Europe's Other Attractions

Sunset at Oia in Santorini, Greece

In addition to its waterfalls, Europe has other attractions to keep you busy taking photos or admiring the nature. I’ve singled out some of the features that you’re bound to see upon a visit in this continent. Read below to get a brief introduction to these features.

Seine River and the Notre DameParis (France): There's a reason why many tourists associate visiting Paris as enough to say they've seen France. While this really shortchanges the country in a big way, it's understandable why... This city is stocked! It has about as many attractions as you could fit into a metropolis whether it's the sights, the food, the history, the culture, or the efficient and extensive mass transit to name a few.

Indeed, this city is an attraction in and of itself, and it's such an easy target for stereotypes and overgeneralizations. To give you an idea of how stocked the city is, here's a quick rundown of what we experienced in the city...

Eiffel TowerLe Tour Eiffel or the Eiffel Tower - can there be anything more iconic than this metal structure? Mention Paris, and this is probably the first thing that pops up in your mind! There are many ways to view the structure, including high up in the tower itself where we saw long queues full of people waiting to go up.

Notre Dame CathedralNotre Dame Cathedral - for some reason, seeing this grand cathedral and its two rectangular towers really reminded me of Royce Hall at UCLA. If it's indeed the case that we bit off this cathedral, then I guess it's understandable. After all, it's grand and one of the most impressive sights in the city. And judging by the amount of people crowding the area fronting the cathedral, I guess we weren't alone!

St ChapelleSt Chapelle Cathedral - if you're queueing up for this cathedral, chances are the reason why you're doing it is for its impressive stained-glass windows. Indeed, the upper chamber is the one with very high ceilings and throughout its vertical length, there's the stained-glass windows.

It's interesting to see how the room lights up differently depending on where and how intense the sun's rays penetrate these colorful windows.

Le Sacre CoeurLe Sacre Coeur - this intriguing cathedral is an attractive building in and of itself. However, it also turns out that if you turn around and look away from the building, you'll get a pretty nice view of the city.

When we visited this place on the last night of our France trip, there were many people crowding the stairs, the garden area, and even the street flanked with shops and cafes. We weren't sure what the buzz was all about, but it was certainly an atmospheric place to be.

LouvreLe Musée du Louvre or the Louvre Museum - this place is way busier than what the Tom Hanks Da Vinci Code movie would lead you to believe. It's also a huge place. Sitting along the banks of the Seine River, people from all over the world come to see the Mona Lisa within though there are certainly many more historical pieces of art you can enjoy depending on how much time you have.

L'Arc de TriompheL'Arc de Triomphe or the Arc of Triumph - this is an impressively large war memorial at the center of a very busy roundabout near the Charles de Gaulle - Etoiles metro stop. Underground walkways let you emerge right at the monument without having to cross the traffic. Apparently, it's also possible to tour the interior of the arc as we saw many people queueing up here.

The Mirror RoomChateau de Versailles (France): One of the biggest reasons for the French Revolution and the dissolution of the monarchy was the tremendous disparity between the haves and have nots. Perhaps the disconnect between the reign of Louis XIV as well as his successors against those outside the royal court is never more apparent after wandering through the opulence of this chateau.

the gardenOnce we got through the queue to get the ticket and then the queue to get in the chateau, we walked through various corridors full of high ceilings, murals, chambers, you name it. Perhaps the most impressive part of our visit was the bright Mirror Room where chandeliers hanging from high ceilings full of murals were flanked with mirrors and gold. With such visual displays of opulence, could there be lessons learned from the French Revolution and apply them to your own political situation?

Falaise d'Aval through Manneporte's spanEtretat (France): This beach town situated right by the English Channel in Upper Normandie was like a hidden gem and pleasant surprise for us. The main draw to this area were the giant sea arches. They are Falaise d'Aval, Manneporte, and Falaise d'Amont. There was even a chapel at the top of the cliffs in addition to former World War II bunkers. And then there's the charming town itself where we discovered savory crepes and galettes, Breton cider, and fresh seafood among others!

Sunset at EtretatFalaise d'Aval is probably the most picturesque of the three arches. Meanwhile, Manneporte probably has the largest span. With a little care and timing, it's possible to walk through these arches. In addition, it's even possible to walk up to Falaise d'Amont as well as going up the sea cliffs for different views of the town as well as the arches and sea scenery itself.

