Want to Avoid the Crowds? Europe’s “Third-Rate” Towns Are Truly First-Rate

Europe is crowded — especially its big, famous sights. As you plan your 2020 travels, you may be looking to escape your fellow travelers. Here’s an idea: Consider going easy on Europe’s top-tier destinations, and instead check out some lesser-known places. Last year, I made a swing through what I think of as The Big Three: London, Paris, and Rome. But I also mixed in some smaller towns, including ones few travelers have heard of: Arezzo. Canterbury. Sarlat. And you know something? The experiences I had in Europe’s “third-rate” towns were truly first-rate.

Virtually everyone visiting Italy wants to go to the “first-rate” cities: Rome, Florence, and Venice. With more time, they add some “second-rate” destinations: Pisa, Assisi, Siena, Milan, and so on. But even once you get beyond those top tiers, Italy is rich with rewarding destinations.

I had this revelation when I spent a sleepy, rainy Saturday in the Tuscan town of Arezzo. It’s a midsize town that’s not included in our Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook — even with 1,250 pages of coverage, Arezzo doesn’t make the cut. I was here on the recommendation of an Italian friend, specifically to take a day off from the busy tourist towns I was visiting elsewhere in Italy: Assisi, Rome, and so on.  And I got exactly what I was looking for.

I love the endearing way that smaller cities have their own idiosyncratic claims to fame, which swell their residents’ pride. Arezzo has two: It’s home to a thriving weekend antiques market; and its Basilica of San Francesco is slathered with colorful frescoes by Piero della Francesca. I enjoyed those aspects of Arezzo. But mostly, I savored simply being alone in Italy…wandering all by myself through colorful and cobbled back lanes; having a memorable lunch at the town’s foodie splurge restaurant, just dropping in without a reservation; discovering a world-class neighborhood gelato shop; and browsing antiques alongside Tuscans furnishing their homes rather than tourists seeking souvenirs. I left Arezzo re-energized — and ready to plunge into Rome.

In England, everyone wants to go to “first-rate” London. With more time, they add some “second-rate” destinations — Bath, York, the Cotswolds, and so on. But there’s a steep drop-off in traffic when it comes to a town like Canterbury, where I retreated after two exhausting weeks of guidebook research in London. And, much as I love London, this trip reminded me that Canterbury is one of my favorite places in the UK.

Canterbury is best known for two things: First, its cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who leads the Church of England. And second, English majors know the town for its role in Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century Canterbury Tales, in which a ragtag assortment of pilgrims swap tall tales and parables on their journey to that famous church.

Of course, Canterbury is not entirely “undiscovered.” The knot of half-timbered streets ringing its cathedral and its bustling High Street are packed with visitors. But many of them are day trippers, and most never leave that compact core of town. I loved simply wandering Canterbury’s back streets, following its idyllic river, discovering lush parks, ogling its tidy brick row houses mixed in with tipsy Tudor black-and-white half-timbered homes. Even just a few steps off High Street took me to areas that have never seen a tourist.

Near Canterbury, I also spent time hiking along Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters (a less famous but drastically more pleasurable stretch of white cliffs than Dover’s); explored the characteristic Sissinghurst Gardens; took a day off in the English beach resort of Brighton; and toured the sprawling and fascinating Hampton Court Palace, infused with vivid memories of Henry VIII. I also visited far-better-known Cambridge, Oxford, and Windsor, where the oppressive crowds left me exasperated. But thinking back on my little swing through southeast England fills me with a happy glow…even though it was socked-in and drizzling the entire time.

In France, Paris is the first-rate, world-class “must.” Second-rate destinations include Provence, Nice and the French Riviera, Mont-St-Michel, and Normandy. But my personal favorite slice of France is third-rate: the Dordogne, huddled deep in the southwest, and its lovely market town of Sarlat.

Built of a lemony sandstone that seems to suck in the warmth and glow of the sun, Sarlat looks like a film set. It’s a town that celebrates geese: A bronze statue of two proud waterfowl honors the importance of foie gras in the local cuisine (and commerce). Twice a week, one of France’s best street markets (and that’s saying something) curls through Sarlat’s interlocking squares. On market day, Sarlat is one of the most engaging places in all of France…a feast for all the senses. On other days, it’s still an utter delight, exuding a “let’s-retire-here” serenity that has tourists checking their 401(k) balances.

