Europe

Vienna (Wien)

In 5 words: Stately, elegant and imperially magnificent.
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 many cases, but you will need use of public transport to venture to some destinations.
Love its stunning architecture, enthralling squares, beautiful gardens, relatively unhurried pace.
Don’t miss: Walking the circle of central squares – Graben, Hoher Markt, Judenplatz, Am Hof, Freyung; making a trip to Grinzing for heurigen experience [further afield]; going to a Mozart or a Strauss concert, or both.
Worthy attractions: Alte Burg, especially Schatzkammer and Nationalbibliothek; Stephansdom; Schönbrunn palace [further afield]; several arresting churches, such as PeterskircheDominikanerkircheKapuzinerkirche (the latter housing Kaisergruft), Karlskirche, Votivkirche; horse training at Spanische Reitschule; Albertina; StaatsoperKunsthistoriches Museum; Stadtpark with its popular Strauss statue (as well as several less popular others); Belvedere; Schwarzenbergplatz and the Red Army monument; Hundertwasser-Haus; Prater.
Destination appeal
Our verdict
Left for another visit: Burgtheater [did not tour inside]; Museum für Volkskunde.
Last visit: December 2016.

View from Vienna Cathedral tower

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Austria: Graz, Linz

Austria is full of interesting destinations other than its magnificent capital, Vienna.  On my travels, I only had a chance to visit a couple of those places for comparatively short time.  Below are brief notes.
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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; Alcala de Henares.
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: November 2016.
Fuente de Cibeles

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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.
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: Hospital de Sant-PauPalau Reial de Pedralbes; Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat; Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar; Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
Last visit: August 2016
A building on Passeig de Gracia

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Girona and 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: GironaFigueres; BesaluPals; Peratallada; Monells; PalamosPubol; Begur.
Last visit: August 2016.
Destination appeal
Our verdict

 

Illes Medes and L'Estartit

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French South-West: Carcassonne

Although a younger member of the family once spent a whole month in Biarritz on a French language immersion program, we have primarily drove through the south-western regions without stopping in the past. The only destination that we have explored on our travels in this area is Carcassonne.
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Andorra

In 2 words: Pretty enough.
For your visit one day should be sufficient, unless you are planning to hike the trails of Madriu-Perafita-Claror valley, which can be a multi-day adventure.
Worthy destinations: Andorra La Vella; Madriu-Perafita-Claror valley.
Last visit: August 2016.
Destination appeal
Our verdict

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Catalonia: Tarragona

Majority of visitors – we are not really an exception – focus on Barcelona and Costa Brava and Girona province when visiting Catalonia. There are other parts of the region that warrant attention.
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Stockholm

In 3 words: Stately and impressive.
For your first visit you need no less than three days to be able to appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are mostly walkable in the city center, but occasional use of public transport is necessary.
Love its waterfront areas with colorful architecture.
Don’t miss: catching the sunset from Monteliusvägen.
Worthy attractions: Royal Palace; Vasa Museum; Drottningholm Palace; Storkyrkan; Riddarholmskyrkan; Tyska Kyrkan.
Left for another visit: City Hall (did not step inside); Skansen; ABBA Museum; Junibacken; Museum of National Antiquities (Historic Museum); National Museum; Nordic Museum; Birka (further afield).
Last visit: August 2015.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Royal Palace and Storkyrkan

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Bergen

In 3 words: Historic and vibrant.
For your first visit a single day may not be sufficient to be able to appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in the city center, public transport is needed only in a couple of cases.
Don’t miss: catching the sunset from Mount Fløyen.
Worthy attractions: Bryggen; Hanseatic Museum; Rosencrantz Tower; St Mary’s Church; Fantoft Stave Church; Floibanen.
Left for another visit: Bryggen Museum; Troldhaugen Edvard Grieg Museum; KODE Art Museums.
Last visit: August 2015.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Bryggen

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Norway in a Nutshell itinerary

If you are traveling in Norway independently of any tour operators and cannot set aside a couple of days of self-driving to and staying around the most scenic fjords, Norway in a Nutshell itinerary may be your only option to include fjord-seeing in your overall plans. It gives you a few highlights of Norwegian landscapes and history, but it is no more than a fleeting impression, significantly diluted by waiting for and then traveling on crowded modes of transportation. Overall, this is NOT the way to see Norway. Once again, it could be your only option.

