Whether it’s a quick city break, an adventurous mountainside trip or a chilled-out beach holiday, Europe attracts millions of tourists every year. While some are drawn to famous European hotspots, others seek a more unique travel experience in lesser-known destinations. But which hidden gems are the best in the continent? 

To help you decide where to jet off to next, we have discovered Europe’s best-kept travel secrets. By analysing data such as the number of landmarks and points of interest, the number of things to do, the number of restaurants and the average summer temperature, we’ve revealed some of the best lesser-known locations in Europe.

The top 10 best-hidden gems in Europe

1. Valletta, Malta

Valletta, Malta’s ancient capital, is crowned the best hidden gem destination in Europe. Despite its small size of only 55 square kilometres, the capital is brimming with rich culture and history. In fact, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it one of the most historically significant places on the globe.

What sets Valletta apart in our ranking is its abundance of landmarks and points of interest. There are around 82 landmarks overall, (that’s 14 per 1,000 people), from museums, war memorials and fascinating architecture. Among these, St John’s Co-Cathedral in the heart of the city is a standout attraction, dating back to the 16th century and remaining a very important shrine for many locals.

Valletta also has 820 things to do for tourists — a staggering number of options considering the city’s size. Whether you opt for a catamaran sailing tour, marvel at the paintings in St. Francis of Assisi, or head on a walking tour exploring every corner of the city, there’s no shortage of things to do.

And if that’s not enough to sway you, the climate might, as Valletta’s temperature rises to 25.67°C during the summer months — the highest average temperature in the study. 

2. Kotor, Montenegro 

Next on our list is Kotor in Montenegro. Located on the scenic Adriatic coastline, just across from eastern Italy. Despite its charm, the city remains relatively undiscovered by many tourists.

Our research found that Kotor has an impressive 1,790 things for tourists to do in total. Whether you explore the cobblestone streets, check out the Bay of Kotor, or hike up the surrounding peaks, this city has something for everyone.

There are also 31 landmarks and points of interest to explore here. St Tryphon’s Cathedral and Kotor’s Old City Walls are two popular landmarks in the city. For spectacular views, the Kotor Serpentine is a hairpin road leading up to incredible views, a real standout landmark in the city for visitors. 

Kotor experiences temperatures of around 19.33°C in the summer, so you’ll have comfortable weather during your visit. And if you’re keen to converse a little while you’re there, consider learning some basic phrases in Montenegrin, the most widely spoken language in the country.

3. Matera, Italy 

Third on our list of hidden gems is Matera. Whether you’re a language learner looking to brush up on your Italian, or just want to explore a lesser-known corner of the world, this city is a real standout for tourists craving a hidden gem trip.

Matera has the highest safety score in our study, at 80.4 out of 100. And, in terms of activities, while you’re there, Matera doesn’t disappoint. With a total of 513 things to do, there are plenty of exciting cultural experiences, whether it’s a traditional cooking class, heading on a hike, or even a horseback ride through Murgia Matera Park! 

If you’re into history and architecture, there are also 28 landmarks and points of interest in the city, boasting an average rating of 4.32 out of 5 — the fifth-best score of all cities in the study. 

Another bonus is that Matera offers a sunny climate, with an average temperature of 23.67°C during the summer months, ranking sixth among the warmest locations in our study. 

 The top 10 best-hidden gems for foodies in Europe

1. Valletta, Malta

Taking the crown once again is Valletta. Not only is this city the best-hidden gem of all, but proves to be the top spot for foodies visiting Europe. Valletta is home to 1,608 restaurants overall (269 per 1,000 people) — again, the highest number when considering the size of the city. 

Valletta is also ideal for foodies with a finer taste, with 30 Michelin-level restaurants available. Renowned restaurants like 59 Republic and Rubino offer exquisite Michelin-starred dining experiences, showcasing traditional Maltese cuisine at its finest. 

For those seeking vegetarian options, Valletta has 744 veggie restaurants dotted around the city. But if you prefer a more casual culinary adventure, Valletta’s streets are lined with street food vendors offering delicious local delicacies.

