Ah Europe, the continent of multifarious cultures, breathtaking natural beauties, awe-inspiring architecture and unique food experiences! Don’t we all have at least one European destination in our travel bucket list?
There are the usual suspects like Paris, Amsterdam and London, and then there are some unusual spots that you will enjoy discovering yourself. Let’s take a look at some popular as well as offbeat cities in Europe that you should add to your travel list this year.
1. Istanbul, Turkey
The capital city of Turkey is a living lesson in history, with Byzantine and Ottoman treasures strewn all over the place. Among the most popular places to see here is the Hagia Sophia, which was once a church, then a mosque and now a museum.
A visit to the Bazaar District is a must for souvenir-hunters. You can savour kebabs and fresh fish cooked in local spices, and try the raki (a local drink made from grapes and aniseed). The locals are famous for their hospitality and you will leave with an unrivalled cultural experience.
When to go: Skip summers and winters (extreme weather) – the best time to go is spring and autumn.
2. Venice, Italy
Who has seen the images of gondolas and vaporettos plying on Venetian canals and not wanted to go there? The Grand Canal of Europe is an architectural miracle with exquisite edifices built on the lagoon.
You need to visit St. Mark’s Basilica for its domed splendour, the Gallerie dell’Accademia for a peek into the rich artistic heritage of Italy, the Ghetto for that true Jewish experience, and the Doge’s Palace for a walk on magnificent gold-plated stairs.
Forget pizzas and pastas and try some Venetian specialities such as Bigoli in salsa, moleche, and fritole.
When to go: Venice is lovely anytime except summer which is actually the peak season. Winters are likely to be the cheapest time to find accommodation here.
3. Prague, Czech Republic
The capital of Czech Republic is famous for its music. Prague is riddled with courtyards and cobbled paths, ideal for foot explorers. Gothic and Baroque-style structures will enthral you, and bohemian bars will enchant you. The must-see spots here include the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral and the Old Town Square.
Enjoy the taste of palacinky pancakes, the varying textures of the vepro-knedlo-zelo, and knedliky dumplings. And it’s not just Germany that loves its beer – Prague has some of the best beer choices in Europe.
When to go: People flock to Prague from April to June, September and October, and during Christmas time. So avoid going there during these months! If you don’t mind the crowd and want to experience the city’s exuberance, you should check out the Prague Spring festival in May.
4. Edinburgh, Scotland
With folds of rocky hills, steep crags, and rising stone castles, Edinburgh is one of the most picturesque cities in the world. You cannot get enough of the trips to the Highlands, and the nightlife is vivacious.
Don’t skip a visit to the Edinburgh Castle, Real Mary King’s Close, Arthur’s Seat or Palace of Holyroodhouse. You can get a quick look at the city’s sights on an Edinburgh bus tour. If you’re up for some culinary experimentation, try the haggis, stovies, bridies and cranachan.
If you are a music or arts buff, you MUST visit the city during the Edinburgh International Festival or the Fringe. Of course, not to forget the sexy Scottish brogue and men in kilts!
When to go: Unless you want to go to the festivals, skip Edinburgh in August, September and Christmas-time. Try May – you’ll get the best weather and cheery cherry blossom backgrounds for your photographs!
5. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona blends together the Mediterranean with the quintessential Spanish. Splendid views of the Balearic Sea, exotic architecture and flavorful Catalan cuisine – these are what help Barcelona qualify for the nomination towards the most beautiful city in Europe.
From Roman to Gothic, Barcelona has several architectural marvels that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and one can enjoy the fluidity of the work of Antoni Gaudi whose church La Sagrada Familia is a breathtaking work still under progress.
Other highlights of this artist include Park Guell, La Pedreran and Casa Batllo. Don’t miss the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya or La Catedral either.
When to go: We know the weather in coastal areas very well. July and August would be sultry and full of tourists, but try visiting between April to June for an enjoyable weather.
Travel Tip: If you intend to accumulate miles to redeem yourself a free business class ticket to Europe in future, you must get yourself the Citi PremierMiles Visa Cardc now! The miles on this card never expire so you can accumulate all your Citi Miles till you can redeem a free ticket!
1. Route 1, Iceland
Okay, so this is not a city, but we are talking about beautiful places, and there is no way we are leaving Iceland’s Route 1 out! This 1,332-km ring road runs around the island and covers almost all the important destinations of the country.
The breathtaking views along this road include the Dyrholaey peninsula, the Jokulsarlon glacial lake, Hveragerdi hot springs, Vik and Hofn towns, Swan Ford, Myvatn Lake, the Skaftafell national park area, and Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls.
You can rent a car and go on what anyone would call an “epic road trip”.
When to go: The best time to go would be May and September, with June and August being the peak season. Avoid winters as there would be a lot of snow and glacier activity.
2. Zagreb, Croatia
An untainted gem in the world of European travel, Zagreb stands out for its rich palette of architecture, music, culture, street art and gastronomy.
The capital of Croatia may not have any gorgeous seaside views, but its urban elegance is not to be missed. Street art and graffiti render Zagreb a huge modern canvas, and Austro-Hungarian edifices and contemporary styles co-exist in the cityscape.
The laidback attitude of this place is perfect for the stroller in you. Interesting places to visit include the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Mirogoj cemetery, the Dolac Market, and the Fuliranje holiday market.
When to go: April to October are the best months to drop by. June is when most of the festivals in Zagreb happen.
3. Visby, Sweden
Visby is the capital of Gotland, the biggest island in Sweden that is surrounded by the Baltic Sea. The best way to enjoy this town is to take a walk around it. This immensely photogenic town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is filled with cobbled streets, flower-lined lanes, ruins of Gothic churches and quaint wooden cottages. Enjoy the unique culinary art of the region through the rice dish Saffranspannkaka, the dewberry jam Salmbarssylt, lamb Glodhoppa and the pork bun Ugnstrull.
When to go: The peak season is June to August, but you can go there anytime of the year.
4. Meteora, Greece
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Meteora is a delight in stone with its smooth rocks rising to great heights and caves. You will not stop marvelling at the beauty of the Adhrakhti obelisk, exquisite monastery complexes, the cave chapel of Agios Andonios, and Askitaria, cave hermitages decked with nesting doves and hanging ladders. Also check out the Museum of Hellenic Culture and Natural History while you’re there.
When to go: Autumn and summer are the best times to come here. Winter can be rainy and COLD, which will prevent you from seeing the rocks and their tips.
5. Chisinau, Moldova
If you’ve never been to Moldova, Chisinau is going to be the discovery of a lifetime. The city was rebuilt after the World War II mayhem in Soviet style, so the key buildings are all very simple and pragmatic, but the few historical monuments that remain are spectacular.
There’s so much to do: pick a book and idle away time at Parcul Catedralei or Gradina Publica Stefan cel Mare si Sfint (both stunning parks) or appreciate the statue of Stefan cel Mare nearby; take a trip to the Orhei Vechi Monastery (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) two hours away or empathise with the pain of the Repression Memorial; soak in the region history at the National Archaeology & History Museum or pray at the almost 200-year-old Nativity of Christ Metropolitan Cathedral.
Moldova is well known for its wines, so don’t miss the Wine Festival in October first weekend.
Travel Tip: Don’t forget to get a comprehensive travel insurance package when going to Europe. Alternatively, acquire a credit card that offers travel insurance for a variety of travel inconveniences. If you intend to indulge in adventures, check for travel policies that also cover adventure activities and sports.
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