6 Secret Destinations to Uncover in Europe

Costa Brava, Spain. Photo: Oleg_P/Shutterstock

The best travel memories often come from slowing down, turning a corner, and discovering something unexpected. Sometimes that means stepping away from the gilded cathedral or the gleaming museum, as inspiring as those may be.

Europe’s big cities offer cultural experiences that might be on your bucket list — and you should definitely check those out. But then, take the time to explore beyond the big sites, perhaps to stroll the cobbled streets of a mountain town or cycle around a lake with no agenda at all. You might get a glimpse of a more relaxed way of life, or simply savor a new dish, scrumptious in its simplicity. That’s the magic of travel, and Lufthansa is ready to help you discover it.

So pack a bag, book your ticket to one of Europe’s gateway cities (connecting via Munich or Frankfurt as needed), and then head off the beaten track to uncover the destinations below.

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Gateway: Munich. You’ve arrived in the capital of Bavaria and home of the annual Oktoberfest festival, so explore a little before you head to the Alps. At the strike of noon in the central Marienplatz square, the 16th-century Glockenspiel tells the tale of a Bavarian knight unseating his Lorraine rival from his horse. Stroll through the Englischer Garten, Munich’s expansive city park, to the Eisenbacher River, where at any time of year you’ll find surfers — yes, surfers — carving turns nowhere near the ocean. On summer days, you can quench your thirst at one of four beer gardens in the park. If it’s chilly out, enjoy a stein of beer at the 500-year-old Hofbräuhaus.

Get to Regensburg. Ninety minutes by car or train takes you to a low-key university town on the picturesque Danube River that is packed with surprises — from Roman ruins to impressive medieval churches, colorful buildings, and winding cobbled lanes that have earned Regensburg UNESCO World Heritage status.

What to do there. Walk back and forth through time — Regensburg was one of the richest cities in Bavaria during the Middle Ages, while long before that it stood as a strategic Roman military base on the Danube River. You can start your walking tour through this history on the river, at the impressive 12th-century Old Stone Bridge, heading from there to the Porta Praetoria, a gate built by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Next, admire the stunning St. Peter Cathedral, begun in the 1200s and embellished over the centuries, then proceed to more ancient ruins at the Roman Wall and on to the grand St. Emmeram Palace, whose stately interiors you can visit. These notable antiquities in Regensburg’s Old Town are so close together that the entire walk is just 1.3 miles, but you can still stop to relax afterward in the verdant park behind the castle.

What to eat there. Grab some sustenance after your walk at the Historische Wurstküche (sausage kitchen), which serves traditional and handmade sausages from the oldest sausage kitchen in the world. Add Sauerkraut and traditional buns to your order for a full meal. And for dessert, Café Prinzess, Germany’s oldest coffee house, produces exquisite cakes and pastries. But you’ll really want to save room for the yummy pralines, made here since 1676.

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Gateway: Rome. Arrive at Fiumicino Airport and head into the city to enjoy a lunch of cacio y pepe, Rome’s most classic pasta dish, whose three-ingredient simplicity belies its creamy deliciousness. A great place to order it is at the Hostaria Romana, which is a stone’s throw from the Trevi Fountain. Toss a coin and make a wish before visiting the Pantheon and gazing in awe at the sky visible through the ceiling of this ancient architectural marvel.

Get to Bracciano. Rome has much more to offer, but it’s time to get off the well-trod trail and make your way to Bracciano, a hillside village that beguiles with its narrow medieval streets, stunning views of Lake Bracciano, and decidedly slower pace.

What to do there. Wander the winding streets up toward the 15th-century Castello Orsini-Odescalchi, one of the largest castles in Italy. Then make your way down to Lake Bracciano, a volcanic lake popular with Romans but far less visited by anyone else. That’s good news for you, because this stunning lake is a wonderful spot to swim or simply enjoy the view. Better yet, rent an e-bike and take a lazy ride along the shoreline.

What to eat there. Stop for lunch at the Ristorante Percorsi al Vecchio Ponte, which posts its daily menu on the door. Expect classic flavors using seasonal ingredients, but with a contemporary twist. And as you tour the stunning landscapes, cool off with a refreshing gelato al limone.

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Gateway: Athens. Step into the modern, light-filled Acropolis Museum and learn the story of the goddess Athena and her importance to Athens before exploring the temple built in her honor at the Parthenon. Savor the panorama of this energetic city before you bid it αντίο.

Get to Nafplio. In less than two hours, you can cross the isthmus at Corinth into the Peloponnese and arrive at a seaside settlement that feels worlds apart from Athens. Perched at the north end of the Argolic Gulf, this city of wrought-iron balconies and brilliant bougainvillea is a mix of the many cultures that have spent time here — from the ancient Byzantines to the Venetians.

What to do there. Nafplio is defined by the small peninsula that juts sheer-cliffed into the gulf. Head here to climb the 999 steps to Palamidi Castle, you’ll be rewarded with a sweeping view of the city and the cerulean waters. Back in town, stroll along the lovely lanes and pop into the creative shops and galleries of this artists’ enclave. If the weather is warm, take a walk on the beach or rent a sea kayak for a paddle.

