France has, to date, 41 UNESCO World Heritage sites. In 2010, France was the first nation to have its gastronomy recognised by UNESCO as “intangible cultural heritage”, reinforcing the imperious reputation of French cuisine. France is also a country which offers three very different coastlines (channel, western and Mediterranean), several mountain ranges (Alps, Pyrenees, Jura, Massif Central and extinct volcanos in the Auvergne), a very wide spectrum of food, and different climates.
France also has Paris and Paris has been the most romantic destination in the world in the popular imagination for time immemorial, a perception reinforced by films. It almost goes without saying, but the French capital is a huge draw for foreign visitors, over 30 million of them a year in fact, more than any other city in the world. What makes it so popular beside its city’s romantic image? There are the stunning architecture, the Louvre museum, the iconic Eiffel Tower as well as the simple pleasure of sitting at a café terrace and watching the world go by. And don’t forget Disneyland, which is a destination in itself for foreign visitors.
Romance, history, food – and chocolates – Belgium offers it all. It is a country that is simultaneously cosmopolitan and provincial. Shrouded in history, some of the most fierce battles in World War I were fought on Belgian soil at Flanders. Belgium is one of the ‘low countries’ in Europe and just like the Netherlands features an extensive network of canals. Get out on the water in the oh-so-romantic city of Bruges and admire the UNESCO protected medieval core from the comfort of your open air boat. Belgium is known for its diamonds, especially in Antwerp. Get your bling on and window-shop your way from the train station to the centre of town, past countless diamond merchants.
Leuven, a University town in Belgium is less than an hour’s ride from Brussels. Stand in awe at the over-the-top Gothic Town Hall that took three architects and 30 years to build! Erected between 1448 and 1469, this magnificent construction has three main stories and six octagonal turrets. If you are interested you can also take the guided tour to learn more about the history of the Town Hall.
Explore the warren of alleyways near the Grote Markt in Brussels in search of the Manneken Pis, the popular fountain featuring the statue of a little boy. You’ll know you are getting close when you see his likeness everywhere, including one sculpted from chocolate! Decadent chocolate truffles will tempt you as you walk down the street in every major town, from Grand Sablon Square in Brussels to the more than 50 chocolate shops lining the cobbled streets of Bruges. Marvel at the wonderful chocolate displays in every store and don’t forget to take these delicious treats for friends and family back home.
One of the main things that the Italy is sincerely proud of is gorgeous Italian cities i.e. Rome, Milan, and Venice, which are dominated by majestic cathedrals and soaked in history, to southern towns and villages such as Amalfi, Sorrento, and Positano, with charming winding streets with colorful Mediterranean houses and an unparalleled coastal vibe.
Italy’s wonderful artists, architects, engineers, and inventors, are also famous in the world, and the country is home to a lot of cultural heritage, like Borghese Gallery, Gallerie dell’Accademia, and Sistine Chapel in Vatican.
Regarding food, Italy is one of the best countries in West Europe for food lovers, from Pizza, Risotto, and Pasta.
Italy also has beautiful places, the snow-capped peaks of the Alps in the north and orange groves of Sicily in the south, magnificent lakes Como in Lombardy, cities with volcanic origin like Albano and Vico, and offcourse beautiful beaches and emerald waters.
Italy is the kingdom of shopping and an honored trend-maker for the whole world lead by the capital of fashion, Milan with its renowned brands like Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and Prada.
Luxembourg is among the safest countries in the world and a country with a large diversity. Luxembourg offers a multitude of fascinating landscapes spread over 6 regions with a rich cultural, historical, architectural and industrial heritage in a small area. Some attractions have also been listed by the UNESCO such as parts of Luxembourg City, a bustling and lively cosmopolitan city that has managed to maintain its human side. The contrast between the international business centre and the fortifications and old town, a UNESCO world heritage site, is quite unique. From the green valleys of the Ardennes, via the rock formations of the Mullerthal Region to the vineyards along the Moselle river or the Land of the Red Rocks, which still marks the industrial era back to the Guttland with lovely green spaces. Every region has something particular to offer.
