1. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
It’s more than worth the trek out to central Croatia to see Plitvice Lakes National Park, a series of lakes, rivers, and caves carved into the limestone and dolomite mountains in the region. The park was added to the register of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1979, and upon visiting the spectacular waterfalls throughout the park, it’s immediately clear why. The park sees more than one million visitors per year, so be prepared to visit in the early morning or during shoulder season to avoid the crowds.
2. Berchtesgaden, Germany
For those who love hiking and history, be sure to visit the tiny town of Berchtesgaden in southwestern Germany and check out the Kehlsteinhaus, also known as Eagle’s Nest. The mountaintop chalet was constructed in 1939 as a birthday gift for Adolf Hitler but was rarely used throughout the course of World War II. It is one of the few buildings from the Nazi period that remains intact (with original furnishings), and it provides a unique snapshot into the area’s history. You can choose to hike two hours up the mountain or catch the bus to the top to walk through a series of tunnels bored into the mountain and take in the spectacular view from the top, looking out over the surrounding Alps. The mountain and the town of Berchtesgaden are located at the very southern tip of Germany, an hour bus ride or drive outside of Salzburg, Austria.
3. Bruges, Belgium
Located just a short train ride away from London or Amsterdam, Bruges is the perfect destination for a weekend escape. The historic city is built atop a series of canals, earning the nickname “the Venice of the North” You can stroll along the city’s numerous canals and winding streets, visit the famous 13th Century belfry located in the town square, view centuries of Flemish art and the only Michelangelo sculpture believed to have left Italy, or hire a bicycle for the day and ride out to the sea. While you’re there, be sure to sample some delicious Belgian beers, chow down on waffles and frites, and take in all this small town has to offer.
4. Munich, Germany
There’s so much more to Munich than just Oktoberfest and beer halls. In the summertime, grab a group of friends and head to any of the city’s numerous beer gardens for a relaxing night of great beer and good food with the locals, or pack a picnic and watch the river surfers in Munich’s Englischer Garten. Unlike many of the cities destroyed in World War II, Munich’s historic town center was restored in the traditional style, and it remains a unique center of German history.
5. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Slovenia is one of eastern Europe’s most underrated destinations. The picturesque, pedestrian-only city center of Ljubljana is perfect for a long stroll through the country’s living history. The trendy but self-sufficient capital city is home to numerous cafes, pubs, and shops, making it a quaint but wonderful place to spend a few days. The city is also just a short drive or bus ride from Lake Bled, one of Slovenia’s most well-known destinations, making it a good home base for a longer exploration of all this beautiful country has to offer.
6. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is by far one of Europe’s most beautiful (and affordable) cities. The Hungarian Parliament building is one of the city’s most easily recognizable landmarks, and the city’s vibrant culture makes for an unforgettable experience. Be sure to grab a delicious plate of goulash (traditional Hungarian beef stew), visit one of Budapest’s famous ruin pubs, and stop by the Szecenyi spa baths for the full experience!
Budapest is also known as the Capital of Festivals, so be sure to plan your visit accordingly so that you can participate in one of the city’s many cultural offerings. The city hosts Sziget Festival each August. The island festival has grown to be one of Europe’s largest summer music events, drawing in artists from around the world.
7. Prague, Czech Republic
If castles are your thing, you’ll feel right at home strolling along the streets of Prague, where you can admire the city’s fairytale-esque architecture. The most recognizable attractions include the Old Town Square, Prague Castle, and Charles Bridge, although the entire old town center has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city of Prague played a prominent role throughout European history, as the main residence of several Holy Roman Emperors, a major city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and an important capital city during both World Wars and the post-war Communist era, so the history buffs will have a hard time choosing where to begin.
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