Italy is richer with life-alteringly-wonderful “third-rate” towns than perhaps any country in Europe. In addition to Arezzo, many of my favorites are in Tuscany, Umbria, and other parts of Central Italy: LuccaVolterraMontepulciano,  Orvieto… the list goes on.

And then there’s Sorrento, perched over a serene bay just south of Naples, offering a genteel springboard for exploring the Amalfi Coast. And up north, a short train ride from Venice leads to the thriving university town of Padua, Romeo and Juliet’s hometown of Verona, and alpine Bolzano — so close to Austria you can practically hear the yodeling.

This is a fun game to play. In Germany, I love Berlin, Munich, Rothenburg, and the Rhine Valley — but Dresden, Erfurt, and Freiburg caught me off guard and captured my heart.

In Poland, Kraków is an all-star, but Gdańsk is an overlooked gem.

In Belgium, Brussels and Bruges are at the top of every traveler’s list, but Ghent and Antwerp are delightful discoveries that feel more authentic.

In Portugal, Lisbon is the undisputed champ, and Porto is the up-and-coming second city, but the sleepy university town of Coimbra is an unheralded joy.

In Croatia, everyone flocks to Dubrovnik and Split. Why not check out Slovenia’s Piran, just up the coast?

In Iceland, Reykjavík, the Golden Circle, and the Blue Lagoon get all of the attention. But my favorite corners of Iceland are the Westfjords, Lake Mývatn, and Seyðisfjörður on the Eastfjords.

In Hungary, Budapest is top dog, but Eger and Pécs are woefully underrated.

In Spain, it’s hard to resist the pull of Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, Granada, and Toledo. But my favorite Spanish memories take place in Salamanca, Bilbao, Arcos de la Frontera, and Santiago de Compostela.

I’m not (necessarily) saying to skip those world-class destinations entirely. If you’ve never been to Paris…then go to Paris. But consider changing it up by also visiting a smaller city or town that isn’t a household name back home. If nothing else, see Europe’s “third-rate” towns as an antidote to the crowds.

By the way, reviewing these photos, I notice two things: Gorgeous places…with virtually no people. I mean, just look at all of those empty cobbles. If you want Europe to yourself, go third-rate.

What are some of your favorite “third-rate” towns in Europe, and why?

For more ideas of lesser-known places to visit, check out my recent list of 10 European Discoveries for 2020…and my Discoveries for 2019 and 2018, too.

For more details on all of the destinations mentioned here, check out our Rick Steves guidebook series, which includes coverage of the biggies along with the “third-rate” alternatives.

88 Replies to “Want to Avoid the Crowds? Europe’s “Third-Rate” Towns Are Truly First-Rate”

    1. Last year, we flew into London and spent the day sightseeing and the next day, my husband drove me to visit Cornwall County to visit the town where “Doc Martin” was and still is filmed! We also stopped at many other small town along the way. Amazing adventure for sure!

      1. I would love that trip. My husband and I love the less popular towns. Last October we spent 3 nights in Bergamo, Italy and it was great. I had a wonderful pasta dinner that was very new to me.

    2. Monmouth, South Wales. Chagford, Devon. Kirkcudbright, Scotland.
      All were charming and devoid of tourists on my visits.(aside from me!)

      1. Salerno, Italy – it has a lovely old town, delicious restaurants, fantastic access to trains back to Rome and ferries up the Amalfi Coast.

  1. Perfect summary of a great European vacation, been to most of those “second” rated destinations, Sarlat and Canterbury are the at top of the lot with Arezzo close behind. If you venture to Canterbury do not miss a side trip to the lovely seaside town of Dover and its magnificent castle.

  2. We enjoyed Bastille Day in Amboise. There was a crowd because of the day but the day after was less so. See Clos de Luce where Da Vinci lived for the last two years of his life. You can take tours of the chateaux of the Loire from there.

  3. We visited Lake Garda and Lucca on our trip to Italy this summer. Both were off the beaten path for American tourists, and we loved both for that very reason. The Germans love Lake Garda, and it was surrounded by lovely towns. It was also great to get in the Lake during the summer heat!

