The Fairy Tale Tour: 10 Best Medieval Castles in Europe

Since ancient times, Europe has been layered in history, and one of the best ways to see the culmination of different architectural styles is the famous castles. Many started out as medieval fortresses that served as strategic defense systems against nearby invaders. After the 15th century wars, royalty and aristocrats transformed many of the crumbling fortress into opulent, captivating pleasure chateaus that inspired Walt Disney and other famous fairy tale writers. From Rapunzel to Cinderella to Belle of Beauty and the Beast, discover the ancient medieval castles of Europe at these 10 stone fortresses.

10. Chateau de Chenonceau -Chenonceaux, France

Walt Disney drew inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World from several castles in Europe, including the Chateau de Chenonceau, the crown jewel of France’s Loire Valley. Situated on the river Cher in the small village of Chenonceaux, the chateau is one of the most visited private historical monuments in France. With its magical five arches and four corner turrets, it’s a lasting relic of medieval Gothic architecture with a touch of ornate Renaissance detailing. Such an enchanting palace is fit for Cinderella and Prince Charming, especially the moat filled with swans and richly decorate rooms with paintings by Rubens, Le Tintoret, and other great masters. Like a page out of a fairy tale, Chenonceau is a treasured castle of the Loire Valley and a testament to the passion and influence of the French Renaissance.

Chateau de Chenonceau

9. Windsor Castle -Berkshire, United Kingdom

Another quintessential fairy tale castle is Windsor Castle built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Today, the ancient medieval fortress is still the primary castle of the royal family. Although it suffered a fire in 1992, it was renovated a few years later and fully restored to its original glory, including Gothic turrets and towers, and romantic moat, all cornerstones of a fairy tale castle. The castle was also a favorite spot for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who were the first monarchies to open parts of the fortress to the public. Now, visitors have the chance of seeing the same rooms where royalty entertained top aristocrats and dignitaries. Head to Berkshire and begin the long walk to the enchanting castle, which is considered one of the finest examples of English Perpendicular Gothic architecture.

Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock.com
Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock.com

8. Chateau Fontainebleau -Loire Valley, France

You might recognize the towers, moats, and turrets of the Chateau Fontainebleau from Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, since Disney is noted to have drawn inspiration from this Loire Valley treasure. With its French Renaissance style architecture and famous horseshoe staircase, the castle is the perfect setting for princesses and visiting royalty. Today, France’s largest castle is a World Heritage Site and national museum where visitors can tour the boudoir of Marie-Antoinette, the throne room of Napoleon, and the apartment of the Pope. The Fontainebleau started out as a fortified castle in the 12th century. After the wars of the 15th century, castles were no longer a viable defense, so Francis I decided to rebuild the crumbling medieval fortress and transform it into a lavish pleasure palace in the 16th century. Later on it was taken over by Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici who continued to expand the chateau.

Chateau Fontainebleau France

7. Prague Castle -Prague, Czech Republic

The city of Prague is full of some of the best-preserved medieval, Classical, and Renaissance architecture in Europe, making it a real life fairy tale town with Prague Castle as its crowning achievement. Situated on a hill overlooking the Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle is home to centuries-old myths and legends passed down through the generations. Popular Czech fairy tales were set here, including Dalibor’s Tower where the Knight Dalibor of Kozojedy was imprisoned. It also was the setting for Golden Lane, the age-old tale of alchemists trying to invent gold. Looming above the Vltava river, the castle overlooks the ancient city like a fairy tale fortress with spires, towers, and enormous palaces. Meander through the galleries, historic buildings, and museums to catch a glimpse of Prague’s most beloved national treasures.

Prague Castle

6. Krivoklat Castle -Bohemia, Czech Republic

Krivoklat Castle in central Bohemia is classic fairy tale with its ancient towers, stone turrets, and Gothic detailing, making it an ideal setting for the movie The Brothers Grimm (2005). Built in the 12th century by Bohemian kings, it got several major overhauls by powerful members of the monarchy. Later on, the castle suffered some setbacks, including several fires that caused considerable damage. But luckily, Krivoklat has a fairy tale ending. During a wave of romantic époque in the 19th century, the family of Furstenberg saved the castle from ruin and had it rebuilt with a glorious mix of Gothic, Classical, and Neo-Renaissance styles. During that time, aristocrats all over Europe were transforming crumbling fortresses into lavish palaces, a trend that symbolized the lasting legacy of wealth and idealism of the Renaissance.

Krivoklat Castle

5. Chateau de Chambord -Loire Valley, France

After the wars of 15th century, the French aristocrats and royalty saw the idyllic countryside of the Loire Valley as the perfect spot for building extravagant pleasure castles, many which were Walt Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World. In fact, the Chateau de Chambord is among them, particularly for its 16th century turrets, Gothic towers, Renaissance style detailing, and opulent interiors. If you look closely at Disney’s version, it looks very similar to Chambord, making it a real-life castle out of a fairy tale. Standing out against the lush, verdant landscape of the French countryside, the chateau contains all the fairy tale touchstones, including a swan-filled moat, hundreds of ancient frescoes, and fancywork ceilings. In its heyday, it drew 16th and 17th century A-listers, including visiting dignitaries and high society aristocrats.

Chateau de Chambord

4. Bran Castle -Transylvania, Romania

Commonly referred to as Dracula’s Castle, Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania, was the setting for the world famous Bram Stoker’s Dracula, making it a top destination in Europe. Built in 1211 as a customs post along the mountain pass from Transylvania to Walladia, it also served as a defense against the Ottoman Empire. Vlad Tepes, the real-life man characterized as Dracula, never actually resided in the castle but stayed in the dungeon for two days when the Ottomans invaded Romania. An exciting way to see the castle is by an authentic 19th century horse and carriage ride that will bring you through the countryside and to the Gothic gates of Dracula’s Castle. Once inside, get ready to enter an ancient, medieval world where time stands still.

Bran Castle

3. Blenheim Palace -Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England

Serving as the backdrop to Disney’s live action version of Cinderella starring Cate Blanchett, Blenheim Palace is considered England’s crowning glory and an architectural achievement of the ages. Built in the English Baroque style in the 18th century, the castle was commissioned to celebrate the victory over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. Designed by Sir John Vangrugh, the monumental country house is till home to the ancestors of the dukes of Marlborough who opened its doors to the public in 1950. The palace has had its share of ups and downs, particularly at the end of the 19th century when it was saved from ruin by the 9th Duke of Marlborough and restored to its former glory. The surrounding gardens are full of ancient oaks and tranquil moats, a classic example of English landscaping.

Amra Pasic / Shutterstock.com
Amra Pasic / Shutterstock.com

2. Mont Saint-Michel -Normandy, France

Situated in Normandy is Mont Saint-Michel, one of the most revered and culturally significant chateaus in France. It also inspired the depiction of Rapunzel’s castle in Disney’s animated feature Tangled. Like many castles in Europe, its origins can be traced back to medieval times when the island was a fortified defense system strategically located at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. Since the 10th century, the castle has undergone extensive renovations and rebuilding, the most significant construction in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 11th century, William de Volpiano, an Italian architect, designed the abbey in the Romanesque style followed by the building of Gothic elements in the 12th century. Opened year round, pilgrims, tourists, and locals travel here to see some of the best-preserved medieval architecture in Europe.

Mont Saint-Michel

1. Neuschwanstein Castle -Fussen, Germany

Of all the enchanting fairy tale castles in Europe, Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen, Germany is one of Europe’s top destinations and the most-visited castle in the country. Built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the architectural design was actually inspired by the fairy tale operas of world-renowned composer Richard Wagner. In fact, his ballet opera “New Swan Castle” was set at Neuschwanstein, which also inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle at Disney World. Also known as the “Fairy tale King,” Ludwig cherished Wagner’s fairy tales so much that he designed the castle and interiors based on his characters. In fact, when it was built in the 19th century, a time when European castles were no longer a strategic or viable defense, it was considered by many to be extravagant and over-the-top, even for a king. But today, the village of Fussen treasures its grand castle, which is now a major tourist destination.

Neuschwanstein Castle

A Walking Tour of Prague: 15 Historical Landmarks

Prague was one of the few cities in Europe to be spared from bombing during WWII, making it one of the most precious and well-preserved historical spots in the world. In fact, many films set in 19th and 18th century London are filmed in this enchanting city that is one of the last remaining remnants of the Old World. With buildings dating back to the Middle Ages, Prague is now a well curated mix of Baroque, Renaissance, Gothic revival, and Art-Nouveau architecture that is connected by an intricate web of cobblestone pathways and historic bridges.

15. Wenceslas Square

Just around the corner from Old Town Square and the Statue of Jan Hus is Wenceslas Square, a bustling area in one of the main squares of Prague. Located in New Town, there is nothing new about this thoroughfare, which was commissioned by Charles IV in 1348. Originally serving as a horse market, the centrally located square is a good spot to end a walking tour since it’s easy to get to historic hotspots like the Charles Bridge and the Prague State Opera. Wenceslas Square has also been the meeting place for political rallies and protests over the decades, a grand area in a city full of symbolism and tumultuous history. The statue in front of the National Museum serves as a reminder of the good King Wenceslas on his horse. Considered the patron saint of the Czech Republic, the King was murdered by his brother over 1,000 years ago.

Wenceslas Square

14. Statue of Jan Hus

Further along the Old Town Square is the Statue of Jan Hus, a large memorial depicting the Protestant reformer who spoke out against the extravagance and corruption of the Catholic Church, particularly the Vatican. In the Middle Ages, there was little mercy for heresy and Jan Hus was no exception. Even though he received a letter of safe conduct from the Emperor, he was imprisoned for a year before being burned at the state in this very spot in 1415. His martyrdom sparked a revolt of Hussites who led a path of destruction across cities and villages. In response, Pope Martin V declared war on the heretics, which was the beginning of a long battle between the Catholic Crusaders and the Protestant Hussites. The colossal statue was the labor of love for Czech sculptor Ladislav Saloun, an autodidact artist who was heavily influenced by the works of Auguste Rodin.

