K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
Read full bio
Paris’ Eiffel Tower, the picturesque canals of Venice, and London’s Buckingham Palace are some of the most popular attractions in Europe. While visiting those destinations is on many travelers’ bucket lists, there are countless others that you should consider too. From the cerulean seas of the Greek Islands to the northern lights of Tromso, Norway, and beyond, these European travel experiences will surely be calling your name.
You know about Santorini, one of the most famous Greek Islands on almost every traveler’s bucket list. But what about those lesser-known islands? While you may want to see Santorini’s stunning caldera, one of the best ways to enjoy a mix of some of the country’s most famous islands, along with alluring destinations that need to be loaded with tourists, is to sail. Sailing has been a part of Greek life since prehistoric times. With some 6,000 islands here, each with its own distinct character, you’ll find practically an endless number of ports to stop in and nearly as many sailboat chartering options departing from Athens and other cities too.
The Slea Head Loop drive is not only one of Ireland’s most breathtaking drives, and it’s one of the world’s most spectacular. Start in Dingle and wind around the rugged coast with golden beaches edged by an azure sea. The 26-mile-long route is best experienced by making multiple stops along the way, including the Iron Age ruins of Dunbeg Fort, the beehive huts, views of the Blasket Islands, and time for sipping a hot beverage in one of the little coffee houses that overlook the Atlantic.
The Scottish Highlands not only offer some of the planet’s most jaw-dropping scenery with soaring mountains, cascading falls, glistening lakes, and ancient castles, but this area is home to the country’s most famous loch of all – Loch Ness. Here, you can relax at the water’s edge and try to catch a glimpse of its notorious Loch Ness monster, head out on a boat tour and visit the ruins of Urquhart Castle. While only the ruins of the medieval fortress remain, it makes for picture-postcard photographs. By climbing Grant Tower, you’ll get a great view of the iconic lake as well as the chance to look into the prison cell that was said to have once held the legendary Gaelic bard Domhnall Donn.
Throughout the U.K. and Ireland, there are multiple castles available for overnight stays, but Thornbury Castle is arguably one of the best. Situated near the edge of the famously picturesque Cotswolds just east of the Welsh border, you can live your fantasy of sleeping like a king or queen in the only Tudor castle that’s been opened up as a hotel. The luxurious rooms feature canopy beds, aged tapestries and stone walls, that truly feel as if you’ve gone back to medieval times.
Italy’s Cinque Terre region is one of its most scenic, made up of five towns along the Ligurian coast. Each one is unique yet equally stunning, as if it’s a living postcard. Protected as a national park, one of the best things to do here is to simply wander the paths along the cliffs, stopping for a gelato in a cozy cafe or dining on mouth-watering cuisine paired with local wine, while surrounded by the vibrant-colored houses that edge the sea.
The “Paris of the North” as Tromso is sometimes referred to, is one of the best destinations on the planet for gazing up at the northern lights, thanks to its location above the Arctic Circle, an experience that everyone should enjoy at least once in a lifetime. The shimmering green or multi-colored lights frequently dance after the long days of summer have passed. This picturesque town also boasts some impressive 18th-century wooden buildings, and a surprising number of museums as well as a thriving nightlife scene.
With a backdrop of the often snow-capped Julian Alps, tranquil emerald-green Lake Bled and its tiny islet that houses a pretty church is surely one of the world’s most picture-perfect scenes. While you can take in the scene from the shore, get out on the lake by riding one of the traditional, 16th-century pletna boats that shuttle passengers to the church with skilled oarsmen at the helm.
If you’re into mountain scenery, the Swiss Alps offer some of the most dramatic in Europe, along with colorful wildflowers and lush, green meadows in the summer. By soaring over in a hot-air balloon with Alpine Ballooning, you can get a bird’s-eye view of this magical landscape that includes charming villages and Swiss chalets that lie under the shadow of the looming jagged peaks of Gstaad.
Iceland has become one of the hottest travel destinations on the planet in recent years, boasting everything from roaring waterfalls with rainbows in the mist and jet-black sand beaches to towering snow-capped peaks and hot springs. Soaking in the milky-turquoise, mineral-rich waters of the famous Blue Lagoon has become one of the top bucket list experiences anywhere. You can even get an in-water massage, skin treatments and a drink at the bar, all in the soothing warm water.
France’s Loire Valley is renowned for its wine, meandering rivers and magnificent chateaus. The Loire River weaves past many vineyards which produce some of the highest acclaimed French vintages, like crisp sauvignon blancs and smoky cabernets. You can rent a bike and roll across the country roads to enjoy tastings and tours, picking up a bottle and perhaps some local produce and cheese, sold at one of the many shops along the way for a picnic on the banks.