  4. In Belgium–Ghent (Beautiful buildings and lovely river front) and Delft (great street market and historical sights and Stroopwaffles!).
    In the Netherlands–Alkmaar (the cheese market is amazing!) and Haarlem (great street market, wonderful nuggest of culture on the old buildings).
    In Germany–Tubingen (lovely market, river front and buildings)
    In England–Wells (amazing Cathedral and lovely market town), East Sussex/South Kent areas of Rye and Tenderton (local old sights, great vinyard)
    In Whales–Chester (walled city).
    In all of these places, what is near by is even better than the towns! The pre-historic ruins, culturally significant landmarks, amazing buildings and cathedrals, etc. English Heritage pass is something to buy for a week long trip and make your itineray off if it–pays for itself in a day and takes you outside the big cities.

  5. In the South of France, the port town of Setes is a lovely alternative to Cannes. A small French Venice, it has water jousting festival in August which is a lot of fun.

  6. Yes to Canterbury, to the lively medieval villages in the Dordogne, and to Lucca. In addition I would add the Jurassic Coast of England, the Pembrokeshire Coast of Wales, and the Pink Granite Coast of Brittany, France.

  7. I did a summer abroad during Grad school in Innsbruck, Austria. It’s a small city in South Tyrol with beautiful views of the mountains surrounding the city and a charming old town. There’s also a university there (hence why I was there myself), so there’s a youthful vibe in addition to the sightseers in the old town who day trip to see the golden roof. The people were all very friendly, and pretty much everyone I met spoke at least enough English for us to communicate effectively. Hop on the train and Vienna, Salzburg, and Munich are all quick trips.

    1. Innsbruck is not in South Tyrol but in Austria.
      South Tyrol (Alto Adige in Italian) belongs to Italy since after World War 1)

  8. I hope you stayed in the Cathedral Gate Hotel in Canterbury. It is wonderfully quirky and, among other things, being able to relax sitting in the back garden within view of the Cathedral is marvelous.

  9. This is the best travel article I’ve ever read in my life. I recommend being inspired by this article, and discovering your own faves. OK, everyone else was generous: Spoleto, Naples, Troyes.

  10. We enjoyed Stresa and the Borromean Islands. Great small Italian town on Lago Maggiorre. Stayed at a beautiful converted villa above the city which offered some great views. Wonderful gardens a short boat rife away.

  11. My most memorable “third rate” town is Matera, Italy. It was more unusual than any other place I’ve been; it seemed so ancient and interesting. Also because we were a rarity as American tourists. Not much English was spoken, yaay.

  12. Go to Trieste in Italy, the main port city of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire and find a very different vibe and architecture. You can also catch a ferry to the nearby Istrian coast towns of Piran and Rovijn. Virtually no Americans go to Trieste, but it’s a lovely town with a large piazza right on the Adriatic. You’ll find quite a few Germans down in Rovijn so it has been discovered, but few if any Americans.

  13. We really enjoyed staying for a short time in Lyon, France. The town is picturesque with so many restaurants and even a museum or two. It’s definitely not Paris but since it’s smaller it’s easier to get around in and public transport is excellent with metro, streetcars, etc. Make sure you stay in the old town to really absorb the atmosphere of this lovely city.

    1. Lyon is awesome. Can’t beat the funicular ride and view from Mt. Fourviere, boat trip to the renovated Confluence district, the Resistance/Deportation Historical Center, many restaurants, and walkability.

  14. If you take Cameron’s advice and go to Bolzano (Bozen), also head a bit further north to Bressanone (Brixen) and then hook a right up the valley to Mühlbach and the nearby villages of Nauders and cable car up to Meranzen. This is a German speaking area and you might as well be in Austria proper. From Mühlbach you can climb the winding mountain road from Vals to Fane Alm, arriving at the Gattererhütte (almost 6k feet elevation) https://www.facebook.com/gattererhutte.fanealm This hütte is one of many along the Alpine trail network that connects the high peaks of the Pfunderer range of the Dolomites. The highest peak in this range is Kreuzpitze at 10k feet.

  15. This past October I took my daughter (who was studying in Milan at the time) to the Côte d’Azur. She wanted to visit Monaco, but I preferred to stay someplace less touristy and more French feeling. A quick Google search led me to the beautiful seaside town of a Menton, 10 mins from a Monaco and 10 mins from the Italian border, all connected by a super-convenient train that runs. We loved it! Half a dozen beaches, lovely “old town” with spectacular views of the marina, great restaurants, and amazing market on Saturday. I loved it so much, my husband and I are considering buying a small apartment there when we retire.

