8 Life-Changing Trips to Take in Europe
When it comes to Europe, it’s hard to find a spot that doesn’t have major appeal. But with tempting food and wine regions, and riveting history around every corner, being spoiled for choice makes picking a single destination that much harder. Here, we did the dirty work for you, narrowing down our once-in-a-lifetime list to just eight.
Oslo and Bergen, Norway
Usually, we're all about planning our own trips from top to bottom, but when it comes to this Scandinavian nation, we're taken with Fjord Tours' Norway in a Nutshell. Erase whatever tour stereotypes come to mind, because this isn't some stuffy bus ride around the country, but rather a self-guided, entirely customizable trip (you purchase your own tickets, decide on train times, and fashion an itinerary based on expert recommendations). Our route of choice? Oslo to Bergen. Traveling west, you'll whoosh past snowy ski slopes and grass-roofed fjord-side homes on the train; zip down one of Europe’s steepest roads by bus; and cruise down a UNESCO-stamped fjord by boat. In Oslo, start with the slightly bizarre, sculpture-filled Vigeland Park before resting up at The Thief Hotel, then hop on the Nutshell route to Bergen. Nestled amidst a hill-hugged bay, the city's historic harbor is the perfect place to pass a sunny afternoon with its fish market and lefse (Norwegian flatbread), cheese, and beer stands. If you decide to stick around for a couple days to hike the surrounding hills (you definitely should), check in at Hotel Oleana, a boutique stay on Torgalmenningen—Bergen's most famous avenue.
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Amalfi Coast, Italy
One of Italy’s most postcard-perfect regions, the Amalfi Coast conjures romantic images of striped umbrellas and colorful cliffside towns. Throw regional food and wine into the mix, and a road trip down the coast is all but guaranteed to be amazing. Use Sorrento as your entry point, stopping for a meal at Don Alfonso 1890, a two-Michelin-star restaurant that crafts Mediterranean meals you won't soon forget (pro tip: take a peek at the ancient caves that double as the restaurant’s wine cellars). Continue crossing the peninsula to reach Positano on the other side as it's there you’ll find the quintessential beaches and bright buildings you came for, then stop over in Amalfi proper. Don’t miss the town’s 13th-century cathedral peering down over the Piazza Duomo—and a stay at the five-star Monastero Santa Rosa, an ideal spot for luxurious seclusion. Cap of your trip with Ravello to see the iconic Villa Cimbrone gardens. Just a short drive from Amalfi, the breathtaking town—set high above the sea—is a must-visit on any coastal itinerary.
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It’s hard not to fall in love with Paris—take this from a writer who actively tried not to, but lost the battle hard. The second you lay eyes on its sidewalk cafes and romantic boulevards, or take to Sacré-Cœur's stairs to gaze out over the city's panorama, you'll what we're talking about. Montmartre remains one of Paris' most special neighborhoods and a stay at Hotel Montmartre Mon Amour plants you in the perfect position to discover the area's charming cafes and food-filled streets. Don't miss Rue Lepic, a lane overflowing with patisseries and boulangeries. While you could truly spend a week in the hilltop 18th arrondissement and not get bored, if you do manage to tear yourself away, then you'll want to hit up Paris’ top sights. If you're a first-timer, Notre-Dame de Paris, Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre, and Arc de Triomphe top the must-see list.
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Edinburgh and Highlands, Scotland
Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh is like nowhere else on earth. Look towards Old Town from Princes Street, and you’ll see gardens that sink below street level before they’re interrupted by a cliff face. On one end is a brooding castle, then, on the other side—sloping down to meet Holyrood Palace—are centuries-old buildings which have borne witness to some of the world’s most famous figures (see: David Hume, Adam Smith, Sir Alexander Fleming, and Robert Louis Stevenson). The town is chock-a-block with memorable meals; go for the three-course prix fixe menu at the Royal Mile's Witchery by the Castle; chow down at Chez Jules, a homestyle French restaurant with exceptional house wine just off of Princes Street; opt for eclectic fare at the Outsider; or, if you're keen on pubs, go for candlelit Canny Man’s, a family owned spot with a stellar whisky selection. Of course, there’s more to see in Scotland than Edinburgh; once you head out of the capital, set your sights on the iconic Highlands. Travel north via the North Coast 500—Scotland’s answer to America’s Route 66. Must-see stops along the way include Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, the majestic Cairngorms National Park, and the Speyside whisky region. After all, a trip through Scotland would hardly be complete without a wee dram at Glenfiddich. Stop by for a distillery tour and you'll leave with a new appreciation for how this “water of life” is made.
