From lazy beach days soaking up the sun to alfresco dining late into the night, Western Europe comes into its own during the summer. The problem is that everyone knows it, and summer sees rocketing prices, long queues, and booked-up accommodation. But some places in Western Europe have managed to creep under the radar, meaning you can still enjoy a blissfully tranquil break.
If you want to visit this part of the world but don’t want to feel like a sardine, crammed in amongst throngs of other tourists, we’ve got you covered. Here are 16 places to beat the crowds in Western Europe.
1. Ghent, Belgium
The beauty of Bruges draws millions of visitors from all over the world – but it can be so crowded and tourism-centred that it’s almost impossible to get a glimpse of authentic Belgian life. Instead, head to Ghent, where you can soak up the local riverside culture, admire medieval architecture, and get your fill of fairytale buildings, without the overwhelming crowds.
The quiet cobbled streets of Patershol and Prinsenhof are perfect for strolling, and the historic buildings have just as much grandiose charm as those in Bruges. You can kayak along the river to get a new perspective on the city and admire gorgeous views of the imposing Gravensteen Castle. When night falls, the city comes alive with glittering illuminations, and the lively bars and pubs beckon.
Experience the riverside culture of Ghent
2. Porto Santo, Portugal
If you’re keen to go to Portugal but want to venture off the beaten track and go somewhere that feels truly remote, then Porto Santo is unrivalled. Lying just off the coast of Madeira, this tiny island remains blissfully undeveloped, and while tourists may flock to its bigger neighbour, Porto Santo enjoys a near-total lack of crowds and tourism.
This is a place where you can kick back on the beach and be the only person on the sand. In the north, the beaches are craggy and pebbly, and in the east, the soft sand stretches on for 10 km. The island’s only town, Vila Baleira, is wonderfully traditional; wander along the pretty town squares, relax in pavement cafes, and try delicious local dishes that have been passed down for generations.
Discover true solitude in Porto Santo
3. Aix-en-Provence, France
Known for its fragrant lavender fields, picturesque villages, sun-drenched beaches, and fabulous food, Provence is arguably France’s most seductive region. But in summer, things can get seriously busy – particularly along the Côte d’Azur. If you’re keen to explore this irresistible part of Western Europe but still want to enjoy a peaceful break, why not head to the city of Aix-en-Provence instead?
Aix is pretty and stately, with elegant leafy boulevards and grand public squares, and at its heart is Vieil Aix, a charming tangle of medieval lanes. Plus, you can try traditional culinary delights in the upmarket eateries: sip rosé in pavement terraces, tuck into colourful ratatouille in sleek restaurants, and feast on bread and local cheeses in cosy cafés. The night markets are also unmissable.
Indulge your senses in Provence
4. Leipzig, Germany
Often dubbed the ‘new Berlin’, the German city of Leipzig provides world-class attractions without hordes of tourists. Steeped in music, history, and philosophy (Goethe, Wagner and Nietzsche all went to university here!), this understated city has exceptional galleries and museums, and plenty of unique and colourful street art, which you can admire on guided tours.
If you’re passionate about music, you’ll be spoilt for choice, as the city is linked with Bach, Wagner, and Mendelssohn, and there are all kinds of classical music events and attractions. There are also lots of chic cafes and restaurants where you can try traditional Saxony food like pork schnitzel, potato soup, and indulgent cakes. And, in the evenings, the excellent live music bars guarantee a good time.
5. Seville, Spain
It can be difficult to resist the allure of Barcelona, but visiting this popular city can feel cramped and uninspired, particularly during the summer months. If you’re thinking about a Spanish city break where you can lose yourself in architecture, immerse yourself in history, and soak up the exciting local culture, Seville is one to add to the list.
With Roman ruins, elaborate Moorish towers, and an infectious energy, Seville is beautiful and exciting. The architecture of Alcazar of Seville is just as impressive as that in Barcelona, and the gardens of Parque de Maria Luisa are perfect for leisurely walks. In the evening, you can have a blast tapas-hopping and flamenco dancing – as Seville is the birthplace of both these Spanish staples!
Experience authentic Spanish culture in Seville
6. County Kerry, Ireland
County Kerry is home to some of Ireland’s most spectacular scenery. If you’re dreaming of exploring iconic Ireland – trekking over emerald-green hills and craggy mountains, walking on golden beaches and around gleaming lakes, and relaxing in characterful towns and villages – then County Kerry is for you. Located on the southwest corner of the island, this county has something for everyone.
