Vacation in 8 lesser known cities outside of Paris and Rome


Going on vacation away from the city can save you a lot of trouble, but finding the right destination can take some effort.

The ideal city trip is one that's relatively affordable, not too far away, and packed with enough sights and activities to make a comfortable weekend away without being too overwhelming – Rome is that place.

With many major European cities, such as Paris, Venice, Rome and Barcelona, ​​suffering from over-tourism, smart travelers are choosing to visit smaller, but no less rewarding, destinations instead, many of which are located near the larger cities and have direct flights to major airports.

Here, we've rounded up some of the best city spots to visit, from romantic canal-spanning French enclaves to Belle Époque spa towns in the Austrian mountains to the 'Florence of the South'.

Food and Architecture in Lecce, Italy

Lecce, Italy. Getty Images

Often referred to as the “Florence of the South,” Lecce is located at the heel of Italy's boot and is renowned for its Baroque architecture built from the distinctive honey-colored stone nicknamed “Lecce stone,” unique cuisine and ancient Roman ruins.

One such ruin is the stunningly beautiful Roman Amphitheatre, located right in front of the main square and only discovered in 1901. It was built in the 2nd century during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and could accommodate up to 15,000 people. There is also a smaller Roman theatre to explore.

As a university town, Lecce has a very youthful vibe, with lively bars, restaurants and cafés lining its winding streets. What Lecce has over Florence is that it's right on the coast, so in warmer months you can cool off in the azure waters or swim in the Grotta della Poesia, a natural limestone pool.

During your visit, be sure to try the famous pasticiotto, a shortcrust pastry filled with custard.

You can get there by direct flight to Brindisi airport in 3 hours 30 minutes, then take a 30 minute train or bus ride to Lecce.

Romance in Annecy, France

Annecy, France. Getty Images

Want to visit Venice but find it too crowded for a romantic weekend? Why not visit Annecy, France, affectionately nicknamed “Venice of the Alps.”

Located on the shores of Lake Annecy in the Alps, this mountain town is a 2-hour 20-minute flight or under 40-minute drive from Geneva. This postcard-perfect medieval town is laced with shallow, sparkling canals, cobbled streets, flower beds and pastel-colored houses.

Stroll through the Vieille Ville (Old Town) and visit Le Palais de I'Île, a ship-shaped 12th-century building that has served as a prison, courthouse and administrative centre. Annecy Castle, now a museum, is also worth a stop.

Proving its worth as a romantic destination, it's also home to the Pont des Amours (Lovers' Bridge), which is said to ensure that those who kiss while crossing it will stay together for life.

Music and Wellness in Salzburg and Bad Gastein, Austria

Salzburg. Getty Images

Mozart's birthplace Music sounds This stately, stately city, where was filmed, is a culture lover's dream and offers a glimpse into a bygone era.

Less crowded than nearby Vienna, but just a 2.5-hour flight away, Salzburg is a memorable city packed with attractions including former royal residences, cobbled streets and centuries-old markets.

Visit the imposing Salzburg Castle, one of the largest fortresses in Europe, overlooking the Baroque city, take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the Old Town, and visit Mozart's birthplace and home. After a busy morning, warm up with some shopping and dining at the Alter Market (Old Market), and experience traditional Austrian café culture with a stop at Café Tomaselli.

If you have a day to spare, add on a day trip to Bad Gastein (90 minutes by train), a Belle Époque Austrian ski and mineral spring town that looks like a Wes Anderson set. Skiing, thermal baths and hiking are popular here.

Celebrating 700 years of history in Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania. Getty Images

Once dubbed “the G-spot of Europe” in a viral tourism poster, no one knows where it is but it's amazing once you find it, Vilnius is a rich, historic city that recently celebrated its 700th anniversary with a year-long festival and events.

A perfect choice for history buffs, especially those with an interest in wartime history, the city has been occupied by both the Nazis and the Soviets and has been a refuge for people of many faiths, including Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Russian Orthodox.

