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Why You Should Skip the Capital Cities

Skip these destinations for the list below. Photo by Unsplash

Are you tired of the same old tourist traps in Europe? Do you want to explore some hidden gems that are just as amazing as their more famous counterparts?


Lyon over Paris

Photo by Visit Lyon

When you think of France, you probably think of Paris. The City of Light is undoubtedly one of the world's most famous and beautiful destinations. If you want a more authentic and relaxed experience of French culture, history, and cuisine, consider Lyon instead.

Lyon is the second-largest city in France, but it has a charm and character that is unlike any other. At the confluence of two rivers, the Rhone and the Saone, Lyon offers stunning views and scenic walks along the water. The city is also rich in history, dating back to Roman times when it was the capital of Gaul. You can explore the ancient ruins, the medieval old town, and the Renaissance district, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Lyon is also a paradise for food lovers, as it is considered the gastronomic capital of France. The city is home to over 2,000 restaurants, including the legendary L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges, run by the renowned chef Paul Bocuse. You can also sample the local specialities, such as quenelles, sausages, and cheese, at the many bouchons, or traditional bistros, that dot the city.

Lyon does not lack in culture and entertainment either. The city hosts yearly festivals, such as the Fête des Lumières, a spectacular light show that illuminates the city every December. You can also enjoy the music, theatre, and cinema scenes, especially at the Institut Lumiere, a museum dedicated to the invention of the film camera by the Lumiere brothers, who were born in Lyon.

Lyon may not have the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, or the Champs-Elysees, but its charm and beauty make it a worthy destination for any traveller. 


Naples over Rome

Photo by Pixabay

Naples's charm and personality make it a unique and unforgettable destination. If you are looking for a city that will surprise, inspire, and make you feel alive, Naples is the perfect choice to experience southern Italy's authentic and vibrant spirit.

Naples has a rich and diverse history dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who left impressive ruins and monuments behind. You can visit the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, and see how the people lived and died in those times. You can also admire the majestic Castel dell'Ovo, the oldest castle in Naples, and the Royal Palace, which was the residence of the Bourbon kings.

Naples has many museums, galleries, and churches to explore. You can marvel at the masterpieces of Caravaggio, Titian, and Raphael at the Capodimonte Museum or discover the treasures of the Naples National Archaeological Museum, which houses one of the largest collections of Roman and Greek artefacts in the world. You can also visit the Duomo, the cathedral of Naples, which contains the relics of the city's patron saint, San Gennaro, whose blood is said to miraculously liquefy three times a year.


Edinburgh over London

Photo by Peter Cordes/Unspalsh

Edinburgh may not have the fame and size of London, but its charm and personality make it a unique and memorable destination. If you are looking for a city that will enchant, inspire, and make you feel welcome, Edinburgh is the perfect choice.

Explore the medieval Old Town, where you can walk along the Royal Mile, the main street that connects Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Palace, the official residences of the Scottish monarchs. You can also visit the St. Giles' Cathedral, the National Museum of Scotland, and the Edinburgh Dungeon, where you can learn about the dark and gruesome past of the city.

Enjoy the Georgian architecture, the fashionable shops, and the trendy New Town cafes, built in the 18th and 19th centuries. You can also admire the views of the city from Calton Hill, where you can see the monuments dedicated to the Scottish heroes and the events that shaped the nation. Visit the Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, where you can see the works of the most famous Scottish artists.

Edinburgh is a city of festivals and events where you can experience Scotland's vibrant and diverse culture. You can join the celebrations of the Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year, where you can watch the fireworks, listen to the bagpipes, and join the street party. You can also attend the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, where you can see thousands of performances of comedy, theatre, music, dance, and more. You can also enjoy the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, among many others.


Valencia over Barcelona

Photo by Pixabay

Well, Barcelona is not the capital of Spain, but it is certainly the capital of Catalonia. Any how: If you want a sunny and lively destination in Spain, you may choose Barcelona, the famous Catalan capital. But another city offers a similar, if not better, experience: Valencia, the third-largest city in Spain and the home of paella.

Valencia is a city that has it all: a rich history, a vibrant culture, stunning architecture, and delicious cuisine. Unlike Barcelona, which is often crowded and expensive, Valencia is more relaxed and affordable without compromising quality or variety.

One of the main attractions of Valencia is its location on the Mediterranean coast, which gives it a pleasant climate all year round and access to some of the best beaches in Spain. You can enjoy the sun and the sea at Malvarrosa Beach, Cabanyal Beach, or El Saler Beach, among others. 

Valencia is also a city of contrasts, where the old and the new coexist harmoniously. You can explore the historic centre, where you can admire the Gothic Cathedral, the Silk Exchange, and the Central Market, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In the other end is the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, a complex of museums, theatres, and aquariums showcasing the latest science and technology.

But what makes Valencia genuinely unique is its gastronomy, which is based on fresh and local ingredients, such as rice, seafood, vegetables, and fruits. Valencia is the birthplace of paella, the most famous Spanish dish, which comes in many varieties, such as Valencian paella, seafood paella, or vegetable paella. You can also try other specialities, such as fideuà, a noodle dish similar to paella, or horchata, a refreshing drink from tiger nuts.


