The European Union: Bon voyage!

Saturday, 10 November 2018 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Editorial, European Union, General, UNESCO World Heritage

Past posts of the EU series have focused on the EU as such, its different political fields and institutions, and culinary aspects. In this post, the EU and its federal states can be experienced at first hand. The EU supports this by, among other things, the annual title of the European Capital of Culture. The title creates a window in the cultural and social life of the respective city / region as well as the entire federal state, but no rule without exception: In the year 2000 Reykjavík in Iceland was the first city which country is EFTA member and not in the EU. In the year 2010 Istanbul in Turkey was the first city of a candidate for membership of the European Union. In addition there are cultural routes in the individual federal states and the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe. According to the World Economic Forum, 5 of the TOP10 destinations in the world are EU states. These are Spain (1), France (2), Germany (3), United Kingdom (5) and Italy (8). The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) also sees 5 of the top 10 destinations of the world in the EU, but in a different order: France (1), Spain (3), Italy (5), Germany (7) and United Kingdom (9). Today we are doing a small tour through the federal states, which might inspire you to experience the European Union on site. Enjoy! :-)

Content


© Globe-trotter-cc-by-sa-4.0

© Globe-trotter-cc-by-sa-4.0

Austria
Austria is a landlocked alpine German-speaking country in Central Europe bordering Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west, Germany and the Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east and Slovenia and Italy to the south. Austria, along with neighboring Switzerland, is the winter sports center of Europe. However, it is just as popular for summer tourists who visit its historic cities and villages and hike in the magnificent scenery of the Alps. The country is host to 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (History of Austria and Culture of Austria). Austria is a federal republic comprised of nine states:

  • Burgenland: Sunny plains and countless wineries along the border with Hungary. Austria’s largest (albeit very shallow) lake, Neusiedler See, is a good spot for bird-watching.
  • Carinthia: Austria’s southernmost state is popular for its many lakes, its traditional cuisine, and the peculiar dialect of its inhabitants.
  • Lower Austria: The largest state stretches from the Bohemian hills to the peaks of the alps. The Wachau landscape with the impressive monastery of Melk is a UNESCO world heritage site.
  • Salzburg: Home to the world-famous city of Salzburg and some of Austria’s best-known skiing resorts. Motorists might enjoy crossing the alps to Carinthia via the famous Glockner-Hochalpenstraße.
  • Styria: The mining towns in the North may have seen better days, but the area around Austria’s second city, Graz, is booming. Southern Styria is famous for its wineries and Mediterranean charm.
  • Tyrol: High mountains and narrow valleys – the place to go for avid skiers.
  • Upper Austria: Less touristy and more down-to-earth than some other parts of the country, Upper Austria offers great lakes for swimming, mountains for hiking and affordable skiing as well as Austria’s third-largest city, Linz.
  • Vienna: The former capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is brimming with impressive architecture, cultural instutions and opportunities to explore the cuisines of Austria and pretty much everywhere else. An imperial and cosmopolitan capital in a small homogeneous country, it forms a marked contrast from the rest of Austria.
  • Vorarlberg: Austria’s gateway to Switzerland and Liechtenstein sometimes feels more Swiss than Austrian, owing in part to the Alemannic dialect of its inhabitants.

The main cities (cities and towns in Austria) are:

  • Vienna—the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre.
  • Bregenz—famous for the annual summer music festival of Bregenzer Festspiele.
  • Eisenstadt—historically the seat of the Eszterházy Hungarian noble family that gave the town its aristocratic feel.
  • Graz—known as Austria’s culinary capital and student city.
  • Innsbruck—the cultural and economic centre of Western Austria.
  • Klagenfurt—scenic town very close to the Wörthersee.
  • Linz—a vibrant music and arts scene and a beautiful historic core.
  • Salzburg—A city with an attractive setting and scenic Alpine backdrop.
  • Villach—beautiful Altstadt surrounded by the Alps and various lakes.

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Austria):

  • Lake Constance—a large lake situated in Vorarlberg and shared with Switzerland and Germany.
  • Kaprun—part of the Europa Sport Region.
  • Pinswang—one of the most ancient settlements of the North Tyrolean Ausserfern, on the border with Bavaria and a short walk or drive to the famous castles of King Ludwig.
  • Salzkammergut—a stunning cultural landscape among mountains and lakes.
  • St. Anton—a popular ski resort in Austria on the Vorarlberg-Tyrolean border.
  • Thermenland—the great spas of Styria, an easy daytrip from Graz or Vienna.
  • Wörthersee—one of Austria’s warmest lakes.
  • Zell am See—one of the most important alpine tourist towns in Austria.

Austria is a federation. Each of its nine federal states has a unique and distinct culture. Austrians aren’t easy to categorize. In fact, the main reason Austrians stand out from their European neighbors is that they don’t stand out from the rest for anything in particular. Austrians are moderate in their outlook and behavior. Being at Europe’s crossroads, their culture is influenced from several sides. The stereotype of the yodeling, thigh slapping, beer-swilling (schnitzel eating) xenophobe may apply to a few individuals but it certainly doesn’t apply to the majority of Austrians. The average Austrian on the street is likely to be friendly yet somewhat reserved and formal, softly spoken and well mannered, law abiding, socially conservative, rooted, family oriented, conformist and somewhat nepotistic, a Catholic at heart, not particularly religious but a follower of tradition, well educated if not as cosmopolitan as his/her other European cousins, cynical, and equipped with a dry, sarcastic sense of humor. Austrians generally like to define themselves merely by what they are not. Tourists often make the mistake of classifying Austrians as Germans, which despite a common language (well at least on paper), they are not. Arguably, Southern Germany, especially Bavaria, is a close cultural relative of Austria in many ways. Indeed the regions of Austria are all similar to their neighbors, so you will not notice you have crossed a border, whether it be into South Tyrol in Italy, north to Bavaria or east to Hungary. Austria and Germany are sister nations and enjoy warm relations, but Mozart was Austrian, or a Salzburger for the record, not German! For most of its history, Austrians have a hard time defining their own nation; they face perhaps currently the most media influence from Germany but have a very different culture, especially from northern Germany. The historic minorities and individual cultures are valued, yet they have to struggle to survive. Austria has a long history of being a multicultural country: a glance at the Vienna phone book is all you need to discover this. Ironically, it is Germany to the north that is paving the way regarding the integration of foreigners into society in Central Europe. Austria remains a largely conservative and rural country with the exception of Vienna. Indeed, the cultural conflicts and national identity are as complicated and hard to understand for many Austrians as they are for visitors! The level of personal awareness and views on this vary greatly from person to person but are generally subject to a particularly Austrian avoidance of the subject. It is best to try to see the diversity and enjoy the variety than to jump to conclusions. Hence many Austrians derive their identity from their region or Bundesland (state). For instance, typical inhabitants of Carinthia would say that they are Carinthian first and Austrian second and maybe European third. Asking what state someone is from is normally the first question Austrians ask when meeting for the first time. The fact that Austrians dislike demonstrations of national identity can, however, also be explained partly by the historical experiences Austria had during the Third Reich and especially due to the violent use of national symbols in the growing Austrofascist movement as well as by the far-right Freedom Party. It is also because the current state of Austria is a relatively young and loose federal republic of just 8 million people. However, the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center rates Austria as the 5th most patriotic country in the world. So Austrians do very much love their country but are unlikely to be flag-wavers. Perhaps Austria’s ascendancy to the EU in 1995 and its adoption of the euro and the border-less Europe have given it a stronger sense of importance and self-worth in the greater context of Europe. Most Austrians like to enjoy the good life. They spend a lot of time eating, drinking and having a good time with friends in a cozy environment, and are therefore very hospitable. Members of the older generation can be conservative in the sense that they frown upon extremes of any shape and form and, in general, are adverse to change. They enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world and want to keep it that way. Austria has no well-defined class system. The rural and regional difference tend to be greater than in neighboring countries. Generally, the further to the west and the more rural you go, the more socially conservative people are.

Read more on Castles in Austria, Castles and Palaces, Museums in Austria, Discover 96 Cool and Unusual Things to Do in Austria, Theatres of Vienna , Austria Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Austria, Wikitravel Austria, World Heritage Sites in Austria and Wikivoyage Austria.





© Shaund - Peter Fitzgerald/cc-by-sa-4.0

© Shaund – Peter Fitzgerald/cc-by-sa-4.0

Belgium
8.5 million people travelled to Belgium in 2016. Two-thirds of them come from the larger nearby countries – France, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany, there are also many tourists from Spain and Italy. Like many national institutions in Belgium, the national tourist agencies are split along regional lines with two tourist agencies. They are the Belgian Tourist Office Brussels & Wallonia for the regions of Wallonia and Brussels Capital-Region, and Toerisme Vlaanderen covering Flanders. Much of the tourism industry is located either on the heavily developed coastline or in the Ardennes. Brussels and the Flemish cities of Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Leuven and Mechelen, the Flemish Cities of Art, attract many cultural tourists. Much tourism in Brussels is business tourism. The music festival Tomorrowland in Boom was first held in 2005, and has since become one of the world’s largest and most notable music festivals. It now stretches over 2 weekends and usually gets sold-out in minutes (360,000 tickets in 2017). Since 2016, Tomorrowland organizes Unite with Tomorrowland events in other countries, which serve as satellite events featuring streams from the festival in Belgium with synchronized effects, joined by in-person headliners. The country is host to 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Belgium consists of three regions, listed from north to south:

Belgium has a very high rate of urbanization and has an astonishing number of cities (cities in Belgium) for such a small territory:

  • Brussels — Belgium’s capital and the unofficial capital of the EU. Nice historic centre and several museums of interest. One of the most multicultural cities in Europe.
  • Antwerp — Belgium’s second largest city, with a giant cathedral, medieval streets and artistic heritage, and a great place for fashion.
  • Bruges — one of Europe’s wealthiest cities in the 14th century, it is touristy yet still very authentic, medieval and quiet at night, with small guest houses and family businesses greatly outnumbering chain hotels.
  • Ghent — once one of Europe’s largest cities, now a perfect mixture of Antwerp and Bruges: a cosy city with canals, yet with rich history and lively student population.
  • Leuven — a small city dominated by one of Europe’s oldest universities. Beautiful historic centre and a lively nightlife.
  • Liège — second largest city of Wallonia, along a wide river, industrial cityscape with hiking and resorts in the nearby hills, it has a very strong, independent character and an exciting night-life.
  • Mechelen — a small medieval city with a nice historic district around the cathedral.
  • Mons — has had the extraordinary privilege of having three sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage site List and one event on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
  • Namur — capital of Wallonia, at the confluence of Sambre and Meuse with the Citadel.

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Belgium):

  • Kraainem — a municipality with a rich industrial history on the outskirts of Brussels with many historical landmarks.
  • Tervuren — known for its proximity to the lush Sonian Forest, its parks, and royal summer residence.
  • Grimbergen — known for the beer with the same name, risen to worldwide fame, but still produced in its abbey.
  • Ardennes — the most sparsely populated region in Benelux, this is a hilly countryside region covered with forests
  • Dinant — small city in a stunning natural setting, a popular spot for adventure sports such as canoeing and rock-climbing, best visited in winter
  • Pajottenland — also called the “Tuscany of the north”, is a green region west of Brussels, consisting of rolling hills, meadows, small villages and castles. Home of the Geuze beer and great for hiking, biking, and horse riding tours.
  • Spa — the hot water treatments of the spa town that gave its name to all spas in the world has drawn visitors for centuries.
  • Ypres, Poperinge and surrounding villages — destroyed during World War I, this former military stronghold is marked by memorials and cemeteries.

Belgium is the heir of several former Medieval powers, and you will see traces of these everywhere during your trip in this country. After the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century, the territory that is nowadays Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg, was part of Lotharingia, an ephemeral kingdom soon to be absorbed into the Germanic Empire; however, the special character of “Lower Lotharingia” remained intact in the feudal Empire : this is the origin of the Low Countries, a general term that encompasses present-day Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The widely autonomous fiefdoms of the Low Countries were among the richest places in Medieval Europe and you will see traces of this past wealth in the rich buildings of Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Leuven, Tournai, Mons, etc. These cities progressively fell under the control of a powerful and ambitious family : the Dukes of Burgundy. The whole realm of the dukes extended from the Low Countries to the borders of Switzerland. Using wealth, strategy, and alliances, the Dukes of Burgundy aimed at reconstituting Lotharingia. The death of the last Duke, Charles the Bold, put an end to this dream. However, the treasures of the Dukes of Burgundy remains as a testimony of their rules in Belgian museums and landmarks. The powerful Habsburg family then inherited from the Low Countries. Reformation is the reason that Belgium and Netherlands were first put apart: the northern half of the Low Countries embraced Protestantism and rebelled against the Habsburg rule, while the southern half remained faithful to both its ruler and the Catholic faith. These two halves roughly corresponds to present-day Belgium and Netherlands. Belgium was called Austrian Netherlands, then Spanish Netherlands, depending on which branch of the Habsburg ruled it. The powerful German emperor and Spanish king, Charles V, was born in the Belgian city of Ghent and ruled from Brussels. Many places in Belgium are named after him, including the city of Charleroi and even a brand of beer. Every year, the Brusselers emulates his first parade in their city in what is called the Ommegang. Belgium was briefly a part of the Napoleonic Empire. After Napoleon’s defeat, a large Kingdom of the Netherlands was created, comprising the whole of the Low Countries. However, the religious opposition still remained and the split was aggravated by political differences between Belgian liberals and Dutch aristocrats. Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830 after a short revolution and a war against the Netherlands. (History of Belgium and Culture of Belgium).

Read more on Castles and châteaux in Belgium, Museums in Belgium, 25 Best Things to Do in Belgium, Theatres and auditoriums in Brussels, Flanders, Wallonia & Brussels, LonelyPlanet.com – Belgium, List of World Heritage Sites in Belgium and Wikivoyage Belgium.





© Equestenebrarum/cc-by-sa-3.0

© Equestenebrarum/cc-by-sa-3.0

Bulgaria
Tourism in Bulgaria is a significant contributor to the country’s economy. Situated at the crossroads of the East and West, Bulgaria has been home to many civilizations – Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Slavs, Bulgars, and Ottomans. The country is rich in tourist sights and historical artifacts, scattered through a relatively small and easily accessible territory. Bulgaria is internationally known for its seaside and winter resorts. There are ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria. The first four properties were inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1979, and the last in 2017. Bulgaria currently has fourteen additional properties on the Tentative List. Nestinarstvo, a ritual fire-dance of Thracian origin, is included in the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Bulgarian cultural heritage has many faces and manifestations – archaeological reserves and monuments, museums, galleries, rich cultural calendar, preserved folklore and magnificent architectural monuments (History of Bulgaria and Culture of Bulgaria).

The Bulgarian Regions are:

  • North Bulgaria: The region is situated between the river Danube to the north and the Balkan to the south is entirely a plain region. Also called Moesia by the name of the area during Roman times, the Bulgarian North is full of remains form ancient forts most notably the great harbour city of Sexaginta Prista in Rousse and the fortress Baba Vida in Vidin. The capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire Veliko Tarnovo – home of Tsarevets, one of best preserved medieval castles preserved up to day – is situated in the North. During the Renaissance the towns of Rousse and Pleven were the centres of Western culture in the region.
  • Southern Dobruja: Called the Granary of Bulgaria, the region produces most of the country’s world class wheat among other grains grown locally. The first two Bulgarian capitals – Pliska and Veliki Preslav – are located in Dobruja. Veliki Preslav was said to be one of the greatest cities of the early Middle Ages comparable only to Constantinople.
  • Bulgarian Black Sea Coast: The Bulgarian seaside has one of the best beaches in Europe. With settlements ranging from small calm villages, through luxurious five-star resorts, to modern urban cities, the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast can satisfy any taste and during the days of the hot Bulgarian summer. Most of the towns and villages along the coastline can be traced back to Ancient Greece – the town of Nessebar, for example, has a central ancient part that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Varna to the north, is the third largest city in Bulgaria – as an economical and tourist centre it is called the sea capital of the country.
  • Strandzha: A relatively low mountain, Strandzha is known for the specific architecture that can be observed in Malko Tarnovo, Brashlyan and most other villages, the rich folklore and distinctive rituals, such as nestinarstvo (barefoot dancing on live embers), that preserve numerous pagan elements. Strandzha is an area with a large concentration of ruins of Thracian sanctuaries and sacrificial altars, dolmens and other archaeological objects. The mountain is also the home of the Strandzha National Park.
  • Upper Thracian Plain: Some of the most developed cities in Bulgaria, such as Plovdiv and Stara Zagora are situated in the region. Northern Thrace is an area of lowlands along the rivers Maritsa and Tundzha, that are very fertile and rich in fossil fuels. The region is also rich in historical heritage: the Panagyurishte Treasure one of the best known surviving artefacts of Thracian culture, the Thracian Tomb of Kazanluk dating back to 4th century B.C. is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Plovdiv (the second largest city in the country) is arguably the oldest city in Europe.
  • Rhodope Mountains: While not very high mountains, the Rhodopes are a preferred destination by many tourists because of the limited number of roads and the steep hills and the deep forests. The winter ski resort of Pamporovo is in the Rhodopes. “The home of Orpheus” – the Greek mythological poet that went to hell to save his loved one – is a region with a distinct cultural influence. Rhodope music is world famous: many foreign musicians have been fascinated by the sounds of Rhodopes and even the song Izlel e Delyu Haydutin performed by Valya Balkanska is one of the few performances included in the Voyager Golden Record selection of music, part of the Voyager 2 space probe, that is expected to play across space for at least 60,000 years.
  • Pirin Macedonia: Named after the mountain Pirin the area includes the mountain itself, as well as the valleys of the rivers Struma and Mesta. The national park Pirin and the popular ski resort Bansko are part of the attractions of the region. The town of Blagoevgrad is the largest town in the area. It is known as a student town because two of the largest universities are in it. Pirin Macedonia is also a popular wine region.
  • Bulgarian Shopluk: The capital Sofia, as the largest city of Bulgaria, dominates the economy of the region. Vitosha mountain just south of Sofia is a popular tourist destination used as a “get-away” from the hectic urban life. The “roof of the capital” as Vitosha is sometimes called, is convenient for weekend picnics and tourist strolls in the summer and skiing and snowboarding in the winter. Shopluka, however, also includes the highest mountain in the Balkans – Rila. Rila is the home of the ski resort Borovets, some beautiful glacier lakes, as well as another UNESCO World Heritage site the Rila Monastery.
  • Balkan Mountains: The Balkan – the soul of the Bulgarian people. The mountain has a special meaning of a symbol in Bulgarian folklore and culture. It is the home of heroes and victories, the guardian fortress of the people, the cradle of all that is Bulgarian. The small towns in the foot of the mountain were the revolutionary centres of Bulgarians during the times of the Ottoman empire and many of the biggest heroes and cultural idols of Bulgaria were born in those towns. The national park Central Balkan is situated in the mountain and there are may places along the chain that are suitable for winter sports and tourism.

Read more on Castles in Bulgaria, Museums in Bulgaria, 15 Best Places to Visit in Bulgaria, Ivan Vazov National Theatre, Bulgaria Travel, LonelyPlanet.com – Bulgaria, World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria, Tourism in Bulgaria and Wikivoyage Bulgaria.







