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Things to Do in Europe

Arguably the most culturally diverse continent in the world, Europe inspires even the most seasoned traveler with its natural beauty, plentiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites and amazing variety of cuisines. Since it’s possible to encounter multiple languages during a day’s travel, a local guide is always a good idea. Take a cooking class after visiting the Colosseum and the Vatican in Italy; enjoy the feisty flamenco and the architectural masterpieces of Spain’s Barcelona and Andalusia; enjoy boat trips and beachfront beers in Greece, Portugal, and Croatia; and explore Istanbul’s cultural melting pot in Turkey. Further north, Germany is home to the Black Forest and the undisputed capital of cool, Berlin; while a bohemian chic scene, fine French fare, and the Eiffel Tower make Paris an essential stop. For quaint windmills, tulip-filled fields, and serpentine canals, head to the Netherlands; for staggering natural landscapes, explore the Swiss Aps, the Scottish Highlands, the otherworldly wonders of Iceland, and the picture-perfect lakes of Austria. You can learn about the history of Stonehenge and tour iconic London landmarks in England; or stray from the beaten track in the Gothic cities and bohemian towns of Romania, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Finally, head to the cosmopolitan Scandinavian capitals in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark for cutting-edge cuisine and art. Whatever type of traveler you are, Europe’s multi-faceted appeal is guaranteed to excite—and inspire more than one visit to properly see it all.
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Cefalù Cathedral (Duomo di Cefalù)
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Though the giant, craggy La Rocca may dominate the Cefalù skyline, the Cefalù Cathedral (Duomo di Cefalù) competes for that attention. The Norman-style church was constructed starting in 1131, prompted — according to legend — by Roger II, who, during a shipwreck at sea, promised God that if he survived, that he’d construct a church right in this very place. Today’s cathedral is noted for its fortress-like exterior, and for its interior mosaics, particularly the lavish Christ Pantokrator mosaic.

The grand mosaic is complemented by a relatively humble interior, which makes the contrast all the more striking. Almost just as important as seeing the inside of the church is experiencing it from the outside from the palm tree-filled plaza. It’s the perfect place to grab pizza, coffee or an ice cream — you might pay a premium for it, but the splendid views and free cathedral-entry more than make up for it.

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Maddalena Archipelago (Arcipelago della Maddalena)
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For deserted lagoons, turquoise waves, and fabulous beaches, set sail for the Maddalena Archipelago (Arcipelago della Maddalena), just off the Costa Smeralda. The group of seven islands and dozens of islets between Sardinia and Corsica is a national park, with crystalline waters for diving and unspoiled coastlines.

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Myrtos Beach (Paralía Mirtos)
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A regular on lists of the world’s best beaches, Myrtos Beach (Paralía Mirtos) is a 0.5-mile (700-meter) expanse of gleaming white sand curving between two high promontories on Cephalonia’s north coast. While the stunning color comes from rounded pebbles and coarse sand, not fine powder, the view from the blue Ionian Sea is spectacular.

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House of Waterford Crystal
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Waterford Crystal, the prestigious brand behind New York City’s Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball and the chandeliers at Westminster Abbey, was founded back in 1783. These days, the public can visit the main crystal factory complex to observe skilled craftsmen blowing the molten crystal or browse a collection of dazzling crystal pieces.

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Olympic Museum Lausanne (Musée Olympique)
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Welcome to the Olympic Museum Lausanne (Musée Olympique): 1,500 objects, 32,292 square feet (3,000 square meters) and seven hours of audio-visual and interactive material make it the largest archive of Olympic Games in the world. Its state-of-the art, hands-on exhibition immerses visitors in the history and spirit of the Olympics on an approximately two-hour tour of the museum's three stories and surrounding grounds.

Your visit to the museum begins in the basement but ends up in the Olympic Village, where hundreds of athletes live and train over 15 days. Discover how they eat, how they relax and how technology influences their training by trying your hand at interactive devices that will allow you to experience the extent of their physical capabilities.

On the ground floor, you'll learn about the Games themselves with a 180-degree theater and a display room full of memorabilia and Olympic medals. The second-floor exhibit is dedicated to the Olympics' ancient origins and showcases torches from every edition of the Games since 1936, as well as the first Olympic flag, dating back to 1913.

