12 Bucket List Destinations: The Best Hidden Gems in Europe for 2020

 

If you’re realising it’s November and exclaiming “Where did 2019 go?!” then you’re not alone. We’re in the midst of planning our travels for 2020 while fondly reminiscing on our European travels from when we were expats in London. The proximity of countries that permit shorter travel times (in comparison to Australia!) is something that we sorely miss, as well as the breadth of cultures, enthralling histories and wide array of culinary delights.

We’ve put together 12 bucket list destinations which we consider to be the best hidden gems in Europe for 2020. We visited many of these places during our 50-day European campervan trip, arriving in some places for a fleeting visit only to depart with the plan to return again someday. We’ve tried to include a mix of city versus nature destinations but despite your preference, we’re relatively certain you’ll want to bookmark them all!

A view of the tetris buildings of Porto city from the banks of the Douro River, Porto

12 Destinations To Add To Your 2020 Europe(an) Bucket List

1. Lofoten Islands, Norway

Why You Should Go

For bucket list holidays in Europe, Norway certainly pushes its way to the top of the list. The distinctive Lofoten archipelago is best known for its dramatic scenery. As you navigate the jagged twists and turns of the land, you’ll pass looming mountain peaks, sheltered bays and untrammelled lands. You can stay in one of the well-preserved fisherman huts and drive between the old villages, where you’ll undoubtedly catch a whiff of the hanging salted fish. Despite this odour, you’ll be captivated by Lofoten’s spell-binding natural beauty.

Best Times to Visit Lofoten Islands

July – August. Daylight goes for practically 24 hours during the summer, meaning you have plenty of time for hiking and exploring before settling down for the night to capture the midnight sun. If you’re freakishly into winter, visiting during the colder months obviously sets you up with the best chance to witness the otherworldly aurora borealis (Northern Lights).

Jasmine stands in front of the famed yellow house in the Lofoten Islands, Norway

2. Kraków, Poland

Why You Should Go

Kraków is a super affordable destination making it desirable for budget travellers and perfect for your Europe travel inspiration in 2020. Rynek Główny is the 13th-century square at the heart of the city’s medieval town. Featuring no less than eight churches in the area, we would recommend venturing further out from this main plaza. Our favourite area is the Jewish quarter where you can wander the streets admiring graffiti street art, meet friendly boutique owners and discover some seriously cool cafes. If you’re interested, Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory (museum) is across the river. This is a popular attraction so make sure to book your tickets in advance (we unfortunately missed out!). The more popular choice is a day trip to Auschwitz. Tours can be easily organised from Kraków; again, advance booking are necessary as English tours are limited.

Best Times to Visit Kraków

March – May. It can become blistering hot in the summertime. Visit during the shoulder season when temperatures are milder and the crowds thinner.

A view of Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow, Poland - one of the best hidden gems of europe

3. Val Thorens, France

Why You Should Go

For the ultimate winter wonderland experience, book a week at a chalet and strap on your snow boots. Val Thorens is part of the ski region known as Les Trois Vallées (the Three Valleys). Located close to Lyon, Geneva and Turin, the ski towns in Les Trois Vallées are easily accessible and a popular choice for snow bunnies. At 2,300m, the summit of Val Thorens makes it the highest ski peak in Europe. Given its elevation, fresh powder is guaranteed all season. L’après-ski is also some of the best on the continent.

Best Times to Visit Val Thorens

February. To avoid the rush of the Christmas season and school holidays. You may also score a late season package deal.

Jasmine sits on the top of a ski run in Val Thorens, France

4. Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Italy / The Dolomites, Italy

Why You Should Go

If you weren’t really a converted nature adventurer, then this raw and rugged environment will surely convince you. The jagged shark tooth-esque peaks are the centrepiece of a 10.3 kilometre loop hiking trail. The track will take you past high alpine meadows, snaking valleys and spectacular pointed mountain ranges. A well-marked trail, there are a number of welcoming Italian refugios along the way so that you can press pause more than once, either for a beer or for a photo. More hiking trails for mountain goodness include Seceda and Val Gardena whilst the teal-tinged lakes are best seen at Lago di Braies and Lago di Sorapis.

