Looking for some new and exciting holiday destinations in Europe to visit this year? Here’s 8 of our top picks, including best bits, things to do and the all important price-point, showing just how within reach these locations really are…
1. Sao Miguel, The Azores
There are no words capable of describing and classifying the charm of Sao Miguel island, in fact all of the nine islands that make up the Azores. They have been sculptured by ancient volcanoes and populated over the centuries by courageous and kind people. Thus the Azores are a place of varied experiences and emotions. Sao Miguel is the biggest island in the Portuguese Azores archipelago. It is known for its volcanic scenery, flora and rich marine life, including whales. The twin crater lakes of Sete Cidades, one green and one blue lie to the north west. To the east, Furnas has fumaroles and hot springs.
Sao Miguel is adventure paradise with activities such as hiking, cycling, horse riding, whale watching, swimming with dolphins and paddle boarding so you’ll never be short of something to do. There’s more to see there than you might expect, but Sao Miguel’s well-paved roads and relatively low numbers of visitors make it an easy place to explore. If you’re not interested in any of the activities on offer then just sit back, relax and take in the natural beauty these islands have to offer!
Top things to do on Sao Miguel island –
- Enjoy stunning views over the Sete Cidades lakes
- Bask in the hot water springs
- Visit Lake Lagoa do Fogo which is… inside a volcano!
- View the beauty of Boca do Inferno (translates to the ‘mouth of hell’)
- Go whale watching
- Visit Salto do Cabrito and Salto Do Prego waterfalls
- Hike one of the many picturesque walking trails
I know what you’re thinking – ‘it must cost a bomb to get to the Azores!?’… Well, you’d be wrong! Flights start from as little as £40 return from London, yes, £40 return! You can also fly from Manchester for just £44 return! Whales and dolphins can be seen at any time of year but summer (June to September) is the best time to visit the Azores for boat tours, when conditions are calmest and warmest. Spring holidays, however, when the Azores are less busy, coincide with the April / May and June migrations of baleen whales. The cheapest months to visit for accommodation are November to March.
If the Azores have never been on your bucket list then please add them on, you will not be disappointed!
2. Ksamil, Albania
Ksamil is one of the more famous destinations in Albania, and it has gained more and more visitors the recent years. This little turquoise pearl is located along the Albanian Riviera, and in a lot of peoples opinions, one of the best beach destinations in Europe! The clear water surrounding Ksamil makes the pristine beaches in the area that much more special. The people are kind and friendly towards tourists and are always happy to help. One of the best things is that you feel welcomed in Albania, and that is thanks to its locals. The weather is pleasant throughout the year, and there are plenty of fun things to both see and do.
Ksamil Beach is within a short drive of two different UNESCO heritage sites: Butrint and Gjirokastra and also a short bus ride away from beautiful Saranda, the gateway to Albania from Greece. With all the different cities and UNESCO sites in close driving distance, there’s so much to be seen in this beautiful part of Albania.
So if you want a luxury beach holiday at the fraction of the price you would pay for Greece, Spain or Cyprus, for example, then why not try Albania?
Top things to do in Ksamil (and surrounding areas) –
- Relax on the beach!
- Marvel at the UNESCO heritage site – Butrint
- Visit Llogara National Park
- Catch the bus to Albania’s hidden gem – Monastery beach
- Swim in the turquoise waters
- Visit the natural phenomenon – Blue Eye (Syri I Kalter)
- Step inside the Arena Di Verona (Third biggest in Italy!)
- Visit the city of Saranda
The best way to get to Ksamil is by flying into neighboring Greece, more specifically Corfu. You can pick up cheap flights from London for £26 return, Leeds £47 return and Nottingham £53 return. Once you land in Corfu you will need to get a boat from there to Saranda (Albania) which takes around 30 minutes, then its just a case of getting a short 20 minute bus ride from Saranda to Ksamil! A pretty long process but if travelling from London it will cost you around £40-50 in total for all travel – incredible value! The best time to visit Albania is between April – June, and September – October, when the weather is just right for a mountain or a beach holiday!
3. Ghent, Belgium
Ghent is a city that is said to have come out of a fairy tale. It is not the best known of the cities of Belgium and yet it is certainly one of the most beautiful cities of this small country. Its river, its history, its castle, its traditions but also its stores, its cultural events, there is a thousand things to do and to discover in Ghent. In the centre, tourists remain surprisingly thin on the ground, but Ghent’s large student and youth population means there’s always people about, enjoying the city’s fabulous canal-side architecture, abundance of quirky bars and good-value restaurants, and some of Belgium’s best museums. Its friendly, welcoming people love the good life. Don’t miss the chance to admire the world-famous masterpiece—the Mystic Lamb by the Van Eyck brothers.
No wonder the locals want to keep the city all to themselves!
Top things to do in Ghent –
- Visit STAM, Ghent City Museum
- Try some of the best beer in Europe!