  16. As hikers, we flew into Munich and then headed to Ramsau for a week (could have stayed longer). We were the only English speaking guests at the very welcoming Berghotel Rehlegg. We had the least expensive room and fell in love with this place. Near Berchtesgaden National Park, about 40 minutes from Salzburg, down the road from Berchtesgaden, easy day trip to Hallstatt, salt mines, hiking everywhere. I think some travelers make an overnight stay in this area but it was a wonderful place to spend the week

    1. Loved Hallstatt and staying in small hotel overlooking the lake. We spent a week in the area and found many small towns to visit. Hard to leave and go to Vienna!

  17. Newcastle-upon-Tyne and surrounding areas in northern England. The city center is great for exploring, easy to navigate via subway and train. We enjoyed our favorite meal and found our favorite bakery/afternoon tea spot of our 2 week wander around England and Scotland. We had the entire site of the Tynemouth priory and castle ruins and WWII bunkers to ourselves. Great city experience without the crowds and prices of London and other popular cities.

  18. Consider Delft or Leiden when visiting the Netherlands. Same feel as Amsterdam but much less crowded and still LOTS of history. E.g. Leiden birthplace of Rembrand. Delft Old Church and Prinsenhof (history site House of Orange)

    1. We enjoyed Delft as well (perhaps more than Bruges, Belgium). It has a bit of a college town feel with the technical university there, along with some ‘street art’ (literally) and a youthful feel in parts of the town. Hire a bike to see even more!

  19. Harrogate in North Yorkshire is a wonderful town, just on the edge of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. It is consistently voted one of the best places to live in England. Make sure you go to Bettys for afternoon tea!

  20. We loved Rovinj! At the entrance to this delightful city is an open market. You can wander up a long cobbled stone hill to a cathedral and a spectacular view. along the way are little shops to explore. Really an enchanting place!

  21. One our favorite places is Collioure, France, a small fishing village on the Mediterranean, 2.5 hours north of Barcelona. Lovely town, some good restaurants, close to numerous places for day trips.

    1. Better, go next door to Port-Vendres! It’s a working seaport with lovely scenery, good restaurants and truly wonderful people … AND many fewer tourists!

    2. Collioure, France; Pula and Rovinji, Croatia as well as Hvar Island; Ljubljana, Solvenia; Olhos d’ Aqua, Algarve and Peso da Regua, Douro Valley, Portugal; Bologna and Sorrento, Italy; Peniscola, Spain; Crete, Kos and Samos Islands, Greece – to name a few of our favourite 3rd-level locations plus the big ones and 2nd-level mentioned in Cameron’s post.

  22. We loved Lucca in Italy. It has a wonderful old wall and a great plaza where the Roman amphitheater used to be. We stepped into one church just to get some shade on a warm afternoon, and the lone attendant was delighted to welcome us and show off their Titian which we could study to our heart’s content as it had no other visitors.
    Canterbury was truly outstanding. We stayed a week in the school dorms on the grounds of the cathedral and spent lots of time wandering around town and the countryside. In fact, Kent County was terrific.

  23. I second Coillure and will add Dinan and St.Malo in Brittany for France. For additional small-town vibes – Clifden in County Galway, Ireland, Peratallada in Spain and Castellina in Chianti in Italy.

  24. I have loved and raved about Barcelona for nearly 30 years. Look what’s happened. So I’m keeping my 3rd rate favorites a secret.

  25. Isle Sur le Sorgue is outstanding if you love poking amongst several
    hundred shops for at least one of everything! Encircled by a waterway with a dozen or so water features,water wheels, etc.
    Famous for its markets, just lovely. Mobbed on beautiful market days perhaps, midweek is better. France.

  26. Rick Smith is right: Trieste, a sometime port stop for small ships (such as Seabourn) cruising up and down the Adriatic, is an amazing gem! Most people who are knowledgeable about WWII history are surprised to learn it also contains the southern most German concentration camp hidden inside the city. Cleaned up now, it’s available for tours of that despicable era.