Good for both sports fans and families, the Olympic Museum is a popular stop among visitors arriving to Lausanne on a day trip from nearby Geneva or Chamonix. Most trips include a guided tour of the iconic Château de Chillon and a stop in the lakeside town of Montreux, so you can make the most out of your visit to the Swiss countryside.

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Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta (Duomo di San Gimignano)
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Taking prize place beside the Town Hall on Piazza Duomo, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta (Duomo di San Gimignano) ranks among most impressive monuments of San Gimignano’s UNESCO-listed historic center.

Behind its comparatively reserved façade, the church’s main claim to fame is its exquisite frescos, which date back to the 14th and 15th centuries, and remain remarkably unrestored. The bold colors and painstaking detail bring to life iconic biblical scenes including Cain and Abel, Noah’s Ark, the Garden of Eden and dramatic depictions of Heaven and Hell, with highlights including works by Bartolo di Fredi, Lippo Memmi, Benozzo Gozzoli and Taddeo di Bartolo.

Adjoining the church, the small Museum of Sacred Art includes more works taken from the Duomo and other San Gimignano churches, including a Crucifix by Benedetto di Maiano and the ‘Madonna of the Rose’ by Bartolo di Fredi.

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Gornergrat Railway (Gornergrat Bahn)
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Dating back to 1898, Switzerland’s Gornergrat Railway (Gornergrat Bahn) continues today as Europe’s highest open-air railway. Its train whisks sightseers and skiers from the resort town of Zermatt to the mountain’s 10,135-foot (3,089-meter) station, while providing views of Alpine hamlets, colossal glaciers, and the iconic Matterhorn.

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Newcastle Castle
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Newcastle’s oldest building, Newcastle Castle comprises a 12th-century keep and the 13th-century Black Gate gatehouse. Once part of a huge fortress, the two separate, restored fortifications offer the chance to roam ancient chambers, chart the castle’s and city’s history, and soak in sweeping views of Newcastle’s Quayside.

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Mezquita (Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba)
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Originally the site of the Christian Visigoth Church San Vicente dating back to AD 600, the Mezquita (Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba) stands as the city's most proud monument and one of the most exquisite Islamic structures in the Western world. Learn about its rich history while taking in the 850 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite.

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Guggenheim Museum
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Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and opened in 1997, is hailed as one of the most important architectural works of its time. Within its undulating and reflecting walls on the banks of the Nervión River, you’ll find a rotating artistic wonderland of both modern and contemporary art.

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More Things to Do in Europe

University of Coimbra (Universidade de Coimbra)

University of Coimbra (Universidade de Coimbra)

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Portugal’s oldest university, the University of Coimbra (Universidade de Coimbra) was founded in 1290, and is located in the former capital city. Now a popular tourist destination, the university was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2013, and boasts notable architecture, a botanical garden, a science museum, and more.

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Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

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With its dramatic Gothic facade and Britain’s highest church spire at an impressive 404 feet (123 m), the Salisbury Cathedral is one of the country’s most visited religious monuments, drawing some 250,000 visitors each year. As well as admiring the cathedral’s remarkable 13th-century architecture and exquisite stained-glass windows, visitors can climb the 332 steps to the top of the tower for a magnificent view of Salisbury.

The cathedral’s star attraction is an original copy of the 1215 Magna Carta, one of the world’s most famous and significant documents that remains a cornerstone of British law. An interactive Magna Carta exhibition walks visitors through the historic events of its legacy of social justice. The cathedral also holds the world’s oldest working mechanical clock, which dates back to 1386, and afternoon tea in the Bell Tower Tearooms.

The best way to discover the cathedral is on a 90-minute guided tour of Salisbury, with entrance included. Many visitors opt to visit on a day trip from London, often combined with a visit to nearby Stonehenge or Avebury stone circle.

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Pula Arena (Pula Amphitheatre)

Pula Arena (Pula Amphitheatre)

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Built under the reign of Emperor Vespasian between 27 BC and AD 67—around the same time as Rome’s Colosseum—Pula Arena (Pula Amphitheatre) is one of the largest Roman amphitheaters in the world. Today, it’s the best-preserved ancient monument in Croatia and is still used as a performance venue that accommodates up to 20,000 spectators.

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Zugspitze

Zugspitze

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Located close to the Austrian border and soaring to a height of 9,718 feet (2,962 meters), the snow-crowned Zugspitze is Germany's highest mountain and one of its most popular ski resorts. The views from the top are spectacular, spanning the German and Austrian Alps.

