5 Places to Visit – Europe

Following from last week’s blog about 5 places I’d like to visit within the UK, this week it’s the turn of Europe to feature in a similar list as I cover 5 places I’d like to visit in Europe. Ranging from the most western capital city on the continent to two of the Baltic’s port cities, my top 5 cover all sorts of history, culture and things to do.

Budapest, Hungary

Formed from the unification of Buda, Óbuda and Pest, Budapest sits on the banks of the River Danube and contains a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as the world’s largest thermal water cave system. In fact Budapest has a number of claims to some of the world’s largest in various categories:

Budapest’s stunning Parliament Building
  • Parliament Building – The Hungarian Parliament Building is the third largest parliament building in the world at 268m long and 123m wide. The building is 96m high, a significant number in Hungary, with the country having celebrated it’s millennium in 1896. Across the four floors the building contains a whopping 691 rooms and it is completely free to visit if you arrive before 8am or 3200HUF (about £8) for EEA residents after that.
  • Buda Castle – Rising above central Budapest on Castle Hill, Buda Castle lies to the west of the Danube. With an area of 4.73km2, the castle covers an area almost twice the size of Vatican City and the principality of Monaco combined. Containing the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the National Széchényi Library, the castle contains plenty to do. The castle also contains the Halászbástya (Fisherman’s Bastion), a 140m long façade parallel to the Danube which provides a unique panorama of the city.
  • River Danube – Running from the German Black Forest to the Romanian Black Sea coast, the River Danube flows for 2,850km, more than the 13 longest UK rivers combined! Along with the impressiveness of the river alone, the central area of the city along the river’s banks has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987.

Gdansk, Poland

Situated on Poland’s Baltic coast, the city of Gdansk has had an eventful history, ranging from its glory days as a Hanseatic port to the atrocities it witnessed during the Second World War. Now Poland’s sixth largest city, and centre of the country’s fourth-largest population centre, Gdansk has lots to explore and discover:

Gdansk’s riverside
  • The Royal Route – Flanked by the Highland Gate at one end and the Green Gate at the other, Gdansk’s Royal Route was once the path of processions for visiting Kings of Poland. This stretch of the city contains many of the city’s attractions, including the major pedestrian thoroughfares of Ulica Dluga (Long Lane) and Dlugi Targ (Long Market).
  • Polish Post Office – Site of one of the first acts of World War 2 in Europe, the Post Office was attacked by paramilitaries and police of the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk). Essentially Danzig had been made a free city following World War I in 1920 to allow Poland access to a major port. Having been part of Germany, anti-Polish sentiment was high within the city and when Germany started its September campaign in 1939, city forces soon joined the offensive against Polish establishments. Polish personnel defended the post office for over 15 hours against the aggressors before surrendering.
  • Riverside – With the port occupying the land nearest the Baltic sea, the city of Gdansk occupies land on the banks of the Motlawa river. The embankment of the river through the centre of the city has become a cultural hotspot with lots of places to eat and drink as well as wonderful views of the opposite bank. You can also take a ride on one of the river cruises or hire a kayak to see the city from a different perspective.

Lisbon, Portugal

The westernmost city in mainland Europe and Europe’s second-oldest capital city after Athens, Lisbon has plenty of history and embraces its role as the capital of Portugal. Despite being on the coast, the city’s highest point is 227m above sea level, giving the city its distinctive hilly nature and also some amazing views from the Miradouros:

Lisbon’s Alfama district
  • Oceanário de Lisboa – Home to 16,000 animals of more than 450 species, the Oceanário de Lisboa or Lisbon Oceanarium is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. Amongst the usual but nonetheless exciting range of species, the aquarium is also host to some more unusual residents such as a Sunfish and a pair of Sea Otters. The aquariums largest tank holds 5million litres of water and is home to around 100 species alone.
  • Alfama – Lisbon’s oldest district, Alfama sits on the slope between Saint George Castle and the Tejo river. Alfama contains many of the city’s historical attractions such as the Castle, Lisbon Cathedral and the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora. As an added bonus, trundling amongst the narrow streets of Alfama are Lisbon’s historic wooden trams.
  • Visit the Miradouros – Lisbon’s undulating topography means that there are several Miradouros (Viewpoints) dotted around the city, providing stunning views across both Portugal’s capital and the surrounding landscape. One of the most popular is Miradouro da Snehora do Monte (Our Lady of the Hill Viewpoint) which, perched on a hill in the Graca neighbourhood, provides 250-degree views of the city, estuary and castle.

Sofia, Bulgaria

A city I’ve been booked to visit on three occasions, and which events have conspired to keep me from on three occasions, Sofia is seemingly my bogie city. Sitting in the centre of the Balkans and midway between the Adriatic, Black and Aegean seas, the city has been in existence since at least 7000BC. With more than 9 millennia of history, the city must definitely be worth a visit and, as Europe’s most affordable capital city to visit, is definitely on the list for a cheap weekend away:

Sofia’s St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral
  • St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral – Completed in the early 20th century to honour the Russian soldiers who dies during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral is believed to be one of the 50 largest Christian church buildings in the world and can hold 5,000 worshipers. The cathedral’s bell tower is host to a dozen bells ranging from the largest at 12 tons to the smallest at just 10kg. In total the bells have a combined weight of 23 tons!
  • Central Sofia Market Hall – Located on the main Marie Louise Boulevard, opposite the Banya Bashi mosque, the Central Sofia Market Hall dates from 1911 and covers 3200m2. I enjoy discovering the various wares on sale in markets and with 1,000 people employed over three storeys, I think this market hall will have plenty of stalls to discover.
  • Vitosha Mountain – Towering 1,275m above the surrounding land and sitting at 2,292m above sea level, Vitosha mountain provides stunning views over Bulgaria’s capital and the surrounding area. With a similar prominence to Ben Nevis, reaching the top of Vitosha is apparently a bit easier with a journey by cable car and chair lift covering all but the last 101m. The mountain is popular all year round, with hikers in the summer months and for snow sports in the winter.

Tallinn, Estonia

Northernmost city of the Baltic states, Tallinn is the capital of Estonia and was the 2011 European Capital of Culture. Having been the Danish, Swedish and then Russian empires, the country first declared independence in 1918, before undergoing another period of occupation under Soviet governance until 1991. Tallinn itself was known to the world as Reval until the mid-20th century, and it’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site:

Part of Tallinn’s historic Town Walls
  • Old Town – As the best-preserved medieval city in Northern Europe, Tallinn’s Old Town definitely seems deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. With Gothic churches to discover and cobbled streets to explore, I feel I could probably spend a day just wandering around the old town.
  • Town Walls – With sections built during the 13th century, Tallinn’s town walls were, at the time of completion, was one of the largest and strongest defensive systems in Northern Europe. More than 1.5km of the walls, 26 towers and 2 gates have been preserved and the section that connects the Nunne, Sauna and Kuldjala towers are open to the public at various times throughout the year and costs just €2 to explore.
  • Seaplane Harbour – Need I say more! Part of the Estonian Maritime Museum, the museum is housed in one of the Harbour’s original Seaplane hangars. With three levels dedicated to in the air, on the sea and below the sea, the museum also has the renovated submarine Lembit and a full-scale replica of a WW1 Short Type 184 seaplane on display

I’m raring to get travelling again and hope that over the next few years I can at least visit one or two of the places on my bucket list. Have you been to any of these destinations? If you have, let me know your favourite places within the city.

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