Each country has its treasures. Special gems that nowhere else can offer. From the monochromatic streets of La Petite France to the world-famous sunsets of Santorini, these local attractions in Europe are well worth considering when choosing your next holiday destination.
The historic centre of Bruges - UNESCO
Lovers of Gothic architecture will be in their element in Brugge – once a medieval metropolis and important part of Europe’s commercial history. The fascinating city retains its original layout of streets, canals and squares, with a skyline and buildings that its 13th-century habitants would still recognise today.
Glide the canals of Bruges
Venice may be the place to go for canal travel, but Bruges delivers a wonderfully different experience. The fairytale medieval city is one of Europe’s most stunningly preserved – a UNESCO World Heritage diamond much dreamier than plenty of bucket-list big players. A canal tour will loop you round the city – book a trip as the sun goes down to capture postcard-perfect photos.
This walled neighbourhood is a beloved tourist spot in Bruges – with a fascinating history, to boot. Founded in 1245, it was originally a residential area for lay-women of the Catholic Church who led celibate lives. Keeping up the tradition, these perfectly-intact houses are now the homes of nuns and women who choose to remain unmarried. Its residential status hasn’t stopped visitors from flocking to its gates, though, eager to see the striking white buildings – along with the nearby church and museum – for themselves.
Where to stay: The work of one of the top 19th-century Brugge architects, Flanders Hotel is as much a part of the city’s history as its dashing bell tower and iconic central plaza. The four-star boutique bolthole encompasses a former Gothic room, once part of a 14th-century Dominican Monastery.
The teeniest city in the world
This is the perfect place to move if you’re done with people. With barely 20 inhabitants, the dinky town of Hum in Istria is the smallest city in the world. The legendary tales say it was built with the leftover stones of giants.
Where to stay: Keep the storybook vibes going by staying at Hotel Villa Astra. The exquisite stay is just over an hour’s drive away, with seven cosy guest rooms and its very own secluded beach.
Streets of La Petite France, Strasbourg
Seriously photogenic, La Petite France is a quaint collection of black-and-white buildings from the 16th century. Fishermen, tanners and millers once plied their wears to this district of half-timbered houses.
Where to stay: Once you’re filled-up on historic sights and Alsatian delights, rest up in one of the exceedingly homely rooms at Bouclier d’Or. Think exposed beams, spiral staircases and 15th-century frescoes.
For ancient wonders: Rhodes Island
The best way to encounter the magnificent history of Greece is by witnessing its ancient monuments, sun-bleached and emanating centuries of mesmerising culture. There’s no better place to spectate such old-age wonder than Rhodes. Visit the unfortified town of Kamiros, snap photos of the wondrous Acropolis of Lindos and discover the sparse remains of the Hellenistic Era as you explore this architectural heritage site.
Where to stay: As you wander round medieval cobblestone streets, you’ll find a more luxurious retreat tucked away - the Allegory Boutique Hotel blends historic charm with contemporary luxe for a stay you won’t forget.
Sunsets from heaven in Santorini Island
One of the most Instagrammable places in Greece (and arguably Europe as a whole) is lovely, lazy Santorini. It feels like sunsets were designed here: where sky meets sea and sea meets rugged cliffs, this is the Mediterranean at its most mesmerising. Whether you’re stargazing on a hotel rooftop or plunging into a blanket of turquoise at one of its vibrantly hued beaches, you’ll have difficulty taking a bad photograph here
Explore Caragh Lake in Co. Kerry
One of Ireland's lesser-known beauty spots (a fact that takes some doing in a country famed for its jaw dropping landscapes), Caragh Lake is around six kilometres south-west of Killorglin. The vast, glass- lake is surrounded by rugged mountains and dotted with small beaches and coves, perfect for exploring by kayak or canoe. The lake's size means the waters can be choppy, but the surface is often glass-like. It's at times like these you can float silently by, letting the tranquil air and soothing reflections of blue and green nourish the soul. Look out for wildlife: feral goats and cormorants are common, and if you’re lucky you’ll spot the occasional white-tailed eagle.
