The Safest Cities For Women to Travel Alone in Europe

There has never been a better time than now to be a solo female traveler looking to explore Europe. Cities are becoming safer, female-friendly hotels are popping up and it is getting easier to meet other solo female travelers around the world. Here are 20 safe European cities for female solo travelers.

20. Vienna, Austria

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Austria is ranked number 4 on the Global Peace Index, making it an excellent and safe country for female solo travelers to visit. Vienna, the capital of Austria has earned the name of “city with the highest quality of life” several years in a row.

Vienna is full of stunning architecture, music, and history. There are plenty of museums to visit, such as Sigmund Freud’s house. This museum will help you understand why Vienna is known as the “city of dreams”.  You may also want to make a stop at Prater park to see the iconic Riesenrad Ferris wheel landmark. Finally, be sure to head to a local restaurant and try authentic Austrian food such as Wiener Schnitzel (a thin, breaded, pan-fried veal cutlet), Sachertorte (chocolate torte), or an Apfelstrudel (apple strudel).

19. Edinburgh, Scotland

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Between the breathtaking landscapes, ancient castles, and rich history, Scotland has a lot to offer. Scotland, a region of the United Kingdom ranks 45 on the Global Peace Index and is considered safe for female solo travelers. There is so much to do and see in Edinburg, the capital of Scotland. To begin, if you visit in August, there is a month-long arts festival called Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This festival offers theatrical performances, comedy shows, and many other activities that would be perfect for a female solo traveler, especially if you’re hoping to meet new people.

Moreover, consider taking a guided tour of Edinburgh Castle and take in the medieval architecture. After visiting the castle, be sure to head to Calton Hill which is a high point in the city that allows you to catch a full view of Edinburgh. Finish your day at a local pub and indulge in authentic food while meeting the locals.

18. Berlin, Germany

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Berlin, Germany’s capital is home to 3.5 million residents. Berlin is rich in history and full of culture and would be an excellent place to explore on your own. There are many restaurants, markets, and cafes in Berlin that will make you feel comfortable dining alone.

Discover what this city has to offer by taking a free walking tour, use the bike-sharing program, or hop on public transportation. Be sure to check out the Brandenburg Gate, and the Holocaust Memorial, and the remnants of the Berlin Wall.

17. Bruges, Belgium

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If you are a solo female traveler looking to immerse yourself in a fairy tale this would be the city to visit. Straight off a postcard, the city of Bruges is loaded with cobblestone streets, historic houses, and canals. It is here where you will be inspired to take long strolls throughout the streets and enjoy Belgian pints of beer by street-side cafes while people watching.

This city is extremely safe, for all travelers and welcomes visitors, especially in the summertime when it becomes peak travel season. There is a range of good hotels along with budget hostels that will meet any traveler’s budget, and English is widely understood throughout. Female travelers will feel safe as locals are willing to lend a hand if needed and are more than happy to give advice on where to go, what to see, and where to grab the next pint of beer.

16. Santorini, Greece

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If you want to see jaw-dropping scenery, be sure to add Santorini, Greece to your travel wish list. The emerald Mediterranean Sea is enough to take your breath away, but also the picturesque white villas are a sight to see too. Many people travel to Santorini with a partner or friend but that doesn’t mean you can’t travel there solo.

With friendly locals and an affordable bus system, you’ll be able to navigate your way across the city.

15. Paris, France

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Paris, France is known as the city of love. So it may seem ironic that one would travel there alone. However, exploring this beautiful city alone means that you don’t have to abide by anyone else’s opinions or plans. Further, exploring this city is easy and best to do either on foot or by taking the metro.

There are so many amazing things to see and do in Paris, France. Be sure to check out the iconic Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Notre-Dame Cathedral, and the Arc de Triomphe. You should also enjoy a bottle of wine and a baguette all to yourself during your stay too.

14. London, England

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London, England is an excellent destination for solo female travels. Traveling through this city is easy from the amazing public transportation system to the remarkable hostels, hotels, and Airbnb’s. Not to mention English is their first language in this city of England.

During your stay, be sure to visit Buckingham Palace, take a tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and visit one of the many museums London has to offer. You should also dine at a local pub to indulge in traditional British food such as fish and chips, or a Toad in the hole. Further, dining at a pub will also help you meet the locals as well as other solo travelers too.

13. Oslo, Norway

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Oslo is a dream for female solo travelers, alas a bit expensive at times. It is Norway’s largest city and a great cultural city destination that is overflowing with things to see and do. Female solo travelers will feel safe no matter where they stay but may feel some extra comfort if they choose to stay on the women-only floor of the 130-year old Grand Hotel. Here they will find rooms stacked with books, magazines, a yoga mat, toiletries, and a female room-service menu, without the room service charge!

Wandering around the Vigeland Sculpture Park, which is 80 acres and feature 212 bronze and granite sculptures, you are sure to meet other solo travelers who will become quick friends. Head out to one of the many vibrant nightclubs or theaters with new-found travel friends for an unforgettable experience.

12. Dublin, Ireland

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Ireland is a very safe country. According to the Global Peace Index, Ireland ranks number 12 in the world. Further, as a female solo traveler, you will feel comfortable dining alone and you may even run into another solo traveler during your stay.

Dublin, the capital of Ireland, is laden with historic buildings including the captivating Dublin Castle. Some other great places to see are the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the National Museum of Ireland, and other must-see historic Attractions in Dublin.

11. Lisbon, Portugal

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Lisbon, Portugal is a wonderful place for female solo travelers. To begin, there are many safe and affordable hostels to stay in where you will meet many other solo travelers too. Secondly, Portugal ranks 3rd on the Global Peace Index.

Lisbon is full of rugged yet wonderful architecture and overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Consider having a beach day all to yourself, or explore the Castelo de S. Jorge or the Jerónimos Monastery. Exploring this beautiful city is easy and can be done either by public transportation, on foot, or on a bike.

10. Stockholm, Sweden

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Built over 14 islands and connected by over 50 bridges this lovely cosmopolitan city is home to more than two million people. It is known for its gorgeous modern architecture, friendly people, and captivating waterways. Women are treated equally like men here and solo female travelers will face no issues in terms of harassment, drink spiking, or pickpocketing.

There is a slew of budget hostels throughout the city that are both affordable and safe, and a great way to connect with other travelers. This is a great city to experience Nordic culture in its modern and multicultural avatar, as well as dine on delightful local food. English is widely spoken here, and the locals are often teased for speaking a mix of Swedish and English-nicknamed Swinglish. Women will have no trouble finding people to talk to, tours to take and culture to experience here in Stockholm.

9. Cardiff, Wales

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Cardiff is the capital and largest city of Wales. This city is also considered one of Britain’s safer cities and for that reason, it is Wales’s most popular tourist destination. Along with being a safe city, Cardiff is full of culture, has many captivating castles and if you meet the locals they’ll surely share some of their ancient Welsh legends.

Further, students make up about 10% of Cardiff’s population which means younger female solo travelers will surely be well taken care of. There are many things to see and do in Cardiff. During your stay be sure to check out the National Museu, Cardiff Bay, and Cardiff Castle.

8. Helsinki, Finland

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The capital of Finland is one of the best cities for female solo travelers, thanks to its friendly locals, its reputation for being safe and beautiful. This walkable city is loaded with lovely parks, free city events, music, and shopping. Solo travelers will delight in the 20th-century architecture, the Helsinki Cathedral and the National Museum of Finland, which are always, home to other visitors.

One of the best things to do when you first get into the city is to take a walking tour, in order to fully appreciate the city’s cultural heritage, then move on to the shopping and dining. One cannot travel here without taking a dip in the Yrjönkatu Indoor Swimming Pool, (the oldest pool) built-in 1928. Recently renovated to house three pools and wonderful saunas, this is where women meet after work and have a sauna and swim followed by a drink, all done without any clothes on.

7. Prague, Czech Republic

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Immerse yourself in the alluring culture of the Czech Republic by visiting its capital, Prague. There is an abundance of things to see and do in the wonderful city of Prague.

Prague is not only a beautiful place to visit but the country, the Czech Republic ranks in the top 10 of the Global Peace Index. Consider meeting other solo travelers by taking a walking tour, or keep to yourself and explore one of their many museums, or even check out a show at the State Opera.

6. Copenhagen, Denmark

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The capital of Denmark is a vibrant and colorful city, which still manages to maintain a small-town feeling. New meets old in this fairytale-like city that features ancient buildings and towering glass and steel skyscrapers. Many of the state-run museums in this city are free admission, making it easy to save on spending and you can’t miss out on visiting the world’s oldest amusement park- Tivoli Gardens Amusement Park.

This city offers a unique experience that is perfect for female solo travelers called ‘Meet the Danes.’ This service arranges home-dinners with a Danish family or a single woman and her friend. Expect a traditional Danish meal and plenty of conversation with your new-found friends. Don’t miss the goddess Gefjun fountain that depicts the mythology of Denmark’s creation and magic within the Norse religion.

5. Barcelona, Spain

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Barcelona, Spain is known for its captivating architecture and art and would be a great destination for female solo travelers. For starters, the public transportation system is excellent. You’ll have the option of taking a bus, metro, trains, or trams, however, you will also be able to see a lot of the attractions on foot too. While Barcelona is generally safe, it’s always important to still take precautions such as keeping your personal belongings close by to prevent pickpocketing and don’t flash around money or expensive belongings.

During your stay be sure to check out the Sagrada Familia church, designed by Antoni Gaudi, and the Picasso Museum.

4. Zurich, Switzerland

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Zurich is an extremely safe city and therefore traveling alone as a female here is also incredibly safe, and downright breathtaking. Snow-capped Alps loom in the background, museums and art galleries line the streets and the nightlife is something to speak of. Female travelers will find no shortage of shopping to do here, cobblers, tailors, metalsmiths, candle makers, jewelry makers, and watchmakers fill the streets.

