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Up-And-Coming Alternatives to European Hotspots

As travel sees its busiest year on record, the need for travel advisors to get creative in the face of limited availability across Europe in high season has never been more poignant.

While our team will always have a sweet spot for beloved European capital cities and seaside summer hotspots, we’re using this opportunity to empower clients to discover lesser-known destinations across the continent. In the spirit of creativity, we’ve rounded up nine hidden gem swaps to consider for your next European adventure as we help plan where you’ll be crossing off your bucket list next.

  1. Amalfi Coast, Italy → Sardinia, Italy
  2. Amsterdam, Netherlands → Stockholm, Sweden
  3. Barcelona, Spain → Budapest, Hungary
  4. Croatia → Malta
  5. Lake Como, Italy → Lake Lucerne, Switzerland
  6. London, United Kingdom → Edinburgh, Scotland
  7. Mykonos, Greece → Bodrum, Turkey
  8. Paris, France → Madrid, Spain
Instead of the Amalfi Coast, Italy consider Sardinia, Italy

It goes without saying that the famed Amalfi Coast is a top-booked destination frequented by Americans summer after summer. But for those who are seeking equally stunning vistas, freshly caught seafood, and top hotels, Sardinia is calling. As an island destination, Sardinia boasts white-sand beaches whose turquoise coves have acted as a haven for yachts for decades. As far as activities, adventure seekers will gravitate towards windsurfing, exploring marine caves, or hiking the rugged coastline. If history is more your thing, don’t miss the cylindrical towers marking relics of the Nuragic civilization south of Olbia. There are also fortified villages that stand as a testament to Sardina’s storied history.

Where to stay: The newly opened Baglioni Resort Sardinia has quickly become a SmartFlyer favorite with easy access to one of the island’s most breathtaking beaches, Lu Impostu. The property has just seventy-eight rooms in addition to a private villa rental option. For those looking to explore the sea, the Tavolara Marine Area provides amazing opportunities for diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and boat trips. Though if you prefer to enjoy rest and relaxation, then treat yourself to some relaxing moments at the hotel’s exquisite spa. Another new property on our radar is the soon-to-open 7Pines Resort Sardinia, part of Destination by Hyatt. It is located in a tranquil cove in Baja Sardinia ensuring some of the best sunset views across the Mediterranean.

7 Pines Resort Sardinia
7 Pines Resort Sardinia

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Instead of Amsterdam, Netherlands, consider Stockholm, Sweden

Amsterdam is commonly referred to as one of the cultural capitals of the world, and it’s easy to see why. This vibrant city is popular amongst international travelers for its winding canals, eclectic art and architecture, and bustling nightlife. Despite this, we’d be remiss to not mention Stockholm as a worthy Scandanavian counterpart. Known by locals as the “Venice of the north,” the Swedish capital is oozing with charm from river to river. Gamla Stan, Sweden’s “Old Town,” is filled with picturesque, cobblestone streets peppered with local shops and restaurants. The city is also home to iconic museums such as the Nobel Prize Museum, the Vasa Museum, and the glittery Abba Museum. When it comes to timeless art and design, renowned brands like Svnekst Tenn and Acne Studios are right at visitors’ fingertips. And rest assured, the city is alight with electric nightclubs and dinner spots from the neon-infused Brasserie Astoria to chic rooftop bars like Le Hibou.

Where to stay: If you’re looking for iconic Swedish hospitality, then look no further than Grand HĂ´tel Stockholm. This hotel is famous for hosting international royalty since its establishment in the late 19th century. Each of its over three hundred accommodations is outfitted in marble and gold fixtures, ranging from Deluxe options to ultra-private rooftop suites that occupy full floors of the hotel. Their Swedish wellness experience is also a must-try. From individual spa treatments to full suite experiences, their Nordic Spa & Fitness programs immerse you in unique, highly-personalized activations. For a more intimate experience, we recommend a stay at Villa Dagmar, just steps away from some of Stockholm’s hottest nightlife. Known for its eclectic design philosophy amongst locals, this hotel blends iconic Scandanavian minimalism with the warmth of an Italian villa. Its garden courtyard serves up a wide catalog of wine-and-dine experiences, as well as a rotating collection of art exhibitions from local artists.