Statue of Jan Hus

13. Old Town Square

In the historic Old Town Square, the Prague Orloj is one of its cherished artifacts and the oldest working clock in the world. Installed in the Old Town Hall in 1410, the medieval astronomical clock is one of the wonders of the ancient world. Meander down the street and you’ll discover the Gothic style Church of Our Lady before Tyn that dates back to the 14th century. Other architecture styles stand out, like the Baroque style St. Nicholas Church. After taking in all the sights, stop in for an evening dinner at Bellevue, a lovely upscale restaurant overlooking the Vtlava River. Situated in a chateau-like building, the interior mixes modern and traditional for an elegant and romantic ambiance. In the summer months, they open up their terrace for dining al fresco, an extraordinary treat in the heart of the Old Town.

Old Town Square

12. Kinsky Palace

After a short stroll over Charles Bridge, you’ll come to the Old Town of Prague and Kinsky Palace, an 18th century mansion that is now home to the National Gallery of Prague, a state-owned art collection and the largest of its kind in the country. Standing out with a stucco exterior, intricate pink and white detailing, and Rococo design, the Palace is full of elegant, classical elements both inside and out. But there’s more to see than the notable architecture. Art history buffs will swoon over their favorite artists up close and in person with a collection including works by Monet, Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Renoir, plus 2 rooms dedicated to Picasso. The gallery also features the Rodin busts and figures that had a profound impact on 20th century Czech sculpture.

Kinsky Palace

11. Charles Bridge

Strolling across the bridge is a favorite activity for Czech locals and tourists, especially the cobblestone, pedestrian-only Charles Bridge that spans the Vltava River. Construction of the Bohemian sandstone bridge began in 1357 and finished sometime in the early 15th century, resulting in a mix of stunning Gothic style towers and Baroque statues and statuaries. Although replicas have replaced many of the originals, the Charles Bridge is considered a rare architectural achievement in preservation and design. Today, the historic bridge still retains its old world glory but without the horse carriage tracks. With a fairytale view of the Old Town and Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge is popular among filmmakers and has been featured in hit movies like Immortal Beloved, The Bourne Identity, and Casino Royale. Today, it is still a mecca for artists like Ylevgeni Shtchemenko, an oil painter who uses the city’s most famous landmark as a backdrop.

Charles Bridge

 

10. Church of Our Lady of Unceasing Succour

On your way to the main square of the city, stop by the Church of Our Lady of Unceasing Succor and get a close look at Gothic Revival and Baroque architecture. Like many buildings in Prague, the church went through a series of transformations beginning with the original wooden structure being rebuilt as a Gothic stone chapel in the Middle Ages. After the addition of a large cathedral in the early 16th century, architect Octavio Braggi restored the crumbling church with a layer of detailed Baroque style that was popular in the 1800s. Located in the Nerudova neighborhood, the seven chapels were built to represent the seven succours of the Virgin Mary. Riding on the coattails of the Czech National Revival, religion took a back seat and the church was converted into a theater from 1834 to 1837 and was known for its plays by Czech writers.

Olesya Tseytlin / Shutterstock.com
Olesya Tseytlin / Shutterstock.com

9. Municipal House

Located near Old Town Square, the Municipal House underwent major renovations in the 1990s, making it one of the most prized and striking examples of early 20th century Art Nouveau. Built on the former site of a medieval estate, the building was designed by the best artists in the world and considered the pinnacle of architectural achievement to come out of the Czech National Revival. Every aspect of the interior is unmistakably Art Nouveau, including the stained-glass canopy and wrought iron railings. As you walk through the mansion, you’ll discover paintings and sculptures rich with symbolism and often depicting ancient myths and folklore. A striking example of this trend is Homage to Prague, a mosaic situated at the entrance and highlighting the struggle and rebirth of the Czech people. Today, the civic building is still home to Smetana Hall, a concert venue since the building opened in 1912.

Municipal House

 

8. Bretfeld Palace

The old Renaissance buildings and facades still stand majestically on the hillside overlooking the historic city. Along the ancient path, you’ll pass by the Bretfeld Palace, a Renaissance style mansion and the former hangout for celebrities like Casanova and Mozart. Just outside of the Prague Castle, get lost on Nerudova, one of the most iconic streets in Prague. Centuries of peasants, aristocrats, and cultural luminaries walked these same cobblestoned streets, and at night, stumbled home and viewed the same starry sky. Imagine the spectacle of caviar and absinthe-fueled nights in the Baroque style mansion and Mozart drinking champagne in a dinner tuxedo and partying like it’s the 18th century. During the Romantic era, these were the old stomping grounds of artists and musicians who were inspired by the rich and layered culture of the Czech people. 

Nerudova

7. Prague Castle

Dating back to the year 870, the Prague Castle in Hradcany has seen its share of wars, fires, and other disasters over the centuries. Still going strong today, thanks to ongoing renovations, it is the gem of Prague and the largest ancient castle in the world. Standing majestically on the hill overlooking Charles Bridge and Old Town Square, Prague Castle is a well-preserved relic of Baroque architecture. With several palaces, churches, and halls, visitors can get happily lost in an intricate maze of Baroque and Gothic-style structures. It also boasts one of the best city views in Prague, so take your time with a stroll outside the castle walls on ancient stone pathways. Along the way, don’t forget the domed ceilings of Vladislav Hal or the Gothic towers of Saint Vitus Cathedral. And if you look hard enough, you might find the Czech Crown Jewels, the fourth oldest in Europe.

Prague Castle

6. Rudolfinum Theater

Considered to have the best views of the river and Prague Castle, the Rudolfinum Theater is one of the finest and best-preserved historic landmarks in Prague. Opened in 1885, the theater was originally used as a multipurpose cultural performance space until 1919 when it became home to the House of Commons of the Czechoslovak Republic. During the German occupation in WWII, it began hosting concerts again, and in 1992, it underwent major renovations to feature the best artists and musicians in the country from the Czech Philharmonic and Rudolfinum Gallery. Like most buildings in Prague, the 19th century theater has a tumultuous timeline. Originally designed as an entrance hall, the Dvovana Ceremony Hall contains 25 curious empty spaces on the wall, the result of an artist boycott of the 1891 fresco competition in protest over the large number of German artists involved with the design of the building.

tichr / Shutterstock.com
tichr / Shutterstock.com

 

5. Paris Street

On trendy Paris Street you’ll find a mix of Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Baroque, and Classical style buildings in one of the most striking neighborhoods in Prague. Stroll down the sidewalk and you’ll find designer clothing, traditional Czech glass, and antique stores fill with ancient treasures. Another notable piece of history is Hotel Paris, an art-nouveau luxury hotel that dates back to 1904. Built with grand facades and intricate details, the structure was built to celebrate the prestige and wealth of Prague in the early 20th century. Today, it still dazzles visitors with its vintage elegance and charm. Make your stay even more memorable and indulge in the Tower Suite, a luxury room built within the hotel tower and with stunning views of Prague Castle and the Old Town.  

InnaFelker / Shutterstock.com
InnaFelker / Shutterstock.com

4. Grand Café Orient

Prague might be known for its ancient Renaissance and Baroque architecture, but the city also encourages the avant-garde, making it a mecca for cubists and modernists who are inspired by layers of history. One of the most unusual layers is represented in the Grand Café Orient, the only cubist style structure in the world.  With its simple geometric shapes and lack of classical perspective, the architecture of the cubists was undergoing a transformation between the old world and the modernity of the early 20th century. The result is a quirky retro vibe that encapsulates the unique Czech contribution to the cubist movement. Located on the first floor of the House of the Black Madonna, get a closer look at the elegant café and stop in for a coffee and croissant.

Oscity / Shutterstock.com
Oscity / Shutterstock.com

3. Charles University

Established in 1348, Charles University in the Old Town of Prague is the oldest college in the Czech Republic and considered one of the best in the world. If you find yourself in the area, it’s worth stopping by the Karolinum, a set of buildings that dates back to the 14th century, making it the oldest structure on campus. Although the façade is mostly original stone, the interior was renovated in the Baroque style in the early 18th century. Today, the building is officially revered as a National Cultural Monument of the Czech Republic. Like many universities of the medieval era, the university was modeled after the University of Paris with 4 faculties–theology, law, medicine, and arts. Founded by Pope Clement VI by the request of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, the university is full of medieval relics, tradition, and legends from the early days of Prague.

Karolinum

2. Tyn Church

Officially known as Church of Our Lady before Tyn, the Tyn Church is a glorious Gothic-style cathedral in Old Town Square and considered a cherished historic landmark. Since it was establishing in the 14th century, the church has served as the main cathedral since medieval times. Taking over a century to build, the church is a magnificent, well-preserved relic with its towers topped by spires and a Baroque altarpiece featuring works by Karel Skreta from the 17th century. It also contains the oldest pipe organ in the world, making it a rare example of 17th century organs in Europe. According to legend, the cathedral inspired Walt Disney’s depiction of the castle in Sleeping Beauty. If you look closely, you might notice that the towers are not symmetrical. One represents masculine and the other feminine, a common symbolism of Gothic architecture from that period.

