An ex-Wall Street banker who visited every European country picked 5 underrated ones he'd recommend over Spain, France, Italy, or Greece (2024)

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An ex-Wall Street banker who visited every European country picked 5 underrated ones he'd recommend over Spain, France, Italy, or Greece (1)

  • Travel blogger Lee Abbamonte has visited all 50 sovereign countries in Europe.
  • As Americans gear up for summer travel, Abbamonte recommends avoiding certain travel hot spots.
  • He said to check out Eastern Europe and Norway and avoid most ofFrance, Italy, Spain, and Greece.

An ex-Wall Street banker who visited every European country picked 5 underrated ones he'd recommend over Spain, France, Italy, or Greece (2)

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An ex-Wall Street banker who visited every European country picked 5 underrated ones he'd recommend over Spain, France, Italy, or Greece (4)

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If you're an American planning to visit Europe this summer, you'll be one of millions of other US tourists heading across the pond.

With the start of summer around the corner, many have already booked trips to what travel blogger Lee Abbamonte dubs the Big Four — Spain, Italy, Greece, and France.

Abbamonte, 45, is about as well-traveled as it gets. He told Business Insider he was inspired to travel as much as he could after 9/11, when many of his colleagues at a Wall Street firm owned by financial services giant Cantor Fitzgerald died during the collapse of the Twin Towers.

After 2001, Abbamonte went on to visit every country in the world, the North and South Poles, and every state in the US.

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Abbamonte said his preferred method of travel — taking a road trip — has allowed him to visit enchanting parts of Europe that the typical American tourists may completely miss.

"You're on your own schedule," he said. "The roads are good, it's easy to drive, a rental car is relatively cheap, and you have ultimate freedom."

One of Abbamonte's favorite regions to explore by car is Eastern Europe, which is struggling to attract international tourists due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. In 2023, the European Travel Commission reported that after the outbreak of COVID-19 brought tourism to a halt, countries closest to Russia and Ukraine, particularly those in the Baltic region, have been the slowest to recover pre-pandemic tourism levels.

Nevertheless, here are five European countries that Abbamonte said offer fewer crowds and more perks, including yummy food, beautiful architecture, and stunning scenery.

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Plus, if you've already booked your trip to Spain, Italy, Greece, and France, he highlighted some hidden gem spots off the beaten path.

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There's more to Romania than meets the eye, according to Abbamonte.

An ex-Wall Street banker who visited every European country picked 5 underrated ones he'd recommend over Spain, France, Italy, or Greece (5)

Abbamonte recommends only a brief pit stop in Romania's capital, Bucharest, before driving through "awesome" regions like Transylvania, known for storied castles and medieval villages lined with cobblestone streets like Brasov.

"It's a great road trip country," he said.

Many people also don't realize Romania isn't landlocked, Abbamonte added, and actually has an epic coastline along the Black Sea with stunning port cities like Constanta.

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Norway is beautiful in the winter, but it's a hiker's paradise in the summer, he said.

An ex-Wall Street banker who visited every European country picked 5 underrated ones he'd recommend over Spain, France, Italy, or Greece (6)

Norway in the winter may delight snowsho*rs and cross-country skiers. But Abbamonte, who isn't a fan of any kind of skiing, said the best time of the year to visit the Scandinavian country is in the summer.

"It has some of the best hiking in the world, especially in the summer," he said, name-checking the iconic boulder hike Kjeragbolten, the cliffside at Preikestolen, and the scenic lake views at Trolltunga in particular. "It's just awesome from top to bottom, and you just kind of get in a car and drive. It's amazing."

Another of his favorite Norwegian spots is the Lofoten Islands, an archipelago north of the Arctic Circle known for beaches, fishing, hikes, and mountain/rock climbing, and that travel experts previously told BI usually flies under the radar.

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If you visit the Czech Republic, Abbamonte advised skipping Prague and making a beeline for smaller villages.

