Oppressive tourist crowds got you down? Me too! Tired of tourist trap destinations? Indeed! Perhaps it’s time to start seeking out those hidden gems that make for a truly special and personalized travel experience. But how to find those oftentimes elusive hidden gems in Europe?
Before we discuss how to find hidden gems in Europe, what exactly are hidden gems? Hidden Gems allow you to slow down the pace and savor a destination! You’ll spend more time immersing yourself in the culture, and less time standing in line or making your way through tight knit crowds!
These places are less “peopley” and more likely to feed your soul. Quaint towns and villages, cobbled streets, old and ancient structures, stunning natural beauty, quiet candlelit pubs, restaurants and cafes that draw in locals because they’re serving tasty delights of local fare. These are the things we crave!
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Use this list of tips to find hidden gems in Europe!
Table of Contents
How to find Hidden Gems in Europe
Here are my best tips for finding hidden gems:
Use Local Guides
Local guides are in the business of knowing their city, town, or village inside and out. You can save yourself a ton of research and hassle by utilizing the services of a local guide. You’ll find all manner of tours available, from walking tours to driving tours, bike tours, Segway tours, pub crawls, food tours and even sidecar scooter tours! I recommend you sign up for a tour and let the expert guide you to those lesser-known corners! My favorite place to book tours is on Get Your Guide, start searching now! (Always read reviews before booking a tour.)
Atlas Obscura is an entire website dedicated to unusual and obscure travel destinations! It’s their business to help you find the most unique and most underrated places in Europe! I’ve noticed they have taken to adding super popular tourist attractions as well as the obscure, so you may have to do a little digging to find the less visited sites. Your reward, tips on where to find odd museums, macabre attractions, and all manner of interesting spectacles! They even have a map view feature!
one of my favorite Atlas Obscura finds: the Devil’s Bridge / Rakotzbrücke in Germany
Trace your route on Google Maps
Friends, this is where I have found some of our absolute best destinations and it’s so easy! Here’s what you do: plug your route into google maps. Zoom in a bit and look for tourist attractions along the way! If you’re on a PC you can hover over the symbol to see photos of the attraction, on a smartphone click the symbol.
This works great if you’re planning a road trip but if you are determined it works for train and bus travel too! Pro tip: Make sure you check all the route options that Google Maps offers. It may be worth going a little out of your way for a worthwhile stop.
Here are some of the symbols you’ll want to explore:
Facebook Groups are a great way to find off the beaten path recommendations. Join travel groups for your destination and ask! “Where are your favorite hidden gems in …” People love to share what they know!
Ask a local
No one knows where the true treasures are like the people who live there. As you travel around the country, ask a local for insider tips such as “what’s your favorite thing to do in the area?” “your favorite place to eat?” etc! We found a wonderful rustic historic restaurant when visiting Stirling Castle in Ireland by asking one of the castle guards for a recommendation for a unique dining experience.
When our travel plans didn’t go as expected in Slovenia and we needed something to fill our time, the gas station attendant directed us to a fabulous historic village. We had it all to ourselves that day!
Get lost, find yourself!
This is a personal favorite of mine. When I lived in Germany as a child some of my best memories come from when we got a little lost. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Some of the best hidden gems are often stumbled upon by chance. If you’re lucky, something magical may appear around that next corner! And you just may find yourself in the process!
How to find less touristy towns
Another way to use Google Maps is to locate non touristy towns and villages. It’s one of my favorite travel tips. Consider choosing a less touristy home base. Simply open Google Maps for the area you plan to visit. If you are on a PC, use your cursor to hover over nearby towns. (On a smartphone just click on the town.) A window will pop up with photos of the town! Search around till you find one with an aesthetic that’s pleasing to you!
Get a Rick Steves Guide
I plan all my trips to Europe with Rick Steves travel guides, the best European travel guides on the market! I wouldn’t even attempt to plan a trip without one. Rick covers the most popular cities and tourist attractions. But he doesn’t stop there. He also includes what he likes to call “back door” travel which includes European hidden gems and off the beaten track destinations! So, if you are looking for underrated European cities Rick has you covered.
Local events and festivals
Attending a festival is a little counterintuitive for people in search of hidden gems but hear me out! Yes, Oktoberfest in Germany and Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo are ridiculously popular. However, there are tons of lesser-known local festivals and events that aren’t as popular, are less crowded, and draw in the local crowd.
Once, I inadvertently booked an overnight stay in the magical yet very touristy and often very crowded town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber during their Imperial City Festival. I abhor crowds but it turned out to be an absolute joy! Amazingly, there seemed to be less tourists and more locals. Find local festivals by visiting the city’s official website or simply Google “events in…”
Blogs are a great way to get intel from someone who has been there! Let them do the work for you! Here is a selection of my favorite hidden gems!
Where to find Hidden Gems in Europe
Let’s talk about the best places to find a hidden gem.
choose one of the less popular countries in Europe
Europe is the most visited continent in the world! (Source: World Atlas.) Some countries really attract the tourists, while others get a smaller share of the international visitors. They fly under the radar but offer unending hidden gems. Choose one of those!