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Instead of Barcelona, Spain consider Budapest, Hungary

While swapping out Barcelona for Budapest may seem like a long shot, stick with us here. The Catalan city of Barcelona is a magnet for visitors seeking sea views, a diverse array of cuisine pulling on its mix of cultures, world-famous architecture, and for some, an illustrious party scene. Now, allow us to invite Budapest to the chat. This Eastern European capital spread across the Danube River plays host to Hungary’s legacy of establishments geared toward pursuing the good life. Visitors to Budapest will delight in its kaleidoscope of architectural styles including Neoclassical, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings. And on the party front? A night out hopping between Budapest’s ruin bars – gritty hubs for nightlife situated in previously neglected pre-war buildings – allows you to take the city by storm.

Where to stay: The grand dame of town is undoubtedly Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest, a landmark overlooking the scenic Danube with panoramic vistas of the Royal Castle, Buda Hills, and the majestic Chain Bridge. The hotel is housed in a historic building dating back to 1906 with classic Art Nouveau architecture. We especially love a stay here during the festive season when the property is decked in holiday cheer and guests can easily walk to the nearby Christmas Markets, notably some of the best in Europe. Alternatively, the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest was recently refurbished, boasting an impressive spa and contemporary Hungarian art collection. Some of the hotel’s art adorns the rooms and suits while other curated modern Hungarian pieces are on display in public areas in the Gallery on The Promenade.

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Instead of Croatia consider Malta

In recent years, combining Croatia and Montenegro has been a popular option for our clients. And while we’ll never tire of these countries’ diverse offerings for sun, sea, wineries, and rich history, those seeking new frontiers with fewer tourists are turning to Malta. While the country has gained popularity with European travelers, it’s practically unheard of in the American market. The island nation is located between Sicily and the North African coast, affording this Mediterranean gem picturesque beaches and plentiful opportunities for divers. Famous for having the highest density of historic sights on the planet, we love that it’s small enough to explore but large enough to get lost in.

Where to stay: Situated on the beach, the InterContinental Malta is just seven kilometers from Valletta, Malta’s capital city, and located within walking distance of some of the island’s finest shopping. The property offers three pools, a sandy Beach Club and private beach access, a Kid’s Club, an award-winning spa, and the largest fitness center on the island. Guests staying in suites on the hotel’s higher floors have exclusive access to the Club, infinity pool, and additional food and beverage outlets. Alternatively, the Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa is a far more boutique option located next to the beautiful San Anton Botanical Gardens. The property’s state-of-the-art Athenaeum Spa offers a tranquil haven of health and well-being in the heart of Malta.

Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa

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Instead of Lake Como, Italy consider Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Lake Como is a timeless retreat in Italy’s northern region where elegance and class collide with the sheer beauty of the lake. For a stay that can rival the immersion in nature to Lake Como, consider traveling to Switzerland to explore Lake Lucerne. Here, you can enjoy the historical center of Lucerne, a city that has been preserved and carefully developed for centuries. Take a leisurely walk through Chapel Bridge and the city’s maze of small streets before checking out the countless historical towers, fountains, and frescoed buildings. Visitors also relish the chance to take a cruise on the crystal-clear lake to Alpnachstad. Here, you can ascend by the steepest rack railway in the world to Pilatus Kulm. Once on top, you can walk up to the breathtaking panorama over the Swiss Alps and Lucerne.

Where to stay: Instagram made famous a resort that has long been a gem in our eyes. BĂĽrgenstock Hotels & Resort is the epitome of Swiss paradise; since opening in 1873, the property has hosted a legion of celebrities, always ensuring guests the utmost privacy. BĂĽrgenstock Hotels & Resort’s Alpine Spa is one of the largest in Switzerland with each of its three levels offering a stunning blend of science-based “Biologique Recherche” approaches: indoor and outdoor swimming pools, saunas, hammams, infrared saunas, and relaxation capsules. Immersed in a breathtaking view of Lake Lucerne and the iconic Alpine landmarks, this is a one-of-a-kind experience to pamper yourself within. Alternatively, Park Hotel Vitznau is an extensively renovated jewel on Lake Lucerne offering breathtaking scenery and amenities designed around its three main themes: wine and dine, art and culture, and health and wellness.