Rotterdam over Amsterdam

Photo by Dennis Moller/Unsplash

Skip the crowded and overpriced Amsterdam and head to Rotterdam instead. Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands, full of innovation and diversity, where you can experience cutting-edge architecture, multicultural cuisine, and the vibrant nightlife of this modern metropolis.

Rotterdam was almost completely destroyed during World War II, but it rose from the ashes and reinvented itself as a showcase of contemporary design and urban development. Admire the stunning skyline of Rotterdam, which features some of Europe's most unique and futuristic buildings, such as the Erasmus Bridge, the Cube Houses, and the Markthal. You can also visit the Rotterdam Central Station, a striking example of sustainable and functional architecture.

The city celebrates its diversity and openness, as it is home to people from over 180 different nationalities. You can explore the different neighbourhoods of Rotterdam, each with its own identity and culture, such as the trendy Witte de Withstraat, the historic Delfshaven, and the colourful Chinatown. 

Rotterdam has a lively and diverse nightlife scene ranging from classical concerts at the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra to underground techno parties at the Maassilo to comedy shows at the Theater Zuidplein. You can also join the locals at the many bars, pubs, and clubs that dot the city, such as the Biergarten, the Sijf, and the Annabel.


Leipzig over Berlin

Photo by Pixabay

Leipzig, located about 190 kilometres south of Berlin, is easy to reach by train from Berlin. It is the largest city in Saxony and a former trade and music hub. Home to many famous composers, such as Bach, Mendelssohn, and Wagner, you can visit their houses and museums and listen to their music in the churches and concert halls. 

Leipzig still has a thriving contemporary art scene, with galleries, festivals, and street art. Explore the Spinnerei, a former cotton mill transformed into a creative space for artists and studios.

From the medieval architecture of the Old Town to the monuments and museums of the Napoleonic Wars and the Peaceful Revolution, Leipzig is a historic city with a rich and diverse heritage. Visit the Battle of the Nations Monument, the largest monument in Europe, which commemorates the defeat of Napoleon in 1813.

Surrounded by lakes, rivers, parks, and forests, Leipzig is a green city where you can enjoy nature and outdoor activities. Leipzig Zoo, one of the world's oldest, features a tropical hall, a savanna, and a rainforest.


Cesky Krumlov over Prague

Photo by Vlad Kisselov/Unsplash

Cesky Krumlov is a fairy-tale town in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and for a good reason. The city has preserved its medieval and Renaissance character, with cobblestone streets, colourful houses, and a majestic castle overlooking the Vltava River. 

The castle is the second largest in the country, and it features a stunning Baroque theatre, a rococo garden, and a bear moat. Yes, you read that right: bears live in the castle's moat, a tradition that dates back to the 16th century.

Cesky Krumlov is also an excellent base for exploring the surrounding nature and culture. You can take a day trip to the nearby towns of Rozmberk, Zlata Coruna, or Holašovice, which are rich in history and architecture. You can also enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, biking, rafting, or skiing in the nearby mountains and forests.


Thessaloniki over Athens

Photo by Jim Makos/Unsplash

A lively, cosmopolitan, and cultural destination in Greece, Thessaloniki may not be as famous as Athens. Still, it has many advantages and attractions, making it an excellent choice for travellers.

The city has a long and rich history, dating back to the 4th century BC. Explore its diverse heritage and architecture from the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Jewish influences. Visit the UNESCO-listed monuments, such as the White Tower, the Rotunda, the Hagia Sophia, the Archaeological Museum, and the Museum of Byzantine Culture.

Thessaloniki has a large student population and dynamic nightlife. Enjoy the many bars, cafes, and restaurants that line the waterfront and the Aristotelous Square, or join the locals in the lively Ladadika and Valaoritou districts. 

It is a gateway to some of Greece's most beautiful natural landscapes. You can easily take day trips to the stunning beaches and resorts of the Halkidiki peninsula, the scenic Mount Olympus, and the fascinating Meteora monasteries. 

Thessaloniki is not just a good alternative to Athens but a destination that deserves to be on your travel radar.


Aarhus over Copenhagen

Photo by Stephan Mahlke/Unsplash

Aarhus is located on the east coast of Jutland, the mainland of Denmark. Aarhus is an as good or even better destination than Copenhagen: 

The city is a gastronomic paradise where you can taste the local delicacies, such as smørrebrød, frikadeller, or flæskesteg, at the Aarhus Central Food Market. This cosy and colourful indoor market offers a variety of food stalls and cafes. You can also indulge in fine dining options, such as Restaurant Frederikshøj, a Michelin-starred restaurant that serves creative and seasonal dishes. 

One of the largest and most impressive museums in Scandinavia is the ARoS Art Museum. The museum building is a piece of art with its iconic rainbow panorama on the rooftop. You can also explore the Old Town, an open-air museum that showcases the history and architecture of Denmark from the 16th to the 20th century. 

Aarhus is surrounded by stunning nature. Stroll along the harbour too see the Iceberg, a striking residential complex resembling icebergs floating on the water. You can also visit the Marselisborg Forest, a beautiful park with hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. Or you can hop on a ferry and explore the nearby islands, such as Samsø, Mols, or Anholt.

Aarhus has direct flights from London and Milan, and frequent trains and buses from Copenhagen. It is also an accessible city with a compact, walkable city centre and a reliable and affordable public transport system. 




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