Nærøyfjord

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Bergen Railway

It takes shy of 7 hours to get from Oslo Central Station to Bergen Central Station via Bergen Railway. What you lose in time compared to air travel you compensate in terms of hassle-free embarkation and disembarkation experience, ease of access to the points of departure and arrival, and of course the scenery. This is one of the most scenic train rides in Europe.
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Oslo

In 6 words: Underrated but with plenty to enjoy.
For your first visit you need about two full days to be able to appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in the city center, public transport is needed for some attractions.
Love its provincial feel mixed up with occasional grandeur.
Don’t miss: walking the roof of the Opera House; sailing on a tall ship around the harbor.
Worthy attractions: Cathedral; Frogner Park with Vigeland sculptures; Royal Palace; National Gallery; City Hall; Fram Museum; Viking Ship Museum; Akershus Castle; Opera House.
Left for another visit: Kon-Tiki Museum; Norsk Folkemuseum; Munch Museum; Vigeland Museum; Akerbrygge.
Last visit: August 2015.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Karl Johans gate and Royal Palace

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Overnight ferry Copenhagen – Oslo

Whether your itinerary allows for overnight sailing (as opposed to a few hours for a door-to-door journey centered on air travel) or you are doing it for pleasure, the trip from Copenhagen to Oslo (or reverse) on DFDS Seaways is likely to leave overall positive impressions. The ship leaves the port of origin at 4:15pm and reaches the destination at 9:45am the following morning. If you are into scenic travel, you have several hours of navigating Øresund and Oslofjord when the sun is up. If you are into shopping and entertainment, you are on a big cruise ship, with all attendant amenities.
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Copenhagen (København)

In 5 words: Plenty to see and do.
For your first visit you need no less than two and a half days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace. Add another day for trips further afield.
Distances are walkable in the city center, you are unlikely to need use of public transport much, except for going further afield.
Love its colorful buildings and juxtaposition of old and new.
Don’t miss: climbing to the top of the Church of Our Savior.
Worthy attractions: Christiansborg’s Royal Rooms; Rosenborg and Kongens Have; Nyhavn; Church of Our Savior and Christianshavn around it; St Frederik Church; Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek; Round Tower; David Collection.
Recommended day trips: Roskilde for its cathedral; Helsingor for Kronborg Castle.
Left for another visit: Tivoli Gardens amusement park; Frederiksborg; two other museums at Christiansborg; Danish Jewish Museum; Statens Museum for Kunst.
Last visit: July 2015.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Nyhavn

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Netherlands: Delft, Utrecht, more

In 6 words: Land of tulips, windmills and canals.
For your first visit you need a couple of days of touring or of day-tripping from Amsterdam to see the most interesting places.
Don’t miss: Tulip gardens during their blossoming season (mid-March to mid-May).
Worthy destinations: Zaanse Schans; Delft; Utrecht; The Hague; Keukenhof Gardens; Waddenzee/Ameland; Kinderdijk.
Left for another visit: Alkmaar; Haarlem; Leiden; Rotterdam; Paleis Het Loo; Den Bosch; Maastricht.
Last visit: May 2015.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Netherlands is not a big country, so you can reach many of its interesting locations on day-trips from Amsterdam, even if you do not have the luxury of actually touring the country. Amsterdam notes are found here.
 

Windmills in Zaanse Schans

 
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Amsterdam

In 6 words: Beautiful and serene city on canals.
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 the city center, you are unlikely to need use of public transport much, except for going further afield.
Love its canal-side architecture, the unique look.
Don’t miss: paddling along the canals on a canal bike; catching the flower market.
On the other hand: The canals are flushed nightly and the city streets are cleaned, but all of the rubbish floating in the water and strewn on the sidewalks during the day makes for a slightly off-putting impression.
Worthy attractions: Central canal ring; Rijksmuseum, with good collection of Dutch masters; Van Gogh museum; Rembrandtshuis, with many paintings by the master; Anne Frankhuis; Oude Kerk; Westerkerk and its bell tower; Willet-Holthuysen museum; Our Lord in the Attic, a unique church; Bloemenmarkt, which will bowl you over with its variety of tulip bulbs on sale; Koninklijk Paleis; Vondelpark, a wonderful place to kick back; the Red Lights District.
Destination appeal
Our verdict
Recommended day trips: Zaanse Schans; Muiderslot.
Left for another visit: Joods Historisch Museum; Portuguese SynagogueAmsterdams Historisch Museum; Nederlands Scheepvaart Museum; Stedelijk Museum; NEMO.
No intention of trying: Drugs.
Last visit: April 2015.

