The 11 Best Urban Beaches in Europe

Most European waterways are not suitable for summer, due to health concerns, but that hasn’t stopped cities from inventing some pretty amazing urban beaches. In order to beat the heat and celebrate the summer, cities have imported sand, created epic pools and decked out busy streets in beach huts and sun chairs. From the capital of Poland to the streets of Paris, these are 11 of the absolute best urban beaches in all of Europe.

11. Poniatówka Beach, Warsaw

The capital of Poland was severely lacking in beaches until only a few years ago and that’s when this beach popped into the spotlight. This wild and wide beach located right in the city offers everything from beach volleyball to nightly bonfires to sunbathing to wild nightly parties. Partying isn’t the only thing this beach offers though; wildlife is plentiful if you can find a quiet spot. Animals such as otters, elk, deer and boar have been known to show themselves to visitors. Make sure to check out Temat Rzeka, an epic beach bar that is home to thousands of customers a night and offers such activities as film screenings, beach volleyball and huge beach parties.

Photo by: Warsaw City Break
Photo by: Warsaw City Break

10. Tamariz, Lisbon

Just a half hour train ride away from Lisbon this urban beach is popular with both locals and visitors. The setting here is absolutely beautiful, with 350 meters of beach, sand and open sea. The waters here are calm and tranquil, and the beach is sandy which makes it the perfect family setting. The eastern edge of the beach actually features an ocean swimming pool with slightly warmer temperatures than the sea. Chair rentals can be expensive so many people choose to bring their own along. A beautiful medieval palace overlooks this beach, only adding to its charm and beauty. Plenty of cafes and restaurants are located nearby, making it easy to spend the entire day here.

Tamariz, Lisbon

9. Barceloneta, Barcelona

This exciting city got even better when the Olympics came here in 1992, as it was then that the coastline got a serious makeover. It was decided that the city would open up to the sea and restaurants and public bathhouses were torn down and replaced with first-rate beaches. These sandy beaches were created with beautiful hotels and incredible restaurants lining them and as the years go on, this area only gets better. Day or night, visitors will find the coolest crowds here. There are over 1100 meters of beach to enjoy, along with an abundance of sea activities. One can actually walk to the center of the city via a walkway lined with palm trees, cafes and modern landmarks.

Barceloneta, Barcelona

8. South Bank, London

This sliver of seaside charm is located beside one of the city’s busiest stretches of pavement. This corridor of sand skirts along Queen’s Walk, opposite the Southbank Centre and is full of sand, chairs and beach huts. This isn’t a beach you will want to visit if you are looking for a relaxing time but if you are looking to grab a few cocktails, build a couple sandcastles and take in awesome views of the Thames, this is the place to be. This beach is constantly buzzing all summer long with locals and visitors taking in the concerts, events and exhibitions that happen. Enjoy mingling with others, taking in live shows and soaking in the incredible and lively atmosphere.

Photo by: Southbank Centre
Photo by: Southbank Centre

7. Canary Wharf, London

The people of London and visitors to this city are in for a treat when it comes to urban beaches. The most popular may just be Canary Wharf, a sandy oasis hidden beneath the skyscrapers. The beach is loaded with volleyball courts and the famous KERB food market, where many city slickers head to grab a bite to eat during lunch hours. The beach here is dependent on what events are happening each summer and sand is brought in to create volleyball courts, beach rugby fields and more. Expect something different each time you visit here.

Photo by: Action For Kids
Photo by: Action For Kids

6. Vltava River, Prague

There may be no sea here but that didn’t stop Prague from creating one awesome urban beach on the banks of the Vltava River. With 500 tones of imported sand, over 200 pool chairs and a stunning pool; it’s no wonder locals and visitors flock to this beach. Not just for adults though, this beach has a kid’s playground located directly on it. If you are looking to get some activity in, try your hand at badminton or beach volleyball, with courts located directly on the beach. As the sun sinks and the stars come out this beach transforms into a party, with live music, dancing and special events running all summer long. Open from 10am-112pm daily, there is no bad time to visit this beach as long as the sun is shining.

Photo by: Travel for Senses
Photo by: Travel for Senses

5. Blijburg Aan Zee, Amsterdam

It is Amsterdam’s one true urban beach, complete with a sandy beach and swimming waters. The beach itself is 250 meters long and 40 meters wide and constantly hopping with things to do. The beach is open from June until September, Wednesdays through Sundays. Activities here include brunches on Sundays, kid’s events on the weekends and DJ’s and live bands throughout the months. The food here is absolutely wonderful and much of it is organic and vegetarian. At nighttime there is always a campfire to curl up around and visitors here will enjoy the laid back vibe of the locals. This beach also happens to host a ton of beach parties, windsurfing workshops and a monthly car trunk sale.

Photo by: Citinerary
Photo by: Citinerary

4. The Donauinsel (Danube Island), Vienna

This long narrow island in central Vienna is not just part of the flood protection system but also offers 42 kilometers of beach. In addition to awesome flat beaches with great bathing areas, there are extensive networks of paths for cyclers, joggers and walkers. Barbeque and picnic areas, playing fields, courts for beach volleyball and a variety of restaurants and shops also make up this urban beach stretch. There is no shortage of activities to do and many sports shops have set up along the beach to offer lessons in such water sports as scuba diving and windsurfing. Also located on Danube Island is a nature reserve, home to many plants and animals that depend on the protection.

Photo by: TriVienna
Photo by: TriVienna

3. Badeschiff, Berlin

This urban beach is actually comprised of a few different elements, including an old tug boat that has been converted into a pool during the summer months. Swimmers here can catch a great glimpse of the Berlin skyline and take part in some epic beach parties. The floating pool is connected by a wooden footbridge complete with hammocks to relax in. Beach goers can relax on the fine sand or play beach volleyball at one of the sand courts. The beach bar here is known for offering up a variety of summer cocktails and barbecued foods. Peaceful morning yoga classes are offered here twice a week and weekly open air concerts are a norm during the summer months. A separate area for kids to splash and build sandcastles is located just a stone’s throw away from the main area.

Photo by: Arena Berlin
Photo by: Arena Berlin

2. Paris Plages, France

For just shy of a month in the summer time, the right bank of the Seine from the Louvre to the Pont de Sully is converted into one of the best urban beaches in all of Europe. Sand gets imported into the area, beach chairs are set up, grass is laid down and boardwalk-style cafes and ice-cream sellers set up shop. When the temperature really soars sprinklers are put out as you wouldn’t want to swim in the Seine. Free summertime concerts take place; sporting events are in full swing and everyone who can’t go on vacation flocks to this area to enjoy some sand, sun and relaxation. Entrance to the beach is free and the only thing you will have to worry about is scoring one of the oversized umbrellas to curl up underneath.

Paris Plages, France

1. Brussels’ Beach, Brussels

Every year the banks of the Brussels channel are converted into a real urban beach, complete with imported sand, huts, sun chairs and fountains. This beach only lasts in the hottest months of summer, from July 15th to August 15th and the city goes all out to ensure visitors have the best of times. Activities here range from rowing to soccer to climbing to dancing while the kids will be entertained with magic shows and workshops throughout the day. The nights are meant for adults to kick back and enjoy with an offering of nightly concerts and parties. The city kicks off this month long urban beach with an impressive light and sound show and airs free films throughout the month on the big screen. Join locals and visitors alike at this urban beach, in our opinion, the best in all of Europe.

Photo by: City of Brussels
Photo by: City of Brussels

The Best Places To Spend New Year’s Eve in Europe

New Year’s Eve is a time most of us look forward to putting the old year behind us and starting with a fresh slate in the new year. Many people believe that how we ring in the new year also has bearing on what the year will bring us. For travelers, what could be better than celebrating with friends new and old in a far-flung locale, experiencing local traditions and creating new ones? These 10 European cities know how to ring in the new year; get your year started on the right foot by visiting one of these parties.

10. London

More than 250,000 people will crowd along the banks of the Thames to ring in the new year. Big Ben performs countdown services and the stroke of midnight marks the beginning a spectacular 10-minute display of lights and fireworks. The London Eye, the Shard and Parliament are among the iconic buildings lit up to welcome the new year. Looking to stay out of the cold and rain? Head to the soiree at the London Sky Bar, where you’ll find food and a live DJ, plus fabulous views of the revelry in the streets below. Free public transport all night will help get you to one of many after-parties around the city. Visit the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park and, on New Year’s Day, take in the annual parade, which features a procession of the Queen’s horses, among others.

