Reinventing the European summer

Sans snobbery: Tel Aviv beach, Israel.
Sans snobbery: Tel Aviv beach, Israel. 

You've probably been to Europe before. Most Australian travellers have. You've seen the major sights, partied in the major cities, and ticked all of the necessary boxes.

And now you want to go back. Only this time you want to avoid all of those things you did before, and all of those people like you who are doing them. You want to stray from the path of the tour bus passengers.

So if you're heading to Europe this northern summer and want to try things that are a little different, this is where you want to go.

Castelo Sao Jorge (Castle Saint George) dominates the Lisbon skyline.
Castelo Sao Jorge (Castle Saint George) dominates the Lisbon skyline. Photo: AFP

Instead of London, try... Glasgow

Edinburgh has long been the fallback option for UK visitors trying to avoid London, but that Scottish city's ugly cousin, Glasgow, should really be on your list. Arty types can check out the world-class galleries, history buffs should visit the Burrell Collection, while everyone else should just get out and about and drinks a few beers while seeing a few bands. King Tut's Wah Wah Hut and Barrowland are no-brainers.

Instead of Rome, try... Lecce

Bathers at the iconic Szechenyi Bath in Budapest.
Bathers at the iconic Szechenyi Bath in Budapest. Photo: Penny Bradfield

What you miss is the real big-ticket items, the Pantheon and the Colosseum and the like. But you've probably already seen them, right? Instead in Lecce, a city towards the heel of the big boot that is Italy, you get something rare: peace. It can feel like you're the only tourist in town as you wander the sandstone pavings in the old town, checking out the Roman amphitheatre, stopping in at the churches, eating gelati in the main square. It's a much more relaxed alternative.

Instead of Amsterdam, try... Budapest

It's hard to recreate the feeling of Amsterdam anywhere else, but if it's great nights out you're after in a friendly city, then you could do far worse than Budapest. Like Amsterdam, the Hungarian capital – a rich mix of east and west, a capitalist state with a communist part – is a great place to just wander around and soak up. Only difference is you'll sight far fewer tour buses while you're doing it.

The Belem tower in Lisbon, Portugal.
The Belem tower in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: AFP

Instead of Paris, try... Tel Aviv

OK, it's not exactly in Europe, but EasyJet flies there so there's no reason why Israel can't form part of your northern adventure. And why not trade in the fake beach on the river Seine for, say, an actual beach? Or the snobbery of the Parisien restaurant scene for the vibrancy of Tel Aviv's? It's not a competition, of course – you could easily go to both. But if you're after a dynamic city with a buzzing nightlife, it doesn't have to be the obvious choice.

Instead of Mykonos, try... Crete

Crete doesn't have the romance of Mykonos, nor the reputation for a good party, but its relative unpopularity with the tourist hordes is also its biggest attraction. Check out the peaceful old towns in Chania and Rethymno, which have just as much charm as the whitewashed streets of the more popular islands. Or just find a spot down by the water and eat fresh seafood until you explode.

Instead of Barcelona, try... Lisbon

It's lucky Lisbon is tucked away on an awkwardly distant coastline, otherwise it would be crawling with tour buses. As it is the place is still popular and you soon figure out why. The budget accommodation options are the best in the world, and there's a real gritty charm to Lisbon, a sort of unaffected ease. It's like Barcelona. But different.

Instead of Prague, try... Tallinn

Estonia's capital isn't exactly undiscovered, given budget airlines ferry in English stag do parties on a daily basis, but Tallinn still makes an exotic alternative if you're already been to Prague. The nightlife can rival the Czech city's, and the taxi drivers aren't quite as mental, which has to be a good thing.

Instead of Dublin, try... Derry

Derry, the UK's City of Culture this year, is a blast, and nowhere near as drunken-tourist-filled as Dublin. There's a real and sometimes violent history here, from the 400-year-old city walls to the remnants of Bloody Sunday, but there's also a feeling that the future for Derry will be a good one. Get in there before everyone else does.

Instead of Dubrovnik, try... Kotor

There's no doubt Dubrovnik is spectacular, with its imposing walls towering over the Adriatic Sea, but travel a little further south and you'll find something quite similar – only without the tour groups. Kotor in Montenegro is famous for its fortifications, these huge walls that command views far out to sea. The city's old town is also heritage listed and worth a day of wandering.

Instead of Munich, try... Berlin

Berlin isn't just a different city, it feels like a different country. Gone are the beer halls and oom-pah bands and lederhosen – in their place you find tiny speakeasy-style bars, an arty, experimental music scene, and people dressed in just about whatever they feel like, from punks to princesses. Whatever you're into, you'll find it in Berlin.

What are your tips for avoiding the tour groups in Europe this summer? Where would you like to go?

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