Kaisergracht

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Edinburgh

In 5 words: Vibrancy and eye-catching landscape.
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.
Distances are walkable, public transportation is unlikely to be needed.
Love its dramatic topography.
Worthy attractions: Edinburgh Castle; Royal Mile.
Left for another visit: St Giles Cathedral (did not go inside); Scottish National Gallery; People’s Story at the Canongate Tolbooth; Holyrood Park; Palace of Holyroodhouse: Real Mary King’s Close; Sir Walter Scott Monument; the New Town; Greyfriars Church; Museum of Childhood.
Last visit: March 2015.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
On Royal Mile

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Scotland

In 8 words: Breathtaking landscapes, lakes, beautiful castles, and yes, whisky.
For your visit anything less than 4 full days will leave plenty of unexplored; to take in all of the variety on offer, a week may be the bare minimum.
Worthy attractions: Edinburgh; Eilean Donan castle; Urquhart castle; Highlands and Speyside distilleries.
Left for another visit: Skye; Islay; Glasgow; Dundee; Aberdeen; many other distilleries and castles.
Last visit: March 2015.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

 
The whisky trails and Edinburgh deserve their dedicated entries on this blog. This article highlights other places in Scotland that we visited all too briefly.

Eilean Donan castle

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Scottish whisky distilleries

Over the course of two different trips separated by six years, I have visited 14 different Highlands and Speyside whisky distilleries in Scotland. The visits ranged from very detailed to extremely brief, from formal tours to quick tastings. There are over 80 working distilleries in those two regions combined, but the ones I targeted are among the most frequently sought out by the visitors. Below are the notes on each place.
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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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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; 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: 2006-09, last visit in 2010.

The Parliament from across Thames

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High-speed trains in Europe

Travel by train is considerably more common in Europe than in the US, with multitude of routes, options and departures. Besides vast commuter networks in and around large metropolises and regular long-distance service, there are several high-speed networks that reach most if not all of the major destinations in Western Europe.

We, so far, took advantage with only a couple of those.
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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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Minor attractions and restaurants in southern parts of London

Southern parts of Greater London hold their own attractions. Among the major ones are Greenwich and Blackheath in Southeast, Kew Gardens and Hampton Court Palace in Southwest…

This entry discusses some minor attractions along the southern edges of the city, including several eateries. While as a tourist you are unlikely to specifically venture for a visit, it is still worth cataloguing the ones we are familiar with.

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Restaurants in London

  Over the last decade or so, London’s dining scene has become so diverse that there are literally hundreds of excellent places to eat for every taste in the world. Living within easy reach of so many great restaurants, we certainly make efforts to occasionally experience some of them. This entry provides brief reviews of the various places we visited.

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Paris

In 4 words: Simply incomparable in spirit.
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. Allow an extra day for visiting Versailles.
Distances between major sights are longer than in many other European cities. You will need to use the excellent Metropolitain more than occasionally.
Love its café culture, the people-watching, the romantic feeling it fills you with.
Don’t miss: Viewing Eiffel Tower from Trocadero; taking a Seine boat ride; relaxing in the shade in Jardin du Luxembourg; taking a stroll through a market.
On the other hand: Architecture of the city center is too uniform (six-story apartment buildings everywhere) to be remarkable.
Worthy attractions: Eiffel Tower; Notre-Dame; Sainte-Chapelle; Louvre; Arc de Triomphe; Musée d’Orsay (especially its impressionists collection); Musée de l’Orangerie (especially Monet’s Les Nymphéas); Monmartre with Sacré-Coeur and the painters’ market; Panthéon; Opéra Garnier; Musée Carnavalet; Conciergerie; Hôtel des Invalides; La Défense; Jardin des Tuileries; Jardin du Luxembourg; a number of churches.
Destination appeal
Our verdict
Recommended day trip: Versailles.
Left for another visit: Musée de Cluny; Petit Palais; Musée Rodin; Musée Picasso.
Wise to skip: Cabaret Lido.
Last visit: November 2008.

