The Best Tourist Attraction in Europe. You have to start on many details a few months before you – Things such as passports (see Chapter 9), rail passes (see Chapter 6), airline tickets (see Chapter 5), and travelers checks (see chapter 4). But for now, just sit and dream of the possibilities. In Europe, you will find some of the most outstanding museums, historic sites in the world, culinary creations and architectural wonders. In this book, I will guide you to the best of the best.
You can navigate beyond the palaces and decaying churches collapsing on the Grand Canal of Venice for a bus ticket prices. You can drain creamy Guinness cups clapping of traditional Celtic music on a pub crawl through Dublin. You can splurge on a 5 star meal in Paris, the Mecca of haute cuisine. You may want to watch for hours on the touching famous scene, almost finger of God Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo in Rome. Or sit at the top of Schilthorn Mountain Switzerland, surrounded by snowy peaks and valleys filled with glaciers, while eating breakfast in a revolving restaurant at 10,000 feet. Or enjoy a picnic lunch on the Greek island of hundreds of feet above the Mediterranean Santoríni amid the ruins of a Mycenaean city. Europe is yours to discover and experience. This book opens the doors.
The Top Museums – The Best Tourist Attraction in Europe
I give away no secrets by admitting that Europe is home to some of the world’s greatest museums, displaying a cultural kaleidoscope of Western culture from classical busts and Renaissance frescoes to Impressionist landscapes and postmodern sculptures.
- The Louvre (Paris): The short list has to start with the Louvre (see Chapter 13), one of those great catchall museums that opens with ancient sculptures (including that armless beauty Venus de Milo), runs through Egyptian mummies and medieval artifacts, and then showcases some true icons of Renaissance art, including Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Delacroix’s ultra-French Liberty Leading the People.
- Musée d’Orsay (Paris): After exhausting yourself at the Louvre, you can cross the Seine River to visit an old train station that’s been transformed into the Musée d’Orsay (see Chapter 13). The Orsay picks up the thread of French art where the Louvre leaves off, highlighting the best from the Romantic period onward, including the world’s greatest collection of crowd-pleasing Impressionists like Manet, Monet, Degas, Cézanne, Renoir, Gaughin, van Gogh, Seurat, and more.
- The Vatican Museums (Rome): Arguably, Europe’s greatest collection of museums all in one place belongs to the Vatican Museums (see Chapter 19). The Vatican’s Painting Gallery houses Raphael’s Transfiguration and Caravaggio’s Deposition. A slew of antiquities collections together preserve some of the best bits of ancient Greek, Egyptian, Etruscan, and (naturally) Roman sculpture on the continent. Then you find the former private papal apartments frescoed by the likes of Pinturicchio and Raphael, and, of course, the Sistine Chapel with its ceiling frescoed by Michelangelo.
- The British Museum (London): You can get up close and personal with artifacts from the dawn of human history at London’s renowned (and admission-free) British Museum (see Chapter 10). No nook or cranny of the ancient European, Mediterranean, or Middle Eastern worlds is overlooked, from Celtic treasure hordes to the Elgin Marbles of Greece’s Parthenon, from the remains of Assyrian palaces to the Rosetta Stone that helped archaeologists crack the language of hieroglyphics, and from intricately decorated Greek vases to room after room stacked with Egyptian mummies and their fabulous treasures.
- Museo del Prado (Madrid): The Museo del Prado (see Chapter 22) stands on equal footing with the Louvre and Vatican Museums but is (quite unfairly) not nearly as well known. So much the better, really, because that means you get to enjoy its paintings by the greats of Spanish art — the courtly and insightful Velazquez, the creepy and dark Goya, the weirdly lit and uniquely colorful El Greco, and the truly warped and surreal Hieronymus Bosch — without the huge crowds and long lines.
- The Uffizi Galleries (Florence): Take a spin through the Uffizi Galleries (see Chapter 20), a veritable textbook on the development of painting during the Renaissance. Compared to the great museums of other cities, the Uffizi is small, but it houses an embarrassment of riches, from earlier works by Giotto, Fra’ Angelico, and Botticelli (the goddess-on-a-half-shell Birth of Venus and flower-filled Primavera both hang here) through the height of the Renaissance represented by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo.
