A couple of weeks ago, a fortnight to be exact, I re-started my plan to make Friday Favourites a regular thing on my blog. So, now as I have the whole writing and scheduling posts a little in advance thing down, I am going to try and commit to doing this more often. Last time, I wrote a post on my favourite cities in the UK. This week, I am widening the net to Europe.
Friday favourites is a fortnightly post featuring travel tips, guides, advice, and thoughts based on my travel experiences!
I am very lucky. Throughout my life I have had the chance to visit some wonderful places in Europe and beyond. While I haven’t yet seen everything that Europe, of the world, has to offer, I have travelled to some amazing cities and thoroughly enjoyed them! Here is a short tour round some of my European favourites:
I visited Dubrovnik as a stop on a Mediterranean cruise with my Mum. I had read up a little about it before we went, and had discovered a few things to do, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with it quite like I did. The walled old town is wonderful to meander around, taking in the blue Adriatic and bustling cobbled streets below. The harbour and old town has lots of wonderful little restaurants, cafes and shops to wander through, and of course, get a coffee and ice cream.
It may have some amazing history, and well preserved buildings, but it isn’t all that this city is about. If you fancy a slightly more relaxing afternoon, we walked around the harbour, and dipped our feet in the water. If you remember your swim gear, cool off with a quick dip!
And of course, if you are a Game of Thrones fan, Dubrovnik is used as a filming location for both King’s Landing and Qarth, and will appear as a location in Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
I cannot put my finger on what it is about this town that makes it onto the list, but what I can say is that I have a strong memory of enjoying my time there on a family holiday a while back. The town has much of its medieval architecture in tact, including the 13th century belfry, with the town centre names as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Like Amsterdam, Bruges is built on a canal network and has been given the nickname of ‘Venice of the North’ for a good reason, Enjoying a leisurely boat trip along the canals is a great way to see the sites, before indulging in some of the local chocolate.
Another city on the whistle stop cruise tour that my Mum and I went on was the UNESCO World heritage Croatian City of Split. We walked up the waterfront and into the old city, and we climbed the Bell Tower at Saint Domnius Cathedral, which is ‘regarded as the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world that remains in use in its original structure the second oldest structure used by any Christian Cathedral’. Not to shabby eh?
Maybe I just like Croatia, or maybe I like history more than I like to let on? Whatever the reason Split is a great city to spend some time in, and goes far under the tourist radar.
This is the first Italian entry on my list, and I can say that it is the only Italian city that I have visited so far that I would be very disappointed to never return to. I loved the small back streets full of coffee shops and gelatarias. I also loved the towering Il Duomo cathedral and the Piazza della Signoria.
The city is home to some unbelievable, and famous artworks, including Michaelangelo’s David, and many others in the famous Uffizi gallery.
Florence is also situated on the river Arno. The river runs through the city, with Il Duomo and Piazza della Signoria on one side, and Pitti Palace and Forte di Belvedere (host to the Kimye wedding) on the other. The two are linked by the enclosed, multi-floored Ponte Vecchio, which houses boutiques, as well as the historic Vasari Corridor.
I am very biased when it comes to Iceland. As a geography student who favoured physical geography it is a dream destination. And Reykjavik isn’t half bad either. With the natural world spitting fire and ash, and literally splitting and producing more all around it, under the spectacular light show that is the Aurora Borealis , the city is an absolute must.
Whether you go to relax in the hot springs of the blue lagoon, as a trans-Atlantic stop, or to see the volcanoes, geysers, waterfalls and rift, it is a wonderful and under-rated city!
I went on a school choir tour of Prague and Vienna, and I can remember having an absolutely brilliant time. I can remember getting ‘lost’ in lots of little shops in the back streets of Prague. I can distinctly remember the astronomical clock, which is the oldest working clock of it’s kind anywhere in the world, in the clock tower of the main square and being amazed by the intricacy and engineering, as well as it’s beauty.
Prague isn’t all about little shops, cheap pubs, and the clock, however, it has a few bridges, including the Charles Bridge, which cross the Vltava river and head towards St. Vitus Cathedral, and the Castle and Lobkowicz Palace area. It’s just an awesome, brilliant, city.