Looking back at EtretatAdding to the appeal of this place is that all of the attractions are right by the town though viewing Manneporte will require a little more walking (nothing difficult though). If the weather's good, there's even opportunities to catch the soft afternoon light painting the cliffs for that money photo or to catch an unforgettable sunset.

Mont-Saint-MichelMont-Saint-Michel (France): This medieval abbey is like stepping back in time into an age of moats, castles, and knights. What really makes this abbey unique is that it's set in a tidal "island" where at high tide, it can be completely surrounded by the waters of the English Channel. But in low tide, it's possible to walk the mud flats to get that reflection shot without the causeway in it. And we're just talking about looking at this place from the outside!

Narrow walkways within Mont-Saint-MichelMeanwhile on the island, we were able to enjoy the narrow cobblestone walkways climbing up to the abbey itself. Within the abbey, we explored various arched corridors, dungeons, courtyards, and even some impressive views from high up. On top of that, we enjoyed fantasizing and exploring as many nooks and crannies of the interior that we were allowed access to.

Looking back at EtretatAnd as if that weren't enough, walking the ramparts and enjoying the views of the channel as well as the towering abbey was like being in a magic kingdom. It's definitely one of those places where you can just let your imagination run wild, and I have to believe a lot of role playing fantasies were probably influenced by places like this!

The square by Hotel de VilleLyon (France): This city surprised us with its history and charm once we knew where to look. Considering we stayed here more as a strategic base for visiting waterfalls, we didn't have a whole lot of expectations for this place. But it wasn't until we started walking within Old Lyon did we start to see and experience something not a whole lot of tourists get exposed to, especially if they only have their sights on Paris.

One of the spooky traboulesMost of the action was along and around Rue St Jean. That was where we saw a couple of traboules (hidden passageways that came in handy during troubled times like the Nazi occupation as well as the French Revolution). There was also an impressive cathedral as well as access to the hilltop Notre Dame Cathedral as well. Even eating at a Lyonnais bouchon was a surprise in itself as it was definitely something different than the typical French cuisine we were exposed to up to this point.

An impressive cathedral along Rue St JeanAnother interesting place was the plaza behind Hotel de Ville. It was a large square with the historic-looking hotel featuring prominently. For an added touch, there was a fountain as well as a few cafes to just chill out and bask in the scenery.

Pont d'ArcPont d'Arc (France): This massive natural bridge was one of the pleasant naturesque attractions in the Ardeche Gorge that contrasted from the city environment of Lyon (which was about a couple hours drive). We could see kayakers and beach-goers enjoying the scene, and it proves once again how France has so much to see yet breaks the stereotypes of the things to see and do.

CarcassonneCarcassonne (France): Like Mont-Saint-Michel, this place provided us with another medieval fantasy come to life. Indeed, La Cité de Carcassonne was like stepping back in time strolling amongst cobblestone streets flanked with shops and plenty of spots to explore and discover. Unlike Mont-Saint-Michel, this place was a bit larger so we certainly wished we had a little more time here before heading off to Provence.

Inside La CitéSomething that we thought was well worth the money and time was exploring the chateau within the walled city, which also included a walk along its ramparts. For it was here that we were able to get impressive views of the modern city of Carcassonne surrounding La Cité as well as a different perspective of the interior city itself.

Night time at the main entrance to La CitéWhile doing the ramparts, don't forget to walk the northern ramparts, which has a separate set of steps to go up. It has more views of the city while also providing that rare experience of walking the narrow battlements.

Pont du GardPont du Gard (France): This is actually an ancient Roman aqueduct, but it appeared that there has been enough restoration work that it now is really a bridge for both people and even some service vehicles! It's possible to walk both the middle and upper tiers while also checking out the aqueduct from either side of the river passing beneath. The arches characterizing the bridges certainly make this structure look historical and picturesque.

GordesProvence (France): When it comes to Provence, all of the sudden images of rolling vineyards with lavendar fields come up. But after our visit to the area, we can also throw into the mix charming towns perched against cliffs or hillsides as they're sprinkled throughout the Vaucluse Plateau.