Choices of accommodations are endless here and if you feel nervous at all in this city we suggest heading over to Lady’s First Design Hotel, which was built especially for female travelers. The ancient center is the perfect place to stroll through the winding lanes and look up to the tall church steeples, stopping for coffee at sidewalk cafes. Further, Zuri-West is where to find the hottest nightlife in the city, just in case you are looking to meet new friends that want to dance the night away.

3. Sorento, Italy

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Sorento is a coastal town located in the southwestern part of Italy. This charming town faces the Bay of Naples on the Sorrentine Peninsula. Be sure to make your way to Piazzo Tasso, a central square in Sorrento that offers plenty of restaurants and shopping. Here you can try their famous Gelato, or drink a cup of delicious coffee.

Not only is there a lot to see and do in Sorento, but it’s also a popular vacation spot for Europeans. This means that you’ll hear a lot of English in both the restaurants and in the streets of Sorento which will only make traveling by yourself even easier. Further, you’ll find that it is easy to navigate around the town which will only add to a stress-free experience.

2. Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Amsterdam received the nickname “Venice of the North” because it has many beautiful canals. This charming city has something for every type of female traveler. Whether you enjoy history, are a party animal, or prefer to simply take in the scenic view, Amsterdam has it all.

According to the Global Peace Index, the Netherlands ranks in the top 20 in the world.  There is plenty to see and do in Amsterdam and you will most likely run into other solo travelers too.

1. Reykjavik, Iceland

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It has been rated as the number one safest country for women to travel to alone and Iceland has been beckoning female solo travelers for as long as it can remember. This is the ultimate travel adventure for the traveler who loves the outdoors. Think glacier hiking in the Pingvellir National Park, skiing at Blafjoll, and Viking horse riding at Thingvellir.

If you aren’t the outdoorsy type, don’t worry there is plenty for you to do here including the chance to relax and de-stress in one of the many thermal pools and spas across the city. If you’re lucky you may even get to witness the famous Aurora Borealis. This city happens to be famously expensive though and we highly suggest staying at a hostel instead of a hotel to save money. This city is notoriously safe, even at night and as a female solo traveler, make sure you put Reykjavik on your bucket list.

The World’s Strangest Laws

The world is full of strange and unusual laws that sometimes don’t make any sort of sense. Some are just so farfetched it’s hard to believe they are real while others are just confusing and sometimes ignorant. From the illegality of having donkeys sleep in your bathtubs to the ban on building sandcastles to a law that prevents chewing gum into a country; these 15 laws are some of the world’s strangest laws.

15. Donkeys and Bathtubs

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It is one of the most ridiculous laws we have ever heard of and it’s unsure why it even exists, perhaps to make people scratch their head and wonder what they were thinking. In Oklahoma, it is illegal to have a sleeping donkey in your bathtub after 7 pm. Does this mean you can have an awake donkey in your bathtub? Or even a sleeping donkey in your house? Apparently, the law is based on a case that happened in 1924 when a donkey fell asleep in a bathtub and headed down the river into a valley.

Locals had to haul the donkey back to its home and signed a petition to pass a law, in case this sort of thing ever happened again. We doubt anyone still has donkeys in their bathtubs, but hey, you never know.

14. Keep smiling in Milan

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They certainly are happy in Milan but perhaps they are smiling because it is actually the law to do so. The law in the province of Milan actually requires every citizen to smile when they are out in public. Exemptions are made if you are headed to a funeral or visiting someone in the hospital. Breaking this law can lead to being arrested and fined up to $100. It’s a good thing it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown or a whole lot of people would be facing daily fines.

13. No Sandcastles in Eraclea, Italy

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There are a lot of strange laws in Italy and although some make sense, this one baffles us completely. If you are heading to Eraclea, make sure you know that it is absolutely illegal to build sandcastles here. Lawmakers say that sandcastles “obstruct the passage” but try telling your five-year-old that it is actually illegal to do so. It is not known what the punishment is for breaking this law but you should probably leave your buckets and shovels at home when you head to this beach.

12. Check for Children, Denmark

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The road laws in Denmark actually say that you have to check under your car for children before going, but only sleeping children according to officials. We have absolutely no idea why this law came into effect but we have to wonder how the people of Denmark are raising their children if there is a chance someone might find them sleeping under their car. Regardless you can face fines and punishment if you accidentally forget to look under the car for those sleeping children before pulling out.

11. No Public Eating During Ramadan, United Arab Emirates

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If you plan on traveling to the United Arab Emirates during Ramadan, the holy month, you should definitely know the laws during the fasting hours. First up the fasting hours are during daylight and if you think you are going to eat or drink in public without getting a fine, you would be wrong.

The price of the fine can range but just recently two tourists were charged $275 each for taking a drink of juice in public. Make sure you stick to your hotel room if you want to eat lunch, take a drink, or have any sort of public displays of affection with your partner. Because as most of you know, public displays of affection are also banned in this country.

10. Make sure you flush the Toilet in Singapore

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It is actually illegal not to flush the toilet in Singapore and if you thought officials didn’t enforce this law, you would be wrong. According to the law, you can face a fine of up to 5,000 Singapore dollars for not flushing a public toilet after using it. Officials have actually been known to do random spot checks and will certainly find any offender. While this law is strange we must admit we wish every country would put this law into place and crackdown on it. No one likes going to a washroom with a floater in it.

9. No noisy footwear, Capri, Italy

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Don’t plan on wearing your flip flops here, unless you have somehow managed to make them silent as wearing noisy footwear in Capri Italy is actually illegal. These peace-loving locals are serious about their peace and quiet and people have been both fined and arrested for wearing wooden clogs, noisy flip flops, and other shoes that don’t fit the quiet bill. Make sure you are also fully clothed when walking around this island as wearing just a bikini or without a shirt will also lead to a fine.

8. No Camouflage Clothing, Trinidad and Tobago

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Don’t plan on wearing anything that remotely resembles camouflage on your next trip to Trinidad and Tobago or you will be faced with a possible fine of up to $1000 and 18 months in prison. The law was put in effect as camouflage too closely resembles the uniform of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force. It is even illegal for children to wear this kind of clothing. You will be in more trouble if you do break this law and someone mistakes you as part of the force. They take their military seriously around here.

7. Don’t Feed the Pigeons, Italy and San Francisco

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In both Italy and San Francisco along with a handle of other cities, it is illegal to feed those pesky pigeons. Yes, it may be tempting as they are one of the only birds brave enough to walk right up to your hand and eat out of it but pigeon feeders can be arrested and fined serious cash. So why is it illegal? It causes over breeding, health hazards, and a few more reasons that lawmakers cite every time someone gets arrested for the act. Some hypothesis the cities just don’t want to pay someone to clean up all the pigeon crap that constantly wreaks havoc on the sidewalks. Both ways, it’s a law and it is highly enforced.

6. Watch where you step, Thailand

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There are a number of strange laws in Thailand, such as it is illegal to leave your house without wearing underwear (we wonder who checks for this one) and you have to wear a shirt while driving a car. One of the strangest laws here though can easily be broken simply but not looking where you are going. It is actually illegal here to step on any Baht, the local currency. For example, if you drop a bill and it starts to fly away, don’t even think about stepping on it to stop it. You can get arrested and fined for stepping on any Baht currency here, as well as if you decide to throw it at a person in anger or deface it in any way.

5. No Overweight People, Japan

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It is the slimmest industrialized nation and it’s no surprise considering it is actually illegal to be overweight here. In 2008 lawmakers in Japan passed the Metabo Law, hoping that it would stop the dreaded metabolic syndrome from affecting aging populations.  Citizens here now have to comply with a government-imposed waistline standard, the maximum waistline size for anyone age 40 and older is 85 centimeters (33.5 inches) for men and 90 centimeters (35.4 inches) for women.

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of health risks, including stomach flab, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol that can lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The penalty for breaking this law is far from harsh though and individuals are required to attend a combination of counseling sessions, monitoring through phone and email correspondence, and motivational support.

4. Don’t Stop on the Autobahn, Germany

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The Autobahn in Germany is one of the last places on earth that you can drive as fast as you want and although many places have speed limits, there is still a fair number of long stretches where you can put the pedal to the medal. There are certain laws though that go with this privilege of driving however fast you want.

First off make sure you don’t run out of gas on this highway as it’s highly illegal. So is stopping on the side of the road. So is walking on the Autobahn. That’s three strikes against you if you happen to pull over because your gas needle is on empty and you have to walk to get gas. Don’t get caught as you can face $100 per fine, and you will be whacked with more than just one in this case.

3. Don’t Cheat in Hong Kong

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If you are a male, we highly suggest not cheating on your wife if you happen to reside in Hong Kong. This is because it is actually legal for a female to kill her cheating husband, as long as she uses her bare hands. Not just the husband but the women who have been with him is also allowed to be killed by the wide, but by any manner she chooses.

There are numerous forms of punishment for wives who have been cheated on, in case they don’t feel like committing murder. Wives can send their cheating husbands away to a work camp for up to two years, the wife can claim half the possessions given to the secret lover and they can even demand compensation from their husbands.

2. No Chewing Gum, Singapore

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A ban on the sale, import, and manufacture of chewing gum in Singapore took effect on 3 January 1992 and the law still exists today. In 2004 therapeutic chewing gum was allowed into the country and dental and nicotine gum are exceptions, but only from a prescription from your doctor.

This law was created in large part because the local railway system was being vandalized but it can be dated back to 1983 when the former prime minister was fed up with the amount of chewing gum that was being left on sidewalks, in mailboxes, and in elevators. Then the MRT started running in 1987 and vandals began sticking chewing gum to the doors, causing the sensors to malfunction. In 1992 Goh Chok Tong took over as president and immediately banned chewing gum.

1. Leave your bible at home, Maldives

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This Muslim nation is serious about their religion and owning a bible here is illegal and can get you thrown right out of the country. The Islamic government here prevents its citizens from converting to any other religion other than Muslim and non-obeyers can face serious consequences. The few that did convert are forced to meet underground. If you plan on moving here and want to be accepted as a citizen, you best leave that bible at home and prepare to convert to the Muslim faith.

