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Overview

Travel in Europe and discover cultural icons from the classical rubble of Athens and Rome to the castles of southern Spain, the pomp of Victorian London to the vineyards of Champagne

From the classical rubble of Athens and Rome to the castles of southern Spain, the pomp of Victorian London to the vineyards of Champagne, the ideas and institutions of Europe have spread to every corner of the world.

Nowhere has such a density of iconic, art-and-architecture-packed cities. Barcelona, Granada, Venice, Palermo, Paris, Avignon… between them Spain, France and Italy could easily fill a year of weekend breaks. And for longer stays, there are numerous historic regions to explore at leisure: the Moorish towns of Andalucia in Spain; the Renaissance cities of northern Italy; the Loire Valley chateaux in France.

But Europe has its wild side too. The great mountain chain of the Alps is the birthplace of world climbing, and Switzerland and Austria lay claim to breathtaking scenery criss-crossed by hiking trails. Norway’s fjords are truly epic and (outside the peak summer cruising season) remarkably quiet. North of the Artic Circle, Lapland offers husky sledding, Sami culture and the much-imitated Ice Hotel. Scotland’s Highlands and Islands has vast sweeps of moor, forest and crag; Iceland and southern Italy are dominated by volcanoes; Almeria in southern Spain even has a desert.

Southern Europe is defined by the balmy Mediterranean Sea, and its coastal towns and islands are where package tourism made some of its biggest mistakes – and started to learn from them. Islands like Tenerife, Malta, Ibiza, Mallorca, Corfu and Cyprus all have interesting hinterlands away from the resort strips, and reward exploration.

The former Soviet countries of Eastern Europe are catching up fast with the neighbours – and, outside the Euro currency, benefiting from lower prices. With its plethora of Adriatic islands, Croatia is already well-established as an alternative to Greece. Romania, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine harbour bears, wolves and untrammelled rural landscapes; the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have historic cities (and great saunas). On the Soviet front line, Germany’s capital Berlin has now been reunited for 20 years, and repeatedly tops ‘favourite city’ lists.

Perhaps the best way to explore Europe is by rail. This is a continent of relatively small countries, and you can whisk from big city to mountain to coast – and on to a whole new country – in a few hours. Inter-rail (for European citizens only) and Eurail passes (for others) give access to 30 countries, and have kick-started many great travelling lives. For UK residents, Rail Europe has fares, routes and passes.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning your European adventure today…



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