  27. We were doing a month-long house exchange when the family came home really early, the wife having come down with hepatitis. We retreated up to Digne-les- Bains up in the nountains. What a treat! No tourists, lots of Andy Goldsworthy art and rock installations, a huge roadcut with thousands (!) of beautiful museum quality ammonite fossils, fantastic narrow winding roads. There was no regret that our exchange was cut short!

  28. We’ve both lived and traveled abroad. What Cameron has written is so true. There so many towns in Europe that the average tourist has not heard of. However, those of us
    who consider ourselves as travelers and go out into the hinterlands know this to be true.
    It was amazing to read what Cameron has written because we have not just visited but stayed in many of the towns that me referred to as third level places. Yes, the average tourist knows all the main cities and has perhaps also been to the so called second level
    cities. The Dordogne and Sarlat in France, Arezzo, Lucca, Verona, and Orvieto in Italy, Porto and Coimbra in Portugal, and on and on. But even smaller places can be terrific and experiencing the locals in relatively unknown places can make your trip so worthwhile. We’re even from a sister city of Ulm in Germany.

  29. We have never been to a place we haven’t enjoyed!!
    Can I mention Riga and Tallin?
    But travel in the west of Ireland and visit Roundstone and Clifden and then Inis Boffin and Chill and Clare Island. And walk from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher.

  30. In his “10 European Discoveries for 2020,” Cameron recently rightly recommended the beautiful beaches in the very small (maybe “fourth-rate”?) town of Salema in southern Portugal’s Algarve region. But if you’re going to Portugal this spring or summer, don’t miss the beaches – and the excellent surfing – on the Portuguese west coast at Nazaré. I stopped there last fall. Even when the fog rolled in, the waves crashing on the mile-long beach was awe-inspiring! Portugal continues to provide a “good deal” for American tourists in many ways.

  31. I’d add Trogir and Zadar in Croatia, and the islands of Hvar and Brač. Trogir is basically next to the Split airport, is smaller and charming, and you can get into Split easily enough if you want. Anywhere in Istria seems off the beaten track and fun. Volterra in Italy isn’t quite as overrun as some of the other hill towns, has wonderful ruins. Dresden, but also going along the Elbe to smaller towns strung along is very enjoyable.

  32. Probably would be considered a second tier city, but we thoroughly enjoyed our time in San Sebastien, Spain.

    1. Agreed! San Sebastián also has a wonderfully curved beach and is alive with marvelous restaurants. It also is the locale for an internationally recognized major film
      festival each Sept.

  33. If you visit Sarlat, take time to visit some of the caves with Prehistoric paintings- amazing!
    We stayed in Sorrento, but preferred Salerno at the base of the Amalfi Coast.

  34. Not so sure about a previous post citing Hallstatt in Austria. Apparently the locals are infuriated with day-tripping tourists invading their privacy, crowding their town, damaging plants but contributing very little.
    If in Amsterdam, Marken and Volendam are becoming popular as half-day trips and getting crowded but nearby Edam, despite its cheesy name, is still relatively untouched by tourists.

  35. Aachen, NRW, Germany
    Maastricht, Limburg, Netherlands
    These above two are so close you can do them together even throw in Liege in Belgium though not as a great a city IMO.

    Another three:
    Siracusa (Syracuse), Sicily, Italy
    Chester, Chesire, England
    Pula, Istria, Crotia

    Trieste is great also!

  36. In England: Rye near the South Coast, and its sister town/village of Winchelsea. Also Lacock in Wiltshire, and Ludlow in Shropshire on the Welsh Border.
    In Wales: Conwy with its castle
    In Scotland: Melrose, a lovely town in the Scottish borders, ruined abbey, and nearby home of Sir Walter Scott; and at (almost) the other end of the country Kirkwall – capital if the Orkney Islands, with his norse history and red-stone Cathedral.

  37. My wife and I went to Beaune France, in Burgundy, as part of an anniversary trip. It is a fantastic small town with lots of character. Only a 3 hour train ride from Paris but felt a world away with its intimate charm. Definitely has us thinking about that “check the 401k for retirement”.

  38. An awesome article! We’ve loved so many of the second or third tier cities like Salamanca in Spain, Coimbra in Portugal, Linz in Austria, and also some of the less visited countries like Andorra, Luxembourg and Slovenia.