© Burmesedays/cc-by-sa-3.0

© Burmesedays/cc-by-sa-3.0

Croatia
Croatia is a Mediterranean country that bridges Central Europe and the Balkans. It is on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea, across from Italy on the western side. It is bordered by Slovenia to the northwest, Hungary to the north, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the southeast, Serbia in the east, and Montenegro to the south. The country is host to 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are three distinct areas of Croatia: Lowland Croatia, Littoral Croatia and Mountainous Croatia and these can be neatly split into five travel regions:

Main cities (cities and towns in Croatia) are:

  • Zagreb – the capital and largest city.
  • Dubrovnik – historic coastal city and UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Split – ancient port city with Roman ruins.
  • Pula – biggest town in Istria with the Roman amphitheater (commonly called Arena).
  • Osijek – capital of Slavonia and an important city.
  • Rijeka – Croatia’s largest and main port.
  • Zadar – biggest city of north-central Dalmatia with rich history.

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Croatia)

The Croats settled in the region in the early 7th century and formed two principalities: Croatia and Pannonia. The establishment of the Trpimirović Dynasty ca 850 strengthened the Dalmatian Croat Duchy, which together with the Pannonian principality became a kingdom in 925 under King Tomislav. The independent Croatian kingdom lasted until 1102 when Croatia, after a series of dynastic struggles entered into a personal union with Hungary, with a Hungarian king ruling over both countries. In 1526, after the Battle of Mohács, in which Hungary suffered a catastrophic defeat against the Ottoman Turks, Croatia severed its relationship with Hungary and its parliament (Sabor) voted to form a new personal union with the Habsburg Monarchy. Croatia remained an autonomous kingdom within the Hapsburg state (and later Austria-Hungary) until the empire’s dissolution following its defeat in World War I. In 1918, a short-lived State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (carved out of south Slavic parts of Austria-Hungary) joined the Kingdom of Serbia to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. The new state was unitarist in character, erasing all historical borders within its new territorial division, which resulted in a strong movement for more autonomy for Croatia. This was achieved in 1939, only days before the start of World War II, when Croatia was granted broad autonomy within Yugoslavia as Banovina of Croatia. When Germany and Italy attacked Yugoslavia in 1941, the state was dissolved, parts of it annexed to Germany and Italy, and puppet governments installed in Croatia and Serbia. Almost immediately, a strong resistance movement was formed, led by communist leader Josip Broz “Tito” (whose father was a Croat), which gained broad popular support, but by the end of World War II, the Ustashe puppet government and its militia had systematically murdered approximately 30,000 Jews, 29,000 Roma, and at least 300,000 Serbs, mostly at the notorious death camp they built in Jasenovac. After the end of World War II, a new, communist Yugoslavia was formed with Tito becoming “president for life”. Tito ruled with a strong hand, using political repression and secret police to quell any separatist sentiments, with the official motto of the new country being “Brotherhood and Union”. Still, because Yugoslavia didn’t belong to the Warsaw Pact, having broken off political ties with the USSR in 1948, it was by far the most open socialist country in Europe and its citizens enjoyed more civil liberties and a higher living standard than the rest of the Communist bloc. After Tito’s death in 1980, the weakening of political repression led to a period of political instability. Faced with the rise of nationalist sentiment, a decade-long recession, and the weakening of communist grip on power on the eve of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the first free elections were held in Yugoslavia in almost 45 years. In these elections, nationalists won power in all Yugoslav republics, leading to a rise in inter-ethnic tensions, which culminated with Croatia and Slovenia declaring their independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. This led to open war in newly independent Croatia and later in Bosnia and Herzegovina which declared its independence in 1992. The wars ended four years later, in 1995, with a decisive Croatian victory in Operation Storm, bringing peace to both countries. The anniversary of Operation Storm is celebrated as Thanksgiving Day in Croatia every August 5 (History of Croatia and Culture of Croatia).

Read more on Castles in Croatia, Museums in Croatia, Attractions in Croatia, Croatian National Theatre, Ultra Europe, Croatia Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Croatia, Wikitravel Croatia, World Heritage Sites in Croatia and Wikivoyage Croatia.





© Peter Fitzgerald/cc-by-sa-4.0

© Peter Fitzgerald/cc-by-sa-4.0

Cyprus
Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Turkey. After Sicily and Sardinia, Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is geographically part of Asia. There are three politically distinct areas in the island: the Republic of Cyprus (a member of the European Union) is a state with wide international recognition. However it only controls territory in the south. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus acts as a de facto separate country. The British military sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, while legally separate from either republic, have open borders with the Republic of Cyprus. The country is host to 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Cyprus is divided into 6 administrative regions, each named for its administrative capital. Since 1974, the whole of Kyrenia district, most of Famagusta district, and the northern portion of Nicosia district have been under Turkish military control. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus administers those areas. The Republic of Cyprus administers the following districts:

Main cities (cities, towns and villages in Cyprus): Note that Cypriot cities have a variety of historical spellings and writings, all in fairly common use, and which change according to the context, whether it be Greek Cypriot or English. The following list emphasizes traditional English spellings, that will most often be encountered by the traveller.

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Cyprus)

Cyprus gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960. Despite a constitution which guaranteed a degree of power-sharing between the Greek Cypriot majority and the Turkish Cypriot minority, the two populations – with backing from the governments of Greece and Turkey, respectively – clashed vehemently in 1974, with the end result being the occupation of the northern and eastern 40% of the island by Turkey. In 1983, the Turkish-held area declared itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”. So far, only Turkey recognizes the TRNC, while all other governments and the United Nations recognize only the government of the Republic of Cyprus over the whole island. The UN operates a peacekeeping force and a narrow buffer zone between the two Cypriot ethnic groups. Fortunately, open hostilities have been absent for some time, as the two sides (now with the growing involvement of the European Union) gradually inch towards a reunification of some sort (History of Cyprus, Culture of Cyprus and Culture of Northern Cyprus).

Read more on Castles in Cyprus, Museums in Cyprus, Top things to do in Cyprus, International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama, Cyprus Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Cyprus, Wikitravel Cyprus, World Heritage Sites in Cyprus and Wikivoyage Cyprus.





© Globe-trotter/cc-by-sa-4.0

© Globe-trotter/cc-by-sa-4.0

Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is a small landlocked country in Central Europe, situated south-east of Germany and bordering Austria to the south, Poland to the north and Slovakia to the south-east. The country is host to 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Czech Republic has 14 political regions which can be grouped in eight regions:

  • Central Bohemia (Central Bohemia Region and capital city of Prague): The central part of the Czech Republic with the capital Prague.
  • West Bohemia (Karlovy Vary Region and Pilsen Region): Famous for Pilsen beer and spa towns.
  • North Bohemia (Usti nad Labem Region and Liberec Region): Fascinating landscapes as well as picturesque castles and chateaux.
  • East Bohemia (Hradec Králové Region and Pardubice Region): Region with the Czech highest mountain range Krkonoše and couple of historic sights.
  • South Bohemia (South Bohemia Region): Picturesque historic towns (including two UNESCO sights) in peaceful landscape with many ponds. On borders with Germany is located the Czech largest National Park.
  • Highlands (Vysočina Region): Situated between Bohemia and Moravia, this small region is surprisingly rich in culture and history, with three UNESCO sights.
  • North Moravia and Silesia (Olomouc Region and Moravia-Silesia Region): Big industrial city Ostrava and historic city in UNESCO Olomouc are there, as well as some pretty mountain areas.
  • South Moravia (South Moravia Region and Zlín Region): Agricultural region with wineyards and “capital” of Moravia Brno.

These are just nine of the most interesting cities (districts of the Czech Republic) selected to represent the variety of Czech urban areas:

  • Prague: The capital and largest city of the Czech Republic with a large and beautiful historic centre.
  • Brno: The largest city in Moravia and its former capital, it offers several excellent museums, annual Moto GP Grand Prix, annual international fireworks festival Ignis Brunensis, the second-largest historical centre in the Czech Republic (after Prague), the second-largest ossuary in Europe (after the Catacombs of Paris), one of the biggest exhibition centres in the Europe, the oldest theatre building in Central Europe, and many other things.
  • České Budějovice: Attractive large city in South Bohemia.
  • Český Krumlov: Beautiful old town in South Bohemia with the country’s second biggest chateau.
  • Karlovy Vary: Historic (and biggest Czech) spa resort, especially popular with German and Russian tourist groups.
  • Kutná Hora: Historical town with famous Saint Barbora cathedral, old silver mines and the Chapel of All Saints, which is decorated with thousands of human bones.
  • Olomouc: Riverside university town with a thousand year history and the second-largest historical centre in the Czech Republic.
  • Ostrava: A vibrant local subculture and long history of coal mining and heavy industry.
  • Pilsen: Home of the original Pilsner Urquell beer, and the largest city in West Bohemia.

Other destinations of touristic significance:

  • Bohemian Paradise: A region of towering rock formations and isolated castles located north-east of Prague. The gateway city of Jičín is an interesting destination in its own right, but Turnov is closer to most of the castles and rock formations. The twin towers of the ruined castle Trosky are a symbol of the area and can be climbed for the views
  • Karlštejn Castle and the holy cave monastery: Hiking trip to the famous castle as well as an off the beaten track monastery
  • Krkonoše: The highest mountains in the Czech Republic along the Polish border. Most popular Czech skiing resorts are situated here, such as Špindlerův Mlýn, however considered overpriced by locals.
  • Litomyšl: A beautiful small town in East Bohemia. The renaissance main square and chateau are among the Czech Republic’s prettiest and the town has been home to many important and influential artists, including composer Bedřich Smetana, sculptor Olbram Zoubek and painter Josef Váchal. There are two international opera festivals at the chateau each year.
  • Mariánské Lázně: A spa town in Western Bohemia.
  • Mutěnice Wine Region: Some of the best vineyards in the Czech Republic and totally off the well beaten tourist path
  • Nové Město na Moravě: Cross country skiing resort. The race of Tour de Ski takes place here.
  • Terezín: A red-brick baroque fortress 70km north of Prague beside the Ohře river. It was used during WWII as a Jewish ghetto and concentration camp.
  • Znojmo: The Rotunda of the Virgin Mary and St Catherine with the oldest frescoes in the Czech Republic.

One of the most visited tourist attractions in the Czech Republic is the Nether district Vítkovice in Ostrava, a post-industrial city on the northeast of the country. The territory was formerly the site of steel production, but now it hosts a technical museum with many interactive expositions for tourists. There are several centres of tourist activity. The spa towns, such as Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně and Františkovy Lázně and Jáchymov, are particularly popular relaxing holiday destinations. Architectural heritage is another object of interest to visitors – it includes many castles and châteaux from different historical epoques, namely Karlštejn Castle, Český Krumlov and the Lednice–Valtice area. There are 12 cathedrals and 15 churches elevated to the rank of basilica by the Pope, calm monasteries, many modern and ancient churches – for example Pilgrimage Church of Saint John of Nepomuk is one of those inscribed on the World Heritage List. Away from the towns, areas such as Český ráj, Šumava and the Krkonoše Mountains attract visitors seeking outdoor pursuits. The country is also known for its various museums. Puppetry and marionette exhibitions are very popular, with a number of puppet festivals throughout the country. Aquapalace Praha in Čestlice near Prague, is the biggest water park in central Europe. The Czech Republic has a number of beer festivals, including: Czech Beer Festival (the biggest Czech beer festival, it is usually 17 days long and held every year in May in Prague), Pilsner Fest (every year in August in Plzeň), The Olomoucký pivní festival (in Olomouc) or festival Slavnosti piva v Českých Budějovicích (in České Budějovice) – (Tourism in the Czech Republic).

The Czech Republic is not a large country but has a rich and eventful history. Czechs, Germans, Slovaks, Italian stonemasons and stucco workers, French tradesmen and deserters from Napoleon’s army have lived and worked here, all influencing one another. For centuries they jointly cultivated their land, creating works that grace this small country with hundreds of ancient castles, monasteries and stately mansions, and entire towns that give the impression of being comprehensive artefacts. The Czech Republic contains a vast number of architectural treasures and has beautiful forests and mountains to match. The Czech region was inhabited by Celtic tribes Boii for the first four centuries of the first millennium. The Celts gave way to post-Roman Germanic tribes. Later, Slavs arrived and, in the 9th century they founded the Great Moravian Empire, stretching from Germany to the Ukraine. After the fall of Great Moravia the Bohemian Duchy (later Kingdom) was formed, creating a territorial unit almost identical to the modern Czech Republic. The rise of the Habsburgs led to the Czech lands becoming a part of the Austrian Empire, and later Austria-Hungary, and a massive influx of German immigrants. After the First World War, the closely related Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire formed the new nation of Czechoslovakia. During the interwar years, the new country’s leaders were frequently preoccupied with meeting the demands of other ethnic minorities within the republic, most notably the Sudeten Germans and the Hungarians. A poor relationship with the German minority (20% of the overall population) was a particular problem that was capitalized on by Adolf Hitler and used as “rationale” for the dismemberment of the nation before the outbreak of World War II. The country was annexed and brutally occupied by Germany during the war. After World War II, Czechoslovakia expelled most of its Germans by force and many of the ethnic Hungarians after the Potsdam Conference. However, the nation was very blessed in the fact that it emerged from the war more or less physically intact as it avoided the fate of the massive air bombardments and invasions that levelled most of the historic neighbouring cities in Germany, Austria, Poland and Belarus. The country fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and remained so by force of arms until 1989 (see Cold War Europe). In 1968, an invasion by Warsaw Pact troops ended the efforts of the country’s leaders to liberalize Communist party rule and create “socialism with a human face”. Anti-Soviet demonstrations the following year ushered in a period of harsh repression and conservatism within the party ranks called “normalisation”. In November 1989, the communist government was deposed in a peaceful Velvet Revolution. On 1 January 1993, the country underwent a “velvet divorce” into its two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia“>Slovakia. A member of NATO since 1999 and the EU since 2004, the Czech Republic has moved toward integration in world markets, a development that poses both opportunities and risks, however unemployment and population decline are rampant in the Czech countryside due to better job opportunities in the large cities like Prague (History of the Czech lands and Culture of the Czech Republic).

Read more on Castles in the Czech Republic, Museums in the Czech Republic, TOP 17 Places You Must See in the Czech Republic, Theatre of the Czech Republic, National Theatre Prague, Opera houses in the Czech Republic, State Opera Prague, Czech Republic Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Czech Republic, Wikitravel Czech Republic, World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic and Wikivoyage Czech Republic.





© Stefan Ertmann - ClausHansen/cc-by-sa-4.0

© Stefan Ertmann – ClausHansen/cc-by-sa-4.0

Denmark
Denmark is the smallest of the Nordic countries. Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland are collectively and formally known as The Danish Realm (Det Danske Rige). While all three have their own constituent parliaments, they are also part of The Kingdom of Denmark with Queen Margrethe II as symbolic monarch. The main part of Denmark proper is Jutland, a peninsula north of Germany, but Denmark also includes a great number of islands, of which the major ones are Zealand and Funen. Most of the islands are situated in the small shallow sea of Kattegat and the Baltic Sea, between Jutland and Sweden. Separated from the other islands, Bornholm lies by itself between Sweden and Poland in the Baltic Sea. The capital, Copenhagen, is located at the most eastern side of Zealand. Once the seat of Viking raiders and later a major north European naval power, The Kingdom of Denmark is the oldest kingdom in the world, still in existence, but has evolved into a democratic, parliamentary, modern and prosperous nation. The country is participating in the general political and economic integration of Europe. However, the country has opted out of the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty, the European monetary union (EMU – the Eurozone), and issues concerning certain internal affairs. Denmark is the birthplace of one of the world’s most popular toys, Lego, and boasts the Legoland theme park in Billund.

These days, the Danish Vikings have parked their ships in the garage and put the helmets on the shelves, and along with the other Scandinavian nations, have forged a society that is often seen as a benchmark of civilisation; with progressive social policies, a commitment to free speech so strong it put the country at odds with much of the world during the 2006 cartoon crisis, a liberal social-welfare system and, according to The Economist, one of the most commercially competitive. Top it off with a rich, well-preserved cultural heritage, and the Danes’ legendary sense of design and architecture, and you have one intriguing holiday destination. Dubbed in various surveys and polls throughout the years as the “happiest country in the world”, it is often pictured as a romantic and safe place, likely linked to Hans Christian Andersen as a “fairy tale” on its own. Of course much more lies beneath the surface, but for the traveller, Denmark is likely to prove convenient, safe, clean, but also quite expensive to visit. The country is host to 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (History of Denmark and Culture of Denmark).

Though not immediately obvious on a map, Denmark comprises more than 400 islands, of which 72 are populated. The peninsula of Jutland and the main islands make up most of the population and land area; smaller islands are here categorized as part of those. Local administration in Denmark is made up by five regions and 98 municipalities. These subdivisions are of little concern to visitors. Greenland and the Faroe Islands are self-governing territories within the Kingdom of Denmark.

Denmark has quite a few pleasant cities (cities in Denmark). These are just a few, that are very popular among visitors:

  • Copenhagen: Denmark’s capital and largest city with a population of 1.2 million in its metropolitan area and a vast number of offers for cultural experiences and interesting shopping inspired with Danish design traditions.
  • Aalborg: An old port town and industrial centre with a historic and picturesque city centre, including the rowdy street of Jomfru Ane Gade; featuring some of the most vibrant night life in the country.
  • Aarhus: The largest city on the Jutland peninsula and Denmark’s second largest city, with a population of 320,000 in its metropolitan area. As an educational centre, Aarhus offers many cultural experiences and has a vibrant and diverse night life. Also being a centre of food production and conferences, Aarhus is among the best places in Denmark to eat. The brilliant Old Town open air museum with reconstructed old historic timber-framed buildings from all over Denmark, is one of the most popular attractions in the country.
  • Esbjerg: Denmark’s hub for the fishing and offshore oil and gas industry, and a short 15-minute ferry ride away from the cosy island of Fanø. The large Wadden Sea National Park is close to Esbjerg.
  • Nykøbing Falster: Nestled by a picturesque fjord, you can explore the old abbey, the castle, or set out to the spectacular chalk cliffs of Møn or the island’s good beaches
  • Odense: The main city of the island of Funen, and Denmark’s third largest city, known as the birthplace of fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen. The old historic town centre features cosy winding cobbled streets with interesting streetscapes of both medieval listed buildings and modern architecture. The countryside is also of interest, including the open air museum The Funen Village.
  • Roskilde: Half an hour from Copenhagen it is a picturesquely placed city, hosting a world heritage listed cathedral as well as a great Viking ship museum.
  • Skagen: The most northern point of the mainland, this sleepy fishing town bursts into life during summer. It is the place to watch as two oceans meet at the “tip of Denmark”, bike around the scenic surroundings and dine on excellent seafood. It is among the most popular summer destinations in the country, including that of the Copenhagen rich and famous.
  • Sønderborg: Discover Danish mentality in a city where Denmark finally conceded its superpower ambitions, and wander through the old castle or the royal palace of Gråsten.

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Denmark):

  • Anholt – more than 45 km from nearest mainland and pretty much right between Sweden and Denmark, this secluded island offers the largest desert in Northern Europe and one of Scandinavia’s largest seal populations.
  • Ertholmene – this small group of islands, governed by the Ministry of Defence, makes up for Denmark’s most eastern land and home to a large a bird reserve, as well as old defence installations.
  • Femø – most famous for being one of the first bastions for the women’s rights movement, it now attracts lesbians and feminists, while priding itself in welcoming all women.
  • Fanø – a 16 km long and 5 km wide island, with an unusual large mount of different natural environments on a small area: Sand, heath, meadow and pine wood.
  • Hirsholmene – a group of 10 small islands 7 km to the northeast of Frederikshavn, noted for its high population of birds, but also home to some excellent beaches and a relatively large number of World War II-era bunkers.
  • Kongernes Nordsjælland National Park< – brand new national park covering the old hunting grounds of ancient kings.
  • Læsø – get away from it all in this remote island in Denmark’s “desert belt”, ride through the sand dunes on horseback and see unique farmhouses with seaweed roofs.
  • Samsø – Denmark’s “greenest” island has garnered international attention since the heat and energy consumption on the island is exclusively produced locally by renewable sources. Samsø is home to the annual music festival Samsø Festival, sporting itself as Denmark’s “hyggeligste” (i.e. most cosy).
  • Stevns Cliff – a 65 million year old cliff made up of lime and chalk, which stretches more than 12 km on the shoreline and up to 41 m above sea-level.

