The Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sagrada Familia… We’ve seen these iconic landmarks time and time again. But there really is so much in Europe that you’ve never really seen it all, even if you think you have. These ten places in Europe are unique, unusual and utterly mind-blowing, that you have to try and see at least some of them.
1. Catacombs (Rome, Italy)
Rome is beautiful and interesting, but did you know there’s a whole lot else going on underneath Rome? The catacombs of Rome are a series of underground burial sites dating back centuries and are connected by long tunnels. Rich in history, the catacombs remained undiscovered by the modern world until recent years – and archaeologists are still finding new avenues (literally)! They can be a little frightening, as some of the burial sites feature designs of real human bones. It’s definitely something you won’t have seen before! For safety reasons, you cannot explore the catacombs by yourself, but there are plenty of guides and tour options to suit you.
2. Town of Kotor, Montenegro
One of the smaller European countries, Montenegro’s pride has to be Kotor. The town is fortified and surrounded by beautiful views of the Adriatic sea and mountains that create a unique and dramatic landscape. You can walk the entire town in less than a day, and can get totally lost in the nooks and crannies of the narrow streets and town squares filled with trinket shops, cafes and pretty churches. It is also well worth climbing to the top of the town’s fortifications and soaking up that glorious view from the highest point of the town. And best of all, it’s not very well known and therefore has more locals than tourists.
3. Temple of Apollo (Delphi, Greece)
If you love Greek history and ruined architecture, perhaps choose Delphi over more popular Athens. The Temple of Apollo is situated on a sky-high hillside of lush green, and with a guided tour you can walk through the stoic pillars, scattered rocks and still intact amphitheatre. It was destroyed over 2000 years ago by an earthquake, but the ruins are fascinating to walk around. A real highlight is the museum at the bottom of the hillside which contains even more precious artifacts of the site which are too special to keep outside among the temple remnants.
4. Sanssouci Palace (near Berlin, Germany)
A German version of the Palace of Versailles, Sanssouci Palace is an often forgotten beauty of 18th-century imperialism. Located in Potsdam, just 40 minutes from Berlin, it was once the summer home of Frederick the Great, and nowadays tourists can visit the palace, its rooms and the surrounding gardens. Each room has unique and elaborate designs, but the most mindblowing of all has to be the ‘Flower Room’, of bright yellow walls adorned with exotic flowers and jungle animals. Visitors can enjoy the sprawling gardens too, and note, in particular, the beautiful sculptures of gods and goddesses Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Apollo – to name a few.
5. Monte Carlo Casino (Monaco)
It was made famous by Casino Royale, but you don’t have to be Daniel Craig to enjoy this place. The casino in Monte Carlo, in the principality of Monaco, is a glamorous and decadent place decorated with gold lights, chandelier, high ceilings and a mosaic tiled bar. Drinks are pricey, and you are expected to dress formally and gamble high, but if that is not your thing it’s still well worth looking around and enjoying its magnificence in the heart of one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in the world.
6. Wieliczka Salt Mines (Krakow, Poland)
If you’re looking for something unusual to see in Europe, then this is as good as it gets. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Poland’s prime attractions. Historically, the mines produced sodium chloride from natural rock salt formations, but now tourists can visit and explore the deep underground preserved mine and its narrow passages, an underground lake, chapels and even more contemporary features such as concerts and art exhibitions take place there.
7. River Ardèche (France)
This river in south-central France stretches for almost 80 miles and is perfect for those who enjoy more active trips. The river is not too treacherous to travel via canoe or kayak, and is very popular during the summer months with tourists and the French alike. What makes the Ardèche a cut above the rest is how scenic it is – the gorges and white sand beaches are aesthetically amazing and the limestone caves dotted along the cliffs are easy to get into if you fancy a post-kayaking dip.
8. City of Pompeii (Campania, Italy)
Pompeii is no ordinary city – it is uninhabited and literally frozen in time. A powerful eruption from the nearby volcano Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 AD resulted in buildings being partly destroyed, and natural organics – yes, human beings – being covered in ash and preserved that way. Many items and inhabitants are still lying around the city in what are now hardened moulds of volcanic ash. It has a totally amazing ghost town vibe. Aside from that crazily unique part of the city, it’s also a really cool Roman town with classic Roman baths, villas and other structures.
9. Church of Orsanmichele (Florence, Italy)
Everyone knows the green and white Santa Croce church in Florence, but an underrated neighbour is the Orsanmichele which is arguably more breathtaking inside. The exterior is fixed with beautifully intricate niches of various saints. The pure white marble dates back to the late 14th century and is just as stunning today. The pinnacle of this place is the interior tabernacle (an ‘area’ of worship) which is the focal point of the entire room. Even if you are not religious, the art and architecture have to be wondered at. The intricate design is centred with a glorious gold depiction of Mary and the baby Jesus, the definitive example of beautiful art.
10. Town of Bruges, Belgium
Forget Brussels – the Belgian town of Bruges is far more beautiful. A quaint little canal town, Bruges is often dubbed Venice of the North. It is completely flat and therefore easy to walk around and immerse yourself in the vibe of multicoloured town houses, bridges, bobbing canal boats and Belgian beer and chocolate. There are also usually markets in the town squares where you can treat yourself to handmade crafts, gifts and homemade cakes.