Due to County Kerry’s extraordinary beauty, parts of it can get very busy, but most tourists stick to the Ring of Kerry – a circular scenic route that begins and ends in Killarney. If you want to avoid the crowds, simply venture off the beaten track to explore the county’s more hidden gems, such as the Blasket Islands, the town of Listowel, North Kerry, and Kenmare.
Experience the mystical beauty of County Kerry
7. Graz, Austria
Austrian holidays can offer a perfect blend of city and country. The grand, historic cities burst with charm and culture, and the Alpine landscape is famous around the world for its beauty. But, to beat the crowds, it’s best to avoid tourist hotspots like Vienna or Salzburg, and visit Austria’s second-largest city, Graz – only 2 hours and 15 minutes from Vienna International Airport by car.
Relaxed yet adventurous, Graz is just as beautiful as you’d expect for an important Austrian city, and its architecture is comparable with neighbouring Italy, complete with Renaissance courtyards and baroque palaces. But this unique city also has a distinctly modern edge, with an emerging design scene, vibrant music and arts, edgy and innovative buildings, and a cosy coffee house culture.
Be awed by Austria
8. Ericeira, Portugal
Portugal’s Algarve region is one of the most popular tourist hotspots. With pretty fishing towns, gorgeous golden beaches, limestone rolling foothills and dramatic cliffs, it’s perfect for a sun-soaked break. But to beat the crowds, why not head to sleepy-yet-spectacular Ericeira, which is less than an hour’s drive from the capital, Lisbon?
Located atop rugged Atlantic-facing cliffs, Ericeira is known for its first-class surf and seafood. Its well-kept whitewashed buildings are home to laidback lounge bars, bohemian surf shops, and no-frills traditional restaurants, and the surrounding coastline is perfect for hiking. And, with more than 30 excellent surf spots, it’s one of the best places on the continent to hit the waves!
9. Padua, Italy
With fabulous food and wine, incredible art, and remarkable architecture, Italy is a dream for culture lovers – but its charms are certainly no secret. Hotspots like Venice see tens of millions of visitors each year, and attractions can get uncomfortably busy. But there are other romantic, artistic Italian cities that have snuck under the radar. Take Padua, for example, which is just an hour from Venice.
This small walled city is packed with history, culture, and beauty, from gorgeous gardens and ornate bridges to blue fresco masterpieces in ancient churches. Prato Della Valle is Europe’s largest square, and a great spot for people-watching over coffee or wine. The city’s dining scene is excellent too; the traditional trattorias are perfect for intimate dinners, and the gelaterias are unrivalled.
Immerse yourself in Italian culture
10. Utrecht, the Netherlands
Utrecht might be one of the Netherlands’ oldest cities, but it’s often overlooked by tourists who head straight to Amsterdam. But the fact that Utrecht isn’t overcrowded only adds to its charms, and this laidback city has lots to keep you occupied. In the heart of the medieval centre is the 15th-century Domtoren, which you can climb, and pretty tree-lined canals, which you can lose yourself along.
What were once canalside warehouses are now exciting venues, and as you enjoy some relaxed canal walks, you can pop into edgy restaurants, cool cafes, unique boutiques, and buzzing bars. Every corner of Utrecht has something new to discover, whether it’s a kooky museum, a tranquil church, a tempting cake shop, or a lively market square, and seeing what you stumble upon is half the fun.
Uncover the charm of Utrecht
11. The Orkney Islands, Scotland
If you’re thinking about a staycation but you fancy going somewhere remote, far away from the crowds packing the Cornish and Devon coasts, then why not head to the Orkney Islands? Tucked away on the northeastern coast of Scotland, circled by the Norwegian and North seas, this rugged archipelago is isolated, idyllic, and incredibly independent.
Only 20 of the 70 islands are inhabited, meaning you can get away from it all. But you can still be sure of a warm welcome from the locals who are famously hospitable – and there’s a vibrant community and unique culture to explore! Wildlife enthusiasts can also spot puffins, seals, whales and dolphins, and hikers will be left dumbstruck by the astonishingly wild and windswept scenery.
Blow the cobwebs away in the Orkney Islands
12. Frigiliana, Spain
When many people picture Spain, they see Andalusia; the country’s southernmost region is known for whitewashed fishing villages, Moorish castles, and sweeping sandy beaches. The Costa del Sol is Andalusia’s most famous stretch of coast, but it comes with crowds, particularly in places like Málaga and Marbella. For a quieter life, you can visit Nerja, 56 km east of Málaga.
