Intriguing European cities you've never heard of (but can fly to with Wizz Air)

Chris Leadbeater

Few airlines are having a better year than Wizz. It is Europe’s fastest growing major airline in terms of passenger numbers, its profits are soaring, and it recently celebrated its 15th birthday, marking the milestone with a new service from Luton to St Petersburg.

The Hungarian carrier now conveys passengers to around 150 destinations – including nine British cities and a clutch of European curios you probably haven’t have heard of.
Searching for an offbeat winter city break? Here are a few dots on the Wizz Air route map that will have your friends scratching their heads. 

Kutaisi 

It’s the answer to a pub-quiz question that no-one gets right, the third largest city in Georgia: Kutaisi. From this unheralded enclave, tourists can take a day trip to the Gelati Monastery, a 12-century wonder which has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2013, hike in the shadow of soaring peaks, and visit spectacular villages like Mestia, where clusters of koshki – medieval watchtowers – stand guard.

Fly from: Luton

Chisinau

The capital of Moldova could scarcely be described as a shrinking violet. It is home to the best part of three quarters of a million people, and stands as the former Soviet state’s economic and industrial hub. Attractions include the pretty Nativity Cathedral – a pale neoclassical delight which dates to 1836 – and the Stefan Cel Mare Monument, which salutes the Moldavian king Stephen III, who resisted Turkish invasion in the 15th century.

Fly from: Luton (or Stansted with Air Moldova, or Southend with FlyOne)

Bell tower of the Nativity Cathedral in Chisinau Credit: GETTY

Palanga

If the thought of a week on the beach on the Costa del Sol or the Cote D’Azur conjures images of crowded seashore, Lithuania’s prime coastal destination may be an alluring alternative this summer. True, Palanga is hardly an empty enclave itself – with 10 miles of sand, and dunes which swell up along the water’s edge, this is a popular option for those who want to sunbathe on the edge of the Baltic. All the more reason to discover it. But maybe wait until summer.

Note that Wizz markets its flights to Palanga International Airport as “Palanga-Klaipeda”. Which brings in Lithuania’s third biggest city – another slice of seaside life in the Baltic state, which waits some 18 miles south of its near-neighbour. Reasons to make a long weekend of it here include the remains of Klaipeda Castle, a 13th century fortress that protected the mouth of the River Akmena-Dane from enemy action.

Fly from: Luton (or Stansted with Ryanair)

Burgas

Bulgaria also makes a fair contribution to the folder marked “Underappreciated European Beach Destinations”. Not least in the form of Burgas – which is only the country’s fourth biggest city, but a first-rate choice if you fancy a week on the lip of the Black Sea. In fact, this is a place framed by ripples. To the west, north and south, the Burgas Lakes deal in sunsets and serenity. At 10 square miles, Lake Vaya is Bulgaria’s biggest body of water.

Fly from: Luton (or numerous UK airports, in summer, with TUI Airways)

Bulgaria does seaside by the bucketload Credit: GETTY

Constanta

Some 160 miles to the north of Burgas – but across the international border – Constanta is proof that Romania also revels in sunny days and comfortable accommodation in sight of the Black Sea. And yet, it is more than a beach bunny. This is Romania’s oldest continually inhabited city, having settled itself into the soil around 600BC. It celebrates this fact in a range of Roman mosaics. Cameras are persuasively drawn to Constanta Casino (above), a 1910 Art Nouveau edifice that, though currently closed, is the architectural star of the seafront.

Fly from: Luton

Targu Mures

Constanta is Romania’s fifth biggest city – although if you take the whole conurbation, it could be viewed as the second largest. Targu Mures, by contrast, is the 16th most sizeable. Worth a weekend visit? The Fortress Church – all hard angles and blocky walls – dates to the 14th century. Its Culture Palace, meanwhile, is a thing of beauty – a grand structure that was constructed between the 1911 and 1913. It features elaborate panels of coloured glass detailing Hungarian legends – a reminder that, although the city is (roughly) at the heart of the modern Romania, it was part of the country next door as recently as 1940-44.

Fly from: Luton 

Targu Mures has architectural gems Credit: GETTY

Szczecin

If this mid-sized nugget of urban Poland does not sound immediately familiar, it might be because it has spent a good chapter of its history being German, under a wholly different name – Stettin. The seventh biggest Polish city, it makes excellent use of the River Oder (which defines much of the modern border with Germany) – to the extent that it is viewed as a seaport, even though it lies some 50 miles inland. Weekend visitors can learn a little of the city’s story as a European crossroads at the extensive National Museum, Szczecin.

Fly from: Wizz flies to Szczecin, but not from the UK. You can, however, can there from Liverpool and Stansted with Ryanair.

Szczecin, formerly Stettin Credit: GETTY

Kosice

Bratislava probably ranks as one of central Europe’s more under-appreciated capitals, so its compatriot Kosice could hardly be seen as a case of familiarity breeding contempt. Nonetheless, Slovakia’s second biggest city offers a few reasons for visitors to linger. It was a European Capital of Culture in 2013, and retains some of this spirit in the sculpture and painting of the Muzeum Vojtecha Lofflera (dedicated to the prominent Slovak artist, who was born in the city in 1906). Elsewhere, the St Elizabeth Cathedral is a splendid Gothic masterpiece which dates to the 14th century – while Art Nouveau flourishes in the likes of the Hotel Slavia remember the city’s gilded take on the turn of the last century.

Fly from: Luton (or Stansted with Ryanair)

Escape Kosice for Slovakian landscapes like this Credit: GETTY

Ohrid

The eighth biggest city in North Macedonia must be a pretty small place, right? Yes indeed – Ohrid is home to just 42,000 people, not enough to fill even of Wembley Stadium. But then, what it lacks in stature it more than makes up for in beauty. Sometimes referred to as “the Jerusalem of the Balkans” thanks to its wealth of churches, it also sits pristinely on the edge of Lake Ohrid. Together, city and body of water have Unesco World Heritage status, and are “one of the oldest human settlements in Europe”.

Fly from: Luton

Lake Ohrid Credit: GETTY

Vaxjo

There is no denying the fact that Vaxjo is miniscule. Tucked into the pastoral folds of southern Sweden, some 150 miles south-east of Gothenburg, this place of just 64,000 residents is another European jewel defined by water – its Vaxjosjon lake proffers quiet afternoons and sunlit Scandinavian strolls. You can enjoy the silence, or console yourself with the thought that if Sweden’s second city is relatively nearby, the Danish capital is no more distant – Copenhagen and its urban pizzazz waits some 152 miles to the south-west.

Fly from: Luton. But there is a catch. If you want to fly with Wizz, you will have to go via, erm, Skopje in Macedonia. So something of a round trip. Still, the lake is really lovely…