A European vacation: the phrase conjures up wonderful images of everything from skiing in the Alps to wine-tasting in the south of France to exploring castles and lochs in misty Scotland. With so many tempting possibilities, how can you even begin to choose? While practically any trip to Europe will be a good one, there are several stand-out destinations that you simply cannot miss.
The southern shores of Europe offer an enormous array of breathtaking scenery, delicious cuisine, stunning art and unique culture. If you can’t decide between Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain, France or Portugal, a Mediterranean cruise gives you access to all of the above and more. You can stroll through the swanky streets of Monte Carlo, go truffle-hunting in Slovenia, soak up history and art in Naples and Florence, enjoy freshly-baked croissants and baguettes in Marseilles and beat your personal record for “number of different beaches lounged on,” all during the same adventure. Cruising means that all of the logistics are taken care of for you, so you can devote yourself entirely to fun and sun.
The Czech Republic
Prague is a well-known destination for plenty of excellent reasons (The architecture! The nightlife! The art! The history!), and there are many hidden gems outside the capital city that you’ll want to add to your vacation. Kutna Hora is a charming old town with both a historic church and something much more unexpected: a medieval chapel whose walls and ceilings are decorated with hundreds of thousands of human bones. Cesky Krumlov features a beautifully preserved castle (with real bears in the bear moat!), while Ceske Budejovice is relatively tourist-free and will let you experience a more genuine slice of Czech life. All three destinations are an easy train ride from Prague.
Of course you can’t miss touring the legendary Alhambra in Granada, seeing a flamenco performance in Seville, and hitting the beaches of the Costa del Sol, but don’t overlook the rest of southern Spain. In Cordova you can admire the historic streets from a horse-drawn carriage, choose from a variety of museums and visit the Mosque-Cathedral with its famous red and white arches. Ronda boasts 14th-cuentry Arabic Baths, the oldest bullfighting ring in the country and the “new” bridge (actually more than 200 years old), which provides a dizzying and gorgeous view into the Tajo canyon — the perfect start to your walking tour of this quiet and faintly magical town.
Belfast and the Antrim Coast
Both history and fantasy are to be found in abundance in Northern Ireland. You can immerse yourself in the Titanic Belfast historical site in the morning, then hire a black cab to give you a tour of the famous murals painted during the Troubles and finish the day with a craft cocktail at a posh bar in the city center. Although you can book a bus tour to the Antrim Coast, you should consider splurging on a personalized black cab tour instead. Your driver can tell you all the legends of Finn McCool while taking you to the Giant’s Causeway, the ruins of Dunlace Castle, the Kingsroad and other Game of Thrones filming locations and possibly even a local dive serving up the best fish and chips you’ll ever eat.
For sheer relaxation, you can’t beat this picture-perfect region of Italy. Spend the day taking in the villas, churches and high-end shops in Bellagio, Varenna or Menaggio, then settle down at a lakeside cafe with a glass of wine and a plate of cheese and charcuterie while you admire the glittering waters and Alpine cliffs. Be sure to visit at least one of the many luxurious spas found throughout the area, and also treat yourself to some locally produced honey or olive oil. If you decide you need some action in addition to the pampering, you can go canoeing, windsurfing, diving, water skilling, even rock climbing and canyoning.