Read more on Castles and palaces in Denmark, Museums in Denmark, Attractions in Denmark, Theatre of Denmark, Denmark Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Denmark, World Heritage Sites in Denmark and Wikivoyage Denmark.





© UN

© UN

Estonia
Estonia is a state in Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland with Finland on the other side, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia (343 km), and to the east by Lake Peipus and Russia (338.6 km). Across the Baltic Sea lies Sweden in the west and Finland in the north. The territory of Estonia consists of a mainland and 2,222 islands in the Baltic Sea. The nature is essentially untouched and offers quite a different beach experience with their remoter rustic feel. Most of the public beaches are sandy and the average water temperature is 18°C in summer. Inland waters and some shallow bays’ waters are even warmer. Estonia is the northernmost and smallest of the Baltic states. While the country has charming old towns and heritage back to the Hanseatic League, it is a leader in technology. The country is host to 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The territory of Estonia has been inhabited since at least 9000 BC. Ancient Estonians were some of the last European pagans, and were Christianized during a crusade in the 13th century. After centuries of successive German, Danish, Swedish, and Russian rule, Estonians experienced what has been described as a “national awakening” in the 19th and early 20th centuries. On 24 February 1918 independence was declared and later secured through a War of Independence. After democratic rule from 1918 to 1934, Estonia became autocratic during the Era of Silence. During World War II, Estonia suffered successive occupations by Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Soviet Union again, resulting in its annexation as the Estonian SSR. After the loss of its de facto independence, Estonia’s de jure state continuity was preserved by diplomats and government in exile. In 1987 the peaceful Singing Revolution against Soviet rule began, culminating with restoration of its de facto independence on 20 August 1991. Since restoration of its independence, Estonia has been a democratic unitary parliamentary republic divided into fifteen counties. Its capital and largest city is Tallinn. With a population of 1.3 million, it is one of the least-populous member states of the European Union (History of Estonia and Culture of Estonia).

Estonia is divided into 15 counties. As the country is small, most destinations can be reached within a couple of hours from Tallinn.

These are just nine of the most interesting cities (cities and towns in Estonia) selected to represent the variety of Estonian urban areas:

  • Tallinn – The capital, and financial and cosmopolitan centre of Estonia, with a medieval Old Town. Beautiful and expensive (compared to other Estonian towns).
  • Tartu – Museum-rich and hanseatic city on the banks of the Emajõgi River. Also, Estonia’s second-largest and oldest city, intellectual hub famous for its universities, and a lively student city.
  • Narva – Estonia’s eastern-most and third largest city, on the Narva River, which is the border with Russia. Famous for the Hermann castle, right opposite of the Ivangorod‘s castle, and the Kreenholm factories. Even though it might seem grey and dull.
  • Pärnu – Estonia’s 4th largest city and the summer capital of Estonia, popular for its balneo-therapy complexes and spa centres, surrounded by numerous beaches.
  • Rakvere – Estonia’s fifth largest city, east of Tallinn, famous for its Punk and Rock festivals and spirit.
  • Haapsalu – “Venice of the north”, and a major seaside resort and medium-sized port city, good for visiting spas, taking mud baths, sailing, swimming, interesting monuments of the middle ages, like the cathedral and the Ruins of Haapsalu Castle, and the picturesque Railway Museum.
  • Viljandi – A beautiful, ancient and hilly city, known for its annual Viljandi Folk Music Festival, beautiful old town and overwhelming and picturesque park around the old castle.
  • Kuressaare – The capital of the island of Saaremaa, the only town on the island, and home of the Kuressaare castle. It also has many spas, water parks and one beach.
  • Valga – A town on the border with Latvia, where it literally grows into the Latvian town of Valka.

Other destinations of touristic significance: Estonians have a special love for nature, and many will tell you that they would rather sit under a tree in an empty forest or hike in a national park than almost anything else. Estonia’s tranquil, laidback and unspoiled Baltic islands provide a splendid getaway to nature.

  • Lahemaa National Park – On the coast within an hour east (50 km) of Tallinn. Given its size it is the largest park in Estonia and one of Europe’s biggest national parks, with 1000 km² of bogs, trails, and forests.
  • Soomaa National Park – The second largest national park in Estonia, famous for its “fifth season”. A peat bog formed from a glacier melt from around 11,000 years ago.
  • Matsalu National Park – One of the largest and most important autumn stopping grounds for migratory birds in Europe. Excellent for birdwatchers, due it is rich ornithological species.
  • Vilsandi National Park – Rich in marine fauna, and international bird sanctuary with over 250 recorded bird species, on the west coast of Saaremaa. Covers 238 km², including 163 km² of sea and 75 km² of land, plus 160 islands and islets.
  • Karula National Park – The hilly landscapes of Southern Estonia. Estonian’s smallest national park between Valga and Võru.
  • Meenikunno Nature Park – A 5 km hike and wooden trail with an observation platform in the middle of the swamps.
  • Otepää Nature Park and Lake Pühajärve – Part of the Otepää recreational region with an area beyond 3,000 km². Trails along the lake and paths in the hilly forests.
  • Saaremaa – The largest Estonian and wild seaside character island with castles and fortresses, one perfectly preserved, a beach, a spa and famous mills. Saaremaa is even sometimes called Sparemaa. Furthermore, the island itself is surrounded by a myriad of tiny islands including Abruka with its nudist camps.
  • Hiiumaa – The second largest Estonian island. Popular for its lighthouses, ancient churches, historical values and the sense of humour of its inhabitants, but scarcely populated. In winter, it can sometimes be reached by car via an ice bridge on the Baltic Sea.
  • Kihnu – The southernmost group of islands, Khinu, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Cosy and warm yet exotic – folk costumes are worn here every day and the handicraft of older generations remains highly valued.
  • Muhu – The third largest Estonian island, and a rural municipality connected to the nearby Saaremaa by an artificial embankment, where ferries to the harbour of Virtsu arrive. Has an open air museum, and its locals are known for still sewing woollen clothes. Sleepy fishing villages, working windmills, thatched cottages, plenty of deer, moose and birds.
  • Ruhnu – The communal territory corresponds to that of the homonymous island, formerly known as Runö.
  • Vormsi – The fourth largest Estonian island, very close to the mainland. Vormsi is a small island covered with forests and a Swedish community. A unique blend of Soviet and Swedish history mixed with unspoilt nature.
  • Osmussaare – A small and mostly inaccessible island situated in the mouth of the Gulf of Finland, 7.5 km off the mainland, and part of the Noarootsi Parish.
  • Pakri – Two islands in the Gulf of Finland: Suur-Pakri and Väike-Pakri (Swedish: Stora Rågö and Lilla Rågö), administratively part of Paldiski.
  • Naissaar – An island mostly covered by forest northwest of Tallinn with about 35 residents.
  • Prangli – A small island with, harbour (for ferries to Leppneeme on the mainland), mainly fir trees, and a lighthouse from 1923.

Estonia is a Baltic gem offering visitors the chance to see a tiny dynamic land on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Glorious beaches pepper the extensive coastline, although the swimming season is short. After all, the Baltics are not renowned for warm weather – something that any visitor to Estonia must be aware of; the summer is short and the winter is severe. Tallinn‘s medieval old town was built by the Germans in Middle Ages and is in magnificent condition, with the medieval city walls and towers almost completely intact, and it rates as one of Europe’s best medieval old towns. Visitors can also experience an ex-Soviet occupied country that is now part of the European Union. Traces of the Soviet era are still there to be seen, e.g. Paldiski, a deserted Soviet army base that was once off-limits to Estonians themselves, can easily be visited on a day trip from the capital, Tallinn. Estonia is renowned for its bucolic islands and extensive bogs that are now national parks with easy access for tourists.

Read more on Castles in Estonia, Museums in Estonia, Discover 39 Cool and Unusual Things to Do in Estonia, Theatre of Estonia, Estonia Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com – Estonia, Wikitravel Estonia, World Heritage Sites in Estonia and Wikivoyage Estonia.





© Oona Räisänen

© Oona Räisänen

Finland
Finland is one of the Nordic countries in Northern Europe. The country has comfortable small towns and cities, as well as vast areas of unspoiled nature. About 10% of the area is made up by 188,000 lakes, with a similar number of islands. Finland extends into the Arctic, where the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun can be seen. The mythical mountain of Korvatunturi is said to be the home of Santa Claus, and there is a Santa Caus Village in Rovaniemi. While Finland is a high-technology welfare state, Finns love to head to their summer cottages in the warmer months to enjoy all manner of relaxing pastimes including sauna, swimming, fishing and barbecuing during the short but bright summer. Finland has a distinctive language and culture that sets it apart from the rest of Nordic Europe. While Finnish culture is ancient, the country became independent only in 1917. The country is host to 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (History of Finland and Culture of Finland).

The regions of Finland are:

  • Southern Finland: The southern stretch of coastline up to the Russian border, including the capital Helsinki and the historical province of Uusimaa (Nyland)
  • West Coast: The south-western coastal areas, the old capital Turku and the southern parts of the historical province of Ostrobothnia (Pohjanmaa, Österbotten), with most of the Swedish-speaking population.
  • Finnish Lakeland: Forests and lakes from the inland hub city Tampere all the way to the Russian border, including Savonia (Savo) and the Finnish side of Karelia (Karjala).
  • Northern Finland: The northern half of Finland is mostly wilderness, with some important cities. Administratively it includes Finnish Lapland, Kainuu and Northern Ostrobothnia.
  • Åland: An autonomous and monolingually Swedish group of islands off the southwestern coast of Finland.

These are just nine of the most interesting cities (Finnish municipalities) selected to represent the variety of Finnish urban areas:

  • Helsinki – the “Daughter of the Baltic”, Finland’s capital and largest city by far, including Espoo and Vantaa
  • Jyväskylä – a university town in Central Finland
  • Oulu – a technology city at the end of the Gulf of Bothnia
  • Rauma – largest wooden old town in the Nordics and a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Rovaniemi – gateway to Lapland and home of Santa Claus Village
  • Savonlinna – a small lakeside town with a big castle and a popular opera festival.
  • Tampere – an industrial city, home of culture, music, art and museums
  • Turku – the former capital on the western coast. Medieval castle and cathedral.
  • Vaasa – a town with strong Swedish influences on the west coast located near the UNESCO world natural site Kvarken Archipelago

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Finland):

Read more on Castles and fortresses in Finland, Museums in Finland, 15 Best Places to Visit in Finland, Finnish National Theatre, Finland Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Finland, Wikitravel Finland, World Heritage Sites in Finland and Wikivoyage Finland.





© Gregjarlot/cc-by-sa-4.0

© Gregjarlot/cc-by-sa-4.0

France
France is a country with which almost every traveller has a relationship. Many dream of its joie de vivre shown by the countless restaurants, picturesque villages and world-famous gastronomy. Some come to follow the trail of France’s great philosophers, writers and artists, or to immerse in the beautiful language it gave the world. And others still are drawn to the country’s geographical diversity with its long coastlines, massive mountain ranges and breathtaking farmland vistas. France has been the world’s most popular tourist destination for over twenty years. It received 83.7 million visitors in 2014, although these figures are highly skewed by the number of people who frequent the country for the weekend, particularly to visit Disneyland Paris, Europe’s most popular visitor attraction. All these people come to France for many a reason: its cities contain some of the greatest treasures on the continent, its countryside is prosperous and well-tended and it boasts dozens of major tourist attractions. France is one of the most geographically diverse countries in Europe, containing areas as different from each other as urban chic Paris, the sunny French Riviera, long Atlantic beaches, the winter sports resorts of the French Alps, the castles of the Loire Valley, rugged Celtic Brittany and the historian’s dream that is Normandy. France is a country of rich emotions and turbulent politics but also a place of rational thinking and Enlightenment treasures. Above all, it is renowned for its cuisine, culture and history. The country is host to 43 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Whatever you want from a holiday, you’re about to find it in France.

During the Iron Age, what is now metropolitan France was inhabited by the Gauls, a Celtic people. Rome annexed the area in 51 BC, holding it until the arrival of Germanic Franks in 476, who formed the Kingdom of France. France emerged as a major European power in the Late Middle Ages following its victory in the Hundred Years’ War (1337 to 1453). During the Renaissance, French culture flourished and a global colonial empire was established, which by the 20th century would be the second largest in the world. The 16th century was dominated by religious civil wars between Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). France became Europe’s dominant cultural, political, and military power under Louis XIV. In the late 18th century, the French Revolution overthrew the absolute monarchy, established one of modern history’s earliest republics, and saw the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which expresses the nation’s ideals to this day. In the 19th century Napoleon took power and established the First French Empire. His subsequent Napoleonic Wars shaped the course of continental Europe. Following the collapse of the Empire, France endured a tumultuous succession of governments culminating with the establishment of the French Third Republic in 1870. France was a major participant in World War I, from which it emerged victorious, and was one of the Allied Powers in World War II, but came under occupation by the Axis powers in 1940. Following liberation in 1944, a Fourth Republic was established and later dissolved in the course of the Algerian War. The Fifth Republic, led by Charles de Gaulle, was formed in 1958 and remains today. Algeria and nearly all the other colonies became independent in the 1960s and typically retained close economic and military connections with France (History of France and Culture of France).

“Metropolitan France” comprises the 12 administrative regions on the mainland plus Corsica, or in other words all French territory within Europe. These are distinct from the country’s overseas territories on other continents, which are talked about below. The 96 departments are the next level down of administrative division, two-thirds of them being named after a river, and most others taking after another natural feature, such as a mountain or forest.

  • Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes: The home of French skiing, a large volcanic region and the magnificent city of Lyon.
  • Bourgogne-Franche-Comté: Tons of medieval history, pleasing natural scenery and Burgundy wine.
  • Brittany: Rugged western peninsula that is as Celtic as it is French.
  • Centre-Val de Loire: A largely agricultural and viticultural region, featuring river valleys, châteaux and historic towns.
  • Corsica: Napoleon’s birthplace is an Italian influenced subtropical island in the Mediterranean.
  • Grand-Est: A region where wider European (and especially Germanic) culture has merged with the French, giving rise to interesting results.
  • Hauts-de-France: A region where the world wars and the rise and fall of heavy industry have left many scars.
  • Île-de-France: The region surrounding the French capital, Paris.
  • Normandy: Some of France’s most famed attractions, including Mont Saint-Michel, the D-Day beaches and Claude Monet’s home.
  • Nouvelle-Aquitaine: The largest French region, defined more by its enchanting contrasts than as a coherent whole.
  • Occitanie: Due south, where the Pyrenees spill into the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Pays de la Loire: The lower Loire Valley and the Vendée area, on the Atlantic coast.
  • Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur: The unmissable French Riviera, Marseille and the Camargue.

Beyond Metropolitan France, also known as l’Hexagone for its shape, there are five overseas départements (départements d’outre-mer – DOMs), each as integral to France as any other department: French Guiana in South America, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean, and Mayotte and Réunion among the East African islands. In addition to this, France has six organised overseas territories (territoires d’outre mer – TOMs)—French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon and Wallis and Futuna—and some remote, uninhabited islands as nature reserves, including Clipperton Island and the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. Despite being administratively part of France, these entities are not covered further here, but instead in their own articles. Due to its many overseas departments and territories scattered around the world, France actually spans twelve time zones — that’s more than any other country. However, all of Metropolitan France uses Central European Time (UTC+01:00). France has numerous cities (communes in France) of interest to travellers, below is a list of nine of the most notable:

  • Paris — the “City of Light”, romance and the Eiffel Tower.
  • Bordeaux — city of wine, traditional stone mansions and smart terraces.
  • Nice — the heart of the French Riviera with a world-famous beach promenade.
  • Lille — a dynamic northern city known for its handsome centre and active cultural life.
  • Lyon — France’s gastronomic capital with a history from Roman times to the Resistance.
  • Marseille — France’s cosmopolitan second city, known for its Mediterranean harbour, its calanques, and its seafood.
  • Nantes — a green and highly livable city known for Jules Verne, seafarers, crêpes and Breton culture.
  • Strasbourg — beautiful historic centre ringed by canals, and the home of many European institutions.
  • Toulouse — the “Pink City” is known for its distinctive brick architecture and its vibrant southern atmosphere.

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in France):

  • Camargue — one of Europe’s largest river deltas and wetlands, with a strong Provençal culture of bullfighting and cowboys.
  • Corsica — the birthplace of Napoleon, a unique island with a distinct culture and language.
  • Disneyland Paris — the most visited attraction in Europe, the Magic Kingdom even has its own TGV hub.
  • French Alps — home to the highest mountain in Western Europe, Mont Blanc, this is quintessential ski country.
  • French Riviera (French: Côte d’Azur “Azure Coast”) — Glamorous Mediterranean coastline with upper class seaside resorts, yachts and sunbathing celebrities.
  • Loire Valley — the world-famous river valley, best known for its wines and Renaissance châteaux.
  • Luberon — the stereotypical Provence of picturesque villages, joie de vivre and wine.
  • Mont Saint Michel — a monastery and town built on a tiny outcrop of rock in the sand, which is cut off from the mainland at high tide.
  • Verdon Gorge — a beautiful turquoise-green river canyon, great for kayaking, hiking, rock-climbing or just driving around the limestone cliffs.

The most popular tourist sites include: Eiffel Tower (6.2 million), Louvre Museum (5.7 million), Palace of Versailles (2.8 million), Musée d’Orsay (2.1 million), Arc de Triomphe (1.2 million), Centre Pompidou (1.2 million), Mont Saint-Michel (1 million), Château de Chambord (711,000), Sainte-Chapelle (683,000), Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg (549,000), Puy de Dôme (500,000), Musée Picasso (441,000), Carcassonne (362,000). France features cities of high cultural interest, beaches and seaside resorts, ski resorts, and rural regions that many enjoy for their beauty and tranquillity (green tourism). Small and picturesque French villages are promoted through the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (litt. “The Most Beautiful Villages of France”). The “Remarkable Gardens” label is a list of the over 200 gardens classified by the French Ministry of Culture. This label is intended to protect and promote remarkable gardens and parks. France attracts many religious pilgrims on their way to St. James, or to Lourdes, a town in the Hautes-Pyrénées that hosts several million visitors a year. Another major destination are the Châteaux of the Loire Valley, this World Heritage Site is noteworthy for its architectural heritage, in its historic towns but in particular its castles (châteaux), such as the Châteaux d’Amboise, de Chambord, d’Ussé, de Villandry, Chenonceau, and Montsoreau. France, especially Paris, has some of the world’s largest and renowned museums, including the Louvre, which is the most visited art museum in the world, the Musée d’Orsay, mostly devoted to impressionism, and Beaubourg, dedicated to Contemporary art. Disneyland Paris is Europe’s most popular theme park, with 15 million combined visitors to the resort’s Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park in 2009. With more than 10 millions tourists a year, the French Riviera (or Côte d’Azur), in south-east France, is the second leading tourist destination in the country, after the Paris region. It benefits from 300 days of sunshine per year, 115 kilometres (71 mi) of coastline and beaches, 18 golf courses, 14 ski resorts and 3,000 restaurants. Each year the Côte d’Azur hosts 50% of the world’s superyacht fleet.

