Parts of Canada are often referred to as being distinctly more European than the United States, having perhaps retained more cultural influence from colonial days. Some even go so far as to label Montréal the Paris of North America! That might be going a little bit far, but the parallel is no doubt appreciated. Because of the connection between Europe and Canada, however, a trip to Western Europe can be a very appealing idea. The obvious places to visit – London, Paris and the like – don’t really need any more promotion. But these are some other ideas to keep on your list.
Nice is not exactly an obscure vacation destination. Though in the shadow of Paris, it’s probably fair to say that most other great French destinations go at least partially overlooked. This is a picturesque city on the French Riviera, which is essentially to say the Mediterranean coast of France. Originally founded by the Greeks, it’s become as nice a modern seaside city as any in Europe.
As you might expect, the main draws in Nice are on the coast. While the city itself has plenty to offer, various parks, markets, and monuments along the actual coastline are the main attractions. Castle Hill is a popular sightseeing stop, essentially the vague ruin of a hillside castle overlooking the water. The Old Town, in this case, called the Vieille Ville, is just a block up from the coastline, and as is true in many older European cities, is well worth walking through. And the Cours Saleya is a food and flower market that’s on the beachfront end of Vieille Ville and is always buzzing with tourists and locals alike. Plus, as you might assume, the coast itself is incredible. Strolling the promenade in the early evening – perhaps after a cocktail and before a nice dinner – is one of the nicer things you can do in France.
From a tourism perspective, Portugal can seem to exist in the shadow of Spain, and even those who do aim to visit Portugal often aim for wine country in Douro, or the capital of Lisbon. Thus, Porto can be missed, and it really ought not to be. It’s a pretty city straddling the Douro River and makes for a great relaxing retreat. The Dom Luis Bridge is perhaps the most noteworthy attraction in town, having been designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel (the man who built the Eiffel Tower). Beyond the bridge, however, this is a town for excellent local wines, fresh seafood, and low-key relaxation. You can tour cathedrals, walk through the gardens, and layout on the nearby beaches, and chances are you’ll leave with a far deeper appreciation of Portugal.
Newcastle is a city with a lot of character, known largely for its shipbuilding history, its iconic walking bridge, and the football club Newcastle United. However, it’s also noteworthy because of its close proximity to some of England’s finest ancient castles, which make for an incredible tour.
If you haven’t seen them before it can almost be hard to remember that European castles are very real, and have been around for hundreds of years. We see castles in films and television shows, and we battle through them in games. There’s an online slot game for that matter in which building the most impressive castle can win you the heart of the princess. That just about sums up our romantic feelings toward European castles and the era they represent. It’s a fun fantasy, but it obscures the even more sensational reality of thick, towering fortresses dotted all around Europe. Near Newcastle, you can see and tour Warkworth Castle (an ancient but imposing ruin), Alnwick Castle (a gorgeous structure dating back to the 11th century), and Bamburgh Castle. All of them are just north of Newcastle, and they’re among the very best castles you can see in England.
Here again we have a fascinating city that is simply less prominent than some of its national counterparts (such as Berlin and Munich). Nowadays, Frankfurt is best known for two things: its World War II history (the city was greatly damaged) and its status as one of the major financial hubs of Europe. The former will certainly appeal to history lovers, though the latter isn’t exactly a tourism draw.
Nevertheless, Frankfurt is a surprisingly strong sightseeing destination. The 14th century St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, a Gothic monument in red sandstone, is every bit as impressive as some of Europe’s more famous religious buildings, and The Romberg (the Old Town centre square) has fairytale charm. In addition to outdoor sightseeing, Frankfurt also offers some of the best museums in Germany, including the Museum of Ancient Sculpture, the Museum of World Cultures, and Senckenberg Natural History Museum.
And then there’s Bruges, a medieval town in Belgium that may be best known internationally via the film In Bruges. It’s a hit man film starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson that makes a real attempt to explore the city via its storytelling. As one review put it, the camera lingers lovingly over scenery that looks awfully pretty…. It’s true that the film paints an appealing picture of the city, even if the subject matter is violent. We see old cobblestone creeks, bleakly beautiful canals, and most of all the famous bell tower that reaches into the sky from the market square (and which plays a major role in the story). The film is actually a pretty good tourist pitch. Bruges isn’t a city packed with super specific attractions or things to do. But it happens to be one of the better-preserved medieval cities in Europe, and that makes it special just to walk and spend time there.