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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions 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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Colosseum
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The Colosseum has been a symbol of Rome since 80 AD, and today it’s a top monument in Italy. Some 50,000 spectators once gathered in the amphitheater’s tiered seats to watch gladiatorial games, and though parts of its original marble facade were pilfered over the years to build the likes of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum remains remarkably intact 2,000 years later.

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Acropolis
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An archaeological wonder, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the world's most instantly recognizable landmarks, the Acropolis is the star attraction of ancient Athens. Dramatically perched on a jagged clifftop—the so-called sacred rock of Athens—the ruins overlook the modern city and date back to as early as 510 BC.

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Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
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The powerful Doges ruled the Venetian Empire from the Gothic fantasy palace that is Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale) until 1797. The site was one of the first things those arriving in Venice saw as their ships sailed through the lagoon and landed at St Mark's Square, and the doges ruled with an iron fist—justice was often meted out here. Today, the site is one of the most well-known attractions in Italy.

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Stonehenge
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An archaeological marvel, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the world’s most enigmatic tourist attractions, Stonehenge draws up to 1.3 million visitors annually. The site itself—a circle of gigantic stones standing in the heart of the English countryside—is made even more impressive by its mysterious history. Although Stonehenge’s original purpose remains unknown, onlookers gather to admire the 3,500-year-old structure and ponder its astronomical, spiritual, or even supernatural meaning.

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London Eye
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The London Eye offers unparalleled views of central London's world-famous landmarks from its prime location on the Thames River waterfront, opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The gigantic, 443-foot-high observation wheel was built to mark the millennium in 2000 and quickly became one of the most popular paid attractions in the United Kingdom.

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Royal Alcázar of Seville (Real Alcázar de Sevilla)
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Sights across the entire Spanish south have been shaped by centuries of Moorish and Catholic influence, and in few places is this more evident and captivating than at the Royal Alcázar of Seville (Real Alcázar de Sevilla). This UNESCO World Heritage Site’s sprawling complex is made up of several features; the most picturesque is arguably the Patio de las Doncellas, with its tranquil ponds that reflect the intricate mudéjar plasterwork for which the palace is especially noted.

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Porto Cathedral (Sé Catedral do Porto)
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Watching over the city from its hilltop spot, the imposing fort-like Porto Cathedral (Sé Catedral do Porto)is a reminder of Porto’s diverse history. Featuring Romanesque, Gothic, and baroque architecture, this is Porto’s oldest and largest church, a must-visit for architecture and history aficionados.

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Edinburgh Castle
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Edinburgh Castle—with its fortress walls, cobbled promenades, and winding stone steps—has loomed over Scotland’s capital city for more than 1,000 years. Steeped in history, the former royal residence is now a museum, featuring detailed exhibits; period artifacts, such as the Scottish Crown Jewels; and dark dungeons that illuminate the castle’s storied past.

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Amstel River
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The Amstel is the great river that runs through Amsterdam and whose water was diverted into the city’s famous canals. The city was first built around the river, giving it the name Amstel Dam, and today the waterway is flows past modern buildings and charming houseboats before winding its way into the Dutch countryside.

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Versailles Gardens (Jardins de Versailles)
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Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles takes the award for the most visited château in France, and the magnificent Versailles Gardens (Jardins de Versailles) are world renowned. A series of beautifully landscaped gardens, show-stopping fountains, and tree-lined pathways covering 800 hectares (1,976 acres), the gardens center on the cross-shaped Grand Canal.

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More Things to Do in Europe

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

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With its Gothic towers and central bascule flanked by dramatic suspension bridges, Tower Bridge is both a remarkable feat of engineering and one of London’s most instantly recognizable landmarks. The famous bridge is a popular subject of London postcards, leading many to mistake it for London Bridge, which is actually the next one upstream.

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Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina)

Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina)

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The Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina), part of Rome’s Vatican Museums, was decorated by art masters Sandro Botticelli and Pinturicchio in the 15th century before being completed with Michelangelo’s stunning 16th-century ceilings frescoes and monumental “The Last Judgement,” which covers the apse wall. The fresco-covered ceiling is the artist’s greatest work and one of the most important masterpieces in history, while the Sistine Chapel serves as a glorious homage to Renaissance art and one of the most visited sights in all of Italy.

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Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

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Second only to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris) is one of Paris' most iconic attractions, a marvel of medieval architecture that was immortalized in Victor Hugo's classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Today, the Gothic grandeur and stained-glass windows of the UNESCO World Heritage site continue to reign supreme from Ile de la Cite, an island in the middle of the Seine River.

(UPDATE: Notre Dame Cathedral is currently off-limits due to fire damage.)

