You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the little streets of Paris, the palaces of Vienna, or the twisting canals of Venice. After all, there's a reason these iconic cities are as timeless and as popular as they are.
But Europe is more than just these well-known destinations. These cities may be the ones on the postcards, or the ones you'll see plastered over everyone's Facebook vacation photo albums, but some of Europe's most beautiful and exciting cities are often also some of the continent's smallest or most unassuming. If you've done the big ones before—or even if you just have a few days to spare while visiting a major hub—then enough can't be said for the experience of hopping onto a train, bus, or ferry and taking a short trip to somewhere really new.
For example, while visiting London, why not take a day or two to visit the medieval city of Bruges? Just a few hours away by Eurostar, Bruges is a quiet, lovely city of canals and cobblestone streets (not to mention the city’s famous belfry). Similarly, Poland’s Szczecin is a beloved waterfront city that’s just a quick, two-hour train trip from Berlin. Bratislava, the charming capital of Slovakia, isn’t as popular a destination as Vienna, but it’s an easy day trip from the famous Austrian metropolis (only an hour away by train) and is a perfect home base for wine-tasting expeditions in the surrounding countryside.
All of the European detours listed here are easy, convenient trips: just a few hours away from a major city via affordable mass transit. (No private drivers or even car rentals necessary.) But, perhaps more importantly, all of the cities included—few of which get the attention they deserve—offer intrepid travelers the chance to have a unique, under-the-radar European experience.