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)
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)
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)
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 (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.
1 – 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.
If it’s a gondola, it must be Venice
Looking towards Santa Maria della Salute on Venice’s Grand Canal
Piazza Navona, Rome
Inside detail in the Colosseum. Rome.
The city of London has changed and grown considerably around St. Paul’s Cathedral, and there’s no end in sight.
The White Tower from the Tower of London.
Paris is for lovers.
Rue St. Germain, Paris on the Left Bank
Bell tower of the Duomo, Florence
Ponte Vecchio, Florence
The whole slide show at Conde Naste Traveler is here.