View from Tuileries to Arc de Triomphe

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Rochester

Rochester ♥ is one of the nearest southeastern day-trip destinations from London (less than half an hour by car from Blackwall Tunnel) and is a pleasant place to explore.

Rochester Cathedral as viewed from the Castle keep

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Legoland

Legoland ♥, located near Windsor, failed to make a great impression on us, primarily because we found the rides to be underwhelming and they are quite short, especially in relation to interminable wait times (which you can get somewhat around by renting a Q-bot – see below).
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French North and East: Reims, Strasbourg

While we drove many miles through northern parts of France on our way to more southerly destinations, we did not explore this part of the country much, with only two short stays in major towns to our credit. Hopefully, more opportunities will present themselves in the future.
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Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera)

In 3 words: The glamorous Mediterranean.
For your first visit, depending on the season, you may want to spend anywhere from three to seven days. There are several destinations in the area that each warrant a day to explore.
Worthy destinations: Nice; Cannes; Monaco; St-Tropez; Grasse.
Left for another visit: Antibes; Vallauris with Musée Picasso; Villefranche-sur-Mer; Cap Ferrat; Menton.
Last visit: August 2008; most of the main destinations were last visited in May 2002.
Destination appeal
Our verdict

Nice

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Provence

In 6 words: One of the Paradises on Earth (but explored very little by us)
Most people would make a week or more out of a Provençal holiday; it’s a place conducive to leisurely pursuits in addition to sightseeing.
Worthy destinations: Avignon; Pont du Gard; Aix-en-Provence; Arles.
Left for another visit: Marseille; St-Paul-de-Vence; Orange and Châteauneuf-du-Pape; Gordes; Gorges du Verdon; any number of villages.
Last visit: August 2008 for Aix; April 2002 for other destinations.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
A square in Aix

Provence is one of those dream places that attract with its blend of food, wine, history, weather and people. I see a movie with a Provençal background and I immediately think I want to be there. Now! As it happens, my actual familiarity with Provence is rather cursory: On two occasions now, in 2002 and 2008, we spent a bit of time at a few major sights and missed on experiencing the quintessential Provençal lifestyle in our haste to get to the Riviera.

Hopefully, this will eventually be rectified.

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French West and Southwest

It is rather arbitrary to combine areas of France to the West and South of Paris into a single region. The only true commonality here is the fact that these parts do not figure high on foreign travelers’ wish-lists, with only a couple of exceptions. Mont-St-Michel (yet to be visited by us) and the Loire Valley (a 5-star destination whose detailed overview can be found at this link) come to mind, but little else.

Nonetheless, since most of the destinations in these parts do not rise to status of “major”, they are being combined under the loose “West and Southwest” umbrella.
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Windsor Castle

The Windsor Castle ♥♥♥, which remains the official residence of the British monarch, as well as an oft-used location for various State occasions, is grand and magnificent.

Private wing of the Windsor castle

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Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Sissinghurst Castle Garden ♥♥ is a well-known and worthwhile half-day excursion from London.

Sissinghurst Castle, Kent

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Belgium: Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent

Brussels is conceivably the only major capital in Europe that is not the prime tourist destination in its own country. At least, every time I have a travel-related conversation and Belgian destinations pop up, it is not “Have you been to Brussels?” that people ask. That honor most frequently belongs to Bruges (or Brugge), but I have heard both Antwerp (Antwerpen) and Ghent (Gent) invoked in that regard. Each of these three cities are worthy destinations in their own right. What follows is our travel notes for each of them.

For your first visit you can probably leave a day for each of the three towns. They, however, each offer more than just nice walks and views, so if you plan to see a couple of museums, you’ll need more time.
Preference: Bruges and Ghent equally, then Antwerp.

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

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