…okay, well maybe not literally dying, but I’m pretty excited about the prospect of finally losing my Europe virginity in 2014. With one of my dearest friends tying the knot in London, it’s a perfect excuse to take a few extra weeks (or months) off to see the continent I’ve daydreamed longest about visiting.
I’ve had a hard time condensing it to just five to be completely honest. I also didn’t want to be terribly predictable by doing the usual Paris-London-Barcelona-Rome-Athens pentad (a group of five – my word of the day), but rest assured they’d all appear on an extended list.
While I don’t yet known how long I’ll have in Europe or even how I get there (could a Trans-Siberian Railway trip make the agenda?), I do know that the European cities below will most definitely make the cut.
You may notice that all of the cities below share a certain historic beauty. What can I say? I’m a sucker for cobblestone, spires, and gargoyles.
#7 – Zagreb, Croatia
I’ve long been told of Croatia’s immense natural and architectural beauty, and what better place to soak in the latter than in the beating heart of Croatia. Most tourism these days seems to centre on the Croatian coast, but Zagreb proves a remarkably affordable European destination – something I’ll sorely need on my budget.
My fascination with Europe’s medieval period would be indulged in a city overflowing with classic architecture and cathedrals, cafes, and coffee shops. It’s just the kind of place I could sit for a few hours and write while soaking in the ambiance of the 900 year old Gradec section of the city. What better place to write the next great fantasy epic than by gaslight in a genuine medieval city?
#6 – Ljubljana, Slovenia
I first learned about Slovenia from my good friend, Eva (who I’d be hoping could offer me some couch space as I passed through) and I’ve wanted to visit the country ever since doing a little research. Castles, quaint rural villages, and the regal beauty of Lake Bled are all real draw-cards in Slovenia’s hand, and Ljubljana is the perfect jumping off point to see the often overlooked country.
Much like Zagreb, there’s a wealth of historic sights here to satiate the nerd in me wanting to walk along cobbled streets and pretend I’m one of my D&D characters out on a quest. Not that I’d do that. Never.
#5 – Berlin, Germany
Berlin certainly isn’t a city that is overlooked by travelers, but one of Europe’s most famous cities is remarkably affordable. Both flights and accommodation are helped by a competitive market place, so shopping around could well land me a cheaper stay than I’d anticipated.
Beer, history, German food, and (dare I say it) German girls are all a big part of the city’s appeal – but I’d make Germany one of my lengthier stays so I could explore a country of which I’ve read a great deal over the years. Between the natural beauty, the country’s rich history, and the ‘lure’ of seeing a site such as Dachau – Germany is one of my priorities for my 2014 trip.
#4 – Istanbul, Turkey
With the exception of Sydney, I don’t think there’s a city I’ve written more about on Aussie on the Road than Istanbul. My abiding fascination with Turkey has its roots in the continued badgering of a friend to move there – but the more I’ve learned, the more I find Turkey appeals to me.
Ancient Constantinople was a constant feature in my ancient history studies in school, and while Istanbul is a modern city, I’d still jump at the chance to set foot in such a storied city. The Hagia Sofia and the city’s many historic sections really draw me, but I daresay I’d spend a good chunk of time drinking and causing trouble with my mate, Anthony.
You can read more about Istanbul and my thoughts on the city in my Egypt v Turkey showdown.
#3 – Krakow, Poland
You might have picked up on a subtle ‘Chris is obsessed with medieval history and architecture’ vein in this post. I’ll fess up – the entire European medieval period fascinates me and it’s the main reason I’d love to visit Europe. Krakow is another city where you can see so much of this history up close.
Of course, there’s more dark tourism to be found in places such as the city’s Jewish Quarter, Oskar Schindler’s Factory, and nearby Auschwitz.
I’d also love to visit Bialowieza Forest, do a little castle hopping, and try out the spas I’ve read so much about.
#2 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Much like Berlin, Amsterdam probably features on most European itineraries. And while I would be lying if I said the red light district and the famous hash cafes are not a part of Amsterdam’s lure for me, it would be grossly underselling the place to say that my interest ended in the gutter.
Museums, cafes, canals, night life… Amsterdam just sounds like my kind of city. Much like Berlin, Amsterdam is made a bit more affordable by a variety of flights to Amsterdam and deals on hotels in Amsterdam. It’s definitely not going to be the cheapest stop on my trip, but I wager it’ll be one of the most fun.
#1 – Prague, The Czech Republic
Considered by some to be Europe’s prototypical medieval city, the beauty of Prague has made it a hugely popular tourist destination for decades. Having survived the World Wars largely unscathed, Prague still contains many of its beautiful old buildings, cathedrals, castles, bridges, and statues. It’s a veritable treasure trove of old world charm.
It’s architecture that really draws me to Prague, but I won’t say no to a good Czech beer either. Oh, and puppets. They’re not creepy at all.
What are your dream European destinations?
Re-reading mine, perhaps they sound a little dour – but what they may lack in party, party, party – I feel like they make up for in eye candy. Don’t you?
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