10 European Destinations to Visit in 2017
The past is always visible in Europe, and experiencing history is a major reason why tourists—especially those from the relatively newborn America—come to visit. But cities keep their eyes to the future as well, and some of the most interesting places are those that are reinventing themselves. In these 10 European destinations, the past and the future coexist—whether in harmony or contrast—to mold a place that’s endlessly intriguing and well worth a visit in 2017.
In southern Portugal, this elegant waterfront city is still off the radar to most travelers, though it’s growing increasingly visible—and quickly becoming a buzzy destination within the creative and entrepreneurial expat community. It’s for good reason: The city is budget friendly—lunch at a typical café won’t take more than $10 out of your pocket. Then there’s the sun, which shines 290 days a year; the people, who are friendly and welcoming; and the fresh bacalao (salted cod), which is prepared in dozens of variations. The city itself is also gorgeous, with plenty of cultural and historical offerings. Museu Coleção Berardo, the city’s contemporary art museum, is first-rate and features intriguing temporary exhibitions. But even wandering the streets is a treat here: Manueline architecture—Portugal’s take on late Gothic—is stunning, even if it’s a bit worn around the edges. Not to miss is fado, a Portuguese musical tradition that’s hauntingly beautiful and has origins in Lisbon. Find it in one of the city’s many small, dark bars, preferably with a glass of port in hand.
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We’re throwing in a whole country here because much of Montenegro’s beauty is thanks to its landscapes. Although still fairly undiscovered, the country—arguably one of the most beautiful in Europe—attracts nature-lovers who prefer scenic outlooks and crashing waves over the bustle of cities. (However, a stopover should definitely be made in Kotor, a UNESCO town with lovely squares and Venetian palaces). Durmitor National Park offers views of peaks and glacial lakes that will sear themselves into your memory, if not your Instagram. Lovćen National Park’s Njegoš Mausoleum is also a key attraction: The 1970s edifice is built 461 steps up the park’s second-highest peak and leads to jaw-dropping vistas of the rolling hills below.
Barcelona’s long been Spain’s sexy, soulful city, but a new scene in Madrid is garnering buzz of its own. The neighborhood of Malasaña, just north of Plaza Mayor, is one of the city’s trendiest, with exciting dining, restaurant, shopping and creative concepts to visit during the day—and upbeat nightlife to enjoy after a late dinner. Corredera Baja de San Pablo, on the neighborhood’s eastern edge, is the street to wander down for a glimpse at the city’s alternative side. Art spaces have also popped up around the city in intriguing locations: Matadero Madrid, for example, is a cultural space that’s been opened to the public in the city’s former municipal slaughterhouse, and Nómada Market showcases the work of more than 120 jewelry, fashion, and other designers in a monthly fair.
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Portugal makes the list twice, and for good reason: It’s usually been overlooked in favor of neighboring Spain, but comparing the two countries is more apples and oranges than one might realize. This northern city offers up its famous wine in flights and bottles; there’s a UNESCO-listed medieval old town with colorful houses to wander through; the food scene ranges from street food (try the delicious pork sandwiches) to Michelin stars; and at night, jazz and fado fills the city’s bars and small clubs. To top it off, the town is beautiful from any angle, whether from Gustav Eiffel’s iconic Maria Pia bridge or from atop the freestanding, baroque Clérigos Tower, which offers panoramic views from 225 (narrow) steps up.
Croatia is increasingly on many tourists’ radars, and Dubrovnik, founded in the 7th century, should be among your first stops in the country. The old town is vibrant with gorgeous beaches, and it’s one of Europe’s sunniest cities, with 12 hours of it a day in May and June. Plus, it’s one of the world’s few remaining walled cities—while walking through the marble streets, you wouldn’t be wrong to feel like you’re in Game of Thrones, which shoots there (Sponza Palace, Lovrijenac fortress, and St. Dominic Street have all featured in the series). Like with Lisbon, just wandering is the best way to soak up the city, though a nighttime ride on the panoramic cable car is a tourist attraction that’s an absolute must.
Lithuania isn’t usually at the top of travel lists, but the oversight is unmerited: This Eastern European city has plenty to offer visitors—and it’s becoming more intriguing by the day as it transitions out of its Soviet past and forges its own path ahead. The city holds an annual street art festival, bringing in artists from across Europe to create permanent works, while its old town is practically a Baroque masterpiece of its own. Find a new outfit on Stikliu Street, a former glassblowers’ district that now features the work of local designers, and be sure to try local specialties such as dumpling-like _cepelinai _and the empanada-y kibinai.
Most people who go to Denmark gravitate toward the beautiful, bicycle-filled lanes of Copenhagen—but second-city Aarhus is becoming a must-visit for its vibrant Nordic food scene and beaches. Dinner at Frederikshøj, owned by Danish-Lebanese celeb chef Wassim Hallal, is a merited splurge, and there’s now three Michelin-starred restaurants to feed the increasing appetite for fine dining. For a little lighter-on-the-wallet fare, smørrebrød is the national open-face sandwich; you can find modern twists and classic versions (like pickled herring) at institutions like Kähler Spisesalon, which is famous for the dish. Aarhus was also designated a 2017 European Capital of Culture, so expect cultural events, performance, and more to pop up throughout the year. Shoppers will love the local design scene as well—be sure to check out Ganni for its effortless Scandi-cool clothing.
Describing a city as a “former Soviet bloc” conjures up a certain image—and these centers are actively working to redefine and shape their identity to fit their own cultural heritage as it meets the 21st century. Case in point is Bucharest, a city that’s increasingly appearing on must-visit lists. The Romanian capital is growing with innovative concept spaces, which contrasts with the grit left over from the Soviet years to form a city that’s full of intriguing contradictions. As this new wave looks toward the future, the past is visible in its beautiful churches and its National Museum of Art, which showcases art from the country’s best painters and draws light to its oft-overlooked position as a crossroads between East and West.
Like with Aarhus, most travelers—especially on their first visits—eschew Rotterdam for Amsterdam. But overlooking this southern city is a mistake: While most visit European destinations to get a sense of history, in Rotterdam you get a glimpse of the future, particularly through its architecture. The city has been a global leader in design, and the results are apparent not just in vanity projects but such everyday places as the city’s striking market hall. Museums abound—the Kunsthal Rotterdam puts on a whopping 25 art exhibitions every year—and the renovated warehouse district of Westelijk Handelsterrein is a beautiful place to grab a drink or meal.
Just north of Serbia’s center, Belgrade has been undergoing a revival since 1999, when the city started rebuilding in the wake of the NATO bombings. It’s still rough around the edges (a prevalence of Brutalist architecture doesn’t diminish this), but it’s safe, and glimpses of its reinvention are just as apparent as the remaining scars from the warfare. Behind the central train station, the Savamala district is a hub for culture, with creative spaces springing up in what were once abandoned warehouses and residences. Not to miss is Supermarket, a concept store featuring a spa, restaurant, fashion lounge, and bar that showcases cutting-edge design in a space proudly inspired by the city’s communist years. Bars along the river—many of them on actual boats—make for unique venues to hop between at night, and you can try a variety of local treats on the cheap, like čevapčići (a Balkan take on grilled meats) and slivovitz (a potent, typically plum, brandy).
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