10 European Attractions Every Kid Should Experience

Taking your kids on vacation is always a gamble, will you be able to find enough fun, engaging activities to keep them satisfied and tired out at the end of the day? While on the surface, Europe may seem like it’s more stuffy museums and ‘please don’t touch signs’ than anything else but that’s simply not true. For fun and educational experiences, these 10 family-friendly destinations are sure to be the highlight of any European vacation, and will create life-long memories for your children. Here are 10 European attractions every kid should get to experience:

10. Legoland Billund Resort, Denmark

It’s not the only Legoland theme park in the world but it is the original. Legoland Denmark opened in June of 1968 on a piece of land right next to the original Lego factory. This 45-acre park devoted to all things ‘blocks’ is divided into 9 theme areas: Duplo Land, Imagination Zone, LEGOREDO Town, Adventure Land, Lego City, Knight´s Kingdom, Mini Land, Pirate Land and Polar Land. Treat your kids to a visit to the original Legoland for an experience they won’t forget!

Olena Bloshchynska / Shutterstock.com
Olena Bloshchynska / Shutterstock.com

9. Plopsaland De Panne, Belgium

First opened in 2000, Plopsaland De Panne is a colorful theme park on Belgium’s coast near the French border. The park is divided into several zones, each with a different theme and in the zones you’ll find popular characters from Belgium children’s TV shows like Big & Betsy and Mega Mindy. With 6 roller coasters, playgrounds, gardens, a theater, boats and a farm with real live animals, this park is a fun filled experience for children of all ages.

"Ingang Plopsaland De Panne 4" by Druyts.t - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Ingang Plopsaland De Panne 4” by Druyts.tOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

8. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

If you’re looking to provide your children with a glimpse of nature at its finest, a trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia is a must do. This UNESCO World Heritage park is one of the oldest in Southeast Europe and is famous for its beautiful cascading lakes, separated by naturally formed travertine. Children will love running through the open spaces of this beautiful park and reportedly colorful dragonflies are in abundance, sometimes even landing right on you.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

7.  Natura Artis Magistra, Amsterdam

Any family with little animal lovers must make a trip to Natura Artis Magistra (or just Artis for short). This spectacular zoo is located in the heart of Amsterdam and provides a natural oasis in the bustling city. Enjoy the manicured gardens, over 200 species of plants and of course the animals (there’s over 900 species of them to be seen here!) With an aquarium, planetarium, playgrounds and Zoological Museum, it’s safe to say that Artis is much more than the average zoo.

hans engbers / Shutterstock.com
hans engbers / Shutterstock.com

6. Eureka! The National Children’s Museum, England

Whoever said museums are boring has obviously never visited Eureka! This interactive children’s museum in Halifax, England provides education along with fun, through hands-on exhibits. The museum is geared for children ages 0-11 years and encourages that parents get in on the fun with their little ones as well. In Eureka’s four main galleries, children can enjoy a miniature town square, gardens from around the world and the science and sounds of music.

Photo by: Fairytale Town
Photo by: Fairytale Town

5. Efteling, Netherlands

This beautiful, old school theme park in Netherland’s south end will appeal to kids with an imagination and love of fairy tales. The fantasy themed park focuses on myth, legend, fairy tales and folk lore in its numerous attractions. Opened in 1952, Efteling is the largest theme park in the Netherlands and one of the oldest in the world. Children of all ages will enjoy this park which offers a wide range of rides and attractions, plus there’s lots going on for parents too.

"Efteling Entrance" by Stefan Scheer - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons.
Efteling Entrance” by Stefan ScheerOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons.

4. Discover Children’s Story Centre, London

If your kids are big into books and the kind who never want story time to end, they’ll love Discover. This London institution is the “UK’s first hands-on creative literacy centre for children aged 0-11 years and their families, carers and teachers.” At Discover, children and their families can play, learn and enjoy making up stories as they go. Discover secret caves on the Story Trail, climb on a space ship in the Story Garden, or step inside a giant chocolate cake in the new Michael Rosen Exhibition.

Photo by: The Independant
Photo by: The Independant

3. Italia in Miniatura, Italy

Even kids can feel like giants in this tiny town and leisure park in Viserba, Italy. This park features 273 miniature scale versions of famous Italian and European buildings and landmarks which you can walk through. The landscape is completed by a monorail, 10,000 miniature plants and 5,000 miniature trees. But that’s not all there is to enjoy here, either; the park also offers several attractions like a log ride, playground, cinema and merry-go-round.

oneinchpunch / Shutterstock.com
oneinchpunch / Shutterstock.com

2. Natural History Museum, London

The London Natural History Museum has a lot to offer anyone interested in our natural world, but makes sure kids can get in on all the fun and education with many kid friendly exhibits and hands-on learning experiences. Discover dinosaurs and even have a sleep over under the skeleton of a Diplodocus, or explore the solar system in the Otherworlds exhibit. Winter brings the added treat of the Swarovski outdoor ice rink; a seasonal activity for the whole family.

Daniel Gale / Shutterstock.com
Daniel Gale / Shutterstock.com

1. Disneyland, Paris

No children’s attractions list is complete without the addition of a Disney park. Disneyland Paris is not only the most visited theme park in France but also in all of Europe. At Disneyland Paris you’ll find some of the same rides and attractions that made the North American Disney parks so famous like It’s a Small World, Space Mountain: Mission 2, Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. 

Photo by: The Guardian
Photo by: The Guardian

7 Best European Cities to Cycle

Cycling throughout a new destination elicits a perspective entirely different than taking local transit or driving in a car. There’s a chance to get a closer look at what’s around you and the ability to stop at any point you see something that piques your interest. Cruising the avenues and streets at any pace you like, you might spy an intriguing café or restaurant, spot a must-have souvenir in a shopfront, or notice a scene perfect to capture in a photograph. Generally inexpensive, cycling in these 7 cities beats any other mode of transportation.

7. London

London’s new public bike loan plan has transformed skepticism into safe cycling reality. Called Boris Bikes after Mayor Boris Johnson, anyone can rent one out at anytime, 365 days a year and 24/7. With 700 docking stations and more than 10,000 bikes available, picking up your ride is as easy as touching a screen and following the instructions using your bank card–and the first half an hour is free. From Canary Wharf to Shepherd’s Bush and Camden to Wandsworth, getting around London by bike is a great experience. Once you’re done your ride, you can return the bike to any of the docking stations across the city hassle-free. The first 24-hours is less than $5–anything over costs more but is still quite inexpensive. Cycle to the Saturday markets, quirky areas, squares, parks and gardens, and become immersed in a captivating capital.

Cycling London

6. Antwerp

The city of Antwerp in Belgium is significantly influenced by bike culture across The Netherlands and has, in more recent years, been characterized as the best big city in Belgium for bicycling. Another successful European bike-share system is in place in Antwerp as is firmly set cycling infrastructure that has seen major improvements in bicycle parking at train stations, car-friendly parking facilities, and other spots around the city. As a visitor, one of the best available bike tours is the Antwerp castles tour, a trip beginning in Antwerp’s Grote Markt and winding in and around the best historic attractions, following an easy route with plenty of stops ideal for refueling or having a rest. Plan any cycling route by connecting a string of numbered junctions (comprehensive signs posted showing the best car-free routes) and cycle within Antwerp or venture out farther to explore some Europe’s best bike routes.

Cycling Antwerp

5. Strasbourg

Take a bicycle around the city of Strasbourg, revel in one of the most pleasant transportation options, and enjoy one of the most interesting experiences available as a tourist. Cycling is the quickest point A to point B scenario in most cases, especially with almost 540 kilometers of cycling routes and a bike-share program ensuring bike-less people can still access a set of wheels. If you plan to use the bike-share program, you can pick up a bike at one of the many docking stations around the city or plan out a long-term bike share–not to worry if you have kids: many bicycles are customized with baskets and child seats. Cycle the mostly car-free historic city center, tour the Franco-German forts trail bicycle course and enjoy nature mixed with French heritage, or hop on the EuroVélo 5, a 570-kilometer bicycle route crossing Strasbourg and connecting London to Italy.

Solodovnikova Elena / Shutterstock.com
Solodovnikova Elena / Shutterstock.com

4. Berlin

Berlin is an inherently excellent city to explore by bicycle and with the lack of an strenuously steep hills, it’s a rather leisurely place to discover by pedaling, and one with plenty of Radewege (bike lanes or paths). One of six cities in Germany providing the Call-a-Bike option, Berlin’s system operates easily by cell phone where the rider calls a listed number and receives a code to unlock bike at one fo the city’s stations. There’s also a planner available for marking out your bike route to travel between the city’s sites-how convenient! As with most bike-friendly cities there are plenty of options when it comes to guided ours, which is about the best of both worlds. Cyclists can tour the Berlin Wall, enjoy a cycle under city lights at night, bike the Gatow Route the more remote West End, or take a thorough tour of Berlin’s east end.

Boris-B / Shutterstock.com
Boris-B / Shutterstock.com

3. Amsterdam

Cycling Amsterdam is pretty much a no-brainer–the bike-friendly city has enjoyed a positive cycling reputation for years and is recognized as a classic cycling destination. It seems as if the entire city cycles, with bike lanes planned into most roadways and it’s obvious most people take advantage of the modern mobility method. Just as in London, anyone can rent a bike and tour through town alongside gleaming canals, through peaceful greenspace, and from one attraction to the next. The types of bikes available to rent are pretty mind-blowing–there are all kinds to choose from! Tandem bikes, family bikes with front-end trailers for kid to sit in (bakfiets), classically styled Dutch bikes, and more. As a first-time Amsterdam cyclist, avoiding the main roads is a good bet until you get your bearings so stick to places like Vondelpark and Westerpark, the multicultural beat of Nieuwmarkt, and along the scenic waterfront.

