5 Alternative Cities To Walk Around In Europe
One of the best ways to explore a city is on your own two feet; you can stroll through a park, saunter into a square for lunch or wander down sidestreets discovering hidden gems as you go. This ground-level experience not only gives you a local’s perspective but also burns some calories, leaving you feeling guilt-free when indulging in local delicacies.
We’ve collated 5 of our favourite lesser-known cities to walk around:
Wroclaw is the fourth biggest city in Poland and is loosely described as the ‘Venice of Poland’ with several hundred bridges crossing the Oder river in the centre. There is plenty to see and do with the city having been awarded the European Capital of Culture in 2016.
Where to explore
- Explore the cobbled streets in the old town and admire traditional architecture with colourful facades around the central market square.
- A great activity for kids or for those who are young at heart is hunting for gnomes. As strange as this sounds, the city has over 300 gnome statues, that commemorate the anti-communist movement. Pick up a free map from the tourist board with their locations and you’ll be set for an afternoon of fun.
- Rent a boat or kayak and navigate your way around the various waterways that pass through the city.
- Built for the World Exhibition of 1913, ‘Ogrod Japonsk’ is a Japanese garden that features traditional landscaping, plants and an authentic red bridge across a lake.
- The botanical gardens are found in the old part of the city and make for a great place to relax in with rare plants and a beautiful ambience.
- You’ll find Pierogi (filled dumplings) in almost all Polish restaurants. They come with various meat, vegetable and sweet fillings that, thanks to the wholesome nature and cheap price, are enjoyed by all.
- Traditional Polish doughnuts are a sweet treat to help keep your energy up as you walk around. They normally come with a multitude of fruit flavours that provide sharpness to the sweet and sugary dough.
This historic 13th century city transports you back in time with its small streets and medieval architecture. Despite the tightly packed geography of the Brasov, you have doorstep access to high-quality hiking as the south of the city is flanked by the southern Carpathian Mountains.
Where to explore
- Take a free walking tour around the city and be guided through the labyrinth-like streets of this medieval city, gaining knowledge about its history and receive tips on where are the best places to eat.
- The city has a dedicated pedestrian zone spreading out from the central square and the impressive town hall. These streets house a variety of bustling cafes, shops and food vendors with plenty more amazing buildings to admire.
- The city’s narrow streets restrict the room for green spaces but you can quickly reach the edge of the city and Tampa Mountain. A steep trail leads you to the mountain peak (or go via a quick cable car) and the Brasov (Hollywood-esque) sign which has terrific views.
- If you fancy something a little less touristy, the mountain on the opposite side of the city has trails to a white and black castle from the 15th century with no cable car and fewer crowds.
- You have to try Kurtoskalac when in Brasov. This sweet cake-like bread is roasted above a charcoal spit before being rolled in sugar, cinnamon, nuts and plenty of other delicious toppings.
- A more savour and healthy option are Sarmale. Cabbage wrapped roles that are filled with spiced mincemeat.
Named as the European Capital of Culture for 2019, Plovdiv is going to be a great place to visit this year. As one of the oldest cities in Europe, it has plenty of historic architecture including a fully working Roman amphitheatre where you can watch a show or enjoy live music during the summer months. Apart from the quite amazing history, there are plenty of festivals, eating and drinking options and culture within the neighbourhoods that make up the city.
Where to explore
- One of the first things you’ll notice when walking around is the abundance of plants, trees and generally greenery that is in the city streets. This adds freshness and ambience to the already impressive historic streets and buildings.
- There is a large pedestrian-only zone which is the perfect place to stroll along and stop off for a coffee. From here you can watch the world go by before walking onto the old town and the abundance of galleries and museums.
- For the afternoon and early evening saunter around the oldest parts of the city, Kapona neighbourhood. It is full of street art and murals along with independent shops, galleries, cafes and bars which spill on to the streets for a party atmosphere.
- There are plenty of parks dotted around the city that contain hills within them offering great views across the rooftops. One such place is Youth Hill where you can spot rare plants as you hike to the summit or relax with your kids around the base of the hill on one of the playgrounds.
- The most famous park is probably the Garden of Tsar Simeon which is named after the city’s most celebrated landscape architects. It houses a large lake with plenty of open space for picnics and the singing fountains. These fountains perform a 'dance' to a series of lights most evenings - making for hypnotic spectacle.
