I have to admit that I am pretty lucky to live in Europe, the continent has so many interesting and beautiful cities that are just a stone’s throw away from good old Blighty. Even if you do live a bit further out, however, there are many places that are worth the trip.
1. Paris, France
There’s no surprises here, Paris is renowned for being a beautiful city. Paris may not be the first choice of destination for the budget traveller – it ain’t cheap! – but it has some stunning architecture, and not just the landmarks but just the general buildings, so I would have been happy just to wander around and take it all in. The Banks of the River Seine are even listed as a UNESCO site and it is not hard to see why. The Louvre is a sight in itself, even before you get inside, Sacre Coeur is worth walking all the steps it takes to get up close and the Arc de Triomphe is beautiful, even with the piles of traffic whizzing around it. Enough said.
2. Venice, Italy
I have never been to anywhere like Venice, for the simple reason that I don’t think there is anywhere like Venice. It’s a city set in a blue lagoon, with canals and boats instead of cars and roads. The lanes are narrow and quaint and the architecture is beautiful. It’s like wandering around a huge, open-air museum. I remember walking along a series of bridges where at each one, everyone would stop and take a picture of whatever view they found before carrying on to the next bridge, stopping, taking a picture and carrying on. It was as though we were walking around series of exhibitions. When I first emerged into San Marco Piazza, I actually exclaimed. Everything in Venice just seemed more beautiful than the equivalents in other cities, from the bookshop with a gondola in it to the hospital that looked like a work of art.
3. Prague, Czech Republic
I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Prague. I didn’t really even know what there was to do or to see, so the first thing I did was a free walking tour in order to get acquainted with the city. What I found was an eclectic mixture of architectural styles, with everything from Gothic to Baroque, Rococo and Art Nouveau. It’s a building-lovers dream. It’s the perfect city to just get lost in (particularly because it is so small that you’ll be able to find your way in the end – having said that I did get lost for about an hour looking for a particular clock). Starting in the centre, by the astronomical clock, you can cross the Charles Bridge and walk up to the castle complex, where you can easily spend a day exploring and from which you can find views of the city below.
4. Amsterdam, Netherlands
While Amsterdam may be well known for its coffeeshops and red light district, there is so much more to the city than just that. It has an extensive canal network which is surrounded by pretty, tall buildings and cobbled streets, containing a mass of bikes, which seem to be the main way to navigate the city. Then there’s the markets, winding lanes and quaint restaurants. It’s the perfect place for a stroll.
5. Dublin, Ireland
I had never really considered going to Dublin as it didn’t seem like a particularly exotic destination, probably due to its proximity to my UK home. However, my friend briefly moved there for work and I went over to help her settle in. I pretty much fell in love with the city on the bus from the airport to the centre, as we passed lots of beautiful buildings with classical influences. Over the weekend, I stumbled across lots of pretty streets with bright lights and quirky bars but the thing that really made Dublin was the atmosphere. It was warm (metaphorically speaking- the weather was actually pretty chilly), buzzy and friendly. I can’t wait to go back.
6. Brussels, Belgium
Brussels was another place that I had never thought of going. When people talk about Belgium, Bruges seems to be the go-to place. However, when I got the offer of free travel to Brussels on the Eurostar through The Flatmate, I jumped at the chance and I’m glad I did. You’ve probably picked up on a theme here – I’m a sucker for a good building, and Brussels was no different. The Grand Place was a staggeringly beautiful square, which caused a similar reaction in me to Piazza San Marco in Venice. I had heard about the Grand Place before I arrived but my free walking tour introduced me to a whole array of architecture worth seeing. You really shouldn’t write Brussels off. It also has a lot of good food – that city has a serious sweet tooth.
7. Rome, Italy
Rome is an awesome city for an ancient history lover like myself. You’ll be walking down the street, turn a corner, and BAM! there’s the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. The city is stuffed full of ancient wonders. It has some gems from other eras too, like the baroque Trevi Fountain, which is particularly beautiful lit up at night. Rome is also pretty great as it is home to a whole other country (technically) – Vatican City. Here you’ll find the impressive St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, where you can see some of Michelangelo’s handiwork. You can even venture outside of the city and find the ruins of an entire ancient harbour town – Ostia. There’s just so many treasures to see.
8. Athens, Greece
Much like Rome, Athens is an ancient history lover’s dream. There are so many ancient sites being dug up that the city’s plumbing system is a disaster as the pipes have so much to dodge. There’s the main tourist sites like the Acropolis, the Theatre of Dionysus, the Roman Forum, the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian’s Library and Kerameikos Cemetery and then there’s all the stuff littered just by the side of the road or the remains of a cemetery found in Syntagma underground station. It’s not just the ancient sites that make Athens great, it has the feeling of a Mediterranean village but on a much larger scale. Particularly in the area of Plaka, where you can sit outside at a hillside restaurant and enjoy a nice Greek salad with the Acropolis towering behind you.
9. London, England
And last but not least, my city – London. I don’t know if people come to London expecting a beautiful city but parts of it really are. Notting Hill is full of quaint buildings of varying colour, the Houses of Parliament are quite a sight and there are plenty of big leafy parks. Having said that, the time I really realised how beautiful London was actually quite recently when I was walking to the Army and Navy Club for a work event. I started by walking down the tree-lined Mall towards Buckingham Palace before crossing over to Pall Mall. On my way through Waterloo Place, I came across many lovely buildings and statues and I realised that London is actually a pretty beautiful place to be – y’know, if you look past all the building works.