- Barcelona, Spain1 of 8
- Amsterdam, The Netherlands2 of 8
- Paris, France3 of 8
- Lisbon, Portugal4 of 8
- Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland5 of 8
- Dublin, Northern Ireland6 of 8
- London, England7 of 8
- Edinburgh, Scotland8 of 8
Western Europe serves as the gateway to European adventures, and a tour of the region is your passport to a rich variety of culture, history, entertainment and a truly cosmopolitan continental experience. From touring the Houses of Parliament in London, to climbing Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, to being visually stunned by Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway, to the Catalan delights of Barcelona and the windy coast of perfect Portugal, there’s something for everyone in Western Europe. It can feel like taking a step back in time as you wander the streets of ancient cities, but these countries are full to bursting with contemporary style and modern living with a continental twist.
Dublin, Ireland’s capital, has the benefit of being a compact cosmopolitan city so walking around the center is a fun, easy way to explore the rich history and culture this city has to offer. It is the perfect place to get to know Ireland but has a great bar culture more akin to its European counterparts, so that walking around the city is almost always interspersed with a trip to a cozy, or trendy pub and a swift half of Guinness to keep your strength up. Temple Bar is the cultural heart of the city and a great place to wander in in the evenings, but you’ll want to spend time around the Docklands, enjoying the water and the light during the day and a tour of Dublin Castle is an absolute must. Teeming with history from as far back as 1230, Dublin Castle has borne witness to much of Dublin’s difficult past and fascinating history, from English Rule to Independence you can learn about the true heart of Ireland here and come face to face with its past. Parliament House, Trinity College and Christ Church Cathedral are all architectural delights not to be passed over in a trip to this fine city. Cobh (Cork) is another stunning Irish town waiting to be explored. With a rich maritime past and history long connected to the sea and emigration there is much to be learnt here and a lot to see and do. There are popular tours of the harbor which includes a fascinating history lesson on the connecting Cobh has to emigration and particularly Australia as well as the stunning St. Colman’s Cathedral dating back to 1867. Away from the Republic of Ireland you can learn more about the island’s troubled past in Belfast in Northern Ireland, a site for many years of turbulence and political instability. Learn about the city’s past at the Ulster Museum and spend time on Skankhill and Falls Road which have both served as flashpoints in the city throughout the city’s troubled history. Travel even further back in time by visiting Belfast’s Castle built at the beginning of the 18th century and is set in beautiful landscaped gardens from which there are stunning views to be appreciated. From Belfast it is also possible to visit the famed Giant’s Causeway, one of the most awe inspiring natural wonders in all of Britain. Formed over 60 million years ago, the natural phenomena of the Causeway was created through volcanic crashing and burning, resulting in close to 40,000 basalt columns stretching out into the sea, but as with great natural phenomena everywhere the locals have their own version of how the Giant’s Causeway came into being, which are just as worth learning about as the science.
Scotland and the Scottish are famous for many things, but perhaps the most enjoyable and culturally enriching is the tradition of whisky. When on the stunning outer Hebrides island of Stornoway visit the Abhainn Dearg Distillery where you can tour the distillery and learn more about the tradition of whisky and the Scottish skill which goes into making a truly sensational single malt. And if you have to test a few to get a true taste of Scotland, well then that’s just your good luck! Stornoway is also home to a fascinating circle of standing stones akin to those found at Stonehenge in England. The Callanish Sanding Stones, however, are central to Celtic tradition and history and, being far less visited than Stonehenge it is also possible to see them up close. Back on the mainland you can explore the Scottish Highlands from Inverness, a town at the gateway to the stunning Scottish landscape. From here you can also visit Loch Ness and search for the infamous ‘monster’. This is a truly stunning part of the world that should be first on the list of any traveler who considers themselves a nature lover and wilderness fan. Perhaps the last part of Britain it’s possible to really get lost in, there are of course plenty of hiking and walking opportunities that will allow you to get to know the area better, as well as truly appreciate the magic of the Highlands. Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, is a history and architecture lover’s dream; easily explored on foot, the cobbled streets and castle on the hill (Arthur’s Seat) are sure to enchant and charm.
Traveling south and into England, many vacationer’s first stop will of course be the capital city of London, one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan cities in the world. With an often torrid and turbulent past, the history of London stretches as far back as the Romans who called the city Londinium. Widely considered a world city, London is one of the most visited in the world and this status as a world capital was consolidated in the summer of 2012 when it became the first city to host the Summer Olympics three times. With a recent past as fascinating as its lengthy history there is much to be learnt here, but there is also much to be enjoyed from unparalleled shopping experiences, West End shows, River Thames cruises, some of the world’s finest art galleries and museums, exceptional nightlife and a restaurant scene widely considered to be at the top of its game. With the much more recently built attractions of the Olympic Park, Greenwich Millennium Dome and London Eye combining with the ancient and much storied attractions of Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral there is almost too much to see and do in this truly metropolitan city.