Tyn Church

1. Estate Theater

In a legendary, breathtaking performance in 1787, Mozart made his world debut of his opera Don Giovanni at the Estate Theater, a historic building and training ground for famous musical luminaries. The building was spawned from the Enlightenment, a period of thought that encouraged the importance of public access to arts and culture. Today, it still retains all if its Baroque and Classicist splendor as well as the dedication to all things Mozart, particularly his operas. You might recognize the grand interiors from Amadeus, the Mozart biopic directed by Czech director Milos Forman. For a closer look, put on your evening best and head to the opera for a night of old world opulence and classical music. Just like the aristocrats but without the top hats or corsets, view the same stage that hosted some of the most historic performances of all time.

Estate Theater

 

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

15 Amazing Film Locations From the James Bond 007 Franchise

Since 1962, the suave secret agent known as Bond has been thrilling cinema-goers with his climatic action sequences, high-tech gadgets and steamy romance scenes. Everyone loves a good action movie (after all, these films have been in production for over 50 years) but one of the best parts of any 007 film is seeing all the magnificent scenery on the screen as Bond tours around the world chasing evil villains. But did you ever wonder where exactly were these amazing films shot? In fact, these beautiful locations do exist in real life. Here are 15 amazing real life locations featured in the Bond films:

15. Altausse Jagdhaus Seewiese, Austria

Aston Martins. Designer suits. The rugged beauty of the Austrian mountains in the background. High stakes espionage never looked so good. In Spectre, follow James Bond (Daniel Craig) on his globetrotting adventures across Europe. As he tracks down an international criminal conspiracy, he finds himself at Altausse Jagdhaus Seewiese for a daytime spy rendezvous. The historic mountain cottage is nestled in a small village with a stunning backdrop of the Austrian mountain range. Dating back to the Triassic and Jurassic periods, the hills of the quaint mountain town are dotted with houses for postcard perfect surroundings. The cozy log cabin is a favorite spot for hearty food and beer with a view of the waterfront and surrounding mountains. A bit of fresh mountain air, a high-speed chase through the forest, and a snack at this gastropub is the perfect combination to keep 007 in top form.

Photo by: Mi6 Community
Photo by: Mi6 Community

14. Blenheim Palace, United Kingdom

As 007 suits up and jet sets his way across the globe, he stops by the Blenheim Palace in hot pursuit of dangerous villains. In Spectre, he dodges bullets and combats criminals at the Blenheim Palace, an Oxfordshire country house in the United Kingdom. Built in the early 1700s, the palace is a rare example of English Baroque architecture and is considered one of England’s historical treasures. Over the centuries, it has been home to dukes of Marlborough, a prestigious group of aristocrats whose family still owns the revered palace. Plan for an unforgettable day in the English countryside at the World Heritage Site, which consists of an impressive 12,500 acres of grand estates, gardens, and ancient forests. While touring the exquisite and well-preserved grounds of the palace, get ready to imagine the dukes and ladies of the Old World sipping top shelf brandy in the parlor while the butlers and maids did the dirty work.

Amra Pasic / Shutterstock.com
Amra Pasic / Shutterstock.com

13. Vauxhall Bridge, London

In the world of high stakes espionage, James Bond (Danile Craig) returns to his old stomping grounds of London in his latest feature Spectre. In between high-speed chases and sniper rifle shootouts, we catch a glimpse of the historic Vauxhall Bridge, a steel and granite arch bridge situated along the River Thames. Built in 1906, the historic bridge stands out with its original ornate detailing and bright red color. Often used in establishing shots for films set in London, the bridge is featured in a daytime establishing shot right before 007 gets entangled in a deadly spy tryst. Formerly known as Regent Bridge, Vauxhaull Bridge still retains its early 20th century splendor and continues to serve as a main artery of London’s highway system, carrying the A202 over the Thames.

Vauxhall Bridge, London

12. Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice

Follow in the footsteps of the legendary 007 as he suits up for a dangerous mission in Casino Royale. First stop is the historic Church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, Italy, for a spy meeting and deadly combat, because in the world of espionage, anything could happen. In this case, the setting is the ancient and revered water city that contains some of the world’s best-preserved buildings, including the San Giorgio Maggiore that dates back to the 16th century. While Bond gets entangled in a deadly showdown with international criminals, the cherished church sits in the background with its unique Renaissance architecture. Get ready to travel back in time to the Old World in a city that still retains its original magnificence of centuries past. Venice is also rare in that it is one of the few remaining walking cities in the world.

Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice
kavalenkau / Shutterstock.com

11. Kaiserbad Spa, Czech Republic

Set in a world of backstabbing, deadly combat, and death-defying stunts, James Bond (Daniel Craig) heads to the heart of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic for the final showdown at Casino Royale. Standing in for the exterior of the high-end gambling palace is the Kaiserbad Spa, the lavish and opulent former spa that is considered the crown jewel of the historic village. Although it is now closed to the public, it is worth seeing its preserved neo-Baroque architecture up close on a stroll down the nearby Goethova stezka and Marianskolazenska near the Tepla River. Once inside the high stakes casino, Bond has one chance to take down Le Chiffe as he hedges his bets on the poker game of a lifetime. In this deadly game, Bond either wins or dies, but for travelers to the spa town of Karlovy Vary, it’s a leisurely stroll through a charming old-world village.

Photo by: Panoramio/Sergey Brandys
Photo by: Panoramio/Sergey Brandys

10. Venetian Lagoon, Italy

After completing his death-defying mission in Casino Royale, James Bond (Daniel Craig) follows up with M (Judi Dench) with his latest espionage intel while cruising around the Venetian Lagoon on a luxury speed boat. Travelers to the historic water city of Venice, Italy can opt for a more traditional tour of the famous lagoon in an authentic gondola ride. Making up part of the Adriatic Sea, the enclosed bay stretches from the River Sile in the north of Venice. Visitors have the option of booking a tour of the Lagoon or making their own trip in a rented speedboat. Another option is hopping on a cheap water taxi mostly filled with locals who work or live on one of the islands. With hundreds of islands in the Lagoon, get ready to explore the glass-making center of Murano, the cemetery in San Michelle, and the colorful painted houses of Burano.

Venetian Lagoon Italy

9. Grand Hotel Pupp, Czech Republic

In the next generation of the Bond Franchise, 007 (Daniel Craig) puts on his best dinner tux and gathers his high tech spy gadgets for the final showdown between Le Chiffre, a deadly arms dealer. In Casino Royale, the dangerous mission takes him to the historic spa village of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic. In between combat with deadly assassins, the luxurious old world Grand Hotel Pupp stands majestically in the background. Dating back to 1701, the hotel is a unique example of neo-Baroque architecture in all its well-preserved splendor. Today, the luxury hotel offers vintage style opulence and world-renowned spa treatments in the heart of the popular spa village. After some rest and relaxation, wander around the historic town full of ancient gems like the famous hot springs, the Thermal Spring Colonnade, and Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Bond may fight dirty, but he does it in style.

Irina Burmistrova / Shutterstock.com
Irina Burmistrova / Shutterstock.com

8. Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

Top secret missions, spy rendezvous, exotic locales. Looks like James Bond is back to take out some deadly assassins in Casino Royale, the latest installment of the blockbuster franchise. Along the way, he makes a stop at the Santa Maria della Salute, a well-preserved historic landmark. Situated in the celebrated water city of Venice, Italy, the Roman Catholic Church dates back to 1681 and is quite an impressive structure with its domed ceilings, intricate and opulent Baroque details, and exclusive works by Titian, a celebrated artist of the Italian Renaissance. Designed by Baldassare Longhena, the church was built as a dedication to Our Lady of Health in the desperate hope that it would end the devastating outbreak of the plague. Although the holy structure didn’t curb the deadly disease, Venetians continued to pray and offer sacraments to the saints on the steps of the magnificent Santa Maria della Salute, the gem of Venice.

Santa Maria della Salute

7. Big Ben, London

For international secret agent James Bond, London is spy headquarters in the 1964 Goldfinger, a classic of the blockbuster franchise. As 007 (Sean Connery) gears up for a risky espionage mission involving an international criminal conspiracy, the Big Ben is featured in a daytime establishing shot. One of the most iconic and recognizable symbols of London, Big Ben is the nickname for the clock situated at the north end of the Westminster Palace. Established in 1858, Big Ben holds the honor of being the world’s largest four-faced chiming clock. The best way to get an up close look of the clock tower is a walk on the footpath of Westminster Bridge where you’ll get a breathtaking view of Big Ben, the House of Parliament, and the Lambeth and Vauxhall Bridges nearby. It might be a classic from the 60s, but the historic icons still retain its original splendor.

Big Ben, London

6. Fontainebleau, Miami

In the classic 1964 Goldfinger of the James Bond franchise, the first scene opens up to a sky view of Miami Beach and an establishing shot of the Fontainebleau, one of the most iconic and recognizable hotels in the world. Established in 1954, the hotel has seen stars like Jackie Gleason, the Rat Pack, and other celebrities throughout the decades come through its doors, lounging in swanky jazz clubs and oceanfront cabanas. In the 50s, Miami experienced an economic boom and quickly became the Hollywood hotspot for celebrities on vacation. The hotel has also been featured in several movies, and in the case of Sean Connery’s 007, he’s busy getting some massage action with a cute blonde, and with the pool and a martini close by, of course. After a cocktail and a swim, Bond is ready to talk shop with Felix before suiting up for his next mission.

Fotoluminate LLC / Shutterstock.com
Fotoluminate LLC / Shutterstock.com

5. Swiss Alps, Switzerland

Channel your debonair spy swagger and head for the hills, literally. In Spectre, Bond (Daniel Craig) finds himself speeding in his vintage Aston Martin along winding roads of the Swiss Alps in pursuit of deadly international criminals. After arriving in Zurich by train or a direct international flight, hop in a rental car and head to the Klausen Passis, the first large alpine pass and also the passageway directly into the heart of the Central Alps. Another benefit of the Klausen Pass Highway is that it isn’t typically busy, just a few locals, driving enthusiasts, and the occasional suave secret agent. Once inside the Alps, get ready for breathtaking scenery, including ancient forests, and granite plateaus and peaks typical of the Swiss Alps. Along the way, there are several waterfalls, which are the most powerful in the spring and early summer.

