When it comes to cities that are hundreds and hundreds of years old, the term “up-and-coming” is relative. Yet throughout Europe, there are pockets of relatively unexplored terrain and lesser-known communities well worth checking out. Some spots are gaining popularity precisely because they are off the main tourist track, providing an authentic experience and a reprieve from crowds. Here are several to consider.
Bassano del Grappa, Italy
Bassano del Grappa is a city in northern Italy’s Veneto region, home to famous wines such as Amarone, Valpolicella, Soave and Prosecco. Meanwhile, the city itself is known for its special wine liqueur and for its landmark wooden bridge, the 13th-century Ponte Vecchio, spanning the River Brenta. On the river’s western bank, the Museo degli Alpini displays World War I artifacts. Other sites include Bonaguro Palace, with its fresco adorned walls; the city’s Civic Museum, which boasts a large art gallery; and the medieval Civic Tower, with panoramic views of the city, river and mountains.
Bassano del Grappa and its namesake alcoholic product, grappa, take their name from nearby Mount Grappa. Made from the stems, skins and seeds left from wine production, grappa is produced throughout Italy, but the throat-searing liqueur is said to be especially special from here. Given that, a grappa museum is no surprise. One of Bassano's historic distilleries, Poli, operates the tiny Museo della Grappa, which is actually located in the town’s famous bridge. With all day hours and free admission, the diminutive museum lets you learn how grappa is made and give it a try.
With its prime location along the Baltic Sea, the thriving port city of Gdansk is the fourth largest metropolitan area in Poland. Its wealth was built and accumulated by the city’s prominent merchant families, and Gdansk was popular with other wealthy members of the Hanseatic Trade League. That history resulted in today’s well-preserved 17th-century architecture, one of the city’s big draws. Gdansk also has multiple large universities, which has helped drive the dining scene and club culture. Bike tours, pub crawls, chic shopping, even a vodka tour are all on tap in Gdansk.
Amsterdam is the first place that comes to mind for most of us when we think of the Netherlands. For a slower pace and a more small-town vibe, Utrecht is a great substitute — or a side while visiting Amsterdam.
While Utrecht has been a central Netherlands crossroads and religious center for centuries, it has a decidedly contemporary vibe. Beautiful canals flow beneath classic Dutch architecture, mimicking Amsterdam in miniature. The city’s medieval old town — and its many Christian statues, shrines and churches — are watched over by the iconic, 14th-century bell tower known as Domtoren. The Gothic Cathedral of St. Martin lies just across Domplein square, itself a landmark. The Museum Catharijneconvent displays religious art and artifacts in a former monastery. The city also boasts a railway museum and a historic university.
On the modern side, Utrecht is home to the UNESCO-designated Rietveld Schroder House, by famed architect Gerrit Rietveld. The 1924 house is considered a classic example of early-modern period architecture, and the masterwork of the De Stijl modern art movement.
Located in southern Spain’s Malaga province, Ronda is a mountaintop city perched picturesquely above a deep gorge, called El Tajo. The gorge acts as a natural divider between the city’s circa-15th-century “new” district and its old town.
Spectacular views can be had from Puente Nuevo, the stone bridge spanning the gorge. One of the city’s most recognizable landmarks is the the Plaza de Toros, located in the newer section of town and built in the 1700s. Although reachable from Seville as a day trip, it's best to stay the night in Ronda. That way, when the tourists start to retreat, you can enjoy an outdoor cafe and a glass of local wine into the evening. Take advantage of morning cool the next day to explore El Tajo canyon’s nature trails before you leave town.