Some of the MOST visited countries in Europe include:
- United Kingdom
Some of the LEAST VISITED most underrated places in Europe include the following countries:
(Source: UNWTO, World Tourism Organization)
Visit lesser-known museums
Crowds flock to popular museums like the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery in London. However these cities have many other interesting museums such as the Museum of Vampires in Paris, and the The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in London. Most towns offer a variety of lesser-known museums. To find a complete list of museums in your destination, Google “museums in…” and check out the Trip Advisor results, or navigate your way to the official website for the city. They usually have a complete list of museums. And don’t forget to check Atlas Obscura!
Food tours often explore less touristy hidden culinary gems popular with locals.
“With food tours you get a little tour of the city plus get to try small portions of the famous local dishes, so you don’t have to buy everything just to find out if you do or don’t like it. I’d highly recommend it.”-Angie Marie, my adventurous sister-in-law who loves to travel!
Food tours can be booked on Get Your Guide (Always read reviews before booking tours)
explore the great outdoors
Ditch the crowds and find a bit of breathing room out on the hiking trail, at the lake or river, in the mountains and forests, on an island, or even by the sea! I like to search for hiking trails on Komoot when traveling in Europe, or use Google Maps to locate trails and other nature attractions. Zoom in and start exploring!
National Parks are great but they are often really crowded. There’s nothing “hidden” about them. An alternative to the popular National Parks are nature parks (probably what we would refer to as a state park in the US.) They haven’t garnered a “national park” designation. However, they are still worthwhile. To find a nature park just Google “nature parks in….”
I found this little hidden gem in Austria by following our route on Google Maps.
another of my favorite hidden gems: the Black Valley, Ireland
eat where the locals eat
Restaurants in the busy tourist core are traditionally known for their less than stellar food. Often you can find some really good food just a few blocks from the tourist core. My favorite way to find the very best places to eat in town is with Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor lists restaurants in order using customer reviews. In addition to honest customer reviews, you’ll be able to peruse customer photos!
exit the congested tourist area
Again, sometimes just getting a few blocks off of the tourist core is where you’ll find the hidden gems you’re looking for! I was recently in Dinkelsbühl Germany during the Christmas markets and was getting a bit frustrated with all of the crowds and people, so I took a detour and headed for the medieval town wall that circles the town. What I found there was no crowds! I had the place all to myself!
Set aside time to explore the alleyways, nooks, and crannies. In Scotland they’re called a Close, in Ireland they may be referred to as a slip, and in York England they are called Snickelway. These mysterious alleys are a fun way to discover hidden worlds.
take a day trip
Even if you’ve decided to base yourself in a bustling city, you can still escape the crowds and go off in search of hidden gems by taking day trips! Your options are unlimited but consider keeping travel time to two hours or less (each way) to provide plenty of time to enjoy your day trip destination.
book stores and art shops
Looking for just a brief escape from the crowds? Slip into a local bookstore or local art dealer. While the “imported souvenir stores” are all hustle and bustle, these stores provide a quiet respite.
When is the best time to find Hidden Gems in Europe?
Sometimes the right timing can turn a tourist attraction nightmare into a traveler’s dream. Here are some suggestions for timing your trip just right:
Overnight guests are WINNING!
Stay the Night and enjoy tourist hot spots with fewer crowds! Ok this is another of my favorites. Tourists tend to descend upon a popular town en masse during midday. There’s a reason why these towns are so popular, because they are pretty fabulous so, don’t skip it! Instead consider staying the night right there in town!
If you stay the night, you’ll have the early morning hours and magical floodlit evenings to yourself! Places like Hallstatt Austria and Rothenburg Germany are absolutely magical at night and in the early morning hours!
The resident swans, Hallstatt Austria. A town that’s trampled with tourists during the day but peaceful and quite at night!:
visit early or late
The early bird gets the worm, and the night owl gets a little peace and quiet after the other wild animals have settled down for the night.
As we touched on before, any place very early or late in the day will be a bit less crowded. I’ve found that even the most popular destinations can be a bit of a “hidden gem” if you visit as soon as the attractions open, or close to closing time. I’m not much of a morning person but many a times I’ve had popular attractions almost to myself close to closing!
I arrived late at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg Germany and they told me if I came back in 30 minutes admission would be free! It was wonderfully uncrowded at that time of day.
travel in the off-season
Visitors during the off-season are treated to fewer crowds and lower prices. Sounds like a hidden gem to me! The off season in Europe is in general in winter, EXCEPT for the Christmas Market season (essentially late November through December), and of course ski resorts will be busier and more expensive in winter.
I hope you’ve found these ideas helpful. They have helped me plan some truly epic bucket list worthy travel. Use them in your quest for the most underrated places in Europe! Happy travel planning and happy travels!
frequently asked questions
How do you find hidden gem destinations in Europe?
It takes a little work to find hidden gems but if you prefer a bit more solitude on your trips it’s worth the work! Here are some of the top easy to find hidden gems to add to your travel itinerary: Utilize social media, ask a local, read blogs, peruse Google Maps for attractions, hire a local guide, explore Atlas Obscura.
Where can I find hidden gems in Europe?
Travel to some of the less visited countries in Europe, choose lesser known museums and attractions, join food tours and let a local show you the culinary hidden gems in their town, get out of town and into the great outdoors, find restaurants frequented by the locals, escape the congested tourist center, take a day trip, shop for books and art.
Looking for more travel planning tips? You may be interested in my travel planning page and be sure to submit your email address to my subscriber sign up at the end of the page to be the first to know when a new blog publishes!