  39. I am exploring Brno in the Czech Republic right now. The many students make it a vibrant place. Wonderful sights, food, and terrific public transportation.

  40. I am presently living in Neuburg an der Donau, Bavaria, Germany. It is a very small, safe Bavarian city with it’s own castle sitting up high over the town. The castle is absolutely gorgeous as well as the old town around it. The castle sits looking over the Donau(Danube) river and is filled with art and exhibits. There are many good restaurants and places to stay. I consider this place an unknown jewel. There is a train station with connections to Ulm and Regensburg. In 2021 there will be a Renaissance festival which the town takes two year to prepare for. I went last year. It was fantastic

  41. I have been to Paris many times. Every time I visit, I try to also spend a week or so in another area of France. This year I visited the Dordogne, staying in a small B&B in Sarlat. It was a wonderful trip and Sarlat quickly became one of my favorite small towns. It’s the perfect base from which to explore the incredibly beautiful and fascinating Dordogne!

  42. Loved this article-my favorite small town is in Ireland(Eire) and is called Glengarriff.
    It is a small seaside charming village in Cork. Pat

  43. My husband and I started traveling to Europe about 10 years ago when the kids finished college. We started with the big cities but after venturing to some smaller places we find that we prefer those to the major tourist sites. A few places that we both loved: Cadaquez in Spain, a coastal town where you can visit the house where Dali painted and sculpted. Pecs in Hungary with great art museums and some of the most beautiful pottery I’ve ever seen. Chartres in France, cute town with amazing cathedral, and Coimbra in Portugal, interesting old university, great restaurants, and lots of stairs!

  44. Cameron, I always enjoy your writing and it was great to hear your life story when I read: “How I Became a Travel Writer.” Here are some great, lesser known places that I don’t believe any of the previous bloggers mentioned: (1) Lake Bled, Slovenia, which is even prettier than Lake Hallstatt; (2) St-Cirq-Lapopie, France, a quiet village in which to spend the night along the picturesque Lot River Valley; (3) Murren, Switzerland, an endearing village right in the middle of the high Alps; (4) Motovun, Croatia, a lovely hill town; and (5) Civita, the ultimate Italian hill town.

  45. Isn’t this what RS travel was all about? Europe through the backdoor gave us the vision to get off the beaten path and explore.

  46. Terragona in Spain. Just half an hour south of Barcelona by train or 50 minutes so of the airport by bus. You. Can walk right across their aqueduct in near solitude ( pont de diablo I think it’s called)

  47. Totally agree with comments on Lucca in Italy. Would also add Reims , East of Paris. Great starting point to visit Verdun and American Cemetery at Lorraine.

  48. Thank you for this inspirational article and comments! I’ve visited many & now my list has grown so long! Might I add Augsburg, Germany’s 3rd oldest town? Home to the fascinating Fuggerei, the oldest social housing estate in the world, among many other cultural & historical interests!

  49. Eger, Hungary is lovely. It has a compact, walkable center. We saw the minaret, a remnant of the Ottoman Empire, and the amazing Marzipan museum. There was a folk festival going on when we were there. I wish we could have spent more than one night.

  50. Has anyone been to Capalbio in Italy? A 12 century walled city in Tuscany between Florence and Rome. 5 miles in from the Terranian Sea. At night the wall is lit and looks like a crown! I had a beautiful Italian husband who took me to many lesser visited towns and this was one of them. We spent two weeks there. Friends of my husband had an apartment there and offered it to us.

  51. I lived for 3 months in western Germany near the French border while on clinical rotation and had many unexpectedly sublime experiences in unexpected towns. In The Netherlands, we stayed in ‘s Hertogenbosch (yes, it really does start with an apostrophe! Our local host said they abbreviate it “Den Bosch”) and day-tripped to Amsterdam. We were amazed to find Den Bosch has an impressive Gothic cathedral with so many gargoyles and sculptures and a pipe organ not to be missed, plus a lovely public square.

    We also stayed in Odense, Denmark and day-tripped into Copenhagen. We happened upon a flower festival in old town Odense (after walking through a delightfully whimsical public playground) where the locals were excited to be preparing for a visit from a princess. Plus, the quaint birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen was just steps away.

