Studying abroad is an amazing privilege where students have the opportunity to live in and experience a new country for a semester or year. You can come back with a changed perspective on life, a superior insistence that everyone correctly pronounces Barthehlona and a now-defunct blog with three posts. For the majority of college students, this means heading to a large city in Europe—London and Florence, for example, all being major hubs.
In addition to occasionally attending class, studying abroad also means the possibility of outside travel. While the most popular cities are well visited for good reason, I’m here to encourage you to venture outside of Paris or Venice to find some hidden European gems. These less popular cities and towns have fewer crowds, are typically easier on the wallet and suffer less from the negative impacts of mass tourism.
(Disclaimer: This is by no means a comprehensive list. Europe is brimming with plenty of wonderful cities, but I have a word limit and am a lowly college student, not a professional travel writer.)
1. Bologna, Italy
Affectionately nicknamed the fat one, the educated one and the red one, Bologna is a city that boasts incredible food, history and beauty. The Emilia Romagna region is home to many favorite Italian foods, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, prosciutto and Bolognese ragu, making this the perfect foodie destination.
Bologna not only has the first Western university in the world, full of museums you can still explore today, but is a present-day university town, which meaning means great nightlife and a vibrant energy. The city’s charming streets are full of the characteristic red-bricked buildings, which are stunning when viewed from the Tower of Asinelli.
Must do: Walk under the world’s longest portico, Portico of San Luca, which leads you from Piazza Maggiore to the Sanctuary of San Luca, an ornate basilica with a jaw-dropping view of the whole city.
Where to eat: Trattoria di Via Serra serves up authentic, mouthwatering Bolognese fare such as tagliatelle pasta with ragu and tortellini with sage and butter in a cozy setting.
2. Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye, a large island in northern Scotland, is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country. Plunging cliffs, mystical pools of water and dramatic rock foundations are merely a hike away.
While Skye is a great fit for the nature lover, many of the top attractions are also accessible to beginner trekkers. Renting a car is a great way to fully enjoy all of the gorgeous scenery Skye has to offer. The island is also home to the imposing Dunvegan Castle, as well as numerous quaint villages which that beg to be explored.
Must do: Venture into the Trotternish Peninsula where you can hike to the stunning Old Man of Storr and otherworldly Quirang.
Where to eat: At the Old School Restaurant, try some of the local game and meat that the region is famous for, like such as Scottish beef, slow cooked ox cheek, or battered haddock. The Scottish specialty, haggis, comes highly recommended for those who are adventurous eaters.
3. Ljubljana, Slovenia
While Slovenia isn’t usually on the top of most Euro travel lists, charming Ljubljana may change that. Ljubljana, known for its old Europe feel, is small enough to be easily walkable, but still densely packed with a wealth of culture and sights.
The cobblestone streets are a fairytale mix of Baroque architecture and painted houses, all overlooked by the Ljubljana Castle. The old town is full of attractions such as Preseren Square, a bustling landmark, and both the Butcher’s Bridge and the Dragon Bridge.
Must do: Take the funicular up to Ljubljana Castle and spend a few hours wandering through the grounds.
Where to eat: For those who love coffee and/or sweets, you’re in luck. Ljubljana has a strong cafe culture, and many boast both coffee drinks and irresistible desserts. Try a slice of the traditional cream cake or sinful Chocolate Dream cake at Zvezda Café.
4. Aix-en-Provence, France
Aix-en-Provence, a small Provencal city, is often described with a litany of dreamy adjectives—alluring, evocative, bewitching—all of which are accurate. Often overshadowed by flashier cities, Aix-en-Provence is content to quietly luxuriate in its captivating feel.
An excellent fit for the culture lover, the narrow streets are home to a myriad of elegant fountains, impressive art, bustling markets and shopping. Visit the Musé Granet for fine art and the vibrant markets in the main town square for everything from charcuterie to antiques.
Must do: Leisurely stroll through Cours Mirabeau in the heart of the city, noted as one of the grandest and most beautiful streets in an already stunning locale.
Where to eat: Sample traditional French fare at Le Bistrot, which boasts dishes such as house-made terrine and duck confit, as well as excellent house wine.
5. Procida, Italy
Sitting only a few minutes ferry ride from jam-packed and upscale Capri, Procida is the jewel-in-the-rough getaway you’ve been waiting for. The minute fisherman’s island of only 1.6 square miles is home to great beaches, a picturesque candy-colored harbor, mouthwatering seafood and a blessed minimum of tourists.
The prime activity here is indulging in la dolce vita. Relax on Chiaiolella beach, nap during siesta and walk through the charismatically scruffy streets to the impressive viewpoint at Terra Murata. Procida is great for those who aren’t party animals or those who are wiped out after a week of 7 a.m. Barcelona bedtimes.
Must do: Take a stroll through the beautiful, pastel-hued harbor of Corricella.
Where to eat: At La Pergola try some of the screamingly fresh seafood, traditional Procidan rabbit, and the unique lemon salad (trust me, much better than it sounds) under a dreamy canopy of lemon trees.
6. Krakow, Poland
The bustling capital of Poland, lovely Krakow has a lot to offer for people who love both sightseeing and nightlife. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Krakow will have you whipping out your camera often.
The Old Town is an intriguing maze of alleys and cobblestone streets, interspersed by wide open spaces like the bustling main market square, Rynek. Visit the Jewish quarter for both history and culture. Krakow is also great for bars and clubs, many of which are in cool, literally underground settings like Łódź Kaliska. According to local legend, this city has the highest density of bars on Earth.
Must do: Try Krakow’s free walking tour for a fun and in-depth way to discover the coolest sites of the Old Town.
Where to eat: Gorge on some of the cities best pierogis, which are hearty dumplings stuffed with various fillings, for extremely low prices at the no-frills U Stasi, a local favorite.