Swiss Alps, Switzerland

4. Barbican Center, London

Set in the glamorous but deadly world of international espionage, 007 (Daniel Craig) makes a stop at spy central in London. In Quantum of Solace, the Barbican Center is featured in a daytime establishing shot right before James Bond meets with his MI-6 handlers for intel on his next mission. Standing in as the main office of the Secret Intelligence Service is the Barbican Center, a major cultural venue located on Silk Road. Home to the London Symphony Orchestra, plus several art galleries, theaters, a concert hall, and cinemas, the Barbican Center is a popular hotspot for upscale shopping and entertainment. One of the largest culture centers in Europe, it is easy to spend a day and evening filled with films, concerts, and art exhibitions that are offered almost every night of the week.

Claudio Divizia / Shutterstock.com
Claudio Divizia / Shutterstock.com

3. Instituto Nacional de Cultura de Panama

Standing in for the Andean Grand Hotel and the setting of James Bond’s showdown is the Instituto Nacional de Cultura de Panama, a popular building in San Felipe. As he battles deadly assassins with spy gadgets and designer suits, you might catch a glimpse of the San Felipe neighborhood in a high-speed chase sequence in Quantum of Solace. Housed in a white colonial style mansion, the institute is located in the old courthouse and is responsible for promoting arts and culture of the Republic of Panama. The building is also home to the Anita Villaluz theatre, a popular space for film exhibitions and performances relating to the history of Panamanian tradition and the voices of the future. In the case of 007, it’s just another day of espionage in paradise.

«Instituto Nacional de Cultura Panama» por Mel Ortega - http://www.flickr.com/photos/melortpanama/4294352559/in/set-72157618470965651. Disponible bajo la licencia CC BY 2.0 vía Wikimedia Commons.
«Instituto Nacional de Cultura Panama» por Mel Ortegahttp://www.flickr.com/photos/melortpanama/4294352559/in/set-72157618470965651. Disponible bajo la licencia CC BY 2.0 vía Wikimedia Commons.

2. The Langham Hotel, London

Get ready to enter a deadly world of the elite class and James Bond in hot pursuit of criminal masterminds. In Golden Eye, Pierce Brosnan has a license to kill but first he needs a relaxing evening with a femme fatale. In this case, he finds himself at the Langham Hotel in London, one of Europe’s finest historic hotels. Since 1865, the grand hotel has attracted royalty, celebrities, and high-class villains of 007 fame. Feel like an English aristocrat in the same hotel where Charles Dickens, Prince of Wales, and high society of the Victorian era flaunted their wealth and prestige. If you’re feeling especially extravagant, splurge on The Sterling Suite, an opulent palace fit for a king.

"Langham london" by The Langham, London - The Langham, London. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Langham london” by The Langham, London – The Langham, London. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

1. Regent Street, London

In the mid 90s, the Bond franchise was still going blockbuster with non-stop action, and Golden Eye (1995) was no exception. Follow Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond as he tracks down an international criminal conspiracy on a high-speed chase through Regent Street, a major shopping area in the west end of London. He’s driving his BMW 73 at lightening speed but visitors can take a more leisurely stroll to get a closer look at the streets bustling with locals or tourists who are busy shopping or lounging in stylish cafes. Close by the Picadilly Circus and Oxford Circus underground stations, the historic neighborhood dates back to the early 1800s with its well-preserved Georgian architecture as a magnificent piece of old London. Although it took a few centuries to break ground, the result was Regent Street and its stately elegance of Neo-Georgian style.

pisaphotography / Shutterstock.com
pisaphotography / Shutterstock.comslideshow

6 European City Escapes Perfect for a Weekend

There are countless European cities and towns to top a traveler’s list of continental adventures—many quintessential for a weekend getaway. So many fascinating details comprise the historical aspects of Europe’s greatest cities, showcased throughout museums, galleries, and impressive landmarks dotted across the continent. Add in some interesting gentrification, modern cultural amusements, and spice it up with a whole lot of contemporary fixings, and these six cities skip to the beat of their own drum. Whether you’re a budget traveler or a big spender, the following cities welcome almost any budget and propensity.

6. Rome, Italy

“Rome wasn’t built in a day” couldn’t be more sincere. The legendary city practically bleeds history through incredible, ancient buildings, beginning with the Forum. To the west is Capitoline Hill, to the east the renowned Colosseum, and the south is celebrated for the Baths of Caracalla and Palatine Hill. The backdrop along the beautiful River Tiber sets scenes for days of old and unbridled romance: you’ll find ancient Rome, Vatican City, endless cathedrals, and the Renaissance capital of Raphael and Michelangelo. Make time for the trendy shops, lively café culture, and fashionable restaurants—it’s all just one big, modern and delightful dichotomy. If you’re in Rome for history, forgo the car and relish instead in the pedestrian center where most famous ruins and buildings are clustered or hop the metro, ditching the dizzying traffic jams. Slip into Rome’s Mediterranean tempo while perusing the historical legacies and 21st century pleasures.

Rome, Italy

5. London, England

Incredible diversity, pulsing energy, centuries-old history, and innovatively impressive, London is England’s most progressive city. The Thames River carves through London like a snake, flanked by attractions both exciting and scenic. Head to central London to the most famous sites, including galleries, museums, and legendary landmarks but relax in the fact that, when the busy pace is overwhelming, there is a wide choice of green spaces to unwind, like pretty Hyde Park. Take pub culture by the horns—there’s no better place to pub hop—and sample some of the beautifully diverse, ethnic restaurants along with local English favourites. “Mind the Gap” as you venture onto the city’s renowned Tube, and enjoy affordable and convenient transportation. Take a twirl on the London Eye, crane your neck at Big Ben, and revel in the arts at Tate Modern—it would take years to soak this city up in its entirety.

Top Cities 2013 - London

4. Florence, Italy

Rolling hills, cypress trees, and olive groves come to mind when conjuring landscapes surrounding Florence in Italy’s Tuscany region. This is where you won’t just explore a piazza, you’ll experience it while settling in for an unforgettable meal or remarkable wine. Fans of art from the Renaissance shouldn’t miss this haven of period pieces, best seen at the Uffizi Gallery Museum. The Arno River passes through, setting the scene for a different mood from sunup to sundown while slender streets give way to historic palaces, towering cathedrals, and busy piazzas. As romantic as it all is, fashion is as fundamental in Florence as the arts are; both Roberto Cavalli and Gucci were born in the city, breaking bread with the well-dressed wealthy amid the wine-fueled cocktail parties in the hills. Fashion doesn’t rule the roost though; there’s plenty of history, great nightlife, and sights for non-Fashionistas to enjoy too.

Florence Cathedral

3. Munich, Germany

Crowds flock to Munich for Oktoberfest—the best destination for the Autumn celebration—and are equally enthralled with its beautiful, summertime setting, yet Munich can be enjoyed in any season. This Bavarian capital is party central, supremely conveyed when in the Old City (Altstadt), when every square is filled with people eating, drinking, and enjoying life. The beer gardens and local Hofbräuhaus are typically German, brimming with revelry. Sophistication and culture is as much a part of Munich as the merriment is, evident throughout a prominent arts community, gastronomic endeavors, and mercantile joys. Less gritty than Hamburg or Berlin, Munich’s central core is lively and enchanting, where the chime of church bells entrances and the streets are fitted for people over cars. Safe, clean, and somewhat rustic, visitors can walk or cycle the English Garden, shop, eat, and drink in the Gärtnerplatz, then cruise on over to the traditional farmer’s style Viktualienmarkt.

Marienplatz Munich

2. Barcelona, Spain

Catalonia’s capital city is drenched in history while featuring so many modern twists, it’s downright mind-boggling. Barcelona is one of the most thrilling cities in the world, hitting on just about every interest, from family fun to some pretty wild nightlife. The spread of attractions is incredible: Gothic architecture, vibrant markets, lovely beaches, and pumped up nightlife. Galleries and world class museums exhibit cultural highlights along with a full roster of music and theater performances. If you haven’t heard of Gaudi, look him up immediately. His jaw-dropping, magically styled buildings are literally unlike anything in the world. Every shopaholic gawks at what’s on offer throughout popular retail avenues of Passeig de Gracia and Placa de Catalunya while casual souvenir seekers love unusual shops along Las Ramblas, a colourful pedestrian avenue. From the Gothic district to the endless collection of famous Spanish tapas restaurants, there’s something here for everyone.

Park Guell Barcelona Spain

1. Prague, Czech Republic

The capital city of the Czech Republic, Prague, is one of the world’s most breathtaking cities. One sweeping look and Prague administers a scenic trance with its incredible skyline, soaring stone buildings, and cobblestone streets. The pull of the gardens and Renaissance palaces inside the Little Quarter (Mala Strana) seem extra magnetic for the riverside location and museums of modern art, along with fantastic bars and restaurants, colour this district with charisma—just south is pub-laden Smíchov. The 14th century Charles Bridge carves through; a spectacle and hotspot overlooking lazy and exquisite Vltava River, and the perfect spot to admire Prague Castle. Wandering aimlessly is how to really see Prague in its glory of mazy courtyards and cobblestone streets, always pulling you in for a little more. Walk through Old Town where unanticipated gardens, old school pubs, and pleasant cafes eat into hours, especially through neighborhoods like Bubeneč and Vinohrady.