Read more on Castles in France, Museums in France, Top 18 experiences in France, Theatre of France, Theatres and entertainment venues in Paris, France Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com France, Wikitravel France, World Heritage Sites in France and Wikivoyage France.





© TUBS/cc-by-sa-3.0

© TUBS/cc-by-sa-3.0

Germany
Germany includes 16 constituent states, covers an area of 357,021 square kilometres (137,847 sqmi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With about 82 million inhabitants, Germany is the most populous member state of the European Union. Germany’s capital and largest metropolis is Berlin, while its largest conurbation is the Ruhr, with its main centres of Dortmund and Essen. Various Germanic tribes have inhabited the northern parts of modern Germany since classical antiquity. A region named Germania was documented before 100 AD. During the Migration Period, the Germanic tribes expanded southward. Beginning in the 10th century, German territories formed a central part of the Holy Roman Empire. During the 16th century, northern German regions became the centre of the Protestant Reformation. After the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, the German Confederation was formed in 1815. The German revolutions of 1848–49 resulted in the Frankfurt Parliament establishing major democratic rights. In 1871, Germany became a nation state when most of the German states unified into the Prussian-dominated German Empire. After World War I and the revolution of 1918–19, the Empire was replaced by the parliamentary Weimar Republic. The Nazi seizure of power in 1933 led to the establishment of a dictatorship, World War II and the Holocaust. After the end of World War II in Europe and a period of Allied occupation, two German states were founded: West Germany, formed from the American, British and French occupation zones, and East Germany, formed from the Soviet occupation zone. Following the Revolutions of 1989 that ended communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe, the country was reunified on 3 October 1990. In the 21st century, Germany is a great power with a strong economy; it has the world’s 4th largest economy by nominal GDP, and the 5th largest by PPP. As a global leader in several industrial and technological sectors, it is both the world’s third-largest exporter and importer of goods. A developed country with a very high standard of living, it upholds a social security and universal health care system, environmental protection, and a tuition-free university education. The country is host to 42 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (History of Germany and Culture of Germany).

Germany has numerous cities of interest to visitors; here are just nine of the most famous travel destinations. They are mostly the larger cities of Germany. Some, such as Berlin and Hamburg, stand like urban islands in more rural landscapes, others, like Düsseldorf and Frankfurt, are part of metropolitan areas together with other cities.

  • Berlin: The reunified and reinvigorated capital of Germany; known for its being divided during the Cold War by the Berlin Wall. Today a metropolis of diversity with some of the world’s best clubs, shops, galleries and restaurants. Due to its long status as a divided city, Berlin also boasts more operas and museums per capita than most other places in the world. The suburb of Potsdam with its Royal-Prussian palaces and gardens shouldn’t be missed when in Berlin.
  • Bremen: Its old market, the Schnoor, the Böttcherstrasse, the Viertel and the maritime flair of Bremen and its harbor Bremerhaven (which together form the Bundesland of Bremen, the smallest Land in both size and population) are a great urban experience.
  • Cologne (Köln): Founded by the Romans 2000 years ago and known for its huge cathedral (second largest in the world), Romanesque churches, archaeological sites and the lively old town quarter. The Cologne Carnival is a major draw around February.
  • Dresden: Once called Elbflorenz (“Florence on the Elbe”), the Frauenkirche (the finest baroque Cathedral outside Italy, destroyed during the war and rebuilt from 1994 to 2005) and its rebuilt historic Altstadt that was also destroyed during the war. The Zwinger and Residenzschloss museums are unmatched in the world.
  • Düsseldorf: Germany’s capital of shopping that also has a wide variety of fascinating new architecture. The “Altstadt” quarter and the Rhine embankments have a vibrant nightlife.
  • Frankfurt: Magnificent skyline, financial and transportation hub of Europe, headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) and an important trade fair. Small reconstructed centre with half-timbered houses, important museums and galleries around the Museumsufer like the Schirn Art Hall, the Städel and the Senckenberg Natural Museum.
  • Hamburg: Germany’s second-largest city, with a metropolitan character second only to that of Berlin, famous for its harbour as well as its liberal culture. Don’t miss the bustling nightlife around St. Pauli with the Reeperbahn and its night clubs and entertainment venues. Historically one of the cities of the Hanseatic League and a leading trade center after that, it remains one of three German “city states” i.e. a city that is its own Bundesland.
  • Munich (München): Germany’s third-largest city and booming capital of Bavaria is known for the Oktoberfest, the Hofbräuhaus, its manifold cultural offerings including operas, theaters and museums, a vibrant nightlife, many music festivals, its beer gardens and river surfing, and is the gateway to the Alps.
  • Nuremberg (Nürnberg): A former Reichsstadt with a medieval touch, its old town was partly reconstructed after severe bombing in World War II, including the Gothic Kaiserburg and the major churches, and you can also visit the Nazi party rally grounds, the Documentation Center and Courtroom 600 (the venue of the Nuremberg war crime trials).

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Germany):

  • Baltic Sea Coast (Ostseeküste): once the playground for crowned heads, this region is coming into its own again after the Cold War shut much of it off from the wider world. Site of the famous Strandkorb picture of the 2007 G8 summit.
  • Bavarian Alps (Bayerische Alpen): Germany perhaps at its most clichéd, but also its most beautiful; nice skiing in winter, hiking in summer and Schloss Neuschwanstein are just the most obvious attractions
  • Black Forest (Schwarzwald): You are likely to think “cuckoo clock” or cherry pie, and you’d be forgiven, but there is much more to this region than that
  • East Frisian Islands (Ostfriesische Inseln): among Germany’s most popular summer holiday spots, those largely car free islands in the Wadden Sea still see less international visitors than they deserve
  • Franconian Switzerland (Fränkische Schweiz): a favorite with early 19th century poets who gave a name that stuck, this karst region is world renowned for its climbing and has some beautiful caves
  • Harz: long forgotten due to German partition running right through it, the Harz is today attracting tourists with superb hiking and the mystic romanticism of the Brocken mountain that is reputed to attract witches (as mentioned in Goethe’s Faust)
  • Lake Constance (Bodensee): Germany’s largest lake, the “Swabian Ocean” (as it is jokingly) offers alpine panorama and water activities at the same time
  • Middle Rhine Valley (Mittelrheintal): part of the Rhine River is a UNESCO Heritage Site between Bingen/Rüdesheim and Koblenz; the valley is famous for its wines
  • North Frisian Islands (Nordfriesische Inseln): calm islands with resorts at the North Sea coast, especially Sylt is known for its posh celebrity guests and the pristine landscape

The history of tourism in Germany goes back to cities and landscapes being visited for education and recreation. From the late 18th century onwards, cities like Dresden, Munich, Weimar and Berlin were major stops on a European Grand tour. Spas and Seaside resorts on the North and Baltic Sea (e.g. Rugia and Usedom islands, Heiligendamm, Norderney and Sylt islands) particularly developed during the 19th and early 20th century, when major train routes were built to connect the seaside spas to urban centers. An extense bathing and recreation industry materialized in Germany around 1900. At rivers and close to natural landscapes (along the Middle Rhine valley and in Saxon Switzerland for example) many health spas, hotels and recreational facilities were established since the 19th century. Since the end of World War II tourism has expanded greatly, as many tourists visit Germany to experience a sense of European history and the diverse German landscape. The country features 14 national parks, including the Jasmund National Park, the Vorpommern Lagoon Area National Park, the Müritz National Park, the Wadden Sea National Parks, the Harz National Park, the Hainich National Park, the Saxon Switzerland National Park, the Bavarian Forest National Park and the Berchtesgaden National Park. In addition, there are 14 Biosphere Reserves, as well as 98 nature parks. The countryside has a pastoral aura, while the bigger cities exhibit both a modern and classical feel. Small and medium-sized cities often preserved their historical appearance and have old towns with remarkable architectural heritage – these are called Altstadt in German.

About 242 million nights, or two-thirds of all nights spent in hotels in Germany, are spent in spa towns. Germany is well known for health tourism, with many of the numerous spa towns having been established at a hot spring, offering convalescence (German: Kur) or preventive care by means of mineral water and/or other spa treatment. Spa towns and seaside resorts carry official designations such as Mineral and mud spas (Mineral- und Moorbäder), Healthy climate resorts (Heilklimatische Kurorte), Kneipp cure resorts (Kneippkurorte = water therapy resorts), Seaside resorts (Seebäder), Climatic resorts (Luftkurorte), and Recreation resorts (Erholungsorte). The largest and most well known resorts also have casinos, most notably at Bad Wiessee, Baden-Baden (Kurhaus), Wiesbaden (Kurhaus), Aachen, Travemünde and Westerland (Kurhaus).

Since the 1930s, local and regional governments have set up various theme routes, to help visitors get to know a specific region and its cultural or scenic qualities. The table below shows some of the most prominent theme routes. Other popular German theme routes include parts of the European Route of Brick Gothic and European Route of Industrial Heritage, the Harz-Heide Road, Bertha Benz Memorial Route and Bergstrasse. Incomplete list of theme routes:

The main winter sport regions in Germany are the Bavarian Alps and Northern Limestone Alps (ski resorts in the German Alps), as well as the Ore Mountains, Harz Mountains, Fichtel Mountains and Bavarian Forest within the Central Uplands (ski resorts in the Central Uplands). First class winter sport infrastructure is available for alpine skiing and snowboarding, bobsledding and cross-country skiing. In most regions, winter sports are limited to the winter months November to February. During the Advent season, many German towns and cities host Christmas markets. Every year in March, the ITB Berlin, the largest tourism fair in the world, takes place in Berlin.

Read more on Castles in Germany, Museums in Germany, The TOP 100 sights and attractions in Germany, National Theatre Mannheim, National Theatre Munich, Deutsches Nationaltheater and Staatskapelle Weimar, Berlin State Opera, The Best Concert Halls in Germany, Germany, LonelyPlanet.de Germany, Wikitravel Germany, World Heritage Sites in Germany and Wikivoyage Germany.





© UN

© UN

Greece
Greece (Hellas) is a country in southeastern Europe, on the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula. Much of the country consists of peninsulas and islands in the Aegean, Ionian, and Mediterranean Seas. It borders Albania, the Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Ancient Greece was one of Europe’s first urban civilizations, and the origin of much of the arts, language, philosophy, politics, and sports of western society. The cultural heritag, spectacular mountains, natural beauty, reliable sunny summer weather, its nightlife and beaches draw tourists from far away. The country is host to 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Greece is located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Situated on the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula, it shares land borders with Albania to the northwest, the Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey to the northeast. The Aegean Sea lies to the east of the mainland, the Ionian Sea to the west, the Cretan Sea and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Greece has the longest coastline on the Mediterranean Basin and the 11th longest coastline in the world at 13,676 km (8,498 mi) in length, featuring a large number of islands, of which 227 are inhabited. Eighty percent of Greece is mountainous, with Mount Olympus being the highest peak at 2,918 metres (9,573 ft). The country consists of nine geographic regions: Macedonia, Central Greece, the Peloponnese, Thessaly, Epirus, the Aegean Islands (including the Dodecanese and Cyclades), Thrace, Crete, and the Ionian Islands.

Greece is considered the cradle of Western civilization, being the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, Western literature, historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, and Western drama, as well as the Olympic Games. From the eighth century BC, the Greeks were organised into various independent city-states, known as poleis (singular polis), which spanned the entire Mediterranean region and the Black Sea. Philip of Macedon united most of the Greek mainland in the fourth century BC, with his son Alexander the Great rapidly conquering much of the ancient world, spreading Greek culture and science from the eastern Mediterranean to India. Greece was annexed by Rome in the second century BC, becoming an integral part of the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine Empire, wherein the Greek language and culture were dominant. The Greek Orthodox Church also shaped modern Greek identity and transmitted Greek traditions to the wider Orthodox World. Falling under Ottoman dominion in the mid-15th century, the modern nation state of Greece emerged in 1830 following a war of independence (History of Greece and Culture of Greece).

Greece is both a mountainous and coastal country, with countless islands spread over the Ionian and Aegean seas:

Major cities (municipalities of Greece) include:

  • Athens — the capital, known for the Parthenon
  • Thessaloniki — the main city in the northern Macedonia region
  • Chania — surrounded by beaches and the Samaria National Park
  • Chersonissos — party capital of Crete in the summer
  • Heraklion: (Irákleio) — Crete’s largest city and main hub with the archaeological site of Knossos
  • Patra — known for its wine production
  • Larissa — a lively agricultural and university town
  • Rhodes (Ródos) — impressive medieval structures, nightlife and beaches
  • Volos — coastal port with nice museums and architecture

Other destinations of touristic significance Tourism in Greece:

  • Corfu — large island with many attractions
  • Delphi — site of the famous oracle of Apollo, major archaeological site
  • Ithaca — famous home of Odysseus
  • Meteora — hilltop monasteries
  • Mount Athos — semi-independent republic, home to many Orthodox monasteries (access restricted)
  • Mykonos — world famous, sophisticated holidays
  • Olympia — sanctuary dedicated to Zeus, site of the ancient Olympics
  • Rhodes — island with ancient monuments, as well as beaches
  • Santorini Thira) — a volcanic island known for its beautiful views, towns and sunsets

Tourism in Greece traces its roots to ancient times. Cultural exchange took place between the Greek colonies of Magna Graeca and the young Roman Republic before Rome’s rise to dominance of the Western Mediterranean. When Greece was annexed by the Roman Empire centuries later, the cultural exchange that started between the two civilization triggered as a result a large number of Romans visiting the famous centers of Greek philosophy and science, such as Athens, Corinth and Thebes, partly because Greece had become a province of the Roman Empire and Greeks were granted Roman citizenship. Tourism in modern-day Greece started to flourish in the 1960s and 1970s, in what became known as mass tourism. During that time, large-scale construction projects for hotels and other such facilities were undertaken and the country saw an increase in international tourists over the years. International events such as the 2004 Summer Olympic Games and the Eurovision Song Contest 2006, both held in Athens, greatly helped to boost tourism in the country, while large-scale nationally funded cultural infrastructure such as the New Acropolis Museum also contributed to the flow of tourists in the country. Thessaloniki was the European Youth capital in 2014.

Greece has 51 marinas and 14,661 mooring places that provide such services as berths, fuel, water and electricity, telephony, and repairs. Some of the most developed and busiest marinas in Greece are just a few kilometres from the centre of Athens. The marinas of Alimos and Flisvos, on the south coast of Athens, have an aggregated capacity of more than 1,800 vessels

Greece has 752 thermosprings. Many have been classified as therapeutic by the National Institute for Geographical and Mineral Research. Several of them were known and exploited already since antiquity. Thermal or curative tourism was, after all, one of the earliest forms of tourism in the ancient world. In 1983 was founded the Hellenic Association of Municipalities with Thermal Springs. Some of these ancient “spa resorts” were situated in Aidipsos, known from the time of Aristotle, Loutraki, mentioned by Xenophon, Traianoupoli, founded by the emperor Trajan in the 2nd century A.D., whereas some others are attested in the Byzantine period, such as the Thermal baths of Langadas. In the late 19th and the beginning of the 20th century these hot springs were surrounded by cosmopolitan facilities, namely hotels and restaurants, whereas several prominent members of the society of both the Modern Greek State and the Ottoman State (for regions still incorporated in it) invested in touristic infrastructure and private estates. Thermal tourism became particularly widespread in the 1960s and 1970s, whereas in the 1980s it was widely supported by a social tourism program, which subsidized large part of the expenses for the elderly users of the facilities. Nowadays, however, there is an urgent need to refurbish, restore and elevate these spas to modern standards and create an international clientele. Visitors, however, can already find high-standard touristic facilities in Pozar, in Aidipsos and in Kamena Vourla, in Loutraki close to Corinth as well as at Kaiafas, on the western shores of the Peloponnese. A detailed List of spa towns in Greece can give an insight in the inexorable richness of thermal springs of the country. Archaeological sites and cities are:

  • Acropolis of Rhodes: The Acropolis of Rhodes is an acropolis dating from the Classical Greek period (5th–3rd century BC).
  • Acropolis of Lindos: A natural citadel which was fortified successively by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Knights of St John and the Ottomans.
  • Ancient Thera: An antique city on a ridge of the steep, 360 m high Messavouno mountain on the Greek island of Santorini.
  • Abdera, Thrace: A city-state on the coast of Thrace 17 km east-northeast of the mouth of the Nestos, and almost opposite Thasos.
  • Akrotiri (Santorini): A Minoan Bronze Age settlement on the volcanic Greek island of Santorini (Thera).
  • Ambracia: Ruins of the ancient capital of Pyrrhus of Epirus in modern Arta in Epirus.
  • Amphipolis: An ancient city in the region of Macedonia once inhabited by the Edoni people.
  • Argos: Several ancient ruins, including the Heraion.
  • Asclepeion of Kos: The ruins of one of the greatest healing temples of the Ancient World and the place where Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine was trained.
  • Athens: The Greek capital has many archaeological sites, the most famous being the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Ancient Athenian cemetery of Kerameikos, the Philopappou Hill, the Tower of the Winds, Plato’s Academy and the Ancient Agora.
  • Bassae: An archaeological site in the northeastern part of Messenia.
  • Chalcis: on Euboea.
  • Ancient Corinth: Ancient ruins near the modern town include the Temple of Isthmia and the Temple of Apollo.
  • Delos: Uninhabited island famous for its numerous archaeological sites, including the Stoivadeion, the Temple of the Delians, the Terrace of the Lions and the House of the Dolphins.
  • Delphi: Town in western Greece, with a distinguished ancient theatre, the site of the Oracle.
  • Didymoteicho: A historical town of Thrace built near the Greek-Turkish border which has many Ancient Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman landmarks, including the ruins of the ancient city of Plotinopolis, the Byzantine fortifications built around the town, the Bayezid Mosque built in 1420 and the Silent Baths, the oldest hamam in Europe.
  • Dion, Pieria: The sacred place of the Ancient Macedonians. Dion is the site of a large temple dedicated to Zeus, as well as a series of temples to Demeter and to Isis.
  • Dodona: The shrine of Dodona in Epirus was regarded as the oldest Hellenic oracle, possibly dating to the second millennium BC according to Herodotus.
  • Eleusis: From as early as 1700 BC up to the 4th century AD, Eleusis was the site of the Eleusinian Mysteries, or the Mysteries of Demeter and Kore.
  • Elaea (Epirus): An ancient harbor town at the mouth of the Acheron river of Epirus.
  • Epidaurus: The ancient theatre, now restored.
  • Gitanae: Ruins of ancient Gitanae in Epirus.
  • Kameiros: An ancient city on the island of Rhodes, in the Dodecanese, Greece.
  • Knossos: Archaeological site on Crete famous for its ruined Minoan palace, with bull motifs.
  • Leibethra: An ancient city close to Olympus where Orpheus was buried by the Muses.
  • Lycian Tomb, Kastellorizo: A rock cut tomb built by the ancient Anatolian civilization of the Lycians, located at Kastellorizo, the easternmost island of Greece.
  • Lycosura: A city of Arcadia said by Pausanias to be the oldest city in the world.
  • Marathon tumuli: Burying mounds in Marathon, Attica that house the ashes of the Athenian and Plataean hoplites that were killed in the homonymous battle. The Archaeological Museum of Marathon, built near the tumuli preserves findings from the area and from the battle of Marathon.
  • Meteora: The monasteries, which are World Heritage Sites.
  • Mycenae: In the second millennium BC, Mycenae was one of the major centres of Greek civilization, a military stronghold which dominated much of southern Greece and parts of southwest Anatolia. The period of Greek history from about 1600 BC to about 1100 BC is called Mycenaean in reference to Mycenae.
  • Messene: Most of the area of Ancient Messene contains the ruins of the large classical city-state of Messene refounded by Epaminondas in 369 BC.
  • Necromanteion: Nekromanteion was an ancient Greek temple of necromancy devoted to Hades and Persephone.
  • Nemea: Here in Greek mythology Heracles overcame the Nemean Lion of the Lady Hera, and here during Antiquity the Nemean Games were played.
  • Nicopolis: or Actia Nicopolis was an ancient city of Epirus, founded 31 BC by Octavian in memory of his victory over Antony and Cleopatra at Actium the previous year.
  • Olympia: Many ancient ruins, including the Temple of Zeus, the Temple of Hera, the Palaestra and the Leonidaion.
  • Olynthus: An ancient city of Chalcidice.
  • Palace of Nestor: Palace of Nestor is the primary structure within a larger Late Helladic era settlement, likely once surrounded by a fortified wall
  • Pella: The capital of Ancient Macedonia and birthplace of Alexander the Great and Philip II of Macedon.
  • Phaistos: a Bronze Age archaeological site at Faistos, a municipality in south central Crete.
  • Philippi: Established by the king of Macedon, Philip II, on the site of the Thasian colony of Krinides or Crenides.
  • Sounion: The Temple of Poseidon.
  • Samothrace temple complex: is one of the principal Pan-Hellenic religious sanctuaries, located on the island of Samothrace.
  • Syros: Neoclassical city of Hermoupolis; two civilizations and two religions living harmonically and peacefully together; only 2.5 hours by ferry from Piraeus; a 12-month a year destination; beaches, classical theatre, casino, general hospital and many places to see.
  • Stagira: Ruins of the ancient city known as the birthplace of Aristotle.
  • Sparta: Near the modern town are ancient ruins, the most important being the tomb of Leonidas.
  • Tiryns: A Mycenaean archaeological site in Argolis in the Peloponnese.
  • Tegea: A settlement in ancient Greece. Ancient Tegea was an important religious center of ancient Greece, containing the Temple of Athena Alea.
  • Thebes: Ancient city that once rivalled Athens, and featured in Greek myth.
  • Thermopylae: Primarily known for the battle that took place there in 480 BC, in which an outnumbered Greek force probably of seven thousand (including the famous 300 Spartans) held off a substantially larger force of Persians estimated in the range 70,000-300,000 under Xerxes.
  • Thessaloniki: Nicknamed the “Co-capital”, city with many historic buildings, some World Heritage Sites, including the Arch and Rotunda of Galerius, the Church of Panagia Chalkeon and the White Tower.
  • Vergina: The Macedonian Royal Tombs and the ruins of the ancient Macedonian capital in the region of Macedonia, Greece. It is a World Heritage Site.
  • Zakros: A Bronze Age archaeological site of Crete, built on the eastern coast of the island.

