I have set myself a major task in picking the 31 things to do in Europe before you die. 31 doesn’t even allow for one item per country, but I have thought about each one and whittled them down as best I can. From incredible landscapes to culture packed cities, historical attractions to modern wonders, adventures and gentle pursuits, here are 31 things to do in Europe before you die.
It seems only logical to choose the first of my things to do in Europe before you die from my own country. London is a fabulous place to visit and a trip on the Eye on the South Bank provides the best views of the city. On a clear day you can see for miles across the capital, taking in the River Thames, the iconic historical landmarks of Big Ben, St. Paul's, and Westminster Abbey, as well as modern features like the Gherkin, Canary Wharf and the Shard. The Shard, the UK’s tallest building, also offers fabulous 360 degree views but of course, not of itself.
Running from Würzburg to Füssen, this is one of 2 fabulous road trips to be had in Germany. (The other follows the story of the Grimm fairytales.) The Romantic Road passes through gorgeous countryside and dozens of quaint medieval towns and villages full of history and rich in culture. The highlight of the trip for many is the Neuschwanstein Castle. Commissioned by the reclusive and eccentric King Ludwig II, if ever there was a castle to be described as fairytale, it is this one.
Are you familiar with The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea and Thumbelina? The writer of these beloved kids stories is Hans Christian Anderson. The statue of the Little Mermaid sits in Copenhagen honoring the storyteller, and is just one reason why the Danish capital is one of the places to visit in Europe before you die.
One of the busiest pedestrian thoroughfares in Europe, the Charles Bridge spans the Vltava River in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. For a while Prague was top of the list of places to go in Europe before you die, and while things have calmed down somewhat, the city remains magnificent. The 14th century bridge boasts 30 statues along its span and it offers fabulous views of the city. It’s also popular with street vendors.
The Blarney stone – or to give it its proper name, the Stone of Eloquence – resides in Blarney Castle in the beautiful Irish countryside of County Cork. It is one of the essential things to do in Europe before you die to guarantee you will be touched with the “gift of the gab” for the rest of your life – i.e. to be blessed with eloquence.
Rome is definitely one of the places in Europe to visit before you die, and what better way to get around to see all the magnificent sights of the Italian capital than on a Vespa? If you ever wanted to make like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, what’s stopping you? Rome epitomizes La Dolca Vita: it is fabulous, fascinating and fashionable. Don your best sun specs and a helmet and hire a scooter to visit the icons of this magnificent city. A Vespa can get you to the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, et al.
The Norwegian Fjords are some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe and one of the best places to get a view is Preikestolen – Pulpit Rock. This massive cliff with a flat top, which makes a brilliant viewing platform, stands 1982 feet high and offers a magnificent panorama across Lsyefjorden and beyond. You have to hike for 2.5 miles to reach the top but it’s worth it.
You don’t really need a special reason to visit Bruges. This glorious city in Belgium has plenty to charm you – medieval streets, a massive central square and a network of romantic canals. But, it is also home to the museum of one of Belgium’s signature products – chocolate. If you love everything chocolate, it’s all here. With chocolate making displays on all the time, it even always smells like chocolate. While in Bruges, you can also visit the other museum of the city’s other great product – lace.
This is cheating a little because you have to take a day trip from the city to the tulip fields as they aren’t grown in Amsterdam. And don’t think that only gardeners are interested in this activity. Most people choose Amsterdam as a destination for its city sights and pursuits, but tiptoeing through the tulips is my pick of the Dutch things to do in Europe before you die. The vast tulip gardens spread out in carpets of magnificent colors and it’s amazing to think that within 24 hours, they could be in a vase on a table on the other side of the world.
The hills are alive with the sound of music! They certainly are in the mountains around and in the streets of Salzburg. Not only can you follow the Sound of Music Tour, taking in all the familiar sights that Maria and the Von Trapp children sang and danced in and around, but Salzburg is also the birthplace of Mozart. The house where the Mozart family lived on the third floor for 26 years is a public museum.
The Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia is one of the places to visit in Europe before you die because it will convince you that Mother Nature is better than Photoshop any day. Breathtaking just isn’t a good enough word to describe the magnificence of these 16 interlinked lakes set in forested mountains. The lake colors change through the spectrum of every shade of water you can imagine and the greenery is as green as you’ll ever see. In wintertime, the snow and ice turn it into a magical fairytale sight.
