10 Must-See Cultural & Historical Attractions in Europe
EXPLORE FAMOUS SITES IN EUROPEAN HISTORYFallen empires, invading tribes, pagan gods and powerful monarchs—the history of Europe consists of wild tales and stories that could have been concocted by the most imaginative writers. Discover it for yourself through the places that have forged it! Here are our top 10 cultural and historical sites to visit in Europe.
1. The Acropolis, GreeceTowering over the city of Athens is this magnificent symbol of classical antiquity. Its first fortification walls were built about 3,300 years ago to protect the local ruler at the time. The complex only truly developed between the 8th and 5th century BC, taking on a religious purpose in tune with the rise of the cult of Athena, the city’s patron goddess. This is when the era’s best artists and architects built the citadel’s most iconic monuments: the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the Temple of Athena Nike, and more.
Recommended tour: Visit one of the world’s most beloved ancient sites with Best of Greece, which will also take you to the fabulous islands of Mykonos and Santorini.
2. Vatican City, ItalyOne of Christianity’s most sacred places also happens to be home to some of the world’s greatest Renaissance architecture and art, like Michelangelo’s legendary frescos in the Sistine Chapel. The city-state has been an important spiritual centre since Apostle Saint Peter was buried here—its importance reinforced with the construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica in the 4th century. The current Basilica (built in the 16th century) sits atop the ruins of the original one, as well as an ancient Roman necropolis of the 1st century and the circus of the Roman emperor Caligula.
Recommended tour: Make your own pilgrimage with Wonders of Italy, which also lets you take in Rome’s other essential, historical landmark… the Colosseum.
3. Stonehenge, EnglandEngland is replete with incomparable cultural and historical sites, from the Tower of London to Shakespeare’s Globe, but you just can’t beat the 5,000 years of mysticism surrounding Stonehenge, the best example of a prehistoric stone circle in the world. Since there is no written record from way back then, a plethora of myths and legends surround its construction and purpose, including one revolving around Merlin and another one claiming it’s a UFO landing pad (why not!).
Recommended tour: Invent your own myths on our Historical Retreat and cross off as many of London’s cultural attractions as possible.
4. Trinity College, IrelandWhat do Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde and Courtney Love have in common? They all studied at Dublin’s impressive Trinity College! Inside the historic walls of Ireland’s oldest university (founded in 1592!) lives one of Ireland’s greatest cultural treasures: the Book of Kells. Originating from around the 9th century, it’s the world’s most famous medieval manuscript, containing the four Gospels of Jesus Christ.
Recommended tour: Taste of Ireland, with stops in Dublin and the Ring of Kerry where you’ll experience more of Ireland’s history through Iron Age ring forts and ancient monasteries.
5. The Alhambra, SpainCrowning a rocky cliff adorned with verdant woodland, Granada’s Alhambra evokes your wildest European fairy tale. Originally built as a military fortress, the castle complex became a royal residence for the Muslim Nasrid dynasty in the 13th century. Its intricate and spectacular palaces, courtyards, and citadels comprise the best of Europe’s Moorish architecture.
Recommended trip: Take a day trip from Málaga to soak up the best of Southern Spain, topping off a visit to The Alhambra with flamenco in Seville and a stroll around Córdoba’s La Mezquita mosque.
6. The Great Synagogue, HungaryEurope’s largest synagogue and the world’s second biggest can surprisingly be found in downtown Budapest. The Dohány Street Synagogue is a dazzling building of Moorish beauty with onion dome-topped towers and rows of coloured bricks. Its complex houses the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives and the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park.
Recommended tour: Danube Done Right lets you discover all of Budapest’s wonders, from the Great Synagogue to the Baroque masterpiece that is the Buda Castle.
7. Alfama, PortugalThe oldest neighbourhood of one of the oldest European cities, Alfama in Lisbon is a maze of medieval streets and historic buildings—the 12th-century Lisbon Cathedral and 18th-century Convent of the Grace are both here. Most importantly, this is also the birthplace of Portugal’s soulful fado music, an essential part of Portuguese culture. Listen out for its melodies in Alfama’s cafés!
Recommended tour: Look to Lisbon: Capital of Cool for a cultural exploration of Portugal’s capital that includes an excursion to Sintra.
8. The Hofburg, AustriaWalk in the footsteps of Empress Elisabeth (nicknamed Sisi) to Vienna’s glorious Hofburg Palace, a palatial complex that was home to Austria’s emperors and rulers for about 600 years from the 13th century onwards. Today, the complex houses the current Austrian president, multiple museums and art collections, the Imperial Treasury, and the Hofburg Chapel.
Recommended tour: Follow the Notes of Vienna to admire the Hofburg and take a day trip to Salzburg, the filming location of Sound of Music and Mozart’s birthplace.
9. Edinburgh Castle, ScotlandFrom atop its rocky perch, Edinburgh Castle has long fueled epic Scottish legends of battles and wars. Locals believe Iron Age tribes occupied the area with a hill fort around the 1st century, but it only starts showing up in any written records around 600 AD, when epic poems refer to “Castle Rock.” In the centuries since, the castle has been used as a military garrison, royal residence, and a prison.
Recommended trip: Go around Glasgow where you can explore the city’s thriving music scene and visit the Hogwarts-like Glasgow University before veering off to neighbouring Edinburgh.
10. Catacombs of Paris, FranceBeneath the City of Lights hides a somewhat darker world… a labyrinth of bones. In the 18th century, cemeteries in Paris were over-flowing, leading people to bury bodies in underground quarry tunnels built in the 13th century. Six to seven million Parisians are buried here, but only a smart part of the morbid maze is open to the public. Spooked? Don’t be… it’s one of the most popular attractions in Paris!
Recommended tour: Try Paris & Lyon—you’ll also be able to discover a more elegant part of French history, the Chateau Versailles, and the countless culinary delights of Lyon.
What’s NextLooking for more culture and history? We’ve curated the best tours tailored to take you to Europe’s top museums, legendary landmarks and most artsy cities.
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