London New Years Eve

9. Dubrovnik

Croatia may not be a top destination for New Year’s revelers, but the city of Dubrovnik gets extra points for managing to host an almost intimate party, despite the number of people who come out to celebrate. Less claustrophobic than parties in Zagreb and Split, the festivities in Dubrovnik center on Stradun, the city’s main street, where you’re likely to bump elbows with locals on their way to bars and restaurants filled to bursting with celebrating crowds. The city also hosts a number of Croatian performers, offering up a rich program of music and entertainment for the evening. Start with a cozy meal with friends or family, or, if you’re traveling with your honey, consider splurging on a meal at one of the city’s upscale establishments. Join the crowds in Stradun for the stroke of midnight, then keep the party going by stopping off at a local bar.

Photo by: Eventfully Croatia
Photo by: Eventfully Croatia

8. Stockholm

The Swedes celebrate Christmas in a relatively subdued style, which means they’re all the more ready to let loose and party on New Year’s Eve. Revelry is the order of the day in the nation’s capital, with parties becoming raucous and celebrations pouring into the streets. Fill up on a seafood at a restaurant before moving your party to Skansen, which has been the center of Stockholm’s celebrations since 1895. At the stroke of midnight, a well-known Swede will read the poem “Ring Out, Wild Bells,” as streamers fill the air. Party trumpets and fireworks erupt all around the city. After midnight, participate in some club-hopping and keep the party going late into the night; bars and clubs are often open until 3 or 4 in the morning, giving you plenty of time to celebrate the new year.

Stockholm New Years Eve

7. Paris

It should be little wonder that one of Europe’s most iconic cities makes the list as one of the best places to spend New Year’s. The Eiffel Tower is lit up to mark the occasion and crowds of revelers swarm the Champs-Elysees, which provides fantastic views of the tower. The area turns into a massive street party, with both champagne bottles and fireworks popping everywhere. If you’re looking for something a little different, try Montmarte for excellent views of fireworks without the crowd. If you want something romantic, book a dinner cruise along the Seine and listen to a live orchestra as you sail through the City of Lights. Restaurants and nightclubs also hold soirees so you have no shortage of options for how to ring in the new year. On New Year’s Day, the Grande Parade de Paris caps off the celebrations.

Paris New Years Eve

6. Vienna

Vienna, once the center of empire and a beautiful city beloved by intellectuals and artists, is perhaps the best place in Europe to experience an “Old World” New Year’s celebration. The city’s most famous party is the Grand Ball held at the Hofburg Palace, but there are plenty of other opportunities for revelry in the Austrian capital. The city’s famous Christmas markets transform into fairs and the New Year’s Eve Trail will lead you through the Old City. The party begins at 2 in the afternoon and continues long after the clock has struck midnight. Mulled wine is the drink of choice for this crowd. A spectacular fireworks display highlights the Wiener Prater fair at midnight. On New Year’s Day, join the crowd gathered outside City Hall to watch the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s concert on a giant screen.

Photo by: Room Suggestion
Photo by: Room Suggestion

5. Amsterdam

Amsterdam is known as something of a party city for North Americans, and on New Year’s Eve, the city shows that it deserves that reputation, with impromptu street parties filling the spaces between large, organized revelry in public places like Rembrandtplein, Nieumarkt, Museumplein and Dam Square. Outdoor concerts are complemented by indoor parties at bars. Fireworks go on sale the day before the celebrations, so you can be sure to see plenty of displays. Grab a perch on one of the city’s many bridges and watch the colors explode across the nighttime sky, mirrored in the water below. Grab a glass of champagne and some fried treats (like oliebollen, viamse frites and bitterballen) from the street vendors, then head to the club to keep the party going.

Photo by: Amsterdam
Photo by: Amsterdam

4. Reykjavik

Reykjavik receives only 4 hours of sun on New Year’s Eve, which means the locals are more than ready to celebrate with a festival of light. They start with community bonfires, meant to burn away the troubles of the old year. There are no official fireworks displays organized by the city; rather, there are numerous displays put on by private citizens. Fireworks will often start about half-an-hour before midnight, lighting up every corner of the city as almost 200,000 people get involved. Head to Perlan or Landakotskirkja church for the best views of the city. Plenty of small, private parties keep things hopping, and bars and clubs remain open well after midnight. Since Icelanders tend to go out late anyway, you’ll often find revelers up until the wee hours of the morning, dancing the night away.

Photo by: Guide to Iceland
Photo by: Guide to Iceland

3. Istanbul

Istanbul has been on the rise as a must-see destination for travelers, and what better time than New Year’s? While visiting this vibrant European capital is an experience and a half at any time of year, Istanbul one-ups itself on New Year’s Eve. Start your evening with a traditional Turkish meze dinner in a restaurant in Bebek or Istiklal Caddesi, where celebrations are a little tamer. Afterwards, join the jubilant crowd in the streets of Taksim or another part of the city, where revelers will organize impromptu street parties. If the crowded streets aren’t your scene, you can always book a river cruise along the Bosphorus and watch the celebrations from afar as you sail through the city. The best part is that you’ll have one of the best views for the stunning fireworks at the stroke of midnight.

Istanbul new years eve

2. Prague

Prague is known as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and one of the most beautiful in the world. The “city of a hundred spires” comes alive on New Year’s Eve, which is also known as Silvestr. The streets will be packed with a rag-tag crowd of revelers, and bars, clubs and restaurants will be filled with party-goers. Much of the fun takes place at Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square. Fireworks are set off all around town (and perhaps with a bit of dangerous abandon), with one of the best displays occurring at Letna Gardens, which can be watched from nearby bridges and embankments. Champagne bottles are smashed during the celebrations, which means you might want to bring a helmet to this party, but who could resist ringing in the new year in the heart of Europe?

Prague New Years Eve

1. Berlin

Germany’s capital has something of a reputation as a party city throughout the year, so it makes sense that the city has a go-big-or-go-home attitude toward New Year’s festivities. The highlight is undoubtedly “Party Mile,” a 2-km stretch between Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column, lined with bars, food stalls, music stages, party tents and laser light shows. The fireworks begin promptly at midnight, as do the toasts to the new year. Many people then hit the dancefloors of the city’s clubs, partying until well after sun-up. The Berliner Silversterlauf, the infamous New Year’s Eve “pancake run,” is another tradition in the city. Some people run the free 4-km race on New Year’s Day. Berlin expects to welcome approximately a million revelers to help ring in 2016—maybe you’ll be one of them.

Berlin New Years Eve

 

The 10 Best Cities in the World 2015

More than 128,000 readers of Condé Nast Traveler voted for their favorite cities in the world outside of the U.S. and the votes have been tallied. It should come as no surprise that the major cities such as Rome, London and Paris made the list, thanks to their iconic landmarks, fantastic cuisine and abundance of things to see and do. There are a couple of sneaky cities that made this list, ones that are not obvious at first but once you dig deeper it becomes abundantly clear why they are favorites. Discover the top 10 best cities in the world as of 2015 according to the readers of Condé Nast Traveler:

10. London, England

It is one of the world’s most visited cities and offers an abundance of things to see and do for people of any age. London is a mash of wide-open spaces and chaotic cityscape, a combination that seemingly works for this city. Central London is where you will find the awesome galleries and museums, and the most iconic of sites, the double decked buses and the famous phone booths. The landmarks such as Big Ben, Tower Bridge and the London Eye enthrall visitors as does Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Hampton Court Palace with their beautiful green spaces. There are a ton of restaurants, bars and clubs to choose from when the sun goes down, along with friendly locals. Arts, culture, history- you will find it all here in this city that rates as one of the best 10 cities in the world in 2015.

elenaburn / Shutterstock.com
elenaburn / Shutterstock.com

9. Kyoto, Japan

Step back into time when you visit Japan’s ancient city of Kyoto where quiet temples, sublime gardens and colorful shrines make up the landscape. There are said to be over 1000 Buddhist temples found in this city and it is here where visitors can appreciate the masterpieces of religious architecture. The city is surrounded by mountains on three sides which offer incredible hiking. Don’t be surprised when wandering the streets to find a secret temple or unique shop that you may have passed by and not noticed, as it seems secrets lie throughout this city. A large range of excellent restaurants are located throughout the city, most housed in traditional wooden buildings where you can gaze over incredible gardens while you eat. Experience the ancient times of Japan as you wander the streets, stopping to chat with friendly locals, visit the ancient specialty shops such as pickle vendors or tea merchants and ending your day with a soak in the local public bathhouse. It will be clear why this is one of the best cities in the world.