Pope's Palace in AvignonAmong the towns that Julie and I visited that characterized our time in Provence were Avignon, Gordes, and Rousillon. Avignon's old center featured a Pope's Palace that provided nice views of the city as well as access to that bridge that doesn't go across the river (that seems to be symbolic of Avignon).

The Village of BoriesWhen we went to Gordes, we saw a charming centuries-old town nestled against a hillside high above the vineyards surrounding it. Much of the buildings were made of the same kind of rocks that were prevalent in the neighboring Village of Bories, which made it distinct from other medieval-looking structures seen elsewhere in France.

Wildflowers at RousillonAnd even though we didn't see lavendar during our May visit, the Abbey of the Senanque was also nearby (though with the blooming lavendar, it would've taken on a charm of its own).

Sentier des OcresThen, we visited Rousillon. Most of the buildings comprising this charming town was made of the red ochre that is prevalent here. I almost think of it like a miniature Bryce Canyon or Cedar Breaks with a Provencal town nestled within. We walked part of the trail of the ochres as well as getting creative with taking photos of the artisan streets and wildflowers that were in bloom.

The azure blue waters by the pebble beaches of NiceNice (France): This city embodies the Mediterranean personality within France. It's also close to Italy so believe it or not, we even tried to seek out authentic Italian pizza here (to no avail as the recommended spot was in the midst of moving or renovation). At least this exercise allowed us to visit the old harbor.

The old harborIn any case, this city features azure-blue waters (there's a reason why the French call this region the Cote d'Azure) by its pebble beaches while also featuring dramatic corniches, which are winding roads with views of the Mediterranean while going between mountain and cliff-clinging buildings. Within the bustle of the city, we also managed to visit Old Nice with its colorful buildings and fruit market. I'm sure we could've benefitted from spending a night in this city, but given the time and budget constraints, that'll have to wait for another time.

Eiffel TowerEze (France): This medieval town nestled atop the hill besides the Moyenne (Middle) Corniche between Nice and Monaco is a charming little pedestrian town featuring narrow passageways and plenty of hidden corners (seems to be a pretty common European feature, especially in France, but it's still charming). There's also possible views of the Mediterranean though you'll have to either find a restaurant, stay somewhere within, or pay for the garden visit atop the town. Definitely worth the visit and probably the highlight of our corniche experience.

Old AnnecyAnnecy (France): This very charming canal town felt very much like a hidden gem to us though given its popularity when we were here, I'm sure it's not really considered hidden by many French and Europeans in general. Nonetheless, it was something we weren't totally expecting since we initially came to the old town center thinking it would just serve as a base for our waterfalling in the Haute-Savoie department of the Rhone-Alpes region.

More canals within AnnecyBut once we set foot amongst the canals, we were instantly charmed by how it was like Venice meets the French Alps. It's hard to describe, but it's just one of those things that just has to be seen to be believed. In addition to the canals, there were plenty of narrow walkways and arcades flanked with shops, stands, cafes, and restaurants. It was certainly atmospheric in addition to scenic.

Lake AnnecyAs if that weren't enough, we even had a chance to take walks along the shores of Lake Annecy, which was picture perfect given the serene lake backed by towering snow-topped mountains with villas and towns clinging to their sides. Add it all up and we were certainly glad that we chose to spend a couple of nights here despite how difficult it was to park!

Mont BlancChamonix and Mont Blanc (France): Julie and I didn't really seek out the scenic mountains and the towns within when we were waterfalling the French Alps. But it was amazing to us that the weather cooperated as much as it did to reveal France's highest point in Mt Blanc to us. Moreover, there were other jagged peaks featuring clinging glaciers and snow.

More Jagged peaks towering over Chamonix townWhile this place is more of a Winter destination, the late Spring and Summer months also offered some sightseeing and hiking activities as well. Had we had the time, we probably could've visited La Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) given that the weather seemed to have been cooperating. I'm sure it might've been something similar to Jungfraujoch in Switzerland.

Yvoire and Lake GenevaYvoire (France): This was the last of the medieval attractions that Julie and I visited on our May 2012 trip. It was right on the southern shore of Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman), where charming ivy-covered buildings fronted the lake that's shared between Switzerland and France.

