July 22, 2024

10 underrated European cities for your alternative adventure

While traveller hotspots like Paris and Prague have earned their popularity, there are so many underrated European cities crying out to be explored. Beyond the smaller crowds and lower prices, there are serious perks to travelling to lesser-visited spots. Firstly, it’s a more sustainable way to travel – you’re taking pressure off of over-touristed places and spending money in economies that need the boost more. Also, in a world where the most popular destinations are plastered across every magazine and Insta feed, visiting Europe’s most underrated places offers the chance for new adventures and fresh discoveries. So, pack that backpack and check out my choice of the most underrated cities in Europe.

1. Gothenburg – Sweden

underrated european cities - girl standing on hill in gothenburg

? @lucys.luggage

Rather than hitting Stockholm, I urge you to check out the coastal delights of Gothenburg – the largest non-capital city in the Nordics, and home of Queen Greta Thunberg. Gothenburg is super eco-friendly, and as well as being one of the most underrated places in Europe, it has been named the world’s most sustainable destination every year since 2016. Apparently, there are 274 square metres of green space in Gothenburg…per citizen! As well as cool urban parks, like Jubileumsparken, where you can swim at a city beach or go sailing, check out Vast Slottsskogen for peaceful forest walks and Keillers Park for hilltop views of the city. Once a major port, Gothenburg’s previously industrial buildings have been repurposed: factories have been transformed into galleries and markets, and slaughterhouses into bars and wineries. If you need more convincing – Gothenburg’s trump card is Liseberg – a theme park with more than 40 rides, powered by renewable wind energy.

  • How long to spend? Three to four days.
  • Best time of year? May to September.
  • Average backpacker budget (per day)? €50–65.
  • Hostel highlights: Slottsskogens Youth Hostel is a lively option, as they organise great social events like pub crawls, picnics and quiz nights. Plus they’ve got their own sauna!
Check out all of our hostels in Gothenburg

2. Warsaw – Poland

underrated european cities - warsaw houses

? @ragingwind

Let your hipster flag fly with a trip to Poland’s capital. Warsaw delivers on all the elements that made Berlin so popular back in the 90s – affordability, an electrifying arts scene and riotous nightlife. It’s also a city with a similar history to Berlin. Explore the Warsaw Rising Museum and Monument and the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town, which has been meticulously rebuilt after being bombed by the Nazis. Dive into the arts at Zacheta National Gallery of Art and the Soho Factory, a regenerated corner of town home to galleries, clothes markets, street food and boutiques. Come nightfall, hit up the hippest neighbourhoods to party the night away – Praga, Vistula River Bank (particularly during summer) and the party zone on Parkingowa, Nowogrodzka and Mazowiecka Streets.

  • How long to spend? Two or three days.
  • Best time of year? June to August.
  • Average backpacker budget (per day)? €25-35.
  • Hostel highlights: The best hostels in Warsaw include either of the Oki Doki’s – Old Town or City, both of which are kitsch, sociable and total bargains.
Check out all of our hostels in Warsaw

3. Seville – Spain

underrated european cities - boats on the river in seville

? @shaipal

Sure, Madrid and Barcelona will always be amazing, but it’s time to venture to another steamy Spanish city – Seville, the birthplace of flamenco music. Given its sunny climate, the cobbled, orange tree-lined streets of the Andalusian capital are shaded with sheets of bright white cotton. Wander down to the Guadalquivir River to lounge by the water and enjoy cooling breezes. Seville’s architecture is a worthy contender to Barcelona with its gothic Cathedral, the Royal Alcázar of Seville and Plaza de España. Nightlife here is all about pulling up a stall at a street-side bar, dining on sensational tapas and waiting for the live music to kick in. Find the party in cool barrios like Triana, Feria and Macarena.

