After 15 countries, 34 cities and 99 days backpacking through Europe I can honestly say that it was not the big name cities that ended up being our favourites. It turned out to be the smaller cities and towns that we had never heard of. These were the gems that other travellers recommended – or day trips that turned into overnight stays because we had fallen in love with an unplanned place.

A year ago my best friend and I sat down to plan this trip through Europe. And while sitting at home in Whitehorse in January of 2016, it was electric to think of soon walking through the streets of Paris or London or Rome or Berlin. The big city names were exciting, but, unexpectedly, it was the lesser known destinations that turned out to be the greatest. Here’s a small collection of some of the best places that are easy to overlook.

Galway, Ireland

After two and a half hours on a bus ride from Dublin, we reached the western coast of Ireland and the city of Galway. I had only ever heard of Galway because it was in the movie P.S. I Love You, which we shamelessly watched on the bus ride over.

Day trip: We rented a car in Split and drove an hour and a half towards Krka National Park, which features a set of seven incredible waterfalls surrounded by lush forests, nature trails and the mountains of central Croatia.

We did hit a lot of the big ticket cities and a lot of classic tourist points. We adored Prague, Budapest, Barcelona and Amsterdam – honestly, everything was incredible. We quickly found out that it was impossible to go wrong when picking new places to see.

However, the lesson we learned in planning our travels was a classic one: less is more. The less we planned, the better it got. We ended up in places we had never expected to be, and these hidden, unplanned adventures turned out to be the best ones.