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10 Surprisingly Romantic Places

Sometimes romance lurks in surprising places - like this stairway in Amman, Jordan ©

Much like a pooch delivered at Christmas, romance is for life, not just for Valentine’s Day. Sure, there’s a lot of joy in ramping up the passion on 14 February, but don’t use that as an excuse for neglecting the heart on the other 364 days of the year (365 if it’s a leap year). You have a lot of love to give, we promise.

Still, we’re about to spam the romance lists, what with it being that time of year and all. What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me. Yes, we’ll make that joke until we perish, but ignore that for now and focus on your romantic holiday plans. Venice, Paris, Prague and the rest might get all the attention (including from us, here), but where is the romance in sharing a holiday with a bazillion other lucky couples? Why bother with the smooching selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower when the scene looks like something out of Brave New World? Europe is packed with surprisingly romantic destinations that deserve a little more attention from the puppy-eyes of the world. This year, skip Paris and head to one of these charmers instead.

Trieste, Italy

Trieste’s Miramare is one of the most romantic castles in all of Europe – aside from the whole bit about its newlywed owner facing the firing squad in Mexico after declaring himself emperor © Pexels / Mattia

We’re still waiting for the world to cotton on to the magic of Trieste. That isn’t to say the city is completely off the tourist radar (this is Italy), but the delights of this truly unique city tend to get overlooked by romance hunters in favour of Venice, Verona and the rest. That is understandable, what with all the canals and that “Romeo and Juliet” thing, but may we remind you that those starcrossed lovers actually ended up dead in a church? That ain’t happening in Trieste, where the shimmer of the Adriatic gives life to grand views and a history unlike any other. All the traditional romantic Italian notes are hit (the food, the cafes, the aura), but the Trieste experience is an altogether more intimate one. Just be careful if you bump into any poor apothecary-looking types.

Katowice, Poland

That is one romantically lit train station © Lichen99 CC4.0

At some point, the world will surely stop bringing up Katowice’s industrial past when championing its modern charms, right? Yes, it is Poland’s industrial centre, and yes, nostalgia is smoke-tinged, but modern Katowice is much more than factories and fog. This is arguably Poland’s most creative city, a culturally dynamic hub of excitement and innovation, home to the nation’s largest cathedral and some of its best museums and bars. Katowice is an exciting place, the sort of city that stirs the spirit and inspires a sense of enthusiasm and energy for the future. If that isn’t love, what is?

Famagusta, Cyprus

Famagusta’s former gothic cathedral turned Pasha Lala Mustapha mosque © CC0 Public Domain

It may have been the ending point of Colin Thubron’s famous walk (chronicled in the excellent “Journey Into Cyprus”), but Famagusta might just be the start of your next great love affair. No, not the type of affair that comes with dubious morality and broken hearts. We’re talking about a geographical love affair, one set ablaze by the magic of a crucial harbour and a town as old as time. Famagusta is a captivating mix of medieval whispers and modern proclamations, stories that play out on its old streets and new beaches. The weather is excellent, too, which can only be good news for romance levels.

Birmingham, England

Nothing says romance (or watch out for Victorian serial killers) like some beautiful English fog © Pexels / Olga Lioncat

We love Brum, and not just because we had to stay late at Scruffy Murphy’s one time after a guitar somehow made contact with a head. Even within England, Birmingham gets short-shrift, neglected in favour of the snarl of Manchester and Liverpool, the sweeping grandeur of the Lake District, the elegance of Bath, the character of Bristol, and the “because it is London” of, well, London. If you overlook Birmingham, that’s on you. It combines all the above with England’s most comforting spirit, its best restaurants, and a convivial demeanour that practically demands you put on some slippers and make yourself at home. Romance is about excitement, sure, but romance is also about being somewhere that feels right. Birmingham feels right, even if the aforementioned injured guitarist then has to drive you home. Brum was also voted the second-least romantic city in Britain, and that’s good enough for us. Hull took first place, and that sounds about right. Sorry, Hull.