Cycling Amsterdam, Netherlands

2. Malmo

Malmo is Sweden’s third biggest city set in the region of Skane, the country’s most peddle-friendly destination. Southwest of Stockholm and a canal-hop from Copenhagen (there’s talk of connecting super bike-friendly Copenhagen with Malmo via bike lanes over the highway), Malmo isn’t only ideal for cycling, it’s also quite safe, with officials endlessly promoting the use of bike helmets and demoting unnecessary car trips” “No ridiculous car trips in Malmo.” is their motto. Almost 500 kilometers of cycling paths–more than any other city in Sweden–connects different districts of Malmo and cycling is still getting more popular. Today, around a quarter of Malmo’s transportation usage is by bicycle. Bicycle rental counters, tire pumps, and baskets are available along Malmo’s bike paths, offering plenty of convenience. Ride through beautiful Kungsparken, across Oresund Bridge, and through Little Square or book a guide and forgo scouring a map to see the best attractions.

Tupungato / Shutterstock.com
Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

1. Copenhagen

Copenhagen, like Amsterdam, enjoys a worldwide reputation for their popular bike culture. The bike loan plan in Copenhagen is a non-profit organization running since the mid 1990s–the plan includes loans to visitors for as long as they need with the only restriction being bicycles can only be used during daytime hours. Besides all that, cycling is indeed the very best way to explore Copenhagen–it must be true since about half of Copenhagen’s residents ride bikes daily. It’s difficult to turn a corner and not see a bike lane; they’re implemented all over the city. From one company called CPH, bike rental profits go to villages in Africa where used bikes are recycled into bikes for school, bikes for hauling water, and bikes for medical emergencies. Despite the consistent success of Copenhagens’s bike lanes, the city pushes forward, continuously modernizing cycling infrastructure with plans like cycling bridges of major roads.

Copenhagen Cycling

10 Things to See and Do in Copenhagen

The most populated city and capital of Denmark, Copenhagen has a metropolitan population of almost two million people. It is situated on the eastern coast of New Zealand and stretches across parts of the island of Amager with the enclave of Frederiksberg being contained within its borders. It was originally founded as a fishing village in the 10th century and became the country’s capital city in the early 15th century. This beautiful city has much to offer for visitors including tours, many wonderful restaurants, shops, exciting nightlife, wonderful sweets and coffee shops and much, much more.

10. Dyrehavsbakken

Located about 10 km north of Copenhagen near Klampenborg, Dyrehavsbakken (The Deer Park Hill), also referred to as the Bakken (The Hill) is an amusement park opened in 1583. It is the world’s oldest operating amusement park attracting more than 2.5 million visitors per year and is Denmark’s second most popular attraction right after Tivoli Gardens. It is home to six roller coasters including Rutschebanen, a wooden roller coaster opened since 1932 and numerous other amusement rides suitable for all ages. Some of the other rides include Bumper Cars, Afro Cups, Crazy (laser shootout) Theatre, Ghost Train, Go-Carts, Water Slide and more. Kiddie rides include a roundabout, carousel, mini Ferris wheel, mini Drop Tower, mini Train ride and an obstacle course. When you’re done enjoying the rides, you can then sit back and take in a live show.

Photo by:  Guillaume Baviere via Flickr
Photo by: Guillaume Baviere via Flickr

9. Valby

Valby is a suburb of Copenhagen and is one of the official 10 districts of the city located in the southwestern corner of the Municipality of Copenhagen. The suburb consists of a variety of housing which includes apartment blocks, terraced housing, areas with single-family housing allotments and the remaining portion of old Valby village around which the district was formed mixing past and present industrial sites. Valby Hill marks the boundary between Valby and Vesterbro district. It is referred to as an up and coming district with its relatively new shopping center – Spinderiet. The streets in the district have been used in many Danish films. Valby Parken is a large park in the district that hosts concerts, features a natural playground and 17 theme gardens making it a popular destination for tourists. There is plenty to see and do in Valby, so make sure you take the time to enjoy it.

Photo by: Thomas Angermann via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Thomas Angermann via Wikimedia Commons

8. National Gallery of Denmark

Located in the center of Copenhagen, the National Gallery of Denmark is the Danish national museum, the largest art gallery in in Denmark and is free of charge to visit. The permanent collection consists of Danish and foreign art dating from 14th century to present day pieces. The collections are made up of almost 9,000 paintings and sculptures, about 240,000 works of art on paper, and more than 2,600 plaster casts from ancient times, the middle ages and renaissance. They also host a variety of temporary exhibitions and art-based events like the SMK on Fridays which combines art, art talks, music, food and drinks. It’s a hub of cultural activity and great stop while visiting Denmark.

Photo by: Daderot via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

7. Copenhagen Zoo

Located in Frederiksberg in Copenhagen, the Copenhagen Zoo is a zoological garden founded in 1859 and is one of the oldest zoos in Europe. The zoo is open 365 days a year starting at 10 am daily and houses over 3,000 animals from 264 exciting species. The 1,500 m2 Tropical Zoo offers a tropical adventure no matter what the  weather. You will see snakes, crocodiles, marmosets, hornbills, dwarf deer, free-flying birds and butterflies in this magnificent large rainforest setting. It also features a children’s zoo where kids can pet African dwarf goats and meet farm animals at the Zoo stage. You can also experience horses being trained and pet them while they are being groomed. The Elephant House is considered one of the best habitats for elephants in captivity with its deep pool. The Arctic Ring gives you the opportunity to get up close with polar bears, North Atlantic birds and seals.

Ricardo Esplana Babor / Shutterstock.com
Ricardo Esplana Babor / Shutterstock.com

6. Grand Theater

Located on Mikkel Bryggers Gade, a small side street off Stroget, the Grand Theater is one of the oldest cinemas in Copenhagen. The central location, makes it a convenient stop for entertainment right after you finish shopping. The building features an imposing set of entrance doors and smart gold signage making easily visible and if that’s not enough, the street is filled with movie posters, cafe tables and neatly arranged parked bicycles. While there you can watch leading European films, other independent productions and new Danish releases. It gives you the opportunity to watch often overlooked films that you wouldn’t be able to see at mainstream theaters. They also run a distribution company called Camera Eye, who recently displayed signage including Armour, Searching for Sugar Man and Rust and Bone. It promises to offer a unique cinema experience you won’t soon forget.

Photo by: heb via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: heb via Wikimedia Commons

5. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Located on Dantes Plads in Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is an art museum whose collection was built around the personal collection of Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of Carlsberg Breweries. The collection primarily consists of sculptures as indicated by the name, with the focal point of the museum being an antique sculpture from the ancient cultures around the Mediterranean which includes Egypt, Rome and Greece. There are also more modern sculptures like the Rodin collection – considered the most important outside of France. It’s a wonderful place to visit and enjoy some culture while viewing some incredible works of art by famous artists.

NY Carlsberg Glyptotek, Denmark

4. Rosenborg Castle

Rosenborg Castle is a renaissance castle originally built as a summerhouse in 1606. It was built in the Dutch renaissance style that was typical of Danish buildings during that time and has been expanded several times. The castle houses a museum exhibiting the Royal Collections and is open to the public for tours. The Crown Jewels and the Danish Crown Regalia are the most notable exhibits located in the castle. In the knights’ hall, you can view the coronation thrones and three life-size silver lions standing guard. There are also tapestries on the walls commemorating battles between Denmark and Sweden. There are even wax figures of former royal inhabitants. In the summertime, you can enjoy the flowers blooming in the castle gardens outside. It’s definitely worth scheduling into your vacation.

Rosenborg Castle, Denmark

3. The Little Mermaid

Displayed on a rock by the waterside at the Langelinie pier, The Little Mermaid is a bronze and granite statue depicting a mermaid. It is 1.25 meters tall (4.1 ft) and weighs 175 kilograms (385 lbs). The sculpture is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name. In the story, the mermaid gives up everything familiar to her in her quest for love on land with her handsome prince. Every morning and evening she would swim from the bottom of the sea, perch herself on a rock and look longingly at the shore hoping to glimpse her handsome prince. The unimposing sculpture has become an icon and major tourist attraction since it was erected in 1913. In spite of vandals removing her head, sawing off her arm and pouring paint over her, she has been rescued and stands where she was originally erected greeting visitors every day.

Photo by: Dennis Jarvis via Flickr
Photo by: Dennis Jarvis via Flickr

2. National Museum of Denmark

Located in the Prince’s Mansion in Copenhagen, the National Museum of Denmark is Denmark’s largest cultural history museum. The main building is located a very short distance from Stroget at the center of Copenhagen. Showcasing Danish and foreign cultures and contains exhibits from all over the world from Greenland to South America. It also covers the Stone Age, Viking Age, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Modern Danish history. You can check out their permanent collections and then venture into the Children’s Museum to amaze and educate your little ones. During the summer months, you can go on a guided tour which is offered in English or you can take a self-guided tour whenever the museum is open for visitation. It is free of charge, but even if it wasn’t it would be worth a fee because of what it has to offer the entire family!

Photo by: Streets of Copenhagen
Photo by: Jessie Kolpak via Streets of Copenhagen

1. Tivoli Gardens

Founded in 1843, Tivoli Gardens is an amusement park located in Copenhagen. It is conveniently located a few minutes walk from City Hall and very close to the Copenhagen Central Station making it easily accessible. The Tivoli Gardens is like no other amusement park in the world. It showcases beautiful, exotic architecture, historic buildings and lush gardens and at night features a fairy tale-like atmosphere with its thousands of colorful lights. The park is suitable for all ages with a variety of rides for the bravest thrill seeker or the smallest child. The oldest and most popular ride is a wooden roller coaster from 1914 and is one of only seven roller coasters in the world that has a brakeman aboard every train. It’s a must-see destination for the family and a great way to spend an entire day.