Where to stay: Ard na Sidhe Country House Hotel is the perfect spot to stop-off for afternoon tea and a grand night’s sleep in a four-poster bed.
Wale and Dolphin watching experience
Just thinking about what lies beneath the Wild Atlantic waters mystifies. In West Cork, the unspoiled waters are home to common dolphins, minkes and humpback whales. Taking a boat trip beyond the coastline on a whale and dolphin watching experience gets you up close and personal with the creatures who dwell where land and sea collide.
Where to stay: Set on the same waters is Eccles Hotel – an 18th century stay renowned for its wellness experiences, artisan cuisine and breathtaking views.
Kylemore Abbey, Connemara
Against a stunning backdrop of cliffs and trees is Kylemore Abbey, an eighteenth century home that grows more beautiful with each year. Aside from the house itself, visitors are transported by the nearby Victorian walled gardens and Gothic church, primed for inspiring fantasies of the past. You can dive right into the dramatic countryside, too. Guided hikes above Kylemore Abbey are available, and offer some of the best views in the whole of Ireland.
Where to stay: Just a short ten-minute drive away is Renvyle House. Though it’s situated on the cusp of the Wild Atlantic Way, in a quiet, secluded area, there are plenty of activities to enjoy on its doorstep.
Truffle Treasure Hunt in Tuscany
Join local truffle hunters and their dogs to experience a "Truffle Treasure Hunt" in the Chianti woodlands.A unique experience for everybody, for wine and food lovers and for nature life lovers, for kids and adults, to approach and live the marvellous and secret world of the several varieties of the Tuscan truffles during every season.
Where to stay: Villa le Barone is in driving distance from cities of art such as Florence, Siena or San Gimignano, making it an excellent choice for those looking to get lost in the Tuscan sun… though you can enjoy some striking scenery on the villa’s own doorstep, too. More than 100 different rose species grow on the property, as well as an orchard full of cherry, plum and apricot trees. Idyllic
Antique market in Arezzo, Tuscany
Dive straight into the mad excitement of treasure hunting at Fiera Antiquaria in Arezzo. The gigantic antique market is right in the heart of the city and was the first of its kind in Italy, dating back to 1968. Hundreds of stalls set up in Piazza Grande and its surroundings on the first Sunday and the Saturday before each month. It’s an all-day affair with so much variety, you’re bound to find something special.
Where to stay: Castello di Gargonza in Arezzo is the real deal. A 13th-century castle that perches on the Tuscan hills like a magnificent wedding cake topper. Dante Alighieri was a guest in 1303 and he’d no doubt recognise the carefully restored hideaway if he visited today.
Villa di Maser, Treviso
Some of Italy’s best artists of the 1500s put their stamp on Villa di Maser, including the painter Paolo Veronese and famous sculptor, Alessandro Vittoria. Wander among statues of Olympian gods and marvel at the exquisite frescoes – bursting with colour and life – as you explore the grounds and corridors of this historic masterpiece which, unsurprisingly, is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Even the views from the villa are a delight: it’s surrounded by the rolling hills of Asolo and a sprawling winery. Pure bliss.
Where to stay: Fifteen minutes from Villa di Maser sits Villa Cipriani – another exquisite villa that doubles up as a luxury five-star hotel. Once owned by the English poet Robert Browning, it now welcomes guests from around the world – and never fails to impress, either. Top tip: spend a night eating dinner on the terrace, watching the sun go down over the Venetian countryside. It’ll be the most striking sunset you’ll ever see… and some of the best food you’ve ever eaten, too.
Riga’s historic hub - UNESCO
Another major centre of the Hanseatic League, Riga’s historic hub is a real-life drawing depicting European history. Founded as a port town in 1201, the medieval town became an important place for cultural, artistic, industrial, academic and social evolution on the continent, with the finest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe.
Where to stay: Make hotel Metropole your base for exploring this UNESCO treasure. Standing proudly in the historic heart of the city, this four-star boutique hotel weaves centuries of history into all the newfangled amenities a modern traveller has come to expect.