In recent years, Greece has become a destination for ecotourism (especially hiking, canoeing, caving and climbing). The main destinations for skiing in Greece are Arachova, Kalavryta, Karpenisi and Metsovo.

Read more on Castles in Greece, Museums in Greece, First time Greece: top 10 experiences, ancient Greek theatres, Modern Greek theatre, Greece Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Greece, Wikitravel Greece, World Heritage Sites in Greece and Wikivoyage Greece.





© Globe-trotter/cc-by-sa-3.0

© Globe-trotter/cc-by-sa-3.0

Hungary
Hungary is featuring a gorgeous capital city, Budapest, and the largest lake in Central Europe, Balaton. Hungary offers many diverse destinations: relatively low mountains in the north-west, the Great Plain in the east, lakes and rivers of all sorts, and many beautiful small villages and hidden gems of cities. Top this off with Hungary’s great accessibility in the middle of Europe, a vivid culture and economy, and you get a destination absolutely worth visiting if you’re in the region. The country is host to 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The regions are:

The main cities (cities and towns of Hungary) are:

  • Budapest — with green filled parks, interesting museums, and a pulsating nightlife, Budapest is one of Europe’s most delightful and enjoyable cities
  • Debrecen — the second largest city in the country
  • Győr — there are many cafés, restaurants, boutiques, and night clubs in its lovely baroque city center
  • Kecskemét — a town famous for its vibrant music scene, plum brandy, and Art Nouveau architecture
  • Miskolc — with the unique cave bath in Miskolc-Tapolca, the third largest city in the country, located near the Bükk hills
  • Nyíregyháza — a medium-sized city with a busy water resort, museum village, and annual autumn festival
  • Pécs — a pleasant cultural centre and university town
  • Szeged — the sunniest city in Hungary
  • Székesfehérvár — former royal seat, famous for its baroque architecture and museums

Following centuries of successive habitation by Celts, Romans, Germanic people, West Slavs, and Avars, the foundation of Hungary was laid in the late 9th century by the Hungarian grand prince Árpád in the conquest of the Carpathian Basin. His great-grandson Stephen I ascended the throne in 1000, converting the country to a Christian kingdom. By the 12th century, Hungary became a middle power within the Western world, reaching a golden age by the 15th century. Following the Battle of Mohács in 1526 and about 150 years of partial Ottoman occupation (1541–1699), Hungary came under Habsburg rule, and later formed the great power Austro–Hungarian Empire together with Austria. Hungary’s current borders were established in 1920 by the Treaty of Trianon after World War I, when the country lost 71% of its territory, 58% of its population, and 32% of ethnic Hungarians. Following the interwar period, Hungary joined the Axis Powers in World War II, suffering significant damage and casualties. Hungary became a satellite state of the Soviet Union, which contributed to the establishment of a socialist republic spanning four decades (1949–1989). The country gained widespread international attention as a result of its Revolution of 1956 and the seminal opening of its previously-restricted border with Austria in 1989, which accelerated the collapse of the Eastern Bloc (History of Hungary and Culture of Hungary).

Budapest became one of Central Europe‘s popular tourist attractions in the 1990s (Tourism in Hungary). Attractions in the city include Buda Castle which houses several museums including the Hungarian National Gallery, the Matthias Church, the Parliament Building and the City Park. The city has many museums, three opera houses, and thermal baths. Buda Castle, the Danube River embankments and the whole of Andrássy Avenue have been recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hungary has an estimated 1,300 thermal springs, a third of which are used as spas across the country. Hungary’s thermal waters and spa culture are promoted to tourists. Only France, Japan, Bulgaria, Iceland, and Italy have similar thermal water capacity. Hungary’s thermal baths have been used for 2,000 years for cleansing, relaxation and easing aches and pains. The Romans were the first to use Hungary’s thermal waters in the first century, when they built baths on the banks of the Danube River. Budapest lies on a geological fault that separates the Buda hills from plains. More than 30,000 cubic metres of warm to scalding (21° to 76°C) mineral water gushes from 118 thermal springs and supply the city’s thermal baths. Budapest has been a popular spa destination since Roman times. Some of the baths in the city date from Turkish times while others are modern. They have steam rooms that utilize the healing properties of the springs. Most of the baths offer medical treatments, massages, and pedicures. The most famous of Budapest’s spas were built at the turn of the 19th century. There are two hundred known caves under Budapest, some of which can be visited by tourists and are a popular tourist attraction. In the Buda hills there are caves that are unique for having been formed by thermal waters rising up from below, rather than by rainwater. The Pálvölgy Stalactite Cave is a large and spectacular labyrinth. Discovered in the 1900s, it is the largest of the cave systems in the Buda hills. The Szemlohegy Cave has no stalactites and has fewer convoluted and claustrophobic passages than the Pálvölgy Cave. The walls in this cave are encrusted with precipitates formed by warm water dissolving mineral salts. The air in the cave is very clean and its lowest level is used as a respiratory sanatorium. The Matyas Cave in the outskirts of the city has a crawling-room-only section called the “sandwich of death.”

Read more on Castles in Hungary, Museums in Hungary, Top things to do in Hungary, Theatres in Hungary, Hungary Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Hungary, Wikitravel Hungary, World Heritage Sites in Hungary and Wikivoyage Hungary.





© Andrein/cc-by-sa-3.0

© Andrein/cc-by-sa-3.0

Ireland
Ireland has a rich culture that, along with its people, has been exported around the world. Ireland, in fact, has two cultures: the historical Gaelic culture (including one of the oldest literatures in Western Europe) and the more recent English-speaking culture which largely replaced it. It can be worth your while to dig a little deeper before visiting Ireland to discover something about the older world that lies beneath. It is a world still living, though not always visible. Some Irish history has been very dark indeed, but it remains a land of poets, story-tellers, and musicians, with marvellous scenery, an advanced knowledge economy, first-rate infrastructures, and leading industries, with a high gross domestic product and standard of living. The country is host to 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Ireland was Christianised from the 5th century onward, and this brought with it literacy and a knowledge of Latin culture. Monastic towns were established, becoming centres of learning and literature. The monks were the first to commit Ireland’s legends to writing, and composed exquisite nature poetry. The monasteries were a prime target for the Norsemen who invaded in the late 8th century and eventually established important settlements in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork and Limerick. Local military alliances shifted and melded frequently but monastic Christian culture endured and sent successful missionaries to Scotland, England and as far afield as Switzerland. The Normans invaded in the early 12th century and set in place Ireland’s uneasy position within England’s sphere of influence. The Gaelic Ireland they entered had a distinctive society which tended to assimilate newcomers linguistically and culturally. An intensively cultivated classical tradition had developed in the Irish language, producing a unique literature which was matched by a rich folk culture. The Normans had brought English-speaking followers with them, but English for a long time remained marginal. Irish lords retained a great deal of practical independence until the end of the Elizabethan period. The English Crown, in the person of Elizabeth I, made a determined attempt to impose its own power towards the end of the 16th century, with resistance being led by powerful northern lords, especially Red Hugh O’Neill. Their defeat meant the gradually replacement of the native elite by English landlords. Irish society and culture were most severely disrupted during the Cromwellian period in the 17th century, when native leaders tried to re-establish Irish independence but were weakened by internal dissension. Despite this, Irish language and culture remained strong, with the 18th century seeing a literary flowering. General adoption of the English language did not occur until the second half of the 19th century, largely as a consequence of bilingualism. The Act of Union that came into force on 1 January 1801 — in which Catholics, 90% of the Irish population, were excluded from Parliament — saw Ireland joining the United Kingdom. While Great Britain was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, Ireland remained a farming country; millions of Irish emigrated to Britain, North America and Australia, where the men often worked as labourers and the women as domestic servants. Initially, they often spoke little English. Irish nationalism remained strong in the 19th century, often expressed through English. Much attention was drawn to the evils of landlordism, exacerbated by the Great Famine of the 1840s, which left many dead and caused a wave of emigration. At the end of the century there occurred the Gaelic Revival, with influential urban intellectuals insisting on the need to modernise and extend Gaelic culture as a basic principle of Irish nationality. Some of them were later at the fore of armed resistance to British rule. The Catholic Church, which had suffered various degrees of persecution from the 16th century on, had now been reorganised and strengthened. It became a potent element in Irish nationalism and a symbol for many of Irish identity, though its influence was to wane in the later 20th century. By 1900 institutions of British origin were firmly established in Ireland. English was the language of the vast majority but had a strongly native flavour; this made itself felt in a literature which was to become world famous. Irish was still cultivated by a small minority and produced a distinguished modern literature of its own. Some bars to non-Anglican civic participation had been removed in the 1820s, but in the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century the subject of Irish home rule was a major debate within the British parliament. After several failed attempts, a Home Rule bill finally passed through parliament in 1914 although the start of the first world war saw its indefinite postponement. A failed rebellion on Easter Monday in 1916 showed a hint of things to come with years of war to follow, beginning with the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and continuing with the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). Eventually a somewhat stable situation emerged with the independence of 26 of Ireland’s counties known as the Irish Free State; the remaining six, in the north-east of the country and comprising two-thirds of the ancient province of Ulster, remained part of the United Kingdom; a status that has continued to the present day. In 1949 the Irish Free State became “Ireland” (also known as the Republic of Ireland) and withdrew from the British Commonwealth. Ireland’s history post-partition has been marked to some extent by violence. A a period known as “The Troubles”, generally regarded as beginning in the late 1960s, saw large scale confrontation between opposing paramilitary groups seeking to either keep Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom or bring it into the Republic. The Troubles saw many ups and downs in intensity of fighting and on occasion were even responsible for terrorist attacks in Britain and continental Europe. The governments of both the UK and the Republic were opposed to all terrorist groups. A peace settlement known as the Good Friday Agreement was finally approved in 1998 and is being implemented. All signs point to this agreement holding steady. Though a relatively poor country for much of the 20th century, Ireland joined the European Community in 1973 (at the same time as the United Kingdom). Between the mid 1990s and 2008, Ireland had a massive economic boom (and was called “The Celtic Tiger”), becoming one of the richest countries in Europe. However, the global banking crisis and subsequent recession hit Ireland hard, with high levels of unemployment and emigration. The economy is now recovering and many emigrants are returning. Historically, the island of Ireland consisted of 32 counties, of which six, collectively known as Northern Ireland, have remained as part of the United Kingdom since the rest of Ireland gained independence in 1922. The geographical term “Ireland” applies to the island as a whole, but in English is also the official name of the independent state (i.e. the 26 counties which are not part of the United Kingdom), since 1937. To distinguish the country from the island as a whole, sometimes the description Republic of Ireland is used. As part of the Good Friday agreement between the Irish and British governments, all Northern Irish citizens are entitled to dual British and Irish citizenship, just as they are entitled to choose to be only British or only Irish citizens. However, apart from changes to the road surface and road signs, you probably won’t notice much of a difference when actually crossing the convoluted and often obscure international boundary between the six counties of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. One key difference, though, is that road signs in Northern Ireland are in miles, while those in the Republic of Ireland are in kilometres. Spot checks excepted, there are no formal border markings or controls. The currency in the Republic of Ireland is Euro and the currency in Northern Ireland as part of the UK is the UK pound so be sure to exchange your euro into pounds before crossing the border (History of Ireland and Culture of Ireland).

Ireland’s regions are:

Cities and towns (urban areas in Ireland) are:

  • Dublin — the capital and largest city in Ireland. With excellent pubs, fine architecture and good shopping, Dublin is a very popular tourist destination and is the fourth most visited European capital.
  • Cork — the country’s second biggest city — on the banks of the River Lee. Founded c.600 by St Finbarre and known for great food (especially seafood), pubs, shopping and festivals. If you venture outside of the city along the coastline which borders the Atlantic Ocean, you will find long windy beaches, beautiful villages with history, castles and an array of outdoor activities to enjoy.
  • Galway — a city on the river Corrib on the west coast of Ireland. Famous for its festivals and its location on Galway Bay. Known as the City of Tribes, Galway’s summer is filled with festivals of music, food, Irish language and culture. Galway hosts over fifty festivals a year, including the Galway Oyster Festival. The locals seem to give off a positive Bohemian vibe. Galway is split between two types of beautiful landscape: the gorgeous mountains to the west, and the east’s farming valleys.
  • Killarney — Possibly, the most popular tourist destination in Ireland. A pleasant town in its own right, it is also the start of most Ring of Kerry trips.
  • Kilkenny — attractive medieval town, known as the Marble City — home to the Cat Laughs Comedy Festival, held annually in early June.
  • Letterkenny — Main town in County Donegal, designated gateway status and reputed to be the fastest growing town in Europe. Good base for traveling in Donegal.
  • Limerick — a city strategically sited where the river Shannon broadens into its mighty estuary in the south-west of the country. First city to receive the designation of National City of Culture (2014).
  • Sligo — Home to W.B. Yeats, internationally renowned poet. Mountains and beaches, scenery in general are the best points of Sligo.
  • Waterford — Ireland’s oldest city. In the south-east and close to the ferry port at Rosslare. Waterford is a popular visit for those who want to learn more about the most ancient history of Ireland. It is quite possibly one of the best cities in the country as it is not too large and is full of history. Many festivals take place throughout the year including Spraoi. The food is good and the Granary Museum is the best for ancient Irish history in the country. Don’t forget to try a blaa before you leave (a floury bread bun peculiar to this area of Ireland).

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Ireland) are:

  • Aran Islands — in Galway Bay
  • Brú Na Bóinne — in Co. Meath are some of the finest neolithic monuments in the world, the oldest of which is Newgrange, dating back to 3100 BC.
  • Burren and the Cliffs of Moher — both in the County Clare.
  • Connemara — an Irish speaking region in Western County Galway.
  • County Donegal — the coastal regions of this county have spectacular scenery and excellent beaches.
  • Dingle Peninsula — a Gaeltecht region (Irish-speaking district) in the very South West corner of Ireland.
  • Glendalough — fine ruins and hiking trails in County Wicklow.
  • Kinsale — gastronomic excellence in Ireland’s oldest town.
  • Ring of Kerry and Skellig Michael in County Kerry.
  • West Cork — mountains, coves, islands and beaches at the very south of the country.

Transport in Ireland: Ireland’s national flag carrier is Aer Lingus, which services Europe, North America and North Africa, but the vast majority of flights originating from continental Europe come from another Irish company, Ryanair, the biggest low cost airline in the world. These airlines, along with others, fly into all three of Ireland’s international airports, Shannon Airport, Dublin Airport and Cork Airport. Dublin Airport is by far the busiest, accounting for over 80% of passenger entering and leaving Ireland in 2011. Along with these airports there are several other regional airports in the country including Ireland West Airport Knock and Kerry Airport, which both operate international flights to Europe. For travellers from mainland Europe and the UK, another way to enter the country is by sea, with connections by ferry to Roscoff and Cherbourg in France, Liverpool in England and Pembroke, Fishguard and Holyhead in Wales and Douglas on the Isle of Man. These routes are operated by Irish Ferries, Stena Line, Celtic Link Ferries and P&O Ferries. Motorways link Dublin with all the major cities in the country and there are plans to extend the motorway system in the future. In recent years the quality of Irish roads has improved dramatically with the advent of the Celtic Tiger and significant European Union funding, although outside the main routes, roads can be quite unpredictable in terms of quality and upkeep, especially in rural areas such as County Kerry and County Donegal. The rail and light rail network in Ireland is not as extensive as it once was, but it is still possible to get from city to city using the rail system, although many rural stations have closed along these lines. At the moment there is only one light rail system in the country, the Luas in Dublin.

As the Republic of Ireland occupies just over 80% of the Island of Ireland, the country has become famous for its scenic coastline and villages and towns by the shoreline. The most widely known of these are situated in the west of Ireland, mostly in Munster, but other areas of the country have their own individual resorts as well. The Cliffs of Moher are the most famous cliffs in Ireland, but the highest cliffs in Ireland and Great Britain are the Croaghaun, on the Atlantic coast of Achill Island off County Mayo, which rise to 688m, over three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher. The Slieve League cliffs in County Donegal are often incorrectly stated as being the highest, but at only 601m, they come in second. The south and south west of Ireland is particularly known for its seaside resorts including Kilkee, Lahinch, Quilty, Spanish Point and Doonbeg in County Clare, Youghal, Ballycotton, Kinsale and Bantry in Country Cork and Glenbeigh, Dingle, Castlegregory and Ballybunion in Country Kerry. As the west of the country faces the stormy Atlantic, it has become synonymous with surfing, particularly in Country Donegal, Co. Sligo and County Clare.

