7 April 2015 by Josephine Cox
Europe is a firm favourite with travellers, and it may seem that there's nowhere left to discover. Venture outside the big-hitters, however, and you'll be rewarded with a wealth of quieter destinations, each with their own rich and idiosyncratic culture, history and customs.
In Croatia, for example, Split and Dubrovnik attract the hordes and can get crowded in summer. Not too far away, the beautiful Plitvice Lakes are a much quieter affair, where 16 lakes staggered like a terrace can be found in one of Croatia's most beautiful national parks. They're a sight not to be missed.
Here, we round-up Europe's best-undiscovered destinations, and give you advice on where to go to beat the crowds.
Croatia & Slovenia
In recent years, Croatia has become one of the most popular European beach destinations. Dubrovnik and Split are defined by their charming terracotta roofs, Baroque churches and cobbled streets, whereas Zagreb, Croatia's capital, is full of historical monuments and fine buildings. All three, however, are firmly on the traditional traveller's route.
For a more authentic experience of the country, to enjoy the beautiful crystal clear Adriatic in relative peace, head to Zadar on the Dalmatian Coast. A traffic-free old town with a beautiful collection of old Roman ruins and medieval churches, it's an undiscovered gem.
Alternatively, head to the less travelled but equally beautiful Slovenia, and experience its sun-kissed and magical coastline, as well as its islands and medieval towns. Lake Bled is a captivating destination, filled with locally-kept and character-infused hotels and accommodation. Hire a traditional wooden boat and pop over to Lake Bled Island, or simply stroll around the lake enjoying the fresh air. With a car at your disposal, an hour's drive will reward you with the underground caves of Postojna, which stretch for more than 20km underground, complete with a small train so you can sit back and enjoy the view.
Get under the skin of one of the most beautiful parts of Europe: the Baltics. Not at the top of most European travellers' bucket lists, the Baltics have much to offer, and to overlook them is a serious oversight. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are each distinct and individual, and each has much to offer. Lithuania's Vilnius, for example, is a beautiful blend of the old medieval city, and a colourful modern element. Riga is a home to some of Europe's most impressive Art Nouveau architecture, and Estonia's Tallinn, on the Baltic Sea, is jam-packed with medieval delights.
Themed tailor-made travel
An excellent way to get beyond the road-well-trodden is to take a tailor-made, themed trip. There are some fantastic options on offer, which take you to places you wouldn't otherwise visit. A fantastic example of a tailor-made themed tour that gives you a quirky insight into Europe is a fabulous Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, Austria. Experience the actual sites that were used in the film - something made particularly special this year, as it's the classic musical's 50th anniversary.
Another thought-provoking option is a WWII & Cold War tour, which takes you from Germany to Poland introducing you to all the most significant landmarks of the Second World War and Cold War, including Nuremberg, Prague, Krakow and Berlin.
Until very recently, holidaymakers have largely ignored Montenegro, a staggering omission considering its striking natural beauty, rugged peaks and undisturbed white sand beaches. Barely 100 km across, it boasts beautiful stonewalled towns as old as ancient Greece, which are more often than not off the tourist trail. Visit Budva's atmospheric old town, the 15th century fortified village of Sventi Stefan; the beautiful Skadar Lake; as well as the ancient town of Kotor, one of the best-preserved medieval towns in the Adriatic.
Pousadas of Portugal
Portugal is often thought of as a destination that's overrun with tourists. This old stereotype, however, fails to take into account Portugal's rich and varied native culture, which can get somewhat overlooked. A fantastic way of learning more is to stay in one of Portugal's Pousadas - small, state-owned hotels that are synonymous with the history, culture and traditions of the region. They offer charming accommodation, wonderful restaurants, and can introduce you to a gentler side to the crowded Algarve.
Hitting the open road can sometimes be the best way to experience the more unusual aspects of a destination. It really gives you the freedom to rove and explore. There are some fantastic exploratory self-drives in Europe. Travel through Northern Spain on a stunning trail, including a coastal drive from the Basque city of Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela. In Bilbao, visit Frank Gerhy's shimmering Guggenheim Bilbao, before admiring the towering cathedrals of the Compostela.
Alternatively, experience the best of Puglia in Italy with its historic villages, olive groves and beaches on a self-drive that takes you to the road less trodden. At the heel of Italy's boot, it's a far cry from the grandeur of Rome, and is bathed in warm Mediterranean sunlight.
Included in the Wexas Top 50 Collection, Greenland is a truly special destination. Don't miss the breathtaking beauty of Ilulissat, at the mouth of Greenland's Disko Bay. The area of Ilulissat in western Greenland is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and all year round its full with gigantic icebergs, carving glaciers, you can see the midnight sun, and the northern lights by helicopter, or get active on boat, dogsled, sailing or fishing.