Western Europe invites travellers to immerse themselves in a fascinating blend of culture, history and heritage from opulent palaces, ancient churches and imposing castles. Then there are the vibrant cities, world-famous museums and galleries and sumptuous local cuisine at internationally renowned restaurants and hotels.
From fabulous skiing in Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein; to the resplendent architecture of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg; to the chic culture of France, Monaco and Luxembourg; and the lively cities in Germany, the Republic of Ireland and the UK; the West of Europe should be top of your must-visit list.
The city of Bruges in Belgium is a quaint town which boasts many tourists, many of which are frequent visitors. Much of the center is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being known for its architecture, one of the main attractions in Bruges is the Belfry Tower which is a family friendly venue and best known recently from the film ‘In Bruges’ starring Colin Farrell. The medieval bell tower was built in the year 1240 and its bells regulated life in the area for centuries.
Another attraction in Bruges is the Groeninge Museum which displays local artists work from the last six centuries. No worries here, all the Flemish and Belgian art is classical in style, with works such as Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of Christ from 1440, Hieronymus Bosch’s The Last Judgment from around 1450 and Adriaen Isenbrandt’s Triptych. Children are welcome at the Groeningemuseum.
A scenic and relaxing way to tour Bruges is by boat. There are five different boat operators in the tourist center at Bruges. Each of these operators gives roughly the same tour and descriptions of landmarks. The boat tour lasts half an hour.
Other notable sights include the photogenic De Rozenhoedkaai (Quai of the Rosary) canal which is pictured above, which is a favourite haunt of photographers, artists and painters keen to capture the view for themselves. The area also boasts the Huidenvettersplein (Tanners’ Square) and the Fish Market which are also close to the Belfry and Market Square.
Visitors should take time to discover the stunning Gothic Basilica of the Holy Blood on Burg square which contains a vial of blood, said to belong to Christ. Sample Belgian beer at its finest at the Brewery De Halve Maan which offers a short tour and a trip to the tower with panoramic views over Bruges. Chocolate enthusiasts should visit the Choco-Story Museum which tells the story of chocolate production, from cocoa to mouth.
Tip: Most local hostels offer a discount card (Bruges card) which allows a 25% discount off many tourist attractions.
Tip: Don’t stay near the city square for food and entertainment. Prices drop as you move away from major tourist areas.
Berlin is a culturally rich yet surprisingly inexpensive destination. There are many opportunities to view architecture, take boat trips and see museums, including a children’s museum which will re-open in 2013.
When traveling with children, be sure and go to the Kollwitz Platz. This large playground has huge, wooden vegetable sculptures for children to play on as well as ping pong tables. On Wednesday and Saturdays a Farmer’s Market is located next to the playground, giving you a taste of real German culture. Kollwitzplatz is located in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin.
The Berlin Zoo is a popular attraction for both children and adults and is the oldest in Germany. This impressive zoo opened in 1844 and is located on 74 acres in the Tiergarten district. There are over 15,000 animals in the zoo from 1,400 different species. Here you will find everything from hippos to gorillas to fish.
A boat tour is available through the heart of the city. Tours last about one hour and the enclosed boat with large glass windows allows you comfort on steamy summer days as well as during rain with no loss in visibility. No excuses to skip this tour which travels down the River Spree. Many major landmarks of Berlin such as Palace Bridge, Bellevue Palace and Charlottenburg Bank can be seen from the comfort of your seat.
All of these attractions are inexpensive and there is free public transportation available throughout the city. Additionally a euro pass for unlimited rides during a specified time period can be purchased inexpensively.
Popular museums include Museumsinsel, aka Museum Island, which includes the huge Pergamon-Museum with Greek, Middle-Eastern and Islamic architecture and art. The Altes Museum has ancient Egyptian and antique displays and the Natural History museum, Museum für Naturkunde, features dinosaur skeletons and fossils.
Tip: Entrance is free for any of the state run museums, about 70 located throughout Berlin, from 6-10 p.m. on Thursday evenings.
Tip: When looking for cheap, filling food look for vendors with the sign “Imbiss” above their stall. Turkish merchants cook and sell this food which is rumoured to be excellent.
Visiting Luxembourg City is a refreshing change of pace from the rest of Western Europe. There are many outdoor options available for families. With the rich terrain and mild climate, participating in outdoor activities such as hiking, walking and mountain biking is exhilarating and entertaining.
Luxembourg City cost more than some cities in the area for dining and lodging. However, many of the outdoor activities offered are free or extremely low cost, making this a great place to visit.
There are 170 trails marked for safe hiking throughout the country side. The large rock formation and beautiful, clear water give way to thick forested areas. Hiking up the large natural rock formations to reach the castles above is a favourite activity for residents of this area and tourists are encouraged to give it a try as well.
Visitors tend to congregate in the 4 key tourist areas of Ville Haute, the medieval town centre; Ville Basse located in the gorge area; cosmopolitan Gare district home to the main train station, restaurants and cafes and Kirchberg which is the modern district of Luxembourg City with plenty of architectural gems.
There are many historic sightseeing destinations available in Luxembourg City including underground tunnels and castles. Visit the underground fortifications of Casemates Bock an 18th century UESCO site. Explore Neumünster Abbey, the Cathedrale de Notre Dame and visit the Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean which displays works of art by local artists and temporary international exhibits alike and the MUDAM Museum has excellent tours and exhibits displayed in several languages.
Upper Sûre National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks anywhere located in the Oesling district. Enjoy swimming, wind surfing and other water sports as well as hiking in the specially designated eco park.
Near the Müllerthal area there are several different locations to try your luck at various adventures such as rock climbing, hiking and climbing. In the east of Luxembourg this area is also nicknames ‘Little Switzerland’ and many visitors find this area and activities exhilarating and challenging.
Tip: Entering an establishment it would be nice to say the local greeting: “Moein”. However, Luxembourg people are kind and not given to offense if you do not know their language.
By Julie Bowman