- Vist St. Bavo;s Cathedral
- Sit down with a coffee (or beer) at Graslei Quay
- Take a boat tour of the city centre
- Visit one of the many castles
- Admie the architecture of Post Plaza
- Stroll across the St. Michaels bridge
The closest airport is Brussels which is located 67km south east of Ghent. Flights to Brussels from the U.K start at £25 return from Manchester and £60 return from Bristol with a journey time of around one hour and twenties minutes. Once you’re landed in Brussels hop on a direct bus from the airport straight to Ghent and you will arrive at your destination in just one hour! The best time to visit Belgium is between April – June or September – October. The spring and fall weather is absolutely stunning and will definitely leave you feeling refreshed. High season in Belgium is during the summer months between July – August
4. Brno, Czech Republic
Brno really does have everything and gets paid its biggest compliment by people comparing it to, and potentially rivaling Prague with which is the best destination to visit in the Czech Republic! Modern Brno is booming, filled with students, young people and emigrés who have returned to the city with fresh ideas and energy, notably expressed in great restaurants, bars and boutiques. Brno is well-positioned for trips to world heritage sites such as Kroměříž (a pretty town with a baroque Bishop’s Palace, where some scenes from Amadeus were filmed) and the impressive castle of Lednice-Valtice.
It also has excellent transport links to Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava so why not combine them all if you’re looking for a multi destination trip. If you don’t want the hustle and bustle of Prague but still want to experience Czech Republic then Brno is for you… The South Moravian capital perfectly combines history, modern architecture, culture and busy nightlife.
Top things to do in Brno –
- Get the best views of Brno from the top of the Old Town Hall
- Villa Tugendhat (An architectural paradise!)
- Visit the best bar in Europe (Trust me, it is!) – Super Panda Circus
- Visit Spilberk Castle
- Check out the second-largest ossuary in Europe (After the Paris Catacombs)
- Visit the cathedral of St Peter and Paul
- Relax, eat and drink at Náměstí Svobody
- Sample the amazing beer in one of the many bars and clubs in the city!
Direct flights to Brno from London start at just £23 return and takes just two hours to reach. Alternatively, try travelling to Bratislava for cheaper flights from different U.K airports then get a short, direct train with a journey time of one hour and twenty minutes to Brno. We recommend visiting in December when the Christmas spirit is in full swing. Traditionally Brno’s main Christmas tree stands in Freedom Square surrounded by traditional Christmas markets with stands selling refreshments, drinks and traditional handicraft Christmas products and gifts. With live music, an ice rink, virtual reality games and LOTS of food and drink, there will be plenty to keep you busy for the duration of your trip!
For our full travel guide to Brno at Christmas, click here.
5. Verona, Italy
Verona, in the Veneto region of north-east Italy, is one of Italy’s hidden gems, famous for its summer opera season. This has been a thriving and successful town for most of its history, and today smart shops and cafes fill the attractive medieval lanes of the historic centre. There’s a lot to see here, from Roman ruins to the so-called ‘Juliet’s balcony’, and the town is also well-connected for exploring the surrounding area, including destinations like Lake Garda, Vicenza, Padua and Venice. We done just that by combining our trip to Verona with visits to Malcesine (Lake Garda) and Venice which were both just an hours bus and train journey away.
Top things to do in Verona –
- Get the best view of Verona and the Adige river from Castel San Pietro
- See an opera at the Arena Di Verona (seasonal)
- Explore Piazza Delle Erbe
- Climb the Lamberti Tower (Amazing views of Verona)
- Visit Juliet’s house, balcony and statue
- Eat and drink at Piazza Bra
- Step inside the Arena Di Verona (Third biggest in Italy!)
- Stroll across the Ponte Prietra bridge
Verona is one of the cheapest destinations to fly to from the UK with flights starting at just £18 return from London and £36 return from Birmingham. We recommend visiting in February when Verona holds the ‘Verona In Love’ festival – The special programme of the Verona In Love festival will give everyone the chance to experience the city that has been the backdrop to one of the most poignant love stories in romantic literature, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare. During the weekend of Valentine’s Day, decorations and illuminations light up the streets of the old town and the windows of shops to accompany the loving couples through the monuments, the numerous itineraries and events: Valentine’s Day in Verona in is not only dedicated to couples, but also to those who are simply in love with love!
For a full travel guide to Verona, and how you can combine it with Lake Garda and Venice (easy as pie!), click here.
6. Utrecht, The Netherlands
This beautiful Dutch city has canals that are two stories, unlike Amsterdam, which only adds to the delightful architecture, slow pace, amazing food, and the few tourists that reside here. According to the company ‘GoEuro’ Utrecht was voted the best canal city in the whole of Europe beating the likes of Amsterdam, St Petersburg, Bruges, Hamburg and even Venice! The medieval city centre is small enough to explore on foot, but large enough to attract world-class festivals, hip shops and cafes, fascinating museums, inspiring architects and designers. It might not sound luxurious and people will say ‘Why on earth are you going there for?’ but if you want to mix Bruges with Amsterdam with a laid back approach and minus the crowds then Utrecht would be right up your street!
