Friday, July 22, 2016

Top 20 European Destinations

Planning your trip to Europe soon?  Make sure to add one or two of our top destinations to the list.

1. Lofoten-Norway
Coming in at the top pick, it's hard to argue with this amazing wonderland.  An island backdrop with towering mountains and green valleys in the summer and white valleys in the winter make this a truly unforgettable destination.  It truly is Europe's New Zealand and home to some of the best mountaintop views in the world.  That being said, while New Zealand has good winter sports, Lofoten is a great destination for some off-piste skiing.  Additionally, the island is placed at the southern end of the Arctic Circle, so come during the winter for almost guaranteed sightings of the Northern Lights.  What's more, this region is rich in cultural history and home to the oldest surviving Viking Lodge.  Finally, there are many beautiful sea side lodges for all your relaxation needs.

The one downside to Lofoten, but also what makes it top the list, is its accessibility.  It is in the Arctic Circle, meaning it's a far drive from Central Norway, and tickets are expensive to fly there.  This is also the huge plus side to the island, limiting tourists, and keeping the paradise - peaceful and quiet.

2. Lauterbrunnen - Switzerland
You might be wondering how Lauterbrunnen could ever take second place in rankings.  This beautiful village nestled in a picturesque valley behind towering waterfalls has the touch of paradise. Stay in the village, take a cable car to the top of the nearby mountains or hike and ski all you want during the winter or summer months, or just plain relax in your beautiful hotel and drink in the beauty.

3. Santorini - Greece
Santorini comes next with its glittering white and blue topped island houses.  Lay on the beach, walk the white walled city, or take a trip to nearby islands for fun in the sun or under the sun in this sea-lover's paradise.  This beautiful island comes in at number 3 because of its readily accessibility by large cruise ships.  Not only is this island almost inaccessible in small groups, but it is also not the only unique white-walled island in Greece.  That being said, this is one of the most beautiful places you will ever have the opportunity to visit, and you won't regret spending your vacation here.

4. Tuscany - Italy
One week in Tuscany will change your life.  Maybe it's the air, or the combination of the air and the heat, the feel of beauty and stagnation, tightness and familiarity, ease and tranquility.  Tuscany is truly a destination like no other in all of Europe.  You don't just go to Tuscany to drink wine, and wander the long paths flanked by those famous Cypress trees, you go to drink and breathe in Tuscany.  It really is the experience you have to experience.

5. Hallstatt - Austria
Ok, anyone who's been to Austria knows that the hills really are alive with the sound of music, but Hallstatt is special.  Hidden deep in the alps, this mountainside village wakes at the side of a still calm lake, disturbed only by the soft paddling of swans around the harbor.  Don't let the sleepy nature of the town fool you though.  You can take a train to the top of the mountain above the city, or you can hike the old miner's trail there.  You can also relax with a beautiful vista of the city on the nearby lakeside beach.  Additionally, you can go kayaking and row around the bay, taking in the beauty of this tranquil piece of heaven.

6. The Running of the Bulls - Spain
Sick of all those beautiful, quiet vacations?  You may just have found the vacation for you.  The great running of the bulls in Pamplona is one of the largest festivals in Spain.  The small town transforms into one enormous party for a week on end, and then, the bulls run.  Once a day, for a week, the celebration reigns supreme.  Bulls are sacrificed, wine in spilt, what more could you want from a festival held in honor of a Catholic saint?  Truly, the running is something to behold, experience, and unlike most festivals - actually take part in.

7. Paris - France
Topping the list of cities, it's hard to say anything bad about Paris.  The food, the culture, the flavor of the city all play a part in making this city a top destination.  Whether you're drinking tea in the Eiffel Tower's cafe, wandering the Louvre, or eating a crisp, savory Crepe in Montmartre, this city has a little bit of something for everyone, and perhaps most importantly, few cities really hold the romantic appeal of Paris.

8. Venice - Italy
Did I just say few cities hold the romantic appeal?  Well Venice is one that definitely rivals Paris in all senses, but in very distinct ways.  Venice outranks both Rome and Florence along with most other European cities in my book because it really is like entering another world.  First of all, you take a boat ride to get anywhere in the city.  Then you hop off and the streets, oh the streets!  It's like a tiny jigsaw puzzle thrown haphazardly together, Is it an alley or a main street?  It's both because it's Venice!  And tucked in that alley is cute little restaurant after cute restaurant.  But all that aside, why not take a beautiful gondola out for a ride as a professional opera singer serenades us on the next boat.  Why not sip a coffee on San Marcos square as the sun peaks over the red tiled roofs?  Truly Venice is a spectacle to experience for yourself.

Also just a side note, in my book Venice outranks Paris, but thanks to the fact that on most European trips Venice becomes a detour, it ranks just a bit lower on this list.

9. Prague - Czech Republic
Next on the list of top cities is Prague.  In my book it outranks most European cities, and this is in fact most Europeans favorite city.  You might wonder why, and here's the important thing to remember about Prague, everything is very very close in the old town.  You can literally walk the old town in a day.  The only other city I was able to do this was in Budapest, but trust me as a former collegiate athlete, walking the entirety of Budapest was torture.  All other major European cities are ridiculously spread out, whereas Prague has everything close together with a castle on a mountain that can be seen from every vista.  This means you really feel like you step back in time into a magical land as you wander the streets.  You never really lose the feel that you're in Europe, a fairytale world, and that magical feeling - it really is unforgettable.

Let's also not forget that Prague has many severely underrated art galleries, and in comparison for price - Prague wins hands down.