Check out all of our hostels in Seville

4. Tbilisi – Georgia

underrated european cities - girl standing on top of a car in tbilisi Georgia

? @nina_fedotova

Forget the likes of Budapest, Georgia’s capital city is something special, but somehow it remains one of the most underrated cities in Europe…for now. Once a Silk Road capital, not only is Tbilisi seriously easy on the eye, it’s also full of hidden nightclubs, speakeasy cafés and a delightful old quarter, overlooked by the impressive Narikala Fortress. When the sun goes down and the fortress lights come up, Tbilisi looks just magical. Foodies will float through the streets fuelled on fumes of delight at all of the fine wine and food on offer in the city’s bars and restaurants. Many of which are housed in restored buildings so impressive they make you feel like you’re in the movies. End the night with a visit to Bassiani, a nightclub beneath a once iconic football stadium. The following day can be spent easing the hangover with a soak in one of Tbilisi’s traditional hot sulphur bathhouses.

  • How long to spend? Three to five days.
  • Best time of year? May to September.
  • Average budget per day for a backpacker? €20-40.
  • Hostel highlights: For a stylish stay check out Black Tomato, or Vagabond B&B is ideal if you’re looking for evenings spent swapping stories with an intimate crowd of fellow travellers.
Check out all of our hostels in Tbilisi

5. Utrecht – Netherlands

underrated european cities - canal in utrecht

? @jonnemakikyro

While Amsterdam is undoubtedly the Billy Big (Bitter)ballen of The Netherlands, Utrecht is one of the most underrated cities in Europe. Located just 40 minutes south of The Dam, this alternative offers exactly the same vibe, minus the stag dos and tourists pulling whiteys. Utrecht is a university city which means a young population to mingle with. There are plenty of tree-lined canals to peddle around – the most exciting being those around Oudegracht, home to 13th century warehouses that now house some of the coolest drinking, eating and dancing spots in the city. Utrecht delivers in the history stakes too, with highlights like The Domtoren, St Martin’s Cathedral and Museum Speelklok, a suitably-trippy clock museum, perfect after a visit to a coffeeshop.

  • How long to spend? Three days.
  • Best time of year? May – September.
  • Average backpacker budget (per day)? €55-70.
  • Hostel highlights: StayOkay Utrecht Centrum is a stylish and perfectly-located spot in the Old Town, offering bike hire.  Bunk Hotel is sweet if you like your dorm rooms with luxurious touches.
Check out all of our hostels in Utrecht

6. Thessaloniki – Greece

underrated european cities - view over thessaloniki greece

? @dragos126

Athens shouldn’t get all the glory – Thessaloniki is another Greek waterfront city with historical monuments coming out of its ears. Plus, it has a young population, amazing cultural events and nightlife to rival that of the Greek Islands, minus the fishbowls! If Greek cuisine gets you going, Thessaloniki’s drool-inducing food scene is reason to visit alone – the city is known as the gastronomic capital of Greece. Explore the historical districts of Ladadika and Ano Poli by day, and the bars and live music venues of Valaoritu by night.

  • How long to spend? Three days.  
  • Best time of year? April to May, or September to October.
  • Average backpacker budget (per day)? €40-50.
  • Hostel highlights: Crossroads is a friendly spot with a leafy garden, located in the shade of the Byzantine city walls.
Check out all of our hostels in Thessaloniki

7. Sarajevo – Bosnia and Herzegovina

underrated european cities - Sarajevo - Bosnia and Herzegovina

? @_miyo

Sarajevo is an incredible place to spend a few days without having to dodge camera-wielding sightseers on every corner. Often called the Jerusalem of Europe, the city is a religious and architectural marvel, combining Ottoman heritage with religious Jewish, Muslim and Christian buildings standing side-by-side. Adventure through the souk-like markets of Baš?aršija, the city’s old town, delight in the coffee culture and seek insider tips from the laid-back, approachable locals. Sarajevo was designated a UNESCO Creative City in 2019 and one of the world’s 18 Cities of Film, so culture-lovers will have a field day. The bar and club scene in Sarajevo rivals the likes of Berlin and London, so prepare to rave until dawn.

