Ah, Europe. The Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, the Acropolis – these are just a few of the iconic monuments that come to mind when one thinks of hopping across the pond, perhaps on a once-in-a-lifetime international adventure. While these are certainly some of the best landmarks in Europe, they are the obvious choices. And though they are worth the trip, there are a myriad of less popular, off-the-beaten-path gems on the European continent that are only now getting recognized as the top destinations that they are.
So browse through our list of the eight new top travel destinations in Europe for 2018, bring along some of our cozy and functional travel pillows and comfort accessories, and get ready to explore the vast cultural and geographic diversity that Europe has to offer.
Svalbard Island, Norway
Looking for the world’s northernmost sushi restaurant? You will find it here, on this island halfway between Norway and the North Pole in the Atlantic ocean, where the populations of polar bears outnumber people. This enclave of icy fjords, majestically tall mountains, ethereal glaciers and uncommon wildlife is the perfect location from which to view the Northern Lights. But be warned, in this pristine Arctic wilderness there is NO daylight from November to February!
Fortunately, that all but ensures magnificent views of the aurora borealis, perhaps even at lunchtime. And on the other hand, from early spring to autumn, you have eternal day – plenty of time to explore the stunning scenery by dogsled, snowmobile, snowshoes or cross-country skis (don’t forget to bring along our Midnight Magic® Sleep Mask to ensure you catch your zzzz’s while surrounded by constant sunlight!). Svalbard Island is one of Europe’s last great wildernesses and certainly one of Europe’s top travel destinations to explore in 2018.
A three-hour flight from Svalbard Island puts you in Oslo, Europe’s fastest growing capital and the European Green Capital of 2019 (due to its amazingly small carbon footprint – one of the lowest in the world). Ringed in on all sides by mountains and the sea, this extremely pedestrian-friendly city, with excellent public transportation and a strong focus on sustainable food production, is not only famous for producing influential characters such as Edvard Munch and Henrik Ibsen, but also for its innovative architecture and dazzling landmarks.
The waterfront is a modernist postcard of artistically designed steel and glass wonders highlighted by ambient lighting. It has a thriving contemporary art scene (including brilliant opera, ballet and theater) and is in the midst of a Neo Nordic culinary movement with fabulous fusion (Icelandic-Korean being of the moment).
Georgia is one of the most visually stunning nations on earth; it’s amazing this country of ancient cathedrals, majestic mountain scenery and proud, genteel people has remained under the radar for so long. It’s also hard to imagine this was the birthplace of Stalin as the friendliness of the Georgian people is unrivaled on the continent (“A guest is a gift from God”), making it one of the top travel destinations in Europe for those looking for a more intimate cultural experience.
The vast majority of the country is dotted with medieval tower-house villages high in the Caucasus mountains, sporadic cave cities and rolling valleys of vineyards, though the capital of Tbilisi is quite modern and avant garde. The best way to take in all that Georgia has to offer is by walking and easy trekking so grab a pair of our extra-soft, supportive Bamboo Compression Socks™ to keep your legs happy and energized!
Ljubliana and Lake Bled, Slovenia
Slovenia’s capital and largest city, Ljubliana is an up-and-coming hotbed of top-quality museums, chic hotels and first-rate restaurants, plus an energetic nightlife and club scene populated mostly by its 50,000 students. Similar to Oslo in its dedication to environmental sustainability (though significantly warmer!), this 2016 Green Capital of Europe has banned cars in the center of the city, making it perfect for strolling or biking along the gorgeous Ljubljanica River, or relaxing at some of the waterside cafes.
And yet only 45 minutes away by car or bus you can find yourself immersed in nature on the shores of the rich, kelly-green Lake Bled with its picture-perfect chapel perched on the tiny island in the center. Surrounded by some of the highest summits in the Julian Alps which are dotted with medieval castles clinging to their rocky ledges and cliffs, this area is Slovenia’s most popular resort and one of Europe’s newest top travel destinations, so it’s best to avoid it during the midsummer high season. Fortunately the weather is pleasant for most of the year, making it perfect for romantic honeymooners, hikers and backpackers, especially in April, May, September and October.
