One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.Henry Miller
I will visit anywhere at least once. Name a place in the world and I guarantee you it’s on my bucket list. Traveling has been, is, and always will be a huge part of my life and I want to see as much of the world as humanly possible. So far, I’ve been to several dozen countries and even more cities, some are iconic, others most people had never heard of.
Everyone knows about London, Paris, and Rome, but some places are just so hyped up that they are a disappointment to visit. That will be a later post, but I’m focusing on the positive here and on places I’ve personally experienced. Here are five different tourist attractions that, in my opinion, are 100% worth the hype they’ve received over the years.
Tower of London, London, England
This historic castle located in central London is not to be missed. Yes, you will face throngs of tourists if you choose to travel during peak season, but there are so many reasons to visit.
- You can be dazzled by the crown jewels. Limited numbers of people are allowed in at a time, so it’s never crowded.
- It’s varied and often gruesome history spans from 1066 to the present day. It was once a prison and royal residence giving you a rare glimpse into so many different aspects of history.
- The tower itself was once used as an armory, treasury, menagerie, royal mint, record office, and today is used as the home of the crown jewels.
- The tours aren’t a snooze fest. Tour guides here are ridiculously knowledgeable and there’s the added bonus of their period costumes. They encourage questions, often infuse comedy into their tours, and give a genuinely fun and educational experience to everyone in the group.
- You can explore a large part of the castle and grounds. There aren’t many places that let you have free reign or encourage exploration, but the Tower of London lets you visit so many parts of the complex.
- Don’t forget your camera. You’ll want pictures of this castle, especially since it’s remained in such fantastic condition despite being seized upon over the centuries.
Venetian Canals & San Marco Square, Italy
I’ve only been here once, but I would go back in a heartbeat. There are very few days of the year when Venice as a whole isn’t crowded, but the entire city is packed with incredible sites to see. The canals do get a little stinky in the summer, but what’s Europe without a little scent?
- Gondola rides can be pricey, but you can haggle the prices down and even have that stereotypical gondola ride with your love at night to watch the lights.
- San Marco Square is a must. It looks over quaint restaurants and coffee shops and gives you a stellar view of the Doge’s Palace.
- Go to as many of the museums as possible. They are all unique and offer something different than anywhere else. I highly recommend the Doge’s Palace and Museo della Musica.
In 2010, I was lucky enough to attend an archaeological field school here for several weeks. I got to explore the city, excavate some, and help with the preservation of the ruins. It. Was. Incredible.
- There’s nowhere else on earth quite like it, except maybe Herculaneum. The history of the city grips you the second you walk in. There are museums, preserved/restored villas and homes, glimpses into the life of commoners (SO rare to find), and the plaster casts of the bodies lend eeriness and humanity to a site that was destroyed centuries ago.
- Explore all the city has to offer with a guide so you never miss a spec of history. It’s easy to miss the subtle things without a guide, so splurge!
- Hiking Mount Vesuvius is an option and it will give you an unparalleled look at the cities below, both ancient and modern.
- The city is still being excavated and some parts may never see the light of day again. New things are being discovered every day, so what you see one year can be different the next!
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Antoni Gaudi was an architectural genius. While his other smaller works don’t get enough attention, his masterpiece that is still being constructed, La Sagrada Familia, is by far one of the most incredible sites in Barcelona.
- The art style is reminiscent of gothic mixed with modernism and art nouveau, but features nature in new and mind-blowing ways.
- The outside will have 18 spires, a winged bull, an eagle, a lion, fruits, trees, and almost any other natural element that could be squeezed into his design. Everywhere you look something else pops out and draws on religious symbolism. Each facade will have a different overarching meaning where you can see smaller symbols and designs within it to bring the whole piece together.
- The inside of the cathedral is almost completely white. It looks and feels like you’ve stepped into a serenely quiet, pristinely white forest. The support beams resemble columns only in that they support the ceiling, but look much more like the trunks of trees. Depending on the time of day, the stained glass windows will spill bright color around the room.
Versailles, Paris, France
Paris is not one of my favorite cities, but France is one of my favorite countries. Paris is great once, in my opinion, although there are some sites and museums I really want to see again. Versailles is one of them. The lines are horrendous and you are shepherded through the palace like sheep with barely enough time to admire the intricacies of the art and architecture, not to mention the overload of gold. But, it’s captivating and I don’t regret it one bit.
- This place puts “how the other half lived” onto a whole other playing field. Gold, rare marble, jewels, paintings, everything you could imagine that epitomizes wealth and multiply it by 100. It’s overwhelming in an oddly good way.
- You get to see a surprising amount of the palace with your ticket purchase. There are many rooms that are very well preserved you can visit and the grounds are mostly open.
- The grounds were my favorite. I love nature and I had never seen such a manicured lawn or garden. The fountains are all literal works of art and are surrounded by landscaped trees, bushes, and flower beds in impossibly neat shapes.
- The Hamlet of Marie Antoinette is much smaller, but no less interesting to visit.
Which European tourist attractions would you recommend?
I’d love to feature them in a future blog post, plus it gives me a chance to get to know you guys better! Which one of these have you visited or want to visit? Let me know in the comments below!