TungCheung / Shutterstock.com
TungCheung / Shutterstock.com

8. Bruges, Belgium

Entering this city is to be transported into the middle of a fairy-tale that is based in a medieval town. Cobblestone streets, market squares with soaring towers and historic churches at every turn help make this one of the most picturesque cities in the world. Built between the 12th and 15th century, it remains one of the best preserved medieval cities. Dreamy canals link the market squares, nighttime brings evening floodlighting and in the spring the daffodils cover the courtyards. It is one of the most visited cities as well, due to its overwhelming beauty. Visiting in the winter is the best away to avoid the throngs of tourists, and although cold and icy, there is something magical about this medieval city when it’s covered in snow. Make sure you spend at least a couple of days exploring here.

Emi Cristea / Shutterstock.com
Emi Cristea / Shutterstock.com

7. Prague, Czech Republic

This beautiful historic town is worth visiting for the beer alone- kidding, sort of. Arguably, it does boast the best beer in Europe but there are so many other reasons that this city was voted number 7 as the best in the world. It’s maze of cobbled streets and hidden courtyards are a paradise for those who love to wander throughout the city, exploring ancient chapels, awe-inspiring gardens and hidden pubs with no tourists in site. The landmarks are truly spectacular here, from the 14th century stone bridge to the hilltop castle to the lovely lazy river that inspired one of the most beautiful pieces of 19th century classical music, Smetana’s Moldau. Quirky doesn’t even begin to describe this city, with its nuclear hidden bunkers, cubist lampposts and interesting fountains. Marvel at the Bohemian art, discover the stunning architecture and order a beer by simply placing a beer mat on the table.

Prague, Czech Republic

6. Rome, Italy

Italy’s eternal city continues to enthrall visitors from all over the globe. Rome is known for its history, fine art and incredible food. There are endless sights to take in including The Colosseum, Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica. There are extraordinary restaurants to eat at, cafés to drink at and tiny local shops down alley ways that serve up the best pizza and pasta you have ever had in your life. Masterpieces by Michelangelo and fountains by Bernini are strewn throughout the city as well as towering ancient churches overflowing with beautiful stained glass and ornate decorations. Whether you are a history buff that can spend weeks wandering through this city, or a foodie who wants to enjoy local wine and fine dining, or someone who just wants to experience an incredible city, full of locals with a gruff sense of humor, Rome should be at the top of your list.

Vatican Museums Rome

5. Paris, France

It has established itself as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, boasting iconic landmarks, cobblestone streets, historic buildings and charming sidewalk cafes. There would be no point in visiting this city if you are planning on skipping the most iconic landmark, the Eiffel Tower. Make sure not to miss the other “big” sights though, such as the Arc de Triomphe, the Notre Dame cathedral, and the impressive Louvre. Finding a place to grab a bite to eat here is almost overwhelming as it’s reputation for cuisine is outstanding. Whether you are looking for a neighborhood bistro or an epic fine dining experience, every single establishment here prides itself on it’s food and wine. Paris also happens to be one of the great art repertoires of the world, with scores of museums throughout the city, from the famous Louvre to the smaller ones boasting contemporary and modern art. There is no shortage of places to discover in this incredible city.

cesc_assawin / Shutterstock.com
cesc_assawin / Shutterstock.com

4. Sydney, Australia

It is Australia’s biggest city and even after spending a month here it can feel as though you have barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer. The city can be loud, in your face and chaotic offering crazy firework displays, drag queen clubs, hip bars, live music and no shortage of parties to attend. Sydney can also be wild in terms of nature, with National Parks bordering the city and working their way into it. Native critters show up in unsuspecting places and parks compete with skyscrapers and suburbs. Spend endless hours at the beach, specifically Bondi Beach, one of the world’s greatest beaches. Dine at lively restaurants, visit the Sydney Tower for spectacular views from the glass platform or spend hours’ people watching from one of the outdoor cafes.

Bondi Beach Sydney Australia

3. Vienna, Austria

Packed with history, host to great nightlife, full of incredible restaurants and home to quiet tucked away corners, Vienna is a city that begs to be explored. It is one of the most musical cities in the world in part due to the great number of composers and musicians that were born here, lived here and worked here. Visitors to the city should count on taking in the incredible music at one of the famous music venues such as the Staatsoper and Musikverein. Dining in the city is always a treat with its bistro pubs serving up delicious brews and wine, or in creative restaurants where chefs are taking things to a new culinary level. An incredible transportation system makes it easy to get around, the city is known for being incredible safe and the locals are both welcoming and friendly.

volkova natalia / Shutterstock.com
volkova natalia / Shutterstock.com

2. Budapest, Hungary

This city is rich in history, natural cites and unique cuisine, drawing visitors from all over the world. A famous hallmark of Budapest is their hot springs that surround the city, making bathhouses one of the most popular activities in the city. Soak your troubles away in one of the many that are located within the city. Budapest is often called “The Paris of the East” due to its stunning architecture including Roman ruins and the Buda Castle which was built in 1265. Don’t count on just indulging in goulash, there is actually a lot more to Hungarian food and Budapest has the reputation of being a food capital, offering incredible dining options along with excellent wine. Discover a city whose history is almost too complex to understand, a city that is rebuilding with hope and reconciliation, a city that will leave you feeling in awe of it.

pavel dudek / Shutterstock.com
pavel dudek / Shutterstock.com

1. Florence, Italy

Despite Rome and its incredible architecture, and Milan- fashion capital of the world; the best city in Italy and the world in 2015 is actually Florence. Some say you can visit time and time again and not see it all. This city is romantic, magnetic and busy, home to incredible world-class art, food and wine. Don’t miss the iconic Uffizi Gallery or the modern-art museum- Museo Novecento, as well as the Palazzo Vecchio, the stunning fortress palace. Head to the maze of streets in San Lorenzo for a food lover’s paradise or to the 400-year-old pharmacy that still sells traditional elixirs in the central square of Piazza di Santa Maria Novella. The narrow streets of this city tell a thousand tales, through its historic buildings, through the food and wine, and it’s no wonder why it’s number one on this list.

Florence Italy

12 European Christmas Market Images To Get You Into The Holiday Spirit

For many, the holidays just seem to kind of sneak up on us. It’s not that we don’t know they’re coming, or that we’re not feverishly planning with them in mind, but it seems that we rarely get into the Christmas spirit until we’re well and truly in the midst of it. Many European countries enhance the lead up to December 25th with the appearance of Christmas Markets in many cities and towns, which celebrate the season and get everyone into the holiday spirit. The Christmas Market is a long standing European tradition, with roots dating back as far as 1294. To help you get into the holiday spirit a little earlier this year, here are 12 great images from Christmas Markets around the world:

12. Strasbourg, France

Founded in 1570, Strasbourg’s Christmas Market is the oldest and most famous in all of France. The city is known as “the Capital of Christmas” and proudly displays the deep rooted history and traditions of Alsatian Christmas.

Strasbourg France Christmas market

11. London, England

There’s no shortage of beautiful Christmas Markets to explore and enjoy in the city of London. The Southbank Centre Winter Festival, Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and the Christmas Market at Tate Modern are all excellent choices for shopping and general holiday merriment!

Christmas market london UK

10. South Tyrol, Italy

In the South Tyrol region of Italy, each little town has it’s own unique Christmas Market with plenty of holiday cheer. The market in Bolzano is known as Italy’s largest Christmas Market and draws visitors from far and wide to the beautifully decorated Piazza Walther.

christmas market Tyrol Italy

9. Dresden, Germany

Also known as the Striezelmarkt, the Christmas Market in Dresden is one of the oldest documented markets in Germany. The market which runs through the Advent season up until Christmas Eve, celebrated its 580th anniversary in 2014.

Christmas market Dresden Germany

8. Trento, Italy

Each year at the end of November, the little wooden stalls are set up against the historic walls of Castle of Buonconsiglio for Trento’s annual Christmas Market. One of the market highlights is “I sapori del mercatino”, which means “The flavor of the Christmas Market”, in which visitors can sample delicious sweets, schnapps, wine and sausage products.

Orietta Gaspari / Shutterstock.com
Orietta Gaspari / Shutterstock.com

7. Berlin, Germany

Germany knows how to do Christmas Markets extremely well, and visiting them is a popular tradition for many in December. The city of Berlin has over 60 individual Christmas Markets to be explored and while it would be a shame to visit just one, a favorite is Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt.

Christmas market Berlin Germany

6. Basel, Switzerland

The Christmas Market at Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz in Basel is considered by many to be one of the prettiest and largest in Switzerland. Over 180 sellers and artisans sell gifts, decorations, food and more from the market’s traditional wooden chalets.

ornaments christmas market basel switzerland

5. Vienna, Austria

Christmas Markets are a celebrated and well-established tradition throughout all of Austria. In the capital city of Vienna there are over 25 different markets to explore, shop, eat and get into the Christmas spirit!

