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The Best Second Cities of Europe

Are you looking for a vacation destination where you don’t have to fight your way through crowds of tourists to see the main attraction? If so, consider visiting second cities of Europe. While these cities may be overlooked, they’re filled with historic landmarks, fun activities, and unique geography. 

The only difference? No crowds. When visiting the most underrated cities in Europe, you get to live like a local and get a better understanding of cultures and customs. Explore off the beaten path by visiting some of the best second cities of Europe on our list below.

What are European Second Cities?

Second cities of Europe are those that lack the size and fanfare of some of Europe’s most notable metropolises, such as London, Paris, and Barcelona. What European second cities lack in size and notability, they make up for with unique local cuisine, history, and attractions. 

One of the major advantages of underrated cities in Europe is that these destinations are often cheaper and more affordable than their major city counterparts. So, while people are off exploring Florence and Athens, take the road less traveled and visit some of the best second cities of Europe listed in the section below.

Top 5 Second Cities of Europe

On a continent where the history dates back centuries, there are countless towns, villages, and cities you can explore in Europe filled with excitement and wonder. However, you don’t need to visit bustling cities and packed capitals like Paris and Berlin to get a better sense of a country’s culture. Ditch long lines and costly hotels by visiting some of the best second cities of Europe below.

1. Rotterdam, Netherlands

While Amsterdam may come to mind when you think of the Netherlands, Rotterdam is a close compatriot that houses Europe’s largest seaport. Known for its modern architecture, nightlife, and unique landscape, Rotterdam is one of the best second cities of Europe

Here, you can see floating farms, marvel at the architecture of cube houses, and walk along the many inlets that connect to the Nieuwe Maas river. If you’re looking to better understand Dutch culture and traditions without the crowds, add Rotterdam to your bucket list.

2. Düsseldorf, Germany

You don’t need to visit Paris or Milan to get a taste of fashion. Dubbed Germany’s fashion capital, Düsseldorf is a German city that is often left out of the conversation, especially when cities like Berlin and Munich have a lot to offer. However, Düsseldorf gives visitors a unique glimpse at German culture. 

With cobblestone streets in the Altstadt, tree-lined boulevards with plenty of shopping like Königsallee, and postmodern architecture like Frank Gehry’s Neuer Zollhof, there’s plenty to see and do in Düsseldorf. As one of Germany’s best-kept secrets, Düsseldorf is a great area for art lovers, beer drinkers, and explorers.

3. Lyon, France

If you have an appetite, board your next train, flight, or bus to Lyon, France. A food-lovers paradise, Lyon is known for its mouthwatering cuisine and traditional French fare. In Lyon, you can get tastes of regional favorites like quenelles de brochet, pâté en croûte, cervelle de canut, and coussin de Lyon. 

After a hearty lunch, you can visit one of Lyon’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, you’ll have a lot to choose from. Lyon has over 500 hectares in four historic districts to discover, from Antiquity to the present day. To better understand the cultures and traditions of France, it’s worth paying a visit to Lyon.

4. Porto, Portugal

A second city of Europe that’s hard to beat is Porto, located on the coast of Portugal. Whereas Lisbon takes center stage with its art, nightlife, and history, Porto offers a more relaxed version for tourists looking for a slower pace. 

Porto is known for its beautiful buildings with colorful tiles, a thriving historic city center, and cobblestone streets with plenty of shops and restaurants to discover. When visiting Porto, you can take note of the beautiful Gothic architecture on buildings like the Church of Sao Francisco or Bolsa Palace, or spend an evening wining and dining throughout the city at tasting rooms in areas like the Ribeira District.

5. Cork, Ireland

Cork is much less crowded than its compatriot Dublin, meaning it’s easier to navigate and spend time exploring. As one of the best second cities of Europe, visitors can catch a bird’s eye view of the city in the Church of St. Anne’s spiraling tower or spend a day shopping along St. Patrick’s street when touring Cork. 

Visiting Cork allows you to get a better sense of some of the traditions and customs of Ireland. Here, you can visit the English Market to buy local delicacies or spend an evening in the Huguenot Quarter for fine Irish food. And you can’t forget about grabbing a pint at a local pub while listening to the locals talk about their favorite football team.

Other Underrated Cities in Europe

Our list of the five best second cities of Europe is a mere glimpse into some of the most underrated cities in the area. Europe is home to hundreds of unique cities that are often overlooked by their larger counterparts, and these cities are worth exploring. Take a look at our list of honorable mention European second cities below:

  • Hamburg, Germany
  • Bergen, Norway
  • St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Thessaloniki, Greece
  • Seville, Spain
  • Gdansk, Poland
  • Graz, Austria
  • Liverpool, England
  • Ghent, Belgium
  • Turku, Finland
  • Naples, Italy
  • Aarhus, Denmark
  • Brno, Czech Republic

Explore European Second Cities with Road Scholar

Are you ready to start exploring some of the most underrated cities in Europe? If so, you’re in the right place. At Road Scholar, our experiential learning adventures can take you all across the world, including some of Europe’s hidden gems. 

Our local guides will give you a rundown of the history, geography, and culture of the second cities of Europe you visit, so you can get a better sense of the world around you. Before embarking on your next adventure, review our E