There are many magnificent squares and piazzas all over Europe, but my favorite is Heroes' Square in Budapest. The square is a huge open space in the middle of a crowded city, and at night when the statues are illuminated, it makes a wonderful sight. The square is a fitting setting in a city that is truly beautiful. Split by the majestic Danube, the two cities of Buda and Pest together present fairytale castles, imposing bridges, verdant parks and World Heritage buildings. For a brilliant view of Budapest, go to the top of the Fisherman’s Bastion.
Ok, so it’s very touristy and even a cliché, but a gondola ride is certainly one of the best ways to get up close and personal with Venice, and it remains high on the list of things to do in Europe before you die. You can pass under the Bridge of Sighs and you can then walk over it later. You pass magnificent buildings and then after your ride is over, you can pull up a chair in St. Mark’s Square and view said buildings over the rim of your espresso cup.
Well, not literally, but the essential thing to do in Monte Carlo, the playground of the rich and famous, is to spend a night at the casino. This is the chance to dress up in your most glamorous evening gown, put your man in his tux, and sip cocktails at the bar whilst the high rollers play the cards and tables. And, of course, you must have a go yourself, even if it is just a single modest bet on the roulette wheel.
Although Bran Castle is only tangentially linked to Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s creation, Count Dracula, it has been indentured as the home of the infamous vampire. As well as the links to Dracula, the castle enjoys a fabulous mountainside setting and is a museum displaying a collection amassed by Queen Marie, the wife of Ferdinand I of Romania. In contrast to the opulence of the art and furniture, at the foot of the castle is an open air museum of traditional peasant structures from all over Romania.
You may be wondering why, of all the incredible sights and attractions of Paris, that it is the Pompidou Centre that makes it to the list of places to visit in Europe before you die. Yes, you should see the view from the Eiffel Tower, climb Notre Dame, stand on the steps of the Sacre Coeur, see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and ride a bateau mouche down the Seine, but the Pompidou Centre is a reminder that alongside the incredible history of the city that is seen in the heritage buildings and squares all over, Paris is also a modern capital city. The centre – oft-known as the inside out building – is a museum of modern art.
Sometimes in life you just have to stop and reflect and be thankful for the small things. There are very few experiences on earth that can make you feel just glad to be alive, but a visit to one of the memorials/museums of the Nazi concentration camps is definitely one of them. The most notorious of them all is at Auschwitz in Poland. Today, the former camp is a stark but poignant reminder of past horrors and surprisingly, visitor numbers increase year on year. This will be one of the most heart-wrenching and moving experiences of your life.
Visiting a Christmas market is one of the essential things to do in Europe before you die, and you can choose from so many in Germany, Austria, France, Belgium and Prague, but a little off the beaten track is the one held in the capital of the tiny country of Liechtenstein. Vaduz is a charm. Small by city standards (it’s not even the largest in the country), it is sits on the River Rhine and is dominated by a castle. The Vaduz Christmas market takes over the square in front of the town hall and has all the attractions of the larger European markets. There’s also a fairytale train for the kids to take a free ride around Vaduz.
The Alps are one of the must see places in Europe. The scenery is spectacular whether you’re in France, Germany, Austria, or Italy. One of the very best ways to drink in the splendid panoramic views is to ride the Glacier Express through the Swiss Alps. The comfortable train takes a leisurely 7.5 hour journey between the ski resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt, crossing viaducts, going through tunnels and traversing breathtaking alpine scenery, including snowfields, glaciers, mountains, lakes and summer meadows.
Did you know that Nicosia is the last remaining divided capital in Europe? Cyprus is contested by the Turks and the Greek Cypriots and is subject to a United Nations Buffer Zone separating the island, with the Green Line running through Nicosia. Sadly, Nicosia is not a great city to stay, but it is a fabulous place to visit. The labyrinthine streets of the old town are beguiling and enclosed by ancient Venetian walls, and no one should miss a visit to the Shacolas Tower Museum and Observatory to see the views across the divided city.
There are plenty of reasons why Slovenia is one of the places to visit in Europe before you die, and among them is the simply stunning Lake Bled. In the middle of the lake is a picturesque little island that is home to the Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage Church. You are allowed to ring the church bell, which is said to bring good luck. After ringing the bell, climb the bell tower for the amazing views across the lake and into the mountains.
