From the artistic Mediterranean vibe of Málaga to the sublime natural landscapes of northern Norway, this year’s best places in Europe offers an eclectic mix of destinations.
Published this week is the Lonely Planet’s top 10 guide to the best European places to visit in 2015. As well as some staple favourites such as Amsterdam and Porto, there’s a few interesting ‘new’ additions to the list including Serbia’s hip yet historic Belgrade, and the fast-developing Baku in Azerbaijan, set on the Caspian Sea between Russian and Iran. There’s also a strong emphasis on destinations famed for their ‘natural’ beauty, seeing Akureyri, Iceland’s second biggest urban area set on the northern shoreline at the head of the country’s longest fjord, Portugal’s beautiful Azores archipelago positioned midway across in the Atlantic Ocean, and the Arctic capital of Tromsø in Norway, perfect for appreciating the stunning spectacle that is the Northern Lights, as well as the summertime Midnight Sun.
With nods given too to Málaga in southern Spain, the Piedmont region of Italy (think Turin) and lovely Leipzig in Germany, a perfect day’s excursion from Berlin (just 70 minutes by fast ICE train), this year’s top 10 recognises some of Cities Direct’s most popular and up-and-coming destinations. Here’s what they had to say about them…
With its photogenic canals, masterpiece-packed museums, ubiquitous bicycle paths, flower-filled markets, nightlife that needs no introduction, and a cosmopolitan foodie scene (including a new food hall inside the converted tram sheds of the cultural and design complex De Hallen (www.dehallen-amsterdam.nl), there’s never a bad time to visit Amsterdam.
But 19 to 23 August 2015 sees the Dutch capital host Sail Amsterdam (www.sail.nl), a once-every-five-years extravaganza that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors (so start making your travel plans now). Highlights of this huge event – the Netherlands’ largest – include tall ships sailing into the city, nautical-themed performances and concerts, and the opportunity to climb aboard old and new vessels.
Seafaring enthusiasts can also check out year-round attractions like the Het Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum), just across from the boat-shaped NEMO science centre, where the deck-like roof terrace has panoramic views of the city.
Wearing its elegant but crumbling facades as a badge of honour, Belgrade has emerged as Europe’s in-the-know destination in recent years. Its boisterous nightlife has brought comparisons to those much more famous (and expensive) ‘Bs’ in the west, Barcelona and Berlin. Add in hearty cuisine, a blossoming hostel scene and improved air connections to the rest of Europe, and the stage is set for exploring beyond the river-barge clubs.
Destroyed and rebuilt countless times in its 2300-year lifetime, Belgrade is a history buff’s dream: the Kalemegdan Fortress (hosting a new festival this summer – www.kalemegdansummerfestival.com/sr), the Royal Palace and a handful of fascinating museums have stories to tell. For a unique perspective, join new kayaking, biking or underground tours (www.tob.rs/belgrade-sightseeing-tours/other-sightseeing-tours).
Historic hoods and destinations du jour include the cobblestoned bohemian Skadarlija strip and the creative hotspot of Savamala (home of the hip Mikser Festival – www.festival.mikser.rs). And with a Dubai-style makeover of the waterfront slated to start this autumn, you’d better catch some of that spirit before it’s gone.
It’s easy to see why this ramshackle yet chic city has been touted as the ‘new Berlin‘: students, artists and entrepreneurs are flocking here in search of cheap digs and a fresh scene. But Leipzig is no mere imitation – this place is as plucky as they come. A Stasi headquarters (now a public museum) still looms over the city, and it was the mass demonstrations held here in 1989 that fuelled the revolution culminating in the fall of the Berlin Wall.
This year sees the 850th anniversary of the Church of St Nicholas, the stage upon which many of these political protests played out. Leipzig Central Station will celebrate its 100th birthday and, as if that wasn’t enough, 2015 marks 1000 years since the city’s first documented mention. Unsurprisingly, this summer will be an extravaganza of festivals and exhibitions.
Get there before the cool kids catch on.
Laid-back Málaga boasts sunshine, beaches, seafood and a historic centre crammed with atmospheric alleyways. So far, so good. But one thing you might not have expected from a city that’s the gateway to the resort-lined Costa del Sol is a world-class cultural scene.
Recent years have seen this 3000-year-old port invest heavily in art – with spectacular results. The Museo Picasso, with over 200 works by the Málaga-born painter, and the Museo Carmen Thyssen, which explores Andalusian landscapes and life, are both relatively recent arrivals, and 2015 saw the opening of the Pompidou Centre’s first branch outside France (<www.centrepompidou.es), and the Russian State Museum (www.coleccionmuseoruso.es) in a converted tobacco factory.
Combine Málaga’s traditional charms – eating fried fish and sinking beers on the beach, or clambering up the 14th-century Gibralfaro fortress for glorious views – with its galleries and redeveloped port and you’ve got a great city break.
As host of Expo 2015, Milan might be hogging the headlines right now. But turn your sights west to the nearby region of Piedmont and you’ll discover there’s a lot going on in Turin. The city recently gave the Holy Shroud a rare public outing and is currently halfway through its stint as European Capital of Sport. Events in the pipeline range from rugby matches – Italy play Scotland on 22 August – to street golf and beach volleyball.
If you’re more interested in mummies than marathons, the city’s celebrated Egyptian Museum just got better after the completion of a five-year revamp. For a change of pace, the vine-clad slopes of southern Piedmont are ideal for touring. Pick up a car and explore the Unesco-listed landscape of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato as you meander your way through wine towns like Barolo, Barbaresco and La Morra.
Move over Lisbon – now everyone is talking about the Portuguese capital’s bright, soulful, party-loving northern sister. Scooping awards left, right and centre as one of Europe’s best (and cheapest) destinations, Porto has the verve of a city finding its creative feet.
Porto’s delights go beyond tasting tawny port in venerable cellars like Taylor’s (www.taylor.pt/en/visit-taylors/port-cellars) and strolling its Unesco-listed centre, Ribeira, where the candy-coloured houses spill down to the banks of the Douro. Street art has injected cool into these medieval lanes, with names like artist Hazul Luzah bringing a splash of colour to streets like the Rua Miguel Bombarda, a hipster haunt of cafes, boutiques and galleries.
Into your food? You’ll be in your element, too. Celebrity chefs like Rui Paula and José Avillez have given the city kudos in the kitchen, and the 19th-century Mercado do Bolhão is receiving some much-needed TLC in 2015. For an indulgent half-day walk, hook up with the terrific Taste Porto Food Tours (www.tasteportofoodtours.com).
Tromsø‘s star has been rising and rising in recent years. The ‘Arctic capital’ abounds with adventures thanks to snow-crowned mountains and big wilderness in its backyard. Season permitting, you can hike, kayak, whale watch, ski, snowmobile and dogsled. And come winter or summer, the city brims with events, from midnight sun marathons in June to the reindeer-racing in February.
Excitement is already snowballing about the Krystall, which is slated to open for Christmas 2016. What’s the deal? Picture a whopping snowflake-shaped, five-star hotel cast adrift off Tromsø’s rugged coastline. Now imagine 86 minimalist-chic rooms with glass roofs that allow you to gaze up at the Northern Lights while snuggled down in bed. Cool? You bet. Floating between two fjords, its blend of Nordic architecture and close-to-the-elements setting is bound to leave guests smitten.
Amsterdam, Belgrade, Leipzig, Málaga, Piedmont, Porto and Tromsø copy copyrighted to and adapted from the Lonely Planet’s travel tips & articles “Lonely Planet’s Best in Europe 2015”.