Going on holiday to lie on a nice sandy beach and soak up the rays is all well and good, but if you’re anything like me you’ll be more interested in what you can learn about your chosen destination and finding somewhere exciting to explore. On a family holiday to Rhodes, Greece, it was my dad and I who traipsed around the Old Town and up one thousand steps to the incredible Acropolis, whilst my mum and younger brother made themselves comfortable around the pool. I’ve taken this mind-set into my early twenties and now have a distinct need to discover as much of the world as possible. Starting with Europe, I’ve highlighted the most cultural and interesting cities that make for the perfect holiday hotspots. Thankfully, I’ve been lucky enough to have already visited some of these, but the rest are definitely going on my bucket list!
Lets face it, Amsterdam has a rather split reputation amongst most travelers With a uniquely laid back approach to things us Brits would find unacceptable in our own communities, you can’t help but love a short break in Amsterdam. Is it the feeling of rebellion? Could it be the contagious, go-with-the-flow attitude that every Dutch person seems to live by? Actually, I think it’s a little bit of both, plus the abundance of amazing sights and attractions that you have to choose from whilst you’re there. You can stick to the traditional tourist options such as The Rijksmuseum and The Anne Frank House (both incredible), or you can venture into the residential areas and try your hand at bartering in a local flea and flower market. For something a little more refined, the Concertgebouw offers some of the most amazing classical concerts in the world, and the Muziekgebouw aan‘t IJ music hall hosts a huge variety of performances every day. Whatever people say about Amsterdam, you can’t fault it for diversity.
As the European Capital of Culture 2013, I’d expect quite a lot from France’s second city, Marseille. With its own unique culture, Marseille takes pride in being different from the rest of France, and has developed itself as one of the most popular destinations in Europe. Since its creation in the 18th century, Marseille’s Opéra has been the city’s most iconic attraction. Sitting in the very heart of the city, the Opéra, with its classical façade, staged some of the country’s biggest performances, and to this date hosts sell-out operas. The extensive art centre in La Friche, the varied food scene and the legacy of Tarot de Marseille all add to the city’s diverse and exciting cultural background, making it a must visit in my book.
The first thing I think about when planning a trip to Barcelona is football (as it is with most cities). The second thing I think about is culture. As the capital of the Catalonia region, Barcelona has two official languages – Catalan and Spanish – and enjoys a 2000 year history of cultural influence. With numerous museums, plenty of art galleries and a fabulous performing arts scene, this vibrant city has enough to keep you busy for days on end. The architecture, however, is the main highlight of Barcelona’s cultural identity. The ‘Gothic Quarter’ in the centre of the city boasts intricate buildings that date back to medieval times, some from as far back as the Roman settlement of Barcelona. The Art Nouveau movement left an important legacy in the city, with many of the remaining buildings now listed as World Heritage sites. One of these sites is now the most visited attraction in the city – the Sagrada Familia. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, this unfinished Roman Catholic Church is an impressive reminder of Barcelona’s rich history.
‘What?!’ I hear you ask…well actually, Liverpool is England’s only city to have ever been designated as the European Capital of Culture (2008). The best thing about the city is that almost every aspect of life there has some cultural background. A number of notable authors have visited the city and based their novels on it, including Charles Dickens and Daniel Defoe, and The Liverpool Shakespeare Festival takes place every year in a number of theatres throughout the city, drawing in huge numbers of visitors both domestic and international. Musically, the world already knows how influential Liverpool has been throughout the years. Home to The Beatles, probably the most iconic band of all time, The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and a huge number of other successful artists, the city’s music scene is unquestionably one of the best in The UK. Add to that the usual museums, The Tate Liverpool, the fabulous theatre productions and a rather fancy nightlife, and you’ve got yourself one of the most interesting cities around.
Whilst some cities are best explored on hot, sunny days with an ice-cool drink, Tallinn comes into its own during the cold winter months and begs to be explored. Wander the narrow medieval buildings, cobbled streets and old merchant’s houses that are now home to candle-lit cafes and fire-warmed pubs. You can admire the gothic town hall, discover a wealth of churches and monasteries that are dotted around the city, or head up to Toompea Hill to enjoy stunning views across this wonderful city. The most common complaint from visitors to Tallinn is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to see everything you want to, so make sure if you take a short break to Tallinn that you plan your time wisely!
Which European cities would you suggest for any culture lovers out there?