Europe is open and ready to explore
European travel is definitely back. While flights are only around 85% of what they were pre-Covid, one of the clear beneficiaries of the return is Europe.
Readers often ask me which European cities I like to visit the most. While it’s easy to rhyme top destinations like Rome, Paris and London – which most people will have on their bucket list anyway – I like to suggest they look at some of the other equally great options when they travel abroad.
The quaint qualities that epitomize this small town in the Italian region of Switzerland are as overwhelming as stepping into the center of a postcard. Mountain peaks, some of which are just over the border with Italy, frame Lake Lugano, around which the city is built. The lake extends to include a number of picturesque villages nearby. These small villages with their waterside restaurants are quickly accessible by water taxis.
Like many mountainside towns, Lugano is a city where hiking and biking abound. Trails have long been constructed through the city and its park-like settings.
If hiking isn’t your thing, a walk along Via Vassa – with its high-end shops and open-air restaurants – can easily be compared to Rome’s famous Via Condotti.
History abounds in the three UNESCO castles rising above the hills of nearby Bellinzona.
At its heart – with its majestic surroundings, yet laid-back atmosphere – make it a city where you can find peace and solitude, while still accessing many of the normal tourist activities that travelers seek.
Rail travel is often the transportation choice for those visiting Europe. Antwerp Central Station should be reason enough to explore this city further.
Known as the Railway Cathedral, since its opening in 1905 and through its many expansions – due to its huge dome featured in the waiting room and its huge and unique railway shed – is often still considered a the most beautiful train station in the world.
Antwerp was the home of the famous Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. While its museum is well worth a visit – three of its most beloved pieces can be seen in the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral. The raising of the cross, the descent of the cross and the resurrection of Christ make this magnificent art exhibition reason enough to make it a must stop.
In the first quarter of the 20th century, Antwerp was the port city from which many of the people who would immigrate to Canada and the United States began their journey. The Red Star Line was the company that led them to new opportunities. Its Red Star Museum is worth spending many hours exploring.
Antwerp was, and still is, one of the world’s most important diamond capitals. In recent decades, it has also become one of the fashion capitals of the world. Although you may not find great prices, you are sure to find the largest selection in both categories in Antwerp.
Belgium is proud of its chocolate production. For those who can’t afford the diamonds or haute couture, a visit to the chocolate museum, with its many free samples, can help erase that disappointment.
A visit to the once Russian-controlled country of the Czech Republic, now Czechia, will quickly make you realize why, from the start of the current war, it opened its doors to Ukrainians seeking refuge.
Take any tour of this capital and you’ll likely hear how the Russians tried to depersonalize people and destroy their language and culture. The city’s public works of art show how the Russians tried to turn these proud peoples into a faceless society. A peaceful nation, they were overrun, but not bombed, during World War II. The Velvet Revolution that freed them from Communist control passed without violence, and their sympathetic separation from Slovakia – known as the Velvet Divorce – speaks volumes about its people and way of life.
The center of Prague has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The city dates back to around 1338 – and many of its buildings, such as the Charles Bridge built shortly after, still stand.
A walk from the bridge to Old Town Square along Charles Street will take you to some of the city’s best shopping and dining establishments.
A visit to the Jewish Quarter will bring you face to face with one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in Europe, while exhibits in the Pinkas Synagogue pay homage to those who did not survive Nazi atrocities in World War II world.
Cobbled streets in front of still-functioning historic buildings and a wide variety of cultural and historical options make this city one of the best for visitors. The fact that it is continuously ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world alone may indicate why most find it such a fascinating place.
A writer and podcaster, Ron’s travel column appears in the Winnipeg Free Press every Saturday in the Destinations and Diversions section.
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