By Country

Venice (Venezia)

In 9 words: There’s nothing like it anywhere that I know.
For your first visit you need no less than 2 full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace. Add a full day for visiting Burano, Murano and Torcello.
Distances are walkable in most cases, but occasional usage of vaporetti and traghetti is too much fun to pass by; you’ll have to use vaporetto to go to islands in the lagoon.
Love its architectural gems, but above all, its hidden corners, with narrow streets opening onto tiny campielli.
Don’t miss: Getting a forward seat on Linea Uno vaporetto for a cruise the length of the Grand Canal; taking a ride in a gondola; getting “lost” in the city; listening to live music on Piazza San Marco.
On the other hand: A valid concern in hot season – the stench rising up from many canals. Also, during the high season, the narrow passages in the city center tend to amplify the tourist crowds unlike anywhere else.
Destination appeal
Our verdict
Worthy attractions: Basilica di San Marco with its many treasures; Palazzo Ducale; Campanile, with fantastic views over the lagoon; Rialto; Accademia; Ca’ d’Oro; Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari; Santa Maria della Salute; several other interesting churches; Murano [further afield]; Burano [further afield]; Torcello [further afield].
Left for another visit: Peggy Guggenheim Collection; Scuola Grande di San Rocco; Ca’ Rezzonico.
Last visit: (briefly) August 2014, (full) May 2009.
Grand Canal near Rialto

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Veneto

In 3 words: Not only Venice.
For your first visit you need no less than 3 full days to explore the most interesting destinations. Some places may be seen in half a day, while others require more. We are not counting Venice here, which merits several days all by itself.
Worthy destinations: Verona; Padua; Vicenza.
Left for another visit: Lake Garda; Treviso; Belluno.
Last visit: August 2014.

Venice stands out in Veneto and is covered in a separate entry. However, beyond La Serenissima, there is a number of enchanting and fascinating destinations that are well worth the visit.

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Verona

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Emilia-Romagna

In 12 words: Try not just to pass through, it is very worthwhile to stop.
For your first visit you need no less than 3 full days to fully explore the interesting destinations. Some may require just a few hours, others at least a day.
Worthy attractions: Bologna; Modena; Ferrara; Ravenna.
Left for another visit: Piacenza; Parma.
Last visit: July-August 2014.

Many people only catch a glimpse of Emilia-Romagna on the way from Florence to Venice. Destinations elsewhere may be considered more major, but a number of towns in this region are very much worth a visit.

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Fontana di Nettuno, Bologna

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Marche

In 4 words: Nice towns, good beaches.
Worthy destinations: Urbino; Fano; San Marino.
Left for another visit: Pèsaro; Ancona; Ascoli Piceno.
Last visit: August 2013.

Marche is one of the less visited regions of Italy, on account of being located away from major destination routes and not having any major destinations itself. Nonetheless, there are enchanting towns and nice beaches in this part of the country.

Independent tiny country of San Marino is also included in this entry.

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Urbino

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Umbria

In 8 words: People [wrongly] choose Tuscany most of the time.
Worthy attractions: Assisi; Orvieto.
Left for another visit: Gubbio; Perugia; Spoleto; Todi.
Last visit: August 2014.

Umbria has a lot to offer, starting with a number of dramatically positioned hill towns, highlighted by the famous Assisi. Unfortunately, Umbria is always overshadowed by its neighbor, Tuscany, and we, like many others, are guilty of mostly overlooking this picturesque region. This has been rectified a little bit recently

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Assisi

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Cinque Terre

In 4 words: Breathtaking, colorful and quaint.
For your first visit you need no less than two full days to explore all villages. If you want to walk all of the major trails and spend enough time around Portovenere, add at least one more. This does not include “beach time”.
Worthy destinations: Vernazza; Monterosso al Mare; Corniglia; Manarola; Riomaggiore; Portovenere.
Left for another visit: Islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto.
Last visit: July 2014.

Cinque Terre comprises five seaside villages, each with their own features. For nearly a millennium, the only way to reach each of the hamlets was by sea, and the remote ruggedness remains part of the character of the region, in addition to its natural beauty and the infusion of culture and colour that each village provides.

