So you’ve decided to take a grand trip through Europe. Step one, complete. That still leaves you with 44 countries and endless things to see, do, and eat. Decisions, decisions. If staring at the map fills you with mild panic (what if you miss something important?), don’t worry — this list will help you see Europe’s highlight reel.
Love architecture? Make sure to swing by Florence’s domed cathedral and Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia. Fancy yourself a royal? Head to Versailles and the Doge’s Palace to get a taste of the good life. Not sure what you want to do? Read on.
It’s more than just a pile of rocks: Stonehenge remains shrouded in mystery ever since its appearance in England over 4,500 years ago. The prehistoric monument has puzzled archaeologists and scholars alike, with lots of interesting theories (but no real consensus). Nobody seems to know much about why it was built, or how, for that matter. Neolithic builders apparently lugged these giant stones over 200 miles from Wales. It’s only fitting that you travel just as far (by bus, don’t worry) to see these strange standing stones for yourself.
2. The Florence Cathedral
Construction of this stunning Italian cathedral began way back in 1290, and took over a hundred years to build. With its giant brick dome and unique design, it’s remained one of Tuscany’s major attractions. See why these three massive buildings were named a UNESCO World Heritage site on a long and winding climb up the Dome’s interior.
3. The Eiffel Tower
Is there a more iconic emblem of France than the Eiffel Tower? Berets, striped shirts, and the Parisian penchant for tobacco aside, the Eiffel Tower is a definite symbol for all things French, and a must-see place to visit on your next trip through Europe. A cruise down the Seine with bubbly in hand after you’ve seen the city from the top doesn’t hurt either. Salut!
4. The River Thames
The River Thames is both the longest river in England and a major symbol of London’s long and winding past. Ride the waves on a cruise from Westminster to Greenwich and learn more about London along the way. There’s a lot to see here — like a lighthouse and a wall covered in bright street murals that are only visible from the water. The river also provides about two-thirds of the city’s drinking water: don’t worry, it’s a lot cleaner now than it was back in the 19th century.
5. The Palace of Versailles
See what happens when royal power gets free reign at Louis the XIV’s decadent Palace of Versailles. With the Hall of Mirrors and 700 hundred rooms, it’s easy to get lost here. You definitely need a guided tour of the palace to absorb the magnificent splendor and hear about the debauchery that took place on this regal playground. Plus, sweeping past the peasants (uh, crowds) to get exclusive access to the palace doesn’t hurt, either.
Pompeii was an ancient Roman city known for its dramatic demise. Before it was tragically covered in ash in 79 AD, the city was synonymous with bathhouses, villas, resorts, and temples, After Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption, Pompeii was covered in almost 20 feet (6 meters) of ash. The ash was able to preserve artworks, mosaics, frescoes, and artifacts of everyday life. This makes Pompeii the perfect place for archeology enthusiasts to learn more about the past on a guided tour with a professional archeologist.
8. The TV Tower
It’s funny to think that the TV tower, or Fernsehturm, was constructed by the East German government as a symbol of communist power. Long after the fall of the wall, the tower became a symbol for one of the freest, most radical cities in the country. Visit this iconic tower on your next trip to Berlin and get a bird’s-eye view of Europe’s “poor but sexy” capital. Stop for a two-course lunch and spectacular 360-degree views from one of the tallest observation decks in Europe.
9. London Eye
It might look just like a giant Ferris wheel, but the London Eye is officially described as the world’s tallest “cantilevered observation wheel,” where you can see the city from all sides. Fancy descriptions aside, the view from the top is pretty breathtaking. Forget the flimsy open-air carriages filled with kissing couples at a regular theme park: here you can expect to see chic capsules that can hold up to 25 people at a time.
10. The Sagrada Familia
This unfinished basilica in Barcelona is long-considered Gaudi’s masterpiece. It’s also where the famous Spanish architect was laid to rest. Art and architecture buffs should head here and take a guided tour to soak up the surreal combination of Gothic, Art Nouveau, and Modernist styles with a specialist guide. And make sure to bring a camera — when light hits the stained glass windows…well, you’ll see for yourself.
11. The Louvre
See the world’s largest and most-visited art museum (with an expert guide, of course), and learn about what makes this place an important historical monument of France. The Louvre is Louis XIV’s former palace, which he later abandoned in favor of Versailles, but where he maintained the extensive royal collection. Now the museum houses over 38,000 artworks inside. A day spent wandering the many galleries of the Louvre is a fascinating education in the history of Western art.
12. The Uffizi Gallery
Breeze through the lines with a small group at the Uffizi Gallery and dive into the Renaissance. This world-renowned gallery is known for its collection of works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and more. Not only is a visit to the Uffizi Gallery great for seeing masterpieces up close and personal, a guided tour is also the best way to see the lesser-known works of art that most tourists miss. Bonus points: check if your face freezes in place (as legend claims) after seeing Caravaggio’s famous Medusa (snake-coiled hair and all). If you’d rather play it safe, have your travel buddy try it out first!
13. Park Güell
If Park Güell looks like something out of a fairytale, don’t be surprised: the popular Barcelona park is another brainchild of Antoni Gaudi, the famed architect whose signature whimsical style makes its mark throughout the city. Listen to the chirping parrots, hummingbirds, and other creatures on your walk through this lush park, which is almost entirely free and open to the public.
The Golden Circle describes the route in southern Iceland that covers the country’s lovely landscapes and attractions along about 186 miles (300 km). It passes beautiful waterfalls, active volcanoes, (Strokkur is said to erupt every 5-10 minutes), and a big national park. It’s the most direct and simple way to enjoy the stunning Icelandic scenery when you travel through this Nordic land. Plus, just think of the pictures you’ll take.
16. The Seine River
If Paris is for lovers, the Seine is where they go for a picnic. This river runs along the border of Paris and it’s where Monet was inspired to paint his famous water lilies series. Make your own romance on a sunset cruise here: you’ll be serenaded by music while gazing out at the lit-up Eiffel Tower, Louvre, and other famed monuments.
The Tower of London’s got it all: jewels, Beefeater guardsmen, ravens circling its premises, and even a lawn where more than a few of Henry VIII’s wives met their fate. It’s all about imprisonment, torture, and intrigue. In other words: a very dark, royal affair — one that you can learn more about on a grand tour with a “Yeoman Warder.”
19. The Alhambra
One of the most intricately decorated and mysterious medieval palace in the world, the Alhambra stuns visitors every year with its more than 10,000 Arabic scribblings on the walls and ceilings. Decipher the texts yourself on a trip to the beautiful palace, and see the royal residences, marble columns, and lush gardens that make up this regal estate.
20. The Colosseum
Get your gladiator roar ready for the biggest amphitheater on earth and the former stadium for fights between men and beasts during the Roman era. Stand where the gladiators once stood on an arena tour, where you can skip the entrance lines and see a part of the Colosseum that’s usually restricted in its access.