Maribor, Slovenia

Slovenia’s second city is every bit as charming (okay, almost) as the capital © Pexels / Gaj Gorza

Wine is romantic, right? That depends on what glass you are on, but we’ve never had a lousy time letting our inner oenophile run wild in Maribor. The second-largest city in Slovenia (and the largest in the Štajerska region), Maribor is home to the world’s oldest vine, the showstopper in Slovenia’s great wine extravaganza. Stara Trta has been doing its thing for well over 400 years, and it dominates a quaint house in the heart of Maribor’s old centre. Maribor itself is criminally underrated, and a few glasses of delicious plonk will have you defending the city with all your might. Yes, wine is romantic, especially in Maribor.

Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina

A hilltop fortress and waterfalls – what more could you need? © Pexels / Semir Corhusic

Come on now, just look at it. Sarajevo has the history, and Mostar has the bridge, but do either of those magnificent cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina have waterfalls? Do they have waterfalls in the centre of town? Do they have waterfalls cascading below one of the country’s most important fortresses? Without sounding too “nah nah nah,” Jajce has all of that and more. The Pliva Falls are the most romantic sight in Bosnia and Herzegovina, dramatic displays of natural power that are straight out of epic literature. The nearby Pliva Mills continue the theme, while Jajce’s fortress, Bear Tower and catacombs tell the story of Bosnia’s medieval heyday. Tell the good folks at Svemirko pub that we say “hej.”

Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Cluj-Napoca, Romania © Flickr, Nuță Lucian CC2.0

Where would we be without salt? To answer that question fairly abruptly, we’d be dead. What does this have to do with romance? We need to be alive for romance, so there is that, but it also acts as a decent enough introduction to Cluj-Napoca, Romania’s second-largest city (you may have noticed a theme) and arguably its most romantic. The centre of town is all grand architecture and bubbling excitement, while the nearby Turda Salt Mine is one of the world’s most incredible subterranean experiences. Cluj-Napoca is all about that last word, “experiences,” many of which are perfect for couples. We assume exploring a salt mine is a perfect couple-friendly activity, anyway.

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels © Pexels / Lexi Lauwers

Don’t find the bureaucracy of the European Union sexy? Yeah, us neither, but don’t judge a book by its cover. In this instance, don’t judge Brussels by its position as the de facto capital of the European Union. It also happens to be the capital of Belgium, an actual country, and there is a broad range of activities perfectly designed for couples waiting to be enjoyed. Everything from grand old museums to brewery tours is available, and the city’s romantic restaurants are befitting of a place where unnecessarily dense legal texts are discussed and debated ad nauseam, boring an entire continent into submission. Okay, fine, maybe we do find the bureaucracy a little exciting after all.

Leipzig, Germany

Leipzig, Germany © Pexels / Antonio Friedemann

No, we haven’t confused “surprisingly romantic” for “underrated mid-sized cities.” That’s just how it goes. Leipzig is a surprisingly romantic, underrated mid-sized city, although it is only really surprising if your German holiday horizons don’t extend beyond Berlin and Bavaria. One of the largest cities in the east of Germany, Leipzig is a spectacular showcase of architecture and history, and we’re happy to confirm that the romance of grand architecture remains undefeated. The city has a delightful range of walking (or cycling) tours available, allowing you to stroll hand in hand with your significant other while learning about the brutal destruction of the city during World War II. Wait, what…

Conwy, Wales

Conwy, Wales © Pexels / Lisa Fotios

If you think we find a way to get Conwy into all of our selections, you aren’t imagining things. We do, and we will continue to, forever and ever, because the North Welsh beauty deserves every bit of attention it gets. The North Wales coast might not be the first place you think of when considering romantic getaways (it can be pretty wet and windy up here), but the charms of Conwy are relentless. The complex legacy of its majestic castle is offset by its undeniable grandiosity, while the town centre is a conveyor belt of independent businesses that focus on quality and character above all. You’ll fall in love with Conwy, mark our words. You might even make plans to move into Britain’s smallest house, although the confined space will probably put a strain on even the most robust relationship. Stick to the hotels.

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