Ireland has many geological attractions, most being along the coastline of the country. The two most famous geologically important destinations are both in County Clare; the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren. The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most visited sites in the country, with the rocks at the bottom of the cliffs dated as being about 320 million years old, formed when Ireland was under water during the Carboniferous Period. The Burren was also created during this period. When a tropical sea flooded the south of the country, a buildup of coral (Limestone) began, covering many places in Ireland. When the sea shallowed, rocks such as Sandstone and Shale were deposited over the Limestone, effectively covering it over again. The Burren is one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe and is one of the few places in the country where the limestone is visible above ground. Many Irish mountains are also of geological distinction, most of them being formed in the Caledonian or Amorican era. These mountains, formed between 400 and 250 million years ago, would have been the same height as the Alps, but due to weathering, have become much smaller over time.

Read more on Castles in Ireland, Museums in the Republic of Ireland, 10 of the Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Ireland, Irish theatres and theatre companies, Ireland Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Ireland, Wikitravel Ireland, World Heritage Sites in the Republic of Ireland and Wikivoyage Ireland.





© ANGELUS

© ANGELUS

Italy
Italy is a country in Southern Europe, occupying the Italian Peninsula, as well as the Po Valley south of the Alps. Once the core of the mighty Roman Empire, and the cradle of the Renaissance, it is also home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world, including high art and monuments. People mainly visit Italy for its rich culture, cuisine, history, fashion and art, its beautiful coastline and beaches, its mountains, and priceless ancient monuments. The country is host to 53 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Italy is famous for its delicious cuisine, trendy fashions, luxury sports cars and motorcycles, diverse regional cultures and dialects, as well as for its various landscapes from the seas to the Alps and Apennines, which makes reason for its nickname Il Bel Paese (the Beautiful Country). San Marino and the Vatican City are two city-states surrounded by Italy. As they use the euro, the Italian language and have no border controls, they are easy to visit.

Since classical times, ancient Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Greeks established settlements in the south of Italy, with Etruscans and Celts inhabiting the centre and the north of Italy respectively, and various ancient Italian tribes and Italic peoples dispersed throughout the Italian Peninsula and insular Italy. The Italic tribe known as the Latins formed the Roman Kingdom in the 8th century BC, which eventually became a republic that conquered and assimilated its neighbours. Ultimately, the Roman Empire emerged in the 1st century BC as the dominant power in the Mediterranean Basin and became the leading cultural, political and religious centre of Western civilisation. The legacy of the Roman Empire is widespread and can be observed in the global distribution of civilian law, republican governments, Christianity and the Latin script. During the Early Middle Ages, Italy suffered sociopolitical collapse amid calamitous barbarian invasions, but by the 11th century numerous rival city-states and maritime republics, mainly in the northern and central regions of Italy, rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce and banking, laying the groundwork for modern capitalism. These mostly independent statelets, acting as Europe’s main spice trade hubs with Asia and the Near East, often enjoyed a greater degree of democracy than the larger feudal monarchies that were consolidating throughout Europe; however, part of central Italy was under the control of the theocratic Papal States, while Southern Italy remained largely feudal until the 19th century, partially as a result of a succession of Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Angevin and Spanish conquests of the region. The Renaissance began in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe, bringing a renewed interest in humanism, science, exploration and art. Italian culture flourished at this time, producing famous scholars, artists and polymaths, such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Galileo and Machiavelli. Since the Middle Ages, Italian explorers such as Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, John Cabot and Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery. Nevertheless, Italy’s commercial and political power significantly waned with the opening of trade routes which bypassed the Mediterranean. Furthermore, the Italian city-states constantly engaged one another in bloody warfare, culminating in the Italian Wars of the 15th and 16th centuries that left them exhausted, with none emerging as a dominant power. They soon fell victim to conquest by European powers such as France, Spain and Austria. By the mid-19th century, a rising movement in support of Italian nationalism and independence from foreign control led to a period of revolutionary political upheaval. After centuries of foreign domination and political division, Italy was almost entirely unified in 1871, creating a great power. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the new Kingdom of Italy rapidly industrialised, although mainly in the north, and acquired a colonial empire, while the south remained largely impoverished and excluded from industrialisation, fuelling a large and influential diaspora. Despite being one of the main victors in World War I, Italy entered a period of economic crisis and social turmoil, leading to the rise of a fascist dictatorship in 1922. Participation in World War II on the Axis side ended in military defeat, economic destruction and the Italian Civil War. Following the liberation of Italy and the rise of the resistance, the country abolished the monarchy, reinstated democracy, enjoyed a prolonged economic boom and, despite periods of sociopolitical turmoils, became a major advanced country (History of Italy and Culture of Italy). The regions of Italy are:

There are hundreds of Italian cities (cities in Italy). Here are nine of its most famous:

  • Rome — The Eternal City has shrugged off sacks and fascists, urban planning disasters and traffic snarls and is as impressive to the visitor now as two thousand years ago
  • Bologna — one of the world’s great university cities that is filled with history, culture, technology and food
  • Florence — the Renaissance city known for its architecture and art that had a major impact throughout the world
  • Genoa — an important medieval maritime republic; it’s a port city with art and architecture
  • Milan — one of the main fashion cities of the world, but also Italy’s most important centre of trade and business
  • Naples — one of the oldest cities of the Western world, with a historic city centre that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Pisa — one the medieval maritime republics, it is home to the famed Leaning Tower of Pisa
  • Turin — a well-known industrial city, home of FIAT, other automobiles and the aerospace industry. Le Corbusier defined Turin as “the city with the most beautiful natural location in the world”
  • Venice — one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, known for its history, art, and of course its world-famous canals

Other destinations of touristic significance are (Tourism in Italy):

  • Amalfi Coast — stunningly beautiful rocky coastline, so popular that private cars are banned in the summer months
  • Capri — the famed island in the Bay of Naples, which was a favored resort of the Roman emperors
  • Cinque Terre — five tiny, scenic, towns strung along the steep vineyard-laced coast of Liguria
  • Italian Alps — some of the most beautiful mountains in Europe, including Mont Blanc and Mount Rosa
  • Lake Como — its atmosphere has been appreciated for its beauty and uniqueness since Roman times
  • Lake Garda — a beautiful lake in Northern Italy surrounded by many small villages
  • Pompeii and Herculaneum — two neighbouring cities covered by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, now excavated to reveal life as it was in Roman times
  • Taormina — a charming hillside town on the east coast of Sicily
  • Vesuvius — the famous dormant volcano with a stunning view of the Bay of Naples

Read more on Castles in Italy, Palaces in Italy, I Borghi più belli d’Italia (small Italian towns of historical interest), Medici villas, Museums in Italy, The 20 greatest destinations in Italy – and the best time to visit each one, Theatres and opera houses in Rome, Theatres and opera houses in Venice, Theatres in Florence, Piccolo Teatro di Milano, Teatro alla Scala, ancient Roman theatres, Agriturismo.it, Italy Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Italy, Wikitravel Italy, World Heritage Sites in Italy and Wikivoyage Italy.





© CIA World Factbook

© CIA World Factbook

Latvia
Latvia is a country with a coastline on the Baltic Sea. Being one of the three Baltic states, it shares its border with Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south. It is also bordered by Russia on the east, Belarus on the south east and the Baltic Sea on the west. The most famous travel spot is the capital Riga, whose Old Town is a World Heritage Site. There are many other great places to see, both urban and rural alike. Examples such as the city of Liepāja with its magnificent beach and the unique formerly secret military neighborhood of Karosta, Kuldiga with Europe’s widest waterfall and Cēsis with its medieval castle ruins are just some of the various sights. Latvia’s unspoilt sea coast is a 500 km long wild beauty, mainly consisting of white, soft sandy beaches. Forests cover approximately half of Latvia’s territory and are home to many nature trails and nature parks. The best time to travel to Latvia is during Summer, from June up to early-September, as it is warm during that period (around 15°C to 20°C) and various local foods are available. While the start of December is usually mild with temperatures staying above freezing, snowfall can be expected during the Winter season, January and February, and the temperatures can drop to around -30°C for short periods of time. Springs and autumns are fairly mild. The country is host to 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Latvia has been a famous ancient trading point. The famous route from the Vikings to the Greeks mentioned in ancient chronicles stretched from Scandinavia through Latvian territory, along the river Daugava, to the Kievan Rus and Byzantine Empire. Across the European continent, Latvia’s coast was known as a place for obtaining amber which was more valuable than gold in many places during the Middle Ages. Latvian amber was known in places as far away as Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. In the 12th century, German traders arrived, bringing with them missionaries who attempted to convert the pagan Finno-Ugric and Baltic tribes to the Christian faith. The Germans founded Riga in 1201, making it the largest and most powerful city on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. After gaining independence in 1918, Latvia achieved considerable results in social development, economy, industry and agriculture. On 16 June 1940, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov presented the Latvian representative in Moscow an ultimatum, accusing Latvia of violating a pact and conspiring against the Soviet Union. The Soviet forces invaded Latvia soon after and “People’s Governments” were formed to provide a legal backing for a complete takeover, followed by Latvia being incorporated into the Soviet Union on 5 August 1940. Nazi Germany occupied the country the following year, ruling Latvia until the Soviet Red Army reoccupied the country in 1944. Both Nazi Germany and the USSR under Stalin were extremely brutal and murderous during their rule: the Nazis and their local collaborators murdered over 90,000 Latvians, including 75,000 Latvian Jews, while the Soviets, also having local collaborators, threw well over 90,000 Latvians into Siberian Gulags, from which many never returned, and had many thousands arrested locally, with many being shot or tortured. During the time of the Iron Curtain, when Latvia was a province of the Soviet Union, the concentration of heavy industry was enormous. All contacts with the West were strongly regulated during that period and everyone who was found to possibly have any contact with anyone abroad could be subject to accusations of conspiracy against the state. The Baltic region had the reputation of having the highest literacy rate and being the most urbanized in the Soviet Union. Latvia restored its independence on 21 August 1991. Between 1991 and 2007 the country saw unprecedented economic growth. The global recession and the financial crisis hit Latvia hard at the end of 2000s, bringing severe economic contraction and high unemployment rates. The country’s economy has been improving once again in more recent years. Because of the tribal past and being divided between occupying nations throughout the years, there are regional differences between parts of Latvia which can be interesting to explore (History of Latvia and Culture of Latvia).

Although the social and cultural differences between the regions of Latvia are not large, they still exist. An example of that is the traditional dress which is different from region to region. There are various official and unofficial ways how the country’s divided in regions. Most commonly, Vidzeme, Kurzeme, Zemgale and Latgale are separated as the major regions. Riga, which is otherwise considered part of Vidzeme, is often split off in a separate region either by city boundaries or by the boundaries of the Riga Planning Region, which includes a larger surrounding area. It is worth keeping in mind that most locals will assume the city of Riga along with the suburbs is being talked about instead of the greater official planning region when the Riga Region is mentioned.

  • Riga region (Riga, Jūrmala, Sigulda): The central Riga Planning Region houses around half of the Latvian population, making it the largest official region in the Baltic states.
  • Vidzeme (Cēsis, Ligatne, Madona): The north-central Vidzeme region features the longest Latvian river – Gauja, the highest point in Latvia – Gaiziņkalns, the biggest cave in Latvia – Gūtmaņala, the Gauja National Park and other attractions.
  • Kurzeme (Liepāja, Ventspils, Kuldīga): The western Kurzeme region provides direct access to the Baltic sea and shows preserved traditions and culture allowing visitors to visit various places such as old fishermen’s villages of the Livonian time for example.
  • Zemgale (Jelgava): The south-central Zemgale region is the flattest region of Latvia, historically known for being a great region for all agricultural needs.
  • Latgale (Daugavpils): The eastern Latgale region is famed for its lakes. It has a large ethnic Russian part of the population, especially in the largest city of the region – Daugavpils.

There are several Latvian cities (cities and towns in Latvia). Here are nine of its most famous:

  • Riga– The capital city of Latvia and the European Capital of Culture in 2014 with a long history.
  • Sigulda – A town in central Latvia with many interesting castles and historic points of interest. Probably, the most popular destination outside of Riga for foreign tourists, also due to its closeness.
  • Cēsis – One of the country’s oldest towns. It has an impressive castle complex of Livonian Order origin, a charming city centre with some cobblestoned streets, and historic wooden buildings.
  • Jūrmala – A popular holiday and sea resort town with wooden houses just west of Riga, which claims to have the longest beach in Northern Europe. Very popular with Russian and other eastern European tourists.
  • Daugavpils – The second largest city in Latvia, after Riga. It is a delightfully charming, spacious, green city with the biggest fortress in Europe, which has withstood many many wars and remains virtually unchanged since its construction in the 19th century.
  • Ventspils – A modern and artistic sea resort city in the north-west part of Latvia, has many things to see, and is one of the tidiest places in the region. A long-stretching beach and recreational park provide everything for a relaxing holiday week or weekend. It gets its prosperity from the huge ice-free port, which is the busiest port in the Baltic states, and the oil transit business.
  • Liepāja – Named “the city of wind”, and the southwestern most city of Latvia. Famous for its sandy beach, numerous music events, and the largest organ in the world. It features modern architecture and a long history along with the formerly secret Soviet military neighbourhood of Karosta (literally: War Port).
  • Kuldīga – The capital of Duchy of Courland, Venice of Latvia, with unique and wooden architecture, red-tile roofs, bridges, cobbled streets, the widest widest waterfall ledge in Europe, and nearby the longest underground (sand) cave labyrinth in the Baltics.
  • Madona – A scenic town surrounded by hills, forests and lakes, and a winter sports centre.

Other destinations of touristic significance are:

Read more on Castles in Latvia, Museums in Latvia, 15 Best Places to Visit in Latvia, Latvian National Opera, Latvian National Theatre, Tourist attractions in Riga, Latvia Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Latvia, Wikitravel Latvia, World Heritage Sites in Latvia and Wikivoyage Latvia.







© Peter Fitzgerald/cc-by-3.0

© Peter Fitzgerald/cc-by-3.0

Lithuania
Lithuania is a Baltic country in northeastern Europe. It has a Baltic Sea coastline in the west and borders with Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east, Poland to the southwest, and Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast) to the west. The country is host to 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Lithuania is an active member of the European Union (since 1 May 2004) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (since 29 March 2004). Lithuania is the only Baltic country with more than 800 years of statehood tradition, while its name was first mentioned one thousand years ago, in 1009. Wedged at the dividing line of Western and Eastern civilizations, Lithuania battled dramatically for its independence and survival. For a period in the 15th century, Lithuania was the largest state in all of Europe, where crafts and overseas trade prospered. In 1579, Vilnius University, an important scientific and education centre on the European scale, was opened. In 16th century, Lithuania adopted its First, Second and Third Statutes. They were the backbone of the legislative system of the country, and had a major impact on the legislation of other European states of the time. Despite losing its independence, Lithuania managed to keep its Third Statute in effect for as many as 250 years, which was instrumental in preservation of national and civic self-awareness of the public. The Constitution of Lithuania-Poland together with the French Constitution, both adopted in 1791, were the first written constitutions in Europe (the Lithuanian-Polish constitution was adopted a few months earlier).

For centuries, the southeastern shores of the Baltic Sea were inhabited by various Baltic tribes. In the 1230s, the Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, the King of Lithuania, and the first unified Lithuanian state, the Kingdom of Lithuania, was created on 6 July 1253. During the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe; present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia were the territories of the Grand Duchy. With the Lublin Union of 1569, Lithuania and Poland formed a voluntary two-state union, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth lasted more than two centuries, until neighboring countries systematically dismantled it from 1772 to 1795, with the Russian Empire annexing most of Lithuania’s territory. As World War I neared its end, Lithuania’s Act of Independence was signed on 16 February 1918, declaring the founding of the modern Republic of Lithuania. In the midst of the Second World War, Lithuania was first occupied by the Soviet Union and then by Nazi Germany. As World War II neared its end and the Germans retreated, the Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania. On 11 March 1990, a year before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first Baltic state to declare itself independent, resulting in the restoration of an independent State of Lithuania after 50 years of Soviet occupation (History of Lithuania and Culture of Lithuania).

Regional differences of Lithuanian culture reflect the complicated historical development of the country. Since the 13th century five ethnographic areas, or regions, have historically formed in the current territory of Lithuania:

These ethnographic regions even today differ by dialects, ways of life and behaviour styles, while until the turn of the last century there were pronounced differences in dress and homestead styles as well as village planning. Lithuania is justly proud of its unfailing treasures of folklore: colourful clothing, meandering songs, an abundance of tales and stories, sonorous dialects and voluble language. This ethnographic heritage is nourished by ethnographic and folklore companies and barn theatres. Recent years have witnessed the revival of ethnographic crafts and culinary traditions. Folk craft fairs and live craft days are organized during many events and festivals. There are a number of Lithuanian cities (cities in Lithuania). Here are seven of its most famous:

  • Vilnius — capital of the country with many medieval churches.
  • Jonava
  • Kaunas — second biggest city and temporary capital between the two world wars.
  • Klaipėda — third biggest city, famous for its summer festivals.
  • Panevėžys
  • Šiauliai — fourth biggest city, with a sun theme and specialist museums.
  • Trakai — on the shores of several lakes.

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Lithuania) are:

  • Aukštaitija National Park — a land of lakes, hills and forests, popular for water tourism and rural tourism in the summer.
  • Curonian Spit — unique sand dunes with rare flora, seaboard forest, white sanded beaches and old ethnographic villages.
  • Dzūkija National Park — the biggest forest (Dainavos) and swamp (Čepkelių) in the country, and some old unique villages in the middle of the forests.
  • Hill of Crosses — site of religious significance, north of Šiauliai.
  • Kernavė — former Lithuanian capital at the bank of the river Neris and now a well-preserved archaeological site.
  • Purnuskes — according to some measures the center of Europe.
  • Žemaičių Kalvarija — famous pilgrimage site, most visitors come in the beginning of July to visit the large church festival.

Read more on Castles in Lithuania, Museums in Lithuania, Top things to do in Lithuania, Lithuanian National Drama Theatre, Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, Lithuania Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Lithuania, Wikitravel Lithuania, World Heritage Sites in Lithuania and Wikivoyage Lithuania.







© Wauteurz/cc-by-sa-4.0

© Wauteurz/cc-by-sa-4.0

Luxembourg
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a landlocked Benelux country bordered by Belgium, France and Germany at the crossroads of Germanic and Latin cultures. It is the only Grand Duchy in the world and is the second-smallest of the European Union member states by area. A founding member of the European Community of Coal and Steel, Luxembourg has produced a number of prominent EU level politicians. With successful steel, finance and high technology industries, a strategic location at the heart of Western Europe, more natural beauty than you might expect given its size, and as one of the top three richest countries in the world, Luxembourg enjoys a very high standard of living and has prices to match. The country is host to 1 UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city of Luxembourg proper was founded in 963, and its strategic position soon promised it a great future. Luxembourg was at the crossroads of Western Europe and became heavily fortified. You can still see the extensive city walls and towers which form its distinctive cityscape. Due to its key position, Luxembourg became a Duchy that once included a much larger territory stretching into present-day Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and France. The powerful Habsburg family kept its hand on it until the late Renaissance times. After the Napoleonic wars, the Duchy of Luxembourg was granted to the Netherlands. It had a special status as a member of the German confederacy and the citadel was armed with a Prussian garrison. Luxembourg was still a strategic location that everybody sought to control. It was granted the title “Grand Duchy” in 1815 but lost some territories to France and Germany. During the course of the 19th century, developments in warfare and the appearance of artillery made Luxembourg obsolete as a stronghold, and it became little more than a rural territory of no strategic interest. The Germans relinquished their rights over it and moved out their garrison, its western half was granted to Belgium in 1839, and the Netherlands granted it complete independence in 1867. Since then, Luxembourg has developed from a poor country of fields and farms into a modern economy relying on financial services and high-tech industries. Overrun by Germany in both world wars, Luxembourg was one of the major battlefields of the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-1945, a story well documented in the museum at Diekirch. The state ended its neutrality in 1948 when it entered into the Benelux Customs Union and it joined NATO the following year. Cooperation among the Benelux countries had already existed after the First World War, but this time it proved to be a lot more important on a European scale. In 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the European Economic Community (later the European Union) and, in 1999, it joined the euro currency area. As most Luxembourgers are fluent in (at least) two languages (French and Luxembourgish/German), and the small country seems non-threatening to most of the EU, Luxembourgers have risen to high ranks in the EU administration. The most notable is Jean Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission since 2014 (History of Luxembourg and Culture of Luxembourg).