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Vernazza

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Lombardy (Lombardia)

In 6 words: Not just Milan and the lakes.
Worthy destinations: Milan; Lake Como; Mantua.
Left for another visit: Lake Maggiore; Bergamo; Brescia; Pavia; Cremona.
Last visit: July 2014.

Two places in Lombardy, Milan and Lake Como, stand out, have a much higher destination appeal, and are covered in separate entries. The rest of the region offers a number of other attractions that mostly get a short shrift compared to the two above.

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Mantua

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Milan (Milano)

In 10 words: Not overwhelmingly impressive (although spent very little time on sightseeing).
For your first visit you probably need about a day to enjoy the city’s major sights. Shopping – a key attraction here – will require additional time.
Distances are mostly walkable, but public transport will be required to reach some destinations.
Don’t miss: touring the roof of Duomo – a fairly unique and extraordinary experience.
Worthy attractions: Duomo; Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II; Santa Maria delle Grazie with Leonardo’s Last Supper [did not see the latter].
Left for another visit: Teatro alla Scala [did not tour inside]; Pinacoteca di Brera; Castello Sforzesco; Museo Poldi-Pezzoli; Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Last visit: August 2013.

Milan never excited us as a potential destination, but we made a couple of short visits nonetheless.
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Tuscany (Toscana)

In 6 words: My most favorite place on Earth.
For your first visit you need no less than 3 full days to fully explore the “must-see” destinations. With many other interesting places (and we are not counting Florence here, which merits several days by itself), you may need to budget at least a week.
Worthy destinations: Siena; San Gimignano; Pisa; Volterra; Pienza; Certaldo; towns on the Chianti Road.
Left for another visit: Lucca; Arezzo; Cortona.
Last visit: August 2013.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

San Gimignano

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Florence (Firenze)

In 9 words: Exceptional in all aspects of culture, architecture and history.
For your first visit you need no less than 2 full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace; however, the attractions – palaces, churches, galleries – are so many that you may want to budget more time.
Distances are walkable in the city center, only Galleria dell’Accademia and especially Piazzale Michelangiolo may require public transport assistance.
Love its Renaissance architecture and its grand piazzas.
Don’t miss: viewing the city’s skyline from Piazzale Michelangiolo – for my money, one of the best panoramic views in the world.
On the other hand: In years past, street vendors covered much of the space that I wanted to admire with their useless wares (the city seemed to get its act together on our last trip).
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Worthy attractions: Santa Maria del Fiore and its companions Giotto Campanile and Battisterio; Ponte Vecchio; Galleria di Uffizi, with one of the best collections of paintings in the world; Galleria dell’Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David; Basilica di Santa-Croce, resting place of many famous Florentines; Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens; The Great Synagogue; Basilica di Santa Maria Novella.
Left for another visit: Palazzo Vecchio [did not tour inside]; Badia Fiorentina; Bargello; Palazzo Strozzi; San Lorenzo; Palazzo Medici-Riccardi; San Miniato al Monte.
Last visit: August 2013.

Ponte Vecchio

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Lake Como

In 2 words: Transcendent beauty.
For your first visit you need no less than 3 full days to fully explore the top destinations. You will likely leave feeling that more time was needed.
Worthy destinations: Bellagio; Menaggio; Como; a number of villas around the lake.
Left for another visit: Varenna.
Do not miss: Renting a motorboat for a leisurely ride around the lake.
Last visit: August 2013.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Lake Como

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Rome (Roma)

In 9 words: Thousands of years of history in a magnificent package.
For your first visit you need no less than 3 full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in most cases, although you may need to use some form of transport for certain attractions.
Love its beautiful squares adorned with fountains.
Don’t miss: Climbing to the top of Campidoglio at night to get a view of the lighted Forum; finding the “keyhole view” on Piazza Cavalieri di Malta on Aventine hill.
On the other hand: Many central streets don’t look very exceptional.
Worthy attractions: Roman Forum; Colosseum; Palatine; Terme di Caracalla; Pantheon; Trevi Fountain; St Peter’s Cathedral; Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel; Castel Sant’Angelo; Santa Maria Maggiore; San Giovanni in Laterano; Santa Maria in Trastevere; Santa Maria sopra Minerva and dozens of other churches; Museo e Galleria Borghese; Ghetto.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Recommended day trip: Tivoli.
Left for another visit: Capitoline Museums; Palazzo Barberini; Palazzo Doria Pamphilj; Catacombs.
Last visit: December 2012.
Vittorio Emanuele II Monument