Tivoli Gardens Copenhagen Denmark

The 10 Fastest Growing Destination Cities in Europe for 2015

It’s little surprise that Europe is full of destination cities. From Rome to Paris to London, people love getting a taste of the “Old World” charm of various capital cities and cultural centers on the continent. But what do you do when you’ve visited some (or most) of the tried-and-true destinations? You can visit some of the up-and-coming destination cities the continent has to offer. Explore 2015’s 10 fastest growing destination cities in Europe—your next escape may be waiting for you on one of these slides!

10. Barcelona, Spain

Whether you consider Barcelona part of Spain or as the capital of an autonomous Catalonia state, the fact that tourism to the city is rapidly growing cannot be disputed. Long an important cultural center in Europe—medieval cathedrals spurred pilgrimage and the kings of Aragon had palaces in Barcelona—the city has been more recently overshadowed by Madrid, Spain’s capital. As Spain’s second-largest city, however, Barcelona has many sites and attractions—something more than 7.5 million people will experience in 2015 alone. Tourism to the city has grown over 6.5 percent since 2009 and is a major factor in the city’s economy. Barcelona’s location has also rewarded it with many world-renowned beaches. With eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, many museums and a fantastic climate, it’s little wonder Barcelona is receiving so much international attention.

Barcelona

9. Düsseldorf, Germany

Düsseldorf, the capital of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, might seem to be an odd destination for tourists, but the city is on track to receive nearly two million foreign overnight visitors in 2015—a growth rate of nearly seven percent since 2009. Düsseldorf has been a major economic hub since at least the 1960s; today, the city is well-known for its fashion and trade shows, which attract many visitors. The city also has a large number of museums, historic buildings and sites and art galleries, which lend credit to the idea that Dusseldorf is an excellent choice for tourists. Nightlife includes the famous Kom(m)ödchen cabaret and the city is home to several internationally known bands, including the avant garde Kraftwerk. The celebration of Karnevel, the “5th season,” is one of Düsseldorf’s biggest cultural events, and occurs from November until February.

Düsseldorf, Germany

8. Warsaw, Poland

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall almost 30 years ago, tourism to Eastern Europe has been increasing, which means that cities like Warsaw, the capital of Poland, are experiencing year-over-year growth in the number of visitors; Warsaw averaged seven percent growth between 2009 and 2015. While conceptions of places like Warsaw as underdeveloped and poor continue to exist, nearly 1.5 million visitors in 2015 will discover a vibrant (and growing) city with a rich cultural heritage. Warsaw’s historic city center was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980, and almost one-quarter of the city’s parks and gardens, meaning that there’s ample greenspace in this urban location. Warsaw has many museums, although collections suffered heavy losses during World War II; nonetheless, museums like the Museum of Posters—the first and largest museum collection of posters in the world—continue to have internationally renowned collections.

Warsaw Poland

7. Budapest, Hungary

Another city that’s benefited from increased tourism post-1989, Budapest is the capital city of Hungary and home to some 1.74 million inhabitants. Since 2009, tourism to the city has increased nearly 7.5 percent, and over three million people are expected to visit in 2015—and with good reason. Budapest is frequently cited as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, ranking alongside Prague. Although many of the buildings were gutted by the communist government after 1949, restoration work was undertaken more recently and sites, such as Buda castle have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Budapest’s long history has resulted in a mix of almost every conceivable architectural style, from ancient Roman to the ultra-modern. Famous buildings include the Hungarian Parliament and the State Opera House, as well as many churches and basilicas.

Budapest, Hungary

6. Bucharest, Romania

The tourism industry in Romania is still relatively small, as exemplified in the capital city, Bucharest, being expected to receive just slightly over one million foreign tourists in 2015. Growth, on the other hand, has been by leaps and bounds: the number of visitors has grown almost eight percent between 2009 and 2015, making Bucharest one of the fastest growing destinations in Europe. While Romania may seem to be off the beaten path for many, the capital’s charms are many: The National Parliament, the seat of the Romanian government, is the largest parliament building in the world and the former royal palace now serves as the National Museum of Art. The city is also known internationally for its music scene and nightlife, and is home to some of Europe’s best electronic dance music nightclubs, including Kristal Glam Club and Studio Martin.

Bucharest, Romania

5. Berlin, Germany

As the capital city of a reunified Germany since 1990, you’d expect Berlin to receive a lot of international tourists—and it does; the city is on track to welcome just over 4.5 million international visitors in 2015, a growth rate of eight percent since 2009. Berlin, much like other cities on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain, benefited from the fall of the Eastern Bloc in 1989 and has witnessed a revival of tourism, both domestically and internationally, since then. It’s obvious why: the city has long been a central location in German territory. The result is that Berlin boasts a wealth of historical sites and significant cultural importance in the form of everything from museums to monuments, art galleries to theater performances. Although much of Berlin was devastated by World War II bombing campaigns, many monuments have been restored, such as Schloss Charlottenburg, the largest castle in Berlin.

Berline Germany, Spree River

4. Lisbon, Portugal

Portugal and its capital city, Lisbon, are often overlooked by travelers to Europe; with major centers like Paris, Rome and Madrid close by, Lisbon tends to get bypassed in favor of cities that are considered more “iconic”. Nevertheless, tourism to Lisbon has been increasing—the number of visitors grew 8.3 percent between 2009 and 2015, with over 3.5 million foreign tourists expected to visit the city in 2015. Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, predating even Rome by centuries. For that reason, Lisbon is famed for its especially rich architectural history. The Belem Tower, constructed in the 16th century, is one of the best-known monuments in the city. The city is also the birthplace of Portuguese pavement, which creates mosaic patterns through the use of stone; this unique form of art can be seen throughout Lisbon’s city streets.

Lisbon Skyline Portugal

3. Copenhagen, Denmark

Denmark’s capital city is expected to receive just over 1.5 million foreign visitors in 2015, but tourism has grown at almost 8.5 percent since 2009. The city, located on the Øresund Strait between Denmark and Sweden, has served as the Scandinavian country’s capital since the 15th century. Although Northern Europe may not be the first place you think of when planning a beach vacation, the city’s geography gives it many notable beaches. Landmarks include the Tivoli Gardens, the Christiansborg castle and the Little Mermaid Statue—the city was home to fairy tale writer Hans Christian Anderson. Copenhagen’s skyline is generally horizontal, broken only by church spires, giving it the nickname “City of Spires”. There are many parks and open spaces in the city as well. The restaurant Noma has been named as the best in the world by Restaurant magazine in four of the last five years.

Alt
Copenhagan, Denmark

2. Hamburg, Germany

While Hamburg is projected to receive just 1.32 million foreign tourists in 2015—less than many of the other cities on this list—growth of tourism to the unassuming Germany city has been well over 8.5 percent since 2009. Founded as part of the Hanseatic League of merchants, Hamburg has long had economic importance in Europe and remains one of the most affluent cities on the continent. Tourism is a major part of the city’s economy, although until recently, most visitors have been Germans. A typical city tour would include a visit to the old warehouse district and at least one of the city’s harbors, as well as a stop at city hall and St. Michaelis church. Reeperbahn is Europe’s largest red light district, while the Schanze neighborhood is noted for its numerous street cafes and laidback atmosphere.

Hamburg, Germany

1. Istanbul, Turkey

With over 12.5 million foreign tourists projected to visit in 2015, representing over 10 percent growth in visitor numbers since 2009, Istanbul is the fastest growing destination in Europe. Few would question why people want to visit the city: located along the Bosphorus, the city has been an important center of European civilization since the time of the ancient Greeks. The center of the Byzantine empire after the fall of Rome and then the center of the Ottoman empire until the early 20th century, Istanbul has a long and illustrious history—and one of Europe’s most multicultural, thanks to its unique positioning on the edge of both Europe and Asia. It was named a European Capital of Culture in 2012 and is the largest city in Turkey. The city boasts mosques and churches, bazaars and malls and a treasure trove of other attractions.

Top Cities 2013 - Istanbul

10 Must-See Churches Around the World

While churches are regarded primarily as places of worship, they have also been long treated throughout history as the centers of cultural and social activity within a community.  This especially rings true of the hundreds of centuries-old parishes, cathedrals and basilicas  scattered around the world that today stand testament to not only the religious commitment of worshipers, but also to the social and artistic progression of our civilization.  Ranging from medieval Gothic Cathedrals to rare Expressionist Parishes, and whether with religious or artistic inclination, here are 10 churches worth checking out (and gawking over!) on your next international adventure.

10. St. Augustine Church, Philippines

This active parish was built of coral stone and bricks in 1717 and can be found in Paoay, Ilocos Norte in the Philippines. Commonly known as Paoay Church, the building is also an example of “Earthquake Baroque,” which, exactly as it sounds, is an architectural term coined to describe the modified Baroque-style rebuilding in places that experienced destructive earthquakes in the 17th and 18th centuries. The most noticeable characteristic of this style is the use of large buttresses on the back and sides of the building (which can be seen at Paoay Church at about 5.5 ft thick) to guard against future earthquake destruction. Also making this site unique is the adjacent coral bell tower, built in 1793 and rising 3-storeys above ground level, used historically as an observation post in several conflicts.

St. Augustine Church, Philippines

9. Salzburg Cathedral, Austria

The site of this Roman Catholic Cathedral in Salzburg, Austria has endured centuries of fires, reconstructions and consecrations (774, 1628 and 1959) with the current building displaying a stunning example of early Baroque architecture designed by Santino Solari. The majestic exterior is quite a sight to behold as it rises above the Old Town cityscape, but it is the interior that is truly awe-inspiring, with the sepia-and white walls adorned by murals, a 4,000-pipe main organ and cathedral portals made my Scheider-Manzell, Mataré and Manzu. Also to be found here are Mozart’s baptismal font, and an exhibition of the excavation of the old, Romanesque cathedral.

Salzburg Cathedral, Austria

8. Bedkhem Church, Iran

Also known as Bethlehem Church and Beyt Lahm Church, this Armenian Apostolic Church was built in 1627 in the Isfahani architectural style (traditional Persian-Iranian). Located in the Julfa quarter of Ishafan, Iran, it was built by Armenian merchant Khaje Petros, to whom an inscription is now found on the south portal of the structure. Though famous for its gilded domes and historic architecture, it is the 72 paintings found within that account for the exquisite beauty of the church, depicting the life of Christ in two rows of masterpieces by notable Armenian artists.

