Americans love lists. Top 10 This. Top 40 That. We have the Oscar’s, Emmy’s, Grammy’s, Tony’s, ESPY’s, you name it. If there’s a way to rank it, we’ll do it. If there’s not, well, we’ll still do it. We’ve a whole website dedicated to that nonsense.
So I decided to chalk up a list of my Top 5 Favorite European Destinations. This is obviously my opinion, based on places I’ve been and things I’ve experienced. So please enjoy or disagree at your own expense. Bon voyage
Okay, I cheated a bit on the first one. This is so cliché it hurts, but Paris is my favorite city on the planet, closely followed by Beijing, Tokyo and New York. I couldn’t not include the City of Lights.
I like to use one measure for cities: how much can I walk around aimlessly and continue to see something new? It brings about a sense of childhood wonder and merriment, where walking around the neighborhood sparked imaginative thoughts.
In Paris, you can wonder the alleys and backways, churches and cafes, commercial areas and hilly suburbs and still find something spectacular. Roman ruins, ancient churches and comfy coffee shops dot every treelined boulevard, path, street, whatever.
Paris is a city where the longer you live there, the more incredible it gets.
2. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
When I was on the soccer team at UChicago, we took our international trip to Croatia and Slovenia. We were all admittedly a bit ignorant on the region, wondering what could possibly be in store.
Fortunately, we went to the two former Yugoslavian republics, and in hindsight, of course we enjoyed everything we saw. Croatia is a wonderful country, complete with gorgeous, welcoming people, lush countryside, and picturesque Old World cities.
We took a bus to the interior of the country, to the Plitvice Lakes, a series of 16 cascading waterfalls, one leading into the next like a child playing with cups of water in the tub. As if the greenery and perpetual pitter patter wasn’t enough, the brilliant turquoises, grays and teals of the water will make your jaw drop.
We were even encouraged to take our water bottles and have a sip of the crystal-clear water. Tastier than Fiji, I tell ya.
As my grandparents are from continental Europe’s westernmost nation, I would be remiss to leave out the Portuguese capital. Certainl, I’m a little biased with this selection; fortunately legions of European backpackers would agree that the City of Seven Hills is a fantastic place to travel.
While part of the European Union, Portugal isn’t plagued as much by the high prices of many of capitals in the continent. You can have fantastic feasts at a number of restaurants for reasonable prices.
Red and white wines, seared pork, salted cod, crusty breads, distinct cheeses, smoked meats, strong port wine. Portuguese food is somewhat familiar to those with a “European” palate, yet entirely unto itself. Do yourself a favor and grab a multi-course meal, with appetizers, fish, meats, espresso and desserts to finish. It’ll take at least two hours, but you’ll understand the Portuguese feel, the melancholy psyche or saudades that much more.
The capital is accessible, beautiful and relaxing. Just maybe wait til the summer’s heat wave has passed.
I’m no expert on Slovenian culture, but I absolutely loved the country. We stayed in the second city, Maribor, but a day trip to the capital revealed a much livelier place.
A trip up to the castle on the hill brought about incredible viewpoints, looking over the city’s incredible architecture. Up and down the narrow walkways to the top of the hill reveals alleys brimming with personality.
A walk along the rivers is as relaxing as it is energetic with passersby. Street art, clean public transit, shopping, sports, urban design. The Slovenian capital is a great city to visit if you’re looking to avoid the large crowds in its Western European neighbors.
5. Valencia (Las Falles)
I think, on its own, Valencia is a fantastic city, complete with a number of amenities. It has a U-shaped park around city center, such that you are always within walk distance of green space. It has killer restaurants and watering holes.
However, Valencia really shines for the weeklong festival occurring every year from March 15-19. The city population swells threefold and the convivial atmosphere of Spanish cities comes out to full effect.
On the last day of the festival, every street corner has a tall effigy, which the locals will burn while lighting firecrackers, singing, dancing and occasionally watch the bomberos put out the fire.
Las Fallas is essentially a weeklong party, but not the kind the wears you thin. It’s fun, happy times, dancing in the streets with strangers until you get a rest while the sun comes up. Las Falles captures the Spanish attitude succinctly. If you’ve the time, effort or money, give the city a visit during this festival.
Like what you read? Do let me know in the comments below if you think you have a better list!!