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Gdansk Old Town (Gdańsk Stare Miasto)

Gdansk Old Town (Gdańsk Stare Miasto)

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One of the largest historical centers in Europe, Gdansk Old Town (Gdańsk Stare Miasto) will take you back to the Middle Ages. Due to significant damage during World War II, many buildings are reconstructions of their historic counterparts, but a good number of original structures do remain. Almost one third of the streets in the Old Town have had the same names for more than 500 years.

The Old Town doesn’t have a main square; instead, activity centers around the long pedestrian street known as Dlugi Targ, or Long Market. Standing in the middle of Dlugi Targ is the impressive Neptune Fountain, built in 1633. One highlight of any tour around the Old Town include the 14th century Gothic style city hall, which today is home to the Historical Museum of Gdansk. Another must-see is the House of Uphagen, an 18th century town house that offers a glimpse into how the wealthy burghers of that era lived. Also of note are the 12th century Green Gate, the Dlugie Ogrody (Long Gardens), the colorful and cobbled Mariacka Street, St. Mary’s Church and Targ Weglowy (Coal Square).

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Barreta Island (Ilha Deserta)

Barreta Island (Ilha Deserta)

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A sandy, uninhabited island off Portugal’s Algarve coast, Barreta Island (Ilha Deserta) is a popular beach destination and wildlife refuge inside Ria Formosa National Park. With freshwater lagoons, salt flats, sand dunes, and more, the park has a diverse range of habitats—each with its own resident population of birds and other species, including chameleons.

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Trapani and Paceco Salt Pans Natural Reserve (Riserva Naturale Integrale Saline di Trapani e Paceco)

Trapani and Paceco Salt Pans Natural Reserve (Riserva Naturale Integrale Saline di Trapani e Paceco)

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The Natural Reserve on the Sicilian coast from Trapani to Marsala is set aside for multiple uses, from collecting sea salt to preserving wildlife. The salt pans are still used to harvest sea salt, using the same methods that have been used for centuries, which include the use of some historic windmills. There is also a museum, set in a former salt mill, that is dedicated to the salt harvesting history in the area.

As a haven for wildlife, the Trapani and Paceco Salt Pans Natural Reserve (Riserva Naturale Integrale Saline di Trapani e Paceco) has been under the direction of WWF Italy since 1995, and visitors can often see more than 150 species of birds here. Among them, look for flamingoes, cranes, storks and osprey.

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Sassi di Matera

Sassi di Matera

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A European Capital of Culture, the UNESCO-listed Sassi di Matera are one of Basilicata’s most fascinating destinations. The cave dwellings and caverns carved into the hillside of Matera date from prehistoric times and were inhabited until the 1950s. Today, they host unique hotels, restaurants, churches, and museums.

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Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

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Discover a national symbol and gain insight into England’s history at the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Canterbury Cathedral. Dating back to 597, the site has held religious significance for centuries, drawing pilgrims to the location of Thomas Becket’s murder and visitors interested in its medieval towers, chapels, and stained-glass windows.

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St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche)

St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche)

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One of two places of worship in the center of Leipzig, St. Thomas Church is home to the remains of composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who once worked as the church’s music director. The current building dates to the end of the 15th century, and the roof above its vaulted ceiling is one of the steepest in Germany. Martin Luther preached at St. Thomas on Pentecost Sunday in 1539, but the church may be best known for the St. Thomas Boys’ Choirs founded centuries earlier, in 1212.

A 223-foot (68-m) church tower rises above the surrounding skyline, featuring four bells that ring hourly and on the quarter hour. The church contains two organs, one of which was built in semblance to Bach's in the Paulinekirche—as well as a Gothic altar. Next to the church is a sculpture of Bach, added in 1908.

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Baredine Cave (Grotta Baredine)

Baredine Cave (Grotta Baredine)

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Tunneling to depths of 433 feet (132 meters), the Jama-Grotta Baredine is one of Istria’s most impressive natural wonders. While most visitors come to admire the dramatic stalactites and stalagmites, the cave is also famous for a subterranean lake filled with cave olm, fish-like that are creatures endemic to the region.

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Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Catedral de Santiago de Compostela)

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Catedral de Santiago de Compostela)

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The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Catedral de Santiago de Compostela) is one of the most important shrines in Christendom, believed to be the final resting place of St. James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles. The Romanesque, Gothic, and baroque structure is the terminus of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) pilgrimage routes through Northern Spain.

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