9 Unexpected European Vacation Ideas

Once you’ve experienced Europe’s biggest hits—seen the Eiffel Tower sparkle, floated through Venice’s canals, and snacked your way through Barcelona—you may be thinking it’s time to get off the beaten path. But are there really any hidden gems in Europe? The answer is yes! There are plenty of destinations where you can avoid the crowds, enjoy an unexpected experience, and immerse yourself in a unique culture. Here are some of our favorite European destinations you might not have thought to add to your list:

Porto and the Douro Valley

Vineyards along the Douro River
Vineyards along the Douro river. © PRG-Estudio/iStock

Spend a day or two in the up-and-coming gateway city of Porto, savoring lunch at a riverside restaurant and soaking up views of the city from a hilltop cable car. Then head to the captivating Douro Valley—one of the most beautiful and ancient wine-producing regions on the planet. The breathtaking scenery, with lacy vine terraces carved into steep riverbanks, changes with every bend of the river. Main stops include fairytale Amarante, the valley’s “capital” Peso da Régua, Lamego and its famous hilltop chapel, and Vila Nova de Foz Côa, home to pre-historic rock art.


Montenegro is often heralded as the next “it” destination, now that Croatia and Slovenia have been discovered by tourists. Locals here welcome visitors with open arms, thrilled to show off Montenegro’s treasures, and there are many. The sea is legendary, the mountains are both rugged and majestic, and inland towns like Cetinje show off the country’s rich history. The food is great almost anywhere you go, and the local wines are worth tasting. For a day trip from Dubrovnik, head to the Gulf of Kotor for medieval fishing villages, sparkling blue waters, a fjord-like bay ending in the famed town of Kotor, and quiet beaches out on the Luštica peninsula.

Sun-drenched villages and warm beaches, thick forests and snow-capped mountains: Immerse yourself in a postcard come to life.


The walled medieval town of Siena offers a refreshing break between the endless monuments of Rome and the extraordinary art of Florence. It feels more like a small town than a city and can easily be navigated in an hour or two on foot. Make some time to tour the Roman-Gothic Duomo, containing works by Raffaello, Donatello, and more, and take the Porta Cielo route inside the cathedral for panoramic views of the town. Be sure to grab dinner at the Trattoria Papei, a historic spot serving delicious, traditional Tuscan food.


Panorama of the town of Roros, Norway
Roros, Norway. © RPBMedia / iStock

For more than 300 years, Røros was a remote Norwegian mining community, tucked away high in the mountains. Today, it’s a surprisingly vibrant community focused on sustainable tourism and local food production. The town is incredibly well preserved, and as you stroll through the center you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve traveled back in time—there’s nowhere quite like Røros anywhere in Scandinavia. Stay at the historic Vertshuset Hotel, hike outside the town center to a cozy mountain hamlet, and settle down for a meal at the charming Frøyas Hus.

Experience magnificent fjords, historical cities, and magical northern lights with Moon Norway.

Normandy and Brittany

City Square of Rochefort en Terre, Brittany
City square of Rochefort en Terre, Brittany. Photo © RolfSt/iStock.

After exploring Paris, consider heading up north to Normandy and Brittany. While the two are distinct regions, they share much of the same appeal: their climate, their proximity to the sea, and the essentials of their cuisine—apples, dairy, and seafood. Normandy is a land of towering Gothic cathedrals, sedate farmland, and bourgeois seaside resorts, while Brittany has squat, almost pagan chapels, woods, and wind-lashed harbors that seem to exist in another time. Whether you prefer the luxury casinos and elegant promenades of Deauville, or dancing into the night at a traditional fest-noz (night festival) in some little-known Breton village, there’s more than enough to keep you entertained.

The Penedès Wine Region

Whether you’re a wine buff already or eager to learn the basics, the rolling hills of Catalonia’s Penedès wine region make for an excellent trip. While other kinds of wines are produced here, Penedès is most famous for Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine; around 95 percent of all Cava is produced here. From Barcelona, it’s easy to visit the two main towns of the region, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia and Vilafranca del Penedès, within the same day trip. Don’t miss the Freixenet winery and tasting room—the sparkling wine is produced on site at the sprawling estate, and visitors can learn all about it on a 90-minute guided tour (topped off with a glass of your own, of course).

Whether you’re rambling down Las Ramblas or making your way down the Gran Via, take your time getting to know the best of Spain with Moon Barcelona & Madrid.

The Scottish Highlands

Hiker standing on mountain top in rugged volcanic landscape around Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Scotland’s Isle of Skye. Photo © MarcelStrelow/iStock.

You’ll find no end of excitement in the popular cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, but if what you’re looking for is peace and solitude, you don’t have to travel far. The Highlands, a huge region that covers much of the north and west of Scotland, is home to some of the country’s most remote communities, magnificent mountains that sweep down to glittering blue lochs, and a truly breathtaking array of wildlife. The Isle of Skye is easily the highlight of the highlands: a magical place of eerily still lochs, colossal mountains, and improbable geographical features just waiting to be explored.

From sipping scotch and sampling haggis to touring castles and historic museums, make the most of your Scottish adventure with Moon Scotland.

Eger/The Valley of Beautiful Women

The Hungarian city of Eger, about 2 hours from Budapest by train, paints a vibrant picture with its baroque houses and impressive medieval castle. All of this makes perfect day trip for anyone who loves history. You can also come just for the wine. Eger is known for its spicy Bull’s Blood wine—named partly for its deep red color, but also believed by the Turks to have given the Hungarians superhuman power during battle. Taste it in the wineries around the city, or head to the cellars embedded in the caves at the nearby Valley of Beautiful Women.


Bougainvillea views on the island of Ischia.
Bougainvillea views on the island of Ischia. Photo © GoneWithTheWindStock/iStock.

Positano, Amalfi, and Capri are perhaps the most famous destinations on the picturesque Amalfi Coast, but you’d be remiss to skip the island of Ischia— though not on every day-tripper’s radar, it’s an oasis that is perfect for a relaxing holiday surrounded by nature. Nicknamed the Isola Verde (Green Island), the volcanic island offers an exquisite blend of verdant mountain slopes, turquoise sea, thermal spas, and fishing villages. Around every corner, there’s a varied landscape to discover, from bubbling hot thermal springs to steeply sloped vineyards and historic castles.

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