Portugal’s Lisbon is one of Europe’s least expensive capitals, is easily explored in a long weekend and packs in some terrific monuments from Portugal’s Golden Age of maritime exploration. Porto is equally alluring, its extraordinary cityscape in the steep cleft of the Douro river having UNESCO World Heritage status. Or break away from the obvious and head out to two lesser known northern cities. Braga is small but vibrant, Portugal’s religious capital packed with historic churches. Nearby Guimarães was the country’s first capital city with a medieval centre that also has UNESCO World Heritage status.
In 2017, Portugal was awarded a higher percentage of Blue Flag beaches than any other country in Europe. The Algarve alone has 86 awarded beaches, with 22 in and around the bustling resort of Albufeira. The cove beaches between the historic towns of Lagos and Sagres also scored highly. But you’ll find superb stretches of sand wherever you go in the country. Even Lisbon has sublime beaches right on its doorstep: it’s a short train ride from the capital to the glitzy resorts of Estoril and Cascais.
Summer time in Portugal means festivals: lots of them, and they are invariably fun. The end of the academic year is marked by riotous celebrations in the alluring university towns of Coimbra and Évora in May, while June kicks off a series of street festivals celebrating the main saints’ days. Lisbon’s main celebration is for Saint Anthony (June 12–13) while Porto’s is for Saint John (June 23–24).
Despite their iconic status abroad, Dutch windmills actually served an utilitarian purpose for most of their history and were built in order to drain swampy marshland around the Netherlands. There are still thousands of these incredible machines dotted around the Netherlands, many of which are now protected as national monuments.
As around one third of the country lies below sea-level, properly dealing with massive amounts of water has always been an issue in the Netherlands. To deal with this unique problem, the Dutch have raised whole territories out of the sea, including an entire province called Flevoland, or constructed gigantic sea-walls, such as Zeeland’s delta works- both of which are recognised among the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
Before bicycles ran rampant throughout the Netherlands, canals were the main mode of transport in many Dutch cities. These impressive waterways allowed merchants to quickly move goods around urban centres and played a pivotal economic role throughout earlier modern Dutch history. Many of these canal systems are still intact, including Amsterdam’s iconic canal belt which is now recognised as an UNESCO heritage site.
As there are hundreds of world-leading artistic institutes scattered around the country, finding excellent, innovative and influence artwork is exceptionally easy in the Netherlands. Amsterdam alone features dozens of contemporary galleries and several highly esteemed museums that are dedicated to groundbreaking artworks.
Whilst Gouda and Edam can be found just about anywhere on Earth, these creamy golden delicacies originated in the Netherlands and are still produced at farms throughout the country. Although both varieties are readily available in the Netherlands, several Dutch towns have their very own cheese market, where fresh balls of Edam and Gouda are traded, weighed and sampled.
The Dutch have cultivated massive crops of flowers for centuries and produce millions of colourful tulips every year. These beautiful flowers are grown in farmlands throughout the Dutch hinterland and burst into full bloom around mid-May.
Switzerland offers a surprising amount of cultural variety. It’s divided into three regions, which are determined by the countries they border, and has four official languages. The German region of the country, the central and eastern part of Switzerland, is the largest and includes cities such as Zurich, Bern, and Basel. The western part of Switzerland is considered the French region and includes cities such as Lausanne and Geneva.
Switzerland is not the kind of place where tourists fear using public restrooms; in fact it’s just the opposite. The bathroom you find in a train station is probably going to be just as clean as the bathroom you find in your hotel room. And it’s not just the public restrooms, it’s the country’s public transit, streets, water fountains — you can drink from most of them, and much more.
Switzerland has some of the most incredible scenery in Europe, thanks to the majestic Swiss Alps. Even if you’re not skiing or hiking in the Alps, just looking at them is life changing enough. Probably the most well-known of the Swiss Alps is the Matterhorn.
There are castles throughout all three of Switzerland’s regions, and they’re all breathtaking. Visiting them is like being transported to a different time period. If castles and mountains weren’t enough, Switzerland also has incredible waterfalls. First and foremost, there’s the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen, the largest plain waterfall in all of Europe.
From its rich Moorish past and its position as the world superpower during the Golden Age, to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, dictatorship and the country’s successful return to democracy, Spain’s has a fascinating history that is well-preserved in its buildings and museums. Visiting Cordoba’s mosque, one of the best examples of Moorish architecture in the world, you get a real sense of the power and creativity of Spain’s Islamic rulers, and the rich legacy they have bestowed on modern Spain.