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Barcelona

In 5 words: Transcendent beauty and vibrant spirit.
For your first visit you need no less than 4 full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in some cases, but using metro or the bus network will be required for a number of destinations. Funicular and cable cars are another mode of transportation for getting to higher points.
Love its wide boulevards, Modernist edifices, the Catalan spirit.
Don’t miss: partaking in a musical show of Font Màgica; catching Catalan folk dancing on the Cathedral square on a Saturday; exploring La Boqueria with a possible bite at Pinotxo.
Worthy attractions: Sagrada Familia, which looks like no other church in the world; Barcelona Cathedral; Las Ramblas with its round-the-clock buzz from Font de Canaletes to Monument a Colom, and a number of imposing palaces, including nearby Gaudí’s Palau Güell [we did not tour inside]; Quadrat d’Or, which encompasses several of Gaudí’s masterpieces (foremost of them Casa Milà) and buildings by his contemporaries, especially Illa de la Discòrdia, a block of wildly different Modernist buildings, including Gaudí’s Casa Battlò; Palau de la Musica Catalana, an explosion of Modernist exuberance; Parc de la Ciutadella, not far from one entrance to which stands the unusual Arc del Triomf; Castell de Montjuïc, with its great views over the port and the city; Parc Güell, another one of Gaudí’s creations; Poble Espanyol; Aquarium; Tibidabo.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Recommended day trip: Montserrat.
Left for another visit: Palau Reial de Pedralbes; Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat; Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar; Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
Last visit: August 2011
A building on Passeig de Gracia

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Madrid

In 5 words: Monumental architecture and Spanish vibrancy.
For your first visit you need around 3 days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in many cases, but the excellent subway system will come in handy.
Love its stunning edifices and wide central boulevards.
On the other hand: Magnificent fountains on major squares are encircled by traffic with no pedestrian approach, which seriously dulls the impression.
Worthy attractions: Museo del Prado, the greatest assembly of Spanish painting; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, another magnificent collection of paintings; Palacio Real; Catedral de Almudena; Parque del Retiro, very popular on a nice summer weekend day; Museo Cerralbo; Museo Sorolla.
Recommended day trips: Toledo; Segovia; El Escorial.
Left for another visit: Monasterio de la Encarnación; Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; Iglesia de San Jeronimo et Real; El Rastro.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Last visit: June 2011.
Fuente de Cibeles

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Switzerland

In 10 words: Brilliant scenery, attractive towns – even if you don’t ski.
Worthy destinations: Zurich; Geneva; Bern; Luzern; Solothurn; Lausanne; Fribourg; Lake Maggiore; Lake Lugano.
Left for another visit: Interlaken/Thunersee area and Jungfraujoch; Basel.
Last visit: Lake Lugano in August of 2013, most of the other places in November 2010.
Destination appeal
Our verdict

Swiss skiing resorts may be the overall top attraction of this beautiful country, but it has quite a lot to offer to a discerning tourist beyond skiing. We had only limited opportunities to discover that on our European travels until late 2010, when I managed to spend a full week exploring various Swiss destinations.

Zurich

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Prague (Praha)

In 7 words: I don’t know a city more beautiful.
For your first visit you need no less than 4 days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in most cases, you will need use of public transport only to venture further afield.
Love its hundreds of spires, its varied and stunning architecture, and its recently-renovated and well-maintained feel.
Don’t miss: Climbing various towers for rooftop views (especially the Charles Bridge’s Old Town tower); strolling Charles Bridge early in the morning, before hordes of tourists arrive.
Worthy attractions: Charles Bridge; Prague Castle, including St Vitus’s Cathedral, Golden Lane and Royal Garden; Old Masters Gallery at Sternberg Palace; Old Town Hall, where you can look behind the scenes at the workings of the Astronomical Clock; Staronová Synagóga and a handful of others in Josefov; Church of St Nicholas in Malá Strana; Loreta; Strahov Monastery, with several magnificent halls; Vrtba Garden, with sweeping views over the city.
Destination appeal
Our verdict
Recommended day trip: Karlstein.
Left for another visit: Schwarzenberg Palace; Wallenstein Palace; St George’s Convent; Old Jewish Cemetery.
Last visit: May 2010.