Top things to do in Utrecht –
- Visit the Dom Tower of Utrecht
- Explore the magical canals
- Something for everyone at the Centraal Museum
- St Martins Cathedral
- Interested in trains? Visit the Railway Museum
- Museum Speelklok
- Visit the butterflies at Utrecht Botanical Gardens
- Explore under neath the city at DOMunder
With Utrecht not having it’s own airport the best way to make it there from the U.K is the short flight to Amsterdam. Prices start at £35 return from London and £53 return from Manchester. After landing in Amsterdam you will need to get a direct train to Utrecht which leaves every 15 mins and takes just 30 minutes! Watch the daffodils and tulips bloom during spring time in the months of April and May, which is an ideal time to visit Utrecht. The winters can also be a good time to visit as the city comes alive with its indoor attractions and inland waterways.
7. Bratislava, Slovakia
There are many cities in Europe but only some have a unique atmosphere that you will remember. Bratislava, we strongly believe, is one of them. It has a beautiful medieval center, complete with narrow, winding streets and a striking hilltop castle looking down on the Danube. The dominant triangle – Bratislava Castle, the UFO tower, and St Martin‘s Cathedral – offers a combination of a spectacular panoramic views over the town, wonderful culinary experiences, together with reminders of the city’s rich coronation history. Trace the steps of eleven Austro-Hungarian emperors and seven royal wives who were crowned here in Bratislava.
If you are interested in contemporary culture, be sure not to miss the Danubiana Museum of modern Art, uniquely seated directly on the Danube. Bratislava is not just a destination for culture and history. The city forests and parks are just a hop away from the centre itself. Along the bank of the Danube lies the oldest public park in central Europe, Sad Janka Kráľa. Bratislava was ranked as the third greenest city in the world
Top things to do in Bratislava –
- Visit Bratislava Castle (Great views of the UFO Tower)
- Wander around the Old Town
- Check out some HUGE street art around the city
- Take a trip to the top of the UFO Tower (The city looks beautiful from here at night)
- Europe’s most beautiful church? – The Church of St. Elisabeth (The blue church)
- Visit the Urban Space cafe for coffee and cake
- Take a short trip to Devin Castle
Yet another cheap destination to fly to with prices starting at £23 return from London, £30 return from Leeds, £32 return from Birmingham and £36 return from Manchester. With temperatures reaching high twenties in the Summer, lovely mild weather in the Spring, the changing colours of the foliage in the Autumn and the city looking as beautiful as ever under snow, Bratislava really can be visited all year round, it just depends what you fancy!
For our detailed run down of the top ten things to do in Bratislava, click here.
8. Bohinj, Slovenia
Bohinj – a unique, charming, wonderfully mysterious region in Slovenia, the Alps and Europe. Bohinj is located in the heart of the Julian Alps. The most extensive and highest mountain range in Slovenia is also the most south-eastern part of the Alps. Bohinj encompasses the valley of Nomenj, the Upper and Lower Bohinj Valleys, Lake Basin, the Pokljuka and Jelovica plateaus and a high mountain range. The most recognisable and astonishing natural site is Lake Bohinj, the biggest lake in Slovenia. The twenty-four villages in and above the valley hide the attractive riches of the past, the cheerfulness of the present and the mystery of the future.
Combine Bohinj lake with Triglav National Park and you will be in a nature lovers paradise. The scenery in this part of Europe is simply breathtaking!
Top things to do in Bohinj –
- Relax by the lake and take in some of the most impressive landscapes in Europe!
- Hike one of the many walking trails
- Visit the picturesque church of St John the baptist
- Take the cable car up Vogel for panoramic views
- Jump on board a slow boat across the lake (seasonal)
- Explore Triglav National park
- Witness the impressive Savica waterfall
- Take a dip in the lake (if you’re brave enough!)
The nearest airport is Ljubljana (LJU) which is located 76km south west of Bohinj but the good news is there is a direct bus from the airport which takes just a little over two hours. Why not combine it with Lake Bled which is a little closer to Ljubljana so a perfect excuse for a first stop over at another one of Europe’s most beautiful lakes. The best time to explore Bohinj is the Summer time (June to September), although busier with tourists the weather is usually perfect! We visited late October and we pretty much had both Lake Bled and Bohinj all to our self! The weather wasn’t too bad for that time of the year either with highs of 15 degrees!
For our full travel guide to Bohinj and surrounding areas, click here.
So that’s all for now. There’s just some of the different holiday destinations in Europe that are well worth adding into your travel plans. Unique, affordable and taking you away from the typical hotspots for a more memorable trip.