Christmas Market Vienna Austria

4. Hannover, Germany

The Hannover Christmas Market takes place in the city’s historic Old Town center and features a wide array of vendors for your shopping enjoyment. Over 150 artisans sell their wares including hand carved decorations and locally produced food products.

sweets at Christmas market Germany

3. Vilnius, Lithuania

The Vilnius Christmas Market in Lithuania takes place in the city’s historic Cathedral Square each year in the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas. One of the most recognizable features of this market is the 25 meter high Christmas tree decorated with thousands of twinkling lights.

Christmas market vilnius lithuiania

2. Vipiteno, Italy

This town of South Tyrol Italy features it’s Christmas Market high up in the snowy mountains. Vipiteno is located at 1000 meters above sea level and the tiny town’s market offers visitors a beautiful small-town Christmas atmosphere.

Christmas Market Vipiteno, Italy

1. Frankfurt, Germany

The Frankfurt Christmas Market is widely known as one of the most beautiful in all of Germany. Each December, the town square is transformed with lights and decorated, traditional wooden stalls while visitors enjoy the festive atmosphere of the season.

christmas market frankfurt germany

Lonely Planet’s 10 Most Accessible Vacation Destinations for 2016

The world’s population is rapidly aging and this is having an impact on global business and tourism as companies are slowly starting to realize that accessibility is not just an issue that must be addressed for those with a disability. It’s a real issue that many grey nomads are putting some extra thought into before booking their next vacation. Lonely Planet agrees that with an aging baby boomer population that isn’t willing to slow down when it comes to travel, accessibility is becoming paramount. With this in mind they’ve put together this list of the most accessible vacation destinations for 2016:

10. Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Snowbirds love to head south in the winter, and mexico is a popular winter destination for many including those over the age of 65. Playa del Carmen is only an hour away from Cancun airport but it’s a far cry from the lively Spring Break destination city. Accessible hotels are available and the beach is also easy to navigate with the help of special beach wheelchairs and even special equipment to help you snorkel, even if you can’t swim.

wheelchair accessible beach

9. Barcelona, Spain

The tourism agencies of Spain and especially the Catalonia region have been pushing the importance of accessible tourism for quite some time now. As a result, 80 per cent of metro stations and 100 per cent of public buses are wheelchair accessible. And unlike many old historic cities, the old town of Barcelona is cobblestone free reducing the risks of trip and falls and making it easier for those with walkers and wheelchairs.

Plaza Barcelona, Spain

8. Galápagos and Amazonia, Ecuador

After watching these nature-centric destinations on programs like Planet Earth, they may not seem like an option for those with mobility issues, however they’re a lot closer in reach thanks to Lenín Moreno, a paraplegic who was the vice president of Ecuador from 2006-2013. Moreno’s work is responsible for the inroads in accessibility in this largely inaccessible continent.

blue footed booby

7. Sicily, Italy

When one thinks of Italy, images of cobblestone streets and elevated countryside usually come to mind -not exactly the picture of accessibility. But Lonely Planet says Sicily is breaking new ground on this front and is home to a tactile museum and Europe’s only sensorial botanic garden. Two Guinness world records have also been set here by people with disabilities; the first paraplegic to dive to 59m and first blind woman to dive to 41m.

Sicily, Italy Cathedral of Palermo

6. Manchester, England

Although Manchester is indeed an old city, much of the central business district was rebuilt in the late 1900s. The result is a city with wide, smooth pavements and many shopfronts, bars and restaurants that are completely step free. Perfect for those with reduced mobility. The city’s public transit is also wheelchair friendly and offers service to just about anywhere you’d want to get to in the city.

Manchester street sign

5. Melbourne, Australia

The city of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia has been called the ‘best in the world’ for a lot of things, but it can now add ‘most accessible’ to that list as well. The city’s highly accessible public transit has received global praise and the compact central city core helps earn the city’s status as one of the most accessible cities in the world. Lonely Planet even has a guidebook dedicated to the subject titled ‘Accessible Melbourne.’

Tooykrub / Shutterstock.com
Tooykrub / Shutterstock.com

4. Ljubljana, Slovenia

The capital city of Slovenia is relatively flat, a fact that many aging travelers will appreciate. It’s also equipped with highly accessible public transit which features audio and video stop announcements on buses (because there’s nothing worse than missing your stop!) The main attraction of the city is the 16th century Ljubljana Castle, and while you wouldn’t expect anything built in the 16th century to be accessible, the castle is actually wheelchair accessible.

Ljubljana Castle, Slovenia

3. Singapore

Singapore is arguably the most accessible city in Asia and one of the most overall accessible in the whole world. You’ll find stepless access to most buildings and an endless supply of curb cuts to make sure there are no barriers for those in wheelchairs.  The city’s mass rail transit (MRT) and buses are also designed for the visually and motor impaired, making this city one were there are essentially no limitations.

Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com
Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com

2. San Diego, USA

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (which just celebrated its 25th anniversary) most of the United States is very accessible, but Lonely Planet picked San Diego, California as a standout in its class. The city is easy to get around with a fairly flat grid system and public transit is easy with a fully accessible tram system. The most notable feature is the miles long beachfront promenade which offers beach wheelchairs to those who need them.

Greta Gabaglio / Shutterstock.com
Greta Gabaglio / Shutterstock.com

1. Vienna, Austria

Like Manchester but perhaps even richer in history, Vienna is a historic city that’s been refurbished to meet modern day demands. Unlike many old European cities, its cobblestones have been removed as have many curbs and central shops, cafes and restaurants are wheelchair friendly. One of the city’s most notable attractions, the Schloss Schönbrunn is fully accessible making it a must-see for everyone, no matter your age.

Schloss Schönbrunn Vienna

The Top 5 Must-Visit Destinations for Coffee Lovers

“Caffeine fix”, “cup of Joe”, “java”—whatever you call it, warm, delicious coffee has rabid devotees all around the world. Coffee’s worldwide prevalence also makes it the perfect sipper to seek out while travelling, so you can compare how coffee in a foreign city tastes to the kind you’re more familiar with back home. If you’re a coffee lover, consider a jaunt to one of these five cities; these destinations all boast coffee cultures that are certainly alive and kicking (thanks in part to all the caffeine running through their residents’ veins)!

5. Seattle, Washington, U.S.

Yes, Seattle is the home to coffee monolith Starbucks, but smaller specialty coffee shops thrive in this chilly city by the sea, too. In fact, Seattleites consume more coffee than residents of any other U.S. city! If you’re a ‘bucks devotee, then you can’t miss checking out the original Starbucks location at Pike Place Market, which opened in 1971—and is still operating in the same location today. In addition to Starbucks, Seattle is the home base for bigger roasting outfits like Tully’s Coffee and Seattle’s Best, although beloved independent coffeehouses like Café Allegro and Victrola Coffee Roasters help the city’s coffee scene really shine. Turns out nothing goes better with Seattle’s famously chilly, dreary weather than a warm cup of coffee.

Photo by: ctj71081 via Flickr
Photo by: ctj71081 via Flickr

4. Melbourne, Australia

It’s not all vegemite sandwiches down under—Australia’s got some good things brewing when it comes to coffee. Nowhere is that truer than the hip city of Melbourne, Australia’s unofficial coffee capital. Café culture is strong here, with the vibe of coffee shops shifting depending on their locations in Melbourne’s diverse neighborhoods. One thing that unites the city’s coffeehouses, though, is their focus on fostering community; you’ll often find long, communal tables in Melbourne’s coffee shops so patrons can sip their coffee while enjoying one another’s company. For a taste of the best that Melbourne has to offer, head to the Captains of Industry café off Somerset Place. Once you down your flat white, feel free to stick around for a while and pick up some grooming tips from the dapper men that hang out here—there’s even a barbershop and bespoke shoemaker upstairs!

Photo by: Captains of Industry - Gentlemans Outfitter and Cafe
Photo by: Captains of Industry – Gentlemans Outfitter and Cafe

3. Istanbul, Turkey

In Istanbul, they don’t serve up your “typical” cup of American-style coffee, so don’t even ask for it. Turkish coffee is famously rich, dark, and flavorful thanks to a unique brewing method. Turkish baristas grind their beans very finely into a meal, then boil the coffee in a specially designed Turkish coffee vessel called a cezve. The result? A full-bodied, thick cup of joe that’s certain to jolt you awake. Just make sure you don’t consume the last few sips of coffee left in your cup — since the coffee beans are ground so finely, quite a bit of grinds will collect in the bottom of your cup. For coffee sipping with a view, head to Galata Konak Café. The café’s terrace is situated on the top floor of a historic building, affording café goers great views of the Galata Tower, Bosphorus, and Golden Horn.