    Passing through Garmisch-Partenkirchen on my way to Salzburg, I stopped in the little southern Bavarian town of Farchant to go for a short hike. I was met by many townsfolk and cows with wreaths and flowered leighs passing from the hills through the streets of town–apparently an annual folk festival about the cows returning home from their summer grazing in the Alps! There were even cows randomly walking along the hiking trail! Serendipitous moments such as these in unexpected places happened repeatedly during my stay, and I’m itching to return to explore more of these lesser-known places.

  52. We spent an amazing day in Alicante, Spain on the Costa Brava. The yacht harbor lies at the bottom of the cliff where the old fort dominates the view. The Esplanada and La Rambla are perfect for strolling, the first if you prefer a park and the later for shoppers. The Esplanada also features restaurants housed in the buildings alongside and more tables set on the edge of the park walk. We’d love to spend a couple of weeks there, exploring the narrow sidestreets, the old fort views, and the wide beaches.

  53. Cameron – your articles always seem to touch the traveler in me who looks for something new. I still smile at the story of the Christmas tree attendant with the sponge in Switzerland…maybe one day I’ll witness it myself! This article reflects what my husband and I have been sensing for years. I’m incredibly lucky to have been to some of the places you and others have mentioned, and intrigued by the ones I haven’t been to. Lots to add to the list (I better work on that 401K).
    For my part I would add:
    – Chamonix, France. Alpine resort town without a ton of American accents around. Great summer hiking (even on a glacier!). Ride a gondola up to peer into Switzerland, Italy and France from one very high vantage point.
    – Straubing, Germany. We had a friend play for the local ice hockey team there. It has a wonderful town square where you’ll see the locals out and about in their Trachten wear every Sunday, and a giant beer fest in late summer that rivals Oktoberfest in Munich.
    – Montreaux, Switzerland. Seems off the (American) beaten tourist path, but wonderful lake and mountain views, architecture, cobbled streets, restaurants, flora and fauna (palm trees like Lugano!)
    – Burgos, Spain. With a beautiful, sparkling old town and giant cathedral filled with amazing light along the Camino de Santiago. In early June there were plenty of ‘pilgrims’ but that just seems to give the town a fun energy. Really, any town along the Camino is great. While waiting for our clothes at a laundromat in the Rioja region (Lograno maybe), we went to the local work-a-day bar across the street and were astonished at our .90 Euro glasses of wine!
    Thanks to all for so many wonderful suggestions.

  54. Harrogate England was full of delightful surprises.
    The western part of the Lake District in England, near Hill Top Farm of Beatrice Potter fame, was a quiet wonderful week of hiking, and taking small van tours around the whole region.
    I spent a day painting during Market Day in Sarlat France, and met many curious friendly people.
    Concarneau and Carnac Brittany, France were filled with ancient stone alignments, with mostly French visitors, another delight.
    The back streets of Paris, are not crowded, where I have enjoyed many days painting.
    Alta Badia, near Balzano, on the backside of Val Gardenia ski area in the Dolomites, Italy, were the most fun skiing in the Alps.
    A 5 day hike (50 miles) from Schloss Linderhof to Neuschwanstein, on the German hutte system, was one of my most memorable trips, true Heidi country, gorgeous.

  55. My votes for some of the best “third rate” towns (But they are all first-rate to me): Varna, Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria – Brasov, Romania – Izmir and Buldan, Turkey. I could add more but Cameron has the right idea. See the big cities if you must because they are exciting and historic, but for real travel experiences, get out of town and explore the smaller places. My favorites last year were Porto and Oviedo.

  56. We lived and taught in Poland for 9 years, I agree with the visit to Gdansk. What a beautiful city full of history, coastal beauty, and cobblestone. The amber market is amazing.

    I would add Kazimierz Dolny and Torun to the Poland list. Kazimierz Dolny is an artists city and gorgeous. Torun has a wonderful castle and the best gingerbread in Europe. :)

  57. My picks for Ireland would be Dingle or the Aran Islands.
    A quaint little village in Tuscany is Vagliagli, about 10 km out of Siena in the Chianti region.

  58. My wife and I now confine our travels to “third-rate” cities. Our trip in 2019 included Athens plus Nafplio, Budapest + Pecs, Zagreb + Beograd, Timosoara and Oradea. The “3rd rate” cities are inexpensive, leisurely, and undiscovered.

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