If you’re looking for a getaway far away from selfie sticks and tour buses, try this list of my favorite underrated and affordable places for weekend trips in Europe.
A lot of students flock to their bucket list cities; the top places students go, according to College Tourist and Student Universe, are Paris, London, Amsterdam, Dublin, Barcelona, Munich, Prague, Berlin, and Copenhagen. This list leaves out some of the most breathtaking places in Europe and definitely shows that students forget to go to the more underrated European countries. For your weekend trips in Europe, please go to at least one place that’s not a Western European capital.
I’ve specially curated my list for study abroad students on a budget – all of these weekend trips in Europe should cost between 100-350$CAD.
For more of my Study Abroad advice, read these next –5 Things You Need to Do in Your First Month of Study Abroad and 5 Perfect Apps for Study Abroad Students
1. Utrecht, Netherlands
I think the Netherlands is one of my underrated European countries simply because travelers flock to Amsterdam when the country has so much more to offer.
And for the record, I liked Utrecht better than Amsterdam. As soon as we got off the train in Utrecht, we were in the middle of a market square. We spent the whole day just walking through the cities canal streets, shopping, and lounging at one of the bars.
What makes Utrecht special is that it is much less busy than Amsterdam, the canals are nicer and cleaner, and you can actually have a drink at a pub right at the canal level since there is a little balcony area (see the picnickers in my picture).
Thanks to my Dutch friend, Julia Marthaler, for reminding me to include Utrecht on my list and thanks to our family friend Rene for showing us around the Netherlands!
2. Split, Croatia
I only need three words to convince you to go to Split – Krka. National. Park. This is one of the most breathtaking places in Europe, the waterfalls seem to be never ending and flow through a fairy tale forest. A Krka tour from Split will take all day, for weekend trips in Europe you’d have to make it two nights or have your return flight very late.
The main old town of Split was used in Game of Thrones and the Dalmatian architecture is unique to Croatia -a definitely underrated European country. For a perfect night in Split, hike ‘Park suma Marjan’ at sunset and then get some classic Croatian ice cream afterwards. Croatia is affordable, I spent 300$ at maximum and I was in Split for 5 days.
When to go – Off season (not May-August) equals less crowds but potentially rainy weather, and no swimming near the main waterfall. It can get very busy in the summer but swimming in the waterfall is permitted.
3. Mdina, Malta
This is another friend recommended place, Dannie Starr says this is her idea of the best hidden gem in Europe. I couldn’t agree more – the pictures speak for themselves. Dannie recommends simply walking the streets of Mdina and doing a wine tasting in Valletta. The Comino Blue Lagoon is what really makes Mdina one of the most naturally breathtaking places in Europe, although it can get a bit touristy.
In general, the islands of Europe (Sardinia, Corsica, Ibiza, etc.) will give you a culture experience unique from the mainland and away from large tourist groups. They are very underrated in Europe, I guess people overlook them because they aren’t in the main “Fortress Europe” mainland.
If you can go and experience a firework filled Festa, do it for sure! From May to August, each village celebration brings a cultural experience with amazing firework shows. For more information on when Festas are happening, check out Malta’s tourism site.
4. Krakow, Poland
My friend Emily Dietrich’s exact words when I asked her to describe Poland – “you feel like a QUEEN”. Needless to say, Krakow is affordable and allows travelers to walk everywhere because of it’s small size. Poland is on my list of underrated European countries but it’s affordable prices, significant history, and quaint old town are why it also makes the list of the best hidden gems in Europe.
In all seriousness, the reason I put Krakow on the list was because of Auschwitz. In this list of underrated places for weekend trips in Europe, it would be easy to just talk about the amazing beaches and picturesque old town streets. But that’s not Europe.
Poland, as with most of Europe, still has evident scars from World War 2. I think it’s important for travelers to go places with unpleasant histories, to learn what these people have gone through and what they continue to remember. So, to get from Krakow and experience Auschwitz, Emily did a 30$ 3 hour tour that included transportation. Emily didn’t feel the same after visiting and really felt impacted by seeing the realities of Auschwitz in front of her.
5. Annecy – “The Venice of France”
I’m guilty of just going to Paris and saying “I love France!”. France is like the Netherlands – it’s an underrated European country because everyone, like me, just goes to Paris.
I asked my French roommate, Loïc Iss, to give me a list of places in France that he thought were some of the best hidden gems in Europe. At the top of his list was Annecy, a mountain and lake town where you can ski on the Alps, do some water sports, and hike to incredible views.
The old town is quaint and the natural scenery provides a relaxing backdrop. Just look at the pictures he took – this is clearly one of the most breathtaking places in Europe and I really hope to visit one day.
He also said that Chamonix is more popular but more expensive than Annecy. In Annecy, you’ll find those same Alps views with less crowds and more affordable prices.
6. Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Luxembourg is hard to spot on a map – it’s only 2,600 square kilometers. I’ve been to Luxembourg twice and would go again – the country side is beautiful, the castles are magnificent, and the streets of the main city are clean and easy to explore. On weekend trips in Europe, make sure to do the museums on a Friday or Saturday as some close on Sunday and Monday.
If you’ve got more time in Luxembourg, my cousin Ferdy runs Bike tours of the country side. Ferdy showed us around in Luxembourg, he’s a fun and knowledgeable tour guide!
Must See in Luxembourg: Vianden Castle and Museum (there’s a hostel right at the base if you want to wake up to castle views). Luxembourg’s castles are some of the best hidden gems in Europe. Like the country itself, they are similar to German and French style castles but have their own unique Luxembourg history and flare.
So, where to first?
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