Luxembourg can be divided in the following five regions, each with their own characteristics:

  • Guttland / Central Luxembourg (Colmar-Berg, Luxembourg and Mersch): The formal side of Luxembourg, Luxembourg city is the main attraction, Colmar-Berg a secondary. Central Luxembourg is the formal side of the country.
  • Land of the Red Rocks (Differdange, Dudelange and Esch-sur-Alzette): Industrial region with museums and other attractions focussing around this. The region is still used for mining, though to a lesser extent. Many of the former railroads servicing the mines have been turned into heritage railroads.
  • Luxembourgian Ardennes (Diekirch, Ettelbruck and Vianden): Forested area with a common history in both world wars (Battle of the Bulge). Many historical- and war museums throughout the region. The region’s terrain is fit for hikes and off-road cycling.
  • Moselle District (Grevenmacher, Mondorf-les-Bains and Schengen): The wine region of Luxembourg, most cities are located along the Moselle river, leaving them at arms length from Germany.
  • Mullerthal (Beaufort, Consdorf and Echternach): As are the Ardennes, the region is filled with forested and slanted terrain, inviting visitors to hikes or off-road cycling. The region is often referred to as Luxembourg’s Little Switzerland due to the similarities in terrain.

There are a number of Luxembourgian cities (communes of Luxembourg). Here are eight of its most famous:

  • Luxembourg – Capital of the Grand Duchy, divided by two deep river valleys.
  • Clervaux – Small castle town home to the Family of Man photo exposition.
  • Diekirch – Town known for its World War II history.
  • Echternach – Small town known for the basilica containing the crypt of Saint Willibrord.
  • Ettelbruck – Transport hub for northern Luxembourg.
  • Esch-sur-Alzette – Former mining town now home to the country’s university, Luxembourg’s second city.
  • Mondorf-les-Bains – Spa town with casino located on the Luxembourg-France border.
  • Vianden – Quaint small town presided over by a rather splendid château.

Other destinations of touristic significance Tourism in Luxembourg are:

  • Esch-sur-Sûre – A very small town built around a hilltop castle. Not far downstream the Lac de la Haute Sûre is found.
  • Schengen – The namesake village of the Schengen treaty, located on the border with France and Germany.

Read more on Castles in Luxembourg, Museums in Luxembourg, Top things to do in Luxembourg, Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg, Luxembourg Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Luxembourg, Wikitravel Luxembourg, World Heritage Site in Luxembourg and Wikivoyage Luxembourg.





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© Burmesedays/cc-by-sa-3.0

Malta
Malta is an island country in the Mediterranean Sea that lies south of the island of Sicily, Italy. The country is an archipelago, with only the three largest islands (Malta, Gozo, and Kemmuna or Comino) being inhabited. The country is host to 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Although small, Malta has a vast and rich history, with evidence for habitation going back to the Neolithic era (5th millennium BC). The country boasts the world’s most ancient standing buildings (the Neolithic temples), and its strategic location and good harbours in the middle of the Mediterranean have attracted Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Crusaders, the French and finally the British, with the colonial period lasting until 1964. The Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitallers and Knights of Malta, took over sovereign control of Malta in 1530, and by 1533 the Order had built a hospital at Birgu (one of the Three Cities) to care for the sick. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, mounted a great siege of Malta with a fleet of 180 ships and a landing force of 30,000 men. In response the Order, with only 8,000 defenders, drove the Ottoman Turks away after a hard siege of several months. After this siege, the Order founded the city of Valletta on a peninsula, and fortified it with massive stone walls, which even withstood heavy bombing during the Second World War. By 1575 the Order had built a new large hospital known as the Grand Hospital or Sacred Infirmary in order to continue with its primary mission of caring for the sick. In 1798, the French under Napoleon – en route to Egypt – took the island on 12 June, without resistance, when the Grand Master of the Order capitulated after deciding that the island could not be defended against the opposing French naval force. French rule lasted a little over 2 years, until they surrendered to the British Royal Navy, under Admiral Nelson’s command, in September 1800. Malta became a British colony in 1815, serving as a critical way station for ships and the headquarters for the British Mediterranean Fleet. It played an important role in the Allied war effort during the Second World War, and was subsequently awarded the George Cross for its bravery in the face of an Axis siege. The George Cross continues to appear on Malta’s national flag. Following intense negotiations, the British Parliament passed the Malta Independence Act in 1964, giving Malta independence from the United Kingdom as the State of Malta, with Elizabeth II as its head of state and queen. The country became a republic in 1974 (History of Malta and Culture of Malta).

The regions of Malta are:

  • Malta Island: the largest of Malta’s three islands and site of the capital city of Valletta, it sees the most visitors by a huge margin.
  • Comino: tiny island with a real feel of isolation; most of it is a nature reserve.
  • Gozo: known for its scenic rolling hills and rich history.

There are a number of Maltese cities (cities in Malta). Here are ten of its most famous:

  • Valletta – the capital, named for Jean Parisot de la Valette, a French nobleman who was Grand Master of the Order of St. John and leader of the defenders during the Turkish siege of Malta in 1565. Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage site for the massive number of historical buildings found in a tiny space.
  • Cottonera (Three Cities) – The name used when referring to the three historic and ancient cities of Birgu (aka Vittoriosa), Isla (aka Senglea) and Bormla (aka Cospicua), three towns conglomerated by 16th century fortifications called the Cottonera lines.
  • Marsaxlokk – fishing village south of the island. A big market is held every Sunday.
  • Mdina – Malta’s well-preserved quiet old capital, pronounced ‘im-dina’.
  • Mosta – 3rd largest city (in population) of Malta.
  • Rabat – hosts numerous historical attractions such as St. Paul’s catacombs and the Domus Romana (previously known as Roman Villa).
  • St. Julian’s – perfect area for nightlife & entertainment.
  • Sliema – shopping area just north of Valletta.
  • Victoria – the main town on Gozo.
  • Żejtun – the largest city in the south of Malta and one of the oldest cities in Malta.

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Malta) are:

  • Hagar Qim and Mnajdra – Two very beautiful stone age temples set on the cliffside of south west Malta.
  • Ġgantija – Another Neolithic heritage in the island of Gozo.
  • Tarxien Temples – A Neolithic temple in Tarxien.
  • Mellieħa – A locality in Malta surrounded by the largest and some of the most wonderful sandy beaches on the Islands.
  • Golden Bay – One of Malta’s most beautiful sandy beaches, on the northwest coast of the island; the Radisson Hotel overlooking it damages the view somewhat, unless you’re looking at the view from inside the hotel.
  • Għajn Tuffieha – “Apple spring”, aka “Long Steps Bay”, just behind Golden Bay. Just as beautiful or even more (unspoiled panorama), and even less crowded during the high season.
  • Blue Grotto – A series of seven caves and inlets on the southern side of Malta famous for deep blue waters and spectacular natural rock formations. The Blue Grotto may be accessed by small traditional boats, skippered by cheerful Maltese guides, which leave from a well-signposted pier just off the main road along the south coast.
  • Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni – A subterranean structure dating from 3000-2500 BC. Advanced booking is required.
  • Ghar Dalam – A prehistoric cave containing remains from the Pleistocene era.
  • Clapham Junction – An area of western central Malta (not far from Buskett woods) where deep ruts in the bedrock appear to have been formed in the remote past by wagons or carts. Some of these ruts cross rock-cut punic tombs, proving that the ruts existed before the tombs. In the vicinity there are large caves which used to be inhabited by troglodytes.
  • St.Thomas Bay – A quaint inlet, 1 km beyond Marsaskala, with a sloping, built up area on one side, and barren Munxar white cliffs on the other. There are 2 small sandy beaches ideal for swimming in summer. Beneath Munxar there is now a ‘window’ at the cliffside. Beyond Munxar Point there are amazing, very high, white cliffs, with 2 large and deep caves in them. Many amateur fishermen own boathouses in the vicinity and go fishing whenever the sea is calm.
  • St.Peter’s Pool – A natural inlet in the south of Malta, Delimara area. It looks like a natural swimming pool carved into the rocks.
  • Mosta Dome – the third largest dome in Europe and the ninth largest dome in the world. On April 9, 1942, a bomb struck the church whilst a religious ceremony was taking place with more than 300 people attending, but the bomb didn’t explode.
  • Manoel Island – is found in Gzira and is rarely used for some events/activities.

Read more on Fortifications of Malta, Museums in Malta, Top 10 day trips in Malta, Royal Opera House, Manoel Theatre, Malta Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Malta, Wikitravel Malta, World Heritage Sites in Malta and Wikivoyage Malta.





© Globe-trotter/cc-by-sa-3.0

© Globe-trotter/cc-by-sa-3.0

Netherlands
The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland) is a charming small country in the low-lying river delta of northwestern Europe. Its landscape of famously flat lands, much of it reclaimed from the sea, is dotted with windmills, blooming tulip fields and picturesque villages. With over 17 million people living in a relatively small area, this is a densely populated modern European country. Still, even the largest of its cities have retained a rather laid-back small-town atmosphere and many are packed with historic heritage. The country is commonly referred to as Holland, but this name refers only to two of its twelve provinces and is unpopular among Dutch people who aren’t from North or South Holland. After the Eighty Years’ War that led to the country’s de facto independence from Spain in 1581 (recognised de jure by Spain in 1648), the Netherlands became a great naval power and one of the world’s most powerful nations in a period known as the Dutch Golden Age. Because of its naval and trading history, this small nation boasts a wealth of cultural heritage visible in many towns across the country. This period also constituted a cultural peak that produced renowned painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer. Their works and many others fill the top-class Dutch museums that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Over the course of centuries, the Netherlands has gained a reputation for tolerance and progressivism: the country was the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriage and Dutch people generally have an open attitude to cannabis and prostitution. As a founding member of the EU and NATO and host to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands is at the heart of international cooperation. The country is host to 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (History of the Netherlands and Culture of the Netherlands).

The Netherlands is a parliamentary monarchy, administratively divided into 12 provinces (provincies). Even though the Netherlands is a small country, these provinces are relatively diverse and have plenty of cultural and linguistic differences. It is customary to divide them into four regions:

  • Western Netherlands (Flevoland, North Holland, South Holland, Utrecht): This is the heart of the Netherlands with its four biggest cities and the typical Dutch countryside, with many monuments of the famous water management. Most of the region is commonly called the Randstad, referring to its urbanisation.
  • Northern Netherlands (Drenthe, Friesland, Groningen): The least densely populated area, mostly unexplored by foreigners, but popular among the locals. The West Frisian Islands are excellent destinations for a few days out, as are the Frisian Lakes.
  • Eastern Netherlands (Gelderland, Overijssel): Home to the largest national park of the Netherlands, Hoge Veluwe National Park, as well as the beautiful Hanzesteden, seven medieval cities along the IJssel River with a traditional historic centre, such as Zutphen, Zwolle, Doesburg, among others.
  • Southern Netherlands (Limburg, North Brabant, Zeeland): Divided from the rest by its Catholic history shared with Belgium, carnival celebrations, beer culture and good food culture.

The Caribbean islands Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba are “special municipalities” fully integrated into the Netherlands proper. Beside the Netherlands proper, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten are constituent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands has many cities and towns of interest to travellers (cities in the Netherlands). Here are nine of the most notable ones:

  • Amsterdam — impressive architecture, lovely canals (grachten), museums and liberal attitudes.
  • Delft — historic unspoiled town with the world-famous blue and white ceramics.
  • Groningen — student city with a relaxed atmosphere and nightlife till the sun gets up.
  • The Hague (Den Haag) — the judicial capital of the world, the seat of government and the royal family.
  • Leiden — historic student city with the country’s oldest university and three national museums.
  • Maastricht — fortified mediaeval city showing the different culture, style and architecture of the south.
  • Nijmegen — the oldest city in the country, known for the Four Days Marches and its large student population.
  • Rotterdam — modern architecture, good nightlife, vibrant art scene and the largest port in Europe.
  • Rotterdam — modern architecture, good nightlife, vibrant art scene and the largest port in Europe.

These are some interesting destinations outside of the major cities (cities in the Netherlands):

  • Efteling — the Dutch equivalent of Disneyland, theme park with fairytale elements like elves and dwarves.
  • Hoge Veluwe National Park — perhaps the most visited national park, with heathlands, sand dunes and woodlands.
  • Keukenhof — World famous park for its flowers, with more than 800,000 visitors one of the most visited attractions in the country.
  • Kinderdijk — these windmills show the typical Dutch landscape in all its glory.
  • Schokland — old island evacuated in 1859, a well-preserved ghost village remains.
  • South Limburg — hilly green landscapes, picturesque villages, castles and orchards.
  • Texel — largest island suited for cycling, bird watching, walking, swimming and horse riding.
  • Zaanse Schans — open air museum with Dutch windmills and Zaan houses.
  • Zaanstreek-Waterland — typical Dutch villages and polders with clogs, wooden houses and windmills

Read more on Castles in the_Netherlands, Museums in the Netherlands, 15 Best Places to Visit in the Netherlands, Cultural icons of the Netherlands, Dutch National Opera, Netherlands Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Netherlands, Wikitravel Netherlands, World Heritage Sites in the Netherlands and Wikivoyage Netherlands.





© Burmesedays/cc-by-sa-3.0

© Burmesedays/cc-by-sa-3.0

Poland
Poland is a country in Central Europe with a rich and eventful history, colourful heritage reflected in the variety of monuments from different periods and very varied landscape, extending from the long Baltic Sea coastline in the north to the Tatra Mountains in the south. In between you will find lush primeval forests featuring fascinating species of animals including bisons in Białowieża; beautiful lakes and rivers ideally suitable for various watersports, the best known of which are in Warmińsko-Mazurskie; rolling hills; flat plains; and even deserts. Among Poland’s cities you can find the perfectly preserved Gothic old town of Toruń, Hanseatic heritage in Gdańsk and evidence of the 19th-century industrial boom in Łódź. While today Poland has a very homogenous society in terms of ethnicity, language and religion, over the centuries (when the erstwhile Republics of Poland encompassed a much different territory than today) it had been a very multi-cultural and ethnically varied country, for a period known as Europe’s most religiously tolerant. In particular, Poland held Europe’s largest Jewish population, which has been all but wiped out by the events of World War II, yet the immense heritage remains. Poland’s western regions, including large parts of Lower Silesia, Lubuskie and Zachodniopomorskie, as well as other regions, have been parts of neighbouring Germany at different periods of time. The natural border of mountain ridges separating Poland from its southern neighbours the Czech Republic and Slovakia did not stop the cultural influence (and periodic warring). Towards the east, today’s Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine have centuries ago formed a continuum within a single political entity, and the cultural evidence of it can be found closer to the present-day borders. Lastly, while Poland now only shares only a small strip of border with Russia‘s Kaliningrad Oblast in the former’s northeastern corner, the entire eastern half of Poland used to be controlled by the Russian Empire, leaving behind many traces in both culture and built heritage. Despite losing a third of its population, including a disproportionally large part of its elites, in World War II, and suffering many economic setbacks as a Soviet satellite state afterwards, Poland in many ways flourished culturally in the 20th century. Paving the way for its fellow Soviet-block states, Poland had a painful transition to democracy and capitalism in the late 80s and 90s. In the new millennium, Poland joined the European Union and has enjoyed continuous economic growth unlike any other EU country. This has allowed it to markedly improve its infrastructure and had a profound effect on its society, who again became quite cosmopolitan but remained as hospitable as it has traditionally been. Creative and enterprising, Poles continually come up with various ideas for events and festivals, and new buildings and institutions spring up almost before your eyes, so that every time you come back, you are bound to discover something new. The country is host to 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (History of Poland and Culture of Poland).

Poland’s administrative regions are called województwa, abbreviated “woj.”. The word is translated as voivodeship or province:

  • Central Poland (Łódzkie, Mazowieckie): Central Poland is focused around the capital city of Warsaw and the large city of Łódź with rich textile manufacturing heritage.
  • Southern Poland (Małopolskie, Śląskie): Home to spectacular mountain ranges, the world’s oldest operating salt mines, fantastic landscapes, caves, historical monuments and cities. The magnificent medieval city of Kraków is Poland’s most-visited destination, while the Silesian conurbation is the largest in the country.
  • Southwestern Poland (Dolnośląskie, Opolskie): Colorful mixture of different landscapes. One of the warmest regions in Poland with the very popular, dynamic city of Wrocław. Within this region you will find Polish, German and Czech heritage.
  • Northwestern Poland (Lubuskie, Wielkopolskie, Zachodniopomorskie): A varied landscape, profusion of wildlife, bird-watcher’s paradise and inland dunes. Much of this part of Poland belonged to Germany for centuries, which shaped its heritage.
  • Northern Poland (Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Pomorskie, Warmińsko-Mazurskie): Home to Poland’s attractive seaside; sandy beaches with dunes and cliffs; lakes, rivers and forests.
  • Eastern Poland (Lubelskie, Podkarpackie, Świętokrzyskie, Podlaskie): Very green area filled with lakes. It offers unspoiled nature and the possibility of camping in beautiful countryside. Unique primeval forests and picturesque rivers (e.g. Biebrza river) with protected bird species make the region increasingly interesting for tourists.

Poland has many cities and towns of interest to travellers (cities and towns in Poland). Here are nine of the most notable ones:

  • Warsaw — capital of Poland, and one of the EU’s thriving new business centres; the old town, nearly completely destroyed during World War II, has been rebuilt in a style inspired by classicist paintings of Canaletto.
  • Gdańsk — formerly known as Danzig; one of the old, beautiful European cities, rebuilt after World War II. Located in the centre of the Baltic coast, it’s a great departure point to the many sea resorts along the Baltic coast.
  • Katowice — central district of the Upper Silesian Metropolis, both an important commercial hub and a centre of culture.
  • Kraków — the “cultural capital” of Poland and its historical capital in the Middle Ages; its centre is filled with old churches, monuments, the largest European medieval market-place – and now with trendy pubs and art galleries. Its city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Lublin — the biggest city in Eastern Poland, it has a well-preserved old town with typical Polish architecture, along with unusual Renaissance elements (the so-called Lublin Renaissance).
  • Łódź — once renowned for its textile industries, the “Polish Manchester” has the longest walking street in Europe, the Piotrkowska Street, full of picturesque 19th-century architecture.
  • Poznań — the merchant city, considered to be the birthplace of the Polish nation and church (along with Gniezno); presents a mixture of architecture from all epoques.
  • Szczecin — most important city of Pomerania with an enormous harbour, monuments, old parks and museums.
  • Wrocław — an old Silesian city with great history; placed on 12 islands, it has more bridges than any other European town except Venice, Amsterdam and Hamburg.

