Today’s task is to continue on from where I left on going through continents and talking about my favourite cities – and today I’m writing about my favourite cities in Western Europe. I decided to split Europe into West and East for the purposes of these posts as they do feel, at times, to me to be quite different (plus I get an extra post out of it). So here we go folks, the best of European cities, according to me!
Although Rome can be rather full on at times, and although you can find Roman ruins from Africa to Barcelona, the saying is certainly true – there IS no place like Rome. It’s an incredible destination city, motorbikes zooming past incredible monuments of the past such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon. And of course there is the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and St Peter’s Basilica. Not to mention that you are in the city that completely surrounds the smallest country possibly on Earth – Vatican City.
Travelling in Europe solo for the first time, going from Switzerland to Rome on an overnight train meant going from the rain and the cold to sunny days. There is a certain ‘wow!’ factor in Rome. Although it may be expensive, I do love Italian food and I have great memories of the five or six days I spent in Rome back in 1999 including seeing Pat Rafter win the Italian Open (well, I think it was the Italian Open!).
The German capital is actually a really cool city, perhaps a little TOO alternative in some ways, full of history both medieval and from the last century. It’s really very different from the rest of Germany, it beats to its own drum, and has plenty for the visitor.
Come to see the history of WWII and the Cold War, see the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie (and it’s kitsch but cool museum) and the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, not basically just a tower in a reminder of the cost of war. But to just consider Berlin as a historical marker is doing the place an injustice and a half of full cream dairy milk!
Try the cafes, the bars and the night spots if you’re young and that’s your thing. The modern Reichstag is also a very impressive building too. I feel the need as I write to revisit and discover much more of this place I only saw briefly in 2004.
The most recent of these cities I have visited. It’s really a great place, with a large-ish historical centre, pleasant enough to walk around and explore. We found the eating a lot better (and affordable) here as compared to Barcelona too, with loads of options. My wife was very happy with the constant supply of roasted chestnuts as well.
The cathedral is MASSIVE and contains the grave of one Christopher Columbus, but don’t let that put you off. It has so many fascinating chambers and rooms attached and climb the steps to the top of the tower for a spectacular view across the city.
Alcazar Palace is the jewel of the city. It’s large as well, and has extensive gardens. A mixture of designs throughout the ages compliment each other here. Also of interesting is the Plaza de Espana, beautiful or garish depending on your point of view, or maybe both. Again, lovely gardens attached to wander.
If it’s the season, and you are okay with it (and I’m not sure that I am), bullfighting is a feature in Seville. We were not there for the bullfighting season, however they do run tours of the bullring and you step out into the arena which is very special indeed. The bullring is right on the river, a beautiful one for a walk.
There are also many historical houses worth visiting as well in Seville, and although the historic part of town is very large, it is easy to walk and quite enjoyable. Although I wouldn’t imagine it’s any fun in the middle of summer!
For me, it has to be London. It’s honestly the most brilliant city in Western Europe and one of my favourites world-wide, and although it has its shares of issues, it’s been a terror target for many years now and the TUBE (underground) has no air conditioning meaning summer commutes can be horrible, it still captures my imagination and it’s the first city I would choose to go to, at least in this part of the world.
For me, I guess it has a lot to do with growing up watching British TV shows which invariably were set in London. From Doctor Who to The Goodies, or even when I was younger watching The Wombles. Not to mention the great sporting arenas of the city from Lords to Wimbledon which we would watch late at night on television when the cricket and tennis were on.
It’s full of so many iconic locations from the Tower Bridge to the Tower of London, the British Museum is one of the world’s great museums (even if 99% of stuff is pilfered), there is the National Portrait Gallery which is interesting in itself, and of course Westminster Abbey (which I am yet to set foot in) and St Paul’s top the ecclesiastical sights of London. A boat on the Thames surely must be taken, there are ferries up to Greenwich which is famous for a few things, mostly being the place the world gets its time from. I guess it’s a little mean.
And of course, it’s the city to be entertained with a show or two. Who knows, after restrictions are lifted and it takes a while for tourists to return, shows may be cheaper than before. I always try to catch a show or two (or in 1999, four!) when in London. There are so many theatres – not to mention Shakespeare’s Globe which is another must – with shows on (many musicals) you just can’t go wrong!
As for others that didn’t quite make the list – I really did like Barcelona, but in Spain I have to say that Seville was clearly the favourite. Cologne is another German city I didn’t mind, Lyon is probably my favourite city in France although I mostly remember it being stiflingly hot when I was there. Sadly, as much as I love aspects of Paris, it just doesn’t hold the wonder for me that it seems to for so many people. Bruges I liked, Amsterdam not so much – forthcoming post on Amsterdam not far away! I enjoyed Porto and Lisbon in Portugal, they have something eccentric about them, I could have possibly squeezed one of them in but I’m not sure which! Still, I have a lot of Western Europe to explore yet. One day I hope to spend some quality time in Italy. I haven’t been to Venice since 1986, and Florence was always a city I hoped to visit.
Thanks for reading today – how do you feel about my list? What would be on yours? Please comment! And May the Journey Never End!