20 beautiful European cities with hardly any tourists

CNN  — 

With overtourism showing no signs of abating in Europe’s most famous destinations, there’s never been a better time to seek out wonderful options that attract fewer visitors.

Keen to travel somewhere new without having to battle through huge crowds of selfie stick-wielding tourists in the likes of Venice, Paris and Amsterdam?

Here’s our pick of the most beautiful European cities with hardly any tourists:

Orange, France

While Avignon draws in thousands of tourists thanks to its summer festival and arresting Papal Palace, nearby Orange is usually overlooked.

Easier to navigate with far fewer visitors, the city’s key attraction is the vertiginous Roman theater, which was built in the first century C.E.

Meanwhile the Orange Museum, set in a beautiful 17th-century mansion, is also well worth a visit.

Norwich, England

Norwich has one of England's most impressive cathedrals.

The saying goes that Norwich has a pub for every day of the year and a church for every Sunday.

While that’s perhaps stretching the truth, this most quintessential of English cities is certainly home to some of the most stunning medieval architecture in England.

Norwich Cathedral dates back to 1096 and the streets of Colegate and Elm Hill are home to picturesque, centuries-old homes.

The Adam and Eve pub, on Bishopsgate, is said to be the oldest pub in the country, dating back to 1249.

Aarhus, Denmark

Denmark’s second city has long been overshadowed by its alluring capital Copenhagen.

But Aarhus makes the perfect alternative for a Danish long weekend thanks to its pretty beaches, towering Domkirke and the superb ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, with its rainbow panorama walkway.

ARoS’s Wine and Food Hall is one of the best places in the city to try Nordic cuisine on a budget.

For those looking to splash out, Gastromé,based in the Latin Quarter, has a tasting menu that will satisfy the most demanding of foodies.

Antwerp, Belgium

The UNESCO-protected Cathedral of Our Lady dominates the Antwerp skyline, but there’s so much to this Belgian city than its most famous building.

Highlights include the diamond Square Mile, where travelers can get to the heart of an industry that’s been a core part of the city since the 15th century.

There’s also the Red Star Line museum, located on Antwerp’s old docks, which uncovers the city’s past as a hub for migration to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Hague, Netherlands

Laid-back city The Hague is far less crowded than Amsterdam.

As Amsterdam attempts to rein in tourists with plans to close its Red Light District and impose strict rules on short-term lets, the Hague serves as a fabulous, low-key alternative for those still keen on a Dutch break.

The city boasts some of the Netherlands’ finest architecture, a pretty network of canals and, in the Mauritshuis, a museum to rival Amsterdam’s behemoth Rijksmuseum.

It’s also just 15 minutes away from the gorgeous Scheveningen beach resort.

Sarajevo, Bosnia

Sarajevo is filled with stand-out architecture.

Often snubbed for more popular destinations in neighboring Croatia, Sarajevo is a resurgent city brimful of culture and history.

At its heart is Baščaršija, the old market quarter that still buzzes with spice stalls, cafés and the fascinating Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque.

Visitors can learn about Sarajevo’s four-year-long siege during the 1990s civil war at the Tunnel of Hope and the War Childhood Museum.

The derelict bobsled track from the 1984 Winter Olympics is also a stand-out sight – the nearby Pino Nature Hotel offers superb views and first-rate Bosnian food.

Pristina, Kosovo

Kosovo's capital is a quirky city with plenty to see and do.

The Kosovan capital isn’t usually at the top of many tourists’ destination wish lists, but that’s no reason not to visit this fascinating city.

While Pristina may have been synonymous with war 20 years ago, its undergone a major transformation since then, with various quirky buildings popping up.

The excellent Emin Gjiku Ethnographic Museum is well worth a morning of exploring, as is the superb National Museum of Kosovo.

Pristina University’s unique library will fascinate architecture buffs, while those looking to cool off can find solace in the vast pool tucked away in Germia Park, located just north of the city.

Malmo, Sweden

Malmo -- the third largest city in Sweden after Stockholm and Gothenburg.

Malmo is so much more than a day trip across the Oresund Bridge from Copenhagen.

The excellent Moderna Museet Malmo is one of the best contemporary art galleries in Europe, while culture fiends will find succor at Malmöhus Castle, home to several museums focusing on the local area.

The city’s food scene rivals the nearby Danish capital – foodies should check out Bloom in the Park and its “no menu‘“concept, as well as the global offerings at Malmö Saluhall.

Meanwhile Ribersborg beach, located just a short walk from the city center, is a wonderful haven from the heat in high summer.

Aberdeen, Scotland

Aberdeen is often referred to as "The Flower of Scotland" thanks to its greenery.

The hordes visiting the Scottish capital can feel hugely oppressive, particularly during its annual festivals.

However, travelers keen to escape the crowds can simply head north to Aberdeen instead.

The city’s amazing architecture has given rise to the nickname “Granite City,” with fascinating buildings at every turn.

Aberdeen’s main art gallery is due to reopen in November 2019, while those keen to sample the local culture can head out to nearby Speyside for a tour of some of Scotland’s best single malt distilleries.

Bern, Switzerland

The Old Town of Bern -- a UNESCO World Heritage site.

While travelers often simply pass through the Swiss capital en route to a summer vacation or winter ski trip in Zurich or Geneva, Bern is definitely worthy of a few extra days of your trip.

When the heat rises, locals take to the River Aare for cooling dips and paddle board trips.

Elsewhere, the Museum of Fine Arts features works by Picasso and Klee, while hikers can tramp to the top of the Gurten, the mountain which overlooks the old city.

