Travel Articles

Europe’s Hidden Gems: 10 Least Explored Countries

Off the Beaten Path Destinations

While Europe’s renowned hotspots consistently draw attention, there’s an undeniable charm in exploring its lesser-known corners, where authentic traditions remain intact, and landscapes are pristine. From the cobblestone streets of San Marino to the untouched forests of Belarus, these under-the-radar destinations promise a refreshing escape from the typical tourist hustle. Delving into these countries, you’ll encounter rich histories, fascinating cultures, and local delicacies that often go overlooked. By choosing to wander into these uncharted territories, not only do you gain a more holistic understanding of Europe, but you also get to experience the thrill of discovering hidden wonders. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or simply someone looking for a unique getaway, these ten countries hold experiences that are bound to captivate your heart.

Albania

What to See and Do

Often overshadowed by its more famous neighbours, Albania has remained relatively undiscovered, preserving its authentic charm. The country boasts a rich tapestry of cultures, having been influenced by various civilizations such as the Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans. This melange is evident in its cuisine, where dishes like ‘Tavë Kosi’, a delicious baked lamb and rice dish topped with yoghurt, stand testament to its diverse culinary heritage.

The Albanian Riviera, stretching along the Ionian Sea, is a haven of pristine beaches like Ksamil and Dhermi, where crystal-clear waters meet golden sands. The sunsets here are legendary, casting a fiery hue over the tranquil waters. The country’s religious heritage is also palpable, with sites like the orthodox Kisha e Shen Kollit in Shkodër and the Et’hem Bey Mosque in Tirana.

Furthermore, Llogara Pass, a mountainous passage offering panoramic views of the coast below, is a treat for every traveller, particularly those interested in photography. The Blue Eye Spring, a mesmerizing natural water spring known for its deep blue colour and serene surroundings, is another gem that reflects the country’s unspoiled natural beauty.

For those intrigued by Albania’s communist past, Bunk’Art offers an insight into this era, transforming old bunkers into museums showcasing contemporary art and historical exhibitions. Lastly, the hospitality of the Albanian people, with their warmth and welcoming nature, ensures every visitor feels at home, making this Balkan beauty a destination that promises both adventure and relaxation.

Where to Stay

Accommodation options in Albania range from budget-friendly hostels to upscale hotels. In Tirana, consider staying at the chic Hotel Mondial or the affordable Tirana Backpacker Hostel. For a beachside retreat, check out Jala Beach Resort along the picturesque Ionian coast.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

What to See and Do

Bosnia and Herzegovina, often referred to as Bosnia, is a captivating blend of East meets West due to its unique geographical location and tumultuous past. Each era has left indelible marks on its culture, traditions, and architecture. In Sarajevo, for instance, one can hear the Islamic call to prayer and see a Catholic church, an Orthodox church, and a synagogue all within a short walking distance – a testament to its rich multicultural tapestry. This diversity is also reflected in its cuisine, where dishes like ćevapi (grilled minced meat), burek (filled pastry), and tufahija (poached apples in sugar and walnuts) tell stories of its varied influences.

Beyond the cities, the landscape of Bosnia is equally mesmerizing. The country is interspersed with rugged mountains, verdant valleys, and serene rivers. The Tara River Canyon, in particular, is Europe’s deepest gorge and offers adrenaline-pumping white-water rafting experiences. The ancient town of Počitelj, set on the banks of the emerald Neretva River, stands as a beautifully preserved piece of history with its medieval architecture.

Visiting the Tunnel of Hope in Sarajevo provides a sad reminder of the country’s recent past, the Bosnian War, and the resilience of its people. The tunnel served as a lifeline, providing food, war supplies, and humanitarian aid during the Siege of Sarajevo. With its intricate blend of history, culture, and natural splendour, Bosnia and Herzegovina promises a profoundly enriching experience for every traveller who treads its soil.

Where to Stay

Accommodation options in Bosnia and Herzegovina cater to a range of budgets, from cosy guesthouses to luxurious hotels. In Sarajevo, stay at the elegant Hotel Central or the charming Pansion Stari Grad. In Mostar, consider The Muslibegovic House or the affordable Hostel Nina.