Prague

The World’s 12 Most Haunted Places

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there are a lot of places in the world where sometimes creepy and freaky stuff happens, things that just can’t be explained with today’s science. Maybe one day we’ll be able to explain supposedly paranormal and supernatural occurrences, but for now, such happenings only serve to fuel modern-day legends and urban myths about ghosts and angry spirits that walk this mortal plane. The belief in spirits is widespread, a global phenomenon, and as such, there are plenty of places around the world where ghosts and other ghouls are reported to hang out. Sometimes, though, whether through a combination of accumulated history or a single tragedy, a location gains a reputation for being a congregation space for residents of the other world. These 12 locations—whether due to the longevity of the legend, the number of ghosts, or the infamous nature of the ghosts—are some of the most haunted places on the face of the earth.

12. Valley of the Kings (Egypt)

Tanatat pongphibool ,thailand / Getty Images

The ancient Egyptians’ burial practices are well-known to us today and, given the advanced techniques of preservation that allowed them to make mummies, it’s little wonder that any place associated with ancient Egyptian burials is rumored to be haunted. That, coupled with the lore that surrounds the pharaohs of ancient Egypt cursing their tombs to keep their riches and ward off would-be tomb robbers, makes a place like the Valley of the Kings seem particularly spooky. The Valley of the Kings, located in the Theban Hills off the western Nile, was used as a burial site for nearly 500 years. Tombs were constructed for powerful pharaohs and other nobles. The valley is known to contain 63 tombs and chambers. That’s a lot of mummies! Up to 10,000 visitors arrive in the Valley on any given day of the week and some of them have reported seeing a vision of an Egyptian pharaoh riding a fiery chariot drawn by black horses. Many deaths have been associated with the tomb of King Tut in particular, although most people suggest the “mummy’s curse” wasn’t actually responsible for these deaths.

11. Dumas Beach (Surat, India)

Madhav Malvawala / Shutterstock

This urban beach, located along the Arabian Sea in the Gujurat state of India, has become a popular destination for tourists. Well-connected to major cities by rail, Surat is particularly known for its blend of cuisines and along the promenade of Dumas Beach, you can find vendors selling Indian and Chinese street foods. Dariya Ganesh Temple, adjacent to the beach, is a popular attraction. The beach’s black sand is also a draw. But the locals believe the beach to be haunted. That’s because Dumas Beach has long been used as a crematorium by the local Hindu population. As per Hindu tradition, rather than burying bodies, the people of Surat burn their dead on the sands of Dumas. (Kind of makes you worry about why the sand is black, doesn’t it?) Visitors say they have heard voices telling them to “go back” where they came from. Sometimes, people hear many voices, although the beach is deserted at the time. Creepy!

10. The Kremlin (Moscow, Russia)

Tanatat pongphibool ,thailand / Getty Images

The Kremlin is one of the most iconic buildings in Russia’s capital city, but this fortified complex has a reputation for being haunted, particularly by the leaders of old Soviet Russia. It’s little surprise, given the bloody legacy of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Soviet era. Today, the complex serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation, and the Kremlin towers and Kremlin Wall are iconic as symbols of Russia. Indeed, the Kremlin is the most famous of 5 similar citadels, and with 4 palaces and 5 cathedrals, including Saint Basil’s Cathedral, it’s not hard to see why. The Kremlin is most associated with the Soviet era, although it was first made into a fortress in the 11th century. Later eras saw the fortress expanded and rebuilt. Revitalized in the imperial period, the Kremlin was first rebuilt by Catherine the Great. Since then, it has borne witness to assassinations, murder, and intrigue, as well as the damage suffered in war. Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin made the Kremlin his headquarters after the revolution of 1917, and Stalin also had rooms there. Today, some report seeing the ghosts of Lenin and Stalin stalking the Kremlin hallways!

9. Tuen Mun Road (Hong Kong, China)

kawing921 / Shutterstock

Since 1978, this highway has recorded an astounding number of accidents, many of them fatal. While some people attribute the number of accidents to the road’s early design and heavy usage, others claim they have seen ghosts materialize on the road, causing drivers to swerve and wreck their cars. Despite this, Tuen Mun is still one of the most heavily used roads in Hong Kong. One of the first high-speed highways in Hong Kong, many of the accidents on Tuen Mun can be attributed to poor design and cost-cutting measures used in its construction. The steep terrain and winding coastline presented some serious challenges for the engineering team and the decision to use substandard geometry and narrow carriageways directly led to a number of accidents. Although improvements have been made since that time, accidents are still frequent and often terrifying, such as a 2003 incident where a bus broke through the side of a bridge and plummeted into a village 35 meters below the road, causing 21 deaths! With incidents like that, it’s little wonder that people would believe there are some vengeful ghosts on the side of the road.

8. Zvikov Castle (Czech Republic)

Jan Pasler / Shutterstock

One of the most important castles in the Czech Republic, Zvikov Castle, also known as the “king of castles,” stands on a difficult-to-access promontory where the Vltava and Otava Rivers meet. The area has been inhabited since prehistoric times and has been the scene of many bloody battles over the years. Although it was heavily fortified and often successfully defended against enemies, the castle was only important for farming after 1640 and the conclusion of the Thirty Years’ War. The castle was mostly a ruin by the 1840s but was restored after its owners invested huge sums in reconstruction. Today, the castle is open as an attraction to hikers from spring until autumn and hosts art exhibitions and plays. The castle has its own ghost, Zvikov’s imp, who has inspired writers and painters. The imp is said to inhabit the ancient tower Markomanka, which has strange engravings dating back to the 1st century AD. Fire hounds are also said to guard an underground tunnel, and visitors frequently report technical issues, weird photos, and ghosts, among other odd events. It is also said that anyone who sleeps in the main tower will die within a year.

7. Aokigahara (Japan)

Aberu.Go / Shutterstock

Quick, name the most haunted place in Japan! If you guessed a forest at the base of Mount Fuji, you’d be right! Although Mt. Fuji is considered a sacred place, the forest located at the foot of the mountain, Aokigahara, has gained a rather unsavory reputation. In 1960, the novel Kuroi Jukai (Black Sea of Trees) was published and made the site a popular destination for those who wanted to commit suicide. In fact, it is the most commonplace in Japan to commit suicide and one of the most popular destinations in the world. In 2010, 247 people attempted suicide in the forest (54 were successful). Suicide attempts are said to peak in March, at the end of the Japanese fiscal year. Aokighara’s reputation goes back further, however; in the 19th century, it may have been used for ubasute, the practice of abandoning an elderly or infirm person to die in a remote location. The forest is reputedly haunted by the angry spirits of those who were left to perish. Aokighara is exceptionally quiet due to a lack of animal life and the density of the trees, which may be one of the reasons people think this forest is so eerie.

6. Baguio City (Philippines)

Gilbert Rondilla Photography / Getty Images

Baguio City in the Philippines isn’t home to just 1 or 2 haunted houses; it’s home to a whole swath of reportedly haunted areas and pretty much the entire city is considered to be haunted. With a history that’s full of trauma and tragedy, it’s little wonder that there are so many specters in the city. Baguio was occupied by the Japanese during World War II and a number of places, including the Laperal White House and the Diplomat Hotel, were sites of horrific crimes and grisly deaths, fueling rumors that ghosts now haunt these places. The 1990 Luzon earthquake did extensive damage to many of the old buildings in the city and several of them collapsed, killing people trapped inside. Many of these sites are now haunted by the spirits of those who died in the disaster. Other haunted sites include the Teachers’ Camp and the Military Academy, and many other places, including cemeteries and old hotels and houses, are also supposed to be haunted. If you want to meet a ghost, Baguio is your destination!

5. Cinco Saltos (Argentina)

Aleksandra H. Kossowska / Shutterstock

Also known as the City of Witches, Cinco Saltos in the Rio Negro province of Argentina is infamous for being haunted. It has been inhabited for only about 100 years, but it has earned its reputation because of the frequency of witchcraft reports. Bajo Negro, a place where no sunlight reaches, is where witchcraft is supposedly carried out. Some people have reported seeing people dressed in black robes performing rituals there, but no photos of the site exist. Other paranormal occurrences, such as UFO sightings, are reported in the area as well. In 2009, the intact corpse of a young girl was found in an ossuary in one of the local cemeteries. She had died sometime in the 1930s and never been buried, but simply placed into the box and stored. Soon after, rumors of a ghost haunting the cemetery spread through the city. Nearby Pellegrini Lake is another site for supernatural spooks and ghouls. One story claims that an infant drowned in the lake over 50 years ago and can still be found haunting the shores of the lake, seeking comfort from those unfortunate enough to cross its path.

4. Ararat Lunatic Asylum (Victoria, Australia)

Nils Versemann / Shutterstock

Also known as Aradale, the Ararat Lunatic Asylum is the largest abandoned asylum in Australia. Opened in 1867, it was the destination for those mental patients deemed “incurable” in the late 19th century—and it was often their final destination. The asylum continued to operate until 1998 when it was finally closed. Today, it has been incorporated into the local campus of the Australian College of Wine. The asylum was built to accommodate the growing number of “lunatics” during Australia’s colonial years. Although the building was not officially opened until 1867, the patient list extends back to 1865, and 2 sister asylums were built nearby. Over the nearly 2 and a half centuries of operation, it’s estimated that close to 13,000 people met their maker at Aradale. Ghost tours operate frequently and take visitors through many parts of the original complex, including the administration, chapel, kitchen, wards, and the morgue. You know, just in case a former asylum wasn’t creepy enough.

