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These 4 Alternative European Destinations Will Help You Avoid Mass Overtourism This Spring

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Have you been mulling over the idea of going on another Eurotrip this year, yet the memory of jam-packed narrow streets and multiple retries for that perfect selfie – only to get photobombed for the umpteenth time by inconsiderate passersby – still plague your thoughts?

There's seemingly no escaping the buzzing crowds in Europe's top destinations: the base of the Eiffel Tower will always be teeming with TikTok influencers, lines for accessing the Colosseum will only get longer, and good luck strolling the canal front in Venice without some accidental bumping.

Aerial View Of Central Pula And Its Historical Roman Arena, In The Istrian Peninsula Of Croatia, South Eastern Europe

What if I told you, however, you don't need to opt for the touristy spots to experience Europe's Old World flair, much less spend thousands of dollars on another overpriced cultural getaway that is likely to be spoiled in some way by overtourism?

These 4 alternative European cities will not only help you avoid the masses, but are in fact cheaper than their famous counterparts:

Instead Of Paris… Lyon

Fourviere Tower Pictured In Lyon, France, Western Europe

Paris is a bucket list destination for many, with its twinkling Eiffel, the faint glow of the romantic lampposts lining the steps of Montmartre, and flowery street-corner bistros, but trust me, the City of Light is not somewhere you'll want to set foot in, at least not this year.

It's preparing to host the Olympics in summer, and other than the usual crowding, there are more roadworks and scaffolding covering monuments than usual: instead, you should go to Lyon, the third-largest city in France, and a cultural capital in the same ranking.

Panoramic View Of A Hilltop Castle In Lyon, France, Western Europe

With over 2,000 years of History, it's one of the oldest cities in France, encompassing a Roman theater, a labyrinthical medieval quarter, and a UNESCO-listed Renaissance Old Town, where lanes are cobbled and pedestrian-friendly, and there's charming brasseries to be found at every turn.

Much like Paris, Lyon sits on the banks of a historic river, the Rhône, equally lined by historic churches and landmark buildings, and it even has its own tower: the Fourvière Tower, a metallic structure bearing an uncanny resemblance with Gustave Eiffel's signature monument.

Roofs Of Buildings In The Old Town Of Lyon, A Historic City In France, Western Europe

Lyon is by no means a hidden gem of France, hosting on average 6 million tourists per year, but compared to Paris, which hosted over 36 million guests in 2023 alone, it certainly feels a lot more quaint, not to mention it is roughly 21.2% cheaper to visit than Paris.

Instead Of Rome… Pula

Pula Amphitheater, A Colosseum Style Ancient Arena In The Small Istrian Town Of Pula, Croatia, South Eastern Europe

The Roman Empire knew no borders: it expanded from the Italian Peninsula towards nearly all of Mediterranean Europe, Western Asia and the north coast of Africa, and everywhere they went, the Romans left their cultural mark.

In case you weren't aware, the Colosseum is not the only building of its kind in the world. Pretty much every Roman city had its version of the ‘Colosseum', or arena, and you definitely don't need to brave the Rome crowds to immerse yourself in the history and retrace the steps of gladiators.

Ancient Roman Temple of Augustus In Pula, Croatia, Istrian Peninsula, South Eastern Europe

The harbor town of Pula, in Croatia, does the trick: it has a Colosseum-style amphitheater, the only one with all four sides entirely preserved, a Roman gate, modeled after the Italian capital's own triumphal arcs, and a pastel-tone Old Town evocative of Rome's bohemian Trastevere district.

Contrary to Rome, which has inevitably lost some of its ‘antiqueness' due to becoming a globalized city, with the hectic traffic, intertwining metro lines and shocking levels of tourism to go with it, Pula has done a better job at retaining that captivating ancient charm.

