Europe has a reputation as a mainstream travel destination, particularly among Americans of European heritage. This generalization also owes itself to the ubiquity of many popular European cities, such as Paris, Rome, Barcelona, and Berlin – the list goes on. Europe is easy and safe to explore; that's true, but it's got plenty of bizarre destinations to discover, many of which are easy to reach from more mainstream ones. Here are a few of the most interesting.
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Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog, Netherlands/Belgium
In today's Europe (or, at least, today's European Union), borders aren't much of an issue. What you might not realize, particularly if you didn't visit during the 1990s or before, is that many of the old borders between European countries were quite completed. Along the border between Belgium and The Netherlands, for example, about 20 enclaves (pieces of one country fully surrounded by the other) existed. A pair of these – Baarle-Nassau, Netherlands, and Baarle-Hertog, Belgium – still exist, with cute crosses printed in every spot where the border once existed. Not sure if you can still get your passport stamped, for old time's sake
HOW TO GET THERE: From Amsterdam, take a train south to Breda, then transfer from there to Baarle-Nassau. From Brussels, on the other hand, head north to Turnhout, then transfer to Baarle-Hertog.
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From far away, Matera's skyline looks beautiful, although not so different from many other cities in Italy – stunning old buildings are stunning old buildings, right? Well, look closer at the structures in the lower part of the town (either with binoculars, a zoom lens, or by walking there) and you'll be shocked and amazed: These aren't buildings at all, but ancient cave dwellings.
HOW TO GET THERE: How you reach Matera depends on the area from which you depart. For example, while train or bus alone is fine within Italy, you'll want to fly to nearby Bari, if possible, when coming from outside of Italy.
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Bern doesn't get a lot of love as Swiss cities go, although it is the country's capital. Indeed, while the Swiss Bundeshaus is a rather splendid building, the most unique attraction here is a pair of bears that live along the Aare river just outside the city center. In addition to being photogenic, the bears also happen to be the namesake of Bern, whose founder chose its name after a hunt for bears ("bären," in Bernese German).
HOW TO GET THERE: Bern is easily reachable by train from anywhere in Switzerland, and from many other points in Western Europe as well. If you're coming from Eastern Europe or even farther afield, fly to Zurich or Basel and continue from there by train.
04 of 06
Bosnia's capital is either a melting pot or a powder keg, depending on who you ask. Whether you come to Sarajevo to learn more about the two large wars that started here (you can actually stand where Franz Ferdinand was shot!), to marvel at the eclectic architecture (where else in the world can you marvel at Ottoman minarets rising above baroque Austrian building façades and surrounded by Soviet apartment blocs?), or simply to enjoy some of Europe's cheapest nightlife, come to Sarajevo, whose name – fun fact – is a Slavicised version of the Turkish word for "palace."
HOW TO GET THERE: Several direct buses run to Sarajevo from destinations within the Balkans, including Belgrade, Zagreb, Dubrovnik, and Split, as well as the popular Bosnian tourist destination of Mostar. Otherwise, your best bet is to book a flight to Sarajevo Airport.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
As the de-facto hub of Romania's Transylvania region (yes, you can visit Dracula's castle from here!), Brasov encompasses much more than Vlad the Impaler lore, Saxo-Hungarian architecture, and rolling mountains. Like Transylvania, the city doesn't take itself too seriously and has installed on a "Hollywood" sign on the hill above it. It also happens to be quite sunny most of the year, which means that if you or anyone you love is a vampire, you might want to choose a different destination.
HOW TO GET THERE: Brasov is easily reachable from Bucharest, Romania's capital, so if you're coming from outside of Romania, this is where you need to fly. Brasov also sits along the train line from Budapest to Bucharest and vice-versa, which makes it an easy stop on a train journey through Eastern Europe.
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If the name "Pripyat" doesn't sound familiar, then what about "Chernobyl"? Pripyat was once a thriving city, the closest one to the doomed nuclear plant, but has now been almost completely overtaken by nature. You needn't worry about your health (all areas of the city currently accessible are safe for short stays), so spend your time here in awe of how it looks 30 years on.
HOW TO GET THERE: Several direct buses and trains leave daily from Kiev. Alternatively, you can take a guided tour (these also usually leave from Kiev) to get more insight into the meltdown at Chernobyl and its aftermath.