Urban adventures on a smaller scale

RONAN O’CONNELL hits the streets in some of Europe's less-visited cities

Many tourists to Europe flock to the same group of large and famous cities – London, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Berlin. The plus side of that, for more adventurous travellers, is that there are many smaller, fascinating cities in Europe where they can avoid the tourist crowds. From an eerie city in the Romanian mountains, to the Spanish metropolis influenced by an Islamic empire, the Belgian city defined by war, and an Irish city shaped by Vikings — these are four of Europe’s best small cities.

Brasov (Romania)

Amid densely forested mountains which teem with eerie myths and legends is a beautiful and haunting city. Home to the Black Church, one of the creepiest religious structures I've ever visited, Brasov is a city once ruled by knights, later ransacked by the Ottoman Empire, where Vlad the Impaler continued his murderous sprees and where Dracula supposedly lurked.

The back-story of this city is enough to give you sleepless nights, but its Gothic splendour and gorgeous setting are undeniable. Nestled at the foot of the Transylvanian mountains, this city of about 300,000 dates back to the 1200s and has a well maintained Old Town. The focal point of this area, the 14th century Black Church, is believed to be haunted by a young boy, who was buried beneath this imposing and dimly lit Gothic structure.

Cork (Ireland)

Ireland is renowned for being a jovial place and there is nowhere in the country more fun than this boisterous city on the south coast. It must be said that I’m very biased towards Cork, which is the birthplace of my father, and my favourite city in a country that is my on-off home. But Cork really is special.

The locals are gregarious, mischievous and hilarious, and come into their own after a few pints. Yet there’s so much more to this city of 130,000 people than just nightlife and “craic” (Irish for good times). It also has the English Market, the myth-filled Blarney Castle, what was once the world’s largest prison on Spike Island, and it is surrounded by some of Europe’s most gorgeous countryside.

This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.

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