Rich in history, we could go on and on about our favorite places to linger in Europe!
Every year, more and more visitors are vacationing in friendly, picturesque Croatia along the Adriatic coast. It has much to offer: good food, good wine, beautiful beaches, clean water, gorgeous scenery, historic cities, charming villages, striking architecture, Roman ruins and well-preserved antiquities. Also, Croatia's infrastructure is solid since multi lane highways and international hotels have been built to accommodate the large number of tourists that populate the country annually. Vacationers from all over the world go to relax and enjoy the laid-back beaches and other beautiful scenery that Croatia offers.
The foremost attractions of the Czech Republic are beautiful scenery, castles and quaint villages, skiing, health spas, limestone caves, beer gardens and beer halls, wine cellars, music festivals, fishing, hiking, mountain climbing, puppet shows, churches and monasteries, and folk costumes. Prague is one of Europe's most enchanting cities, but don't expect to have it to yourself. The city is very crowded during summer—if possible, visit during the off-season. If you have the time and mode of transportation, don't let the language barrier keep you from exploring the villages and castles that dot the countryside. You'll find them peaceful, and you will gain an understanding of the country that continues to elude those who never venture outside the capital city.
Germany's main attractions are history; Berlin; mountains and forests; river cruises; Christmas markets; lakes and beaches; art, architecture and performing arts; wine and beer; soccer, skiing, fishing and hiking; health spas and casinos; castles and churches; Alpine scenery; farmland; shopping; and Munich. The country will appeal to travelers who are interested in European history, old-world architecture, lovely landscapes and cultural attractions as well as the flavor of German life.
Hungary's main attractions include traditional cultural events, thermal baths, baroque palaces, friendly people, casinos, water and equestrian sports, good food, museums, old churches, wine-making villages, excellent music and interesting rural villages. Almost everyone who loves European culture will love Hungary, although medievalists might be disappointed: Because of invasions and wars, little remains of Hungary's prebaroque architecture. There is always plenty of good food and drink, but those who require deluxe accommodations throughout their entire stay may want to avoid those rural areas where luxurious properties are not available.
Land of la dolce vita (the sweet life), Italy is one of the world's best-loved destinations, and no wonder—two-thirds of the world's historical artistic heritage is there. Tuscany alone possesses more artistic treasures than the whole of Spain, which is the second country in the world for cultural heritage.
Whether you crave culture, gastronomy, cutting-edge design, sybaritic pleasures or simply the art of il dolce far niente—the sweet doing nothing—this is a country for lovers of all that is good in life. A visit to Italy is a lesson in living well. Open-air vegetable and fruit markets, neighborhood bakeries and fresh cheeses made daily are fixtures of Italian life. Tradition reigns: Neighbors still meet in the piazza to discuss the day, laundry is still line-dried, even in the largest of cities, and the passeggiata (leisurely stroll) is still made in the evening air—preferably with a gelato in hand. From the mountains to the coasts, the emphasis is on simple pleasures and high quality.
Italy's primary attractions include culture (modern, old and ancient), fabulous regional cuisine, historic sites, varied and stunning scenery, beaches, jagged coastline, architecture, world-class skiing, opera, water sports, elegant health and beauty spas, picturesque ruins, and shopping (for high-quality clothing, shoes, ceramics and designer goods).
Those who want a diverse, fairly informal vacation, who are romantics, and who love art, history and lovely settings will enjoy Italy. The air of blithe inefficiency in some parts of the country may be disconcerting for travelers who demand the correct, crisp efficiency of northern European countries: A timetable may be treated more as a romantic ideal than as an attainable goal.
United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales & Ireland.
England's main attractions include historic sites, museums, royalty, theater, Stonehenge and other antiquities, London, rural scenery, stately homes, a varied coastline, quaint villages, formal gardens, walking trails, canal trips, shopping, friendly people, cultural events and quirky traditions (such as the biggest-liar competition, gurning, cheese rolling and fire-barrel carrying).
The foremost attractions of Wales include castles, hiking, beaches, ancient ruins, museums, narrow-gauge trains, a rugged coastline, traditional music, mountain biking, wildlife watching, horseback riding, camping, golf and mountainous scenery. Almost anyone will enjoy Wales, especially those looking for a slow-paced vacation with something interesting to see at every step of the way.
Scotland offers magnificent scenery, historical sites, neolithic burial sites, fabulous seafood, lively pubs, Aberdeen Angus beef, Gaelic music and culture, hiking, castles, the Edinburgh Festival, pony trekking, golf, gardens, distillery tours, fishing, mountaineering, skiing, scuba diving and searches for the legendary Loch Ness monster.
