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Escape the Crowds: Top Hidden Gems for Your European Summer Vacation

Are you dreaming of a long-awaited trip to Europe, where you can sip coffee in a quaint café and relax peacefully surrounded by thousands of years of history and beautiful architecture, only to be overwhelmed by crowds of tourists?

Over-tourism is common in popular destinations like Rome, Paris, Venice, and Barcelona. But fear not; we have found some hidden gems that offer the tranquility you seek without the crowds. Imagine enjoying the stunning architecture, the charm of Europe, and the peace you desire on your vacation.

Hi, we’re Sue and Andy Ball, and we love designing Comfortable Luxury vacations centered around your interests as empty nesters and retirees. Whether it’s a private wine tour in Bordeaux, a scenic cruise along the Norwegian fjords, or island hopping in Greece, we go a step further than most travel agents, offering you a custom trip tailored to your desires with tips to avoid the crowds and ensure rest and rejuvenation without fighting through the crowded streets.

Europe is our favorite destination, offering everything from charming towns to majestic mountains and vibrant cities. Savor wines from local vineyards, indulge in culinary delights at every meal and immerse yourself in the continent’s rich history and culture.

  • Paris, Summer 2024: With the Olympics, the city will be overwhelmed with athletes, coaches, and tourists.
  • Rome / Italy—2025 Jubilee: If you’re of the Catholic faith, multiple pilgrimages to the Vatican and other Catholic churches will make attending tours in churches without special access challenging.
  • Venice: Day Trippers are charged daily fees during peak travel times due to overcrowding.
  • Barcelona:  A great destination, to be sure, but overcrowded during the summer months.

This shows an image comparing overcrowded European Cities like Venice and Paris versus hidden gems like Paros and the Azores

Imagine the contrast between the hustle and bustle of popular European cities and the peace and tranquility of traveling through Europe in a private small group tour. Here, you’ll have time to reflect, relax, and rejuvenate. This approach allows for deeper connections with your loved ones and new friends, away from the chaos of crowded streets and tourist hotspots.

Enjoy These Five Hidden Gems for Your European Summer Trip

Bordeaux, France

Hidden Gems in Europe.  Women in a quiet vineyard in Bordeaux France.

Bordeaux is more than just a wine lover’s paradise. It’s a place where you can stroll through vineyards that have been producing exquisite wines for centuries. Experience tastings that showcase the region’s rich vinicultural heritage, from robust reds to elegant whites. The city is a delight to explore on foot, with charming pedestrian-friendly streets. Wander through the historic center, visit the magnificent Place de la Bourse, and indulge in the local cuisine at cozy bistros.

Savor dishes like duck confit, foie gras, and canelés are all paired perfectly with a glass of Bordeaux wine. And don’t miss the Cité du Vin, an immersive museum dedicated to the world of wine, offering tastings and interactive exhibits. Bordeaux is truly a hidden gem for wine lovers.

For a unique experience, take a boat trip along the Garonne River, which offers a different perspective of Bordeaux’s beautiful architecture and vineyards. The weekly markets are also a must-visit, where you can sample local cheeses, charcuterie, and pastries. Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or appreciate good food and beautiful surroundings, Bordeaux offers a peaceful and enriching experience away from the crowds. Bordeaux is one of the finest hidden gems in France.

Bergen, Norway

Hidden gems in Europe.  The colorful town of Bergen Norway.  Gateway to the Norwegian Fjords

Bergen, a gateway to the fjords, boasts stunning natural scenery. Imagine colorful wooden houses lining the waterfront, creating a picturesque setting perfect for strolls. Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to do, from hiking in the surrounding mountains to exploring the breathtaking fjords. Don’t miss the Fløibanen funicular, which offers panoramic views of the city and its surroundings. After a day of exploration, treat yourself to fresh seafood at the local fish market, where you can taste delicacies like smoked salmon, king crab, and fish soup while enjoying the tranquil ambiance. Bergen is a hidden gem for nature and seafood lovers.

Bergen is also rich in cultural experiences. Visit the Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where you can wander through narrow alleyways and visit museums that tell the story of Bergen’s past as a major trading center. The city’s music scene is vibrant, with numerous festivals throughout the summer, including the Bergen International Festival, which features classical music, opera, and dance performances. This city is a perfect hidden gem for those who love culture and music.

For a unique culinary experience, join a food tour through the city’s best eateries. You can sample traditional Norwegian dishes like raspeballer (potato dumplings) and skillingsboller (cinnamon buns). Bergen’s natural beauty, cultural richness, and delicious food make it a perfect destination for peace and tranquility. Bergen truly stands out among hidden gems in Europe.

The Azores, Portugal

Hidden Gems in Europe.  The Azores in Portugal.

The Azores, an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic, are known for their volcanic landscapes, lush greenery, and stunning natural beauty. Explore volcanic craters, hot springs, and scenic lakes, each offering a unique experience. Whale watching is a popular activity here, with the Azores being one of the best places in the world to see these magnificent creatures. Hiking trails abound, offering breathtaking views at every turn. Savor local dishes like cozido das Furnas, a traditional stew cooked in volcanic soil, and enjoy fresh seafood paired with Azorean wines, known for their unique minerality and flavor. The Azores are a hidden gem for adventure seekers.

Each of the nine islands in the Azores has its own character and attractions. São Miguel, the largest island, is home to the Sete Cidades, twin blue and green lakes in a massive volcanic crater. Terceira boasts the historic town of Angra do Heroísmo, a UNESCO World Heritage site with charming streets and impressive architecture. Pico Island, dominated by the highest mountain in Portugal, is famous for its vineyards, which produce distinctive wines due to the volcanic soil. These islands are perfect hidden gems for those looking to explore unique landscapes.