  • How long to spend? Two to three days.
  • Best time of year? May to August.
  • Average backpacker budget (per day)? €40-60.
  • Hostel highlights: Check out Hostel Franz Ferdinand, a boutique hostel with free breakfast, free booze and a sociable atmosphere. Balkan Han is a colourful spot in the centre of town, with a great garden, bar and community feel.
Check out all of our hostels in Sarajevo

8. Valletta – Malta

underrated european cities - house in Valletta - Malta

? @where.ihavebeen

Rather than joining the back of the queue in Dubrovnik, check out Malta’s capital, Valletta. The fact it’s one of the most underrated cities in Europe is bonkers, given how insanely beautiful it is! Much like Dubrovnik, Valletta is an imposing walled city overlooking blue waters that was used by the Game of Thrones crew. Most backpackers have no idea of its accolades – it was the first planned city in Europe, has UNESCO World Heritage status, is a European Art City and is home to 320 historical monuments all within walking distance of each other. The city is only 0.8 square kilometres, making it the smallest capital in the EU.

  • How long to spend? Two to three nights.
  • Best time of year? April to June.
  • Average backpacker budget (per day)? €35-50.
  • Hostel highlights: Palazzo Sant Ursula is a 16th century converted palace close to the Grand Harbour, with a beautiful roof garden.
Check out all of our hostels in Valletta

9. Hamburg – Germany

underrated european cities - sunset view over hamburg from a window

? @julie_soul

Hamburg will give you serious déjà vu for Rotterdam and Amsterdam, especially around the Red-Light District at St Pauli, where you’ll find cool bars and banging techno nights that are filled with way more locals than travellers. If you’re in the market for street art, Hamburg’s graffiti-covered streets serve up the goods. Spend your day exploring the city’s architecture and arts scene around hip neighbourhood Schanzenviertel, then toast being ahead of the travel curve at one of the city beach bars along the banks of the River Elbe.

  • How long to spend? Two to three days.
  • Best time of year? May to October.
  • Average backpacker budget (per day)? €60-75.
  • Hostel highlights: Jugendherberge Hamburg-Auf dem Stintfang has a wild bar and attracts a young crowd, or the warm-up parties at Generator Hamburg are the perfect place to share a drink with new mates before you venture into the Hamburg night.
Check out all of our hostels in Hamburg

10. Ljubljana – Slovenia

underrated european cities - man standing by graffiti in Ljubljana - Slovenia

 ? @hopewarrenx

Prague certainly has its perks, but Ljubljana offers much of the same at a lower price. The Slovenian capital is straight out of a fairytale – it’s even called The City of Dragons, and boasts a mysterious hilltop castle! The city is located on the banks of the Ljubljanica River, criss-crossed by bridges reminiscent of Venice. The river is also where much of the city’s social scene is set, in cafés and bars dotted along the leafy embankment. Ljubljana has one of the best-preserved Medieval Old Towns in Europe, and architecture boffins will love its mixture of Art Nouveau, Renaissance and Baroque buildings. Definitely check out their festival and art exhibition calendars before booking your trip – Ljubljana is currently bidding to become a European Capital of Culture, and I reckon they’re a shoo in.

  • How long to spend? Three days.
  • Best time of year? April to May, or September to October.
  • Average backpacker budget (per day)? €40-65.
  • Hostel highlights: Kva Hostel is a cool spot located in a former print works, overlooking the river. Or, grab a bed at Hostel Celica, which has been converted from a military prison into an award-winning hostel, coveted for its unique artistic design and sustainable credentials.
Check out all of our hostels in Ljubljana


We hope this guide inspires your next trip. Let us know in the comments which underrated European cities you think other backpackers shouldn’t miss!

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About the author:

Amy Baker is the author of Miss-Adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America, and founder of The Riff Raff, a writers’ community that supports aspiring writers and champions debut authors. You can follow Amy on Twitter here.

Keep reading: ⬇

🌟 The best places to visit in Eastern Europe

🌟 The best cities in Europe for craft beer lovers

🌟 The ultimate guide to backpacking Georgia

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