Old City of Kotor: St John’s Fortress
Looking down on the Old City of Kotor is one of Montenegro’s finest local attractions, St John’s Fortress. Built over the course of six hundred years, it was originally erected to protect the city from invaders, and now offers tourists a unique view of the UNESCO World Heritage locale. 280 metres above sea level and 1,350 steps going up, those that can brave the hike will be rewarded by the most magnificent vista of the city below and its cerulean bay. Time to invest in a good pair of trainers….
Where to stay: Those wishing to make the most of Kotor should definitely stay at Hotel Cattaro. Based right in the middle of the old town and built into the actual walls of the city, it’s essentially a tourist spot in itself. It also houses one of Kotor’s most renowned nightclubs, Maximus. Ideal for dancing the night away.
Take a historical cruise on a centuries-old ship
Agatha Christie, eat your heart out. Named M/S Henrik Ibsen, this beautifully preserved ship retains all the hallmarks of its glory days. Think original English antiques, plush ruby sofas, crystal chandeliers and a regal blend of mahogany and brass. Let it glide you down the Telemark Canal, taking in Norway’s most splendorous surroundings.
Where to stay: Top of a fairytale day with a fairytale stay: 19th-century wonder Dalen Hotel awaits. The owner of this dragon-style stay is also owner of the M/S Henrik Ibsen, so organising a day trip on the canal will be effortless.
The "Wieliczka" Salt Mine - UNESCO
One of the most valuable monuments in Poland, Wieliczka Salt Mine is a unique and fascinating blend of tradition, history, modernity and impeccable organisation. The UNESCO gem illustrates the 700-year history of Polish salt mining and are among the oldest in Europe, dating back to the middle Neolithic period (around 3500 years BC).
Visit a vampire graveyard in Kraków
Deep beneath Old Town’s main square lies a 4,000-square-metre archaeological excavation with a difference. Rynek Underground – which spans back seven centuries – features remnants of everyday life in the Polish city over the years. But also included in the displays are suspected vampires, due to the methods used for burial. Brilliantly, the medieval graveyard is brought to life with holograms and multimedia trickery.
Where to stay: Dwór Sieraków is located just eight kilometres from Wieliczka Salt Mine. Your hardworking host permanently cooperates with the Salt Mine to arrange tours for his guests, making it the perfect place to stay to explore Lesser Poland.
Opole Voivodeship: St. Anne’s Mountain
St. Anne’s Mountain, known by the locals as Gora Swietej Anny, needs to be seen to be believed. With over forty calvary chapels and an incredible statue of Saint Anne – the mountain’s namesake – to see, it’ll certainly satisfy your cultural tastebuds. Better yet, the mountain is also based within a landscape park, so you get direct access to the best of the Polish countryside, too.
Where to stay: Built at “the centre of energy” in Europe, there’s no better place to regroup than Palac Lucja. This truly reposeful retreat offers watercolour classes, fine dining and a mix of standard and luxury rooms to cater to a wide range of guests. You can’t miss it, either. With its gorgeous, sunshine-yellow walls, this hotel is quite the striking sight on the horizon.
For foodies: Time Out Market, Lisbon
Also known as the Mercado da Ribeira, the Time Out Market is a curated wonder of tastes. It’s the first market in the world where each restaurant and stall has been chosen by an independent panel of experts. From sparkling Portuguese seafood and prego-dedicated spaces to American-style hamburgers and Lisbon’s first and only croquette store, if it doesn’t get four or five stars in Time Out, it’s out.
Castelo de St. Jorge
This monument has seen many major moments in Lisbon’s history, from the fall of the Romans to Portugal’s rebirth as a seafaring country. It’s stood firm throughout it all, and it’s this endurance – along with its gorgeous restoration, completed in the 1940s – that makes it such a compelling tourist attraction. Everything from its ramparts to watchtowers has been gorgeously upheld and refined, along with a variety of gardens that feel like pockets of paradise. A tourist spot that’s not to be missed.