The Azores are also a paradise for adventure seekers. In addition to whale watching, you can dive in crystal-clear waters, kayaking along rugged coastlines, or canyoning in lush ravines. For a more relaxed pace, visit one of the many natural thermal pools, where you can soak in warm, mineral-rich waters surrounded by nature. The adventure, relaxation, and stunning landscapes make the Azores a perfect off-the-beaten-path destination. Discover the hidden gems of the Azores for an unforgettable experience. Ready to plan your personalized trip? Contact Sue and Andy Ball today.


Hidden Gems in Europe.  Lake Bled in Slovenia

Slovenia is a small country packed with natural wonders. Visit the serene Lake Bled, with its charming island church and medieval castle perched on a cliff. Explore the Postojna Cave, a 24,120-meter-long karst cave system, and marvel at the stunning Julian Alps. Whether it’s hiking, cycling, or water sports, Slovenia offers a wide range of outdoor activities. The country’s compact size makes it easy to explore multiple attractions quickly—delight in Slovenian cuisine, which blends Mediterranean and Alpine influences. Try dishes like žlikrofi (dumplings) and potica (nut roll) paired with local wines from the country’s renowned vineyards. Slovenia is a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts and food lovers. Learn more about Slovenia in our blog.

Ljubljana, the capital, is a vibrant yet relaxed city with a beautiful old town, charming riverside cafes, and a lively cultural scene. Visit the Ljubljana Castle for panoramic city views, and take a boat ride on the Ljubljanica River. The city’s central market is a great place to sample local produce and delicacies, and the numerous festivals and events throughout the year add to its appeal.

For nature lovers, Triglav National Park offers endless hiking, climbing, and wildlife spotting opportunities. The Soča River, with emerald-green waters, is perfect for rafting and kayaking. Slovenia’s culinary scene is impressive, focusing on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Enjoy a farm-to-table dining experience at one of the many traditional gostilnas (inns), where you can taste regional specialties like kranjska klobasa (Carniolan sausage) and štruklji (rolled dumplings). Slovenia is truly one of Europe’s hidden gems.

Paros and Antiparos, Greece

Sleepy island of Paros, Greece.  Avoid overcrowding in Santorini

These Greek islands offer a more serene and less crowded atmosphere than their famous neighbors. Enjoy the slow pace of island life and the beautiful, unspoiled beaches. Relax on the pristine beaches, swim in crystal-clear waters, and explore charming villages. The local culture and hospitality make these islands a delightful destination. Savor Greek culinary delights such as moussaka, fresh seafood, and locally produced wines while soaking in the stunning views of the Aegean Sea. Paros and Antiparos are hidden gems perfect for a peaceful getaway.

Paros is known for its traditional villages, such as Naoussa and Lefkes, where you can wander through narrow, winding streets lined with whitewashed houses and vibrant bougainvillea. The island’s beaches, like Kolymbithres and Golden Beach, are perfect for relaxing and enjoying the sun. Antiparos, smaller and quieter, is a short ferry ride away. Visit the Cave of Antiparos, an impressive stalactite cave, and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of this tranquil island. These islands are hidden gems for those seeking tranquility.

The islands also offer a variety of outdoor activities, from windsurfing and kitesurfing to hiking and biking. The local cuisine is highlighted, with fresh seafood, locally grown vegetables, and traditional Greek dishes. Enjoy a meal at a seaside taverna, where you can taste dishes like grilled octopus, fava (yellow split pea puree), and loukoumades (honey-soaked doughnuts). The combination of beautiful landscapes, rich culture, and delicious food makes Paros and Antiparos ideal destinations for a peaceful and enjoyable getaway.

10 Tips for Experiencing Europe While Skipping the Summertime Crowds

Graphic created by Sphera Travel based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This graphic shows 10 tips for experiencing Europe while skipping the summertime crowds.

Go Beyond the Typical Tourist Hot-Spots

As you consider your next European adventure, think beyond the typical tourist hotspots. Embrace exploring hidden gem destinations that offer peace, tranquility, and authenticity. Whether you’re wandering the vineyards of Bordeaux, hiking the fjords of Bergen, exploring volcanic landscapes in the Azores, basking in the natural beauty of Slovenia, or relaxing on the serene beaches of Paros and Antiparos, these hidden gems provide the perfect backdrop for a memorable summer vacation.

Traveling to these lesser-known destinations allows you to experience Europe more intimately and personally. You’ll have the chance to connect with local cultures, savor unique culinary delights, and immerse yourself in breathtaking landscapes without the stress and hustle of crowded tourist spots. These hidden gems ensure a more authentic and enjoyable experience.

We understand that planning such a journey can be overwhelming, but that’s where we come in. Our expertise in designing Comfortable Luxury vacations ensures that every trip detail is tailored to your preferences. From selecting the perfect accommodations to curating unique experiences and providing insider tips, we are here to make your dream vacation a reality.

If you’re ready to beat the crowds and visit these hidden gems, we’re here to help.

Contact us to Start Planning.

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Sue and Andy Ball of Sphera Travel in Budapest

Sue & Andy Ball

Travel Experts | Grand Rapids, MI


Sphera Travel is a luxury travel design company founded in 2020.  We serve Empty Nesters and Retirees from all across the USA.


Dive into a world of refined luxury with Sphera Travel. Our specialty? Crafting unforgettable, tailor-made vacations for empty nesters. Embark on journeys full of enriching activities, celebrated milestones, and meaningful connections. Experience the world alongside like-minded individuals, friends, or family.