Serbia

What to See and Do

Serbia, located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, is a land where history comes alive, interwoven with its modern aspirations. Its past is marked by its position as a frontier between empires, resulting in a unique cultural fusion that is evident in every corner of the country. Belgrade, often dubbed the “Berlin of the Balkans”, teems with energy, offering a vibrant nightlife scene and hosting numerous music and arts festivals throughout the year. The Kalemegdan Park, adjoining the Belgrade Fortress, provides a serene escape with panoramic views of the confluence of the River Sava and Danube.

Not far from Belgrade is the Avala Tower, a telecommunications tower that, after its reconstruction, has become a symbol of resilience and national pride. It offers an observation deck with a sweeping view of the surrounding landscapes. Serbia’s spiritual essence can be felt in its monasteries, such as the UNESCO-listed Studenica, which houses impressive 13th-century frescoes.

Tara National Park is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts, boasting diverse fauna, including the endangered brown bear. With its iconic house perched on a rock, the Drina River is another natural landmark synonymous with Serbian beauty. Moreover, Niš, one of the oldest cities in Europe, offers a journey back in time with its historical significance, especially the Niš Fortress and the Skull Tower. Lastly, the Guča Trumpet Festival, an annual brass band festival in the town of Guča, showcases Serbia’s zest for music and celebration, drawing visitors from all over the world. With every step in Serbia, there’s a story waiting to be told, making it a treasure trove for those keen on immersive travel experiences.

Where to Stay

Serbia offers a variety of accommodation options, from budget hostels to luxurious hotels. In Belgrade, stay at the stylish Square Nine Hotel or the affordable Hedonist Hostel. In Novi Sad, consider Hotel Leopold I or the charming Varad Inn Hostel.

San Marino

What to See and Do

San Marino, often overlooked due to its diminutive size, is a bastion of history and culture. Founded in A.D. 301 by Saint Marinus, it prides itself on being the world’s oldest republic. This longevity is celebrated every year on September 3rd, marking the foundation of the republic and the feast of Saint Marinus. The nation’s rich history is evident in its well-preserved structures, cobbled pathways, and age-old traditions.

One of the unique features of San Marino is its absence of flat ground; it’s all about hills and elevated terrains, making every view panoramic. The aerial tramway from Borgo Maggiore to San Marino City provides travellers with an unforgettable scenic ride up to the country’s heart. San Marino’s currency, the Sammarinese lira, though now largely symbolic as the country has adopted the euro, showcases its distinct identity.

The State Museum (Museo di Stato) in San Marino City offers an extensive collection of artefacts, providing insights into the country’s intriguing past. The country also boasts a tradition in archery, celebrated annually with the Crossbow Palio, a tournament that draws enthusiasts and curious spectators alike. San Marino isn’t just about history; it’s also a haven for philatelists and numismatists, given the country’s rich stamp and coin production tradition. The panoramic views and winding streets adorned with cafes and shops make San Marino a picturesque, almost fairy-tale-like destination, beckoning travellers in search of a unique European experience.

Where to Stay

Despite its small size, San Marino has a range of accommodation options, from quaint bed and breakfasts to luxury hotels. Consider staying at the elegant Hotel Titano or the cosy Hostaria da Lino in the heart of San Marino City.

Liechtenstein

What to See and Do

Liechtenstein, often eclipsed by its larger neighbours, is a testament to the adage that good things come in small packages. Despite its miniature size, covering just about 160 square kilometres, it’s one of the world’s wealthiest countries per capita, thanks partly to a robust banking sector. Remarkably, Liechtenstein is a doubly landlocked nation, meaning it’s surrounded by countries that are also landlocked – a rarity in geopolitical terms.

The country’s monarchy still plays a significant role in daily life, with the Prince’s Day, celebrated annually on August 15, being a public holiday where citizens and guests are invited to the gardens of Vaduz Castle. While Vaduz is the political and cultural centre, Schaan stands as the most populous town in Liechtenstein, boasting its own unique attractions.

