Just before the rush of tourist season, Europe’s crisp spring breeze begs for an afternoon espresso while touring its finest sights. Here are some places that stood out as my favorite stays this past May when travelling across Europe. In my opinion, all of these cities are bucket list quality, each having their own unique look and activities.
This quaint little town, situated along the Rhine River, is filled with rich history. An old, large post office hides tucked away in the back near the church, now serving delicious cuisine to its outdoor guests seated underneath cozy overhead heat lamps. Half-timbered houses adorn the sides of the cobblestone streets, some serving their local wines while others still housing families. After school, children flood the restaurants enjoying soda and snacks after a long day of learning. The nicest elderly lady ever known opens up her centrally-located home to weary travelers of all kinds as she runs an incomparable Bed n’ Breakfast. At the top of this fairy tale sits medieval castle ruins that have been recreated into a youth hostel with an envious view.
Things to do (recommend 1-2 days):
Altes Haus for delicious white wine and apple strudel// Stahleck Castle Hostel// Wernerkapelle Church ruins built in 1287// 200 year old post office (posthof)// Well-preserved town wall and tower (best seen at castle)// KD Rhine Day Cruise// Haus Irmgard Orth (BnB we stayed in).
The views, the music, the arts, and the romance combine to make this city as fabulous as everyone claims it to be. Seated below the Monmarte Sacre Ceour are artists of every kind expressing their love for their home with each brush stroke. Tall buildings with ironwork and matching stone make for a uniform, yet dreamy style throughout the entire city. The Eiffel tower is surrounded by lovers, giving a red rose to their significant other in exchange for a kiss under the magnificent structure. The largest museum in the world is at the end of a bridge famous for its “love locks.” Many lock their initials to Pont des Arts Bridge and thrown away the key, symbolizing their love for Paris and for another. Along the streets outside the Louvre are curious green boxes that seem like nothing when closed. However, when their contents are unlocked, the boxes showcase paintings, old French novels, and trinkets that grab the eyes of every passerby. A lively area, the Latin Quarter, is filled with souvenir shops, tourists, and an enormous amount of food. The most divine crepes are sold in this quarter for the small price of 5 euro from the window. Savory and sweet aromas flood the streets and invite people to stop for a taste. On the other side of the street is the famous gelato shop, which makes beautiful flower designs out of a decadent frozen treat. The beautiful architecture throughout this city is incomparable, especially the Notre Dame. With cafes and bakeries at every corner, sitting with a coffee and admiring the view is just as amusing as traipsing through every tourist must-see. Around many of the city’s landmarks, tour guides tell interesting stories that explain the significance behind the building. This city steals the heart of many who choose to replace their goodbyes with, “until next time.”
Things to do (recommend as long as you can stay): Eiffel Tower// Notre Dame// Le Bon Marche (1st Dpt. Store)// The Louvre// Musée d’Orsay// Latin Quarter food// Love Locks// Green Box shopping// Palais Garnier performances// Saint Chapelle// Sacre-Coeur// Grand Palais// Place de l’Hôtel de Ville// Lauduree (macaron specialist)// Find elegant wedding and ball gowns for cheap near Gare Du Nord train station on Blvd. de Rochechouart// We stayed in an Airbnb in a great location
The quiet town of Brugge seems like it came right out of a storybook. Different colored, connected brick houses show off their various eves and architecture. This city is known to be frozen in time as it was built up in the 1500s with wealth from its lace industry and has remained dormant ever since. Though now a popular tourist town, the city still remains quite peaceful, allowing the chimes of the Belfry to be heard from blocks away. The scents of Belgian fries and famous, home-made chocolates fill the streets, inviting pedestrians to stop for a taste. Ivy covered houses hanging on the edge of canals create gorgeous scenes and backdrops for pictures. A steep climb to the top of the Belfry is challenging, but rewards every climber with an incomparable view of the beautiful city below.
Things to do (recommend 1-2 days): Climb the Belfry// St. Salvator’s Cathedral// The Old Chocolate House hot chocolate// Historium Bruges// Provinciaal Hof// Loppem Castle// The Markt (the square)// Church of Our Lady// Basilica of the Holy Blood// Homemade chocolate stores// Famous Belgian fries in front of the Belfry// Groenerei Canal// Several museums that I did not experience (beer, lace, chocolate)// We stayed in an Airbnb
Often described as a “mini-Amsterdam,” Haarlem has the lively activities and architecture of Amsterdam, but is much smaller and easier to get around by foot. The Grote Markt in the center of town is filled with visitors and locals alike who grab a drink, take a seat, and people watch the day away. To the right of the Markt towers a massive cathedral that is impressive both in size and design. The cobblestone road, Grote Houtstraat, makes shoppers’ dreams come true, offering every type of store imaginable with some stores like H & M reappearing two and three times. On Mondays and Saturdays, locals set up a supply of food trucks, tulips, clothes, shoes, and other goodies that fill up the entire square, catching the eyes of visitors and filling their noses with delicious aromas. This market offers what the regular shops offer, but for 5 to 10 euros less. Tucked away, but not forgotten, is the historic house of Corrie ten Boom, where tourists line up to see the Jewish hiding place during World War II. Her life is dignified throughout the tour of her home. Her faith in God is believed to be the very reason she lived the life that she did, helping the poor and protecting the weak.
Things to do (recommend 3-5 days): Shop until you drop// Ten Boom tour (available in English)// Tour by foot (tour map and explanations at visitor’s centers)// St. Bavokerk Church (Mozart played on the organ)// Molen de Adriaan Windmill// Bike the city// Eat and people watch at one of the many restaurants in the Grote Markt// We stayed in an Airbnb.
I hope this helps you while planning your next exploration!