2019 is here! Time to start planning where you'll venture this year. Since moving to Europe I've found many of my all-time favorite places off the beaten path. And I've learned the benefits of strategically planning trips to touristy places in the offseason. I've listed some of the best places to go this year. Whether you crave an outdoor adventure, beautiful scenery, a relaxing escape, or a buzzing city full of history, this guide has you covered.
Although I focus on the best travel destinations in Europe for 2019, one place is outside of Europe. But it's such an easy trip from virtually anywhere in Europe that I had to include it. My goal for this guide is to have you packing your bags and planning your next trip.
These are places I think you should visit right now. I mean it. Each spot is beautiful, unique, and most aren't overcrowded with tourists yet. So get there before the magic is gone.
In compiling the 15 places you need to add to your 2019 bucket list, I didn't focus on capital cities such as Paris and Amsterdam, though some top sights are here. Instead, I featured spots I feel deserve more attention, are underrated or that welcome you with open arms.
Here are the best cities, countries, and regions to explore, or even head to again!
I fell in love with each. I know you will too.
Beautiful beaches, charming, vibrant cities, and epic landscapes dotted with vineyards — it's all in Portugal. While spending 10 days in Lisbon, Porto, Sintra, and Lagos, I found an array of things to see and do. Lisbon illustrates Portugal's former position as one of the most influential countries in Europe. Ride the tram up the steep streets and try a pastel de nata (custard tart) in Belém. Take a day to enjoy the beautiful castles of Sintra. Vineyard hop near Porto's Douro Valley and have a homemade lunch of fish and smoked meat. Then head to the Algarve and experience the azure waters and steep cliffs. This country offers a great bang for your buck so make the most of your time here.
When to visit Portugal: To save money visit outside the summer months. However, if you're looking to hit the beach the summer is the best time to go. Specifically, July and August.
14. Bucharest, Romania
They call it “Little Paris” for a reason. Bucharest is buzzing with people, culture, and restaurants. On any given day of the week, it's not difficult to find a packed bar in this thriving city. You'll see trendy cafes selling “freak shakes” alongside traditional restaurants offering Romanian fare, aka meat. Make sure to visit the Cărturești Carusel bookstore – one of the prettiest I've ever seen.
When to visit Bucharest: Autumn weather is wonderful, with plenty of daylight hours.
13. Corfu, Greece
Classic, idyllic Greek scenery with a link to mythology makes the island of Corfu stand out from the rest. I hadn't heard much about Corfu but found it full of life, especially along its picturesque beaches. Here is where Odysseus was shipwrecked and spent some time exploring the island before heading back to sea. It's easy to see why, since the untamed scenery is still abundant. The island is quite large so I recommend renting a car for a couple days to explore and escape the crowds. Corfu's town is a great place to stroll, eat frozen lemon yogurt, and souvenir shop.
When to visit Corfu: the warmer months are the optimal time for good beach days but going right before and after summer will help you avoid tourists.
Eastern Europe's new darling is definitely Budapest. Lingering traces of Communism still permeate this now vibrant city and you can see the wrath left behind at the Museum of Terror. But you can also experience the lively nightclubs (called ruin pubs), take a cruise down the Danube River, or enjoy a real Roman thermal bath. The city is divided into Buda and Pest. You'll see how they differ from one another.
When to visit Budapest: I visited Budapest in the heat of summer and it was not ideal. I suggest going in Spring or Fall. Winter can also be a good time for Christmas markets. Although if you're really interested in markets, go to Germany and France for the best ones.
Click here to read my guide to Budapest.
This small dynamic country is full of intricate scenery, beautiful mountains plunging sharply into pristine waters, and favorable weather nearly year-round. Montenegro charms you right off the bat with kind, welcoming locals and delicious food. We stayed in Kotor and toured the town, which is notably, full of cats. From here it's easy to day trip over to the beaches, drive up the hairpin-turn mountain roads for scenic views, and drink homemade blackberry wine. Since the country is so small, it's easy to see it all in just a few days, then head over to Bosnia or Croatia.
When to visit Montenegro: I suggest going in the summer to take advantage of the beaches and restaurant scene.
10. Andalusia, Spain
Whitewashed cities aren't only found in Greece. The southernmost region of Spain is brimming with charming cobblestone streets and breath-taking scenery. I like the variety of things you can do and see in such a small region. You can find the grandeur and glamour of Spain in Malaga and Seville. You can frolic in the hillsides and through olive groves near Ronda. Take in the intricate beauty of the Alhambra in Granada. Or lie on the beach and even get a glimpse of Africa in the distance in Tarifa. I suggest renting a car to make the most out of your trip.
When to visit Andalusia: From March to June and August through November are the perfect times to visit for ideal temperature and fewer crowds.
Check out my one-week itinerary to Southern Spain.
The Austrian Alps beckon adventure seekers and luxury enthusiasts alike. I love the Wilder Kaiser region's wide range of activities, all in a laid-back setting. In summer you'll find lush green hillsides with cows grazing and donning large bells. In winter you can ski or snowshoe. After a day exploring the mountains, choose from plenty of après ski activities. The picturesque chalets offer the best opportunity to stay warm and cozy. Out of all of my travels throughout Europe, this is one place I come back to again and again. I also recommend checking out the Fall festival called “Almabtrieb” where you can watch the cows parade into town with true Austrian flair.
When to visit Wilder Kaiser: This is one location when there's never a bad time. Festivals in the spring and fall along with activities in the summer and winter make this a great year-round destination. Be sure to avoid German and Austrian school holidays since most of their tourism comes from here.