More Jagged peaks towering over Chamonix townIt was a pleasant little town to go for a stroll while people watching at a cafe. We even spent some time on the jetty looking back towards town or looking off in the distance at snow-covered mountains towering over a neighboring town below in the distance. The town itself featured a shiny church, a garden and chateau, as well as arched wall entrances that seemed to be typical of medieval towns like this. We could totally see why this place was so popular, especially since day tours from Geneva seemed convenient and readily available.

Ruins at Ancient OlympiaAncient Olympia (Greece): There's something about being in the presence of ruins where the very first Olympic Games took place that ultimately inspired the modern Olympic games that are held every 4 years. While you won't be seeing any sporting events out here these days, you can get a sense of how athletes from thousands of years ago tested their skills against each other. Ancient Olympia is about a 4-hour drive from Athens on the Peloponnese.

MycenaeMycenae (Greece): When it comes to ancient ruins, it doesn't get much older than the Mycenean ruins in this part of the Peloponnese. Included amongst these ruins are an ancient fortress as well as a beehive tomb. There's also a museum here housing various artifacts recovered that previously weren't looted.

NafplioNafplio (Greece): This town surprised Julie and I with its charm. Apparently, there was some Venetian influence here, and you can definitely feel like you're almost in Italy. So along with the charming walking streets lined with cafes and shops, there's also a fortress overlooking the entire city. This place was an unplanned stop during our trip to the Peloponnese, but we sure were glad we made the detour to come here!

EpidavrosEpidavros (Greece): The theater at Epidavros is said to be one of the best preserved ancient theaters still in use. I'm sure there was a fair bit of maintenance to keep the theater from falling apart with time, but somehow once you're here, you still get the sense that it's authentic and historic. Plus, the sheer size of the theater makes you wonder what kind of entertainment the ancient Greeks employed to keep their audience entertained...

OiaSantorini (Greece): When it comes to islands in the Aegean Sea, perhaps the epitomy of Mediterranean charm and beauty has to be the island of Santorini. I'm sure you've seen pictures from postcards, posters, or even wall murals at some Greek restaurant with white-walled buildings perched on a caldera before the azure blue Aegean Sea. And after our visit, Julie and I believe this place is as advertised!

FiraWhile the island has multiple attractions to keep you occupied (including ruins of Ancient Thira and the traditional settlement of Megalohori), there are a couple of popular towns facing the scenic caldera where I'm sure most of the photos are taken from. And they're Fira and Oia. Fira seems to be fairly busy as it has a cable car as well as numerous shops and even a museum as well as a handful of accommodations from luxury hotels to mid-range apartments.

Sunset at OiaHowever, if you're after that quintessential Santorini experience, you'll have to go all the way to the top of the island at the town of Oia (pronounced "EE-uh"). For here, it's quieter, charming, mostly vehicle free, and perhaps the best place to see the sunset. Julie and I still think about this place for it's hard to forget something so unique and beautiful.

Acropolis at nightAthens (Greece): This city can be thought of an attraction in and of itself. For many of the attractions are centrally located all within walking distance surrounding the Acropolis, which sits perched atop a hill right in the middle of the city. The Acropolis is an impressive sight at night, but during the day, you can walk up to the top of the hill and get up close to various ancient ruins from the Parthenon to the Temple of Athena Nike among others. Plus, you get great views of the city.

Zeus statueOutside the Acropolis, it's worth checking out the National Archaeological Museum (in the gritty part of town though) where you can see some of the famous statues you might have come across in your European History textbooks. This includes an Athena Statue, a balanced statue, and even a Zeus statue throwing a lightning bolt. A cool thing about the journey to get to the museum from the main CBD of Athens is that the train station by the CBD is almost like a cross between a subway station and a museum.

Atop the AcropolisIn addition, there's the Ancient Agora where you can see more ruins with the Acropolis still perched above the large park. Within the complex, there's the Temple of Hephaistos, which might remind you of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Perhaps now, you can see where some of America's historical monuments get their inspiration from!

Ancient AgoraThere's definitely lots to do in Athens, and that's why Julie and I spent three nights here. But where else can you get such an unusual mix of ancient culture mixed with modern life?