Photo by: Galata Konak Cafe
Photo by: Galata Konak Cafe

2. Vienna, Austria

Café culture is a point of pride in Austria’s capital; in fact, UNESCO listed the city’s coffee shops as “intangible heritage” in 2011. And with good reason—the stylish Viennese deck out their cafes with inspired furnishings and finishes, making them great spots to while away an afternoon in. On your trip to Vienna, accompany your stint of people watching with a cup of Melange, an espresso, steamed milk, and milk froth concoction that’s especially popular in Vienna. If you’re looking for a Viennese coffee shop that’s just a tad out of the ordinary, head to Cafe Neko, a “cat café” that opened in 2012. Here, you can stroke and play with a handful of rescue cats while you sip on some coffee—talk about a purrfect combination!

Photo by: American in Vienna
Photo by: American in Vienna

1. Rome, Italy

When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and drink lots and lots of coffee. Café culture is strong here, where shots of espresso are served up alongside cups of black coffee that may be slightly sweetened. And if you don’t want to be taken for an ignorant tourist, don’t order milk- and cream-based coffee drinks, like lattes, outside of breakfast time. To Italians, that’s a big no-no; they think milky coffee drinks later in the day contribute to indigestion. A must-stop destination on your Italian café tour? Antico Caffè Greco, an historic café off of Via dei Condotti, which opened in 1760 and owns the distinction of being the oldest bar in Rome. Goethe, Wagner, Byron, and even Casanova were reportedly regulars there. It’s time to add your name to that illustrious list!

Photo by: Italy Travelista/Nancy Aiello Tours
Photo by: Italy Travelista/Nancy Aiello Tours

15 Amazing Libraries for Literature Lovers

Libraries are those unique cultural institutions that combine art, history and innovation to create a space for people of all ages and backgrounds to indulge in the pursuit of knowledge and exploration of literature. For book lovers, there are few things that compare to wandering amid stacks of a historically or culturally significant building and finding a rare volume of their favorite author or an ancient text pertinent to human history. Luckily, the major libraries of the world that house such exquisite collections work hard to keep them preserved and accessible to the public, and out of the hundreds of worldwide options, we’ve narrowed down the 15 institutions all literature lovers must visit at least once in their lives.

15. Royal Grammar School Chained Library, Guildford, England

The headmaster’s study in Guilford’s Royal Grammar School is home to one extremely unique feature—an original chained library. The custom of chaining books originated with the idea of providing public access to valuable and important texts by affixing them to shelving in public places, an idea that eventually became the predecessor for the modern library system. This particular one in Guildford, England is one of the last remaining chained libraries in the world and houses a collection with works dating back to the 15th century, and most notably, two early editions of Newton’s Principia.

Royal Grammar School
Photo by: The Despectacled Librarian

14. Austrian National Library, Vienna, Austria

As the country’s largest library, the Austrian National Library is found within Hofburg Palace in Vienna and houses upwards of 7.4 million items. The acquisition of holdings dates back to the Middle Ages, with the permanent home at the Hofburg Palace constructed in the early 18th century, and now containing the largest collection of contemporary literature and research materials in Austria, as well as several unique collections, archives and museums. The most notable of these is the collection of Maps, one of the most comprehensive in the world, which today includes 295,000 maps, 45,000 geographic-topographic views, 700 globes and over 80,000 atlases and books of a technical nature. Also impressive is the library’s holding of manuscripts and rare books, a collection comprised of over 500,000 printed materials organized into incunabula (pre-1500s), works from the 16th to 19th centuries and items of rare, valuable and bibliophilic importance.

Radiokafka / Shutterstock.com
Radiokafka / Shutterstock.com

13. Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, Toronto, Canada

This library houses the University of Toronto’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, the acquisition of which started in 1955 under the direction of Chief Librarian Robert H. Blackburn (largely sourced from the University’s main library). The department didn’t have a permanent home until 1973 when Thomas Fisher’s descendants donated their personal collections of Shakespeare and various 20th century writers, accentuating the growing collection’s need for a designated space. The building is now home to Canada’s largest publicly accessible selection of rare books and manuscripts, consisting of over 700,000 volumes including several medieval manuscripts and a set of Pyne’s Royal Residences which was presented to the University by Queen Victoria.

Photo by: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto
Photo by: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

12. Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland

Located at the University of Dublin, the Trinity College Library holds Ireland’s largest collection of literature and is home to one of the country’s  biggest attractions—the incomparable Long Room. Built between 1712 and 1732, the Long Room measures over 65 meters in length and contains the institution’s 200,000 item collection of rare and early edition manuscripts and novels, including the world-famous Book of Kells  and one of the last surviving copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Also interesting to see are the marble busts of famous writers and philosophers that adorn the room, the highlight of which seems to be the one of Jonathan Swift created by Louis Francois Roubiliac.

VanderWolf Images / Shutterstock.com
VanderWolf Images / Shutterstock.com

11. Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio de Janiero, Brazil

Brazil’s Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura, known in English as the Royal Portuguese Reading Room, must be visited as much for its unbelievably stunning interior as for its extensive literary collection. Housing the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal itself, the library was built from 1880 to 1887 in the Neo-Manueline style (Portuguese answer to Neo-Gothic architecture) designed by lead architect Rafael da Silva e Castro. Today, the library houses over 350,000 rare volumes spread over three levels, topped with a wrought iron chandelier and stained-glass skylight, making it a must see for anyone who appreciates both literature and 19th century architecture.

T photography / Shutterstock.com
T photography / Shutterstock.com

10. Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Connecticut, United States

Currently closed for renovation (it will reopen in September 2016) the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University houses one of the world’s largest rare book and manuscript collections. Completed in 1963, the building’s geometric architecture and innovative translucent marble “windows” allow a unique method of filtered lighting to illuminate the interior of the building while protecting its precious contents—thousands of rare manuscripts, papyri and early edition novels. The library is also home to various other literary collections acquired by the University, as well as several temporary and permanent exhibits; amid these treasured displays you can find an early printing of the Gutenberg Bible and Audubon’s Birds of America.

LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / Shutterstock.com
LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / Shutterstock.com

9. St. Catherine’s Monastery Library, South Sinai, Egypt

This Greek Orthodox Monastery, officially known as The Holy Monastery of the God-trodden Mount Sinai, and unofficially as Santa Katarina, is the oldest inhabited monastery in the world with origins predating the Middle Ages. Though it is worth the visit just to admire and stand in a structure that has witnessed 17 centuries of history, exploring the monastery’s cultural inheritance is a truly unique experience. Housing an extensive collection of Christian art, the site is also home to a library of over 16,000 ancient texts, including hand-written manuscripts on papyrus and scrolls, early printed books and an archive of ancient documents. While the majority of the works found here are written in Greek and are religious in nature, the library also houses a number of educational works such as lexicons, medical texts and travel accounts. Most notable holdings include several pages of the Codex Sinaiticus (4th century manuscript of the Holy Scriptures) and especially of interest for classical literature lovers, first editions of Homer, Plato and the Comedies of Aristophanes.

Photo by: Nathan Hughes Hamilton via Flickr
Photo by: Nathan Hughes Hamilton via Flickr

8. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, United States

Planned, funded and brought into being by Henry and Emily Folger, the Folger Shakespeare Library currently holds the world’s largest collection of William Shakespeare’s work, and is a must see for anyone who is a fan of Renaissance literature. Up until the building’s opening in 1932, the Folgers worked tirelessly to provide the American people with the best possible selection of the poet’s works, and personally took on all of the responsibilities involved with bringing their dream to life, including acquisitions, location scouting and structural planning. Today, the couple’s gift continues to expand, and now (in addition to the Shakespeare) houses an impressive collection of other Renaissance books, manuscripts and art, as well as being home to a world class research facility and numerous public outreach programs.

Photo by:  NCinDC via Flickr
Photo by: NCinDC via Flickr

7. Alexandria Library, Alexandria, Egypt

Opened in 2002, this new Bibliotheca Alexandrina on Egypt’s northern coast is committed to replicating the ancient versions legacy as a universal center for culture and learning. While this was originally regarded by many as an impossible task, the library has managed it, becoming a hub in Alexandria not only for literature, but for performances, art, and special events. A stunning example of modern architecture, the library complex consists of a main reading room (which has the capacity to shelve eight million volumes) and four smaller libraries—a children’s library, youth’s library, multimedia library and braille library. Also on the premises are a planetarium and several museums that exhibit everything from ancient artefacts to antiquarian texts, including a copy of the only known scroll that remains from the city’s ancient library.