The main attractions of Northern Ireland are spectacular sea and mountain scenery, the Giant's Causeway, traditional music, pubs, theater, cultural events, golf, hiking, historical sites, bird-watching, good food, ruins and castles. Northern Ireland will be most appreciated by those who enjoy the pleasures found in green rolling hills, beautiful loughs (lakes) and people who are welcoming to strangers.
Spain's main attractions are historical sites, lively cities, some of the finest art in the world, castles, cathedrals, the Alhambra, shopping, the White Villages, traditional fiestas, cultural events, beaches, museums, caves, hiking, water sports and great food and wine. Anyone who likes to travel will enjoy Spain. From its art museums and its tapas bars to its beaches, Spain's appeal is so broad that it's truly a country with something for everyone. Spain offers visitors a richness and complexity that may surprise. All the tempting postcard fantasy pictures are there in reality, side-by-side with other, less-expected ones.
You may come across fiesta dancers in a village square, a young man practicing flamenco guitar, a medieval Arab fortress or windmills so enormous Don Quixote could be forgiven for thinking they were giants.
But there's also the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, its mind-bending shapes like those of no other museum in the world, just as the exuberant architecture of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona makes it like no other church in the world.
You may see ultra cool young Madrilenos togged out in urban chic, talking endlessly on their cell phones; international business people hurrying to appointments; and tourists and golfers of many nations flocking to Spain's spectacular countryside and balmy beaches. There are super-fast trains, and there are villages where life goes at a pace that has changed little for centuries. Spain today is an engaged member of the European Union that has transformed itself from a remote backwater to a modern nation, all within living memory. The contrasts, the colors and the vibrant spirit of the place will stay with you for a long time.
The country's main attractions are fjords, the midnight sun, beautiful countryside, cruises, open-air museums and very friendly people.
It's hard to imagine a traveler who won't enjoy Norway. The only people who should think twice about going there are those on a tight budget—it's one of the most expensive countries in Europe.
Portugal's main attractions include old-world European culture, beaches, resorts, deep-sea fishing, archaeology, history, scenery, festivals, churches, monasteries, castles and friendly people. Almost everyone likes Portugal, especially those who like beaches, pretty scenery, good food and a wide variety of active nightlife (in the main cities and resorts). Sun-drenched beaches of the Algarve, exclusive golf resorts, medieval hilltop towns, colorful fishing villages, a cosmopolitan capital, the vine-filled valley of the Douro, wild remote mountains—Portugal has it all. But Europe's oldest country, which has had its eyes melancholically set on the sea and on a lost and glorious past, has turned its head toward Europe and is undergoing a profound modernization. Still, things move a bit more slowly in Portugal, devagar as residents say, and some 11 million tourists seem to like the pace.
Russia's main attractions include art, magnificent (and restored) cathedrals and monasteries, treasures and palaces of the czars, the performing arts, health spas, river cruises, historic sites, spectacular scenery, Siberia and Moscow's Kremlin. Russia will appeal to travelers who have a sense of adventure and an open mind. Don't expect a relaxing vacation, and, unless you're in Moscow or St. Petersburg, don't expect deluxe accommodations—a trip through Russia requires determination, flexibility and plenty of patience.
Switzerland's foremost attractions are spectacular Alpine scenery, impeccably managed hotels, world-class museums, medieval architecture, hiking, fishing, water sports, skiing, climbing, quality shopping, tennis, health spas, cycling and chocolate. Switzerland is so visually stunning that almost everyone will be impressed with it. Skiers, climbers and others who love mountains will especially enjoy the Alps. It's an ideal country for families and active couples.
Turkey has exoticism to spare, with its covered bazaars, whirling dervishes, sultans' treasures and Byzantine mosaics. And its natural beauty is abundant, with great stretches of sandy beaches and romantic rocky coves. Travelers will find Turks to be exceptionally gracious hosts, which makes sense given the country's place as a crossroads between Europe and Asia. The country has dramatically improved its tourist infrastructure, too.
This appealing mix does have a few drawbacks—increasing prices (though it's still an inexpensive place to travel), sprawling new development and growing crowds—but they're hardly enough to spoil a visit. Our advice is to take your time in discovering the country. It's best experienced in leisurely excursions to places of remarkable history and beauty (such as Cappadocia and Ephesus) and in extended visits to fascinating and energetic cities (such as Istanbul). Turkey offers beaches, historical sites, museums, shopping, palaces, mosques, architecture, good food, spas, beautiful and varied scenery, and water sports.Turkey will appeal to adventurous, well-traveled people who enjoy the combination of exotic cities, beautiful beaches and historical attractions. Standards in accommodations have increased dramatically in the past few years, although travelers who seek every Western comfort and a high degree of predictability and organization may be more comfortable if they confine their trips to major cities and tourist resorts.