Another city simply teeming with history, with another tit bit about the past just waiting to be discovered around every cobblestoned corner is Amsterdam, the city of canals to be found in The Netherlands. Famous (and sometimes infamous) for its café culture and red light district, there is much more to this picturesque city than meets the eye. Visit the Anne Frank House and learn about the effects of Nazi occupation by coming face to face with one of the most famous diarist in the worlds’ past. With a charming compact center, Amsterdam is a fun and easy place to explore but there are a few unique ways to do so such as a canal trip or alternatively, do as the locals do and rent one of the many bikes which line the streets and discover another side of the city. Antwerp in Belgium is another picturesque city to be visited in this part of the world. With a perfectly preserved town center including the famous Grote Markt, or central square this is a great place to get to know the medieval architecture particular to this part of Belgium. The 14th century Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp is an awe inspiring piece of European architecture which tops off a trip to the city perfectly. From the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium it is possible to visit the perfectly picturesque town of Bruges, famous for its canals, medieval architecture and a stunning central square. Tour the town from a canal boat, or take a hot air balloon ride over the tops of the picture perfect houses and buildings.
Germany has much in the way to recommend itself to tourists and travelers. With a history as vast, varied and controversial as any other in the world there is much to learn from a country and nation which has almost completely had to reinvent itself and its identity since the mid-20th century. Hamburg is a great introduction to the country with a fantastic cultural scene, exuberant energy, and enormous port. The city’s town hall, or Rathaus as it’s called in German is a neoclassical architectural dream within the altstadt (Old City), and serves to remind visitors and locals alike of the past, present and future and how all three can be healthily intertwined with verve and integrity. The city’s zoo is one of the best in Europe and well worth a visit considering it has been in existence since 1863 and has chosen to house its furry and fuzzy inhabitants in open (and yet still safely enclosed) spaces, rather than the more commonly used cages. Surrounded by land, Berlin is a difficult place to get to for cruisers, but it’s a must-see destination for any European jaunt, especially considering the historic significance of the city. From Rostock you can travel onward on land to this newly minted capital of ‘cool’, and enjoy all the eclectic and eccentric offerings, as well as the more traditional side of the city. Visit the Brandenburg Gate, Charlottenburg Castle, Checkpoint Charlie and the Wall of course, but also make time for exploring the locals’ favorite haunts of Kreuzburg and Neukölln and sauntering through Prenzlauer Berg or Kollwitzplatz.
France is a country which contains a multitude of attractive and alluring tourist attractions, the most famous of which of course being the City of Love and Lights, Paris. From the port city of Le Havre you can expect to visit this most Romantic of cities, where you can cruise up the Seine, climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, explore Monmatre and the Quartier Latin, step back in time at St Germain du Pres, traverse the beautiful boulevards, shop on the Champs Elysee, feel triumphant at the Arc du Triomphe and taste some of the best and most famous regional cuisine in the world. Keep it simple with a picnic of baguette et fromage on the shores of the Seine or go all out with a Michelen starred meal of French classics and a vintage verre du vin. But the coastal towns and cities of France also have much to offer by way of the freshest of fish, charming atmosphere and warm welcomes, whether on the beaches of Biarritz or the harbors of La Rochelle and Brest. Bordeaux is the capital of winemaking and the best place to get to know the regional specialties as well as the particulars of winemaking. The city too is beautiful and full to the brim with history, culture and art as well as with possibilities for wine tasting around every corner.
Heading towards the Iberian Peninsula you can visit the rocky shores of Portugal, where surfers ride the best breaks in Europe at Peniche and Sagres. Lisbon, one of Europe’s most fascinating and yet lesser visited capital cities is an art lover’s paradise and full to bursting with history and architecture. One of the top tourist attractions in the city is the Moorish castle of Sintra Castelo, an exemplary and decadent display of Moorish design and architecture which revels in its eccentricity and colorful façade. Built in the 9th and 10th centuries, the castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and provides sweeping vistas of the city once you have climbed to the top. Valencia is Spain’s third largest city and a great place to start learning about this fascinating, and often sun drenched country. This is a city which delights in beachside living and the good things in life, but be sure to explore the center of the town away from the sandy shore as well for there is a city full of culture, art and history to be found. There is also some world class shopping to be done here, with the Mercat Central a particularly popular spot to visit, being as it is an aesthetically pleasing as well as sartorially inspiring marketplace and building to spend some time, and probably some money in. Up in the North Eastern corner of Spain, in the area of Catalonia lies one of the country’s best loved cities of Barcelona. Once host to the Summer Olympics, the city, like Valencia has mastered the art of beachside living combined with metropolitan flair. This is truly a city in which modernity meets tradition, with stunning architecture, especially those made famous by Gaudi such as the Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, and Casa Batlo all of which are not to be missed. Stroll down Las Ramblas at morning, noon or midnight and its sure to be teeming with people, whether locals or visitors, as this is the heart of this stunning city. Be sure to try the regional specials of tapas and hot chocolate or churros beloved of tourists and city natives alike. There are a myriad of cultural hot spots to hit in Barcelona, but one of the very best has to be the Miro Museum which houses some of the finest pieces of work by one of the 20th century’s most important artists, so be sure not to miss out. Exploring Western Europe you’ll feel like Aladdin exploring his cave full of treasures, and will be sure to leave both inspired, and happily tired by the sheer wealth of cultural and historical treasures on offer in what is, for good reason, one of the most visited and best-loved parts of the world.
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