Visit the Museum of Occupation and the Fight for Freedom in the former KGB building, Haile's Market next to the train station, the towers of Gediminas Castle, an imposing fortress that tells the story of the city's history, and Vilnius and Ailandijos, a bustling nightlife district that stretches 500 metres through the Old Town.

The food here is hearty, comforting and potato-heavy: try the kukliai, potato dumplings stuffed with pork, or kuggelis, a potato casserole.

It takes 3 hours and 10 minutes to get to Vilnius from Dublin.

Family Fun in The Hague, Netherlands

The Hague, Netherlands. Getty Images

While The Hague is known to many as the home of the United Nations' International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, it's also a charming, family-friendly holiday destination. If the vibe of Amsterdam isn't your thing or it's too busy, The Hague has plenty to offer the whole family.

It's a short 1 hour 40 minute flight to Amsterdam, then take the train to The Hague, where you can visit the summer beach resort of Scheveningen Beach and see political and royal attractions such as the Binnenhof, the Peace Palace and the royal residences.

Art is abundant here – the tiny Mauritshuis museum houses Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring – and for a different kind of artefact, visit the Luhmann Museum, which has an incredible collection of classic cars.

Children will enjoy the interactive science museum One Planet and the amusement park Duinrel, while older teens and those with a penchant for the macabre will enjoy De Gewangenpoort (Prison Gate), a medieval prison-turned-museum.

Road trip through Asturias, Spain

Cudillero, Asturias, Spain. Getty Images

While Madrid and Barcelona always attract the crowds, Northern Spain has plenty of treasures to see, including the breathtaking Costa Verda (Green Coast), with breathtaking cities dotted along the coastline, perfect for a quick road trip if you've got the time.

Asturias is easily accessible from Dublin with a direct flight taking just 2 hours. Oviedo is the region's capital and a colourful, clean, perfect for solo travelers, with plenty of Gothic architecture and museums housing works by Goya, Dali and Picasso.

Gijón is larger and overlooks the Bay of Biscay. It is naturally famous for its beaches and delicious seafood, but the local cuisine is also worth trying. Cider Or cider, which is brewed throughout the region.

If you want to take a longer trip, you can travel along the coast from Oviedo to Cudillero (an essential destination if you can), then pass through A Coruña, Santiago de Compostela and finally to Vigo to fully enjoy the scenery.

Hiking in Kos, Greece

Kos, Greece. Getty Images

Greece is struggling to get tourism back on track in the aftermath of last summer's devastating wildfires, with many of its islands and their facilities devastated by fires.

But one island remained largely unscathed: Kos, part of the Dodecanese archipelago, an ideal starting point for exploring the 227 inhabited islands and supporting the tourism industry.

Perfect for those looking for an active holiday, Greece is full of beautiful hiking trails that bring myths and legends closer to you, and the island of Kos, with its mountain ranges at its heart, is a particularly great place for hiking.

The most famous hike is to Dikeos, the highest peak on the island, or you can step back in time by hiking to the Sanctuary of Asclepius, site of the medical school (thought to be the first hospital) founded by Hippocrates.

Visitors can take part in kayaking, windsurfing, diving, and even hydrotherapy, all inspired by the teachings of Hippocrates.

Christmas market in Leipzig, Germany

Leipzig, Germany. Getty Images

It may still be many months away, but if you want to make sure you enjoy a white Christmas, head to this charming German city. Leipzig's Christmas market is one of the oldest and largest in Germany, having first opened in 1458 and continued to thrive ever since.

Running from late November until just before Christmas, with 250 stalls, loads of Christmas lights and a giant spruce Christmas tree at its centre, it's a spectacular sight and sure to get you in the festive spirit.

Aside from the market, Leipzig has a lot to offer travellers wanting to see more of Germany outside of Berlin. Part of East Germany until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Leipzig has since become a vibrant arts and music hub, with plenty of independent artists' venues to visit.

Johann Sebastian Bach also spent much of his life here: there's a museum celebrating his enormous contribution to music, and the magnificent Madler Passage (shopping arcade) is reminiscent of characters from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's “Musikdrama.” Faust.

There are direct flights from Dublin to Leipzig.



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