With 195 countries in the world, there are bound to be a few hidden gems that you have never really considered going to or even heard of!
This happened to me while I was in Europe. The fact that I was on a tour where my whole itinerary was planned out in advance forced me to visit places that I hadn’t heard too much about previously. I remember looking through my itinerary and was super keen to see the usual touristy spots such as Paris, Rome, Mykonos, Santorini, Amsterdam, Dubrovnik etc. but I didn’t really look much further into some of the lesser-known places. Maybe I’m just extremely uneducated when it comes to geography- I mean I never really paid much attention to it in high school– or it could be that I’ve always been drawn to the more “Instagram-worthy” locations but there turned out to be five places in particular that I didn’t know too much about prior to visiting and really enjoyed.
In the end, I was SO happy that I got to see these places and would even consider re-visiting. The experience I had in each one was extremely positive and will encourage me to visit other, less touristy places in the future.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo was one of those places I had never heard of before. I didn’t really know what to expect before visiting, having done zero research and was blown away when I heard all about the Bosnian War that took place between 1992 and 1995. The horrific events that occurred during the war, only 23 years ago made me feel numb and completely heart broken. I visited the Galerija 11/07/95 exhibition, located in the centre of Sarajevo to learn more about the tragic events that led to the death of over 8000 people. We also drove to the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial and heard from Hasan who had survived the massacre and had lost his twin brother and father. To hear about the war from a first-hand witness was so emotional and is something I’ll never forget. I would 100 percent recommend going to Sarajevo, even if you’re not interested in the war. Wandering through the Baščaršija (the historical and cultural center of the city), was such a pleasant experience and it’s super cheap there too!
If you’ve ever seen the Hostel movies, Slovakia is probably at the bottom of your list of places to stop by. However, I can assure you that the real Slovakia is nothing like it appears to be. There are so many cool things to see in Bratislava like the main castle, St. Martin’s Cathedral, the Old Town Hall, Michael’s Gate and Primate’s Palace. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Bratislava for long so I didn’t get to see all of these things but I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again in the future to tick them off. Slovakia is also pretty famous for its thermal baths and hot springs, which in my opinion is a good enough reason to go there in the first place.
Albania is another country that has been widely misrepresented in Hollywood- think the first Taken movie and the whole Albanian sex trafficking storyline– so as you can imagine, I was pretty surprised when I saw how gorgeous it was. Tirana is the capital of Albania and is filled with pastel coloured buildings, fascinating museums and lovely, green parks. In my opinion, one of the coolest things to see in Albania is the concrete bunkers that were built under the communist government from 1967-1986. Over 750,000 bunkers were built with an average of 5.7 per square kilometre. Their reason for being built was so that if the country ever came under attack, the population could retreat to the nearest reinforcing bunker with weapons to defend themselves. The bunkers were never actually used for their intended purpose and many of them are now abandoned. I really wish I had been able to explore more of Tirana, as I would have loved to have seen the historical sites up-close and experience more Albanian culture. I would definitely recommend stopping over in Tirana for a short period while travelling throughout Europe.
Donostia/San Sebastian, Spain
When I previously thought of going to Spain, Barcelona and Madrid where really the only two cities that came to mind. Located on the coastline of Spain’s Basque Country is San Sebastian, an absolutely gorgeous spot and a place I preferred over Barcelona. The city and beaches were clean and beautiful, the architecture was amazing and the food was delicious. My favourite part of San Sebastian was the pintxos bars where you could walk in and choose from an array of bite-sized food spread across the counter. I piled my plate up super high and went to town trying all the different types of pintxos or ‘toothpick food’ including mini slices of pizza, bruschetta, bread, prosciutto and even cheesecake! It’s kind of like an all-you-can eat buffet where you pay after you’ve eaten. If you’re wanting to pass through the Basque region of Spain, then San Sebastian should definitely be on your radar.
I have always wanted to visit Greece but had never heard of Meteora before. I saw that we would be going to the Cliffside Monasteries of Meteora on my itinerary and was not that excited about it, mainly because I had never heard of them before. A quick Google search showed me that they looked pretty cool but because I’m not particularly religious, I wasn’t immediately interested. My mind was completely changed as soon as I stepped off the bus and could see how serene the monasteries looked suspended 400 meters above the ground on elevated, sandstone rock pillars. It quickly became my favourite spot and I was in awe at how beautiful Meteora was, I had never seen anything like it! The monasteries also have a pretty interesting history, dating all the way back to the 14th century when Christian monks first arrived and built an entire community on top of these giant cliffs. There were originally twenty-four active monasteries but now there are only six that tourists can visit. The most popular ones are the Great Meteora and Varlaam, which can draw up to 4,000 visitors a day. Entry into the monasteries is around €3-4 and it is asked that you dress conservatively out of respect. Women are not allowed to wear pants, shorts or sleeveless tops and sometimes men are asked to wear pants over their shorts. They do provide sarongs and loose pants if you aren’t wearing the right attire. There are ALOT of stairs so make sure to bring plenty of water if it’s a hot day.
So where are some of the places that you thought you would never end up visiting because they weren’t really on your radar beforehand? Let me know in the comments below!