Europe’s Top Off-The-Beaten-Path Cities

Oslo, Norway
Oslo, Norway

Grand Hotel Oslo on Karl Johans Gate

Oslo, Norway
Oslo, Norway

The Junior Suite in the Grand Hotel Oslo

Oslo, Norway
Oslo, Norway

The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary

The Hungarian Parliament Building

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary

The Park Suite at Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Valencia, Spain
Valencia, Spain

The Valencia Cathedral

Valencia, Spain
Valencia, Spain

Paella

Valencia, Spain
Valencia, Spain

The City Door Room in The Caro Hotel

When we think about traveling in Europe, it’s the delights of London, Paris and Berlin that spring to mind. But this hugely varied continent has a lot to offer beyond its most famous capitals. Here are our picks for the best off-the-beaten-path cities Europe has to offer.

Oslo, Norway

Though most travelers visit Norway for its spectacular landscapes and thrilling Arctic pursuits, Oslo is a charming waterside city rich in history and culture. Helping the capital slough off its past reputation as a rather staid destination is Grünerløkka, the site of Oslo’s industrial boom in the 19th century. It’s now a hip place to shop, drink and dine at one of the many cafés; a real draw for those in search of something new.

What to do

Norwegian artist Edvard Munch painted The Scream here around the turn of the 20th century, and you can see the painting, plus a number of other works by the artist at the National Gallery. There’s even more to see at The Munch Museum, including another version of The Scream (Munch painted four versions in total). The waterfront is home to many of the city’s other top attractions, from the remarkable architectural creation that is the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet to the Akershus Fortress, parts of which date back to the 14th century. A short ferry ride from outside the striking City Hall is Bygdøy, where you’ll find a handful of great museums. The Viking Ship Museum, the Fram Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum each offer a different take on past Norwegian maritime adventures.

What to eat

Oslo’s restaurant scene is very international, with everything from pizza to sushi available to suit most taste buds. Traditional Norwegian cuisine, however, is all about seafood. Pickled cherries and smoked salmon served with flatbreads and beetroot salad are must tries, as is the simplest of Norwegian meals: cold boiled prawns with bread, butter and mayonnaise. Fish soup is another speciality, while more adventurous diners should seek out rakfisk, trout left to cure for several months, and then eaten raw with flatbread, onion, sour cream and butter. A little goes a long way.

Where to stay

The city’s ultimate accommodation option is the Grand Hotel Oslo. Located on Karl Johans Gate, the capital’s most elegant boulevard, the historic hotel is where the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize stay every year. 19th-century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen walked from his home up the street to the hotel for coffee every day, and the Grand Hotel Oslo is also featured in a number of paintings by Edvard Munch. A more modern choice is the First Hotel Grims Grenka near the Akershus Fortress. This stylish design hotel has a charming rooftop terrace, Q Lounge, and the restaurant, MADU, specializes in Scandinavian raw food.

Budapest, Hungary

Hungary’s capital is one of the most beautiful in Europe, an ancient city of two halves that were only united in 1873. Bisected by the Danube River, Buda and Pest still have their own distinct feel, the former is the historical heart of the city and the latter is edgy and young.

What to do

Take a cruise on the Danube to get your bearings, and be sure to look out for the city’s impressive neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament building as you go — at around 879 feet long, it’s the biggest building in Hungary. Walk across Széchenyi Chain Bridge, the first to connect Buda and Pest, and catch the funicular railway up to Buda Castle Hill. The views from the top are terrific and there’s plenty to explore in the historic Castle District, including the Hungarian National Gallery and Matthias Church. Relax with a visit to one of the city’s many geothermal baths, two of which (Rudas and Király) date back to Ottoman times.

What to eat

Hungarian cuisine abounds with rich, spicy meat dishes, filling pastries and tasty sausages. Chicken paprikash, a stew of paprika and sour cream; fried Mangalica sausage served in bread with mustard and pickles; and lángos, deep fried dough served with sour cream and cheese, are all typical dishes. You can sample these and other local delicacies at the 19th-century Central Market Hall, which is located by the Danube River on the Pest side of Liberty Bridge. Hungary has a strong winemaking tradition, too, and Budapest boasts plenty of wine bars such as Drop Shop and Innio Wine Bar where you can find a new favorite tipple.

Where to stay

The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace overlooks the Danube, the Chain Bridge and Buda Castle Hill and offers arguably the most luxurious hotel experience in the city. This palatial Art Nouveau building was founded by the Gresham Life Insurance Company in 1906, but only reopened as a hotel in 2004 after a major restoration. Art lovers should book a room at the boutique Bohem Art Hotel, a former factory whose rooms all feature unique works by Hungarian artists.

Valencia, Spain

Boasting miles of lovely beaches, world-class cultural institutions and fantastic shopping, Spain’s third largest city has it all. Centuries of Muslim rule during the Middle Ages have left Valencia with a wonderful Arabic flavor that distinguishes it from the country’s other big hitters, Madrid and Barcelona.

What to do

The Turia River, which used to run through the city center, is now the site of a unique sunken park. You can walk the elegant Turia Gardens all the way to the City of Arts and Sciences, a modern architectural marvel that contains a science museum, planetarium, aquarium, performing arts center and an IMAX cinema. Back in the city center, the Silk Exchange (Lonja de la Seda), Valencia Cathedral and the Serranos and Quart Towers date back to Valencia’s 16th-century golden age. The Museum of Fine Arts and the Valencia Institute of Modern Art are can’t-miss galleries.

What to eat

Paella, Spain’s most famous dish, originated in Valencia, the local version consisting of rice, chicken, rabbit, beans, vegetables and spices. Horchata, a cold drink made with tigernuts, water, and sometimes cinnamon, is another Valencian speciality. It’s best enjoyed with fartons, a pastry treat made with glazed sugar and ideal when dipped directly in horchata. There are also excellent tapas to be had at Casa Montaña, with specialties such as michirones (cooked fava beans) and codfish croquettes.

Where to stay

The Caro Hotel is located in a former palace near Valencia Cathedral and features just 26 individually-designed rooms, some with unique historical features such as the section of 12th-century wall in the suite known as Arab Tower. Another palace hotel worth trying is the Hospes Palau de la Mar, located on the doorstep of the Turia Gardens. The spa offers fantastic massages (try the 50-minute Orange Massage) and there’s even a small swimming pool.

Photos Courtesy of Erik Berg, Hungarian Tourism, Turismo Valencia, Grand Hotel Oslo, Paul Thuysbaert-Four Seasons and The Caro Hotel

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