3. The Empress Hotel (British Columbia, Canada)

constantgardener / Getty Images

One of the oldest and most famous hotels in Canada, the Fairmont Empress Hotel, commonly known as the Empress, is also one of the most famously haunted buildings in the country. Located in Victoria, BC, the hotel is a National Historic Site of Canada. Built between 1904 and 1908, the hotel has been witness to a number of historic events and often graced with the presence of British royalty and American celebrities. The hotel is also home to several ghosts. One is a thin man with a mustache and a cane, thought to be Francis Rattenbury, the hotel’s architect. On the 6th floor, an apparitional maid can sometimes be seen cleaning, bringing new meaning to the phrase “working to death.” Another specter is an elderly woman who reportedly goes about knocking on the doors of guests. She claims to need help finding her room. If one agrees to help her, she leads them toward the elevators, where she disappears. Another grisly tale relates to a worker who hanged himself in an elevator shaft in the early 1960s; a shadow of a body swinging from above is sometimes reported by guests. No matter what, the Empress hotel sure has some interesting guests!

2. Baskerville Hall (UK)

Plateresca / Shutterstock

You know a place is probably haunted when it ends up as a central location in a Sherlock Holmes novel. That’s precisely what happened to Baskerville Hall, located in Powys, Wales. The building, which is an enormous mansion, was first built in 1839 and quickly gained a reputation as being a popular haunt for some pretty ghastly visitors. The Hall is most famously haunted by the White Lady and the supposed hell hounds made famous in Conan Doyle’s novel, but there are allegedly many other spirits out and about as well. Another source of inspiration for Conan Doyle’s tale included the story of a wicked squire who, when buried in 1677, was said to lead a pack of phantom dogs to the hunt. Although Conan Doyle set his novel in Devon at the request of friends, in hopes of warding off tourists, the Hall today is a hotel ready to be explored. You might be greeted by a male apparition on the grand staircase, or you might encounter the White Lady in the rose garden. Like other guests, you might hear footsteps in the corridors or banging noises with no source.

1. Witch House (Massachusetts, USA)

travelview / Shutterstock

You can’t get through a “most haunted” list without invoking one of the most infamous cases in U.S. history, the Salem Witch Trials. Between February 1692 and May 1693, 20 people, mostly women, were hanged after being convicted of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts. The Witch House, also known as Jonathan Corwin House, is the last standing building with direct ties to the trials. The house was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, who was called upon to preside over the trials after the execution of Bridgette Bishop and the resignation of Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall. Corwin was involved in sending 19 of the 20 victims to the gallows. While no interrogations or trial proceedings were conducted in the house itself, the building is still rumored to be haunted by the spirits of those who were sentenced to death by Corwin and his colleagues. The house serves as a museum, open seasonally, and was featured in an episode of the TV series Ghost Adventures. Two other Salem buildings, the Joshua Ward House and the Lyceum Restaurant are said to be haunted by spirits of people involved with the witch trials.

12 Amazing World Heritage Sites You Have to Visit

Of the 1,007 designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites (779 cultural, 197 natural) one may be pleased to hear that only 46 are in danger. However, that is 46 too many. Each of the sites is equally as unique and important, as they are special and breathtaking. The sites scatter the globe from hemisphere to hemisphere, time zone to time zone and north to South Pole. What makes each site great -besides its uniqueness, is the fact the sites do not have cultural bias, nor do they have opinions. They do not make arguments based on race, religion or political denomination, either. Every site stands and exists to simply be admired by the characteristics that make it amazing enough to be designated a world heritage site.  A visual bucket list, here are 12 outstanding UNESCO World Heritage Sites that should be seen by anyone lucky enough to be in close enough proximity to have the opportunity to visit them.

12. Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls

Jerusalem has an amazing skyline that is unlike anything in the west. Marked as a holy city for Judaism, Christianity as well as Islam, Jerusalem serves significance for countless backgrounds and creeds. The Dome of the Rock is of particular significance and serves as a landmark that most would recognize in photos. The site of Abraham’s sacrifice is noticeable by its gold dome and colorful architecture.

A younger generation may notice that the Jerusalem setting is a popular landscape for many modern video games most notably Assassin’s Creed; where the user is able to scale to the top of buildings with ease and take in a virtual rendition of the historic city. The dome, which was built in the seventh century, serves as a focal point of the site deemed worthy of the list in 1981, not that being left off the list would have prevented millions from visiting the location every single year.

Old City of Jerusalem

11. Palace and Park of Fontainebleau, France

This site, which received inscription in 1981, is a magical building straight out of a fairy tale. Set on the water surrounded by lush greenery, it’s a palace made for the set of a Disney movie. The greenery belongs to the vast forest in the Ile-de-France that was embellished and increased in size in the 16th century with the hopes of transforming it into the “New Rome” according to Francois I.

Its original use however, was intended for the royal hunting lodge of Fontainebleau especially for the French Kings during the 12th century that resided here. A combination of Renaissance and French traditions are the basis for the design, with the earliest buildings taking shape between 1528 and 1540. Construction was supervised by the master builder Gille le Breton, the same man responsible for the Cour Ovale that is part of the eastern section of the site standing atop ancient foundations.

Palace and Park of Fontainebleau France

10. Historic Centre of Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

This site’s castle strays from the traditional brown roofs of the surrounding area to stand out as the definitive focal point of the skyline, reaching most closely to the heavens. The site joined the list in 1992 and is parked picturesquely on the banks of the Vltava River. The surrounding town was erected around a 13th century Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque-styled castle.

The culture’s peaceful nature has allowed this small town to maintain its architectural integrity for hundreds of years, and hopefully hundreds more to come. The town looks typical of the Middle Ages, a circular-street layout emerging from a center square. Any visitors are sure to appreciate the mix of influences on the castle which was eventually turned into a chateau, a summer palace, a winter riding school and a theater all while having a flourishing garden to boot. An often overlooked tourist destination, this site showcases just some of the excellent architecture the Czech Republic has to offer.

Historic Centre of Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

9. Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn, Austria

The Palace and Gardens of Schonbrunn in Austria holds true to its phenomenally well-preserved Baroque ensembles of its kind. It stands as a symbol of the power the House of Habsburg held over a long stretch of history in Europe, from the 17th to 20th century.

No expense appears to be spared on the land as it is ripe with eye-pleasing gardens, walkways and monuments. Astonishingly enough, the site was completely rebuilt after its destruction in 1683 at the hands of a Turkish attack. The gardens and palace share an organic connection, which is an example of an art concept called Gesamtkunstwerk, which is essentially a combination of several different forms of art. The site was only marked significant in 1996 despite the Orangery on the east side being the longest in the world at a wondrous 186 meters long. The main structure itself was built in 1880 using technology developed in England.

canadastock / Shutterstock.com
canadastock / Shutterstock.com

8. Angkor, Cambodia

One of only two sites in Cambodia, Angkor holds very important significance for its region. Extending over 400 kilometers squared, it consists of temples, communications routes as well as hydraulic structures such as basins, dykes and canals. This was the center of the Khmer Kingdom for several centuries.

Angkor is able to showcase different types of requirements for a UNESCO site with its major cultural, religious and symbolic significance. This setting that is rich in rice cultivation and other agricultural practices may be recognized by some movie buffs as an important backdrop for cult 90’s movie Mortal Kombat. Frankly, one cannot think of a better background for a battle between gods and mortals. More than 100,000 inhabitants span 112 historic settlements on the site, who are consistently trying to expand their dwelling area. It is also very close to the town of Siem Reap, a neighboring tourism hub that sees plenty of visitors.

Angkor, Cambodia

7. Venice and its Lagoon, Italy

A place that needs no introduction and is home to romance at its heart, Venice is a destination known worldwide for its winding rivers and old-world European charm. Situated in Northeast Italy, Venice was founded in the fifth century and is spread across 118 tiny islands. It became  a masterpiece over time with famous artists such as Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto showcasing works on even the smallest of structures.

The lagoon covers 50,000 square kilometers and has been a significant area since the time when Venetians escaped barbarian raids by fleeing to the nearby sand-covered islands. These refugee spots would slowly become formal residences and eventually became a powerhouse of the fishing industry. Despite numerous attacks on their trade routes/markets by Arabs, Genoese and Ottoman Turks, Venice never stood down and would never lose its spot. Now, Venice is famous for its romance and beauty, making it a favorite of tourists to Italy.

Venice Italy Lagoons

6. Pergamon and its Multi-Layered Cultural Landscape, Turkey

A rather new site receiving its designation in 2014, Pergamon rises high above its surroundings in the historic Aegean region of Turkey. It served as the capital of the Hellenistic Attalid dynasty and held its own as the major center of learning for centuries in the ancient world. Temples, theaters, a gymnasium and library are just some of the structures built upon the sloped terrain inside the ostensibly never-ending city wall.

Seemingly at the top of the globe when looking down, the acropolis is visible from another hill where the Kybele Sanctuary lies carved out of stone. The city would become the Roman capital of Asia and contains the burial mounds of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires from different points in time. For any war-historian, this a dream location to stand atop and soak in all the stories the land has to offer. The area itself measures 333 hectares and meets five different heritage listing criteria.

Pergamon City Turkey

5. Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey, Germany

One of many sites in Germany (of nearly 40) the Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey were also added to the UNESCO list in 2014. These sites were erected in 822 and 855 respectively along the Weser River on the outskirts of Hoxter. As the only standing structure of the Carolingian era the structures are preserved in their rural setting despite some of the complex being only partially excavated and preserved.

The high archways and thick pillars express important architectural significance of their period in history, and showcase the territorial control of the Frankish empire. The remnants of Christian propagation and Carolingian culture/political order make the site of particular interest.  However little excavated or kept, the site is still no strain on the eyes, with a structure style recognizable by many but identifiable by very few. The rare architecture is a testament to how much the area has endured throughout history.

Civitas Corvey, Germany

4. Stevns Klint, Denmark

Stevns Klint in Denmark is significant in an entirely different way than the previous sites mentioned on this list. The history of the area is directly impacted by meteorite impacts made with Earth. The Chixulub meteorite crashed into the planet approximately 67 million years ago (the earth is about 4.45 billion years old) and is widely credited with ending the age of the dinosaurs.

