Europe has long been at the epicenter of world travel. Many of today’s countries have ties back to Europe through the imperialistic conquests of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. It is no wonder that so many from around the world flock to the continent that once literally ruled the majority of the world. The continent is littered with cities steeped in history, culture, and stunning geography, and while some are known around the world as centers for business and tourism, others are lesser known and often overlooked, which is a big mistake. You don’t want to miss these captivating cities, so make time for these lesser-known capitals during your next European getaway. For ease of reading, we grouped the capitals by region.
Northern Europe may be less populated than the more familiar areas of western and central Europe, but the Scandinavian and Baltic countries should not be overlooked. While Stockholm, Copenhagen, and St. Petersburg (former Russian capital) are likely familiar to you, the capital cities that round out the rest of the region deserve their moment in the sun, as well — and as far north as they are, they can use all the time in the sun they can get.
Norway is the land of the Vikings, and Oslo has not forgotten its history, blending old and new seamlessly as it continues to be one of the fastest-growing European cities today. With high temperatures in the mid-70s Fahrenheit, Oslo lets you escape the summer heat and take part in the city’s rich history and vibrant art scene. Make sure to check out these eight amazing things to do the next time you are in Oslo, Norway.
Less than 200 miles across the Gulf of Finland from St. Petersburg, Helsinki is a thriving metropolis spread across roughly 300 islands scattered along the gulf coast. Most of the city center, though, sits on the mainland. Stroll the beautiful streets and explore the centuries of history while enjoying all of the luxuries of a modern city. If you’re looking for specifics, here are six ways to spend a day in Helsinki, Finland.
Separated from Helsinki by only 50 miles, Tallinn is the capital of the northernmost of the Baltic states: Estonia. While you are likely at least vaguely aware of Oslo and Helsinki, there’s a good chance that Tallinn has slipped further under your radar, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing the lively atmosphere and many surprises that await you. Here’s more on how to spend a day in thrilling Tallinn, Estonia.
With architecture that rivals that of Paris, Riga is a must visit for those that long for a stroll down a Parisian street without the Parisian price tag. This walkable city hosts a vibrant market and troves of natural beauty. Here are eight reasons to add rousing Riga, Latvia, to your travel wishlist.
One of the few non-port capitals of northern Europe, Vilnius rests nearer Lithuania’s border with Belarus rather than along its Baltic coastline. Take in the artsy ambiance that permeates the city’s churches and museums as you savor your time in this historic city. Here are our tips for spending a day in invigorating Vilnius, Lithuania.
Bonus: Nuuk, Greenland
Sitting on the western coast of Greenland, Nuuk is far closer to Canada than mainland Europe, however, as part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the country remains politically and culturally European. Nearly one-third of the country’s population resides in the capital city of Nuuk. Read all about Nuuk and the multitude of other beautiful places found in Greenland here.
Western And Central Europe
The bustling Underground of London; the culture and cuisine of Paris; the stunning architecture of Prague. When most people think of Europe, those are some of the images that come to mind. While it could be considered a crime to skip these popular cities, make sure to venture out to these other great but lesser-known cities. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on some amazing opportunities.
While London holds the distinct honor of being the capital of the entire United Kingdom, the Scottish capital of Edinburgh is no less worthy of your time during your visit to the UK. An ancient capital from which kings and queens ruled the highlands for centuries, Edinburgh Castle will not disappoint. After your visit, enjoy these 11 amazing hidden gems in exciting Edinburgh, Scotland.
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
One of Europe’s smallest countries, Luxembourg can be easily overlooked for its more well-known neighbors of France, Belgium, and Germany. The small capital city of Luxembourg City is approximately a 230-mile drive from Paris and about 130 miles from both Brussels and Cologne. Make time for this cultural crossroads during your next visit to western Europe and explore the captivating Casemates du Bock of Luxembourg City while in town.
While Switzerland is a household name, it’s a shame most have not had the pleasure of learning about its capital city of Bern. The name comes from the German word for “bear,” and you can even enjoy a stroll by the river while viewing the titular bears that roam around an enclosed bear garden. Enjoy the bears along with all of our other suggestions for spending a day in beautiful Bern.
The charming city of Bratislava is up against some hefty competition in the area, so it is no wonder it may get overlooked. Prague, Vienna, and Budapest siphon tourists away so easily. This actually works in your favor if you plan to visit, as you can enjoy all of the history and charm of central Europe in Slovakia without the crowds of tourists you would encounter elsewhere. Sound amazing? Enjoy our suggestions for the best things to see and do while enjoying enchanting Bratislava.
When you’ve had your fill of Slovakia, head north to Poland and the historic city of Warsaw. Warsaw is more populated and popular than other cities on our list, but it still doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. With troves of markets and castles to take in, read our guide on how to spend a day in winsome Warsaw so you don’t miss out on a thing.
Southern And Eastern Europe
As the crossroads between Europe, Asia, and Africa, the countries of the Balkans and the Mediterranean coast have long been a center for trade, and therefore the movement of goods and ideas around the world. Rome and Athens are well-known trade centers of historical significance, but have you heard of these lesser-known capitals? We hope you will consider branching out and adding them to your travel bucket list.
San Marino is one of many microstates in Europe, completely surrounded by its only neighbor, Italy. The nation itself shares its name with its capital — and largest — city, and though possessing no coastline, it has a panoramic view of the not-so-distant Adriatic Sea from atop Mount Titano. Here’s how to spend a wonderful weekend in beautiful San Marino.
Like many European cities, Ljubljana is protected by an imposing castle ready for you to explore as you delve into the area’s history. The capital city of Slovenia is not just breathtakingly beautiful, it is also one of Europe’s most environmentally conscious cities. If watching your carbon footprint while traveling appeals to you, make sure to read about the must-see green attractions that made one of our writers fall in love with Ljubljana.
Sofia sits in an area that has changed hands many times over the centuries. Each ruler left a little culture behind. This walkable city filled with Roman ruins and marks of Ottoman influence is less crowded than other regional cities. Take your time to explore all of the incredible things there are to see and do in lovely Sofia, Bulgaria.
The Mediterranean oasis of Malta lies off the southern coast of Sicily, east of Tunisia, and north of Libya. Valletta is the social center of the three island chain of Malta, and with beautiful churches and World War II sites to explore, you can keep yourself occupied for days discovering new sites. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Valletta and the rest of magnificent Malta.
With a name that sounds more like a fictional kingdom from a Hallmark Christmas Movie, Nicosia is actually the capital of the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Cyprus is politically and socially more aligned with the Middle East than Europe, and it has a long history of changing hands, as well. Cyprus should absolutely be on your bucket list — and when you’re there, be sure to explore the walled city of Nicosia.
And, of course, make sure to take a look at all of our other great Europe content as you plan your next trip.