Malá Strana side of Charles Bridge

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London attractions

In 8 words: A capital of the world, fun and happening.
For your first visit you need no less than 5 days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in many cases, but the city is vast – you will certainly need to use public transport for traveling between “clusters” of attractions.
Don’t miss: Lingering on Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square; strolling along the Thames Path; (reputedly) taking an afternoon tea at a posh salon; immersing in theater-and-pubs scene in the West End; relaxing in Green Park or St James Park.
On the other hand: The narrow twisting streets aren’t intimate enough to invite idle perambulation, but they do make driving through the city a lengthy and confusing exercise; not that you would care if you were visiting as a tourist.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Worthy attractions: Westminster Abbey with memorials to world-famous Brits; London Tower with its ravens and Beefeaters; St Paul’s Cathedral with Whispering Gallery under the dome and viewpoints on upper levels; National Gallery, one of the foremost painting collections in the world; British Museum, home to many treasures from around the world; Buckingham Palace (open to visitors only in summer); Victoria and Albert Museum; Natural History Museum with its famous dinosaur display; Science Museum; National Portrait Gallery; London Eye; Shakespeare’s Globe.
Left unexplored so far: Museum of London (on partial refurbishment until 2009); Transport Museum; a number of churches.
Wise to skip: Madame Tussaud’s – overpriced, overcrowded and unimpressive; Kensington Palace – not worth the entry price even if you absolutely have to see Princess Diana’s former digs.
Resided: 2006 through present.

The Parliament from across Thames

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Costa Brava

In 7 words: Beaches, food and quaint towns – Catalan paradise.
The length of your visit will be dictated largely by your beach-going habits. Most of the sightseeing is casual and can be apportioned to coincide with lazy pursuits. Barcelona, depending on your exact location, may be close enough for a day-trip, but far enough to make multiple day-trips impractical.
Love its pristinely maintained medieval villages.
Worthy destinations: Figueres; Pals; Pubol; Begur.
Last visit: July 2009.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

 

Illes Medes and L'Estartit

 
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Budapest

In 10 words: Striving to be Vienna, reminiscent of Paris, beautiful and regal.
For your first visit you need no less than two full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping relatively unhurried pace.
Distances between points of interest are not always walkable, you will need use of public transport more than occasionally.
Love avenues and squares of central Pest, fronted by impressive examples of 19th-century architecture.
Don’t miss: taking a dip in a hot springs spa; browsing the covered Central Market Hall; viewing the entire city from the lookout at Citadel late at night.
On the other hand: Construction and renovation was omni-present in the city during our visit – Budapest may become even more impressive once the major works are concluded.
Worthy attractions: Royal Palace grounds; Mátyás Church; Fishermen’s Bastion; Labyrinth of Buda Castle; St Stephen’s Basilica; State Opera House; Central Market Hall; Vajdahunyad Castle grounds; Széchenyi Baths; Gresham Palace.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Left for another visit: Hungarian National Gallery; Parliament [did not tour inside]; Ethnographic Museum; Hungarian National Museum; Great Synagogue [did not tour inside]; Museum of Fine Arts; House of Hungarian Wines; Margaret Island [only circled on a boat]; Aquincum [further afield].
Last visit: April 2009.

 

The Parliament

 
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Cracow (Kraków)

In 12 words: Soviet remnants on the outside, but delightfully old-European in its core.
For your first visit you need about two full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable practically in all cases, but trams may be handy. Transport will be needed for trips further afield.
Love its vast main square.
Don’t miss: Stepping into as many different churches as your time permits.
Worthy attractions: Wawel Hill with the Royal Castle; various churches, among them especially St Mary, St Andrew, St Anne, Franciscan, Bernardine; Jewish Quarter with several synagogues.
Recommended day trip: Wieliczka Salt Mines.
Left for another visit: Cracow Cathedral [did not tour inside]; Museum of Cracow at Christopher Palace; Gallery of Polish painting at the Cloth Hall; Collegium Maius [did not tour inside]; Auschwitz [further afield].
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Last visit: April 2009.

 

Market Square and St Mary's Church

 
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