Where to stay: We at Historic Hotels of Europe have properties aplenty for those parading around Portugal’s capital. Those wanting to keep up the castle theme will find their bliss at Solar Do Castelo – an eighteenth-century building situated within a medieval castle village – while those seeking to siesta closer to the centre of Lisbon will find their needs well-met at Hotel Lisboa Plaza. Boutique properties Heritage Avenida Liberdade Hotel and As Janelas Verdes make great alternatives, too – both of which ooze traditional Portuguese design with a modern touch – while Hotel Britania favours a funky, art-deco style. Choices, choices, choices.
Bucharest: Old Town
Bucharest’s Old Town is wildly different to the rest of the modern metropolis, and definitely deserves a place on your Romanian bucket list. Filled with perfectly-preserved historic buildings – many of which now play host to the city’s most charming cafes and bars – you’ll be tempted to take pictures at every turn. Swing by Carturesti Carusel, too. This stunning bookshop is known as the best of its kind in the whole country, and is the perfect pit stop for literature lovers.
Where to stay: Suter Palace is the place to be after visiting Bucharest’s several local attractions. The five-star boutique hotel, built in neoclassic style, blends history and modernity in an unrivalled manner. You’ll adore its original architecture, too – especially in the restaurant, where you can enjoy candlelit dinners night after night. It’s enough to make anyone giddy.
Take the train through Slovenia’s largest cave
Wrap yourself in a kindly-provided green felt cloak (to shield you from the humidity) and enjoy a minitaure train ride through underground lakes, fairytale stalactites, lofty rock formations and a labyrinth of tunnels. Postojnska Jama is the largest cave system in Slovenia and home to strange creatures named ‘human fish’.
Where to stay: To make your trip to Ljubljana even more memorable, spend the night in Antiq Palace - a 16th-century former residence of several noble families and now a stunning historic hotel.
The Albula Bernina Railway - UNESCO
One of the most spectacular UNESCO-railways, the Albula Bernina was designed for steam locomotives to travel around the mountains from Thusis to St Moritz. The Albula line was finished in 1903 and the Bernina line was completed seven years later. While created to transport tourists, the mountain railway is a tourist attraction in its own right.
Where to stay: Book a few nights at Kurhaus Bergün and you’ll have the Albula valley, along with its UNESCO gem, right on your doorstep. The hotel itself is an astounding Art Nouveau building hailing back to 1906, that’s interestingly won an award for its unusual collection of Art Nouveau lighting fixtures. The ballroom – in all its opulent yesteryear glory – musn’t be missed.
If you ask the people of Switzerland which of their towns is the most beautiful, many will answer St. Gallen. Nestled between Lake Constance and Appenzellerland, its views are unrivalled, while its host of local attractions are sure to keep you inspired and entertained. High on the list of places to go is the town’s famous Baroque cathedral – complete with Abbey Library, which houses more than 170,000 historically significant documents. But whether you’re into cultural activities or not, a quick caper around this town is one you’re not likely to forget.
Where to stay: There’s no better choice than scenic Schloss Wartegg. This charming castle hotel, based right next to Lake Constance itself, has more feasts for the senses than you can count: from the exquisite scent of its verdant green gardens to the delicious, organic food served in its Michelin-recommended restaurant. Perfection, defined.
Cathedral in St Davids
St Davids is named after the patron saint of Wales, Saint David and is the smallest City in Britain with a population of just over 1,800. The historic Cathedral was originally built in the 6th century and was a site of pilgrimage for many hundreds of years. It was considered that three pilgrimages to St Davids were equal to one to the Holy Land, and today, Britain’s smallest city still preserves a strong sense of spirituality, with visitors flocking to explore the narrow lanes that connect the 6th century cathedral and medieval Bishop’s Palace.
Where to stay: Built in 1806 as a working windmill, today Twr y Felin is Wales’ first contemporary art hotel, featuring the works of 20 Welsh, British and International artists, with over 100 pieces of specially commissioned art, inspired by the St Davids peninsula and Pembrokeshire. Or stay at the sister property Penrhiw Priory, located just a few miles apart, also offer luxury accommodation and a spectacular location. Both hotels are located in St Davids.