What to eat there. Before that climb to the castle, dine on a fortifying breakfast at Kalimera, which means “good morning.” Come lunchtime, head towards the Nafplio Port for lunch at To Toleneo. You could order a freshly grilled whole fish or savor a plethora of vegetarian options, like the eggplant-based melitzanosalata and garlic-based skordalia, creamy spreads to enjoy with pita bread, and a fresh Greek salad with just the right hint of aromatic oregano.

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Gateway: Barcelona. Get the lay of the land by wandering up to Parc Güell, a greenspace designed by the inimitable homegrown architect Antonin Gaudí, of Sagrada Família fame. Take in the view of Barcelona and the sea beyond before heading down the tony Passeig de Gràcia shopping street, stopping to appreciate other Gaudí creations like the Casa Batlló and Casa Mila apartments. Finally, walk a block over to the Rambla de Catalunya for late afternoon tapas from Ciutat Comtal — and don’t skip the patatas bravas.

Get to the Costa Brava. North of Barcelona, the coastline turns hilly and woodsy, with small beach coves backed by oak and pine forest. Locals come here to relax on tiny beaches or hike through the protected forests. Long meals and long walks are the vibe.

What to do there. Along with the beaches and forests of this Catalonia region are an abundance of cultural activities. Fans of surrealist artist Salvador Dalí won’t want to miss the Dalí Theatre-Museum, which houses many of his works. Medieval villages dot the landscape here and you can visit the ruins of Empúries, a former colony town of the Greek and Roman civilizations. Pop culture aficionados will want to make a stop in Girona, a setting used in Game of Thrones.

What to eat there. Feast on a lunch of black seafood rice or baked fish mere steps from the water at Tragamar restaurant on teeny tiny Calella de Palafrugell beach. Then walk along the shady cliff to the next beach over: Llafranc. Buy an ice cream from La Gelateria De Llafranc and enjoy it on the sand.

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Gateway: Florence. Upon landing at the pleasantly small Florence Airport, you’ll soon be taking in the sights of this lovely city flanking both sides of the Arno River, surrounded by the rolling hills of Tuscany. Cross the 700-year-old Ponte Vecchio bridge and head over to explore the Duomo, whose domed ceiling impresses architects and engineers even today. Wander the Via dè Tornabuoni and windowshop at the boutiques of couture brands that have made Italy a fashion powerhouse.

Get to Lucca. A quick train ride from Florence will bring you to this Tuscan town of wide open plazas and pale pastel buildings with terracotta-tiled roofs, all encircled by 40-foot-high walls. As if the views of the verdant hills weren’t enough from the top of the walls, high towers offer even more commanding vistas.

What to do there. The tree-lined, 2.7-mile-long wall trail is a wonderful way to experience both the elegance of Lucca and the rustic beauty of the surrounding area. Marvel at the architectural achievements here — some dating back more than 700 years. For unparalleled views of Lucca, climb the series of steps to the top of Torre delle Ore, built for protection in the 14th century.

What to eat there. You can stop for an espresso at one of the cafes along the way. Take it with a Buccellato, a local pastry that looks like a raisin bagel but is lightly sweet. Next, smell the flowers in the garden beside the Palazzo Pfanner before meeting your friends by the Piazza San Michel, the town’s main gathering place, and heading to dinner. Start with a classic Luccan zuppa di farro and see where the evening takes you.

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Gateway: Berlin. Fly Lufthansa into Berlin’s Tegel Airport, and in no time you’ll be in one of the most dynamic cities in the world. Walk from the Brandenburg Gate along the boulevard Unter den Linden over the Museum Island to Alexanderplatz and the Berlin TV Tower, which offers sweeping views of this historic city. If you have time before getting out of town, explore colorful Kreuzberg, taking in the neighborhood’s vibrant street art and the youthful energy that makes Berlin an unrivaled creative center.

Get to Potsdam. Venture out to an unexpectedly lake-filled city bursting with impressive historical buildings. Although Potsdam abuts Berlin, its downtown is much more tranquil than buzzy Berlin Mitte, offering you a chance to slow down and take in its handsome manors and gardens. Potsdam was the summer residence of the Prussian King Frederick the Great and consequently hosts a number of palaces and other imposing homes.

What to do there. Discover the resplendent rooms of the 19th-century Sanssouci Palace, the summer home of King Frederick, or simply roam through its fragrant gardens. The Museum Barberini is chock full of world-class art, while the royally commissioned Babelsberg Park is a marvel of landscape design. If you have a vague memory of Potsdam from your European history classes, it’s probably because it was here that Stalin, Churchill, and Truman hammered out a post-war map of Europe. The momentous Potsdam Conference took place at the Cecilienhof Palace, which you can also visit.

What to eat there. For classic German cuisine, visit Drachenhaus (Dragon’s House) at Sanssouci Parkis. Seasonal dishes include Gebratene Gambas im Kräutersud (fried prawns in herbal broth), Halbe Landente aus dem Rohr (duck served with apple red cabbage and potato dumplings), and Flammkuchen (a tarte served with herbed sour cream, pulled duck meat, red cabbage and lettuce). Choose from the extensive wine list, including German wines, to complete your meal.

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This post is proudly produced in partnership with Lufthansa.