With its high contribution to scientific study, Stevns Klint allows a larger audience/community to be exposed to what it has to offer by being placed on the UNESCO list in 2014. Adding to its scientific importance is the fact that the site is associated with a “radical” theory of asteroid-driven extinction thought up by Walter and Luis W Alvarez. The site can also be appreciated for its visuals, a rocky beach overlooked view-able from atop the overhanging cliffs that take residence above.

Stevns Klint, Denmark

3. Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites, United Kingdom

What can be said about Stonehenge that already hasn’t? Although known about for quite some time, the special kind of significance Stonehenge holds lies in the mystery of its true origins. The holy places and nearby Neolithic sites cannot be compared to other sites of prehistoric times.

What exactly is responsible for Stonehenge? Well, no one really knows. The circles of menhirs are arranged in a pattern that holds some sort of astronomical significance. Embodying a plethora of heritage, Stonehenge has been the center of mortuary practices for 2,000 years. Some believe the large rocks were put there by a physically larger race of humans of prehistoric times. Others think the arrangement holds extraterrestrial origins. The problem with all of this is, no one knows how or why they would be there and for what purpose. There is too much intelligence in the site for it to be accidental or to be done by primitive species, but one thing is for sure, this site in the South of England should not be missed.

Stonehenge England

2. Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat, India

This dug-out structure holds much cultural significance to the people of its region as a distinctive form of subterranean water architecture. Located on the banks of the Saraswati River in Patan it was built in the 11th century as a religious and functioning structure built inward. This was meant to show the sanctity of water.

It is a single-component water management system with seven levels of stairs. The panels are of such highly-artistic quality that many wonder how it has remained so well preserved. This is a testament to Indian culture that can often be revered for its fine respect of art work and historical/architectural/spiritual landmarks. The drop into the ancient reservoir is immediate from the flat land above, which only increases the aesthetic appeal of the site. Another site fresh on the minds of those that appreciate such history as it was named significant in 2014.

Nisarg Lakhmani / Shutterstock.com
Nisarg Lakhmani / Shutterstock.com

1.  Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor, Various Nations

The Silk Roads are a term with many different connotations but they stem from the 5,000 km long property that crosses over the central capital of China (Chang’an/Luoyang) in the Han and Tang dynasties, the Zhetysu region of Asia. The roads also cross over into Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

After becoming established between the second century (BCE) and the first century, it maintained use through the 16th century because it linked far-reaching civilizations together for trade. Beliefs, scientific knowledge and technology were also exchanged along the Silk Roads. Various kingdoms, settlements, temples, beacon towers, tombs, fortresses and even the Great Wall are a part of the network that now has become a synonym used to define the illegal trading that takes place on the internet. While the name may take on different meanings these days, the Silks Roads are plenty significant enough to warrant #1 on this list due to the spread of the aforementioned resources.

Silk Roads Zhetysu China

15 Amazing Modern Buildings of the World

Some travel for action, some for adventure, and some travel for natural beauty, while others appreciate a good piece of architectural art. The world is full of such works, ranging from beautifully detailed buildings whose history dates back before a time we can even imagine, to towering feats of engineering whose summits seem to almost touch the sky. Yes, the world of architectural design is an exciting and visually interesting field and it seems that whatever city or country we choose to travel to, there will inevitably be some sort of architectural landmark. As travelers, we often notice those standout buildings with sleek geometric designs when first visiting a city so in this article we explore 15 visually stunning modern buildings of the world:

1. Markthal -Rotterdam, Netherlands

Also known as ‘Market Hall’ this first installment on our list of amazing modern architecture shows the innovation and progressive nature of the city of Rotterdam Netherlands. The brilliantly decorated Market Hall combines food, leisure, living and parking creating a fully functional living center.

Below the covered arch structure lies a food market with over 100 stalls offering fresh foods daily. Parking is offered in the basement below and the cover of the building offers an indoor market that still has the feel of an outdoor market thanks to the buildings huge glass faces. If you’re a fan of innovative living, you could find yourself living amongst the colorful murals as the building houses 228 apartments all with unique views.

Gerard Koudenburg / Shutterstock.com
Gerard Koudenburg / Shutterstock.com

2. Habitat 67 -Montreal, Canada

Habitat 67 designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie was named so after originally being built for Expo 67 and The World’s Fair in Montreal Canada. The landmark building which lies next to the Saint Lawrence River started as Safdie’s Master’s thesis project through McGill University in Canada.

The design of this unique structure consists of 364 prefabricated concrete forms uniquely arranged to create 146 units in the building. Development of the building was funded by the federal government of Canada but in 1985, the building’s tenants purchased the building under a limited partnership. To this day, Safdie still owns a penthouse apartment in the building.

meunierd / Shutterstock.com
meunierd / Shutterstock.com

3. The Chapel of Holy Cross -Arizona, USA

Perched amongst the scenic buttes of Sedona Arizona is the spectacular Chapel of Holy Cross, also known as ‘Chapel in the Rock’. The Chapel was commissioned by Arizona local Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who had other ideas about the original location for the project.

The original project, inspired by the newly constructed Empire State Building in New York City, was scheduled to be built in Budapest Hungary in collaboration with Lloyd Wright, son of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Due to the breakout of World War II in 1939, the project was moved to Staude’s native region of Sedona Arizona. The chapel was completed in 1956 at a cost of $300,000 USD. Today the space offers breathtaking views and a chance to be truly connected to earth, nature and beyond.

The Chapel of Holy Cross Arizona USA

4. Guggenheim Museum -Bilbao, Spain

It’s only fitting that a museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art be of spectacular modern design itself. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain is all that and more. Designed by famous Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, the building which sits beside the Nervion River was first opened in 1997.

Incorporating mediums of stone, glass and titanium, the building’s shapes and swoops unfold to create a most recognizable structure which offers more than 120,000 sq ft of exhibition space; more than the museums in New York and Venice combined. One of Gehry’s most recognizable buildings, this amazing structure is widely considered one of the most important works of architecture completed since 1980.

Karol Kozlowski / Shutterstock.com
Karol Kozlowski / Shutterstock.com

5. Fallingwater -Pennsylvania, USA

The house that originally inspired tranquil living, you can’t get much more entwined in nature than at Fallingwater. Designed by famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, this house was built as a private residence for the Kaufmann family. The family owned land with a waterfall outside Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and commissioned Wright to design a home for them in which they could entertain large groups of people. Given that the plot had limited space, a cantilever design was used to address this issue and the house was built over the waterfall on Bear Run.

Since its completion in 1939, the structure has received many accolades including “best all-time work of American architecture’ in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects. The house is also listed among Smithsonian’s Life List of ‘28 places to visit before you die’. The Kaufmann family eventually donated the house to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and in 1964, it was formally opened as a public museum.

Photo by: Brian Donovan
Photo by: Brian Donovan

6. The National Library -Minsk, Belarus

You’d be forgiven for not knowing the geometric name for a 3D shape with 8 triangular and 18 square faces. The answer is a rhombicuboctahedron, and this is exactly the shape of the main structure of the National Library of Balarus located in Minsk.

The 236 ft high building has 22 floors and was finished in 2006. Designed by architects Mihail Vinogradov and Viktor Kramarenko, the building can seat about 2,000 readers and features a spectacular 500 seat conference hall. The unique design of this interesting work of architecture draws people from far and wide to marvel at its glory, making it one of the most notable landmarks in Minsk.

The National Library Minsk Belarus

7. Cube Houses -Rotterdam, Netherlands

Just more proof that Rotterdam Netherlands is truly a hotspot of modern architecture; these 38 interconnected cubes offer truly unique living. The Cube Houses as they are known, were designed by architect Piet Blom and constructed on Overblaak Street above the Blaak Subway Station in Rotterdam.

Blom designed the innovative living spaces with the premise of “living as an urban roof” and took the traditional cube shaped living space, tilted it 45 degrees and placed it atop a a hexagon shaped pylon. The cubes are all interconnected and the designer describes the project as a village where each cube (house) represents a tree and all the trees (houses) together create a forest.

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

8. Lotus Temple -New Delhi, India

Built in 1986 by Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba, the easily recognizable Lotus Temple located in New Delhi is one of the city’s most notable landmarks. The building is a House of Worship for the Bahá’í faith and the structure follows the religions architectural requirements that all Houses of Worship have 9 sides in a circular shape.

The structure quite obviously takes its influence from a lotus flower as it includes 27 individual white marble clad ‘petals’ that form the 9 sides of the temple. The marble for the exterior comes from Greece and is from the very same source as was used for many other ancient monuments and other Bahá’í Houses of Worship. The surrounding 26 acre temple grounds also include 9 ponds and a garden. The beautiful building has won numerous architectural awards and has been featured in hundreds of publications over the years.

Lotus Temple New Delhi India

9.  Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus -Berlin, Germany

Located in Berlin’s government district is the interesting and uniquely designed Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus. Completed in 2003 by German architect Stephan Braunfels this structure has many interesting features, perhaps most notably the ‘Great Hall’ which has 2 large circular openings.

The facility, which also houses the Parliamentary Library, was named after Lüders who was instrumental in the fight for women’s rights in Germany and commemorates all her hard work and advancement. The site on which the building was built is that of the former Berlin Wall and the building’s modern concrete design is meant to reflect Germany’s cold history and socialist past.

graphia / Shutterstock.com
graphia / Shutterstock.com

10. United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel -Colorado, USA

Originally a rather controversial design, the striking 17 spire Cadet Chapel at the US Air Force Academy north of Colorado Springs has now become a highly regarded piece of American architecture. The remarkable work measures an impressive 150 feet high and 280 feet long. Construction is steel frame with individual aluminum panels. Between each section is a gap which is filled with colorful glass creating striking beauty when standing in the chapel.

