What sets these ruins apart from the plethora of ancient wonders on practically every corner in Rome? Firstly, their age: the oldest structures date back more than two millennia. Secondly, the way these excavated temples and arches are clustered together makes it easy to imagine how grand the complex was when the Roman Empire ruled.
Known as the Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik’s entire Old Town is UNESCO World Heritage listed and its steep cobbled streets, Baroque palaces and marble-paved squares are among the prettiest in Europe. Despite a devastating earthquake in 1667 and artillery damage in 1991, the city prevailed – and even found fame as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones.
Alhambra was built by Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar in the mid 13th century, before Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Moors from Granada in 1492. Successive rulers added to the palace, adhering to a “paradise on earth” architectural philosophy. Wander through tranquil courtyards to the sound of nightingales and trickling water, the perfume of roses filling the air.
It’s difficult to fathom all the events Westminster Abbey has borne witness to since the 13th century – and to comprehend the entities entombed in its walls, floors and sarcophagi. Pay homage to its inhabitants: Mary Queen of Scots and her executioner, Elizabeth I, rest uneasily close; Dickens and Chaucer are in Poet’s Corner; and Stephen Hawking was laid near Isaac Newton.
The “Flavian Ampitheatre” doesn’t quite have the same ring. Along with its original moniker, the Colosseum changed its purpose constantly throughout its 2000 years. Variously a gladiator battlefield, cemetery, church and simple storehouse, it’s now the most visited attraction in Rome. Book a timed entry in advance to spend as much time as possible soaking it in.
Utter the immortal words, “Let them eat cake!” as you prance through the Hall of Mirrors or explore the Hameau, Marie Antoinette’s private retreat. Versailles was the principal royal residence until the French Revolution – when it was stripped of its furnishings and its inhabitants of their heads. Much has now been restored to its former glory.
The gardens beneath the storied steel structure are set to be transformed, making a visit to this icon even more beautiful. A green corridor will run from Place du Tracadero to the Champ de Mars by 2023, providing plenty of space for travellers to stretch out on the grass and appreciate the monument.
Dominating the Acropolis and indeed the modern skyline is the Parthenon, completed in 438BC and enduring as a symbol of Ancient Greek civilisation. Standing at the foot of the Acropolis, visitors can glimpse the blue Athenian sky through the Parthenon’s Doric columns, a majestic sight that would have been just as arresting eons ago.
Stop at Stonehenge as part of a daytrip to Bath from London to get the part of your mind dedicated to conspiracy theories working. How did the standing stones get there? Did ancient man really transport them more than 250 kilometres from their original location? Are glacial movements responsible? Aliens? Magic? You decide.
No visit to Europe is complete without seeing a castle. So, why not make it the most famous castle in the world? The inspiration for Disney’s logo truly does look like something out of a fairy-tale but its history is far from medieval: it was built in the late 19th century for a king who died before its completion.
If you don’t have a photo of yourself awkwardly propping up this slanted pile, have you even really been to Italy? Fun photo opps aside, the view of the Arno River and surrounding countryside after ascending the almost 300 marble steps to the top of the tower is stunning.
The lolly-looking spires make this place of worship one of the most recognisable buildings in all of Russia. But the interior is just as stunning: its walls are adorned with more than 400 beautifully painted religious icons.
Some say it’s the most beautiful fountain in Rome, others maintain throwing coins into the bubbling waters will ensure, among other things, a return to the Eternal City. But what truly makes the Trevi Fountain stand out is that its grandeur is a surprise after rounding the corner from otherwise nondescript streets.
Plans to restore the roof of Notre Dame following the devastating fire in April 2019 are underway and though the interior of the cathedral is temporarily closed, you can still admire the remaining façade from afar.
Even if you’re not religious, the staggering scale of the home of Catholicism and the chance to appreciate some of the greatest artworks ever created is reason enough to pay this spiritual site a visit. Take in St Peter’s Square and Basilica, and, of course, Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the intricate ceiling in the world at the Sistine Chapel.
This king of canals splits the city it two for almost four kilometres – it’s the reason you come to so many dead ends as you zigzag through Venice’s backstreets. But there are plenty of bridges to trip across that offer vastly different views of the bustle on an alongside the waterway.
Whitewashed windmills are as iconic in Mykonos as the powerfully blue Aegean. Visit Geronymous Mill, the oldest of Mykonos’s windmills, which was producing flour up until the 1960s and still has intact inner workings. Others have been converted into guesthouses so it’s possible to stay in these picturesque reminders of the past.