- The Deutsches Museum (Munich): Overloaded on art and ancient relics? Head to the Deutsches Museum (see Chapter 15), one of the greatest science and technology museums on Earth. Whether you’re turned green with envy at the fleets of early Mercedes, wowed by eye-popping electrical demonstrations, impressed by a hangar full of historic aircraft, intrigued by the lab benches where some of the earliest experiments in nuclear physics took place, or entertained by the giant machines they use to dig tunnels under the Alps, this informative and often hands-on museum is a delight for all ages.
The Top Historic Sights – The Best Tourist Attraction in Europe
Europe is the wellspring of Western culture, a living textbook of human history. People think in terms of centuries and millennia here, not decades. Americans may speak of fond memories of the ’60s; Italians just as breezily refer to fond collective memories of il seicento (the 1600s). Europe allows you to dip into history at just about any point.
- Best Greek and Roman ruins: you can see the remains of ancient Greek and Roman empire, the old 1,500 to 3,000 years, with half the ruined temples at the Acropolis or Ancient Agora in Athens or Delphi in inland Greece (see Chapter 24). Or how about the Roman Forum, the ghost town of Ostia Antica, or the ultimate sports arena, the Colosseum – all in or near Rome (see Chapter 19)?
- Best Site Prehistory: ZONA Prehistoric including sites such as Stonehenge (see Chapter 10) in the UK, Akrotiri (see Chapter 24) on the Greek island of Santorini, the tomb passage of Newgrange (see Chapter 12) in Ireland, and the remnants of early settlement of what now Paris excavated under the square in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral (see Chapter 13).
- Best Castles: You’ll find castles from the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages (from AD 500-1500) strewn across Europe, such as the Tower of London (see Chapter 10), with bloody legends and famed crown jewels; Edinburgh Castle (see Chapter 11), glowering atop a volcanic hill in the town center; and Prague Castle (see Chapter 18), with soaring cathedral and half-timbered old alchemist shop track.
- About Medieval best: This era also saw the development of big cities, leaving the world with rock-quarters of the medieval such as the Altstadt of Bern (see Chapter 17), which Stare Mesto in Prague (see Chapter 18), Trastevere (see Chapter 19), and the Barri Gòtic in Barcelona (see Chapter 23).
- Best Hill Towns: Tiny hill towns and hamlets sprung up between AD 500 and 1500, as well, and this book illustrates the best of them, including Chartres in France (see Chapter 13), Innsbruck in Austria (see Chapter 16), a Tuscan hill town from Siena and San Gimignano (see both in Chapter 20), and a time capsule Spain from Toledo and Segovia (see both in Chapter 22).
The Top Culinary Delights – The Best Tourist Attraction in Europe
European dishes run the gamut from röschti (deluxe fried potatoes spiked with ham and eggs) rib-sticking of the Swiss Alps on a traditional French coq au vin (chicken braised in red wine with onions and mushrooms); of 101 types of sausages in Prague with a superb cheese unknown from Ireland nibble after dinner at a rural B & B.
- Best Mediterranean Food: The Cooking of Italy (see Chapters 19 through 21) far beyond pasta – although it is so good here you probably do not care. You can taste the fish of the Adriatic in Venetian trattoria is protected by gondoliers local, mighty bistecca fiorentina (T-bone oversized brushed with olive oil and pepper then roast) in Florence, or gnocchi al pomodoro (potato dumplings in tomato sauce) followed by a saltimbocca ( wine-cooked veal layered with sage and prosciutto) in a Roman restaurant installed in the ruins of an ancient theater. Night in Madrid (see Chapter 22) – where dinner starts at 10:00 – it may mean a traditional roast suckling pig at a restaurant has not changed since the days when Hemingway was a regular, or giant Valencian paella (rice tossed with a medley of seafood ) to share with everyone at the table under the wooden beams of the country-style inn.
- The Best British Food: English (see Chapter 10) once had a reputation for serving what is considered the worst cook in Europe, featuring shepherds pie (beef stew limited by whipped potatoes) and bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes). But, oh, how times have changed. Many disappointed Paris, London now enjoy the hottest restaurant scene in Europe, and the celebrity chef and designer dining spot peak surfing modern trends cook and serve the coolest fusion cuisine.
