Guest blogger Katherine Sazdanoff is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Last month she returned from a year-long Round the World Trip, and is now settling back into her home in Boston. To chronicle her wanderlust adventures, visit her website at www.katherinesazdanoff.com.
Europe is a continent full of history, art, and culture. While famous urban centers such as Rome, London, and Paris definitely deserve tourist visits, other lesser known cities do as well. The following five most underrated cities top the list:
Finland's soulful capital, Helsinki, is easy to love. Helsinki's bustling streets are lined with pleasant shops and cafes, and on sunny days urban parks fill up with picnicking families and friends. Foodies will adore the city's waterfront Kauppatori, or Market Square, where local fishermen and small pop-up food stands sell freshly caught salmon and other Nordic seafood delights. There is more to Helsinki than pretty shops and tasty seafood though. The city's art and design scene is world famous, and there are several savvy museums that should not be missed (including Helsinki's Design Museum).
Tip: Consider a stay at GLO Hotel Art, an early-twentieth century Art Nouveau castle that has been transformed into a trendy hotel. It is centrally located in Helsinki's Design District and within easy walking distance to the city's museums, shops, and restaurants.
Old Town Tallinn is one of Europe's most well-preserved cities, and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1997. The city is a medieval feast for the eyes. Each swirling, cobbled street leads to a new surprise, such as the heavy stone walls that surround parts of the city or intricately designed medieval churches. Then, there are the grand town squares, the colorful buildings and ancient fortresses. Don't miss Raekoja Plats (Raekoja Square), the centrally located, bustling heart of Old Town.
Tip: Old Town is easy to navigate on foot, so make sure to pack a comfy pair of shoes. Most hotels have disposable maps as well.
Leave your preconceptions on the plane, and jump on the I HEART SARAJEVO, BOSNIA train. Visitors are bound to be wowed mere minutes after arriving in the city. Overflowing with history, lovely architecture, and beautiful people, Sarajevo exudes charm and character. Do the markings of the Bosnian War still exist? Yes, most definitely. But along with the pock-marked buildings, live a people focused on healing and peace. They're eager to share their stories and experiences and learn about the United States, all over a cup of the omnipresent Bosnian coffee. On that note, don't miss Sarajevo's unique Zlatna Ribica cafe—the cafe's eclectic decor and flavorful coffee is beloved by locals and tourists alike.
Tip: Schedule a free (plus tip) guided walking tour with Sarajevo Walking Tours. Neno, the tour guide, is a beacon of local knowledge, and expertly introduces visitors to the city's historical sites and museums.
Visitors to Italy tend to make a beeline to Rome, Florence, and Venice, missing out on noteworthy cities along the way. Case in point, Bologna, one of Italy's most overlooked impressive historical and cultural centers. Go for the dynamic music scene, the tasty local restaurants, and of course, the historical sites. In fact, the sheer number of Bologna's medieval historical sites is mind-boggling. The most recognizable are the sky-high Due Torri, or Two Towers, which loom above the city. Bologna is also famous for its many porticoes, or covered walkways supported by columns. Not only are the porticoes aesthetically striking, but they're also perfect for outdoor exploring on rainy days!
Tip: As aforementioned, Bologna hosts a dynamic, thriving music scene. Inquire at the hotel, or ask a local for the most current spots to take in the action.
While Copenhagen does receive a fair share of tourists, it's still rather under the radar. Confusingly so, since Copenhagen is hands-down one of Europe's most grand, majestic, and just plain cool cities. The history, art, and design museums are phenomenal. Some museums, such as Denmark's National Gallery of Art, are even free! History and culture buffs shouldn't miss Rosenborg Castle or Amalienborg Palace, and the historical Marble Church is a must visit. Copenhagen's restaurant scene is renowned as well with fresh, locally sourced ingredients being the norm. Be adventurous and try a local favorite such as pickled herring. It's surprisingly tasty.
Tip: For a unique guided tour, jump on a canal boat tour of the city. Boats depart from colorful Nyhavn neighborhood.
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(Photo: Katherine Sazdanoff)