A summertime sojourn in the Old Continent has long captured the imagination of Americans. While most people dream of luxurious stays in Europe’s most glamorous cities like Paris or Milan, however, there is a whole world of lesser-known destinations, many of which are located far from the beaten track and take a bit of work to reach, which will capture the imagination of any traveler looking for an authentic experience. Read on for a list of the seven best European holiday destinations that offer a break from the norm.

1. French Pyrenees, France

Rising high along the border between France and Spain, the Pyrenees mountain range in the summertime is to die for. Epic landscapes of verdant green meadows surrounding towering snow-capped peaks offer some of the most accessible hiking routes in the whole of Europe. The best way to get the most of the gorgeous region is to rent a log cabin in the woods or come with your campervan or camping equipment. Wherever you go, you will not find yourself far from a multitude of opportunities for adventure sports, such as rafting, kayaking and rock climbing.

2. Andalusia, Spain

Andalusia is one of the most culturally-interesting regions on the Iberian Peninsula. Once the heartland of Moorish Spain, the evidence of Islamic art, culture and architecture is still apparent in the cities of stunning cities of Cordoba, Seville and Granada. Many of the regions best-known religious monuments, such as the Alhambra in Granada or the Mezquita Cathedral in Cordoba, started their lives as mosques before being converted into Catholic churches. The sun never ceases to shine as you wander around the cobbled streets, sticking to the cool of shadows and looking for a traditional café in which to enjoy the reasonably-priced local delicacies of fino wine and delicious salmorejo soup.   

3. Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Scotland is easily one of the most overlooked destinations in Europe. However, if you fancy a really unique cultural experience, take a trip to the interconnected chain of islands that skirt the northern coast of the United Kingdom. The peace and serenity of the isolated environment force you to unwind and let go of the trappings of modern life. After a long day’s walking along the rugged coast and descending to virgin beaches with their characteristic turquoise seas, take refuge at a traditional Scottish pub to enjoy the famous Hebridean hospitality. 

4. Transylvania, Romania

Probably the only thing you know about Transylvania is that it provided the scene for one of the most ghoulish monsters of the Romantic literary era. However, there is much more to the region in central Romania than just Dracula. Littered with deep forests, green hills and crystalline lakes, Transylvania plays host to countless cathedrals, castles and fortresses that offer a window into the country’s rich cultural history. Rent a vehicle and visit the quaint rustic villages that look as if they were straight from a movie set.

5. Albania

Albania is statistically one of the least visited countries in the whole of Europe. It is yet to be discovered by most tourists as a result of the decades it spent under brutal dictatorial rule which rendered it inaccessible to foreigners. Nowadays, though, it might be considered Europe’s best-kept secret. Albania has some of the continent’s best beaches and most unexplored mountain ranges. Visit now before people find out about the wonders of this small yet amazingly hospitable country.

6. Istanbul, Turkey

Culturally speaking, Istanbul is one of the most fascinating cities in the whole world. The city straddles the Bosporus River, which divides the continental masses of Europe and Asia, and life in the city reflects its location as the gateway between cultures. On both sides of the city, stunning architectural marvels abound, and you can’t fail to be amazed by the delicious local cuisine. 

7. Tallinn, Estonia

Named as the Lonely Planet’s Best Value Destination of 2018, Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, is the perfect city break for people who want to experience the Baltic culture. The city’s cobbled streets and impressive Estonian architecture make for a beautiful backdrop to a romantic city-break with your better half or a raucous trip around the city’s fantastically cheap bars. Before you start planning your trip to Estonia, however, make sure that you have arranged your visa through the new ETIAS visa waiver scheme.

Once you have made the effort, the locations listed above will give your vacation an unforgettable uniqueness that will have your friends at home in fits of envy. You will save a lot of time is you check out an informative ETIAS guide to assist you in speeding up the application process.