20 Best Cities in Europe: Countdown #10 to #1

Looking towards Santa Maria della Salute on Venice's Grand Canal

Looking towards Santa Maria della Salute on Venice’s Grand Canal

(Last week) I posted the first 10 cities that Conde Naste Traveler considered the Best Cities in Europe (out of a list of 20). I’ve been to some and would love to go to some of the others. Heck, if I had the opportunity, I’d probably go to them all. Time and money, folks, time and money.

Here, then, are the top 10 in reverse order, with photos and notes:

10 – Venice, Italy

Conde Naste cites “meandering streets and romantic canals” in defence of choosing Venice as it’s number 10 best city. There’s a lot of argument out there against it. It’s crowded and expensive and there are a lot of cities with canals if that’s the attraction. I’ve been there once for a brief visit and it was lovely. The first day was sunny and we walked and walked. The second morning was bucketing rain and that wasn’t so much fun but it was interesting to see how St. Mark’s Square floods. They put up low tables all around so the tourists can stand on them while waiting in line to get into the basilica. It *is* very touristy but if you can go off season, it’s not too crowded.

9 – Nuremberg, Germany

Nurmemburg has a “distinct blend of old and new.” It’s an “early capital of science and invention” and now has a lot of museums and markets with some lovely medieval architecture. It’s modern claim to fame is the post-WWII war trials but there’s a lot of history here.

8 – Rome, Italy

Rome is famed for “La Dolce Vita”, the sweet life, and Rome is as much an attitude as it is an experience. Where Conde Naste cites Florence’s history as an attraction, and it is,  I’d argue that Rome is far more historic than Florence. To me, Florence is the centre of art and culture, the cradle of the Rennaissance. There was power in Florence, of course, especially with the commanding Borgia family but Rome’s power reached across much of the known world at one time. It still does if you consider the reach of the Catholic Church even if that technically comes out of Vatican City, a separate country but still considered part of Rome for most of us.

I’ve been to Rome three times over my lifetime, with gaps of almost 20 years between the first and second visit, and about 15 years between the second and third. Tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain for a quick return to Rome didn’t quite work as swiftly as promised! We visited a few of the big name attractions and enjoyed walking the streets and taking in all the atmosphere. I don’t know as there’s any time to go where it’s less crowded though we did find the crowds tolerable when visiting in November.

I like Rome. It’s a very big city but it’s historic centre really isn’t that vast. The traffic and drivers are a bit manic, mind you, so keep a sharp eye out. I think, though, of the three Italian cities on this list, I do prefer Florence.

7 – London, England

My favourite city of all,  for the history even  more so than the architecture though the new modern architecture is exciting, too. A sprawling city with a massive transportation network that works ok, though a bit bottle-necky on the surface in the tourist centre. The underground can be stodgey too, with line closures. Just get out and walk! It’s full of neighbourhoods that are all different from each other and each has a totally different vibe. It really is true that you can never get tired of London. Everyone will find something they enjoy here. Another city that’s crowded most of the year but worse in summer and on holidays. We made the mistake of going to the Tower of London over an Easter one year. Even though the rain was heavy at times, the queues were long and people were wall to wall!

I’ve been to London more times than I can count on two hands and I still haven’t seen areas of it that are on my list. I’ll be back.

6 – Paris, France

For Paris to be fairly high on the top 10 list is pretty much self explanatory. Paris is a beautiful city, loaded with history, art, architecture and romance. It’s vast but the transportation network is pretty efficient. You will never run out of things to do or see and there are lots of day trips you can take as well to go further afield. I’ve been there twice and it’s a city definitely worth repeat visits because there’s way too much to take in. I have a bit of French vocabulary sticking around from my high school years and I got along more or less ok but in the tourist areas, it’s generally not a problem. Menus are usually bilingual and most staff seem to know English. It doesn’t hurt to brush up on Merci and Excusez-moi and S’il vous plait, though.

Vienna at night (photo from insightguides.com)

Vienna at night (photo from insightguides.com)

5 – Vienna, Austria

Conde Naste says it’s “Artistic, exquisite, and largely shaped by its musical and intellectual foundations”. I think that means it’s a cultural hotspot, and they have great coffee, pastry and chocolate, too! I always think of it as an elegant city and I’d like to visit to see if that’s true.

Barcelona and the Familia Sagrada towering over the city. It's been under construction for over a century. (photo from blog.iese.edu)

Barcelona and the Familia Sagrada towering over the city. It’s been under construction for over a century. (photo from blog.iese.edu)

4 – Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, by the account of quite a few people I know that have been here, is a hip and exciting city with fantastic architecture in the classic “fantasy” meaning of the term. Gaudi and other modern art, museums, beaches and mountains,  it’s a hot spot and probably a bit overrun with tourists much of the time. I do think it would be a very cool place to visit.