Walser culture, originating from the Swiss canton of Valais, has left an indelible mark on Liechtenstein, especially in the village of Triesenberg. Here, one can still hear the distinct Walser dialect spoken and partake in festivals showcasing Walser traditions. Liechtenstein’s commitment to preserving its environment is evident in its immaculate conservation areas, such as the Ruggeller Riet nature reserve, home to diverse flora and fauna.

For philatelists, Liechtenstein is a paradise. Its stamps, highly valued by collectors, often depict the nation’s history, royalty, and natural beauty. Additionally, the Liechtenstein National Museum offers insights into the country’s past, from its early days to its present status as a sovereign nation. As you traverse the rolling hills, picturesque valleys, and modern cityscapes, Liechtenstein promises a fusion of natural wonder and cultural opulence, making it a must-visit destination for travellers seeking an off-the-beaten-path European experience.

Where to Stay

Accommodation options in Liechtenstein range from cosy guesthouses to upscale hotels. Consider staying at the luxurious Park Hotel Sonnenhof or the charming JUFA Hotel Schlosswirt Malbun in the mountain resort of Malbun.

Montenegro

What to See and Do

Montenegro, aptly named “Crna Gora” or “Black Mountain,” is a hidden gem, often overshadowed by its more frequented neighbours but brimming with untapped beauty and history. Its compact nature ensures that dramatic mountainscapes transition seamlessly into serene coastlines, offering a plethora of experiences within short distances. The country has a rich tapestry of influences, having been touched by Roman, Venetian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian civilizations throughout its history.

Cetinje, the old royal capital, is a repository of Montenegrin culture and history. Here, one can find the Cetinje Monastery and the Blue Palace, signifying the nation’s rich royal legacy. Ostrog Monastery, another significant religious landmark, is built into an almost vertical mountainside and attracts pilgrims and tourists from around the world with its architectural wonder and spiritual significance.

Montenegro’s cuisine is a delightful blend of Mediterranean flavours and Balkan heartiness. Staples like ‘burek’ and ‘ćevapi’ are complemented by seafood dishes, courtesy of its Adriatic coast. The Njeguši region’s smoked ham, Njeguški pršut, is a must-try delicacy, having earned its reputation from the area’s unique climate ideal for curing meats.

In the realm of sports, Montenegro has a deep-rooted water polo tradition, with the coastal town of Herceg Novi often being called the cradle of Montenegrin water polo due to its numerous champions. Additionally, the Tara River Canyon, Europe’s deepest gorge, provides adrenaline seekers with exhilarating white-water rafting experiences. As you journey through Montenegro, from the Venetian palaces of Perast to the serene monasteries nestled in its mountains, you’re greeted with a country that offers both historical depth and the refreshing allure of nature.

Where to Stay

Montenegro has a range of accommodation options, from budget hostels to luxurious resorts. In Kotor, stay at the stylish Hotel Monte Cristo or the charming Old Town Hostel. In Budva, consider the upscale Avala Resort & Villas or the affordable Montenegro Hostel B&B Budva.

Armenia

What to See and Do

Armenia, often referred to as the world’s first Christian country, has been a significant cultural and historical beacon for over two millennia. Established in the shadow of the biblical Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark is said to have come to rest, the country is steeped in biblical history and legends. The rich tapestry of its past is interwoven with its vibrant present, making Armenia a unique blend of ancient and modern.

The Armenian alphabet, invented in the 5th century AD by Mesrop Mashtots, is a source of national pride. Khachkars, intricately carved stone crosses found throughout the country, stand as symbols of Armenia’s deep-rooted Christian heritage and are UNESCO-listed as examples of intangible cultural heritage. Armenia’s contribution to global culture is also significant in music, with the duduk, a double-reed woodwind instrument, producing haunting melodies emblematic of the nation’s soul.

In the realm of gastronomy, Armenian cuisine offers a delightful medley of flavours. Dishes like khorovats (barbecued meats), lavash (a thin flatbread), and dolma (stuffed vine leaves) are a testament to the country’s rich culinary traditions. Areni, a small town in the Vayots Dzor province, is renowned for its wine-making heritage, with local vineyards producing wines that have garnered international acclaim.