Bethlehem Church, Iran

7. Kizhi Pogost, Russia

Located on a narrow island strip on Lake Onega, Kizhi Pogost, known alternatively as the Church of Transfiguration, is a 37 meter tall structure made entirely of wood, using scribe-fitted horizontal logs joined with interlocking corners (no nails!). The alter was laid in 1714, after the previous church here was struck by lightning, with the updated design providing more efficient ventilation and contributing to its preservation till this day. There is also an aura of legend around the site, with rumor stating that the head builder used only one axe for the entire project, and upon completion chucked it into the lake, exclaiming, “there was not and will not be another one to match it.”

Ilona5555 / Shutterstock.com
Ilona5555 / Shutterstock.com

6. Grundtvig’s Church, Denmark

This amazing example of Expressionist architecture created by chief architect Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint and completed by his son, Kaare Klint in 1940 is a Lutheran Church built to commemorate the Danish priest, poet and reformer N.F.S. Grundtvig. Located in the Bispebjerg district in Copenhagen, the most notable exterior feature is the west façade, standing 49 meters tall and resembling the exterior of a church organ. Also quite famous is the interior, which with high, vaulted ceilings and simplistic décor, evokes an atmosphere of tranquility despite the size of the space and the imposing design of the outer façade.

Grundtvig’s Church, Denmark

5. St. Stephen’s Basilica, Hungary

As Budapest’s largest church, St. Stephen’s Basilica can hold up to 8,500 people simultaneously, and provides a panoramic view of the city from the Cupola. A prime example of Neoclassical architecture, the building took over 5 decades to complete, (due primarily to political conflict and structural issues) and changed builders several times before being completed in 1906 by Jozsef Krauser. The ornate interior is truly a site to behold with stained glass windows designed by Miksa Roth and a considerable amount of frescoes, statues and mosaics throughout.  Also to be seen here is the “most precious treasure of Hungary,” the mummified right fist of King Stephen, for whom the Basilica is named.

St. Stephen’s Basilica, Hungary

4. Sagrada Familia, Spain

This “Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family” occupying a 12,800 square meter plot of land in the center of Barcelona remains incomplete till this day. Initial construction began on St. Joseph’s day (March 19) in 1882 under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano who later resigned due to disagreements and passed the project to Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi’s vision for the Temple, besides being a place of worship was to “artistically represent the truths of religion and the Glorification of God and His Saints” a concept clearly explored when he abandoned the previously drafted Neo-Gothic design in favor of a more “monumental” design of his own innovation. We see it today in the symbolism of the structure, with each of the 18 towers specifically representing Christ, the Gospels, the Virgin Mary and the 12 Apostles, and the verticality of the structure itself representing elevation towards God.

Sagrada Familia, Spain
Byelikova Oksana / Shutterstock.com

3. Milan Cathedral, Italy

This spectacular architectural feat standing 108.5 meters tall took over 500 years to complete, and was the life work of many architects, master builders and financial backers. Originally commissioned by bishop Antonio da Saluzzo in 1385 and funded by 1st Duke of Milan, Glan Galeazzo Visconti, who had visions of creating the largest church in the world (he wasn’t far off, it is currently the 2nd largest Gothic cathedral in the world), the cathedral was consecrated in 1418 when the nave was undergoing just the beginnings of construction. Today, after several restorations and final additions, the structure is amazingly uniform in its Gothic design, with nave columns reaching 24.5 meters in height and the some 135 spires linked with flying buttresses. The Cathedral is adorned with about 3,400 statues, progressing in style from Gothic to Art Deco, and public access is available to the rooftop providing unparalleled views of the surrounding city.

Milan Cathedral, Italy

2. Westminster Abbey, England

While this is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most famous historical attractions, it is also one of the world’s best examples of Medieval Gothic architecture, albeit with an English twist. This is most evident in the intricacies of the northern façade (tourist entrance) and in the extremely expansive vaulted ceilings of the interior (the highest Gothic vault in England, at 102 ft) made to look even taller by narrow single aisles.  Today, the Abbey is neither a Cathedral nor a parish church (as it had been throughout history) but rather a “Royal Peculiar” subject only to the Sovereign, and is the site of every British coronation since 1066 as well as the final resting place of a number of notable historical figures.

Westminster Abbey, England

1. Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia

Rising 100 meters above the bottom of the Guaitara River Canyon, near Nariño, Ipiales in Colombia, the Gothic revival basilica—which is built in-to the rocky cliff on one side, and connects via bridge to the opposite side—looks more like the inspiration for a Disney castle than a Sanctuary. The present day structure was built from 1916-1949, with a history dating back to 1754 when, during a storm, Maria Muences’ deaf-mute daughter exclaimed that she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary over the “laja” (name for flat sedimentary rock similar to shale) after-which she was cured of her afflictions. The first shrine to the “Lady of Las Lajas” was built at this site in the 18th Century and has since been upgraded to what we see today. The sanctuary was authorized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1951 and declared a minor basilica 3 years later.

Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia

9 Amazing Music Festivals to Check Out in Europe

With so much of the world’s most acclaimed music originating from these parts, it really is no wonder that the Europeans do music festivals slightly more intensely than anywhere else in the world. With annual events regularly attracting hundreds of thousands of people and tickets often selling out in a matter of minutes, it is no surprise that these festivals are among the most highly anticipated and economically impactful events (both music and otherwise) that happen around the world. So whether your tastes lie in metal, rock, pop or EDM, or some kind of mix of them all, check out the following 10 of Europe’s most epic annual music festivals:

9. Arenal Sound -Burriana, Spain

A newbie in the festival world with the inaugural event held in 2010, Spain’s Arenal Sound is poised to become one of the country’s biggest music events. Held annually on the beach of El Arenal de Burriana, in the Valencia region, this giant beach bash consists of sun, camping, water sports and a 24-hour stream of music during all 6 festival days. Ticket costs also remain relatively low (actually they’re practically free compared to Glastonbury and Tomorrowland) averaging around 50 euros for various packages. The event’s lineup has also greatly expanded from its inaugural year, with the 2015 event featuring over 100 local and international artist and big-name performers such as La Roux, Zedd, Mika and The Ting Tings.

Photo by: Arenal Sound
Photo by: Arenal Sound

8. Lucca Summer Festival -Lucca, Italy

As one of the largest music festivals in Italy, this month long extravaganza in July provides attendees with a hefty dose of history alongside their musical patronage—event performances are held at the historic Piazza Napoleone (Lucca’s main city square) surrounded by 16th century buildings. This unique setting provides a truly one of a kind experience for the thousands of attendees who crowd to hear headliners such as Elton John, Robbie Williams, Snoop Dogg, John Legend and Billy Idol. Currently in its 18th run, the Lucca Summer Festival continues to attract growing numbers to Italy’s Tuscany region, and is a must-attend for anyone visiting the area.

Photo by: Lucca Summer Festival/Trani
Photo by: Lucca Summer Festival/Trani

7. Download Festival –Leicestershire, England

Britain’s premier heavy metal, rock, punk and alternative music festival has graced Leicestershire’s Donington Park since 2003. The event, which happens yearly in early June, was originally conceived of as a follow up the renowned Monsters of Rock festival that was held at the same location for over 20 years. After a stellar, much publicized inaugural show, Download Festival soon grew into a must attend event in its own right, featuring the likes of Metallica, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Iron Maiden and Marilyn Manson. The site now includes 11 campgrounds, 4 stages, fairgrounds, as well as numerous activity centers and food and drink vendors.

Photo by: Download Festival/Danny North
Photo by: Download Festival/Danny North

6. Open’er Festival -Gdynia, Poland

Boasting one of the best festival energies in the world, the Heineken Open’er Festival held at Kosakowo Airport in Gdynia, Poland takes places yearly during the first week of July. Established in 2002, the event features acts representing a mix of musical genres, with past headliners ranging from the legendary sounds of Pearl Jam to the emerging influence of Haim and Banks. Though much smaller in size compared to other notable European music festivals, the Open’er has a history of attracting an incredibly enthusiastic (and sometimes famous) crowd—2013 saw not only Rihanna dancing the days away in the pit, but also Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme ditch his security and party with the fans. The festival also continued to live up to its trademark appeal as an event that combines music with art, hosting several cultural events such as exhibitions form the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, numerous theatrical performances and meet and greets with notable Polish authors.

Photo by: Open'er Festival
Photo by: Open’er Festival

5. Mysteryland Festival -Haarlemmermeer, Netherlands

Arguably the world’s best dance music festival, this event was established in 1993 making it the Netherlands’ oldest festival of its kind. Traditionally held on the last weekend in August, Mysteryland brings “an explosion of electronic styles” featuring only the best international artists showcasing everything from dubstep to house, techno and electro. In fact, the festival has garnered such high demand that organizers have been forced to create international versions in recent years; the first ever event outside of the Netherlands occurred in Chile in 2011 and the first US chapter was held at the historic Woodstock site during Memorial weekend in 2014. It should be noted that this giant international dance party is much more than just an 18+ music event, it is an organization that contributes to artistic and environmental development, holding awards for emerging talent and building the idea of sustainability into its very philosophy. The festival has been the recipient of several “green” awards, and remains committed to promoting volunteerism, local businesses and the reduction of its ecological footprint.

Photo by: Mysteryland
Photo by: Mysteryland

4. T in the Park -Perthshire, Scotland

Started in 1994 with a crowd of 17,000, it took just 11 short years for T in the Park to start rivaling some of the biggest musical events on the continent, with 2005 seeing the festival beat out Glastonbury for the UK’s Best Festival Award. It’s not hard to understand why, with past lineups consisting of a diverse range of global superstars such as Rihanna (2013), Sam Smith and Avicii (2015), drawing crowds upwards of 250,000. These days the festival continues to expand, now featuring over 150 acts performing across 10 venues, a larger and safer festival site at Strathallan Castle and a growing selection of festival and camping activities, attractions and entertainment.