While Nerja has all the holiday amenities you need, it’s managed to remain blissfully undeveloped. Unlike other towns on the south coast, it only has a handful of hotels, and its cobbled town centre retains a low-rise village appeal. The palm-lined promontory is perfect for strolls, and the views are incredible. Nerja also has some of the cheapest and most authentic local food in the Costa del Sol!
13. Annecy, France
Can’t decide between culture-and-food-focused holidays or an Alpine adventure? If you visit Annecy in France you can enjoy both. Annecy is located on the shores of a gleaming Alpine lake, and if you want to get active there are almost too many activities to choose from. Go swimming, sailing, cycling, stand-up paddleboarding, diving, rowing, take a boat trip, or simply explore the lakeside promenade.
There’s plenty of history in Annecy itself too. You can wander through the Old Town, visit the grand Annecy Castle, admire gorgeous views from the battlements, and view paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages. Plus, this is France, so there’s plenty of delicious food around, and you can enjoy lazy strolls along the canal and over the pretty bridges as you decide where to eat.
Enjoy an Alpine adventure in Annecy
14. Stuttgart, Germany
As Germany’s history-rich capital, Berlin is certainly no hidden gem – so if you want to escape the crowds, Stuttgart is worth a visit. Germany’s sixth-biggest city has much to offer visitors, and if you’re a car enthusiast, you’ll be in heaven. As the birthplace of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, there are all kinds of state-of-the-art motor museums to visit here.
When you’ve had your fill of car fun, you can explore wine country. The vineyards outside the city produce Riesling and Trollinger, and are just 20 minutes away. There are dozens of gorgeous green spaces and healing springs, which are perfect for a spa day. The hearty local food is also delicious, especially Käsespätzle (cheese noodles) and Maultaschen (stuffed pasta pouches).
Visit Germany’s motor city
15. Jersey, Channel Islands
If you have a fondness for places like Cornwall and Devon, you probably already know how rammed they can get during peak season. So, for similar scenery but far fewer crowds, why not head to Jersey instead? Located just off the Normandy coast, this unique island is a lovely blend of French and English influences, and its craggy coastal scenery has a decidedly Cornish feel.
As the biggest of the Channel Islands, Jersey has a lot going for it, and if you’re drawn to rugged cliffs, quaint villages, and sweeping sandy beaches, you’ll be in paradise. There’s lots of history here too, from wartime relics to crumbling castles, and adventure lovers can enjoy exploring the sea caves. St Helier, the capital, boasts a sleek marina, fancy cafes, trendy food vendors, and swish boutiques.
Embrace the uniqueness of the Channel Islands
16. Wengen, Austria
Switzerland is known all across the world for its outstanding Alpine scenery. Home to mirror-like lakes, towering mountains, and lush valleys, it’s no wonder millions flock here every year. But for a quieter holiday, it’s best to avoid hotspots like Interlaken, and head to the peaceful village of Wengen instead. Located in the stunning Jungfrau region, the landscape here will leave you breathless.
The rolling hills are perfect for cycling and hiking, and there are many beautiful trails that start from Wengen village itself. If you want to explore more of the Jungfrau region, you can just take the cable car from Wengen, as it’s ideally linked to other mountain railways. Or, for truly awe-inspiring vistas, head to the Sphinx Observatory at the saddle of Jungfraujoch, which is called ‘the Top of Europe’.
Explore the Top of Europe
Visiting beautiful destinations in Western Europe doesn’t mean you have to put up with large crowds and long queues even if you’re travelling in peak season.
There are still many hidden gems in Western Europe, from quiet and idyllic islands like Porto Santo to tranquil beach towns like Frigiliana.
And of course, there are many places in the UK where you can enjoy peace and tranquillity, from the rugged Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland to the Channel Islands in the very south.
Whether you’re looking for a lazy beach holiday, an intrepid outdoor adventure, or a culture-soaked city break, the beauty of Western Europe is its diversity – and as these 16 destinations show, there really is something for everyone!
For more European travel inspiration, check out our articles; 12 idyllic beach destinations in Southern Europe and 9 of the best places to find adventure in Northern Europe.
Looking to book your next getaway?
Are you hoping to go to Western Europe soon – and if so, do any of these places inspire you? Or perhaps you have your own suggestions for Western European destinations where you can beat the crowds? We’d love to hear about your travel experiences in the comments below.