RiumaLab / Shutterstock.com
RiumaLab / Shutterstock.com

6. National Library of St. Mark’s, Venice, Italy

This beautiful library in Venice’s Piazza San Marco was constructed in the mid 1500’s after Cardinal Bessarion 1468 literary donation demanded a designated library building. The two level structure, officially called the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana was designed by Jacopo Sansovino and features Doric-style arches on the ground floor and Ionic friezes and sculptures on the second, as well as decorative artworks by Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto, among other. The library is also among the oldest in the country and houses one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of classical literature and historic works. With holdings that comprise upwards of a million total items, among the library’s most treasured pieces are two manuscripts of the Iliad (5th and 6th century) and opera scores and sonatas by Francesco Cavalli and Domenico Scarlatti, respectively.

Photo by:  Iain Cameron via Flickr
Photo by: Iain Cameron via Flickr

5. Russian State Library, Moscow, Russia

With a history dating back to 1862, The Russian State Library is the country’s national library and houses the 5th largest literary collection in the world, containing over 17.5 million books. The institution also holds a renowned collection of maps, as well an extensive amount of specialized items such as journals, sheet music, sound recordings and dissertations. While obviously home to the largest selection of Russian literature in the world, the library also houses foreign works represented in over 247 languages, which comprise approximately 30 percent of the building’s 43 million item collection. The building itself is also an interesting site, with construction more or less completed by 1945, it is a perfect example of Soviet Neo-Classical architecture and offers an insightful contrast to other libraries of this magnitude.

Russian State Library

4. New York Public Library, New York City, United States

Not only is the New York Public Library a city landmark and popular tourist attraction, it is also an extremely important part of the worldwide literary family. With a collection of over 53 million items, the library is the 4th largest in the world, drawing around 18 million annual visitors. Originally founded in 1895, today’s main branch at Bryant Park was opened in 1911 with over one million volumes consolidated from the Astor and Lenox Libraries. The institution has since expanded to include 88 neighborhood branches and four resource centers, servicing approximately 17 million people and offering over 67,000 free programs yearly. Visitors to the main branch, located in Manhattan`s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, can admire the beauty of the building’s Beaux-Arts architecture and interiors and explore the collections in the General Research, Manuscripts and Archives, History and Genealogy and Rare Books Divisions (among others). This building is also home to some of the country’s most significant historic documents, including Columbus’s letter about the New World (1943) and George Washington’s original Farewell Address.

Photo by: Jeremy Keith via Flickr
Photo by: Jeremy Keith via Flickr

3. Vatican Library, Vatican City

Among the many culturally significant things to see in Vatican City, the Vatican Library is no exception. Officially established in 1448 (though acquisition began much earlier) in the Vatican Palace, the current collection tops 1.1 million items and includes ancient manuscripts, codices, classical Greek and Latin texts, and perhaps the most impressive selection of incunabula (text printed in Europe prior to 1501) in the world. Though holding a vast amount of religious texts, the library’s holdings are actually extremely diverse in scope, with notable pieces ranging from the oldest known Bible (Codex Vaticanus) to letters from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn.

Photo by: Anna & Michal via Flickr
Photo by: Anna & Michal via Flickr

2. Library of Congress, Washington DC, United States

Established in 1800, with the doors of the current building opening to the public in 1897, The Library of Congress in Washington DC is the 2nd largest library in the world, housing upwards of 158 million items. Now a national monument, the building is one of the world’s foremost research centers home to 36 million printed materials in over 460 languages as well as over 69 million manuscripts. It is also here that you will find the world’s largest selection of films, sound recordings, sheet music and maps, in addition to the most extensive holdings of rare books on the continent. Along with this amazing collection of literature, the building itself is also worth the tour, showcasing magnificent Beaux-Arts architecture with interiors and reading rooms featuring fine art, marble halls, carved hardwood, and of course, the incomparable central stained-glass dome.

Photo by: m01229 via Flickr
Photo by: m01229 via Flickr

1. The British Library, London, England

This jaw-dropping institution contains an astounding 625 km of shelving to house its 170 million+ item collection which includes over 300,000 original manuscripts (both ancient and contemporary) and 60 million patents. With figures such as these, it is no wonder that the British Library is the largest in the world, and attract over 16,000 daily visitors. The main building, located in St. Pancras in London, is England’s largest public building constructed in the 20th century and consists of over 112,000 square meters spread over 14 floors. Along with the unparalleled collection of books, maps, newspapers and musical scores, the library is home to one of the world’s most comprehensive selections of literary treasures, including the Magna Carta, The Times first edition and the audio recording of Mandela’s Rivonia trial speech.

Photo by: Andrew Gustar via Flickr
Photo by: Andrew Gustar via Flickr

Dance the Night Away: 5 Glamorous Society Balls Anyone Can Attend

Sometimes, watching old films with scenes of celebrations creates the longing to have been a part of a time when exquisite balls held in elaborate palaces were the norm. Luckily, many modern events exist that evoke those same feelings of grandeur and high society, but the luck stops there because not everyone can be best friends with Anna Wintour, married to Kanye or in a position to shell out five figures for a ticket. So, for those of you who have a taste for the more glamorous things in life, and as an added bonus, would love to combine them with your love of travel, here are five incredible annual society balls that anyone is welcome to attend.

5. Bal Viennois de Montreal, Montreal

This incredible event, which has all the makings of a traditional ball including tuxedos, ball gowns, debutantes and live-orchestras, has been held annually by the Austrian Society in Montreal for the past 50 years. Held each November in the city’s Hotel Marriott Chateau Champlain, the ball is a celebration of Viennese culture and the preservation of the Viennese Ball tradition. It doesn’t disappoint in the glamour department either, providing guests with an elaborately themed atmosphere (this year’s theme is Die Fledermaus), a gourmet five course dinner, a steady stream of champagne, prestigious entertainment and stellar door prizes (the 2014 prize was a trip to Prague). Guests must submit to a dress code and proper dancing etiquette, and can enjoy this evening of old world fun for prices ranging from $150-200.

Photo by: Viennese Ball of Montreal
Photo by: Viennese Ball of Montreal

4. Concordia Ball, Vienna

This Austrian ball, which was originally conceived as a celebration of the journalistic organization known as Concordia, has a history dating back to 1859. Revived in the 1960s, the event is regaining its past splendor, and is now held annually in June at Vienna’s City Hall. The majestic building is the perfect backdrop for this glamorous evening, which historically has been attended by royalty and high artistic and political society. Today, the event is still attended by notable international figures, but is open to anyone who wants to don black or white tie, waltz to a live orchestra and celebrate culture into the wee hours of the morning. Tickets are also reasonably priced, with entrance to the ball costing 95 euros (this price increases if you want to attend the gala dinner).

Photo by: C. Cossa via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: C. Cossa via Wikimedia Commons

3. Bonbon Ball, Vienna

The sweetest society ball on the planet (literally), the Bonbon Ball takes places every February and celebrates—you guessed it—the candy industry. With a history dating back to 1949 when the event was known as “Sweet Night” the ball has become known for its fun and mostly informal atmosphere (well, compared to other Viennese Balls; dress code is still in effect) and is the only annual event of this kind to take place in Vienna’s historic Konzerthaus. Grab a ticket to this event and indulge in a program centered around confectionery delights and take your chances at being crowned “Miss Bonbon” (yes, it’s a thing).

Photo by: Bonbon Ball
Photo by: Bonbon Ball

2. Saint Valentine’s Grand Masquerade Ball, Venice

As an event part of the Venice Carnival, The Grand Masquerade Ball is a unique chance to dress up in elaborate costumes, don a mask and pretend to be someone else for a while. Held in a beautiful private Venetian Palace on the banks of the Grand Canal, attendees are transported to a fantastical world of theatrical performance, candlelit gala dinner, live music and elaborate after-dinner parties. Tickets start at 500 euros and promise an evening of sumptuousness and decadence equivalent only to the parties held by the Venetian nobility throughout history. For those on a stricter budget, the Venice Carnival also hosts a number of smaller balls, namely the Mascheranda Grand Ball and the Carnival in Love Ball which range in price from 150-250 euros.