10. Dubrovnik - Croatia
Rounding out the list of top cities is the old walled city of Dubrovnik.  The hot sun caressing your face as your feet slide into layers of thick sand really separate this city from any other in Europe.  Not only is it a beautiful destination in itself, but its access to the beach, cliff jumping, and yachts really make this into one of the best destinations of all of Europe without just being a party destination like Ibiza, St. Tropez, or Monaco.

11. Geirangerfjord - Norway
I don't think you really can go to Norway without seeing a fjord as many of the cities are located directly at the end of fjords, but not all fjords are created equally.  One of the most famous is the Geirangerfjord with a to-die-for view, but the other two are no slouches either.  Both Geirangerfjord and Naeroyfjord are UNESCO sites, and any questions why will be answered once you stand over the gaping expanse of blue, white, and green.

12. Ring Road - Iceland
You might think Iceland should come a little higher in this list, especially since the Ring Road takes you past blue icebergs, black sand beaches, waterfalls, volcanoes, and even glimpses of the Northern Lights. But Iceland's location is the main reason for its low rating.  Few decide to vacation just to Iceland, and so this destination really only makes sense if you can make it work as a stopover.  That being said, this is one of the most diverse and just plain different places you will ever see in such a short time.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

13. Santa Semana - Spain
If you're Catholic, this holiday in Spain is no joke.  The holy week leading up to Easter is one of the greatest times to visit Spain, many cities participate in the tradition, although Andalusia usually has more glamorous celebrations compared to solemn ones in Castile and Leon.  The tradition is to take the different floats of Christ's last week and parade them through the town.

These are typically brotherhoods that carry the icons wearing a hood called a capirote.  The tradition began during the time of Counter Reformation in Europe and is a sight to see today.

14. Oktoberfest - Germany
One of the premier festivals in all of Europe.  Oktoberfest draws quite the drinking crowd.  Taking place in mid to late September this is the one and only place to be if you're in Europe during this time period.  Munich is probably one of the premier destinations for Oktoberfest, but really just about anywhere in Germany will do.

15. Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre - Italy
The famous five cities.  This region isn't the greatest for its food or its beaches, but these beautiful cities are all about the view.  Not only is the trip to Cinque Terre unforgettable (And you'll really come to understand why no one before the modern era was really able to control the northern areas of Italy).  From the rocky shores, to the thick forests and rolling hills, the five painted cities transport you to a new world.

Much like the coastline of Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast is famous for its beautiful hilltop villages and lovely coast.  But unlike Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast is a bustling hub of the relaxers and sun bathers that just want to relax by the seashore or anchored in some cove in a yacht.  The Amalfi Coast has everything that Cinque Terre doesn't in terms of swimming, sandy beaches, and great food and wine.  What it lacks, however, is the unique colorful charm of the five cities.  It is also much closer to Rome, and therefore, much much more crowded.

16. Lavender Fields - France
I don't think there is a more magical land than Provence in the summertime.  You have the clear beaches of Asia just minutes away from lavender fields, the alps, and years of well-preserved history.  But of all those things, the lavender fields really shine in this list.

The best time to go is in mid to late July, but the fields can be somewhat unpredictable.  They usually don't cut the fields until early August, however, so you are guaranteed some sightings if you make it before then although the lavender won't be quite as in bloom.  They also start blooming in late June, so if you're around then it is a good time as well.

17.Giant's Causeway - Ireland
You might be wondering what a pile of rocks is doing on this list, but it's the uniqueness in this causeway that really sets it apart.  It's hard to find a more interesting natural wonder.  Stones that look as if they were cut by man's hands.  You won't be disappointed in traveling here (unless it's raining).  Additionally, the reason why this ranks on the list is because Ireland is very beautiful, but castles just don't quite stand out as much as this one of a kind causeway.

18. Hagia Sophia - Turkey
Few places really tell the tale of history like the Hagia Sophia.  Standing in the now great museum, you can imagine the difficulty the Romans would have had in finishing the roof but somehow, complete it they did.  This later became a massive mosque and has now been turned into a museum, where you can see the influences of past and future, and determine for yourself if Turkey belongs in the East or the West.

19. Auschwitz - Poland
Vacations can quickly turn into getaways and relaxing spots.  I'll be the first to say good on you if you go on these, but these kind of vacations should not prevent you from visiting some of the sometimes harder historical sites of the past.  One of the most prominent of these is the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.  There are a few other death camps that also rank on this list, but the visit to these is life altering.  You see first hand, where they lived, where they starved, where they were burned alive.  You see the harrowing photographs, what remains of their belongings, but then you walk where they walked, you stand where they stood.  You realize you can never possibly fathom what happened there or what those prisoners went through, but for a moment, you feel linked, and that link hopefully changes your future and those around you.  This ranks low on the list because it is a sober destination, but you will not regret making the detour here.

20. Stonehenge - UK
It almost goes without saying that you should visit Stonehenge when you visit the UK, but what most people don't know is that there are many different Stonehenge's throughout the UK, some of which are both older and larger than the famous one bearing the name.  Interestingly enough, most scholars believe that millions of years ago the UK was a sandy bottom of an ocean.  As the waters, receded the sand dried out, became hard, and eventually cracked leaving stones that were easily found by early inhabitants to build the monoliths for whatever reasons they were built.  These reasons are still unknown, but you can go and lend your voice to the speculation.

If you have any suggestions or would like to contribute click here to send me an email.  If you would like to sponsor my trip somewhere to showcase your business or to work with me please send me an email as well.

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