By Luke Quezada
Thousands of years of culture and history make western-Europe one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. However, as tour groups and Instagrammers do their best to take a slice of Europe for themselves, it can be hard to find a sense of authenticity. See the sights and get swept up in the magic, but make sure not to miss out on these lesser-known gems.
Europe: Off the Beaten Path But Not That Far Off
Just far enough from the main islands of Venice, Murano boasts a more authentic version of the Italian experience. Gone are the selfie-stick clad tourists, replaced by residents who have lived on the Island for generations. Anyone who says that Venice is purely a tourists trap hasn’t ventured far enough from the comfort of the city center.
- Where to Eat: Ristorante Pizzería Marlin
Hidden in the rows of glass shops and souvenirs, Marlin has one of the best bucatini all’amatriciana around. Sure, if you looked hard enough you could probably find a better place to eat in the Venice area, but you really can’t find a better place with a better view to waste an afternoon enjoying a glass of Prosecco.
- What to Do: Tour the Glass Blowing Factory
It would be hard to miss the glass blowing factory in Murano, especially because of the swarm of promoters that swarm the docks of the water taxis each time they dock. However, unlike most similar tourist traps, this authentic factory is completely free and showcases glass blowing demonstrations every few minutes. Drop in to get a feel for the history of the island dedicated to glassblowing and pick up a handmade souvenir.
- What to See: Walk along the Canals
The canals of Venice are hands down the most recognizable attraction of the islands. Take a walk around Murano for an experience that’s less watered down by the tourism of the surrounding islands. Watch young Italian children dive off of the large bridges between the islands and take in the architecture of a truly unique island.
Likely the most popular and culturally significant cities in Italy, Rome has a wide collection of art, food, and crowds. Visit the Trevi Fountain, get in the Spanish Steps and the Parthenon, but don’t be afraid to venture away from the beaten path and find some of Rome’s lesser-known attractions.
- Where to Eat: Roscioli
This patisserie has been around for a while and has the clientele to prove it. Once you push your way through the crowds and tour groups, you’ll find some of the best pastries, alongside a wide selection of Roman-style pizza, and fresh bread.
- What to Do: Roman Guy’s Privileged Vatican Tour
It would be a crime to go to Rome and miss out on the Vatican. Religious significance aside, the art that Vatican City boasts — from the Sistine Chapel to the Raphael rooms — is more impressive than any single museum.
- What to See: Palatine Hill Ruins
Easily one of the most impressive attractions in Rome, the Palatine Hill ruins showcase an impressive display of ancient architecture. A ticket provides access to both the ruins and the Colosseum. While the ruins don’t quite have the popularity of the Colosseum, the lack of tour groups and photo ops is a refreshing break from the manic rush that surrounds most of the city.
Amsterdam’s reputation as a party destination is rivaled by few other cities. While the nightlife of the city is undeniable, the history of the city and the warmth of its residents make it much more than meets the eye.
- Where to Eat: The Seafood Shop
If you really want to get an authentic Netherlands experience, skip the countless waffle places and opt for a fresh herring sandwich. With a soft bun, sweet relish, and fish so buttery it could contain dairy you’ll feel like your entire life was leading up to this city.
- What to Do: Visit Micropia
You could get high at a coffee shop and stare into a canal in awe, but why would you do that when you could visit a zoo for microbes. Complete with a “Tour de Poo” and hourly talks on fecal transplants, Micropia does not disappoint.
- What to See: Red Light District
One of the most recognizable parts of Amsterdam is its Red Light District. Imagine puppies scratching at a pet store window. Except those puppies are women. In lingerie. Dancing. Maybe not everyone’s scene but a sight worth seeing nonetheless.
The center of the Renaissance, Florence is a city with a vibrant culture and more selfie sticks than most countries. It’s not hard to look past the tourists once you’ve immersed yourself in the culture of the city. Whether you’re enjoying a glass of table wine at a cafe, or taking in art most people only read about, it’s not hard to enjoy this city.
- Where to Eat: Vivoli
Likely the best gelato in Italy. Probably the best gelato in the world. Definitely, the best gelato you’ve ever had. Try as many flavors as you can the first time you go in so that by your second visit you’re prepared. I’d say you could enjoy a scoop of crema while taking in the Doma but if we’re being honest it won’t last the walk.
- What to Do: Visit the Accademia Gallery
Home of Michelangelo’s David, the Galleria dell’Accademia boasts a wide collection of statues, paintings, and instruments. Dozens of busts line a long hall of partial figures. I firmly believe that there is no restroom in all of Italy with more men fixing their hair than the one directly below David.
- What to See: See the Duomo
While the line for what seems like another big church seems daunting, the Duomo of Florence is an attraction that’s well worth the wait. Light a candle and say a prayer if that’s your thing. Otherwise, take in the beauty of some of the most impressive frescos in the world.
Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Italy
Nestled in the Tuscan countryside, this small town in the Chianti region is not a popular destination. You’ve probably heard of the wines of Chianti. You probably know that there are no places to stay in Tuscany (Seinfeld Fans). What you haven’t heard of yet is the cobblestone streets of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa.
- Where to Eat: Street Fair
During the summer, vendors line the streets every week and residents of this small town flood the city center. Get handmade pizza in the market square with a glass of the local wine and dine like a local. Head up a little further and watch a group of school children dance in the marketplace for dinner and a show.
- What to Do: Visit the Medieval Town
Just a few kilometers away, this old town could easily pass for a large museum if not for the residents in each building. Get a sense for the side of Italy that isn’t in the guidebooks. Learn about life in the countryside. And, of course, enjoy a glass of Chianti.
- What to See: Watch the Sunset Over the Vineyards
After an afternoon in the medieval town, walk back alongside the vineyards and olive trees. Take some time, sober up after your fourth or fifth glass, and watch the sun set below the rolling hills. Breath in the soil of one of the world’s premier wine regions. Do something poetic. Channel your inner Hemingway.
This tiny Belgian town is an escape from the tourism and noise of most other large destinations in Benelux. Cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, boats. Think “Belgium” and Bruges has it. Come for the windmills and cheap hotels, stay for the friendly people, canals, and frites.
- Where to Eat: Frites and Analouse
A staple of the area, fries (or frites, as they are referred to if you don’t want to sound like an American) can be found at any restaurant, stand, or cafe in Bruges. Opt for andalouse on top and enjoy with a scenic view in the town square.
- What to Do: Visit the Frites Museum
If you’re like me you probably don’t think there’s enough information about potatoes to fill a museum. Luckily the wonderful people of Bruges have done it anyway. Filled with potato related propaganda, this one-stop bombardment of starch leads you from the discovery of the potato all the way to the modern, potato-filled world we now know.
- What to See: Walk the town
With the main town that’s even smaller than you might think, the best way to see Bruges is to walk through all of it. Walk along the canals. See the windmills everyone seems to be incredibly fond of. Climb the eighty-three-meter belltower in the town square. Buy some damn good Belgian chocolate and maybe a waffle and take in the medieval buildings.