Golden Roman Era Gate In Pula, Istrian Peninsula, Croatia, South Eastern Europe

It is not a sprawling cosmopolis, but a much smaller, more homogenous settlement 56,000 or so Croats call home, it is only the sixth most-visited destination in Croatia, and prices are far more reasonable: a budget meal costs on average $13, while overnight rates start from as cheap as $29.

Instead Of Dubrovnik… Budva

Aerial view of Budva Montenegro

I may have given you a Croatian alternative for Rome, but there's no way I'm not addressing the elephant in the room: Dubrovnik, we're looking at you. There's no denying this former Venetian outpost is a world wonder, but blimey, it can be chaos personified, too.

Never in my life did I feel as squeezed into tiny places, and dare I say, suffocated as when visiting Dubrovnik in the peak cruising season. Cobblestones that burn to the touch, the hordes of cruise visitors, and fast-melting $7 gelatos are definitely not fond memories of mine.

Cobbled Alley Lined By Stone Dalmatian Houses, Stari Grad, Hvar Island, Croatia, Southern Europe

Last spring, I was fortunate enough to discover a Dubrovnik alternative, not miles away in some distant country, but in neighboring Montenegro (and no, I'm not talking about equally-busy Kotor): it's off-path Budva, and its car-free, historic walled town that stole my heart.

Similarly to Dubrovnik, it straddles the teal-colored Adriatic Sea. It is dominated by centuries-old Romanesque churches and postcard-ready terracotta roofs, and the winding alleys are just as picturesque, except there are far fewer tourists in sight.

Old town in Budva in a beautiful summer day, Montenegro

Unlike its celeb of a sister, Budva isn't hilly, either, making it a lot more accessible to those with mobility issues – if you've attempted climbing Dubrovnik's infamous Spanish Steps in the peak of summer, you'll be familiar with the struggle – and a budget traveler's daily expenses still cap at an acceptable $45.

Instead Of Venice… Aveiro

The Traditional Colorful Gondolas Of Aveiro, A Venice-Style City In Northern Portugal, Iberia, Southern Europe

Venice has developed a reputation in recent years for being an Instagrammer's playground, with its shop-lined fondamentas canals busy with gondolas, and a smelly one at that (though I've been myself, though not in the summer months, and would beg to differ).

Much like Rome isn't the only city with a Colosseum, Venice is not the only European gem with canals: there are at least four other cities built partially over water that deserve a nod, though my personal favorite is, without question, the hugely underrated Aveiro.

Traditional Gondolas Of Aveiro, A City In Portugal Known As The Portuguese Venice, Portugal, Iberian Peninsula, Europe

Rightfully dubbed the ‘Portuguese Venice‘, its historical core is traversed by navigable canals, which do not fully replace the road, and are much wider, and definitely not as ancient as the Italian equivalent, but remain beautiful in their own way.

Unlike in Venice, where the waterways run along the facades of Reinassance palaces, Aveiro's are bordered by a mix of brightly-painted Art Nouveau and centuries-old houses covered in elaborate tile patterns, in classic Portuguese fashion.

Traditional Barcos Moliceiros, Or Portuguese Gondolas, Traveling Up The Main Canal In Aveiro, A Venice-Style City In Northern Portugal, Iberia, Southern Europe

The canals date back to the 18th century only, but if you're particularly keen on seeing some ancient sights, there are far older structures worth visiting, including the cathedral, built in the 15th century, and the fairytale Castle of Santa Maria da Feira, part of the wider district of Aveiro.

Also, can we talk about Portuguese food? Italian cuisine may rank at number one on TasteAtlas, but Portuguese is edging in at number four this year, and I'm not sure about you, but I'd take pasteis de nata and salted codfish drenched in olive oil over the usual pizza and pasta combo anyday.

Portuguese Food Next To The Beach

Have I mentioned yet a trip to Aveiro can cost as little as $38 per day, including food, accommodation (generally in hostels) and transportation costs? Try spending a day in cripplingly-expensive Venice, the least budget-friendly city in Italy, and see how far those 40 bucks will stretch.

Let me just save you the hassle: not far at all.

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