Traveling can be a welcome break from the stress and boredom associated with falling into a rut in our everyday lives. We are always on the lookout for beautiful images to browse through and fantasize, but nothing beats actually making the leap and visiting some of the wonderful cities of the old continent. There is much you can learn from the experience, and these cities, rich with history and culture, have lots to offer in terms of education, personal growth, great food and fun activities.
1. Bruges, Belgium
While many people fall in love with the unique aesthetic of Venice, with its canals and gondolas, it is overrun by tourists and, frankly speaking, overrated. If you want a rustic, old-town experience, with cobbled streets, canals and lovely old architecture, then head on down to Belgium and visit Bruges. The entire city center is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You’ll find Michelangelo’s Madonna with Child statue and a number of museums and breathtaking churches and cathedrals. Walking down the streets of Bruges really takes you back through history, to a slower and more relaxed time. It is a city where you can ‘stop to smell the roses’, and it’s a shame that it is often overlooked when talking about lovely European cities.
2. Edinburgh, Scotland
Apart from being a city with a strong Old World feel to it, what with its big castles and charming landscape, there are still some quite interesting tidbits that a lot of people don’t know about Edinburgh, like the fact that Arthur’s Seat Hill is actually an inactive volcano. Besides the world-famous Edinburgh Castle, which was never successfully taken by force throughout its existence, there are five other castles in the surrounding area, as well as a myriad of churches and cathedrals.
The Edinburgh Dungeon, the Royal Botanic Garden and the Mining Museum are particularly interesting sites worth visiting. You can even watch the ultimate strength challenge that are the Highland Games, and you can take part in different sports, from golf to sailing and kayaking.
3. Florence, Italy
One of the most beautiful cities in the world, full of culturally significant sites, sculptures, art, and some exceptional architecture. It was the place in which the Renaissance bloomed and spread out like wildfire. Where does one even start when describing this majestic city? Perhaps the fact that the entire city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in the 80s can help me paint the picture.
Florence has been around since 80 BC and the various historical styles and influences are quite apparent, although the Renaissance style is the most widespread, with works of arts from such legendary names as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli.
The lovely Ponte Veccio (Old Bridge) is a must see, and The Duomo will leave you staring in amazement. This being Italy, you can also enjoy some great coffee, fine wine and tasty meals while you spend your days exploring the city.
4. Prague, Czech Republic
An old and proud city, Prague boasts very lovely centuries-old architecture, but it combines it well with more contemporary and quite unique architectural and artistic feats, like the Dancing House or the Franz Kafka Monument. Of course, you can’t talk about Prague without mentioning the Astronomical Clock and Karl’s Bridge, which continue to impress thousands of tourists daily.
The Prague Castle is particularly impressive, as it is the largest ancient castle in the world, dating back to 870 AD, and encompasses several cathedrals, palaces and gardens, spanning across nearly 70,000 square meters.
The Old Town is worth visiting and revisiting throughout your stay in Prague, and if you get tired from the sightseeing you can enjoy interesting Czech cuisine and a wide variety of good beers.
5. Barcelona, Spain
The capital of Catalonia, Barcelona boasts an impressive number of UNESC World Heritage Sites – around 17 in total – with several lovely sandy beaches and some otherworldly architecture that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. If you only had one chance to visit Europe and wanted to see something spectacular, I would wholeheartedly advise a trip to Barcelona and a stroll through the Gothic Quarter, spending a good deal of time admiring the Sagrada Familia, and another leisurely stroll in Park Güell.
Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in the world, and even though there can be a lot of tourists milling around, it doesn’t get too crowded. And there is just too much to see, from the aforementioned cultural sites, to the huge football stadium and Formula 1 race track, and of course the lovely beaches.
6. Lisbon, Portugal
Another underrated European city that more people should visit, Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, and one of the earliest settlements on this location predating Celtic times, probably back to around 1200 BC. Since the city was at times under the rule of different people from Africa and the Middle East, there is a unique mix of Christian, Jewish and Muslim influences on the city’s architecture and culture.
The amazing Jeronimos Monastery and the Belem Tower are notable examples of the Manueline style that developed in Portugal during the 16th century. The climate is pleasant, with warm summers, and the city has some beautiful riverside gardens.
It is a great place for finding out more about the Portuguese culture and history, and to have a great time doing it.
It is important to do some traveling in your life to get a new perspective on different cultures, broaden your worldview, learn more about the world and yourself and mature as a person. If or when you get the chance to go to Europe, I highly recommend visiting some, if not all, of the cities mentioned in this list.