Europe's Secret Cities

Posted on: 19 November 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

We count-down Europe’s most undiscovered capitals; cities that feel much further from home than they really are.

Are you bored of Berlin? Over Oslo? Think Paris is past it? Then why not ditch the well worn, tourist clogged, clichéd cities and head off the holiday-makers' map?

But remember, you don’t need to leave the continent to find exciting, exotic destinations. We count-down Europe’s most undiscovered capitals; cities that feel much further from home than they really are.

Moscow, Russia

It may be the capital city of a world superpower, but Moscow’s reputed high costs and the need for a Russian visa means that Moscow isn’t as popular as it could or should be for a city with so much going for it.

With Red Square, The Kremlin and St Basil Cathedral to see, not to mention the vodka bars, caviar cafes and borsch bistros, this Soviet city offers an Eastern allure, unlike anywhere else in Europe.

  • Flights are available to Moscow from £155 return, including taxes.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Still a highly underrated city, Ljubljana is a compact capital divided by the green Ljubljanica River and overlooked by a medieval castle.

The atmosphere is one of style and sophistication and this city has thankfully been overlooked by British stag parties.

With its colourful architecture, leafy streets and café-cultured locals, there’s a strong air of romance in Ljubljana, an ideal city for wining and dining.

  • Flights are available to Ljubljana from £44 return, including taxes.

Belgrade, Serbia

Renowned for its busy nightlife and 24-hour party people, Belgrade has continually rebuilt itself in the wake of war, having been destroyed more than 20 times in the course of its millennial history.

A city of artists, visit The National Museum to get a complete idea of the archaeology and art of Serbia, then take a stroll down Stari Grad, a wide boulevard lined with restaurants, cafes and buzzing bars; an ideal place to soak up some Serbian style.

  • Flights are available to Belgrade, from £146 return, including taxes.

Minsk, Belarus

Renowned for friendly locals, clean streets and leafy parks, the city benefits from a lack of tourists clogging the streets.

The Minsk Circus is well worth a visit and is especially good for the children. Adults can catch an opera or ballet, a ticket for which will cost far less than in most other cities in Europe.

Belarusians like to boogie, so be sure to visit a lively pub or two and bring your dancing shoes.

  • Flights are available to Minsk from £312 return, including taxes.


This tiny landlocked country has been generally ignored by Brits, which makes it a great place to visit if you want to get away from your fellow countrymen.

A pretty little city, you’ll find art exhibitions, good wine and haute cuisine along cobbled streets, mixed in with modern architecture and an efficient transport system.

For a taste of the great outdoors, visit the nearby Mullerthal region; known as little Switzerland, there you’ll find expansive valleys, rugged cliffs and cascading waterfalls, ideal for getting back to nature.

  • Flights are available to Luxembourg from £109 return, including taxes.

Chisinau, Moldova

Extra marks if you’ve already heard of this one - most Brits haven’t. Squished between Romania and Ukraine and built on the river Bîc, this is one of Europe’s more obscure and also cheapest capitals.

In this forgotten corner of Europe, you’ll find surprisingly fine wine and a mixture of hip soviet bars and traditional European charm, not to mention a warm welcome from the locals who are generally surprised and delighted to meet foreign visitors.

  • Flights are available to Chisinau, from £348 return, including taxes.

Skopje, Macedonia

Built on the banks of the Vardar River, the city had to reconstruct 75 per cent of its buildings after a devastating earthquake in 1963, but Skopje boasts an intriguing mix of Christian and Islamic culture, which has spawned a lively and varied society.

Visit the Old Bazaar which is the largest in the Balkans, where you can while away a day immersing yourself amongst every kind of curios you can imagine, then take tea and watch veiled women rub shoulders with fashion conscious teenagers.

  • Flights are available to Skopje from £393 return, including taxes.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Located in the western Balkans, this city is a great value destination which is said to feel more Middle Eastern than Eastern European.

A great mix of Turkish, Austrian and Soviet style, the country is also a great ski destination, having hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.

  • Flights are available to Sarajevo from £209 return, including taxes.

Bern, Switzerland

Eclipsed by Geneva, Bern often gets overlooked by those travelling to Switzerland, a shame seeing it’s one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals.

Surrounded by the snow covered peaks of the Swiss Alps, it has been listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site. Truly an architectural marvel, discover the alcoves, towers, arcades and fountains of the old quarters, before sampling Bern’s gastronomic delights in one of its chic restaurants.

  • Flights are available to Bern from £101 return, including taxes.

Podgorica, Montenegro

Some travel experts have lauded Montenegro as a future travel hotspot despite it being largely unknown to British travellers.

The spectacular Dajbabe monastery is a must and the seaside resorts of the Adriatic are not far away. Montenegro also boasts the second deepest canyon in the world, as well as the spectacular and spiky Durmitor mountain range where it’s possible to ski during winter.

  • Flights are available to Podgorica from £290 return, including taxes.

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Have you visited any of the above cities? Is there a city you feel should be on the list? Have you any European travel tips to pass on?

If so, let us know by leaving a comment in the box below or share your thoughts with other readers in the 50connect forums.

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