Wroclaw, Poland

Wroclaw is one of the oldest cities in Poland.

Few small cities in Europe pack a cultural punch like Wroclaw.

This western Polish city, on the banks of the Oder river, served as European Capital of Culture in 2016 and has plenty of attractions for art, architecture and history fanatics to marvel at.

Wroclaw’s main highlight is the 114-meter Panorama of Racławice, depicting the 1794 defeat of a Russian army by the Poles.

The beautiful Centennial Hall should also be on any itinerary, as should the Penitent Bridge between the towers of the Mary Magdalene Church.

No visit is complete without a day spent exploring the Gothic Old Town.

Tbilisi, Georgia

The name of Georgia's capital comes from the Old Georgian word "tbili," which means warm.

The capital city of Georgia, which is actually positioned between Asia and Europe, derives its name from the hot springs that bubble beneath its surface.

Its sulfur baths are a magnet for visitors, albeit far fewer than those that head to the famous spas.

Tbilisi wears its multi-ethnic history with pride – the famous Metekhi Church, which dates back to the 13th century, sits close to the Narikala Fortress, built by the occupying Persians in the fourth century.

Meanwhile, the rambling alleyways and small shops of the Old Town are perfect for whiling away the hours.

Minsk, Belarus

The Belarusian capital of Minsk is another city that's usually relatively crowd-free.

Having been almost destroyed during World War II, the now Belarusian capital became fertile ground for Soviet redevelopment.

Today, the city’s buildings offer a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era of brutalist buildings.

Travelers can wander around the vast, seven-hectare Independence Square before taking in the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, which looks at how Belarus overcame Nazi occupation.

Minsk’s bar scene is legendary, and if the acquired taste of local tipple Balsam doesn’t suit, the excellent Gambrinus has a variety of beers to try after a day’s sightseeing.

Yerevan, Armenia

Yerevan -- one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities.

The Armenian capital’s position in the far eastern reaches of Europe means it’s easily forgotten by those on the tourist trail.

But with a history going back more than 2,800 years, there’s a palpable sense of the past here, without the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of regular tourist hotspots.

Its downtown area is a mix of Beaux Arts buildings and hulking, Soviet-era blocks.

Visitors can take in the fascinating Apostolic Church and learn about the city’s history at Erebuni Historical & Archaeological Museum-Reserve, a site that dates back to 782 BCE.

Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Cluj-Napoca is filled with fascinating Baroque and Gothic architecture.

Romania’s second largest city is often seen as a stop off for travelers looking for outdoor adventures in the Apuseni Mountains, or those keen to witness Transylvania’s historic sights.

But the vast, Gothic St. Michael’s Church and the fascinating Fabrica de Pensule, a working gallery and art space in a former paintbrush factory, are just two attractions that make a longer stay essential.

Throw in a thriving café and bar scene and pretty squares, and Cluj-Napoca has all the trappings of the ideal city break destination.

Debrecen, Hungary

Debrecen is a less crowded alternative to Budapest.

While Budapest has a deserved reputation as one of Europe’s most appealing cities, Debrecen is an excellent option for those seeking a less crowded Hungarian alternative.

Kossuth tér, the main square, is home to the impressive Calvinist Great Church and Grand Hotel Aranybika.

Yet it’s beyond these major sights that the real action takes place.

The Old Town rewards those looking to get lost with excellent cafés and people-watching spots.

Keep an eye out for smaller spa hotels, with a chance to soak in thermal waters before heading to the nearby Great Plains.

Ankara, Turkey

Ankara, formerly known as Angora, is the second largest city in Turkey after Istanbul.

When it comes to city breaks, Istanbul tends to take all the plaudits.

But capital city Ankara is so much more than a stop off on the way to Cappadocia and the other delights of Anatolia.

Anitkabir, the mausoleum of modern Turkey founder Ataturk, is an obvious starting point, along with the Museum of the War of Independence.

The Kocatepe and Hacı Bayram Mosques are also key attractions, while the cafés of Kızılay are ideal spots to grab a kebab and watch the world go by.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv -- the first Bulgarian city chosen as European Capital of Culture.

Currently enjoying its time in the limelight as a European Capital of Culture, Plovdiv is Europe’s longest inhabited city.

As a result, it’s imbued with an inescapable sense of history, especially in the colorful Old Town.

The main draw here is the astonishing second-century Roman amphitheater, which wasn’t uncovered until the 1970s.

Another highlight is the Thracian ruins of Eumolpias, located just outside town and dating back 5,000 years.

Trondheim, Norway

This historic city was Norway's first capital.

Located on the fjord of the same name, Trondheim is Norway’s third largest city.

However, with fewer than 200,000 residents, it’s decidedly uncrowded and easy to explore.

The famous Gothic cathedral is perhaps its best known sight, but the views across the water and around its vibrant harbor are just as impressive.

Trondheim is also known for its excellent microbreweries – Den Gode Nabo is popular and a great place to start.

Turin, Italy

Turin is home to incredible sights like the Mole Antonelliana.

Venice’s struggles with tourist numbers have been well documented, but while still popular with travelers, nearby Turin is decidedly less congested.

The capital of the Piedmont region happens to be home to some of Italy’s most underrated sights, including the excellent Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Basilica di Superga and Museo Egizio, with its phenomenal collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts.

Travelers can simply sip a coffee on the sidewalk, indulge in some of the country’s best cuisine and enjoy being away from the hordes in the country’s hot spots.

Joe Minihane is a freelance travel writer and editor. His latest book is “Floating: A Life Regained,” a memoir about wild swimming and anxiety.