It wouldn’t be right to not have a zoo on the places to visit in Europe before you die, so I’m picking Riga. It’s an interesting zoo because it is one of the most northerly animal parks in the world and it seems somewhat incongruous to see exotic animals in the depths of a Baltic winter (yes – it is a matter of conscience whether you agree with zoos or not!). Really though, the zoo is just an excuse to be in Riga. The capital of Latvia is a vibrant, trendy city and has plenty to offer visitors.
There is something magical about immersing yourself into a pool of steamy warm water while the landscape surrounding you is covered in snow. A dream maybe? No, a reality, if you’re in Iceland. The Blue Lagoon, not far from the vibrant capital Reykjavik, is one of the top spas in Europe. For an even better experience, it is possible to book a midnight dip where, if you’re lucky, not only can you enjoy the geothermal waters, but the vision of the Northern Lights will entrance you.
When you think of Portugal, the places that spring quickly to mind are Lisbon, the capital, and the pretty Algarve and its gorgeous beaches. There is, however, a lesser known gem that anyone visiting the country really should make an effort to see. Sintra is a spectacularly medieval town with a veritable array of fascinating buildings. The cultural landscape of Sintra is a World Heritage site and includes the extremely well preserved National Palace. The Islamic influence adds to the romantic feel of this very photogenic location.
There aren’t many places in the world where you can stand in one point and look out over 3 countries, but you can do this at Halti Fell. Near to the small Lapland village of Kilpisjärvi in the far northwest corner of Finland, Halti Fell occupies a tiny spit of land that juts out between Norway and Sweden. Climb to the top of its 4,478 feet (it’s the highest point in Finland) and you can indeed see all 3 countries from one spot.
One of the nicest boat trips you can take anywhere in Europe is to the Blue Grotto on the south coast of the Mediterranean island of Malta. The grotto has been one of Malta’s most famed attractions for many, many years. In the morning, the sunlight and the water combine to create the most incredible palette of blues. The waters of the caverns range from the darkest azure to pale turquoise, depending on the phosphorescent colors of the underwater flora.
The fact that some of the things to do in Europe before you die are on the main tourist trail really doesn’t matter. When they are a time honored activity like making the trek up to the Acropolis to the Parthenon, they are not to be dismissed. As a symbol of the Ancient Civilization of Greece, the Parthenon is truly awe inspiring. As well as admiring the antique architecture, you are afforded panoramic views across the steamy Greek capital.
The world really is your oyster when it comes to choosing a fabulous beach in Spain. The various costas (a specific stretch of coastline), defined by their pueblos blancos and tourist resorts, offer up every ingredient you need for a true Mediterranean summer holiday. You can choose from massive resort towns like Benidorm and Torremolinos, tiny little fishing villages or swanky marina towns like Marbella. Beaches run from rocky coves with magnificent geography like La Cala de Finestrat in Alicante to great swathes of sand like the Playa de Bolonia in Tarifa, the kite and wind surfing capital of Europe (pictured above).
The Kremlin is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world and probably still the iconic image of Russia. The thing about this location that makes it such a fabulous photo opportunity is that you can stand in another of Moscow’s main attractions – Red Square – to take a picture of the Kremlin, together with another of the city’s major sights, St. Basil’s Cathedral, with its distinctive onion domes.
If you are old enough to remember the Balkan conflict after the split of Yugoslavia, you might recall one of the most enduring images – that of the destruction of Mostar Bridge. The bridge had stood for 427 years until it was destroyed by tank fire in November 1993. Today it has been restored to its original glory so that it continues its place as one of the most exemplary pieces of Islamic architecture in Bosnia, and indeed the Balkans. Crossing the bridge is one of the must-do things in Europe and serves as a reminder that what man builds, man can destroy, but man can also rebuild.
The pristine landscapes of Sweden are enough to stir the soul. The far north remains one of the last wilderness areas in Europe, and a great way to experience the awesome landscape is to go on an Elk Safari. This is one of the most unique things to do in Europe before you die and an unforgettable adventure. You camp next to the River Kalix in a traditional Sami tent, and snowmobile across rugged terrain spotting wild animals such as elk and reindeer.
I know for sure that this list is not going to satisfy everyone. Your country might not be mentioned, or you might disagree with the option I’ve chosen. Now’s the chance to have your say. What would you have on your list of things to do in Europe before you die?
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