5 Surprising Destinations in Europe



Ever come across a destination while on vacation that absolutely surprised you? You know, that city or town you really had no interest in seeing, but totally blew you away in the best way possible? During our time living abroad, D and I encountered quite a few of these "hidden gems" while traveling all over Europe. Some we discovered as ports of call on our European cruises, others we just happened upon while traveling with friends. But what they all had in common was the ability to create major "WOW" moments unique to each destination. That's what's thrilling about traveling places outside of your typical interests. You never know what beautiful destination you might fall in love with! Here are a few of the cities D and I were most pleasantly surprised about... 
 
 
Split was a stop on our most recent Adriatic cruise sailing. Dubrovnik was the highlight port of the cruise (for me at least), so our day in Split just seemed like a bonus. We weren't expecting it to present anything spectacular, but after disembarking the cruise ship and riding the tender boat to port, we immediately changed our minds! Split is nestled into the side of a small mountain range and is pushed right up against the Adriatic Sea, making for some gorgeous landscape contrasts. The views just from sailing into port were thrilling. Palm trees, white-washed stone buildings, crystal blue water...my photos hardly do it justice. Once we arrived at the port, the town opened up into a historic wonder with Diocletian's palace being the star attraction. I was nothing short of awe-struck for the rest of the day.
 
| EAT |
Restaurant Tifani--We stopped in here for a bottle of wine and a snack. Be sure to try the Croatian wines and nosh on local olives and cheese. The views at this place can't be beat! 
5 Poljana Kraljice Jelene, Split 21000 , Croatia
 
FIGA Food Bar--Great cocktails and quick meals inside of an eclectic tight alleyway cafe. Not a lot of seating, but the fresh dishes make up for it.
Buvinina 1, Split 21000, Croatia
 
| SEE |
--Wander through Diocletian's Palace
--Shop vendor stalls around the palace
--Cathedral and bell tower of St. Dominus
--Cardo Maximus & the Peristyle
--Riva Harbor
 

Tallinn was hands down the best part of our Baltic cruise during the summer of 2013. I haven't written about it yet, but when I think of "diamond in the rough" type towns across Europe, Tallinn is the first destination that pops into my mind. We knew nothing about Estonia before traveling there. NOTHING. So, needless to say, we really had no expectations. We were totally enamored with the way this town has preserved every historic tradition Tallinn ever had. From restaurant waitresses wearing traditional garb and serving traditional fare (think wild boar, elk, & bear, yum!) to the medieval town fair and surrounding fortress wall, this town really wowed us with its historic pride. In addition, the city is just too darn cute. So much fun and absolutely unexpected.

| EAT| 
Olde Hansa--Excellent place to try traditional medieval Estonian delights right in the heart of Tallinn Old Town. Might I suggest the wild bear, elk, & boar sausages or the bear stew? Don't forget to wash it all down with a mug of honey beer! Such a fun place to eat.
Vana Turg 1, Tallinn 10140, Estonia

Hell Hunt--Great Scandinavian pub and restaurant to try local Estonian beers. 
Pikk 39, Tallinn 10140, Estonia

| SEE | 
--Tallinn Old Town
--Tallinn Town Hall Square
--Toompea Hill
--Oleviste Church & Tower
--Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
St. Catherine's Passage
 

As a bustling University town, Utrecht definitely had an eclectic life of its own. Between the students riding their bikes to class and ducking in and out of bars at the end of the day, this city really made me feel like I was back reliving my college days, only with much more stunning scenery. As if the gorgeous canal-lined streets weren't swoon-worthy enough, Utrecht also boasts a healthy craft & Belgian brew scene, great shopping, and lots of quaint cafes to keep you fueled an happy while exploring. Had we not visited here on a birthday trip with friends, we would have never had the pleasure of experiencing this jewel of the Netherlands.

| EAT & DRINK | 
Olivier--Belgian beer bar and restaurant housed inside of an old "hidden" church; original vaults, organ, and alter still intact. Menu includes 70 different beers and suggested dishes for pairing. Try the cheese croquettes, homemade bread with garlic aioli, and the local Utrecht brews. 
Achter Clarenburg 6, 3511 JJ Utrecht, Netherlands

Rooie Dop Brewdungeon--Local craft brewery bar featuring unique brews including a coffee porter, an oatmeal stout, and a fruit white IPA.
Oudegracht a/d werf 5, 3511 Utrecht, Netherlands 

| SEE | 
--Visit the Dom tower
--Walk the canals (picture-perfect in every way!) 
--Venture just outside of town to Castle De Haar



I was shocked by the beauty of Kotor and surrounding Kotor Bay in Montenegro. Montenegro is a country most people don't even know exists, but man, once you've floated through its fjords, drenched in sunlight with mountains towering overhead, you'll never ignore this tiny country again! As if the beautiful sea juxtaposed against the lush mountain landscape wasn't already perfect enough, wandering through Kotor's walled city is icing on the cake. This up-and-coming city is truly a destination to watch! I'm excited to see how tourism blossoms here over the coming years.

| EAT |
Galion--Beautiful views and excellent seafood. Terrace of the restaurant floats over the sea!
Suranj bb, Kotor 85330, Montenegro

Restaurant Cesarica-- Mediterranean cuisine. Again, go for the seafood!
Stari grad 375, Kotor 85330, Montenegro

| SEE |
--Old Town Kotor
--Walk the city walls
--The Church of Our Lady of the Rock
--Kotor Castle of San Giovanni (St. John)
--Venture up to Mount Lovcen to experience the 25 switchback turns drive and breathtaking scenic views of the city and bay.
 

Bamberg is one of those unsuspecting German towns that enchants you from the second you begin to walk through it. Colorful half-timbered houses, rushing water, quiet canals, and all the fabulous German beer you could possibly want stuffed into one charming city. Very easily navigated and day-trip worthy! D and I loved our day here, and have been spreading the world about beautiful Bamberg ever since.

| EAT |
Schlenkerla--Home of Bamberg's claim to fame, Rauchbier (smoked beer)!
Dominikanerstrasse 6, 96049 Bamberg, Germany

Klosterbrau Bamberg--Traditional German fare and excellent brown beer.
Obere Muhlbrucke 1-3, 96049 Bamberg, Germany

| SEE |
--Bamberg Alstadt (Old Town)
--Altus Rathaus (Old Town Hall)
--Bamberger Dom (cathedral)
--New Residenz (tour not in English)
 --Little Venice (Bamberg's famous canal area)
--Bamberg Brewery Trail

What are some destinations that have surprised you in your travels?

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