Best Times to Visit Tre Cime di Lavaredo

June or September – October. The peak summer months attracts hordes of locals, neighbouring citizens and other travellers. We visited during mid-May and unfortunately the trail was still covered in snow and so we were devastatingly unable to complete the loop! We have dreams of returning to the Dolomites one day.

Fog clouding over the peaks of Tre Cime di Lavaredo, The Dolomites, Italy

5. Bologna, Italy

Why You Should Go

Food, architecture and gelato (yes, we believe that gelato is so important that it deserves its own category). Need we say more? Walking under perfectly symmetrical porticoes, getting lost amongst walls in hues of terracotta, burnt orange and molten gold, and our taste buds bursting with excitement from the rich creamy gelato goodness (the last experience which Bevan can attest to more than Jasmine). From above and at ground level, there is no bad angle to photograph this city. Pack your appetite and stretchy pants.

Best Times to Visit Bologna

May or September. We prefer the warmer months and try to avoid the hotter, more popular summer months. We are dying to visit this Italian town again as devastatingly and frustratingly, Jasmine was struck down with food poisoning when we passed through and we know we didn’t experience Bologna in all its glory!

Walking under the intricate archway porticoes of Bologna Italy - best hidden gems in Europe

6. Kotor, Montenegro

Why You Should Go

Sheltered by limestone cliffs, the medieval fortified town is as attractive as Dubrovnik but without the crowds and the price tag. There’s a pulse-lifting climb to the crumbling St John’s Fortress that affords an epic view over the Bay of Kotor whilst romantic small town Perast is only 20 minutes drive away. Lesser known sheltered coves along this section of the Adriatic Coast mean that you don’t need to fight for a spot on the beach either. One of the best hidden gems in Europe is best accessed by car so make sure to visit soon before the cruise ships take over!

Best Times to Visit Kotor

September – October. Visiting during the shoulder season should mean fewer crowds and a milder temperature for when you attempt the hike up to the fortress.

Sitting on the edge of the fortress eating sandwiches overlooking the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro - 12 Great Date Ideas

7. Copenhagen, Denmark

Why You Should Go

Of all the Scandinavian capitals, we agree that Copenhagen is our fave. The epitome of cool by way of design, gastronomy and all-round vibe, it’s no surprise that the Danish capital is a top choice for students and long weekend visitors. The city is quite compact, making it super simple to explore by foot or by bicycle. Granted, it’s not the cheapest destination either so take advantage of freebies such as a walk through Christiania, a photo opp at Nyhavn and a visit to the Little Mermaid. But we definitely think you should splurge on some specialty coffee.

Best Times to Visit Copenhagen

May – September. If you visit during the warmer months, you can take advantage of the long summer nights, spent bar hopping via bicycle or simply chilling with some refreshing beverages at the water’s edge.

Colourful buildings lining Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark - best hidden gems of Europe

8. San Sebastián, Spain

Why You Should Go

Foodies should make tracks for San Sebastián in Basque country, situated on the north coast of Spain. Take in the local culture by eating as many pintxos (Basque-style tapas) as you bar hop all over town. Think chorizo with cider, croquettes, tortilla and fresh seafood delights. A trip to a sidrerías (cider house) is an absolute must for visitors to San Sebastián. This little-known secret involves waiting in line in front of huge wooden barrels and holding your glass out ready to catch a long stream of beer. Complete your gastronomy experience with a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant – you’ll be spoilt for choice as San Sebastián is one of the cities in the world to hold the highest number of Michelin stars per square metre.

Best Times to Visit San Sebastián

May – September. Visiting in the summertime means peak tourist season but the coastal town is made for warm days spent outdoors.

Delicious layered pintxos in San Sebastian, Spain

9. Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Why You Should Go

An hour’s train ride from Amsterdam, the second-largest Dutch city possesses quite a different aesthetic to the famous capital. The major port city was almost completely reconstructed after WWII and now the city is known for its bold, modern architecture (check out the funky yellow Cube Houses). Rotterdam is home to an Erasmus University, maritime heritage and youthful cultural life which largely revolves around the winding Nieuwe Mass.

