This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2014. I’m currently updating some older content with fresh information to keep us inspired while COVID-19 stops us from travelling!
My favourite travel memories aren’t usually the ones where I’ve visited crowded tourist attractions.
It’s the times where I’ve discovered the offbeat areas of a city or stumbled upon something that most tourists don’t know about that stand out most in my memory.
Everyone knows to go to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Astronomical Clock in Prague, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin or St Mark’s Square in Venice, but Europe has so much more to see than these frequently visited sights.
If you want to get off the well-trodden path and discover some awesome but lesser known attractions in Europe, here are 10 that are sure to blow your mind!
1. Ruin Pubs (Budapest, Hungary)
You absolutely cannot head to Budapest without visiting a few of its Ruin Pubs! What are Ruin Pubs, you ask? Well, if you head into the Jewish Quarter, you’ll find a collection of once derelict warehouses and factories that have been transformed into happening bars.
These casual nightlife hotspots are where all the cool kids hang out in Budapest. They are often decorated with upcycled furniture and wacky decorations that you’d probably find in a scrap yard or buried deep in a box of junk at an antique store. Here’s a list of ruin pubs in the city for a self-guided tour, or you can hop on a ruin pub crawl to see the bars with a guide and some other partygoers!
2. Solheimasandur plane wreck (Iceland)
This eerie looking wreckage is a US military plane that crashed on the black sand beach on the south coast of Iceland in 1973. There is no signage for it, only a gravel area where you’ll see a few cars parked along the side of the road.
It takes about 40 minutes to walk all the way from the road to the plane wreck (and walking along this sandy wasteland is suuuuuper boring) but it’s absolutely worth it–you’ll get to climb all over the wreckage for some truly great photos.
3. Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines (St Petersburg, Russia)
We actually didn’t know about the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines until we found a flyer for it in our St Petersburg hostel. This place has an insane collection of restored soviet arcade machines which you can actually play–the museum staff will hand over actual soviet era coins to insert into the machines.
We thoroughly enjoyed getting into the soviet spirit by driving miniature tanks around a war course, and comparing our strength to a Russian family’s little girl or apparently muscly grandfather by struggling to pull a “turnip” from the ground.
4. Chernobyl exclusion zone (Ukraine)
This activity was truly something I will never forget. Visiting the Chernobyl exclusion zone is like travelling to a place frozen in time, where nature has begun to take back the items that humans left behind when they abandoned the area over 30 years ago.
The exclusion zone can only be visited on a guided tour, so book your tickets from Kiev and prepare for an unforgettable day at one of the world’s most unique and weird locations.
5. Shoreditch (London, UK)
In my opinion, Shoreditch is an underrated activity in London! This area is sure to satisfy all of your hipster cravings as Brick Lane is known for it’s abundance of vintage clothing, record stores, antiques, and weekend markets.
And if you’re into street art (like I am), then you’ll find the walls of Shoreditch to be phenomenal. Every surface seems to have a massive mural, or political propaganda, or posters, or just a selection of random colours splashed all over it. I tend to go a bit photo crazy with the all the art around here. Look up some London weekend packages and get exploring.
6. The Atomium (Brussels, Belgium)
The museum itself isn’t all that interesting, but the Brussels Atomium was awesome purely because the structure is so damn weird.
Constructed for the 1958 world fair, the Atomium stands a little way out of the city but is easily accessible by train. Once inside, there are numerous exhibitions in 5 of the spheres, connected by stairs or escalators that travel through the long cylinders between them.
7. Kutna Hora bone chapel (Czech Republic)
What if I told you that there is a chapel in the Czech countryside that is decorated with the bones of 40,000 plague victims? Yep, this place actually exists. You can take a day trip to Kutna Hora from Prague to visit this weird and wacky attraction.
It’s a strange feeling walking into this chapel of bones and knowing that there are so many skeletons in there, seemingly watching your every move. The bones are arranged to create strange decorations in the basement of the chapel.
8. Strahov Monastery (Prague, Czech Republic)
Many of our favourite places are often beer-related, but this place puts a twist on your average Czech Pils as it the recipe was originally made by monks, and is served in a monastery.
Strahov Monastery is perched on the hill behind Prague Castle and has a fabulous view of the city. The building itself is super pretty and guided tours are available if that tickles your fancy. The on-site restaurant is where you’ll find the local brews served, which is positioned right at the top of a breathtaking walk back down the hill.
9. Subway stations (Stockholm, Sweden)
The Stockholm subway has been called the ‘world’s longest art exhibit’ as it stretches for 110km. Over 90 of the city’s 100 subway stations are decorated, with installations from over 150 artists.
I did a self guided tour of Stockholm’s best subway stations and was super impressed with the incredible ways in which each station was adorned. The impressive Rådhuset station (pictured above) was my fave from our makeshift tour – the red rock juxtaposed with the modern escalators gave the whole place a surreal look. It felt like we were wandering through a futuristic cave.
10. East Side Gallery (Berlin, Germany)
Parts of the Berlin Wall still stand, and this particular section has been used for artistic expression. The East Side Gallery is positioned along the bank of the river between Oberbaumbrücke (Oberbaum Bridge) and Ostbahnhof station, and stretches for 1.3km (0.8 miles) making it the longest open air gallery in the world.
The artworks on the East Side Gallery portray the feelings of fright, uproar, and relief that Berlin’s inhabitants experienced during these terrifying moments in the city’s history. It’s a truly interesting place to spend an hour or two exploring.