Europe, a continent steeped in history and culture, has always been one of the first destinations to make it into any American traveler’s bucket list.
However, as the travel industry expands and evolves, tourists are starting to seek more unique, off-the-beaten-path experiences that add some extra flair to the traditional European getaway.
Luckily for those in search of their next destination, National Geographic just released its long-awaited list of the most exciting places to visit around the world in 2024.
These were five of the European destinations that made the cut:
5. Nordland, Norway
Starting off the list, we have Nordland, a northern region of Norway best known for its Arctic wilderness, dramatic fjords, and mesmerizing northern lights.
The county is also the perfect gateway to the Lofoten Islands.
There, you can marvel at the iconic towering peaks, explore gorgeous little fishing villages, and hike to breathtaking viewpoints overlooking the Norwegian Sea.
Other items to add to your Nordland itinerary include marveling at Svartisen Glacier, Norway’s second-largest glacier, as well as witnessing one of the strongest tidal currents in the world in Saltstraumen.
4. Galloway and Southern Ayrshire, Scotland
Located in southwestern Scotland, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire are dotted by rolling hills, charming coastal villages, and ancient castles, providing the most picturesque backdrop for your next batch of travel pictures.
The region is a haven for nature enthusiasts, who can enjoy birdwatching in the RSPB Mull of Galloway and hiking along the Southern Upland Way, Scotland’s longest coast-to-coast trail.
One unique feature about Galloway and Southern Ayrshire is that the sky here is exceptionally dark, creating the perfect opportunity for stargazing.
3. Emilia-Romagna, Italy
The northern Italy region is synonymous with delectable cuisine, gorgeous historic cities, and world-class artistic heritage.
Here, foodies can finally try the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, the authentic Parmesan cheese of Parma, and the iconic handmade pasta of Bologna (fun fact – ragu alla bolognese is Italy’s national dish, so a warm plate of pasta accompanied by the rich sauce is a must-try).
History buffs, on the other hand, will be able to experience the idyllic medieval towns of Ferrara and Ravenna, where they can see the stunning architecture and ancient mosaics firsthand.
2. Belfast, Northern Ireland
If you’re looking to explore the wonders of Western Europe instead, you can’t go wrong with Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland and home to the iconic Titanic Belfast Museum.
Between its rich history, vibrant spirit, thriving arts scene, and warm atmosphere, the region has a lot to offer travelers looking for a unique European getaway away from the chaotic crowds of Paris or Barcelona.
The Titanic museum I mentioned before is truly a must-see. It offers 9 interactive galleries that re-tell the story of the ill-fated ship in a way it’s never been told before.
Other attractions to add to your Belfast itinerary include the Cathedral Quarter, the Giant’s Causeway, St. George’s Market, the Belfast City Hall, and the Botanic Gardens.
1. Albanian Alps, Albania
Once a hidden gem nestled in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula, Albania has now become the fastest-growing destination in Europe, beckoning tourists with its idyllic views, warm hospitality, and reasonable prices.
However, it’s worth noting that most tourists are flocking to the country’s iconic Riviera, which, while gorgeous, is far from Albania’s only natural attraction.
If you were to travel a bit further north, you’d be able to experience the stunning Albanian Alps, a rugged, unspoiled region that promises visitors the views of a lifetime.
Here, travelers can embark on scenic hikes through the Valbona Valley National Park, Theth National Park, and Komani Lake and enjoy the endemic flora and fauna firsthand.
Those looking for more of an adrenaline rush will be happy to learn that rock climbing, kayaking, and paragliding opportunities are also abundant in the area.
One thing I do want to mention is that I’d highly recommend hiring a professional guide or going on an organized tour while visiting the Albanian Alps.
Don’t get me wrong, the region is pretty safe, and most locals are more than welcoming to foreigners; however, having a professional help you navigate the rugged terrain will make you feel much more at ease – and thus, better able to enjoy the experience.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com