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Orsay Museum (Musée d'Orsay)

Orsay Museum (Musée d'Orsay)

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Rivaling the Louvre as Paris' favorite art museum, the Orsay Museum (Musée d'Orsay) is known for its impressionist, post-impressionist, and art nouveau works from 1848 to 1914. Equally impressive as what’s inside the museum is its exterior: a former Beaux-Arts railway station with an enviable location on the banks of the Seine River. Both architecture and art buffs will want this museum on their Parisian itineraries.

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Piazza della Signoria

Piazza della Signoria

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Home to the imposing Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria is the most important public square in Florence. The political heart of the city for centuries, today the square is also a vibrant social hub, where locals and tourists gather at the Loggia dei Lanzi and Neptune fountain to soak up the elegant atmosphere.

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Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

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Today this central square is a popular meeting place for tourists and locals, but Plaza Mayor’s history goes back to the early 17th century during King Felipe III's reign. The central statue is a nod to the king’s role in overseeing the project's completion. Forming the outer walls are a series of 3-story buildings with balconies overlooking the center.

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St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)

St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)

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St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), often referred to as “the drawing room of Europe,” is one of the most famous squares in Italy. The geographic and cultural heart of Venice—with St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace at one end, the campanile in the center, and the colonnaded arcade topped by the Procuratie palaces lining three sides—this elegant piazza is also steeped in history. Settle in at one of the many coveted café tables and watch tourists (and pigeons) pose for photos while you sip a Bellini and soak in the square’s Renaissance splendor.

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Royal Mile

Royal Mile

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The atmospheric Royal Mile thoroughfare cuts through the historic core of Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, extending for slightly more than a mile from Edinburgh Castle all the way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Both sides of the partly pedestrianized street are bordered by historic granite buildings bearing shop display windows piled high with symbols of Scotland, from tartan to whisky to shortbread. In between the former tenements and taverns are darkened arm-width-wide alleyways, known locally as closes.

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Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

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The historic Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, is perhaps the most recognized symbol of Florence after Brunelleschi’s soaring red dome topping the Duomo. The three lower arches of this 14th-century bridge span the Arno River at its narrowest point between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Pitti Palace, and a stretch of the famous Vasari Corridor runs along its top. Situated on street level, the Ponte Vecchio is lined with pocket-sized jewelry shops and packed with locals and tourists taking a stroll or snapping photos of the colorful palazzi lining the river bank.

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Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)

Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)

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Explore the grandeur of Ottoman architecture at the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), located on Istanbul’s Old City peninsula. Opened in 1616 to rival the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) across the way, the six minarets punctuating the Istanbul skyline and 20,000 blue Iznik tiles decorating its interior are designed to inspire awe.

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Budapest Danube River

Budapest Danube River

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Flowing through the heart of Budapest, the Danube River is the lifeline of the Hungarian capital, as well as its geographic center, separating the hilly Buda district on the west bank from the bustling Pest on the east bank. The striking waterfront is also part of Budapest’s UNESCO World Heritage–listed treasures, home to landmarks such as the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, the Liberty Bridge, Buda Castle Hill, Matthias Church, the Hungarian Parliament Building, and Margaret Island.

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St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro)

St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro)

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The enormous St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) dominates Vatican City, and its dome can be seen from all over Rome. Built on the site of St. Peter’s crucifixion and over his tomb, it’s the epicenter of the Catholic Church and the burial place of many popes, including Pope John Paul II. The lavishly adorned basilica is the largest church in Italy, and it's also a museum full of priceless works of art—including Michelangelo’s spectacular Pietà and Bernini’s bronze baldachin.

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Temple of Olympian Zeus (Naós tou Olympíou Diós)

Temple of Olympian Zeus (Naós tou Olympíou Diós)

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Athenian rulers began construction of the Temple of Olympian Zeus (Naós tou Olympíou Diós) in the sixth century BC. By the time Roman Emperor Hadrian completed it 600 years later, it was the largest temple in Greece, and its statue of Zeus—king of the gods of Mt. Olympus—was one of the largest in the world. The temple began to fall into ruin shortly after it was finished; today only 15 of its original 104 columns still stand and much of its marble has been recycled or stolen for other temples. Nonetheless, what remains is a truly impressive sight to see.

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Île Sainte-Marguerite

Île Sainte-Marguerite

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A 20-minute ferry ride across the waters of the Mediterranean Sea transports travelers from the high-class commotion of Cannes to the tranquil Île Sainte-Marguerite, a small island with more pine trees than people. Bring your walking shoes and your love for the great outdoors for the perfect day trip away from it all.

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