Know this: the Mona Lisa is smaller than you anticipate. But the Louvre itself – the palace and the glass pyramid – and the 34,999 other artworks on display within will more than make up for it.
Though not as untouched as they were in the decades before their charm was “discovered” by travellers, the multi-coloured villages of Cinque Terre really are as picturesque as they seem in the pictures. Visit after summer, when the walking trail that snakes between the towns calms down.
Luck plays a big part in whether you get a mere glimmer of green in the night sky or an all-out spectacle of dancing emerald, pink and yellow lights. Maximise your chances by visiting between September and April and venture out on a clear night with no full moon.
Once a symbol of Germany’s division, the Brandenburg Gate is now a beloved marker of its reunification. It serves as the backdrop for scores of important events, including the Berlin Marathon, public viewings of make-or-break football matches and New Year’s Eve fireworks, this is where to go to get a taste of local life.
You can marvel at the façade of the palace anytime of year but you’ll only be permitted inside in August and September – that’s when the Queen departs for her summer residence.
The joy of this attraction lies not in gazing up at it from the ground but from ascending to the top. No less than 12 different roads spin out like a pinwheel from the central point and watching cars, trucks and brave cyclists manoeuvre to their desired exit is endlessly (and heart-stoppingly) entertaining.
Plan to spend a while admiring this whimsical piece of medieval history. On the hour, every hour, apostle figures appear at the windows that surround it, Death beckons, a man refuses and a rooster crows. Its dials also track the position of the sun and moon, Bohemian Time daybreak and sunset, and the path of the Zodiac.
Sagrada Familia has been a work in progress for more than 135 years. Start on the Gaudi-designed side (opposite Placa de Gaudi) and make your way around the church to its opposite edge to see the architecture slowly give way to a more modern style.
If politics is your thing, this building has stood sentinel over all the key moments in the country’s tumultuous history (and stills bears marks from some of them). If living history isn’t your idea of a good time, it’s still worth a visit: the panoramic view over Berlin from the rooftop is second to none.
Not far from the bustle of Lisbon is the picturesque, UNESCO World Heritage-listed resort town of Sintra, nestled into the foothills of the Sintra Mountains on the Portuguese Riviera. Generations of royals used it as a summertime escape, as evidenced by its three magnificent palaces including the fairy-tale Pena Palace and the ancient Castle of the Moors.
Presiding over the city from Castle Rock, this fortress has been involved in some of Scotland’s most fraught conflicts. The oldest surviving building in the grounds, St Margaret’s Chapel, has stood for almost 900 years – but the volcanic rock on which it’s built had been used by Celtic tribes for millennia prior to that.
If a film opens with a black cab cruising past Big Ben, you know you’re in London. Wander past the Houses of Parliament, gaze upon the tower and listen to its familiar toll (though it won’t sound again until 2021 due to restoration work). The famously reliable clock has only stopped a few times since 1859 – once, due to a flock of starlings on the minute hand.
On the shores of the Tagus River, this 16th century fortress is all fenestrations and battlements, executed in the florid Manueline style. Head up to the rooftop terrace to watch the sun set over the river then wander to the namesake neighbourhood’s Pastéis de Belém for Lisbon’s second-sweetest sight: Portuguese tarts.
Mozart, Mahler, Hadyn – they’re just a few of the reasons Austria is one of the best places in the world to see live classical music. The Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) building itself is so gilded and opulent that it can be hard to keep your eyes on the action on-stage.
Myths abound about this extinct volcano’s name and its history: some say its moniker is a nod to King Arthur, other argue over whether it was the home of a giant or a sleeping dragon. These rocky bluffs are visible towering above the city from almost any point in Edinburgh; ascend the peak when you first arrive to get your bearings.
Spread over almost five hectares in central London, the Tower was originally a castle. It’s been an armoury, menagerie and the Royal Mint but, most infamously, a prison. Since 1100, it’s held the likes of Anne Boleyn (beheaded in 1536) and the Kray twins (the last, in 1952). Visitors beware: it is, of course, haunted.
Known as the Duomo, this cathedral is the most recognisable building in Florence – and its cupola the largest brick dome ever constructed. The first stone was laid in 1296 and much has occurred since – for example, in 1478, the Pazzi family attempted to displace the ruling Medicis, murdering Giuliano de’Medici and injuring his brother Lorenzo during High Mass.
