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Travelers are making up for lost time this summer with their biggest European vacation yet.
600% more Americans will travel to Europe this summer than in 2021. That’s 55% more than last year’s already crazy crowds, according to the travel insurance company. Allianz.
The demand is so high that travel agencies are rejecting customers. Industry experts urge travelers to wait until fall or get out of the way
Since travelers aren’t likely to wait months for their dream trip, heading to hidden gems and lesser-known cities seems like the way to go.
Here are the six most underrated Eastern European destinations to beat the crowds this summer:
Novo Mesto, Slovenia
What if we told you that you can stay in a real life castle – without breaking the bank?
Located in the heart of the wine-growing region of Dolenjska and the forested hills of Gorjanci, Novo Mesto is the definition of European charm. And, in the middle of the city’s picturesque Krka River, a “gothic water castle” offers the chance to play European royalty for a night or two.
For the price of a standard hotel room in Paris or London this summer, you could stay at Otočec Castle and experience five-star Slovenian hospitality.
However, there is much more to love about Novo Mesto than its island castle. If the views from Trška Gora hill don’t take your breath away, the Old Town is sure to blow your mind.
Breg (which translates to ‘steep beach’ or riverside) is the core of Novo Mesto’s old town along the river, with 500-year-old storybook houses, both abandoned and restored, plus a few hidden caves. It is the perfect destination to live your own fairy tale.
Lake Ohrid lies under the radar between the bordering mountains of Albania and Macedonia, but it’s unlikely to be a hidden gem for much longer. Think: the Italian Lake District minus the crowds and A-list prices.
There are many interesting and affordable ways to enjoy the water in Lake Ohrid. Take a boat ride along the lake to St. Naum Monastery for less than $15, or paddle through the region’s hidden caves on a $30 tour.
From $12-a-night hostels to $90 luxury villas, there are tranquil lake-view accommodations for travelers on any budget in Ohrid.
Visitors wandering the cobbled streets of Ohrid’s Old Town will find a charming side to accompany delicious local specialties like lamb stuffed peppers, sizzling baked cheese and fresh grilled fish.
Local foods focus on strong, simple flavors sourced nearby, like sheep yogurt and ivar, a spicy preserved red pepper spread. Best of all, they average $5 per person (try Viva Ksantika tucked away on Tsar Samoil Street).
Now for the crowd favorite: beautiful views of the lake are everywhere.
Visitors tend to fall in love with where the sun sets at St. Kaneo’s Church, perched high on the hillside just beyond a lovely stone path that skirts the lake’s edge. Bring along a criminally low-priced bottle of Macedonian wine for a picnic that’s as inexpensive as it is picturesque.
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While White Lotus jetters pack like sardines on expensive Sicilian beaches, savvy tourists head to the Albanian Riviera.
Did you know that the Albanian coast is just a short ferry ride from Barri, Italy?
Sandwiched between popular beach destinations Vlorë and Sarandë, Himarë is home to a dazzling collection of some of the world’s most underrated beaches.
This small town in southern Albania was once a fishing village, but it is fast becoming a popular seaside destination, and it’s easy to see why. There is something for every type of traveler, all at incredibly affordable prices.
- Do you want a secluded place for yourself? Take the challenging hike to Filikuri ‘Secret’ Beach, a pristine pebble beach with crystal clear water and not a living soul around.
- Looking for adventures? Kayak through the hidden sea caves of Himarë.
- Do you want white sand and turquoise waters? Take a $20 boat trip to the beaches of Gjipe or Llamani.
- Low-key beach clubs more your style? Try Himarë’s two central strips of beach.
When the day at the beach is over, kick back with a $1 local beer and enjoy the freshest grilled fish for under $10.
While the nearby Sicilian beaches have it shot itself at prohibitive prices, the Albanian Riviera remains largely affordable.
This is especially true for Himarë, where vacation apartments and guest houses average just $35 a night.
Dubrovnik, the Croatian « Game of Thrones » favorite, has just to turn off Venice as the most over-tourist city in Europe. Last month, there were almost 50% more tourists than in the already chaotic summer season of last year.
Travelers will be happy to know that Marmaris, Turkey offers a castle-studded seaside alternative to Dubrovnik. More charm, fewer tourists and drastically lower prices: what’s not to love?
In this Turkish seaside town, travelers will find the same tangerine rooftops, steep hillsides, and cinematic fortresses that have become synonymous with the Croatian coastline. As a bonus, you can enjoy the world famous Turkish coffee and breakfast while taking in those views.
Marmaris is home to dark sandy beaches with calm turquoise waters. If it’s white sand you’re after, there are many stunning Aegean islands and beaches just a short boat ride away:
- Turtle Beach – 2 hours by boat, the most popular boat trip destination
- Sedir Island « Cleopatra » – 30 minutes by boat
- symi island – 2 hour drive to Bodrum, then 1.5 hour ferry ride
- Rhodes – 1 hour ferry
Rila Lakes, Bulgaria
Located within the mountains of northern Bulgaria are seven glacial lakes with crystal clear waters and world-class hiking. And did we mention the 1,000-year-old monastery?
Rila is a popular Balkan favorite, but it’s still embarrassingly underrated among international travelers. Bulgaria is also one of the absolutely cheapest countries in Europe, making a trip to the Rila Lakes as affordable as it is scenic.
The lakes are only 2 hours by car or by bus from Sofia. Are you sure; This underrated natural wonder is definitely worth the trip.
The peaks of the Suhi Chal, Otovishki and Haramiya mountains surround a series of transparent pools. The easiest and most popular route around the lakes starts at the Rila Lakes cabin and goes up Dry Ridge for a scenic view, then down to The Kidney Lake, all in just 5 hours.
If you’re not a big hiker, don’t worry. There are many easy, gently sloping trails to the lakes that skip the peaks. For the most relaxing option, simply enjoy a chairlift ride or soak up the view from the area’s quaint cabins.
When most people think of Georgia, they think of the capital Tbilisi or the spa city of Batumi, not the so-called « lovely backwater” Kutaisi city.
But budget airlines like Wizz Air really put Kutaisi on the map a few years ago when they opened bases at Kutaisi International Airport. New very cheap direct flights to this Georgian cultural gem have breathed new life into its tourism industry.
Today, travelers keep coming back to Kutaisi for its rich history, beautiful old town, and wonderful nature.
Visitors love the Gelati Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and enjoy exploring the cultural sites of Kutaisi’s endearing Old Town. For the brave of heart, there are the suspension bridges and impressive waterfalls at Okatse and Martvili, plus dozens more canyons and caves to explore.
Travelers looking for a more relaxing vacation will be pleased to know that Kutaisi is home to one of the oldest wine regions in the world. ‘Wine Dinner’ Tours here are as popular as they are affordable.
If you can’t go to Kutaisi this summer, don’t worry. Regardless, the mountainous landscapes of the Imereti region are at their most picturesque in the fall, but plan your trip early to experience these vibrant changing colors.
Nothing keeps travelers away from Europe this summer. Sky-high airfares, expensive hotels, and record-breaking crowds don’t seem to be making a dent in demand.
This summer peak season, consider taking a detour to get the most out of your worthwhile adventure. Whether you’re looking for beach vibes or cobblestone charm, there’s a hidden Eastern European gem waiting for you.
traveler alert: Don’t forget travel insurance for your next trip!
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com