As expats, one of the things we miss most about the UK is the number of diverse countries, cultures, foods and experiences that are on our doorstep. In just a couple of hours, we can be immersed in a completely different nation, with new people, sights and scenery to keep us entertained.
However, the popularity of European cities changes so rapidly, it’s sometimes hard to keep up with the fads, the no-go areas, and the hottest points of interest. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a ‘wish list’ of five destinations which are slightly off the beaten track, and well worth a last minute trip to:
1) Ljubljana, Slovenia
This was a tough one – we were torn between Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, and its beautiful Karst region. The ideal trip here would be a few days in both; and the drive between the two locations wouldn’t be much of a hassle with such amazing landscapes on either side. Ljubljana is quickly gaining popularity with tourists, so it’s a good time to book a last minute deal. The capital is an up-and-coming, cosmopolitan city centre with an abundance of green areas. There is also much to explore in Karst – from the deep Postojna Caves to the dominating Predjama Castle, and beyond into Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj, Solvenia’s most popular – and arguably most scenic – attraction.
2) Porto, Portugal
Porto is often overlooked in favour of Portugal’s more traditional go-to holiday destinations, Lisbon and the Algarve, but this region is well worth a last minute trip. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and holds some incredible beauty spots as one of Europe’s oldest city centres. Earn some cool points by staying in the Ribeira neighbourhood which presents a hip, laid back vibe and is the perfect setting for a weekend of escapism.
3) Riga, Latvia
The city will be named Capital of Culture 2014, so book your flights soon so that you can experience the Latvian capital before it becomes a total tourist trap. The Old Town, located on the banks of the Daugava, is full of gorgeous little streets to explore, and the Riga Dome Cathedral is a must-see for visitors. Take a late night stroll down to the Old Harbour and sip on the cheap, locally brewed beers after a tiring bike ride around the city.
4) Reykjavik, Iceland
One of the world’s coldest capital cities, Reykjavik is just a few hours’ flight from bustling London – and the contrast between the two cities is stark. Climb to the top of the Hallgrímskirkja, located in the city centre, and take in the amazing views over the colourful city centre, dwarfed by incredible mountain scenery. Reykjavik is becoming more and more famous for its tasty cuisine, which includes controversial dishes such as whale and puffin. Popular day trips on offer include whale watching, the Northern Lights and a tour of the Golden Circle.
5) Puglia, Italy
Word of mouth about the sunny climate and peaceful atmosphere seems to have played a large part in the growing success of Puglia’s tourist trade, and the reason behind a rising number of visitors embarking on a last minute holiday here. The delicious cuisine and well-preserved architecture (the 13th-century Castel del Monte is a must-see) are another excuse to take a spontaneous trip to the heel of Italy’s boot.