- The Best Bet For The Sweet Tooth: Sure, French and Italian pastries are divine, but you can also your sweet tooth satay in Vienna (see Chapter 16), home of the Sachertorte, the original Death by Chocolate. And what better way to cap off a night of clubbing in Madrid rather than join the locals for Chocolada y churros (fried dough strips you dip in thick hot chocolate) as the sun rises? Do not worry: You will do so much walking in your way that you probably will not gain too much weight. , , of course assuming you do not find gelato (super-rich ice cream) from Florence (see Chapter 20) or toffee trifle cake in the UK (see Chapter 10).
- Best beer and wine: Most tourists know that, to wash all you can drink some of the best wines in the world in France and Italy, or taking a sip from a pint-sized mug of beer in Germany. But did you know that the Eastern European beer finally getting the recognition it deserves in Prague (see Chapter 18)? And rightly so, because all Pilsners, and what is Budweiser, originally came from the Czech Republic. And what heuriger in Vienna (see Chapter 16)? This family-run wineries serving up small sample of white wine accompanied with a simple, hearty Austrian cuisine.
The Architectural Highlights – The Best Tourist Attraction in Europe
Europe is home to some of the world’s greatest cathedrals, palaces, and castles. You can marvel at the diversity of gargoyles and sparkling rose windows on Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral (see Chapter 13), gape at Michelangelo’s Pietà sculpture and Bernini’s towering altar canopy in Rome’s St. Peter’s (Chapter 19), and admire many creations of medieval masonry or Renaissance engineering in between.
- Chartres Cathedral (Beyond Paris): Chartres Cathedral (see Chapter 13) is a study in formal Gothic, from its 27,000 square feet of stained glass to its soaring spires and flying buttresses.
- Salisbury Cathedral (Beyond London): Britain’s answer to Chartres is Salisbury Cathedral (see Chapter 10), spiking the English countryside with one of the medieval world’s tallest spires.
- Mark’s Basilica (Venice): The multiple domes, swooping pointed archways, and glittering mosaics swathing St. Mark’s Basilica (see Chapter 21) hint at how this great trading power of the Middle Ages sat at the crossroads of Eastern and Western cultures; it’s as much Byzantine as it is European.
- The Duomo (Florence): When the Renaissance genius Brunelleschi invented a noble dome to cap Florence’s Duomo (see Chapter 20), Europe’s architectural landscape changed forever. Domes started sprouting up all over the place. Visit Florence’s original, and you can clamber up narrow staircases between the dome’s onion layers to see just how Brunelleschi performed his engineering feat — and get a sweeping panorama of the city from the top.
- Residenz Palace and Schloss Nymphenburg (Munich): In the 17th and 18th centuries, powerful kings governing much of Europe felt they ruled by divine right — and built palaces to prove it. The Bavarian Wittelsbach dynasty ruled for 738 years from Munich’s Residenz Palace and the pleasure palace outside town, Schloss Nymphenburg (see Chapter 15).
- Hofburg Palace (Vienna): The Hapsburg emperors set up housekeeping in the sprawling Hofburg Palace (see Chapter 16), where the chapel is now home to a little singing group known as the Vienna Boy’s Choir, and where museums showcase everything from classical statuary and musical instruments to medieval weaponry and the imperial treasury.
- Buckingham Palace (London): You can line up to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (see Chapter 10), and even tour the royal pad, assuming Her Majesty Elizabeth II isn’t at home.
- Versailles (Beyond Paris): You can ride the RER train from downtown Paris to the palace to end all palaces, Versailles (see Chapter 13), where Louis XIV held court, Marie Antoinette kept dangerously out of touch with her subjects (who were brewing revolution back in Paris), and the Treaty of Versailles was signed, ending World War I.
- Neuschwanstein (Beyond Munich): Tourists aren’t the only ones looking to recapture a romantic, idealized past. Mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria was so enamored by his country’s fairy-tale image that he decided to build Neuschwanstein (see Chapter 15) in the foothills of the Alps south of Munich. This fanciful 19th-century version of what Ludwig thought a medieval castle should look like is a festival of turrets and snapping banners that later inspired Uncle Walt’s Cinderella castle in Disney World.
- Sagrada Famiglia (Barcelona): Lest you think the architectural innovations are all relics of the past, head to Barcelona, where one of the early 20th centuries’ greatest architects, Antoni Gaudí, used his own unique riff on Art Nouveau to design everything from apartment blocks to a cathedral-size church, Sagrada Famiglia (see Chapter 23), still under construction.
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