There’s still plenty of time to squeeze in a summer trip to Europe and thanks to low cost airfares and strong local currencies against the Euro, these hot destinations are all easily within budget. Pack your sunscreen, flip flops and passport and check out these perennial travel favourites.
Turkey has long been a popular destination for world travellers with over 31 million visitors last year. The cities of Ankara, Izmir, Antalya, Bodrum, Kusadasi and the capital city Istanbul offer almost unlimited attractions (certainly if you only have a one week holiday). Istanbul is nestled on the Bosporus straits, where east truly meets west; the city is known for its traditional markets, cultural allure and many colourful traditional festivals. Visitors can immerse themselves in the rich local history by visiting the stunning Topkapi Palace, The Hippodrome, The Beylerbeyi Palace, Chora Museum, Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) and the Blue Mosque, just to name a few of the many attractions! Visitors can also enjoy a ferry boat tour on the Bosphorus and can stroll the bazaars by day and hone their bartering skills at the Grand Bazaar and spice market!
Besides Istanbul, the rest of Turkey is brimming with historical delights such as the Sumela Monastery in the North East, the ancient city of Hierapolis, the lively city of Bodrum and the capital Ankara has a lot more to offer. There are also the Ancient Roman remains at the city of Ephesus (pictured above), the Roman city of Hierapolis, the Anatolian delights of both the Acropolis and the Asclepion at Pergamum and for an eerie yet captivating sight try a balloon ride over Cappadocia’s bizarre lunar landscape.
The Turkish coastline faces three different seas which offer fantastic watersports adventures, while there are also ample opportunities for adventure with trekking, biking and mountain climbing.
Cyprus sits on the very edge of Europe and as such has a curious blend of both Asian and European culture. This is evident in the architecture spread throughout the island with the Gothic Castles of Buffavento and Kantara a particular draw. Paphos is famed for ancient Greek mosaics and artefacts.
Nicosia is the capital and largest city and as such has plenty to amuse travellers by day with plenty of shops and entertainment complexes and by night there are enough nightclubs to rival the nearby nightlife stalwarts of Ayia Napa, Protaras and Pernera. Cyprus’s second city is Larnaca, home to the Fort of Larnaca, the Church of St. Lazarus, statue of Athenian general Cimon at the harbour of Larnaca and the ruins of Ancient Kittim. Larnaca is an active port and historical city, which is as famous for its nightlife and archaeology. Here visitors can explore the remains of a civilization that is almost 6000 years old.
The eastern coast of Cyprus has some enchanting beaches and inviting coves. The Karpas Peninsula offers superb beaches and a natural setting. Hiking and walking enthusiasts can check out the fantastic trails on offer in the Troodos Mountains.
Archaeology buffs should check out Ancient Salamis, the walled city of Lefkosia and North Nicosia which remains a divided city to this day and the UNESCO protected Byzantine Churches within the Troodos region.
The town of Kyrenia in the Turkish controlled region of North Cyprus is also well worth a trip, the whole area has a different feel to the south and is easily accessible (don’t forget your passport!) The ruins of St Hilarion Castle offer a cool trip into the northern Cyprus Mountains and the town of Bellapais was home to the famous writer Lawrence Durrell for several years.
Malta may be small but she is also perfectly formed and attracts more than a million tourists every year along with sister islands Gozo and Comino. The largest city of Birkirkara and the capital Valletta and Comino Island are always popular with visitors from all over the globe. Valletta is bursting with history and architecture, Sliema is chic and home to classy bars, shops and restaurants and the town of Vittoriosa blends local wine bars with charming sidestreets effortlessly.
The Valletta waterfront is an extremely popular tourist destination, and looks magical after dusk. There are many clubs, bars, restaurants that offer tasty local food and enticing music. Europe’s third-oldest working theatre, the Mosta Dome is also located here, and places like St John’s Co-Cathedral and Lower Barrakka Gardens are also included in the must visit destinations. Families will enjoy a ferry ride to visit the Blue Lagoon Bay, which is near Comino Island.
There are plenty of local churches to explore in Malta, 313 to be exact. Most are situated in close proximity to each other, making exploration easy. Stop at the Mosta-Rotunda Church of St. Mary, one of the most famous churches in Malta.
The romantic coastline of Greece continues to attract millions of visitors each year and there are beach resorts to suit all budgets and holiday types, from chilled out family breaks to full-on watersports and adventure activity breaks. There are warm sandy beaches for swimming and snorkelling, sheltered bays with crystal clear waters perfectly suited to kayaking and canoeing and the striking green mountains cry out to be climbed and hiked. Try walking Little Venice in Mykonos which is full of small, winding paths and little hideaways off the beaten path.