Cyclades Islands, Greece
If coastal getaways have your heart, Greece’s Cycladic Islands—particularly Mykonos and Santorini—are not to be missed. While the towns' white walls, blue domes, and 16th-century windmills—rising up in cliffside layers between sea and sky—are oft-seen images, nothing beats seeing them IRL. Go for the golden beaches, flavorful mezes and fresh seafood, and the simple joy of wandering quaint, quiet streets. At the end of a day of exploring in Mykonos, check in and recharge at Madoupa Boutique Hotel, a luxury retreat with a rooftop pool. Once you make your way to Santorini, go for a taste of relatively under-the-radar Greek wines at SantoWines Winery, a vineyard located along Pyrgos's caldera.
RELATED: Island Hopping in Greece: The Perfect 7-Day Itinerary
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It isn’t just the landscape—dotted with white hilltop villages and olive oil farms—that make Spain's southern agricultural region so alluring. Start in Granada, a charming mountain city, with a visit to the majestic Alhambra, a palace and fortress that was run by both Muslim Moors and Christian kings. From there, cross the region via bus or train to Seville, a seductive city that’s home to the Royal Alcazar Palace, which, at one point, shared craftsmen with the Alhambra. Still home to the Spanish royal family when they come through town, visitors are welcome to hang out in the residence's backyard. Sangria—from the museum café—in hand, just keep an eye out for the friendly peacocks that preen for delighted visitors. Stop in at the circa-1528 gothic Seville Cathedral while you’re in the area, and, a bit further, the famous Plaza de España. Tapas are best at the traditional Bodega Dos de Mayo, or, if you favor large plates, pop over to NoLugar near the trendy Alameda neighborhood for creative Moroccan-Spanish fusion. Our favorite neighborhood in the city, though, is Triana—which often gets overlooked by tourists in favor of the more central, and—honestly—more crowded, Santa Cruz. About a 20-minute walk from the center of town (across the Gualdalquivir river), the 'hood is the home to two of Spain’s most recognizable traditions: tile-making and flamenco.
Time your Provence trip for summer; June through August is when the region’s famous lavender fields are in full glory. Take it all in from Gordes, one of the region's most stunning hilltop villages, or opt for the larger city of Avignon—an absolute must for foodies. If you're interested in both, stay in the countryside at Auberge de Cassagne and Spa, a retreat that's simultaneously secluded and within reach of Avignon’s restaurants and charming streets. Of course, this is France, and the region is also known for its wine, so plan a day trip to one of the many vineyards producing Syrah and Granache grapes, two varieties which combine to form the symphony-in-a-bottle known as Cotes-du-Rhône. Prefer white? Don't miss a trip to the famous village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape where nearby vineyards produce the eponymous drink.
RELATED: Your Perfect Week in Provence: The Ultimate 7-Day Road Trip Itinerary
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Dalmatian Coast, Croatia
Croatia is currently one of Europe’s buzziest destinations, and for good reason: just across the water from Italy, the country's Dalmatian coast shares gastronomical ties with the more-popular destination, but the culture, wine, and charm here are all its own. Start in the historic Old Town of Split, where a day wandering the narrow streets and stopping off for a pre-dinner cocktail in one of the many squares is one well spent. Grab a modern Croatian meal (and don't skimp on wine) at Food and Wine Bar Zinfandel before heading home to Hotel Vestibul Palace. Come morning, hit the port area to catch a ferry to nearby Brac Island, one of the quieter isles off the coast of Split (Hvar has a party-hardy reputation), that charms from the start with a small, palm-lined harbor. Hotel Osam is a thoroughly modern option with stunning sunset views from its rooftop bar, but don't get too attached as you'll also want to see Korcula, an island deservedly known for its beaches. End your trip down the coast with a visit to red-roofed Dubrovnik, the most well-known Dalmatian town, and, more recently, the filming location of several Game of Thrones seasons. Ignore the swarms of GoT tourists to wander the medieval old town, and then end your day at the Grand Villa Argentina, a seaside resort with well-kept gardens and a private beach.
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