Best Times to Visit Rotterdam

April – May. Springtime in the Netherlands is ideal as the weather starts to warm up and the days are longer, perfect for cycling through tulip fields and downing beers at a local brouwerij.

Jasmine looks up at the yellow cube houses in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

10. Vilnius, Lithuania

Why You Should Go

Vilnius and Lithuania as a whole is an unexpected jewel in Eastern Europe and in our opinion, grossly underrated. Baroque architecture throughout the city adds a romantic touch as you walk down partially-cobbled streets in search for cafes offering an increasing specialty coffee selection. A vast number of museums will make Vilnius a go-to destination for history buffs and art lovers, or you can head out west to Trakai for a glimpse into Lithuania’s royal history. Hop into the independent republic of Užupis to dine at some contemporary culinary hotspots and make sure to also taste local specialty saltibarksciai (cold beetroot soup with sour milk and dill).

Best Times to Visit Vilnius

Lithuania is consistently cold in winter so plan your visit between May – August. Visiting in late spring of the summertime provides ample opportunities to stroll picturesque city streets or even make a foray into the country’s great outdoors.

A couple crossing the road in front of Vilnius Cathedral, Vilnius Lithuania
Strolling the streets at daybreak, Vilnius

11. Porto, Portugal

Why You Should Go

Sunshine and port wine. Enough said. Okay fine, there’s also the charming Ribeira district where you can sit by the riverside and watch the old naval boats bob on the Douro river. The labyrinth of winding streets will reveal a preference for retaining the character of old merchant buildings, some decked with panels of recognisable azulejo tiles. And fresh hot-on-the-scene contemporary restaurants are flourishing, bringing traditional dishes to the modern day without forgetting their roots.

Best Times to Visit Porto

Suitable all year round. While many travellers choose the capital Lisbon, we certainly consider this northern city one of the best hidden gems in Europe. We visited Porto early February to escape the end of another dreary UK winter and while you still required a light jacket in the evenings, the constant sunshine was the best thing for our pasty skin.

Looking down at the port of Porto

12. Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Why You Should Go

Despite its turbulent history, Sarajevo is emerging shyly from its dark past, ready to move forward with a positive outlook. Many travellers overlook Bosnia & Herzegovina in favour of its more popular neighbour, Croatia, but for intrepid travellers we would urge you to make a pit stop in the capital. It’s also one of the not-so-touristy places in Europe. We were wonderfully surprised when we visited this compact city centre, a beautiful, blended mish mash of Eastern and Western architectural and cultural elements. You’ll encounter warmly lit souvenir shops selling copper and silver tea sets and trinkets, hookah bars with plumes of smoke wafting into the night air and the smoky smell of ćevapi served with flatbread and onions. This country and Sarajevo in particular, has been cruelly hurt and ripped apart by all means of violence imaginable and the people will not forget the atrocities they unduly suffered anytime soon. But today, Sarajevo is a spirited city welcoming visitors with open arms.

Best Times to Visit Sarajevo

April, September – end of October. The summer months are known to be particularly hot whilst the months of May and early October are school holiday periods. We visited during the end of September when the climate was rather mild but cool enough to wear a denim jacket most of the time.

Bevan of the Travel Quandary sits in front of the graffiti on the abandoned bobsled track in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

READY, SET, GO!

Which places would you include as one of the best hidden gems in Europe for travellers in 2020?

LIKE THIS POST? PIN IT AND SHARE IT!

Pin to Pinterest: Best Hidden Gems in Europe for 2020
Pin Photo: 12 Best Hidden Gems in Europe to travel to in 2020

Leave a comment

SOLVE YOUR QUANDARY

The best of our travel tips direct to your inbox. Receive our latest posts by dropping your email address below.

We promise to only send you the good stuff!

 

FOLLOW US ON INSTAGRAM

 
This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

Hello!

WANT TO JOIN OUR COMMUNITY?

Receive the latest travel guides from our featured destinations & travel inspiration straight to your inbox.