- There is plenty of choice for food and drinks in Plovdiv with influences from Greece, Turkey and Russia standing alongside more traditional dishes.
- Shopska salad is a typical Balkan dish of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers with grated Sirene (white brine) cheese on top. Wash this down with amazing local wine or a craft beer, again using native ingredients, and if you’re still hungry at the end of the day you can always stop off for a kebab.
- You’ll find that most dishes are well priced and come in large portions so try not to be tempted in ordering too many plates.
Dinant is a picturesque city in the south of Belgium’s Walloon (French-speaking) region. It’s been squeezed in between the River Muse and steep cliffs, a few hundred metres back. This has shaped the city into a long and thin arrangement with the river always within view. It has a clifftop citadel to explore and of course, the river provides instant access for kayaking and boat tours. You may also be surprised to learn that Dinant is where the Saxophone was invented, by Adolph Sax.
Where to explore
- As a tribute to Adolph Sax and his invention, the city built 28 giant sax’s which were decorated with vibrant designs from an international art competition. There is a trail of sax’s to follow which lead out from the Tourist Information Centre along the Charles de Gaulle bridge and on to his old house which is now a museum.
- Hidden below the striking cliffs of Dinant is a series of dramatic caves. Take a guided tour around the various chambers that showcase stalactites, stalagmites and underground waterfalls.
- Parc de Furfooz is set out over 50 hectares of forest, meadows and hills with a 4km nature walk that travels past prehistoric caves and Roman-era ruins. At the end of the walk, stop off at the parks riverside café for a drink and soak up the relaxing atmosphere and surroundings.
- Take a stroll around the beautifully maintained terraced gardens of Chateau de Freyr. This 14th-century Chateau has had many a royal guest over the years and contains some amazing 18th-century décor.
- Dinant is the birthplace of Leffe blonde beer which was brewed by the resident Abbey monks back in 1152. The abbey was destroyed but its role in Leffe’s history has not been forgotten with it adorning the label of every bottle they make. Today, you can sample all the variations of the original Leffe beer in one of the many riverside bars and restaurants while indulging in some mussels and frites.
- You should also make an effort to try ‘Couque de Dinant’ (honey biscuits) with a coffee but beware their toughness. The honey caramelises during the cooking process setting rock hard and requires you to soak in a hot drink before consuming it.
Found in the southern centre of Lithuania, Kaunas is the nation’s second-biggest city. It’s home to two large rivers, the Nemunas and Neris, which converge in the centre. These waterways and major roads have shaped the city as an important crossroad in the country’s history. Today, the city is a European Heritage site - blending 14th-century castles and amazing architecture with a whole host of festivals, music, galleries and world cuisine.
Where to explore
- Delve into the old and new town via an easy to use audio guide - learning about the history and culture while appreciating the German Bauhaus architecture. Vilniaus Street is one of the oldest and prettiest streets in the city. It retains hints of its medieval past and has a host of cafes, shops and events to see and enjoy.
- The Ninth Fort sits on the outskirts of the city to the North West. This fort was built as part of the Russian occupation in the 19th century before being used by Nazi Germany as part of the holocaust. Walk around the grounds, museum and imposing monuments to gain an insight into past troubles this city and country experienced.
- For something slightly lighter, search out the back streets of the centre for amazing street art and small traditional bakeries selling the freshest local delicacies and treats.
- Lining the cities river you’ll find plenty of sandy beach areas where you can relax, have lunch and enjoy the good weather.
- To the west of the city, Vilijampole water has dedicated beach and swimming areas with the opportunity to try wakeboarding, climb an inflatable assault course on the water or venture into the woods for a high ropes course.
- In the heart of the city is a large Oak forest that is perfect for a gentle walk. Or check out the botanical gardens to the south of the river which houses a whole host of exotic plants, trees and bushes.
- This city seems to have an abundance of high-quality international food – offering up something for everyone’s tastes. You’ll find beautiful Scandinavian dishes in modern restaurants and then on the next street, you can get authentic Italian home cooking in a laid-back bistro.
- If you want something more traditional, Lithuanian classics such as beetroot broth, venison stew and dumplings will certainly fill you up after a long day walking.
About the Author:
Pete Fletcher - Outdoor Expert
Pete grew up hiking most of the trails in the Lake District before being introduced to skiing. A few decades later and you're most likely to find him snowboarding, skateboarding, or making a mean coffee.