8. Lake Bled, Slovenia
A church stands solemnly in the middle of the lake surrounded by tall peaks of the Julian Alps. The tiny country of Slovenia is famous for Lake Bled, and rightly so. But Lake Bled can be mobbed with tourists so I suggest checking out the Lake (beware, parking is very minimal) and heading away from the crowds deeper into the mountains. Drive the sharp turns around Mount Trelof and be rewarded with beautiful views and the prettiest turquoise water you've ever seen in the Soča river. Hike through Vintgar Gorge where you'll cross some pretty harrowing suspended wooden bridges.
When to visit Lake Bled: The high season is mid-June and it's also a bit hotter. I found it to be lovely in November. It was chilly but manageable. I also suggest early Spring.
Large cities like Rome, Venice, and the beautiful Amalfi Coast get a lot of attention, but the Tuscan countryside is among Italy's best areas. Italy lures people from all over the world with its delicious food, rich history, and incredible architecture. But in Tuscany you'll find a slower pace, vast landscapes of natural beauty, and, of course, great wine. There are myriad small towns worth a visit. Here are the ones I suggest you check out.
When to visit Tuscany: Spring time brings lovely weather and fewer tourists. The green landscapes are absolutely lovely during this time of year.
Check out my perfect Tuscany itinerary.
6. Bergen, Norway
You want mountains, deep Fjords, puffins on the coast, and tales of trolls? Look no further than Norway. I suggest traveling as much of this country as possible (preferably by boat to really grasp the epic fjords) to see all it has to offer. Kick off the trip by flying into Bergen — a larger town in Norway with an airport and picturesque harbor front. Here you'll find the beautiful red, yellow, and white houses typical of this region, along with markets selling authentic cuisine. Once you've had your fill of life in Bergen, hop on a Viking Cruise and sail the Arctic. It's an experience you'll never forget.
When to visit Norway: This depends on what kind of activities you're after. If you want to see the Midnight sun, head to Norway in the summer. If you want snowy landscapes then go in winter. Just be aware that there's little light during the day.
5. Rhine Valley, Germany
The mighty Rhine River in Germany curves through a landscape dotted with castles and cobblestone streets filled with half-timbered buildings, with their hypnotizing vertical terraces of vineyards. Wander the banks of the Rhine River — this 65 kilometer stretch from Koblenz to Rudesheim was declared a UNESCO heritage site. Castles seem to rise on every hilltop. That's because local kings and bishops placed a toll at every possible point in the river to collect on ships passing by. You can spend just one day or 10 exploring this region of Germany.
When to visit the Rhine Region: In my experience, there is no bad time to visit. Although sometimes December and January can be quite rainy in this region. To explore by boat, you'll find them running between April and October, which is when I suggest visiting.
For an itinerary involving Germany, France, Austria, and even Switzerland, check out this guide.
I went to Normandy to gain a deeper perspective about on D-Day, where my grandfather fought in World War II. I found not only a powerful place where I could learn about the war, but also romantic cities with tall churches, stone castles, and the rocky island of Mont-Saint-Michel. I think it's important for everyone to visit Normandy to grasp the history that took place in 1944, and to understand our past and how these events shaped our present. Near the beaches are idyllic villages, Gothic churches, ancient tapestries, and mouthwatering cuisine. The whole region seems to be plucked from a fairy tale.
When to visit Normandy: I suggest going in the summer to enjoy the beach. Peak season is in the summer, but it's surprisingly uncrowded compared to many other European coasts. We found it very pleasant in June.
There are a lot of towns in this region, so I broke down the 12 best places to visit in Northern France.
The magic of Morocco is hard to put into words. It's a visual feast — intricate alleyways leading into medinas, richly colored rugs, snow-covered mountains, and a desert full of endless stars. I recommend spending a good two weeks here to see as much of this country as you can. But if you only have a few days, head to Marrakech and explore the history and vibrant culture. From here, take a day trip to the coast or venture to the Sahara Desert. Personally, my time in the desert was among my favorite experiences ever. Morocco is exciting: from the ancient kasbahs to the rugged landscape, you will find opportunities to explore at every turn. Of course, it's not located in Europe but I included it in this year's guide as it's an easy boat trip from Spain. Alternatively, you can fly into Marrakech from all major airports.
When to visit Morocco: Escape the cold and head to Morocco in February for lovely temperatures (it does get cooler at night) and fewer tourists. Alternatively, October through November is a great time to go.
Cinematic scenery abounds in Iceland. True, it has recently become rather touristy, but tour Iceland in the off-season to avoid the hordes of people mobbing the waterfalls. You'll find luscious landscapes speckled with glaciers, fluffy and sturdy Icelandic horses, waterfalls, and volcanoes. The best way to see Iceland is by taking a road trip around the Ring Road. This also allows you to steer away from the masses by following your own route. I was surprised at how much I absolutely adored this island. No wonder this is the backdrop of so many movies and TV shows. It's an epic place to visit in every way.
When to visit Iceland: Iceland gets crowded! Visit in the shoulder season. We went in October and it was absolutely lovely. If you choose to go in the winter you will have to be careful of many road closures and risky weather.
Here's my 10-day ultimate road trip guide to Iceland.
Croatia is a small country full of dizzying diversity and welcoming people. With its “Game of Thrones” filming scenes and lyrical landscapes, it appeals to travelers of all kinds. Explore the Istria region to get acquainted with decadent Croatian olive oil, cultivated in the “Golden Triangle” where the Roman emperor got his oil. Visit the breathtaking Plitvice Lakes or head to the coast and sunbathe in the islands and float in the salty water. Of course, you can visit the touristy Dubrovnik and Split. You'll find see-through water, ancient walled-in cities, and Croatian hospitality. Croatia is not to be missed and is my top destination for 2019!
When to visit Croatia: Croatia is typically extremely busy in the summer months, but you can head to the Istria region anytime and avoid crowds. Try May and September for the islands and Dubrovnik.