo, for example, you’ll find Sarajevo Roses, a type of memorial made from a concrete scar caused by a mortar shell’s explosion.
But Sarajevo is also a place where you can feel the real East-meets-West vibe. It has a well preserved old quarter, Baščaršija, with catholic and orthodox cathedrals, Jewish synagogues, and several mosques like the famous 16th-century Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque.
And of course, Mostar, a strikingly beautiful town with its world-famous Stari Most (meaning ‘Old Bridge’). The bridge’s swooping arch was initially built in the 16th century on the orders of Suleiman the Magnificent. The current structure is a well-done rebuild following the bridge’s 1990s bombardment during the civil war.
Europe is huge and very diverse, which makes it great to see. We may have been a bit biased towards the eastern side of Europe. But that is because we focused on the lesser-known countries. France, Germany, Spain, Italy, etc. are all fantastic countries to see, but they are not underrated or unknown; instead, they are well-known tourist destinations.
The countries we mentioned have a lot of as nice as or even nicer stuff to offer than the popular tourist countries. However, they may suffer from negative stereotypes and a lack of awareness. It’s time that this changes!
Also, our list contains only 10 countries, but there are so many more fantastic yet underrated places that are definitely worth a visit, like Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, Ukraine, Belarus, Montenegro, and Moldova to name a few!