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3 European Cities off the Beaten Track

Steve McKenna discovers the charms of European cities that lie slightly off the beaten tourist trail.

While the big cities –London, Rome, Paris et al –may lure travellers to Europe, it’s often the smaller destinations that linger most in the memory. Packed with charm, history and culture, these three pocket-sized gems from Norway, Germany and Austria offer a fresh, invigorating perspective on the Old Continent.


Founded by the Vikings as a trading port in 997, Norway’s first capital is now the country’s third largest city. Yet while it has a thriving festival scene and 30,000 university students, Trondheim has a snug and easygoing feel, helped, in no small part, by its lovely setting. Hugging the meandering Nidelven river and a giant fjord, it backs onto a cluster of wooded hills criss-crossed with roads and trails that see hikers and mountain-bikers in their element. 


If leisurely wanders are more your thing, head to Bakklandet, Trondheim’s idyllic old town. Best leave heels in your suitcase, as cobblestones snake through this neighbourhood on the river’s east bank, where colourful timber wharf warehouses and homes have been converted into Scandi-chic cafes, galleries and boutiques

Colourful houses along the river in Trondheim, Norway
Characterised by wide, airy avenues, central Trondheim sits on the opposite side of the river and boasts the copper green-spired Nidarosdomen. The world’s northern-most medieval cathedral, it’s perched at the end of a 640-kilometre pilgrimage route from Oslo, and built over the burial site of St Olav, the Viking king who swapped the Nordic pagan religion with Christianity. Scale the 172 winding steps of the central tower for panoramas of the city. Embark on Travelmarvel's 17 day Arctic Circle Express Rail Journey to take a guided tour of its best cultural highlights, including the famous Old Town Bridge, the Royal Residence and the Bakklandet. 


Spread out over seven lush hills, this southern German beauty is the sort of place that decorates chocolate-biscuit boxes and jigsaw puzzles. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s flush with opulent churches, bishops’ palaces and magnificently preserved townhouses and civic buildings –many of which hark back to the Middle Ages.


For postcard-perfect sights, it’s hard to trump the Old Town Hall. Sporting a facade laced with decorative frescoes, this 15th-century landmark graces an islet in the Regnitz River and can be reached via two arched stone bridges.

Historical building with yellow facade and red roof and framework, Bamberg
You’ll probably work up a thirst navigating Bamberg’s narrow cobbled lanes, but beer aficionados especially should relish this. Nine breweries, and copious taverns and beer gardens, sprinkle the town. Dating back to 1678, Schlenkerla is a local icon and among those to produce Bamberg’s iconic Rauchbier. A dark, aromatic tipple with a smoky flavour, it pairs well with the traditionally hearty cuisine served in the town’s establishments. We’re talking dishes like veal schnitzel with sauerkraut, beef with horseradish, and roasted pork knuckle and potatoes. Disocver the beauty of Bamberg on Travelmarvel's 15 day European Gems River Cruise.


Of the dozens of settlements to have mushroomed beside the River Danube –the continent’s second-longest river –over the past 2000 years, few are as enchanting as Melk. Located about 90 kilometres west of Vienna, this adorable Austrian town (population: 5500) attracts just a fraction of the capital’s visitors, but those who do venture here get to explore one of the finest ecclesiastical sites in central Europe
Crowning a tree-cloaked outcrop that lords over the Danube, Melk Abbey is a vast and ostentatious Benedictine monastery, laid out around a series of courtyards, with baroque buildings, gilded galleries and fragrant gardens seducing visitors, whatever their faith. This has been a working monastery since 1089, so as you roam keep an eye out for the resident black-robed monks.
View of Melk abbey on hill infront of river, Austria
Back down at river level, Melk’s ancient quarter is very quaint, with cafes and bakeries for coffee, pastries and apple strudel. The paths lining the Danube reward ambles and (particularly) bike rides. Pedalling in the direction of Krems, you’ll savour the landscapes of the UNESCO-rated Wachau Valley and its terraced vineyards, cute villages and historic castles in varying states of repair. Uncover the unique architecture of Melk and join a local guide for a tour through Melk Abbey on the 21 Day European Gems River Cruise.