Each European city has its own traditions and a tapestry of events throughout the centuries which has created its unique appeal today. The past always has a bearing on the future and European cities have seen a great deal of historical events which have shaped each metropolis.
The purpose of this article is to compile a list of the top ten cities in Europe which are ideal for a short break and are places of cultural interest. This is aimed at the discerning individuals who love history and culture and have a thirst for knowledge. These cities have been chosen for your consideration and you are certain to find one which appeals to what you are looking for.
Athens is the historical capital of Europe, the cradle of civilization and its origins date back to Neolithic times. It should be a number one choice for those who love both culture and history. There is a multitude of sights to see, the most famous of which is the Acropolis which dates from the 5th century BC and is a symbol of the Golden Age of Pericles.
The Parthenon dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, Athena and surrounding areas of Plaka and Monasteraki should not be missed. Imagine watching the sun come up on the Acropolis and feel the historic atmosphere as you walk the ancient stones. Go up to Lycabettus, the highest hill at 970 meters, for a bird’s eye view of the city. There is an outdoor amphitheatre which is a magical place to watch a concert under the stars.
The Benaki Museum is worth a visit or watch the changing of the guards dressed in National costume outside the Parliament Building in Syntagma Square. Although the guards change 24 times a day, the main one to watch is on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m.
Rome was once the mightiest city in the civilized world with a fascinating history of 2500 years of emperors, popes and artists. T
he Colosseum still stands to remind us of Rome’s golden past as well as the Roman Forum, Pantheon erected in 128 AD, Arch of Titus, Circus Maximus, the Spanish Steps and other archaeological sites. The Vatican City is not to be missed with St. Peter’s Basilica and Michelangelo’s “Pieta”. The Sistine Chapel with the same artist’s incredible ‘Creation of Adam’ painted on the ceiling. The Baroque style Trevi Fountain built in 1762 and so much more can be enjoyed in the Mediterranean sun.
All this and delicious Italian cuisine and wines await you in the eternal city of Rome.
London is an exciting, vibrant city full of historical landmarks such as: Big Ben, the Tower of London built in 1100 by William the Conqueror, Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Gothic style 13th century Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament and Hyde Park.
There are museums of all kinds – even one dedicated to Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street! Wander through art galleries or visit the Shakespearean Globe Theatre originally built in the early 1600s which has been rebuilt almost as it was complete with wooden nails.
Go to the theatre, opera or ballet. Madam Tussard’s Wax Works Museum is well worth the visit where there are all manner of historical figures.
As well as being one of the most romantic cities in the world, Paris is brimming with history and culture. Visit the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, watch the artists at Monmartre, stroll down the Boulevard de Champs Elysees. The Pere Lachaise Cemetery is full of famous historical names, the Louvre Museum which houses the Mona Lisa is vast and a day is not enough to see everything.
The Musee d’Orsay contains many paintings and sculptures and is the most popular museum in the city of lights. The artistic Left Bank with its stalls and Monparnasse with its coffee houses make this a city not to be missed. Another bonus is the exquisite French cuisine, possibly the best in the world.
It is a city of small ‘villages’, each ‘quartier’ has a unique character, flavor and personality.
Venice, the Queen of the Adriatic was founded in 421 AD. In the Renaissance Venice was the most important cultural centre. There is plenty to see and do, the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Square and Basilica as well the incredible architecture of buildings, churches and monuments.
There are world-class art galleries and museums and of course, no trip to Venice would be complete without a ride in a gondola. Marco Polo and Casanova both hailed from this romantic city. You can also visit various islands and see how the famous Murano glass is blown.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is a magical city full of charm and beauty, nicknamed the city of 100 spires, when it actually has almost 1000 towers and spires. Charles Bridge across the River Vltava is lined with aged statues and dates back to the 14th century. Prague Castle is the largest in Europe and the gardens are the oldest, dating back to the Middle Ages.
Prague was the capital under the Holy Roman Empire in the reign of King Charles IV. St. Vitus Cathedral is where King Charles IV and many great Bohemian kings are buried. Wenceslas Square, the Old Towne Square with the famous Astronomical Clock and the City Museum – these are just a few of the sights of this medieval city.