Photo by: Saint Valentine's Grand Masquerade Ball
Photo by: Saint Valentine’s Grand Masquerade Ball

1. Le Grand Ball, Vienna

This here is the crème-de-la-crème, the best of the best and the indisputably most glamorous and authentic ball to be found in the world today. Held on New Year’s Eve in Vienna’s Imperial Palace, the Hofburg Silvester Ball, known colloquially as Le Grand Bal, is the country’s most notable celebration. This spectacular event has ticketed entry (ranging in price from 70-470 euros) and includes a spectacular program of a one-of-kind opening ceremony, live musical and theatrical performances, traditional dances accompanied by a full orchestra and a late night DJ hosting a disco into the early hours of the morning. The food and drink scene is equally impressive, with the ball including a four course gala dinner, various buffets, lounge areas and the famous coffeehouses of Viennese ball culture. The dress code is of course strictly observed, as is the traditional dancing and social etiquette. For anyone looking for an excuse to wear black tie and ring in the New Year at one of the world’s most glamorous parties, Le Grand Ball is definitely worth the trip.

Photo by: Kristian Allin via Wikimedia
Photo by: Kristian Allin via Wikimedia

10 Gorgeous Pools You Won’t Believe Are Public

Lose the notion that public pools are just a concrete chlorine-filled square in the ground or a hot and humid indoor pool and let yourself imagine swimming underneath a beautiful arched glass ceiling, or soaking in geothermal waters with healing properties. Although there are some stunningly beautiful pools that are for hotel or resort guests only, there also happens to be incredibly gorgeous public pools, all over the world. From Hungary to Texas to Iceland, here are 10 gorgeous pools you won’t believe are open to the public.

10. Bondi Icebergs Club -Bondi, Australia

The famous Bondi Baths have been a landmark of Bondi Beach for over 100 years and are widely known for being absolutely breathtaking. The Olympic sized swimming pool was actually built into the rocks and is naturally filled with saltwater that rolls in on the ocean tide. Be warned however though that because of the concrete nature of the pool, the water is actually slightly colder than the ocean. Most visitors like to visit in the summertime when the water temperature reaches the high 70’s. Overlooking the Tasman Sea while doing laps in this pool is something everyone should experience once in a lifetime. You may even find yourself swimming next to a couple fish or picking up seashells from the bottom. There is even a smaller kid’s pool located right beside the main pool for the wee ones to have a dip.

PomInOz / Shutterstock.com
PomInOz / Shutterstock.com

9. Krapfenwaldbad Pools -Vienna, Austria

The neighborhood of Krapfenwaldlbad is one of the loveliest in all of Vienna and just happens to be the home of the beautiful park that features some of the finest swimming pools. There are a total of four heated pools and the main one is perched on a hill overlooking the city. It looks more like an infinity pool that is surrounded by Vienna’s skyline and that is exactly why this pool makes the list. Amenities are in abundance here and include a restaurant with a bar, table tennis, soccer, beach volleyball and a children’s playground. While the pool itself may not be the best looking on this list, the views over the city and vineyards while being surrounded by beautiful people that make it gorgeous.

Photo by: Wien Info
Photo by: Wien Info

8. Venetian Pool -Coral Gables, Florida

What was once an old rock quarry has been transformed into a beautiful pool overflowing with waterfalls and caves. Located in Coral Gables, the Venetian Pool is fed by spring water from an underground aquifer. This historic pool has actually been around since 1921 and surrounded by palm trees and nothing else in sight; you will forget you are actually at a public pool and instead feel like you are on a tropical island. Roaring waterfalls, a sandy beach, nooks carved into the coral and fresh chemical free water are all found here. You will find lots of families enjoying these waters as there is a shallow kiddy area that is connected to the main pool by an island and stone bridge. Feel free to bring your own picnic in here and spend the day away from reality.

Venetian Pool, Coral Gables

7. Thermae Bath Spa -Bath, England

One of the city’s main attractions has always been its famous hot water springs, as they are the warmest geothermal springs found in the UK. For 28 years residents and visitors didn’t have access to these waters and finally in 2006 the Thermae Bath Spa re-opened. Part spa, part pool, this bath house is breathtakingly beautiful, combining both new and old architecture. The open-air rooftop pool shines a brilliant blue and gives visitors views of the historic city, both day and night. But inside it may be the Minerva pool that is even more gorgeous, and futuristic looking. Bright white columns stretch down deep into the pool creating flowing curves and unusual shapes. This pool also happens to feature a lazy river, massage jets and a whirlpool inside. It is not just about the gorgeous public pools here, the building itself is often enough to stop people in their tracks to take a second look.

Eddy Galeotti / Shutterstock.com
Eddy Galeotti / Shutterstock.com

6. Kastrup Sea Bath -Kastrup, Denmark

This award winning open-air pool is located just south of Copenhagen and is conceived to be a sculptural dynamic form that can be seen from the beach, air and sea. The circular structure is meant to provide swimmers with shelter from the winds and to provide washrooms and changing rooms. Reaching the sea bath is as easy as walking out on the long wooden pier which extends from the shore. Once reaching the sea bath, visitors will find a diving platform, springboard, and a variety of benches, plateaus and nooks. Give that the structure is over 100 meters away from the shore, the water is deep enough to try and dive as far down as you dare. When designers created this pool they made it accessible for anyone, creating ramps and other features that allow the less mobile population full access to it. Free to everyone, anytime, this is one amazing public pool.

Photo by: Visit Copenhagen
Photo by: Visit Copenhagen

5. Yrjonkatu Swimming Hall -Helsinki, Finland

It is the oldest public swimming hall in all of Finland and the architecture of the building is both historically and artistically noteworthy. On the main level you will find the impressive pool in the massive hallway with its tiled floors and arched columns. With high ceilings, balconies looking over the pool and looking more like an ancient bath; you will feel transported back in time. Men and women have different swim days here as most people choose to swim nude, and it was actually law until 2001 that no one could enter the pool with a swimsuit. The upstairs in this building has private cubicles with day beds, your choice of sauna and a place to get a drink and snack. Although built in the 1920’s, this pool remains impeccably clean and the perfect way to immerse yourself in the Finnish culture.

Photo by: Inside Out Helsinki
Photo by: Inside Out Helsinki

4. Badeschiff -Berlin, Germany

This floating swimming pool is actually located right in Berlin, in the East Harbour section of the River Spree. It was designed so that citizens could swim in a sanitary environment near the river as the Spree itself is too polluted for safe swimming. The pool shines a brilliant blue and was actually converted from the hull of a vessel. In the summertime the area is packed full of hammocks, sunbathers on the sand, visitors playing beach volleyball and a beach bar. During the winter this pool actually gets a roof and becomes an epic sauna experience. Two Finnish Saunas and a roofed pool attract all sorts of locals and visitors alike to visit here in the winter, mainly in the buff. Insider tip, visit at night when it is all lit up either during the summer or winter for a romantic escape from reality.

Photo by: H. Fuller via Flickr
Photo by: H. Fuller via Flickr

3. Barton Springs Pool -Austin, Texas

This public pool is absolutely humongous, sitting at over three acres in size. It also happens to be unique in that it is fed from underground springs, keeping an average temperature of 70 degrees all year round, perfect for those hot Texas days. This pool is open to the public six days a week and varies in price throughout the months, ranging from free to a mere three dollars. The depth of the pool ranges from 0-18 feet and is surrounded by an abundance of grassy areas. Diving boards, lifeguards, rock walls and the beauty of nature are all present here. Thought to be more of a swimming hole than a pool, Barton Springs has drawn visitors from all over the world. Perhaps it is the enormity of it that makes it so gorgeous, perhaps is the turquoise color of the water, or maybe it is the grace they have taken to ensure it fits right into the landscape. Whatever the reason is, make sure to put this on your list of public pools to swim in.

Photo by: City of Austin
Photo by: City of Austin

2. Gellert Baths -Budapest, Hungary

From the moment you enter into the bathhouse you are transported a hundred years back in time where art and architecture played such an important role in society. This gorgeous public bath house was built in the early 1900’s and has since undergone extensive renovations, making it even more beautiful than before, if that is even possible. Towering columns line both the pools, one an open air outdoor wave pool, the other an effervescent swimming pool. The indoor palace pool may just be slightly more gorgeous with its arched glass ceiling and two-story balconies. The painted windows, the architecture, the adorning fountains and the warm therapeutic waters make this a must stop on any trip to Budapest.

Botond Horvath / Shutterstock.com
Botond Horvath / Shutterstock.com

1. The Blue Lagoon -Reykjavik, Iceland

It is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland but that certainly doesn’t take away from its beauty. Not so much of a public swimming pool and more of an oasis of relaxation, this man made lagoon is stunningly beautiful. The waters are rich in minerals and stay at an average of 99-102 degrees all year round. The water color itself is enough to rave about; a brilliant blue accompanied by white steam that often blows off the extremely hot spots. An interesting fact about the water here is that it is actually white and it is in fact the sun that makes it look blue. These geothermal waters are thought to have healing powers and while you won’t find any diving boards or kids splashing around, you will find plenty of people rubbing their faces with mud and relaxing in the serene setting.