Spain has some of the world’s most famous – and wacky – festivals and fiestas, from the San Fermín running of the bulls in Pamplona and La Tomatina tomato throwing festival in Buñol, to La Rioja’s annual wine drenching festival. And as well as these more out there festivals, each Spanish town holds its own fiestas, when locals get together, dress up, eat, drink and celebrate.
In term of architecture, Spain is fascinating, from Seville’s Gothic cathedral (the biggest in the world) and Gaudi’s many Barcelona masterpieces, to Frank Gehry’s iconic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and Santiago Calatrava’s City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain is packed full of incredible architecture that encompasses both its rich history and forward-thinking modernism. rom the ancient cave paintings of Altamira and Segovia’s Roman aqueduct, to the Alhambra fortress in Granada and the pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela, the country is bursting with some of the world’s most fascinating historical and cultural sites, just waiting to be explored.
Germany (Western Part)
From big, busy urban centres, to romantic river cruises, to picturesque little hamlets, a visit to Western Germany offers all this and much more. Much of the landscape of the region has been shaped by the Moselle and Rhine rivers, which also ensures you’re bound to have beautiful river views almost everywhere you go. In addition to those views, vineyards producing up to 80% of Germany’s exported wines, and medieval castles abound.
Cologne, in western Germany, spans the Rhine River. The 2,000-year-old city oozes culture, design, great food and gothic architecture. Cologne Cathedral or Kölner Dom is the focal point of the city overlooking the old town.
Contrasting the old with the new is the Rheinauhafen area where the architecture of the modern Crane buildings reflects the city’s industrial heritage. For art lovers, the Museum Ludwig showcases a host of masterpieces and the city has one of the busiest shopping streets in Europe. Then there are coffee shops, great restaurants, beer houses and chocolate shops.
Frankfurt is the fifth-largest city in Germany and is home to the European Central Bank, making it one of the largest financial centers in the world. Frankfurt is often referred to as Manhattan, which is a combination of the River Main that flows through the city and Manhattan, another city with impressive skylines. Like many cities in Germany, many areas of Frankfurt were destroyed during World War II, and the city has since been re-built.
Düsseldorf can be found in the West of Germany and is easily one of the best cities to visit in the region. Best seen in the European shoulder seasons (i.e. spring or autumn) when the cherry blossoms are in bloom or the fall tones turn the city pretty shades of umber, you can’t go wrong by dedicating a long weekend (or more if you have time) to exploring the city.
The best times to visit West Europe are in spring (April-May), summer (June-August) and fall (September-October). In general, West Europe countries enjoys mild temperatures, although there are regional variations e.g. there’s a Mediterranean climate in the south and wetter weather in the north. In August, most of the countries closes down to chase the sunshine in the south. For budget travels, winter is one of our preferred times to explore West Europe, as the crowds are fewer, yet the restaurants are still lively with locals.
Spring (April to May) is considered one of the best seasons to visit West Europe, as temperatures start to rise and life pours back into the towns and countryside. Markets tend to reopen or double in size. Although the Easter school break can increase domestic tourism, West Europe during springtime is still relatively peaceful in terms of crowds.
In summer (June to July) across the countries, many visitors either head to the sea or to the swimming pool. June is considered one of the best months to visit, as schools are yet to break up for the summer and temperatures are just right for exploring the cities.
Some businesses throughout the countries close in August, as this is when many of the locals take trips of their own and the schools take their long summer break. However, it’s still a very popular month for travel. Temperatures are at their warmest, so you can spend your days soaking up the sun and dining alfresco.
Autumn (September to October) is one of the best times to visit West Europe. Temperatures are still warm but not too hot, creating ideal conditions for exploring both the cities and the countryside. The crowds have thinned, families have returned to school, and landscapes are illuminated with vibrant reds and golds.
In Winter (November to December), although the weather is cooler, it is still great to visit West Europe. Museums and sites are quiet, while restaurants in the cities are still lively. Christmas markets open up across the cities, where vendors sell mulled wine, cheese, charcuterie and seasonal arts and crafts. Rural areas can be quiet during these months.