A trip to the ancient opera houses is a must. Czech food is delicious and different, a culinary delight, deserts are mouth-watering, try the apple strudel! Czech beer is famous world-wide and they have excellent wines.
The origins of this ancient city date back to the Stone Age, it was the first town built by the Celts in Europe. It has been inhabited for half a million years – the Romans occupied the city at the time of the birth of Jesus.
Visit the Roman Baths and archaeological sites. The Ottomans ruled here and Budapest has a wealth of history in its rich and vibrant past. The city is divided by the River Danube with attractive bridges connecting hilly Buda and flat countryside of Pest. Concerts are held at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music which is designed in the Art Nouveau style of the early 20th century. There are Gothic arches, Turkish Baths and late 19th century mansions in this unique city. Hero’s Square is full of the phantoms of communism.
Take a stroll into the past at Buda Castle. There is plenty for the culture vulture to discover in Budapest in this romantic, majestic city.
A once divided city now united. See the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz. The sprawling Tiergarten has an interesting flea market on Sundays.
There is also the State Opera House, Hedwig’s Cathedral and the Old Museum or one of the 170 museums to visit. Visitors come for the architecture in Berlin which was influenced by medieval times and the Kingdom of Prussia.
Of course the city is saturated in WWII history which can be absorbed in Treptower Park, the Museum of Tears and the Holocaust Memorial. For more ancient history check out the Nikolaiviertel where various medieval and baroque monuments are located as well as the 13th century Nikolaikirche, the oldest church in the city.
One of the greatest metropolises in the world, Istanbul is split by the blue band of the Bosphorus Strait into two continents where Europe meets Asia. Both have their own culture and history and it all comes together in perfect harmony. There is much to see and explore: the old quarter with its domes, minarets. The city has influences from its colourful past of Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman Empires. Topkapi Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque or the Blue Mosque, the diverse Grand Bazaar and Turkish Baths are just a few places of interest. Take a cruise and see the Golden Horn as dolphins leisurely follow alongside the boat.
The Celts settled the city on the Danube back in the mists of time. The Romans then occupied Vienna and it was the de-facto capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Vienna has a rich history of royalty as can be seen in the Schonbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace and Imperial Palace. In more recent times it became the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is a city where medieval castles appear to float in the air over the River Danube. It is Mozart’s home and opera is extremely popular here. It has a rich history of culture dating back to the 18th century when Empress Marie Theresa of Habsburg was a patron of the arts. From Freud’s Vienna to Art Nouveau and the paintings of Gustav Klimt this city has much to offer. The Spanish Riding School is also worth seeing with its beautiful Lipzzaner stallions. The pastries are world famous as well!
Europe is justifiably considered the lore of Western civilization. Every country, region district has its own rich and peculiar history and culture, and short city breakers that love to explore local cultures and history will simply never run out of options. If you have already visited the destinations listed above you can also consider
- Florence: the famous “city of the lily”, the lore of the Renaissance is a truly magnificent choice for those who love culture and art.
- Cordoba: once the ancient and medieval capital of Spain, Cordoba’s historic districts offer you a fantastic opportunity to relive the past.
- Slazburg: often described as the “Florence of the North”, Salzburg is also known by art lovers as the “Golden City of High Baroque”. A simply amazing city break destination.
- Milan: besides its long and lavish history, Milan is Europe’s fashion metropolis.
- Basel: according to many, the most sophisticated city of Switzerland.
- Padua: a city that has long been considered the major culture center of northern Italy.
- Granada: The Alhambra and the tomb of the Catholic Monarchs are the pride of Granada.
Get ready, pack your stuff – you don’t need much for a city break – and book your flying tickets!
An entire article would need to be written on each of these magnificent cities to truly do them justice but there is no room to do so here. Whichever location you choose for a short break, you will not be disappointed. Each city has its own charm and appeal, it is a personal choice and depends what you are interested in.
images by commons.wikipedia.com