Salzburg (photo from wannabemagazine.com)

Salzburg (photo from wannabemagazine.com)

3 – Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg’s claims to  fame are  Mozart and the Von Trapp family, It is a city with an older section on one side of a river and  19th c. newer bit  on the other. A picture book city that would be a really charming place to visit.

Lucerne in winter

Lucerne in winter (photo from myswitzerland.com)

2 – Lucerne, Switzerland
It was never really on my list of places to go but for one person. My cousin Eddie went on a cross-Europe tour with his mother about 10 years ago I think. He saw a lot of places but he told me that he loved Lucerne, with the old medieval wooden bridge and the cafes at the edge of the water overlooking it. I promised him that if I ever got there, I’d sit at the cafe and have a drink and remember him. He died about a week later.

florence Piazza signorina1 – Florence, Italy

Probably not what you expected to be the Number 1 city in Europe, right?  I get it, though. The history, the charm, the cradle of the Renaissance. Florence is a much more manageable size of a city than London or Paris or Vienna. You can walk everywhere, it’s got a world class museum or three and a stunning cathedral or two. It’s in the heart of Tuscany and I found that it had a really welcoming and charming feel in the atmosphere. I only had a day to spend in Florence at the end of a bus tour. I was tired and ready to go home but I really wished we had started the tour here instead of ending it. I would have loved to have spent more time and really would like to go back again. Rome or Venice might be the big attractions of Italy, but Florence is where you’ll really end up leaving your heart, if that’s not too cliche to say.

Here’s a slideshow of some photos I’ve taken in London, Paris, Florence, and Venice.

The whole slide show  at Conde Naste Traveler is here.

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20 best cities in Europe: Countdown #20 – #11

I recently saw a link to an article on Conde Nast Traveler’s website with a slide show of the 20 Best Cities in Europe. Curious, I went to look. How many of the cities had I visited? I anticipated some of the most obvious choices but kind of figured they would make some obscure choices. Turns out, of the 20, I’ve visited nine. Several of the others are cities I would really like to see some day. Whether I will or not is anyone’s guess.

Now. Do I blog them all at once, with notes, and a montage of the photos I’ve taken in the cities I’ve been to? Or do I blog them one a day or half and half in two posts?

I think I’ll post the bottom 10 first, then in another post I’ll do the top 10, so here goes, counting backwards from 20 to 11:

Prague at sunset (photo from erhansasmaz.deviantart.com)

20 –  Prague, Czech Republic
Conde Nast says “Picturesque Prague beats with a bohemian heart”. Everyone I know that has been there says it’s a really beautiful city and it’s definitely one that I’d love to see someday.

19 – Copenhagen, Denmark
Conde Nast calls it “a capital of Nordic cool, expensive but free to walk around and soak in the atmosphere.”. I’ve been to Copenhagen and I liked it quite a lot. I didn’t really expect much of it and it surprised me. The historic city centre is beautiful, flat, cobbled and there are loads of shopping, cafes, and historic sites with some lovely galleries as well. Transportation seems pretty good and easy to use. There’s a theme park in the middle of the city, too! (Tivoli). Yes, it’s definitely expensive but I’d go back anytime. We were there for 5 days and barely scratched the surface.

18 – Edinburgh, Scotland
I’ve been here, a couple of times. Edinburgh is an elegant old city steeped in history. The Old Town, higher up and cobbled, with touristy shops, galleries, cathedral, narrow streets, and the castle on the cliff with awesome views are part of the attraction and the Georgian New Town with more shopping and restaurants and beautiful architecture and a public garden below the castle cliffs are more reasons to go.

View of Zurich. Photo from http://podroze.onet.pl

View of Zurich. Photo from http://podroze.onet.pl

17 – Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich is on a river and surrounded by dramatic mountains, what’s not to love? I haven’t been here but have been told that Switzerland is a gorgeous and very clean country. Apparently it’s also close enough to Alsace or Venice for day trips by train as well.

16 – Madrid, Spain
Madrid is the capital of Spain and though I think I’d prefer Barcelona, Madrid does have one major bonus that could sway me, the Prado museum, one of the world’s best.

15 – Bruges, Belgium
Another place I’ve visited and liked a lot. There are a few small cities in Belgium with canals and cobbles. Bruges is probably one of the best known and most visited. We took a nice canal cruise which I would definitely recommend and admired the gorgeous architecture in the main squares. There are lots of little places to investigate on and off the beaten track. The old historic city centre is very well preserved and full of really old buildings.