Photo by: T in the Park
Photo by: T in the Park

3. Roskilde Festival -Roskilde, Denmark

One of the world’s biggest music events, Roskilde is a week-long celebration of music, people and community. 4 years in the making, the 2015 event (held June 27 – July 4) brought in over 100,000 people and featured 175 acts across 8 stages. The musical diversity displayed yearly is unparalleled, with lineups that represent everything from classical avant-garde  to African desert blues to rap-electronic fusion, and showcase both new and well-established acts (as a point of reference, this year’s event was headlined by both Kendrick Lamar and Paul McCartney). The festival also holds a vast variety of events alongside the main-stage lineups, including Street City (skateboarding, DMX and rollerblading competitions and shows), Art Zone (exhibitions by Danish and international artists created exclusively for the festival), and More Than Eating (a food program packed with everything from dinner in the mud to a historical cake buffet).

Photo by: Roskilde Festival
Photo by: Roskilde Festival

2. Tomorrowland -Boom, Belgium

Taking place in the town of Boom (how fitting) in Belgium, Tomorrowland celebrated its 11th successful run this year, once again reaffirming its current status as one of the biggest and best electronic music festivals in the world. Occurring annually on the last weekend of July, the festival has become one of the most notable and highly anticipated music events ever, winning numerous awards, selling out in days and drawing upwards of 300,000 music lovers (2014). In fact, the event has grown so enormous that Brussels Airlines adds over 100 additional flights from cities all over the world to accommodate the influx of festival goers every year on the last weekend of July. For those aching to participate but unable to make it to Belgium for next year’s event, organizers have created a spin-off event Stateside, known as TomorrowWorld and held at the Chattanhoochee Hills in Georgia.

Photo by: Tomorrowland
Photo by: Tomorrowland

1. Glastonbury Festival -Somerset, England

Established in 1970, the inaugural version of this epic event opened the day after Jimi Hendrix died, cost £1 (which included milk from the farm and was attended by 1500 people. Fast forward 44 years and Glastonbury Festival has become legendary, breaking records from fastest ticket sell out (past events have sold out in minutes) to largest national and international BBC viewership and radio tune-ins. The festival also has a knack for attracting the very best acts from around the world, including the Rolling Stones (2013), Dolly Parton (2015) and Yoko Ono (2014). Taking place on a 900-acre property in the Vale of Avalon, the 5 day festival resembles an enormous tented city, and features hundreds of acts across 13 stages (and numerous smaller venues) with past headliners including Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Kings of Leon and Jay-Z.

Photo by: Glastonbury Festival
Photo by: Glastonbury Festival

10 Gorgeous Pools You Won’t Believe Are Public

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

10. Bondi Icebergs Club -Bondi, Australia

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

PomInOz / Shutterstock.com
PomInOz / Shutterstock.com

9. Krapfenwaldbad Pools -Vienna, Austria

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

Photo by: Wien Info
Photo by: Wien Info

8. Venetian Pool -Coral Gables, Florida

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

Venetian Pool, Coral Gables

7. Thermae Bath Spa -Bath, England

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

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

6. Kastrup Sea Bath -Kastrup, Denmark

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

Photo by: Visit Copenhagen
Photo by: Visit Copenhagen

5. Yrjonkatu Swimming Hall -Helsinki, Finland

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

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

4. Badeschiff -Berlin, Germany

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

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

3. Barton Springs Pool -Austin, Texas

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

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

2. Gellert Baths -Budapest, Hungary

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

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

1. The Blue Lagoon -Reykjavik, Iceland

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

SurangaSL / Shutterstock.com
SurangaSL / Shutterstock.com

THE Top 20 Places to Be in 2015

Early in 2015, the venerable New York Times published its list of ’52  Places To Go To This Year’. Its reasoning rested on the observation that “Untrammeled oases beckon, once-avoided destinations become must-sees and familiar cities offer new reasons to visit.” Its philosophy seems to be that it’s time to stop fighting our way into the overcrowded, stratospherically expensive established sites. Most of the list that follows features three qualities: great food, novelty and at least one United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) site defined as “places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity”. There are 1007 UNESCO sites in all as of this writing and the places below contain almost 200 of them. Provence and Tuscany? How about Georgia with terrific wine, breathtaking scenery and enough history for a bus full of PhDs. Tired of the prices and lineups in Greece? There’s this little fishing village on the Turkish Riviera. It’s a great idea. Let’s change it up a bit here people. Do something original.  How about a feast of muskox on a sub-Arctic speck of rock in the North Atlantic? Beyond that there are some tourism plain Janes who have suddenly let down their hair and are proving to be quite fetching. And there’s a promising crop of the shunned or unavailable who are opening up their unseen treasures. The war in Sri Lanka, with its seven World Heritage Sites is over. The pariah state of Zimbabwe with its incredible wildlife, savannahs, is behaving. So, in the spirit of the Times, here are the best of the best. Twenty totally fresh ways to seriously renovate your travel itinerary:

20. Kas, Turkey

Less expensive than Greece, far less overrun than other places in the region, Kas is a happening place. This little fishing village on the Turkish Riviera, the Turquoise Coast is one of those ever-dwindling number of getaways where you can still get away. It has all the active seaside things you’d want: kayaking, trekking and serious diving (with wrecks and underwater sculpture). One Times reader called it “a must for nature lovers”. To firm up both the mind and the thighs, there are hikes along the Lycian Way to see tombs from the pre-Roman Empire. The elaborate ones carved into the mountainsides are extremely impressive and the best ones are a 45 minute drive away in Xanthos. Pronounced “Cash”, it won’t take a lot of yours to enjoy quality down time without the partying hordes.

Kas, Turkey

19. Baku, Azerbaijan

Begin with the walled city dating from the 12th century. UNESCO calls the 15th century Shuirvinshaj’s palace “one of the pearls of Azerbaijan’s architecture which reflects evidence of Zoroastrian, Sasanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman, and Russian presence”. Looming over the ancient streets is the gaudy modernity of the Flames Towers, a pair of 600 foot buildings, flame shaped, with thousands of LED lights whose ‘flames’ can be seen for miles. It works as an elegant combination of very old and very new as oil money brings the Mercedes, caviar crowd onto the medieval streets.

Ramil Aliyev / Shutterstock.com
Ramil Aliyev / Shutterstock.com

18. Cáceres, Spain

A phenomenal place that has everything but a beach. History, art, architecture, excellent wine and renowned kitchens. In fact, it is designated as Spain’s Gastronomic Capital for 2015 so there’s a huge buzz about this city of 100,000 near the Portuguese border. The buzz began with the opening of Atrio a striking futuristic hotel-restaurant in the prestigious Relais and Chateau chain with a pair of coveted Michelin Stars. It’s located in the ancient walled city, on UNESCO’s list.  The city was captured by the Moors in the 8th century and not retaken by Christians until 1229. Its towers reflect its Roman, Muslim, Visigoth and Christian rulers. Gothic and Renaissance building abound. Much of the city’s once prominent Jewish quarter survives. The UNESCO citation calls it “Outstanding universal value”. A fairy tale place occupied through history by military powers, though the occupying force today consists of brilliant, creative chefs.

Cáceres, Spain

17. Chengdu, China

Chengdu eminently qualifies for the off the beaten track status, being near Tibet, 1200 miles inland from the coastal colossus of Shanghai. But there are direct international flights sprouting and it’s the panda capital of the world. The Giant Panda Research Base houses about 200 of the much loved bears. It is also the capital of Sichuan cuisine, luring foodies with spicy palates just to eat the tongue tingling cuisine. There is a Chinese saying “the best cuisine is from China, while the richest flavor is from Chengdu”. There are over 60,000 restaurants and another 62,000 caterers. The city isn’t much to look at but it is one of only eight cities in the world with a UNESCO City of Gastronomy Designation.

Chengdu, China

16. Danang, Vietnam

Danang has long been known as a good place to stop over on the way to somewhere else, most notably, the UNESCO heritage sites nearby. The old Imperial city of Hue and the ancient town of Hoi An are short trips away. But a modern skyline is taking shape and the city between the Marble Mountains and the gorgeous beaches on the South China Sea is becoming worthy of a stay on its own. China Beach was a favorite place of GI’s for R&R during the Vietnam War. Beachside luxury resorts are going up, and keep in mind, the exchange rate for the Vietnamese Dong is well over 20,000 to the US$ and Euro making those hotels and signature banh mi Vietnamese sandwiches pretty affordable.

Lauren Ava / Shutterstock.com
Lauren Ava / Shutterstock.com

15. Alentejo, Portugal

It’s something that makes North Americans shake their heads. The beaches of Alantejo (the best in Europe says The Guardian) are relatively unknown because they are remote, a whole two hours from Lisbon. Two hours?  That’s a daily commute in the New World. But all the better for non-Europeans who have no qualms about spending chunks of their lives in cars. Beaches aside there are Roman ruins to be found. Visigoth ruins in fact. Evora is another UNESCO site, an impeccably preserved medieval town. The winemakers produce delicious rich, fruity reds yet Alantejo remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. The crash of the ocean waves, the melodies of the Fado singer in the square, the sense of looking back through time at a disappearing way of life make it a most compelling destination. But hurry, because Michelin stars and oenophile hotels are sprouting already.

Alentejo, Portugal

14. Shikoku, Japan

It’s called the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Eighty eight temples along a 750-mile trail begun in 815 A.D. to honor the much revered monk Kobo Daishi. It is considered a path to spiritual enlightenment. Modern pilgrims can forego the quest for perfection and choose from the many places on Japan’s smallest island that demand a visit. Pick and choose which of the many sites that demand a visit. Matsuyama is the largest city with an imposing castle, ancient hot springs and seven sacred temples. Up in the inland mountains is the Iya Valley; lush, isolated with heart-stopping gorges and vine bridges for the brave. The many hot springs will soothe your mortal coil after a day of incredible hiking or white water rafting.