2. Sintra, Portugal 

Next up is Sintra, Portugal—a culinary gem famous for its fresh seafood and mouth-watering handmade desserts. With a whopping 1,928 restaurants serving up an array of classic Portuguese cuisine, this is definitely a hidden gem for food lovers out there! 

The city has 1,215 4-star and above restaurants, so you can treat yourself to a range of upscale dishes if you’re keen to indulge. If you’re looking for an eatery that’s exclusively veggie, Sintra has 333 vegetarian restaurants to choose from. 

If you decide to visit this foodie haven, why not try ordering some food in Portuguese? Lessons with a native speaker can help you learn the basics, so this city is a perfect opportunity to try out what you’ve learnt.

3. Opatija, Croatia 

Securing the third position on our list is Opatija, Croatia. This seaside city has 325 restaurants in total, offering a diverse array of traditional dining experiences for tourists to enjoy. 
With 245 4-star and above restaurants in the city, you can indulge in luxury dining options that showcase the region’s best flavours. Plus, for those seeking vegetarian food, Opatija offers 116 veggie restaurants around the city.

The top 10 best-hidden gems in Europe with the most number of things to do 

Porto takes the crown for the hidden gem spot with the most things for tourists to do, with 2,779 overall. Some standouts include Livraria Lello, one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, the cobblestone streets of the Ribeira district along the seafront, and magnificent buildings like São Francisco Church. 

Another Portuguese city comes second, with Sintra reappearing on our list. The city has 2,672 things to do overall. The city’s bustling city centre is a hotspot for activities.Third is Tirana, Albania, with 2,018 things to do in total — whether it’s the lively Skanderbeg Square in the city centre, the Pyramid of Tirana, or chilling out in the Grand Park. While you’re out and about, you’ll hear a lot of the beautiful Albanian language, the country’s official language.

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The top 10 best-hidden gems in Europe with the highest-rated landmarks

RankCity/TownCountryAverage rating of landmarks/5
10Český KrumlovCzech Republic4.23

Lausanne, Switzerland, and Tromsø, Norway, share the top spot as hidden gem destinations with the highest-rated landmarks. Each city boasts an impressive average score of 4.5 out of 5, with a variety of historical and natural landmarks earning praise from TripAdvisor users.

Bergen, another charming city in Norway, secures the third position, with its landmarks earning an average rating of 4.36 out of 5. Among its highlights are Bergenhus Fortress and Bergen Cathedral, which are loved by tourists for their historical significance and architectural beauty.

Top tips for travellers exploring hidden gem cities 

Learn some basic phrases

One way to make your trip even better is to learn a bit of the local language before you go, especially if it’s new to you. knowing simple words like “hello,” “please,” and “thank you” can make a big difference when you’re in a new country. And don’t worry if you can’t speak fluently; locals are likely to appreciate any effort you make to communicate in their language.

Taking a few online language learning lessons is a great way to prepare for simple interactions and enhance your hidden-gem travel experience. 

Get to know the culture and history before you go

Before leaving, take some time to get familiar with the culture and history of your destination. Learning about these aspects beforehand can elevate your travel experience and help you better understand where you’re visiting. 

So, think about doing a little research, reading up on the local customs and traditions, and exploring the historical significance of the area. This preparation will not only give you more of an appreciation of the destination but also make you feel more connected to the places you explore.

Talk to the locals!

When it comes to truly immersing yourself in a city’s culture, there’s no better guide than a local resident. Locals are the people who know every nook and cranny of the city. 

Strike up a conversation with someone, and you’ll not only be able to practise your language learning, but you also might find they tell you about other hidden gem locations and experiences within the city that often escape the notice of tourists. So, remember to put yourself out there and say hello — you never know where it will lead! 

Sources and methodology 

For this study, we used an index methodology and included the following metrics:

Index 1: The best-hidden gems in Europe 

Index 2: The best-hidden gems in Europe for foodies

All data was collected on 8/4/2024.

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