I would really like to go back in the winter and brave the cold weather. I would also really like to visit the Sedlec Ossuary. It is a world heritage site nearby which features artistic decorations and furnishings constructed from between 40,00 and 70,000 human skeletons!
Mont St Michel
OK, so I like this city a little bit because it reminds me of Gondor. Good, we’ve got that out of the way. In all seriousness though, who doesn’t love a city, well Island commune, that literally rises from the sand and sea.
It is a very unique place to visit, especially if you make it over as the tide is coming in, and get the feeling that you’re slightly stranded there. The abbey towers over the intricate maze of paths (steep paths!). I think this is a little bit of a novelty value kind of place, but everyone should visit if they get the chance, because there aren’t many places like it out there!
Amsterdam is known for many things to many people. For some, it is the best place to relax and enjoy the local delicacies in the local cafes (read pot brownies in weed cafés) or indulge in the local entertainment (read visit a sex show or hit up one of the many brothels in the red light district). When you look past these, even past the Heineken factory, there is a lot more to offer within this Dutch city.
The canal system is pretty awesome to explore on a water taxi/canal boat, and affords a really unique view of the city (a little like Bruges, but on a bigger and better scale.) The tall and colourful buildings rise from the banks of the canals, and are lined by trees and create a really lovely visual as you float on by. It is also really nice to cycle around the very flat city. The bicycle parks outside the train station are a sight to behold! For history lovers, a stop at Anne Frank’s house is absolutely necessary, even a non-history lover like me enjoyed it.
The first half of our Prague/Vienna choir trip didn’t leave quite as strong an impression in my memory for two reasons: 1) we weren’t there for very long so were a little rushed, and b) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released while we were there so I spent a larger amount of time than I should have trawling through book shops to find an English version (oops, sorry not sorry!).
My two strongest memories, however, are of seeing St. Stephens Cathedral and going for a tour of Schönbrunn Palace. The towering intricate gothic structure of Ste. Stephen’s just appears from seemingly nowhere and doesn’t quite fit in with the buildings around it, and looks incredibly impressive (they have also completed restorative works since I visited). Now, I can remember getting a little bored during the tour of the baroque summer residence, but none the less, there were some elements of the tour that was fascinating, and the building was absolutely amazing! Throw in the Vienna Opera House (it’s more impressive at night) and the city is brimming with awesomeness.
Controversially, I really struggled to put Paris on this list. Don’t get me wrong, Paris is a very impressive city, but Paris is exactly what I expected it to be; nothing less, and nothing more. It is very French (I know, duh!), and many of the biggest attractions, such as the Champs Elysees and the Eiffel Tower I find borderline underwhelming.
For me, the beauty of Paris lies in the other attractions. It lies in spending a sunny afternoon in the Louvre gardens, and standing at the entrance to Notre Dame. It is in the small coffee and pastry shops and in walking up the stairs to the Sacre Cœur.
And for a Disney addict, yes, it lies in being close to Disney Land.
A little like Paris, I need to put a disclaimer at the beginning of this. Rome is another of those places that I struggled a little to put on this list, because like Paris, it is exactly as I expected it to be. I don’t know why I expect so much from these old European cities, but for me, when I saw many of the famous sites, such as the Colosseum, the Vatican, and definitely the Trevi fountain and Spanish Steps, I was not completely amazed. (To be fair, I was amazed, but quickly grew irritated by St Peter’s Basilica.)
I really enjoyed some of the sites in Rome I didn’t know much about until I arrived. I really loved walking from St. Peters to the Castel Sant’Angelo, which is a Roman Fort and Mausoleum that was used as a papal fortress, and provides great views over the Vatican, Rome, and the Tiber. Crossing the Ponte Sant’Angelo leads back towards Rome itself, and it is here that my favourite place in Rome is – The Pantheon. It is one of the world’s best preserved Ancient Roman buildings, has the largest unreinforced concrete dome, and is both incredible to look at, but also atmospheric to stand in. I really wish the Circus Maximus had survived in a similar way to the Colosseum!!
Are you looking for somewhere new to visit?
Where are your favourite European towns and cities?
Not from Europe, where did you like to go when you visited? Where would you most like the see?
Next time: US Cities