What to see in Europe, when there is so much to see and so little time to see it?
As you might know by now, I will travel far for interesting culture, and I also just started working at a World Heritage Site, so naturally I had to make a list. I’m a fan of the classics, because this means many people throughout history thought this was worth while. (This also goes for books!) A World Heritage site is a place or a monument named by UNESCO as important heritage – not only for the specific country – but for the whole world. It’s an important part of our shared history!
So here’s my Top 10 in Europe, and what not to miss when you get there…
ON TOP OF THE WORLD
Yes, Acropolis is top of my list. Sometimes I forget how awesome it is, since I’ve been a couple of times. But it is. Awesome… And being a lover of ancient Greece ( I studied ancient philosophy, literature and art) – this is a must in Europe. It’s the symbol of the beginning of Europa as we know it and a focal point in western culture. (Even though even according to the Greek historian Herodotus, they got it all from Egypt!). There are many visitors of course, but that’s the way it is. The new(er) Acropoplis Museum has a nice view of the ruins.
DON’T MISS: Many or all hotels have a roof top terrace from where you can drink raki, while gazing at this unique monument.
FORGET POWER AND CHILLAX
The old palace complex of the Roman Emperor Diocletian holds a special place on the list, since you can actually live in it. We stayed inside the walls of the palace, which is now part of the old town in the city of Split. It’s built in 4th century and was a retirement home for Diocletian after he willingly gave up the throne to the empire. It’s actually not only a palace, but a large area including both the palace as well as buildings for the military. Diocletian’s octagonal mausoleum was later reconstructed into a Christian church – one of the oldest in the world.
DON’T MISS: Sit on the stairs in the small rectangular square behind the Saint Domnius Bell Tower and sip good Croatian wine.
POETRY AND ART IN HEAVEN ON EARTH
This was almost impossible to choose between the Alhambra (as you know from GOT) and the lesser known Mesquita in Cordoba. The name Alhambra has its origins in an Arabic word meaning “red castle or vermilion”, perhaps due to the colour tone of the towers and walls. The Alhambra fortress and the magnificent gardens of the Generalife are the former rural residence of the emirs, who ruled this part of Spain in the 13th and 14th centuries. The architecture and the exquisite carvings blew me away.
DON’T MISS: Sticking your hands in the Garden’s water-bannister on a hot day.
GLADIATORS AND WILD ANIMALS
This is kind of what happened with Acropolis – I actually forgot it, because I’ve been so many times. But Rome is my favourite city. Most of the historic centre of Rome are considered World Heritage – not just the Colosseum, but also the Pantheon, which is my favourite. But Colosseum is an iconic building and considered one of the new 7 wonders of the world. It was built in 72 by Emperor Vespasian (although finished by another), could fit 50.000 people and the name from the huge statue that stood in front of the theatre. It was colossal!
DON’T MISS: See the view of Colosseum from Parco Del Colle Opio. And also to book in advance…
Grotte de Font de Gaume is one of the caves in the region of Dordogne in France – Lascaux is he most famous one. But Font de Guame is one of the most incredible Palaeolithic sites with more than 200 images of bison, horses, mammoths and reindeer – many still have colours left.
You’re of course not allowed to photograph inside a prehistoric cave, so I borrowed a picture from the tourist site. Many caves are either restricting the number of visitors or closing so preserve the decorations, so do your homework.
DON’T MISS: THIS!
Thingvellir National Park could look like a natural wonder, but that’s because the monument is made by nature. But in fact it has been a very important assembly place since the Vikings. From 930 this was the place the Alting assembled until 1798. Today in Denmark and other places we still call the place where political decision are made a “ting”.
DON’T MISS: Where the Law Rock and the Law Council presumably met. Unfortunately, you can miss it.
TRADE & WAR
The town of Visby lies on the Swedish island of Gotland. There is a direct link to the Danes, since in 1361 the Danish King Valdemar attacked and killed almost the entire Swedish peasant-army here. But more importantly it was part of the Hanseatic League which made it very wealthy in the Middle Ages. Visby has the most well-preserved medieval city wall I have seen outside France.
It’s mostly Swedish tourists who come here, but it’s fantastic. A few international travellers do find their way since it’s close to the smaller island Fårö, where the fantastic film-maker Ingmar Bergmannn lived and filmed some of his masterpieces.
DON’T MISS: Visiting the Gotland Museum to see the armour from the battle with the Danes.
ART, ART AND ARCHITECTURE
I loooove Italy: pizza, pasta, ice cream and wine! This is the second Italian UNESCO site, but that’s how it is. Italy is special! The entire city of Florence is museum! (And that’s also why this is not further up on the list. It’s also kind of a theater stage.) But if you’re interested in the Renaissance you should come. If you’re not – you should be ashamed! Machiavellian ideas of power, Michelangelo and the Black Death is just a few of the topics that will be thrown in your face – but beautifully done so…
DON’T MISS: It might be obvious, but climb the Campanile and see the view. And quench your thirst afterwards with a glass of overpriced prosecco.
CHOCOLATE & MEDIEVAL GARGOYLES
Bruges or Brugge was actually a city, I thought we spent too much time in, but nevertheless it made an big impression. Read more in Bruges, Gent & Brussels: 3 Belgian cities in 1 rainy weekend! It’s actually not only the historic city centre that’s on the list, but also the bell fry. It was also a Hanseatic town and one of the 4 most important cities in Europe in 1200 along with London. This is a city of beer and chocolate, so that’s another great argument for going.
DON’T MISS: Going up in at least one bell fry for a panorama picture!
DEAD KINGS AND QUEENS
Since I work here I have to include it! But I also do think Roskilde Cathedral is a spectacular place. It is the official burial site of the Danish Royal Family, and it already includes about 39 tombs of Danish Kings and Queens. Our current queen will also be buried here. The church is from 1200, and since it has been rebuild and chapels have been added by different kings, it reflects the European architectural changes over 800 years.
DON’T MISS The clock where the dragon squeals every hour, when Saint George kills it. (Fun fact: Saint George was an officer under Emperor Diocletian who build the palace that’s number 2 on this list and also sentenced to death by him)
Other favourable mentions are the Hanseatic town of Lübeck in Germany, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Spanish city of Toledo, Tower of London, and all of Italy. There are 832 cultural world heritage sites – see the list here. I’ve tried to track how many sites I’ve seen, and it amounts to about 150. There are so many in France and Italy that I kind of lost track.
And then there all the fantastic places I haven’t been – yet! So this is a list, I actually hope soon will be outdated… But planning to see the historic center of Warsaw, Istanbul and Edinburgh this year!
What’s your favourite world heritage site?
Also check out Top 10 destinations in 2018 for the cultural explorer!