14 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Conde Naste says “Windmills, cycling, Van Gogh, and canals are all part of Amsterdam’s storied charm”. Amsterdam *is* charming though it is also a larger city and it can be crowded. It’s very pretty, with the canals and the stately gabled houses lining them, with bridges and houseboats, and bicycles. Oh yes. You need to be aware because they sneak up on you without warning! We spent a few days here and saw a bit though there were a lot of things we didn’t have the time to get to see.

A view of Istanbul (photo from www.thestregisistanbul.com)

A view of Istanbul (photo from http://www.thestregisistanbul.com)

13 – Istanbul, Turkey
I haven’t been here, this enormous city on the border of Europe and Asia. It’s a very old city, known in Roman days as Constantinople for the Emperor Constantine who was fundamental in bringing Christianity to the wider Roman Empire. It has also been called Byzantium which dates back to ancient Greek days. The Istanbul we know is from the Ottoman empire and is now a Muslim based city. There are some spectactular religious buildings and famous markets. I think it would be a very interesting city to visit.

Lovely BudaPest (photo from www.inyourpocket.com)

Lovely BudaPest (photo from http://www.inyourpocket.com)

12 – Budapest, Hungary
Another city I would love to see and which I’ve been told is really beautiful, with old buildings and a lovely cathedral. There are actually two cities, Buda and Pest, one on either side of the Danube river. Best known for Art Nouveau architecture and a plethora of spas.

Stockholm at sunset (photo bestbarseurope.com)

Stockholm at sunset (photo bestbarseurope.com)

11 – Stockholm, Sweden
Yet another city built on islands and canals, this one in the north of Europe. Stockholm has become very hip and has long been known for it’s sleek designs. Since the release of the Millenium Trilogy books (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo et. al.), a lot of Swedish crime thrillers have become popular and Sweden seems to be even more of a destination. Definitely one I’d like to see though it’s even more expensive than Copenhagen!

Below is a gallery of a few photos I’ve taken of Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Bruges, and Amsterdam


If you can’t wait to find out the rest, then the slide show is here.

Daily Prompt: City

Covent Neils Yard 2014

Neil’s Yard, London

WordPress Daily Prompt hands out a word every day for inspiration for bloggers to write a post. I don’t often participate, preferring the weekly photo challenge but City, for a travel blogger, is right up my alley.

Most of the places I visit are in cities. Arriving by air or train, finding a hotel and spending my visit seeing what the city has to offer is the way I roll when spending time in a city. Cities have so much to offer just about everyone. My particular favourites are art galleries and museums and I love to check out the architecture, especially in older quarters. In addition, I have on occasion traveled alone and I generally feel comfortable in a city on my own.

I’m certainly not as widely traveled as a lot of people, but I have had the opportunity to get about a little bit within my own beautiful country of Canada, a few stops in the U.S.A. and a few places in Europe including the United Kingdom most of all. My favourite Canadian cities so far (aside from my own beloved hometown, Halifax)  include Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec City and St. John’s.  New York City and Boston are very appealing though I haven’t really spent a lot of time in either, something I hope to amend in the future. London of course, my favourite, and I’ve been to Manchester a lot of times, too, and like it quite a lot. Other U.K. favourites include Glasgow and York. Other favourite cities include Dublin, Paris, Florence, Brugges and Copenhagen.

Canal in Copenhagen

Canal in Copenhagen

As far as places I’d put on the “To Go” list, places I haven’t been yet…that list includes Stockholm, Prague, Budapest, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Singapore and Osaka among others. I suppose I will never have all the financial resources to go everywhere I’d like to! Our next trip isn’t going to be to any of those mentioned. We are hoping to go to Honolulu and another trip we fancy is to Washington, D.C. and who knows? Either or both of those could be a new favourite, too.

While I do enjoy getting out of a city and seeing the countryside, it generally means you need some form of transportation. Mind you, road trips, by definition, are usually not city destinations, not for us. Road trips are for countryside, towns and villages, scenic views and we like them, too.

Travel Theme: Cities

Most of the places I go are cities. We use cities as a base for touring outside the urban area, too. But what to post for the challenge? City skylines? City life? Traffic? Buildings? Or maybe all of the above? This is my entry for Where’s My Backpack’s weekly challenge.

 

Midtown Manhattan and Bryant Park

Crowds on Oxford Street, London

Traffic outside the Louvre, Paris

More traffic. Fleet Street, London

Busking in the Metro. Rome

An oasis of calm in Manchester city centre

City lights. Toronto at dusk