The powerful Habsburgs ruled, at times, over almost every major kingdom in Europe from the 11th to the 19th century. Schönbrunn Palace was their summer residence, an opulent 1441-room Rococo pile that took its current form during the 1740s. Explore the private rooms of the royals then head outside for magnificent gardens complete with faux Roman ruins.
This venerable institution in the centre of Dublin, founded by Elizabeth I in 1592, counts Samuel Beckett and Jonathan Swift among its alumni. See the magnificent 9th-century manuscript The Book of Kells; visit Sweny’s Pharmacy, famed since its appearance in James Joyce’s Ulysses; and marvel at the museum known to students as the “dead zoo”.
On its own tiny island, Christiansborg Palace is the seat of Danish Parliament. Visitors can see the current palace’s grand rooms on free guided tours but don’t forget to head underground to see the ruins of Absolon’s Castle dating from 1167.
Buda Castle was once the seat of Hungarian kings; it now houses the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the National Library. Once you’ve explored the museums, the surrounding Várnegyed or Castle Quarter is full of equally interesting Medieval and Baroque churches, houses and public buildings.
On a speck of land in the middle of teal-hued Lake Bled stands a church with one of the most picturesque outlooks in Europe. Evidence has been unearthed that suggests a settlement of some sort has existed on Bled Island since the 8th century BC; these days, the best way to reach it is to take a traditional pletna boat (akin to a large gondola) across the lake.
Anyone with even a passing interest in art will have heard of the masterpieces housed in the Rijksmuseum: Van Gogh’s 1887 Self-portrait; The Night Watch by Rembrandt; and The Milkmaid by Vermeer. The current museum was opened in 1885 and the collection consists of more than one million objects of art, craft and history.
When he wasn’t beheading wives, Henry VIII used Hyde Park as his royal hunting ground. In 1637 it opened to the public, who, for better or worse, made it London’s backyard. Now, it’s a serene, green space where, when the temperature exceeds 18 degrees, Brits will sunbake to a rosy hue.
Several sections of the demarcation between former East and West Germany still stand around the city but the must-visit site is the East Side Gallery, now the largest open-air art gallery in the world. This year marks 30 years since it came down and a week-long festival celebrating its destruction is planned for 4-10 November.
Named for the tile industry that operated here, the Tuileries is between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. It was created for Catherine de’Medici in 1564 and enjoyed by a nine-year-old Louis XIII as his personal playground, complete with menagerie. It became a public park after the French Revolution, the place for flânerie and people-watching.
Istanbul’s most recognisable monument, the Hagia Sophia, began life as a Greek Orthodox cathedral in the 6th century before becoming an Ottoman mosque and finally a museum (in 1935). The Byzantine structure took five years and 10,000 workmen to construct. It’s an architectural marvel, having stood through hundreds of earthquakes during its almost-1500-year history.
There it is, evidence of Britain’s Roman past, lying in a field without protection. And why not? Hadrian’s Wall stretches for 117 kilometres from coast to coast and has stood since AD 122. The defensive fortification built by the Emperor Hadrian now has a National Trail footpath following its route from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway, and even inspired The Wall in Game of Thrones.
The whimsical Guggenheim building alone is reason enough for a visit to the northern Spanish city of Bilbao, let alone the treasures to be found inside. The curvy Frank Gehry design is considered an architectural feat – a worthy home, then, for works such as Jeff Koons Tulips and Louise Bourgeois’ Maman.
Completed sometime between AD 113 and 125 in the reign of Hadrian, the Pantheon is a former Roman temple now remarkably preserved church. Gaze up, like millions of others have over 2000 years, at the dome’s opening to the sky and try to fathom the passing of time.
Microbreweries might be having a moment but if you’re going to drink a tankard in Germany, this is the place to do it. It’s an institution: not only has it played a key in the history of Germany politics and its beer-brewing, it also has its own currency and theme tune that topped the charts in the ‘80s. Prost!
The privately owned Tate Modern serves as Britain’s home of modern and contemporary art. Located in London’s Southwark in the former Bankside Power Station, it was opened by the Queen in 2000. It now receives in excess of five million visitors a year to see its collection, which includes works by Picasso, Damien Hirst and Georgia O’Keeffe.
A quintessential Istanbul experience: haggling for a carpet at the Grand Bazaar. Famed as one of the world’s first shopping malls but bearing no resemblance to a Westfield, the covered market even once sold human slaves. It’s made up of 61 streets and more than 4000 shops and dates to 1455.