Hidden Gems in the Heart of Europe’s Most Popular Cities
The Tower of London, Paris’s Louvre Museum, The Colosseum of Rome, Europe’s cities are renowned for their world-famous tourism attractions. But for visitors looking for something more original, there are fascinating stories to be discovered at many lesser-known sites.
The world’s leading sightseeing pass specialist The Leisure Pass Group has identified eight ‘hidden gems’ in Europe’s most popular cities. Often right on the doorstep of more famous tourism hotspots, these alternative attractions offer travellers a chance to see their chosen city in a unique and different way.
1. Take your seat at the UK’s oldest surviving operating theatre
In London, a visit to The Old Operating Theatre Museum offers a fascinating insight into the primitive medical world of the past. Dating back to 1822, this little known gem of a museum can be found in the roof of St Thomas’ Church near London Bridge – right in the shadow of London’s giant landmark, The Shard. The site houses Britain’s oldest surviving operating theatre, alongside a gory collection of surgical apparatus – making it the perfect location for today’s films and TV shows!
2. Enjoy a true taste of Paris
The artistic treasures of Paris’s renowned Louvre Museum draw millions of visitors each year, but tucked away around the corner there’s a much more intimate – and very French – experience waiting to be discovered. The French are among the world’s best wine connoisseurs, and a self-guided wine tasting tour at Les Caves du Louvre is an excellent way to learn more from a trained sommelier. Visitors even get a free bottle of wine to take home!
3. The forbidden Soviet enclave on the outskirts of Berlin
Berlin loomed large in the history of the 20th century, but one of its most fascinating stories can be found in Potsdam, on the western border of the city. Amongst the stunning palaces and parks of Potsdam, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site, visitors will find the Neuer Garten – a forbidden enclave used by the Soviet KGB up until 1994. This can be experienced on a Berlin Insider Walking Tour , which also takes in the location of Potsdam Conference that divided Germany after the Second World War.
4. Follow in the steps of Christ in Rome
While visitors to Rome head straight for the Vatican City with its many museums and the revered St Peter’s Basilica, across town there is a less-celebrated but older and more important church to enjoy. St John in the Lateran is the official seat of the Pope, but it’s also home to the 28 marble steps of the Scala Sancta – according to Catholic belief the very steps that Christ walked on when brought before Pontius Pilate. The sacred steps are considered so holy that pilgrims climb them on their knees.
5. Explore Dublin’s ‘dead interesting’ c emetery museum
North of the popular dining and entertainment district Temple Bar, away from the famous Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery, lies Dublin’s hidden gem – the world’s first cemetery museum. Glasnevin Cemetery Museum is the resting place of Irish republican hero Michael Collins, a leading figure in the country’s struggle for independence in the early 20th century. Collins is known to receive Valentine’s cards every year, even though 95 years have passed since his assassination.
6. Discover a Viking city in Stockholm
Appropriately for a city spread across 17 separate islands, visitors need to take a boat to discover Stockholm’s tourism treasure: the Viking city of Birka. Dating from the 8th century, Birka is considered one of Scandinavia’s earliest urban settlements. Today it is a huge archaeological area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, complete with a recreation which gives visitors a glimpse of what life as a Viking would have been like.
7. Vienna’s Imperial house of rest
Nestling just a few streets away from Vienna’s majestic Hofburg Palace is a lesser-known, but equally fascinating, imperial site. Since 1633, 149 members of the House of Habsburg have found their final resting place in the Imperial Crypt beneath the Capuchin Church on Neuer Markt. It is the principal burial place for members of the former imperial house of Austria, with a total of 12 emperors and 19 empresses and queens laid to rest here; highlights include the sarcophagi of much-loved Empresses Maria Theresa and Elisabeth.
8. Barcelona’s Art Nouveau hospital
The giant Camp Nou soccer stadium and the distinctive Gaudi-designed Sagrada Familia cathedral may top visitor wish-lists in the popular Spanish city of Barcelona, but there’s another architectural treasure they should check out too. Recinte Modernista Sant Pau is one of Europe’s most important Art Nouveau complexes, built in the early 1900s as a hospital with manicured gardens, underground tunnels and unique sculptures woven into the design. The UNESCO World Heritage site is also considered one of the world’s most successful recent restoration project.