Armenia’s natural beauty complements its historical sites. The azure waters of Lake Sevan, one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world, offer a serene backdrop for relaxation and water activities. The country’s seismic activity over millennia has also created a plethora of hot springs, with towns like Jermuk becoming renowned spa destinations. With each journey through Armenia, travellers encounter a nation that seamlessly melds its ancient heritage with the vibrancy of the present.

Where to Stay

From budget hostels to luxurious hotels, Armenia offers a variety of accommodation options. In Yerevan, stay at the elegant Alexander Hotel or the affordable Yerevan Hostel. For a more rural experience, consider the charming Old Dilijan Complex in the heart of Dilijan National Park.

North Macedonia

What to See and Do

Macedonia, officially known as North Macedonia after the historic Prespa Agreement in 2018, is a hidden gem in the heart of the Balkans. The country’s ancient past is intertwined with the rise and fall of powerful empires, having been a significant part of both the Roman and Byzantine domains. Its archaeological sites, language, and traditions show this diverse historical influence.

Skopje, the capital, is home to the iconic Stone Bridge, a historic Ottoman bridge connecting the city’s two banks across the Vardar River. The city’s Old Bazaar is one of the most vibrant and oldest marketplaces in the Balkans, boasting a myriad of crafts, traditional foods, and local products. The towering Millennium Cross, situated atop Vodno Mountain overlooking Skopje, stands as one of the largest crosses in the world and a symbol of the country’s Christian heritage.

The Ohrid Lake, one of Europe’s oldest and most profound, is often called the ‘Balkan Jerusalem’ due to its historical significance and numerous churches. The Church of St. John at Kaneo, perched on a cliff overlooking the lake, offers panoramic views of the azure waters below.

Macedonia’s cuisine is a delightful blend of Mediterranean and Balkan flavours, with dishes like ‘tavče gravče’ (baked beans) and ‘ajvar’ (pepper-based condiment) delighting the palates of locals and tourists alike. Additionally, the Tikveš region of Macedonia is renowned for its vineyards, producing some of the finest wines in the Balkans. As you journey through North Macedonia, from its bustling urban centres to its tranquil natural havens, you’ll uncover a nation proud of its heritage and eager to share its treasures with the world.

Where to Stay

Macedonia offers various accommodation options, from budget hostels to luxurious hotels. In Skopje, consider the stylish Hotel Arka or the affordable Shanti Hostel. In Ohrid, stay at the charming Villa St. Sofija or the cosy Sunny Lake Hostel.

Kosovo

What to See and Do

Kosovo, Europe’s youngest country, is a fascinating destination with a rich history and vibrant culture. Visit the capital city, Pristina, with its lively café scene and historic sites like the Gracanica Monastery and the Newborn Monument. Beyond the city, explore the ancient city of Prizren, the beautiful Rugova Canyon, or the stunning Mirusha Waterfalls.

Where to Stay

Kosovo offers a range of accommodation options, from budget hostels to upscale hotels. In Pristina, stay at the modern Swiss Diamond Hotel or the affordable Hostel Han. In Prizren, consider the charming Hotel Cleon or the cosy Driza’s House.

Moldova

What to See and Do

Moldova, a small landlocked country in Eastern Europe, is best known for its wine production and unique cultural heritage. Explore the capital city, Chisinau, with its Soviet-era architecture, or venture into the countryside to discover the ancient Orheiul Vechi Monastery and the impressive Milestii Mici wine cellars. Wine enthusiasts should also consider visiting the picturesque vineyards of Purcari and Cricova.

Where to Stay

Moldova offers a variety of accommodation options, from budget hostels to luxurious hotels. In Chisinau, stay at the elegant Radisson Blu Leogrand Hotel or the affordable Chisinau Chill Hostel. For a rural retreat, consider the charming Vila Roz in the heart of Moldova’s wine region.

These 10 least visited countries in Europe offer unique experiences and unspoiled beauty for travellers seeking a more authentic, off-the-beaten-path adventure. From vibrant cities and historical sites to breathtaking natural landscapes, these hidden gems are worth exploring and adding to your European travel itinerary.

Find Cheap Hotel Deals

Have you travelled to any of these countries? Have you put them on your list? Please let me know!

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button