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Instead of London, United Kingdom consider Edinburgh, Scotland

There’s no denying that London’s tether to the luxury hospitality scene only gets stronger each passing year; in the coming months alone, the city will see the opening of several new five-star properties. But for those who want to go beyond the city’s borders, we are excited about the prospect of slower travel across the greater U.K. in the year ahead. Travel + Leisure’s 2023 Destination of the Year is the United Kingdom, which calls for further exploration of Scotland, specifically Edinburgh. The Scottish capital city retains a certain charm as it allows old and new to meet with no skyscrapers, views for days, and – shockingly to some– a developing food scene.

Where to stay: The chicest, best-dressed new kid in town is The Gleneagles Townhouse. The hotel and members club opened in 2022 and offers guests an intimate atmosphere with just thirty-three rooms. We adore that this sister hotel to the famous Gleneagles – just an hour away in the countryside – acts like its cooler, younger sibling. The rooftop is not to be missed both for its views and culinary offering. For an elegant counterpart to Gleneagles Townhouse’s buzz, The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte has long been an institution in the Scottish city. This grand Victorian property has 187 rooms and suites; the corner suites are perfect for a vantage point of the thoroughfare along the main avenue.

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Instead of Mykonos, Greece consider Bodrum, Turkey

For decades, partygoers have flocked to Mykonos for its vibrant beach clubs and high-end shopping. And while we’ll always feel a gravitational pull to Greece, it’s worth noting that not so much further east, travelers can experience an equally lively and dreamy atmosphere in the seaside haven of Bodrum. Europeans have long known about the magic of the Aegean Sea, but the see-and-be-seen beach clubs, fun food scene, steaming spas and hammams, and collection of superyachts docking along the turquoise waters here are now starting to attract a more international crowd. Sunbathe amongst the olive trees by morning and let the party pick up as the afternoon wears on in Bodrum.

Where to stay: There has been an influx of spectacular luxury properties to Bodrum in recent years, but in the essence of keeping it lively, we’ve selected two hotels that will allow guests to sleep in comfort while having access to a scene without leaving. The Bodrum EDITION sits at the western point of the peninsula just minutes from Bodrum Castle and Bodrum Amphitheatre. This EDITION hotel stays true to the brand’s signature knack for in-house music and good vibes both at the beach club and on-property nightclub. Relax through the afternoon at the Turkish Hammam or infinity pool before heading to the exclusive beach club with a jetty that houses private cabanas. Alternatively, Maçakızı is a slightly more boutique, Turkish-owned option that boasts an unassailable reputation as one the best beach clubs in Bodrum. The property was flawlessly designed to take advantage of its vantage point on a steep hill with an open-air restaurant and walkways snaking their way to the water’s edge.

Maçakızı

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Instead of Paris, France consider Madrid, Spain

Let us begin by stating the obvious: nowhere in the world will ever replace Paris. But there’s something to be said about giving deference to other European capital cities for your next museum and shopping-filled trip. And for that, Madrid fits the bill and then some. The Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Museo Nacional Del Prado, and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía create a trifecta housing some of the best art in the world, including Las Meninas Diego Velázquez and Guernica by Pablo Picasso. In terms of food, imagine your hole-in-the-wall tapas to trendy spots, like Amazonico, all at your fingertips. Don’t get us started on the shopping. In Madrid, fashionistas will delight in the flagship for El Corte Inglés and CASA LOEWE where you can see one of your favorite Spanish brands take on a residential concept.

Where to stay: In line with the renaissance of other cultural hubs across Europe, Madrid has seen equal investment in its luxury hotel product as of late. So with the impossible task of narrowing it down to just two hotels to consider, we’ll focus on the classics. Located just opposite the Prado and Thyssen museums and a short stroll from Retiro Park, the Ritz Madrid has been a nexus for Spain’s society for 110 years. In spring 2021, it reopened after a three-year renovation as the Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid showcasing a modernist makeover while still honoring its storied past. Another hotel we can’t help but love is Villa Magna, which debuted under the Rosewood Hotels & Resorts flag in late 2022. Rosewood Villa Magna takes pride in its slightly out-of-city-center location in Madrid’s Salamanca neighborhood where guests can indulge in local experiences from shopping to dining.

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Itching to explore the lesser-known? Contact your SmartFlyer travel advisor and get planning.

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