Standing Stones of Stenness, Orkney Islands
Many travellers think that they know Europe pretty well - after all, the main destinations are now familiar with most holidaymakers - but there are still plenty of hidden gems to be found by those with an appetite for adventure and high culture! Often these special locations are tucked away off the beaten track, or in places that tourists can easily overlook in the rush of booking their holiday.
The Orkney Islands are a wonderfully soothing spot to escape the rat race and see nature at its best. Orkney is made up of around seventy islands, twenty of which have inhabitants. The islands have been lived in for the past 8,500 years at least and contain some of the best preserved Neolithic heritage sights found in Europe, earning them UNESCO world heritage status.
Macedonia is perfect for fans of ancient history and culture and is also a renowned spiritual centre. Lake Ohrid is the place to go - one of the oldest lakes in the world, surrounded by monasteries and churches, one for each day of the year. Again, both town and lake have been granted protective World Heritage status. Poland is also still relatively untouched by tourism and the Ukrainian town of Lviv is superb for its elegant architecture and fantastic monuments.
Albania is being tipped as one of the next big traveller destinations and is currently one of the least visited places in Europe. Still in the process from emerging from its fifty years of self-governing isolation, it is now starting to open its doors to open-minded travellers, keen to visit somewhere as yet untouched by rampant commercialism and tourism. Similarly, the Balkan Islands are becoming noticed by holidaymakers - particularly the Bridge on the Drina in Serbia, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and a prominent symbol of this history-packed region.
Bear in mind two, that even popular traveller destinations have their own hidden holiday gems. For example, savvy travellers forgo the busy Eiffel Tower in favour of Amiens Cathedral which is beautifully impressive, easy to access and lacks the long queues of its Paris `rival`. In Greece, most people head to Athens - but a five hour coach journey to the North brings visitors to the ancient monasteries at Kalambaka, the incredible mountain town. And don`t forget cities such as Derry or Cork in Ireland, which have the benefit of being served by local flights and transport, but without the prices of Dublin or Belfast.
Many of these destinations also offer flexible holiday types for different travellers, whether that`s activity weekends, sporting holidays, escorted tours or relaxing spa breaks, so it`s worth searching broadly and away from your usual haunts to find what delights wait in store in the less discovered regions of Europe. Look for the best prices and check availability online - there will often be incentives for early bird bookers and last minute tickets alike, particularly for those travellers that can afford flexibility with their holiday arrangements.