The ruins of the Temple of ApolloDelphi (Greece): This famous archaeological site sits perched on a cliff kind of reminiscent of the way some of the ruins in Peru are perched atop hills and mountaintops overlooking valleys and ravines. Except at Delphi, there are columns (remnants of Apollo Temple) as well as an ancient theater. There's even a museum here showing some of the excavated treasures that haven't been looted.

Temple of AthenaOutside the main part of the archaeological complex, a short walk yields a visit to the Temple of Athena. Here, there are three restored columns, while the remainder are left to the elements. The standing pillars are supposed to give you an idea of what the temple was originally supposed to look like.

MeteoraMeteora (Greece): Greece isn't all about ancient ruins. Up in the out-of-the-way western part of the country lies a series of Christian monasteries perched atop cliffs. This is something you don't see very often, but believe it or not, these monasteries were positioned this way for a reason. For their precarious locations made these monasteries naturally protected from persecutors, and thus they Christians here could continue practising their faith by being selective about who's allowed in or out.

MeteoraIn addition to see the monasteries from afar, you can visit a handful of these places. It depends on the schedule as some monasteries are open on days that others are not. But when you go inside one of these things, you not only get more views of other monasteries as well as the modern towns further below of Kalampaki and Kastraki, but you also get to see some of the religiously-influenced halls and corridors making these monasteries very atmospheric.

Mt Olympus as seen from LitochoroMt Olympus (Greece): Mt Olympus is said to be the birthplace of Zeus, and apparently, it's also Greece's first National Park. But you're not going to be seeing anything mythological up here. For it's really more of a naturesque experience. There isn't a whole lot of scenic allure unless you're prepared for a little trek to summit the peak in good weather. However, the town at the base of the mountain called Litochoro is quite charming and provides a nice view of the historic mountain.

The White TowerThessaloniki (Greece): Greece's 2nd largest city is a bit of a dynamic mix of happening place to hang out, Byzantine ruins and relics, and somewhat more eclectic spot to visit as it's not quite on the main tourist radar the way some of the country's signature attractions are (e.g. Santorini, Athens, etc.). The most famous of its attractions include the White Tower as well as some remnants of Byzantine walls from a time when this part of Macedonian Greece was occupied by Turks.

Byzantine Walls and TowersStrangely, Julie and I didn't see much Turkish influence in the foods except for some of the desserts. We're not sure why that is, but you definitely do see similarities in architecture between some of the ruins here and some of those we've seen on TV or in pictures of Turkey.

Intimate dining in Diocletian's Palace of Old SplitSplit (Croatia): There are numerous charming CBDs throughout Croatia, but when it comes to the cream of the crop, you'd have to put the Diocletian's Palace part of the Historical Core of Split. For it's here within the fortress walls that you're strolling in narrow alleyways towered over by a mix of apartments as well as medieval architecture. And within the palace, there's the Peristil (with the clock tower), the Vestibul, plus the main entrances at the Iron Gate, Golden Gate, and Silver Gate. Plus, there's a Bronze Gate connected to the subterranean Vestibul where you can walk amongst the basement of Old Split.

Clock tower at nightObviously we're not the only ones that think this place is charming for everyday it seems to be consistently overrun by mass tourism. Fortunately, you can chill by dining at one of the cafes or having a drink and just people watch. It's real easy to do within the tight quarters of town. Still, when night time rolls around, this place seems to really come alive as the bars and cafes seem to open into wee hours of the night which attract young party-goers (keeping light sleepers staying within the palace awake thanks to the tight quarters).

Julie and I spent a couple of nights here, and it almost felt as if you could play hide-and-seek within the Palace itself as it's so compact yet be full of hidden nooks and crannies.

Dubrovnik and BeachDubrovnik (Croatia): This is perhaps the most charming city in all of Croatia and possibly the world. It's main historic core of town is surrounded by city walls enclosing a very charming mix of Venetian- and Medieval-influenced buildings, residences, and walkways. Mega tour groups and cruises routinely dock in town and dump their boatloads of tourists thereby making the place a bit crowded at times, but at the same time, there seems to be a buzz and energy about the place with the mass of humanity just trying to take in this quintessential Croatian experience.

