In the old days, Americans use to take a couple of years to make the Grand Tour of Europe. They had the right idea. You need lots of time to fully experience all that Europe has to offer. Since most of us today have only a few weeks holiday each year, we need to pick and choose what we’ll see. With so many top places to visit in Europe, we can narrow the list down by geographic region or special interest. Since it takes only hours to get to Europe these days, compared to the weeks it took our ancestors, to get to Europe, we can always return to visit new sights.
Venice is for romantics who love gliding through the Grand Canal with a gondolier singing Italian love songs. This is, after all, the city that sent Marco Polo off on his journey to China. Start your exploration of Venice at San Marco Square, the city’s most famous square. Here you’ll find the Doge’s Palace, the seat of Venetian government, and St. Mark’s Basilica, the main church in Venice with stunning views from the tower. Venice also is famous for its bridges (Rialto and Sighs) across the canals.
9. Monte Carlo
If you’re into glitz and glamour, look no further than Monte Carlo, the major city in the tiny principality of Monaco. Monaco has always been known for these qualities which reached new heights when its prince made Grace Kelly his princess. Sitting on the shores of the Mediterranean, Monte Carlo is known for fast car races and its elite casino. Take a walk along the harbor to see yachts (some as big as ships) that belong to the rich and famous.
8. Alhambra Tours & Activities
The Alhambra is one of the great wonders of Spain. It’s a gorgeous palace-fortress complex that can be found in Granada in southern Spain’s Andalusia province. This imposing complex started out as a small fortress in the late ninth century, though it was built on the ruins of a former Roman fortress. Taken over by Christian rulers, it is the site where Columbus got the go-ahead to discover the New World. The blending of architectural styles over the centuries is stunning. You’ll find great art and grand gardens throughout.
If it weren’t for Florence, the Renaissance might not have happened. Florence is generally credited with bringing Europe out of the dark ages with great artists like Michelangelo. You can see their works at the Uffizi, Florence’s greatest gallery, or the Academia that displays the original David. Eat a gelato while strolling the Ponte Vecchio that bridges the Arno River. Ogle the over-the-top riches of the Medici family at the Pitti Palace. Marvel at the early engineering that created the great Duomo. This is Florence at its best.
English history buffs will have a field day in London. This city on the Thames is chock full of palaces, from Buckingham Palace to Hampton Court Palace. More a prison than a palace, the Tower of London is home to the royal jewels. And from Knightsbridge – don’t forget to visit the magnificent food halls at Harrods – to Carnaby Street, the shopping is awesome. You can get around London quickly and efficiently by riding the famous Tube – be sure to mind the gap.
5. Neuschwanstein Castle
“Fairy tale castle” is a phrase that aptly describes Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps. These 19th century Romanesque Revival castles look like it just stepped out of a fairy tale; some say Neuschwanstein provided the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. The castle was built as a retreat for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who viewed it as a romanticization of the Middle Ages The castle was built of brick, then covered in rock, including the white limestone that is visible from afar.
Amsterdam is a pleasant city marked with meandering canals lined with tall, narrow row houses. It is the city where Anne Frank kept her famous diary, so visiting the house where she wrote is a must. This “Venice of the North” also is a city of great art, beginning with the Rijksmuseum, home to great European masterpieces; Rembrandt’s house and the more modern van Gogh museum. Take a break from sightseeing to tour and sample Holland’s beer at the Heineken Brewery.
Prague, with a long history of war and destruction, is considered one of the best places to visit in Europe. Despite the devastation caused by World War II, Prague has a very nice Old Town that is worth more than a few hours of your time. Prague has many pedestrian zones, which makes walking a delight, as you wander by Prague Castle, through the Jewish Quarter, by St. Vitus Cathedral and over the Charles Bridge. Wenceslas Square, situated in the New Town, hums with a vibrant nightlife and entertainment air.
Istanbul may be on the outer fringes of Europe but well worth a visit when you’re traveling abroad. Turkey’s biggest city is a fascinating place, filled with a rich history, colorful markets and mosques. Top attractions include the Bosporus that separates Europe and Asia; the ecumenical Hagia Sophia that’s been a Greek Orthodox Christian basilica, then an imperial mosque and now a museum, and the 15th century Topkapi Palace, also a museum today. Get in a little shopping at the Grand Bazaar that’s been in operation since 1461.
When the summer heat of Europe gets you down, head to Norway with its pretty cool scenery. Geirangerfjord is a 15 km (9.3-mile) long fjord with crystal blue waters fed by picturesque cascading waterfalls. Take a sightseeing trip on a car ferry through the fjord, passing villages on the shores. Look out for the Seven Sisters and Suitor waterfalls so named because legend says he’s trying to court the sisters. Also, look for Bridal Veil – when the light is right, it looks like a thin veil covering the rocks.