Classical Athens and the world famous Acropolis and the Parthenon simply must be explored along with the UNESCO recognised ruins of Epidaurus and ancient Mycenae, the archaeological site which was home to the Mycenaean civilisation in the Peloponnese region and add Thessaloniki to your must-see list. There is also the well preserved site of Corinth, birthplace of the Olympic Games; Olympia, the Temple of Apollo is located at Delphi and Knossos features intriguing ancient Minoan history.
Greece is also home to a myriad of islands each offering something different. Corfu is perfect for a family holiday and the Aqualand Waterpark is highly rated, Santorini is chic and laid back, Rhodes is famous as a 24/7 party destination and Kos is a little more relaxed but with great nightlife and restaurants in abundance.
The rich cultural blend of many ancient ruling civilizations provides Spain with a unique culture and history. The glimpses of Roman, Phoenician, Arabian and Christian eras are clearly visible. If cities like Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia portray a picture of modern cosmopolitan locations then places like Malaga, Almeria, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and Cordoba have their own traditional charisma.
The capital city of Madrid makes for an interesting city break with plenty to see and do. Check out the beautiful Royal Palace which is also the largest palace in West Europe, explore the Egyptian temple of Templo de Debod which dates from 2 BC and visit the city’s largest church, the Madrid Cathedral. Museums are also plentiful in Madrid with the highly regarded Goya Museum, The Reina Sofia and The Prado Museum which contains over 2,500 sculptures, drawings, prints and paintings.
Barcelona is brimming with curious architecture, such as the Sagrada Familia designed by local Antonio Gaudi, started in 1882 and expected to be competed in around another 30 years! Other popular attractions in the Catalan region include the family-friendly Barcelona Aquarium, flamenco displays can be enjoyed at Poble Espanyol – aka the Spanish Village and there is more Gaudi on display at the La Pedrera (also called Casa Mila) building. The shopping malls, boisterous bars, clubs and road side cafes in Barcelona are also a major pull for the travelers, while the Santa Maria del Mar is considered as the most elegant building in this city.
Some of the other visitor attractions across Spain are; The Alhambra Palace in Granada, the Roman Theatre, Alcazaba Fort and Roman Theatre in Malaga and traditional bullfighting in Madrid and Seville. Visitors should also make time to explore Pedrera Lake in Torremendo, try skiing in the Sierra Navada Mountains and sample the delicious local Spanish cuisine of tapas and paella.
The temperate climate of Italy along with famous destinations such as Rome, Milan, Naples, Florence and Venice make this country an affordably exclusive destination.
Travellers must explore the ancient relics of Pompeii and the archaeologically important site of Vesuvius. Rome is home to the Trevi Fountain and best gelato (ice-cream) in the world. Medieval Siena has intricately winding lanes crying out to be walked and the steep plunging cliffs of the Amalfi Coast are best discovered as a passenger in a convertible car!
The Dolomite Mountains, aka the Italian Alps, rise to 3,343 m and provide fantastic hiking, biking and skiing opportunities. The island of Sicily is steeped in rich and varied history and offers climbs up mighty Mount Etna and rich food and wine aided by the volcanic soil. There is also the Tower of Pisa to visit (cheesy photos are obligatory), the ancient Amphitheatre of the famous Colosseum in Rome and the romantic islands and canals of Venice.
Italy offers all travellers special art and architecture, stunning landscapes, art galleries and some very fine places for dining. There are limitless opportunities for cycling, skiing, windsurfing, hiking, fishing and sailing. There is an extensive network of trains that takes you to each corner of this fabulous country. Italy is an ideal last minute holiday destination as it offers a whole heap of flexibility, things to do and is incredibly accessible.
The shores of this westernmost European state are facing the Atlantic Ocean, and are blessed with some of the best beaches to enjoy the sun, sand and clean light blue waters. Both the sandy beaches with sand-dunes and pebble beaches are ideal for all the beach lovers. A boat trip named the Dolphin Safari is a must do activity in Portugal, with dolphins and whales often spotted.
Besides its nightlife, Lisbon is famous for Belem Tower, Berardo Museum, Design and Fashion Museum, Tile Museum and Oceanarium. Visitors can also explore the Funchal Coast, the Chapel of bones and the Porto Moniz. The town of Porto has Roman relics and a lively café culture compared to Lagos which attracts surfers, swimmers and divers, thanks to pristine beaches and a plethora of restaurants. The natural beauty and many outdoor activities at Amarante also appeals number of tourists to visit Portugal.
By Julie Bowman