SurangaSL / Shutterstock.com
SurangaSL / Shutterstock.com

The 10 Coolest Observation Decks in Europe

Observation decks come in all shapes and sizes. Although many of them are located in the middle of major cities in the form of telecommunications towers, there are also natural lookout points that people have turned into attractions by constructing platforms and monuments. All across Europe, a mixture of human-enhanced lookout points and soaring skyscrapers offer panoramic views of some of the continent’s major cities and most breathtaking natural landscapes. Between cityscapes and seascapes, these 10 observation decks and lookouts are some of the best places in Europe to get a new angle on the world around you.

10. Avala Tower, Serbia

The Avala Tower in Belgrade has an interesting history. It was first built on Avala Mountain as a telecommunications tower during the 1960s. During the 1990s Balkan War, the tower was destroyed by a NATO bombing. In 2006, Serbia was determined to rebuild the tower, and the current structure was opened in 2010. Over 1 million euros were donated to help in rebuilding the tower, which is the tallest in the Balkan region. It still functions as a telecommunications tower, but now has an observation deck as well. With its antenna spire, the tower is 205 meters high, meaning it’s quite a bit shorter than some of the other towers in Europe, with only 38 floors. Nonetheless, it provides awe-inspiring panoramas of Belgrade and the surrounding area. The tower’s construction is also unusual: rather than being sunk directly into the ground, it uses a triangle cross-section and stands on three above-ground legs.

Avala Tower

9. Jubilaum Swarte Lookout Tower, Austria

The Jubilaum Swarte, known in English as the Jubilee Tower, is located just outside of the Austrian capital of Vienna. Sitting atop the Gallon Tzinberg, a forested hill west of the city, the tower juts up 31 meters, with a total altitude of 483 meters above sea-level. Visitors climb a spiraling staircase, 183 steps in total to the observation deck where they can look out over the landscape, seeing up to 60 kilometers on clear days. A tower was originally constructed in 1889 to commemorate Emperor Franz Joseph’s Golden Jubilee, but the wooden structure was quickly demolished in a storm. Another tower was erected, but decayed and was demolished in 1953. The current structure was last renovated in the 1980s, and a small museum dedicated to local ecology is nearby. Admission is free, although the tower is closed during the winter months.

Photo by: Doris Antony, Berlin via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Doris Antony, Berlin via Wikimedia Commons

8. Tour Montparnasse, Paris

From the top floor of the Tour Montparnasse in central Paris, you can see 40 kilometers in almost any direction; you can watch aircraft take off and land at Orly airport. The tower, which is an office building, was built in the early 1970s. After its construction, there were complaints about how out of place it seems in Paris and shortly thereafter buildings over 7-storeys high in the city’s center were banned. The result was that, at 59 floors and 210 meters, the skyscraper remained the tallest skyscraper in France until 2011. The top floor is open to the public for viewing Paris, and the 56th floor is home to a restaurant, le Ciel de Paris. A running joke is that the view from the tower is the most beautiful in Paris—only because you can’t see the building, which has been voted the second-ugliest building in the world.

Tour Montparnasse

7. Fernsehturm, Germany

Located in central Berlin, Fernsehturm is a television tower that rises 368 meters over the city. As the tallest structure in Germany, it has become a symbol of Berlin and is often pictured in establishing shots of the city in films and TV shows. It is the 4th tallest free-standing structure in Europe, following two TV towers in Russia and one in Riga. Two elevators send guests up to the visitor platform, 666 feet above the ground, in about 40 seconds. The revolving restaurant located above the visitor deck, Telecafe, rotates once every half-hour. Visibility on a clear day is about 42 kilometers in any given direction. Since construction was completed in 1969, tourism has increased and, today, the tower receives around one million guests annually.

Fernsehturm, Germany

6. Torre Jaume I, Spain

Forming part of the Port Vell Aerial Tramway, Torre Juame I maybe isn’t the tallest tower on this list, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. Standing at 107 meters (351 feet) high, the tower is a steel truss construction, and the second-tallest aerial pylon lift in the world. Built in 1931 by Carles Buigas, it stands near the harbor of Barcelona, providing gorgeous seascape views and panoramas of the city, toward Montjuic. To reach the tower’s observation deck, you ride the cable car across the city, from Torre Sant Sebastia to Torre Alta Miramar on Montjuic and back again. A one-way trip lasts about seven minutes and provides a unique, bird’s eye view of almost all of Barcelona’s iconic landmarks. The Torre Jaume I also serves as a telecommunications tower.

Torre Jaume I, Spain

5. Ostankino Tower, Russia

Constructed during the 1960s under Soviet rule and decidedly Brutalist architectural influences, Ostankino Tower in Moscow isn’t much to look at. Between 1967 and 1974, it held the world record for tallest free-standing building, and it remains the tallest free-standing structure in Europe. An observation deck, with indoor and outdoor platforms, offers visitors 360-degree views of Moscow’s Ostankino district, and a restaurant, Seventh Heaven, is located in the tower at a height of approximately 368 feet above ground, but has been periodically closed following several incidents in the tower, the most serious of which was a fire in 2000. Although the tower survived, the Russian government has taken steps to ensure the tower remains intact, especially since it is also a telecommunications station. Elevators carry visitors up to the observation deck at a speed of six miles per second. The tower has also been a popular attraction for BASE jumpers.

Ostankino Tower, Russia

4. Istanbul Sapphire, Turkey

Completed in 2011, this skyscraper is the tallest structure in Turkey, and once ranked 4th in Europe, although subsequent constructions have moved it back to 7th. The mixed shopping and luxury residence building rises to a height of 261 meters, including its antenna—which is a design feature, not a telecommunications feature. It has 54 above-ground floors and features an open roof where visitors can get a panoramic view of the surrounding Levent district. It is strategically situated on Buyukdere Avenue, a main thru way, near two major highways and a subway station, which makes it easy to get to. Its central location also means that much of Istanbul near the Bosphorus is visible. Conversely, the tower itself is visible from other districts in the city, such as Khedive Palace across the strait. Since completion, it’s become one of the most recognizable features of Istanbul’s skyline.

Istanbul Sapphire

3. The Shard, UK

Just shy of 310 meters high, The Shard—also known as the Shard of Glass, Shard London Bridge and London Bridge Tower—is currently the highest building in the EU. It was completed in 2012 and its open-air observation deck, located on the 72nd floor, was opened to the public in early 2013. The elevators travel at six meters per second and use multimedia interfaces to create the illusion of the sky receding with the streets of London coming into focus on the way down, and the illusion of rising through iconic London buildings during ascent. The attraction is fully interactive, with lots of information about various landmarks and cityscapes, accompanied by a soundtrack composed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Visitors can see up to 40 kilometers from the observation deck, offering excellent views of London. Tickets can be purchased in advance.

The Shard, UK

2. Tyrol Overlook, Austria

Located at the top of Mount Isidor in Austria, this sculptural outlook was designed by Aste Architecture in 2008. Officially called the “Top of Tyrol,” it blends seamlessly into its environment, becoming almost invisible in the wintertime. Providing access to an observation point most people couldn’t reach otherwise, the Tyrol Outlook is 10,500 feet above the ground. The platform cantilevers 27 feet over the side of the mountain, providing a spectacular—if somewhat dizzying—view. From the platform, you have an unobstructed view of the Stubai Glacier, the Zillertal Alps and the Dolomites. Given the platform’s unique position on the glacier, it also has potential as a monitoring station to check rates of glacial retreat in the summer months. In any season, however, the Top of Tyrol offers an unparalleled experience of the Austrian Alps—even if it is a bit scary.

Photo by: un6org
Photo by: un6org

1. Aurland Lookout, Norway

Towering nearly 2,000 feet above the valleys and fjords of scenic Aurland, this lookout was commissioned by the Norwegian Highway Department. Designed by Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen in 2006, it is part of a series of national tourist routes administered by the Norwegian government. Aurland, 200 kilometers inland from Norway’s west coast, is composed mainly of deep fjords, soaring mountains and rolling valleys. The lookout, known as Stegastein, offers visitors an unparalleled view of the valley floor and fjords; it juts out over the edge of a cliff. The 14 by 110-foot wooden platform plunges, but a piece of glass prevents visitors from falling over. Nonetheless, the architects say that the effect is to give people the illusion of “falling” into the landscape—some have even dubbed the construction the “ski jump” or “diving board.”

Aurland Lookout