An ex-Wall Street banker who visited every European country picked 5 underrated ones he'd recommend over Spain, France, Italy, or Greece (7)

Though Abbamonte said Prague is one of his "favorite cities in the world," he said that to truly appreciate the Czech Republic — which most Czechs call Czechia — you have to get out of the capital.

"There's so much cool stuff outside Prague to see, and most people never leave the capital," he said.

Like Romania, Abbamonte added, the Czech Republic is an "awesome" place to take a road trip through many picturesque villages and small towns.

One of his go-to stops is Český Krumlov, known for its medieval architecture, river, and gardens.

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Poland is beautiful and chock-full of 'life-altering' historic sites, he said.

An ex-Wall Street banker who visited every European country picked 5 underrated ones he'd recommend over Spain, France, Italy, or Greece (8)

In Abbamonte's experience, a lot of Americans sleep on Poland.

But the Eastern European country is worth visiting, he said, to explore urban areas like the river-side city Krakow and the port city Gdansk, as well as the capital, Warsaw, which was "rebuilt" after World War II.

Abbamonte also said one of the most valuable and emotional experiences people can have in Poland is touring concentration camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau.

"That's life-altering stuff, especially if you have relatives who were a part of it," he said. "I'm half Jewish, so it was really striking for me to be there knowing that some of my relatives' descendants fled to the United States."

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Serbia is worth a trip for its capital, Belgrade, alone, Abbamonte feels.

An ex-Wall Street banker who visited every European country picked 5 underrated ones he'd recommend over Spain, France, Italy, or Greece (9)

Abbamonte is a fan of the entire Balkan region, which includes Bosnia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and others.

However, Serbia stands out to Abbamonte because he finds the capital city of Belgrade "to be the singular most underrated city in Europe."

His expectations of an Eastern European city that has experienced so much violence in recent history were not high, he said.

"But then you get there, and it's beautiful," he added. "It's right on the river, it has great restaurants, a great bohemian scene, and a lot of coffee shop, and bars."

But at night, the city truly comes alive, Abbamonte said.

"It turns into this raging nightlife place, and it's beautiful," he said.

Serbia also has "beautiful mountain towns," Abbamonte added, which offer more chances to meet friendly and insightful locals.

"I find the whole country to be fascinating and the people to be interesting because they have dealt with a lot," he said.

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Abbamonte tells people to seek out hidden-gem spots within heavily touristy countries including Spain, Italy, Greece, and France.

An ex-Wall Street banker who visited every European country picked 5 underrated ones he'd recommend over Spain, France, Italy, or Greece (10)

Abbamonte also has plenty of off-the-beaten-path tips for the handful of countries he calls the Big Four: France, Spain, Greece, and Italy.

If you're booked to go to France this summer, he recommended visiting Biarritz, a coastal town close to the border with Spain.

"Really only French people go there," he said. "But that's why I like it — because it has a real local old-money, Grace Kelly kind of feel."

In Spain, one of Abbamonte's favorite places to visit is A Coruña, a port city in northwest Galicia.

"It's a beautiful coastal town that nobody goes to, and it's awesome," he said.

Abbamonte also suggested checking out the smaller Italian villages of San Gimignano and Montalcino. If you're looking for the Lake Como experience, he added, there are plenty of other lakes in the Dolomite Mountains that are just as beautiful.

In Greece, Abbamonte said Meteora in Thessaly is "otherworldly," with monasteries perched on rock cliffs, and US tourists sleep on a northern city called Thessaloniki.

"Most people have never been there or have ever heard of it or can spell it," he said. "It's a very cool city, pretty cheap, and interesting."

As for Greek islands, he recommended Hydra, which is quiet and car-free.

"It's just goats, donkeys, and walking," Abbamonte said. "It's a very cool place to go."

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An ex-Wall Street banker who visited every European country picked 5 underrated ones he'd recommend over Spain, France, Italy, or Greece (2024)
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