From world-famous capital cities to small villages, Europe is awash with incredible places that run the timeline of one of the world’s most diverse, vibrant and fascinating continents. European advancement in architectural, engineering, economic and creative endeavour combined with centuries of navigation and exploration to result in cities rich with unmissable historical locations. Here are five of the best.
Lisbon is one of Europe’s hottest cities, both in temperature and as a resort for history lovers. The City of Seven Hills boasts a wealth of amazing places including the 17th century Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, one of the most important – and beautiful – mannerist buildings in Portugal. Built around 1147, the present church was completed in 1629 and dedicated to Lisbon’s patron saint.
Equally stunning, and dating as far back as the 11th century, the St Georges Castle is a Moorish medieval citadel sitting atop one of the Lisbon’s highest hills which offers incredible views over the city. Among the city’s other must-see sites are the Belem Tower, an imposing defensive tower on the bank of the River Tagus dating from 1520, and the ornate 16th century Jeronimos Monastery.
For modern history lovers, few cities offer such an array of authentic and fascinating sites as Berlin. The formerly divided city is home to the magnificent 18th century neoclassical Brandenburg Gate, a monument to Europe’s tumultuous history and ultimately, to peace. One block north is the Reichstag, the 19th century neo-Baroque home of the German parliament.
Other sites that provide thought-provoking insight for visitors include the dark corridors of the brutal Berlin Stasi Prison, now a grotesquely fascinating memorial and museum and the most famous crossing point of the Berlin Wall – itself one of Berlin’s most visited sites – Checkpoint Charlie, which is immortalised at its original location as well as the original sitting in the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf.
The capital of one of the great ancient civilisations, Rome is full of stunning historical wonders.
A rite of passage for first-timers are the grandeur of the Colosseum, the beauty of the Roman Forum, the magnificence of the Trevi Fountain, the drama of the Pantheon and the Vatican’s priceless treasures – all of which are often found on popular lists of the best places to visit in Rome. But while it’s worth visiting all the must-sees, don’t forget the lesser-known places such as the ancient Mamertine Prison, hidden in plain sight if you can find it…
Similarly, Via Appia Antica, Rome’s oldest road is dotted with ancient sites, including the Christian Catacombs and the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla. Another ‘must see’ are the incredible remains of the harbour city of Ostia Antica.
St. Petersburg, Russia
St Petersburg was the capital of Imperial Russia from 1713 – 1918. It was built from scratch by Peter the Great and popular places include the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, the city’s oldest, and the 1703 Peter & Paul Fortress. The showcase of the Romanovs is filled with ecclesiastical grandeur including the 19th century Empire-style Kazan Cathedral and one of the world’s most famous sights, the colourful onion domes of the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood.
Elsewhere in the city, the Smolny Institute is a museum dedicated to Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, and for a true pleasure, the utterly magnificent State Hermitage Museum, opened in 1754 by Catherine the Great is one of the world’s great museums and includes one of the world’s finest collections of Renaissance art and antiquities from Rome and Greece. Perhaps the city’s biggest draw is the Fabergé Museum including nine stunning (and priceless!) Imperial eggs.
Edinburgh’s story dates as far back as 8500 BC and there are historic treasures all over the city. Edinburgh Castle, the 12th century fortress, dominates the skyline and is one of the world’s most famous castles. The current iteration of Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland dates from the 1670s and is soaked in the history of Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and countless kings and queens.
Thanks to fresh exposure in The Da Vinci Code, Rosslyn Chapel is another site infused with mystery and legend. Its famous stone carvings, alleged to be of Templar origin, draw tourists from all over the world, as do the ruins of the 14th century Craigmillar Castle.