Walking the city wallsOne excursion that is probably worth the fairly hefty price is the walk along the city walls. It's actually a fairly long excursion as you can walk the entire perimeter of town looking over the sea of red-tiled roofs with the odd tower poking above the masses. Sure it might be a hot and tiring stroll (especially if it's a sunny day), but the views both within the walls and outside towards the blue-green Aegean are mindblowing.

Stradun at nightFinally, if you have a chance to stay within the city walls, we highly recommend doing so. For when the tour groups leave for the day, this becomes your chance to experience the place when the sun goes down or to stroll among the silence in the early morning. Either way, it's one of those places where you'll remember it as a highlight of your trip to Hrvatska.

The Sphix PlatformJungfraujoch (Switzerland): This is proclaimed to be the Top of Europe. For up here at over 13,000ft, you can see the Aletsch Glacier as well as a commanding view way above Lauterbrunnen Valley looking towards the other side. In addition to the Sphinx platform, there are also excursions on the glacier itself as well as an Ice Palace where you can see ice sculptures of various shapes from penguins to bears to igloos.

Ice PalaceOf course, this type of place does have its drawbacks. The big one is that it's only worth your while and money (it's very expensive to come up here) if the weather's clear. But given the fickle nature of the weather, it's a real roll of the dice. So you'll have to rely on webcams online or check out TV stations in Interlaken to get an idea of whether you should commit to going or not.

Stradun at nightAnother big drawback is the thin air. If you're pregnant or you haven't acclimated, it's quite easy to go dizzy or out-of-breath. That was certainly the case with us as we didn't have to exert ourselves much before we found ourselves starting to feel lightheaded.

Finally, there's also nice alpine views to be had as you make the fairly long half-day journey to the top of Europe. There's even a pair of train stops at Eismeer and Eigerwand offering up views of glaciers as well as birds eye views above neighboring mountaintops...

View of Eiger I thinkSchilthorn (Switzerland): An attractive alternative to the Jungfraujoch is the Schilthorn. Up here, you can get mindblowing views of Lauterbrunnen Valley as well as an almost in-your-face view of Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger across the valley. In addition, you can look further to the south as the platform offers up 360 degree views of these year-round snowy confines.

Looking to the Big 3If the elements become a bit much to stay outside in the typically freezing weather, you can retreat inside where there's a rotating cafe providing you 360 degree views without having to walk around and twist your neck.

As much of the Matterhorn we could seeMatterhorn (Switzerland): This is that iconic triangular mountain near the Italian border that inspired a replica of it in Disneyland. Unfortunately, you'll have to have cooperative weather in order to see it in its entirety. And we weren't so lucky on our visit. Still, the town of Zermatt is attractive and charming, and in the Winter, you can actually ski with the Matterhorn as the backdrop.

Antique Clock Tower in BernBern (Switzerland): It seems like time stood still at the turn of the 20th century in the CBD of this city. For it's here that the buildings, trolley tracks, and streets look and feel like it did over 100 years ago. Even the clock towers in the city kind of remind you that it was here that Einstein formulated much of his work on the Special Theory of Relativity, which was perhaps one of the most important scientific works revolutionizing our understanding of the universe.

View from the RosengartenIn addition to the history, the city also features a captive bear family that seems to be a hit with both local and foreign tourists. Moreover, you've got the Grossmunster Cathedral and the Rosengarten where you get gorgeous panoramic views of the whole city. Hard to believe that this is Switzerland's capital city!

Stein am RheinStein am Rhein (Switzerland): Our visit to this town was unplanned, but we were totally glad we made this detour about a half-hour train ride east of Rheinfall. The reason why was because once we've walked within its cobblestone streets surrounded by medieval buildings with murals on their facades, we were disarmed with the total cuteness and charm of the place. It was quite unlike anything we had seen before yet it felt familiar and authentic.

Stein am RheinPerhaps other cities like Luzern (Lucerne) tried to be as charming as this place, but I think Stein am Rhein has the compact size and the lack of overdoing it on the commercial front. Even though we thought we "discovered" this place on a lark, we did see quite a few tour buses so obviously it's on the itineraries of many of the packaged tours.

Well, regardless of whether it has gotten any pub or not, we thoroughly enjoyed this place, and now we think of this place when it comes to charming Swiss towns.

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