Europe's 11 Most Overlooked, Underrated Small Cities

Europe's 11 Most Overlooked, Underrated Small Cities

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Everybody loves a European adventure. Once you've visited the classics, it's time to head to one of these underrated cities in Europe.

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    Freiburg gets some of the best weather in all of Germany, with mild average temperatures and distinct seasons throughout the year -- in fact, Germany's highest temperature ever was recorded here. Thanks to its comfortable climate, as well as its location on the edge of the Black Forest, the city's a magnet for travelers looking to spend time outdoors.
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    Sure, the quaint canals of Bruges are some of the best in the world, but that Belgian burg's been getting its due ever since Colin Farrell was banished there for killing an altar boy. Ghent, by comparison, is virtually unknown in the US, and strikes the balance between sleepy, Flemish town, and bustling, modern city, thanks to its trendy shops on Vlaanderenstraat, fantastically well-preserved medieval architecture, and Glass Alley, possibly the world's smallest red light district. 
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    With 1.5 bikes for every resident, and a town center that's essentially off-limits to motorized traffic, this city is unquestionably one of the most bike-friendly on Earth. It also hosts Europe's largest showcase-type festival, Eurosonic, and the highest student population density of any city in the Netherlands, meaning that, just like Padua, it's got a nightlife as vibrant as you'd expect from a city dominated by 20-somethings.
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    Sites like the Orto Botanico di Padova (the world's largest botanical garden) and the Prato della Valle (Italy's largest public square) make Padua a welcome alternative to the stinky/sinking tourist trap that is Venice. It's also the setting for Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew (duh!), and home to fresco-adorned buildings like the Palazzo della Ragione, lively piazza marketplaces, and a thriving nightlife fueled by its sizable student population. 
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    An ancient city on the Iberian peninsula, Porto sits astride the Douro river estuary and has seen time under Moorish, French, and ultimately Portuguese control over the course of the past millennium-and-a-half. As a result, the city center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, and the buildings that line the Avenida dos Aliados (and cluster around Liberdade Square) are about as remarkable as anything else you'll find in Europe.
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    This Swedish burg is divided by the Fyris river, with the West side including the historic district and Uppsala University (Scandi's oldest higher education institution), and the East side containing the residential, commercial, and administrative parts of town. In recent years, though, the river's become more of a common area than a dividing line, thanks to renovations such as new jetties, terraced seating, and sun decks that resemble modern art installations. 
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    You might recognize this alpine city as the backdrop for The Sound of Music, and while Salzburg is by no means an undiscovered gem, at roughly 1/10th the size of the Austrian capital (Vienna), it's a safe bet you'll feel a good deal less claustrophobic here. Hohensalzburg Castle looms over the whole city, and in addition to being one of the biggest medieval castles in Europe, it offers some pretty excellent views.
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    With a total area of 75sqmi, this little French city (with the appropriately short nickname of Aix, pronounced like "Ex") offers visitors a quaint, walkable alternative to Marseille, France's second most populous metropolis. Yes, it's a bit on the expensive side, but that's par for the course in the South of France, and with an average of 300 annual days of sunshine, it's pretty easy to see why Cézanne drew so much inspiration from this town.
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    Lausanne resembles a more expensive, Swiss version of San Francisco, thanks to its position on the hilly northern banks of Lake Geneva. Located in Switzerland's French-speaking Romandie region, the city's neighborhoods sport distinct flavors, from the historic architecture of Cité, to the scenic lakefront views of Ouchy, to the nightclubs in the warehouse-turned-nightclub district of Flon.
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    America's got its own complement of excellent college towns, and while some of the cities on this list are certainly among Europe's best, Cambridge almost takes the brass ring on name recognition alone. If you wanna go behind the scenes, you can get a guided punt (boat) tour of The Backs -- literally a stretch of river faced by the backs of various Cambridge colleges -- or simply rent a punt with friends and strike out on your own, Huck Finn-style.
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    Every square inch of this place is rich with history, from the narrow streets of Old Town to the scattered parks whose trees were supposedly brought back by Columbus from the New World. Then there's Los Carnavales, a massive annual fiesta held over a period of two weeks in February that sees the streets flooded with revelers and musical performers in colorful costumes; picture Mardi Gras, only with performers who understand the value of a good siesta.
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