Italy has so much to offer – a plethora of some of the best landmarks in Europe such as the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, and Pompeii are only the tip of the iceberg. And now, there is another marvel to add to the list, the 2019 European Capital of Culture, Matera. An entire city in the southern region of Basilicata built around a vast, 9,000-year-old Neolithic cave network, Matera is the third-longest continuously inhabited human settlement in the world. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, most of the sassi, or cave dwellings, were inhabited by incredibly poor people living in squalor – this slum was the shame of Italy.
So in the 1950s the government relocated the 16,000 resident to public housing and Matera was deserted until many decades later when people once again embraced the value of this extraordinary place. In 1993 it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site and today, guests can stay in 5-star cave hotels, eat in fantastically Italian cave restaurants, visit cave art galleries and swim in underground cave pools. This top European travel destination is not to be missed!!
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Spain
This tiny island attached to Spain by a short man-made stone bridge between the towns of Bakio and Bermeo is one of the most photographed features in the region, if not in all of Europe. About two hours from the French border and 45 minutes from Bilbao, this little islet off the northern coast in the Bay of Biscay is a must-see if you are exploring the Basque region. Topped by a historic church originally built by the Knights Templars in the 10th century, the island will be easily recognized by Game of Thrones fans for its extensive use as a setting in season seven and will soon become one of the best recognized landmarks in Europe.
When not being used by film crews, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a pilgrimage destination for devout Christians, especially on June 24th, July 31st and August 29th. After climbing 241 steps and reaching the hermitage, ring the bell outside three times and you will be granted a wish and all bad spirits around you will be banished. Note: the chapel is usually only open in July and August.
Up the River Elbe from the North Sea you will find Germany’s somewhat unknown second-largest city, Hamburg. It won’t remain unexplored for long though, with its gorgeous waterways, canals and bridges flanked by tall, brick buildings. This “Venice of the North” is fast becoming Europe’s top cosmopolitan travel destination, and rightfully so.
As one of Germany’s wealthiest cities, due to its maritime history and vast international trading networks from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is full of unique neighborhoods, multicultural restaurants and cafes, more than 50 museums, harborside venues pounding out unique electronic music, and interesting sites like the local fresh-fish market (Fischmarkt). It’s a fantastic place for wandering as every alley and boulevard is near the sea and there are free bicycles to make exploring that much easier.
Sofia and Varna, Bulgaria
Just north of Greece and Turkey, with miles of beaches along the aquamarine waters of the erroneously named Black Sea, you will find a gorgeous country full of misty mountains, historical stone bridges, sleepy little towns and vibrant cities packed with culture, art and nightlife. Bulgaria is perhaps the most undiscovered top travel destination in Europe. Laced with a great network of hiking trails and hizhas (hiking huts) through its seven mountain ranges, don’t be surprised if you stumble across ancient remains from the Neolithic settlements that were here, or remnants of the Roman bathhouses, city walls and amphitheaters that dotted the landscape.
You can also find these archaeological treasures strewn around Bulgaria’s major cities such as Sofia and Varna. But with its snow-capped peaks dotted with frozen lakes and forests full of lynx, wolves and bears, its natural wonders are just as impressive as those from mankind. So whether you come to this top European travel destination for its metropolitan charms, or to mountain bike and hike, Bulgaria will undoubtedly take your breath away.
Time to Discover
There’s no better time to plan a grand, new adventure than during the welcoming of a new year. Let 2018 be your year to explore. At Cabeau, our mission is to make travel better by not only creating innovative and superior travel accessories, but also by providing up-to-the-minute practical travel advice and information. So check out our line of award-winning travel pillows, comfort products and accessories today and get ready to discover all the top travel destinations that Europe, and the world, has to offer.