Matsuyama Japan

13. Papua New Guinea

It’s a good news, bad news kind of story. One of the most remote, exotic places in the world is opening up to tourism. The not so good part is monster cruise ships are just beginning their intrusion on a pristine island country. The beaten track is barely visible from PNG. There won’t be much chilling by the hotel pool here. Because there aren’t a lot of hotel pools, as tourism is still a fledgling industry. There’s a whole new rich ecosystem here wit tribal cultures to experience and timeless beauty in jungles almost lost to time. The 60 mile long Kokoda Track takes hardy trekkers through native villages. Madang in the north is getting famous for diving and PNG as a whole is a birders paradise. Do keep in mind that the capital, Port Moresby has often been rated among the Least Livable Cities in the world. Nobody’s perfect.

Papua New Guinea

12. Greenland

There are still the breathtaking fjords to be cruised, whales to be watched and sunning at midnight to be done. Chalk one up for climate change, Greenland is getting greener (we joke). The amazing UNESCO Heritage Site the enormous Ilulissat Icefjord is at its noisiest and most active during summer sunshine when icebergs the size of mountains heave and crack. It’s a memorable day trip from Ilulissat, the third largest city and there are boat trips out into Disko Bay to get up close and icicle with the massive bergs. As with other northern countries, there’s a movement to modernize traditional cooking, focusing on local ingredients and freshness. Seafood to die for and game, especially muskox are favorites. The Greenland website reassures diners about the taste of muskox “The taste of muskox surpasses that of domestic livestock and, it melts in your mouth bursting with flavor”. Get more acquainted with native culture at the Qasigiannguit Museum with exhibits from the Stone Age to today.

Greenland Hot Springs

11. Georgia

The Georgian word for wine is ‘ghvino’, claimed to be the origin to the English ‘wine’, Italian ‘vino’. They have been making wine here for 7000 years and they are pulling the cork on what the Times calls the next great wine destination. The pleasant capital Tbilisi has a wine bar on just about every corner and there are wine tours of Kakheti, the main producing region. Surprisingly rich in natural beauty, situated between Russia and Turkey, many empires have left their mark on it. There are fabulous old churches, Black Sea resorts and alpine beauty. But it’s the vino attracting the attention now. The Georgian description of a good wine is one that could make a pheasant cry. So an American who came to visit, stayed, and started a vineyard whose wines bear the name “Pheasant’s Tears.”

Kakheti Georgia

10. Sri Lanka

A long deadly civil war made this an island that people only wanted desperately to get out of. Now, a tourism industry is being built where there were battlefields not long ago. The peace has allowed the small island nation to show off its considerable assets. Beaches that go on forever. Eight World Heritage sights. Cuisine to please the pickiest foodie. Sri Lanka is a world tea superpower. Plantations and tea museums are popular. There are safari camps here too, especially in the lush Sinharaja rain forest. Find a treetop yoga studio or luxury spa. At Dam bulla, temples have been carved out of sheer rock and filled with stunning centuries-old Buddhist artworks and artifacts. And last but certainly by no means least, the perfection of the Maldives, a thousand or so islands off the southern coast in the Indian Ocean. It is on the short list for best beach in the world. And if it’s not it, it sure is close.

Sinharaja (Sri Lanka)

9. Oman

­Thoughts of rugged fjords bring forth images of icy Scandinavian inlets with bone chilling cold and sheer granite cliffs. Well, welcome to the Norway of Arabia where the heat can melt your bridgework. Here in the isolated Musandam Peninsula the fjords are called khors. The scene is so other-worldly the BBC compared it to “the shores of a Martian Sea.” Adding to the spice is its location on the Strait of Hormuz, one of the top three places where WW3 is likely to start. Nearby are little-known but spectacular coral reefs making for great diving. Oman is the last part of the Arab world that hasn’t been paved and skyscraperred with oil money. The capital Muscat is a lovely low-key feast of Muslim architecture, old Portuguese forts and bazaars. Its geography ranges from incredible mountainscapes to ancient desert to pristine beaches, but the cranes are becoming more common on the skyline and names like Radisson, Kempinski, Four Seasons and Fairmont are now setting up shop.

Muscat, Oman

8. The North Coast of Peru

A number of places on the list are familiar destinations opening up­ new alternative tourist attractions. The medieval Incan capital of Cusco and the mysterious, celestial Macchu Picchu need no promotion and may even have too many visitors for their own good. The North Coast is remote, as in 22 hours from Cusco. Its Macchu Picchu rival is the fort at Kuélap, a stone city at 10,000 feet. Built by the Chachapoyas, or ‘People of the Clouds’ around the first Millennium, its sophisticated design required more stone to build than the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Eco-friendly hotels and sites abound. The Andean spectacled bear is nearly extinct, but can be found in numbers at the Chipparri Reserve. Surfers will like the waves and vibes in the village of Mancora. For whale watchers and serious fishing types, there is Cabo Blanco, once a favorite of Ernest Hemingway. It’s like a whole new world in Peru’s North Coast, still unspoiled relatively undeveloped and still inexpensive.

Kuélap Peru

7. Tanzania

Home of the timeless, magical Serengeti with its breathtaking scenes and staggering annual migration of more than two million mammals, wildebeests, gazelles and zebras. The Times says “the real new treasure here is unprecedented access to sparsely trafficked regions.” The Selous Game Reserve in the south is home to large populations of elephants and leopards. The landscape in the relatively unknown Arangire National Park unique in the region and is home to climbing lions and giraffe. Trek as far up Africa’s highest mountain in Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park, and when you done following the herds and conquering mountain tops, Zanzibar awaits with its rich history, wonderful beaches and newly upgraded creature comforts.

Moshi, Tanzania Serengeti National Park

6. Zimbabwe

Long run by one of the world’s most despicable despots, Zimbabwe is slowly emerging from pariah status with political stability unseen in years. With the currency next to worthless, a window of tremendous opportunity has opened on a country whose natural beauty cannot be overstated. Infrastructure and travel companies are making visiting easier than ever. There are five UNESCO Sites including the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, said to be the home of the Queen of Sheba. There is the legendary Mosi-oa-Tunya or Victoria Falls the largest curtain waterfall on earth. Stability looks good on the capital Harare, one of the nicest on the sub content, but it’s still the big game safaris that are the biggest draw on open savannahs or in numerous National Parks. It’s truly the stuff that dreams are made of.

Victoria Falls Zimbabwe

5. Medellin, Colombia

Urban renewal with innovative architecture and design. Not long ago the name Medellin was synonymous with drug lords and corruption. It is now becoming known for one of the most ambitious urban transformations in the world. The renewal is epitomized by the futuristic Metrocables, cable cars that unlocked the impoverished people in the surrounding hills from poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods integrating them with the urban renewal below. Similarly, another slum was transformed by the stunning Avant Garde architecture of the Biblioteca Espana. Revel in the night life with the beautiful people at the Parque Llera and enjoy the gentle climate in the place known as City of Eternal Spring.

dubes sonego / Shutterstock.com
dubes sonego / Shutterstock.com

4. Macedonia

According to the Times, this is THE next Balkan destination. The first good sign: there are no McDonalds. All closed. God bless them. The capital Skopje was recently rated one of the 10 least expensive cities in the world. Once one of the great crossroads of history, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and much later Communist empires held sway and left their cultural, architectural and culinary influences. Skopje is a vibrant melting pot of all of them. A surprising treasure trove of natural beauty, there is much to sight-see or for the more active to climb, hike or ride. It is landlocked but the beaches of Lake Ohrid are renowned as are the vineyards are a mere three hour drive across the Greek border.

Macedonia

3. The Faroe Islands

The Faroes are a scattering of rocky islands 150 miles due north of Scotland in the north Atlantic. It has a famously ornery climate and a brooding sub-Arctic other-worldly beauty that traditionally drew bird-watchers, naturalists and trekkers. It is one of the world capitals for those adorable puffins, which also show up on local menus. Its current celebrity is based on a unique new cuisine as set out in The New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto that is traditional Scandinavian food meets The Iron Chef. Not much grows in that climate so they forage for herbs, harvest seaweed and pair them with locally grown mutton and the superb deep-sea Faroe Bank cod and mussels and serve them with wild angelica on driftwood plates, all washed down with schnapps followed by local beer and cheese. An unforgettable feast after an unforgettable day trekking up the highest mountain at Slættaratindur. It is tucked away off the beaten track but as part of Denmark, it’s a short flight from Copenhagen.

Faroe Islands

2. Bolivia

A definite hint  that things are happening here: the culinary genius behind the world’s # 1 rated restaurant for three consecutive years in Copenhagen has opened a place in La Paz. Another South American bad boy turning it around drawing investors and interest in its unsurpassed scenery and cities. It has become a destination for foodies, trekkers wine snobs and adventure seekers. Who knew Bolivia made wine, let alone having an acclaimed wine route?  From the exuberance of La Paz to an array of sublime World Heritage sites to spectacular settings to hike, ski, mountain bike and exhaust yourself to your heart’s content. You can follow Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid south to Tupiza, but lay off the train robbing and your visit will end much happier than theirs.

Potosi, Bolivia

1. Durban, South Africa

Long overshadowed by its two bigger, siblings, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa’s third largest city is stepping into the limelight. ‘Durbs’ as it’s known is undergoing a serious reno and upgrade, thanks in part to facilities from the 2010 Worlds Cup. The beachside Rivertown neighborhood of warehouses and Art Deco buildings is being transformed into a happening ‘hood of galleries, restaurants and skateboard installations to jumpstart its rather tranquil night life. Durban is also home to a large ethnic Indian community and the influence is unmistakable. It was here that a young lawyer named Mohandas Gandhi settled in 1883 and began his legendary life as activist and leader.

lcswart / Shutterstock.com
lcswart / Shutterstock.com