Designed by American architect Walter Netsch and completed in 1962 the chapel was designed to house 3 individual worship areas within the same structure. On the upper level is the Protestant area, below which is space for Catholic and Jewish faiths as well as a Buddhist room. The lower level is used for meeting rooms and a space for the Islamic services.

United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel

11. Beijing National Stadium -Beijing, China

You may recognize this easily identifiable piece of architecture from the 2008 Summer Olympics. Officially known as National Stadium in Beijing but affectionately nicknamed the ‘Bird’s Nest’, this interesting stadium was built in 2007 in preparation for China to play host to the Summer Olympic Games.

The design of the stadium which drew inspiration from the study of Chinese ceramics, was submitted by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and cost $428 million US to build. Originally planned to have a retractable roof, this was removed from the design but did inspire the ‘random-looking’ steel frame as it was going to be a way to hide the roof’s supports. After the Olympics, the iconic structure suffered from a lack of use and major events however, these days it’s reportedly earning sufficient income as a tourist attraction.

TonyV3112 / Shutterstock.com
TonyV3112 / Shutterstock.com

12. NORD LB Building -Hannover, Germany

Located in the heart of Hannover Germany is the boldly designed Norddeutsche Landesbank building, abbreviated as NORD LB. The building is the head office for this German bank and is one of the largest commercial banks in the country.

The 17 story high structure was designed by German architecture firm Behnisch Architekten and was opened in 2002. The building which has space for 1,500 employees has several notable features including its extensive glass construction with an 81,000 sq m glass floor space and an inner courtyard featuring 3 lakes. A total of 18,800 individual panes of glass make up the design of this state-of-the-art office and the features are rounded out by in-house shops, restaurants and the well-known NORD LB art gallery.

Oliver Hoffmann / Shutterstock.com
Oliver Hoffmann / Shutterstock.com

13. Dancing House -Prague, Czech Republic

The building known as Dancing House sits on the historically important site of a former house that was destroyed by the US bombing of Prague in 1945. Dutch insurance company Nationale-Nederlanden sponsored the project which was completed in 1996 as a collaboration of Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić and famous Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry.

Dancing House got its name from the unique design featuring 2 side-by-side towers which look like a pair of dancers. This modern design was controversial as it was starkly different from the traditional Baroque and Gothic buildings for which Prague is famous. Despite this, it has gained much publicity and attention over the years and the shape was featured on a gold 2,000 Czech koruna coin.

Josef Hanus / Shutterstock.com
Josef Hanus / Shutterstock.com

14. Cathedral of Brasilia -Brasilia, Brazil

One of Brasilia’s most recognizable landmarks, the Cathedral of Brasilia serves as the Archdiocese of Brasilia and serves as the Roman Catholic cathedral for the city. The interesting design was created by Brazilian father of modern architecture, Oscar Niemeyer and construction was completed in 1970. Niemeyer was also responsible for the designs of several other civic buildings in Brasilia.

The structure consists of 16 concrete columns which reach up to the glass roof and are said to appear ‘open, to the heavens’. Each of the concrete columns weighs a whopping 90 tons and are all connected by 16 fiberglass panels featuring blue, green, white and brown stained glass work. The majority of the construction of the cathedral is actually underground with only the 138 foot roof and bell tower visible above ground.

gary yim / Shutterstock.com
gary yim / Shutterstock.com

15. Experience Music Project Museum -Seattle, USA

The Experience Music Project or EMP Museum for short, is located in the music mecca of Seattle Washington in the USA. Sitting adjacent to the iconic space-needle, this 140,000 sq ft structure was designed by the renowned Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry.

The design of the museum is quite similar to many of Gehry’s other projects with its shiny sheet metal construction. The concept for the design was reportedly based on studying images of smashed guitars and guitar components. Though Gehry has received many accolades for his works of architectural art, this design was not one of them and the mishmash has been called everything from a ‘blob’ to ‘something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over, and died’.

Experience Music Project Museum Seattle

10 Great Budget Vacation Destinations

The dream of traveling the world is an image that most people have at some point in life, but one that is not recognized by many due to financial restrictions. With accommodations to arrange, travel to book and sights to see, the cost of a trip abroad can be intimidating to potential travelers. However, many wondrous locations are available to visit even for those on a tight budget. All it takes to plan an affordable vacation is some careful research, a bit of planning and a reasonable expectation of your trip. A little flexibility goes a long way in the world of travel so while expensive destinations may be out of reach there are still plenty of amazing places than can be seen on a budget. Read on to hear about these 10 great budget-friendly destinations:

10. South Africa

In the summer of 2010, the eyes of the world focused on South Africa, as Johannesburg prepared to host the World Cup final. Since then, South Africa has seen a decline in tourism, with rates down 8% from 2013. Now is a great time to take advantage of all there is to see and do. The region is home to a number of great beaches, as it intersects the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Kruger National Park, a popular destination for safari, costs only $20 to visit. Travelers can also visit the Nelson Mandela National Museum where Mandela lived from 1946 through 1962, where bullet holes and scorch marks remain showing the scars of the countries troubled political past.

Cape Town South Africa

9. Latvia

This small hockey-mad Baltic nation is a hidden gem in Europe that is renowned for its great culture. The capital city, Riga, is located right on the Baltic Sea, and in 2014 was named the official European Capital of Culture by the European Union. Not only has the city received that honor, but the city of Riga was also awarded the title of UNESCO World Heritage site. St. Peter’s Church and the famous Riga Cathedral are just two of the many medieval era buildings that can be found throughout the city. Visitors should also consider taking a trip to the Latvian National Opera building to take in an opera, ballet or choral performance.

Riga Latvia

8. Cambodia

A country that has long been preferred by backpackers, Cambodia can be a remarkably cheap destination for tourists. Though the flight to the country may cost a considerable amount, a visitor can find accommodations for as little as $4 a night at a hostel. Food in Cambodia is also relatively cheap, and there are plenty of free things to do for entertainment. The Chroy Changvar Bridge for example, is a suspension bridge built in 1966, and then rebuilt in 1995 after being destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. The centuries-old hilltop temple of Wat Phnom is nearly free since it costs visitors only $1 for admission, however the elephant rides within will cost you, but a stroll through the site itself alone is worth the visit.

Siem Reap Cambodia

7. Spain

News about the current financial status of Spain has significantly lowered the cost for potential visitors. Hotels, attractions and shops are all cheaper than they once were so it’s a great time to visit this treasured European country. Spain boasts a number of world-class cities, such as the capital Madrid, Barcelona and of course, the party capital of the world, Ibiza. The country is home to a number of the finest futbol (soccer) clubs in the world, with a fan-base that is just as passionate as the players on the pitch.

Park Guell Barcelona Spain

6. Northern Ireland

A destination popular for its music, literature and dramatic arts, Northern Ireland is a region often overlooked when considering a location to visit. Budget Travel magazine reported that the country has invested $25-million in its tourism industry, and that since 2012 more flights than ever before have traveled between the capital, Belfast, and London which is good news for passengers as more flights means lower airfare rates.

Derry Ireland

5. Greece

Similar to Spain, Greece is another European destination that has seen financial troubles in recent times. With businesses dependent on tourism dollars fearing empty rooms and airline seats, the price of a trip to Greece has plummeted. For the price it once cost to simply fly to Greece, a pair of visitors could have a week long vacation. Greece is home to many great historic sites all across the country, and can provide sight-seers with a look at buildings and culture dating from the ancient Greek and Roman eras, through the Byzantine and medieval era, all the way up to modern society.

Island greece

4. Turkey

Bordering Greece is another destination for tourists on a budget. Just north of Greece is Turkey and the famous city of Istanbul, once the cultural capital of the world back when it was known as Constantinople, which is home to a number of great attractions such as the Haiga Sophia and Basillica Cistern. Across the Aegean Sea, Antalya has a plethora of beaches and 5-star resorts as well as a number of ancient ruins. Hotel rates have dropped 25% in Turkey, with some premium hotels costing only $100 per night, which makes it a great spot for those looking to save.

Amasra town Turkey

3. Nepal

According to Lonely Planet, a trip to Nepal could cost as little as $5 to $7 dollars a day. It should be noted, however, that this would not be for those with picky taste buds as that price is based on eating local cuisine. Visitors looking to spend in a mid-range would be looking at around $20 a day, and in the top-end around $50 a day. A current lull in tourism has created a situation where businesses are looking to attract visitors, and are forced to lower their prices to do so. This is a destination that at the current rate, is a definite steal.

Kathmandu, Nepal

2. Dominican Republic

Perhaps the most common image conjured up when picturing a vacation is a blue sky, a white sandy beach, and a warm ocean breeze rolling in. The Dominican Republic offers just that, and at a very reasonable $212 per night for a pair of travelers. Most resorts in the country offer packages of activities that include swimming with dolphins, driving dune buggies, snorkeling and much more. A visit to Los Haitises National Park provides a chance to get in touch with nature at a protected forest, and for an additional $3 (plus a licensed guide) guests can rent a kayak and traverse through lagoons and canals to get a glimpse of local wildlife.

Altos de Chavon Dominican Republic

1. Czech Republic

The capital, Prague, once the center of the former communist Czechoslovakia, is a lively city that is one of the top tourist destinations of Eastern Europe. For as much as $30 a day, visitors can sight-see, have three meals, sample Prague’s famous beer and even get accommodations, according to Triplogist. Prague is a city that managed to avoid the bland designs of Soviet era development, and has retained its fantastic culture for hundreds of years.

Charles bridge, Czech Republic