Other destinations of touristic significance (tourism in Poland):

  • Auschwitz-Birkenau — An infamous complex of extermination and slave labour camps that became the centre of the holocaust of Jews during World War II.
  • Białowieża National Park — a huge area of ancient woodland straddling the border with Belarus.
  • Bory Tucholskie National Park — national park protecting the Tucholskie Forests.
  • Kalwaria Zebrzydowska — monastery in the Beskids from 1600 with Mannerist architecture and a Stations of the Cross complex.
  • Karkonosze National Park — national park in the Sudety around the Śnieżka Mountain with beautiful waterfalls.
  • Malbork — home to the Malbork Castle, the beautiful huge Gothic castle made of brick and the largest one in Europe.
  • Słowiński National Park — national park next to the Baltic Sea with the biggest dunes in Europe
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine — the oldest still existing enterprise worldwide, this salt mine was exploited continuously since the 13th century.
  • Wielkopolski National Park — national park in Greater Poland protecting the wildlife of the Wielkopolskie Lakes.

Read more on Castles in Poland, Registered museums in Poland, Top 10 things to do in Poland, Theatre of Poland, National Theatre, Grand Theatre, Poland Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Poland, Wikitraval Poland, World Heritage Sites in Poland and Wikivoyage Poland.











© Peter Fitzgerald, Shaundd, Rei-artur, Joan M. Borràs, Voll/cc-by-sa-4.0

© Peter Fitzgerald, Shaundd, Rei-artur, Joan M. Borràs, Voll/cc-by-sa-4.0

Portugal
Portugal is a country on the western edge of the Iberian peninsula, bordering Spain. Despite its small land area, it has many landforms and climates between the Atlantic coast and the mountains. The country is host to 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Portugal is 900 years old and despite being a relatively small country, played a crucial role in world history. Its borders have remained the same longer than any other European country’s, and it maintains the longest existing alliance in the world (since 1386) with the United Kingdom, known as the “Treaty of Windsor”. So in otherwise neutral Portugal, this alliance was invoked during World War II, allowing the British to establish a military base in the Azores; that base later served as a staging point for British troops headed to the Falklands War. Towards end of the 14th century, Prince Henry the Navigator from his Escola de Sagres promoted and sponsored the maritime exploration of the Atlantic Ocean, finding the archipelagos of Madeira, Azores, reaching Greenland and later on leading to the founding of settlements in Terra Nova (Newfoundland), Lavrador (Labrador) and the west coast of Africa. After his death, successors continued to voyage further and further throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, enabling Portugal to begin a major chapter in world history with the New World Discoveries (Descobrimentos) and monopoly over trade between the Orient and Western Europe. Portugal established the Cape Route to India, and colonised the Madeira and Azores archipelagos. To consolidate imperial supremacy, Portugal established a chain of fortified military towns and trading outposts that eventually linked in Africa (Ceuta, Canary Islands, Ivory Coast, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, São Tomé e Príncipe, Zaire, Angola, Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Mozambique, Zanzibar, Mombasa etc.), South America (Brazil, Caribbean, parts of Argentina and Uruguay), Asia (Hormuz, Goa, Bombay, Macau, Ceylon, Malacca, Phuket), and Oceania (Sumatra, East Timor, Flores, Moluccas, Papua New Guinea, etc), creating an empire covering most of the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean and parts of the South China Sea and Southwest Oceania. Additionally, after reaching Japan in mid 16th century, Portuguese sailors explored vast areas of the Pacific Ocean resulting in 1571, the Japanese port city of Nagasaki being established by the Portuguese and local lords, to handle the new trade demand. The Portuguese language continues to be a shared heritage of most of these countries, while Roman Catholicism remains the dominant religion throughout much of the former Portuguese Empire. During the second half of the 16th century, the Portuguese Crown entered a succession crisis with the loss of the young heirless king, Dom Sebastião, at the battle of “Alcacér-Quibir”. As a result of the crisis, the Portuguese nobility keen to avoid a civil war, reluctantly agreed to unify Portugal with Spain under the crown of King Phillip II, thus creating the period of “Iberian Union” which lasted from 1580 to 1640. During the union period, the Portuguese Empire interests were negatively affected, because of the rivalry between Spain and England, as well as Madrid’s disinterest in Portugal’s overseas matters. Furthermore, much of Portugal’s overseas maritime/naval capacity and resources were disrupted with the commissioning and redirection of its vessels towards the Great Armada preparations for the invasion of Britain, which had disastrous consequences for Spain and Portugal. By then, as a result of the belligerence, the Treaty of Windsor had been suspended, while at the same time the Netherlands seized the opportunity to gain footholds in Portuguese Empire territories of South America, Africa and Far East. Portugal regained its independence from Spain in 1640, and to re-enforce its world position, the wedding of the British King Charles II to Princess Catherine of Bragança was celebrated. However, despite Portugal regaining most of the territories previously lost to the Netherlands, this royal wedding marked the beginning of a slow decline in Portugal’s scientific eminence and domination of world affairs. The expulsion of the remaining unconverted Jewish community also played an important role in this decline. Nevertheless, at the end of the 17th century, a period of stabilisation followed and gained momentum during early 18th century, after the discovery of large deposits of gold and diamonds in Brazil. As a result of the new wealth flowing into the national treasury, the Portuguese Crown was able to finance many major projects to develop and modernise the country and some overseas possessions. Amidst this new period of rejuvenation, in 1755, on the 1st of November, the Great Lisbon Earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the Portuguese Empire’s capital. The effects were such that victims were recorded as far afield as Morocco. Of the estimated more than 200,000 Lisbon inhabitants, at least some 40,000 perished. Between the initial quake (estimated to be of around 8.5 degrees) and subsequent aftershocks, flooding and fires, about 60% of all buildings and structures were lost together with art, archives, libraries, factories, businesses, etc. The national GDP dropped an estimated 40%, marking the start of another national crisis compounded by the expelling of the Jesuit and other religious orders and with it many academics and scientists of the day. At the beginning of the 19th century, as a result of France’s European wars and expansion conflicting with the British Empire and their allies, the country was invaded by Napoleon’s army, throwing the Portuguese monarchy and rest of the country into chaos at all social and economic levels. The Royal Family and most of the nobility left Lisbon and settled in Rio de Janeiro, in self-imposed exile. Even after the Peninsular War ended in defeat for the French, the country nevertheless failed to recover and went from crisis to crisis almost continually until the beginning of the 20th century, with the loss of Brazil in 1822 and the scramble for Africa in the 1880s severely curtailing the Portuguese Empire’s size and power. In 1910, the republican movement overthrew the monarchy and established a republic. However, the new republic continued to lurch from crisis to crisis, reaching a near collapse by the mid 1920s. At this time, the military intervened and asked Professor Oliveira Salazar, a well-reputed economist from Coimbra University, to take control of the nation’s economy and help guide the country to prosperity. By the early 1930s, Portugal had stabilised and Salazar’s role was reinforced by the establishment of a corporatist authoritarian one-party state which prioritised balancing the books over social needs. Although Portugal registered phenomenal economic growth from the 1950s onwards, the corporatist regime or Estado Novo (New State) gradually became unpopular due to its undemocratic handling of government affairs. In response, the New State implemented a regime of repression against any opposition which resulted in independence movements appearing in Portugal’s overseas colonies, culminating in a prolonged colonial war. Coupled with a growing discontent within its own continental metropolitan population, the regime’s authority was further undermined. Internationally, the national prestige suffered severe setbacks at the UN due to the regime stubborness in not allowing democracy to gain inroads, Amnesty International is created in early 1960’s as a result of PIDE/DGS arresting several dissenting students from Coimbra University. By April 1974 a military left leaning coup d’état organised mostly by junior army officers backed by popular support managed to depose the regime, and after a brief period ruled by a military junta, Portugal eventually became a free democracy. During that period, the overseas colonial wars in Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique came to a sudden end, culminating in the independence of all Portuguese African possessions (the Azores and Madeira, technically, were never “colonies”). However, as a result of poor and uncoordinated political and economical leadership in the post revolutionary period, the country quickly stagnated again. After the wave of state nationalizations came to an end and more liberal and balanced economical policies begun to be implemented in the late 1970’s, Portugal gradually began to get used to a more democratic way of life and prosper. The decision to join the EEC, now the EU, enabled the country to approach European standards of development after 1986. Since then, Portugal and its people has managed to modernize and develop itself despite some serious set backs like the sovereign debt crises of 2007/8 (History of Portugal and Culture of Portugal).

The regions of Portugal are:

  • Northern Portugal: A historic region that is considered the birthplace of the nation. Includes the second largest city, Porto. The region is also famed for its natural reserve of Gerês, Vinho Verde (green wine), the Douro river valley steep slopes covered in stepped in wine cultivations, isolated mountain regions and archaeological prehistorical sites around the Mogadouro area.
  • Central Portugal: Includes Coimbra, which houses one of the oldest universities in Europe, the Catholic pilgrimage site of Fátima, and also Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain in continental Portugal, serra da Lousã and Caramulo, São Pedro do Sul thermal spas, Bairrada and the Dão wine region, the Mondego river system as well as most of the Estremadura coast and a major access road to the rest of Europe via the Vilar Formoso border crossing into Spain. The south of central Portugal, formerly Ribatejo and Estremadura, is home to the “Campino” or Portugal cowboys. The region main city’s are Santarém, Vila Franca’s de Xira and Nazaré on the Atlantic coast. The old cattle ranching way of life go hand in hand with the Lusitano horse breeding traditions that can be traced thousands of years back in history. The town of Golegã is the main horse trading center in the country. It organizes a yearly horse and cattle trade fair and festival every November, with roots going back to the pre-Punic War period.
  • Lisbon Region: Much more than just Lisbon, the capital and largest city, the densely-populated region around the mouth of the river Tagus at the Atlantic Coast includes such famed tourist destinations as Sintra or Cascais as well as the South bank regions of Montijo, Barreiro, Setúbal, Palmela and the beach resort town of Tróia. Access to the Southern side can be through the 25 de Abril suspension bridge on the West side or via the Vasco da Gama bridge in East, spanning the Tagus estuary over 15 km in length, as well as on boats, known as the “Cacilheiros”.
  • Alentejo: The region literally called “beyond the Tagus river” is sparsely populated, known as the warmest in the country with the flatest terrain, celebrating its slow pace of life. While largely rural with large agricultal estates amidst rolling prairies, cork oak forests and olive tree groves, interesting cities and towns like the regional capital Évora dot the country side. Also, there are some prehistorical, Celtic-Iberian and Lusitanean culture archeological sites and monuments like menirs and “Antas”.
  • Algarve: The beaches and sun of Southern Portugal and Sagres in the southwestern tip, chosen by Prince Henry the Navigator, to set up his headquarters and launch Portugal’s maritime adventure.
  • Azores: A group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal, stands on the island with the same name.
  • Madeira: A sub-tropical archipelago that is made up of two populated islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two groups of unpopulated islands called the Desertas and Selvagens Islands.

Portugal has many cities and towns of interest to travellers (cities in Portugal). Here are nine of the most notable ones:

  • Lisbon (Lisboa) – national capital, city of the seven hills
  • Aveiro – the “Venice” of Portugal
  • Braga – city of Archbishops
  • Coimbra – home of the ninth oldest university in the world.
  • Évora – “Museum City”, Alentejo regional capital.
  • Funchal – the capital of Madeira.
  • Guimarães – the founding place of the nation.
  • Porto – the northern capital, “Invincible City”, along the river Douro and the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Viana do Castelo – famous for the Nossa Senhora da Agonia Festival.

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Portugal) are:

  • Fátima – the world-famous city due to the phenomenon of the Virgin Mary apparitions.
  • Nazaré – the village that entered in the Guinness Book of Records by its gigantic sea waves.
  • Cabo da Roca – the westernmost point of mainland Portugal and European continent, near Cascais.
  • Côa Valley – Prehistoric archaeological area and a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Óbidos – a popular destination due to its walled hilltop medieval castle.
  • Peneda-Gerês National Park – Portugal’s only national park.
  • Serra da Estrela – Portugal’s highest mountain range.
  • Sintra – A UNESCO-listed village with several old palaces and fortresses.

Read more on Castles in Portugal, Museums in Portugal, Teatro Nacional D. Maria II, São João National Theatre, Places in Portugal, Portugal Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Portugal, Wikitravel Portugal, World Heritage Sites in Portugal and Wikivoyage Portugal.





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© Burmesedays/cc-by-sa-3.0

Romania
Romania is a country on the western shores of the Black Sea; except for Dobruja, it is north of the Balkan Peninsula. It is a country of great natural beauty and diversity and a rich cultural heritage, including a variety of ethnic, linguistic, and confessional groups. Romania enchants visitors with its scenic mountain landscapes and unspoilt rural areas, but also with its historic cities and busy capital. It has seen significant development and is one of the most recent members of the European Union. Still, it may surprise some of its visitors who are used to western Europe. Romania is a large country which can sometimes be shocking with contrasts: some cities are truly modern, while some villages can seem to have been brought back from the past. While it has significant cultural similarities with other Balkan states, it is regarded as unique due to its strong Latin heritage, reflected in every part of Romanian society from its culture to its language. Things for which Romania is famous include: the Carpathian mountains, wine, medieval fortresses, Dacia cars, Dracula, stuffed cabbage leaves (sarmale), the Black Sea, sunflower fields, painted monasteries and the Danube Delta. Famous Romanians are Constantin Brâncuși (sculptor), George Enescu (composer, violinist, pianist, conductor), Mircea Eliade (writer, historian, philosopher), Herta Müller (writer), Henri Coandă (aviation pioneer – the Coandă effect is named after him), Nicolae Ceaușescu (Romania’s last communist dictator), Nadia Comăneci (gymnast), Gheorghe Hagi (former association football player) and Leonard Doroftei (former WBA world champion). With a Black Sea coast to the east, it is bordered by Bulgaria to the south, Serbia to the southwest, Hungary to the northwest, Moldova to the northeast and Ukraine in both the north and the east. While its southern regions are usually seen as part of Southeastern Europe (Balkans), Transylvania, its largest region, is in Central Europe. The country is host to 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The area between the Southern Carpathians and Danube had been inhabited since the dawn of mankind. The human remains found in Peștera cu Oase (“The Cave with Bones”), radiocarbon dated as being from circa 40,000 years ago, represent the oldest known Homo sapiens in Europe. In ancient times the territory of present-day Romania was inhabited mainly by Dacian tribes, which were a remarkable, although not very well known, culture. The Dacian kingdom reached the height of its power in the 1st century BC, when their king Burebista ruled from his power base in the Carpathian Mountains over a vast territory stretching from Central Europe to the Black Sea. The intriguing network of fortifications and shrines built around the Dacian capital Sarmisegetuza, in today’s south-western Transylvania, has been relatively well preserved through the ages and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 106 AD, after two fiercely fought wars, the Dacians led by king Decebalus were defeated by the Roman legions under Emperor Trajan and most of their homeland became part of the Roman Empire under the name “Dacia Felix”. Being very rich in natural resources (especially gold), the region prospered under the Roman administration: cities developed rapidly, important roads were built and people from all over the Empire settled here. That’s why, although Roman rule lasted only 169 years (106-275 AD), a population with a distinctive Latin culture, character and language emerged. In the Early Middle Ages Hungarians began to settle in the area today known as Transylvania, which would eventually become part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Germans also settled in that area (in several waves) and in Banat, some coming as early as the 12th century. In order to protect themselves from the frequent Tartar and Turkish invasions they set about building fortified cities and castles, many of which remain standing. South and east of the Carpathians the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were created in the 14th century. Starting with the 15th century, they (and for a while Transylvania too) fell under the domination of the Ottoman Empire. For a short period in 1600, Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazu) ruled over all three principalities, thus briefly becoming the de facto ruler of a unified Romania. His union fell apart a short while later. A Romanian national revival movement started in Transylvania in the late 1700s and swept across the Carpathians, inspiring the 1859 union of Moldavia and Wallachia, thus creating the prototype of a modern Romania. In 1918-1919 Transylvania and Eastern Moldavia (present-day Republic of Moldova) were united with Romania. In 1940, after losing part of its territory (Eastern Moldavia and northern Bukovina) to the USSR as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Romania joined the Axis powers and participated in the 1941 German invasion of the USSR. 855,000 Romanian soldiers, airmen and sailors fought all the way to Stalingrad and Caucasus Mountains and then retreated alongside the German Army while suffering more than 30% casualties. Three years later, overrun by the Soviets, Romania signed an armistice. From August 1944 until 9 May 1945, two Romanian armies, 540,000 strong, fought on the side of the Allies against the Axis powers and liberated parts of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria while suffering over 160,000 casualties. Except for Germany, Romanian armed forces exceeded all other combined Axis military on the Soviet front, and became the fourth largest Allied European contributor after the August 1944 armistice was signed (after USSR, USA and Great Britain). The post-war Soviet occupation led to the formation of a communist “people’s republic” in 1947 and the abdication of the king. Between 1947 and 1965, Romania was led by Gheorghiu Gheorghiu-Dej, who had a pro-Soviet stance throughout most of his administration. In 1965, he was succeeded by Nicolae Ceaușescu who was less enthusiastic towards the Soviet Union and maintained a more neutral foreign and domestic policy than his predecessor; but his Securitate police state became increasingly oppressive and draconian through the 1980s. Ceaușescu was overthrown and executed in late 1989. When the economic, social and political development is concerned, Romania is doing well in comparison to its neighbors (with the exception of Hungary), but it still has some ways to go to reach that level of development that is enjoyed by the Western Europeans (History of Romania and Culture of Romania).

The regions of Romania are:

  • Transylvania: It is the most famous region of Romania, with a very marked Hungarian (Szekely) and German (Saxon) heritage. A land of medieval castles and towns, dark forests, snowy peaks (especially those in Transylvanian Alps), but also vibrant cities.
  • Banat: This western-most province is probably the most economically developed in Romania. It has beautiful baroque cities and traditional German villages in the western plains and huge mountain forests in the eastern parts.
  • Oltenia: The south-western region, with impressive monasteries, caves and health resorts along the mountains in its northern part and a bizarre desert-like area in the south.
  • Southern Bukovina: This north-eastern region is famous for its world heritage listed Painted Monasteries, tucked away between picturesque rolling hills.
  • Maramureș: The northern-most region, it’s best known for its timeless villages, traditional wooden churches and beautiful mountain landscape.
  • Crișana: Located along the border with Hungary, this western region is the entry point for most travelers into Romania, who often neglect its Central-European style cities, numerous medieval sites and resorts on the western side of the Apuseni mountains.
  • Northern Dobruja: A seaside province dotted by ruins of ancient Greek and Roman cities, with various summer resorts along the Black Sea coast and the unspoiled natural landscape of the Danube Delta in the region’s north.the most ethnically diverse region with many small minority groups.
  • Moldavia: Certainly one of the most extraordinary regions in Romania, it offers a pleasant blend of historical cities, medieval fortresses, churches, wine and friendly locals.
  • Muntenia: Also known as Wallachia. The capital, Bucharest, is in this southern region, as well as the early residences of the Wallachian princes and the mountain resorts on the Prahova Valley. It is also the name of the old kingdom of leaders such as the notorious Vlad țepeș (The Impaler).

Romania has many cities and towns of interest to travellers (cities and towns in Romania). Here are nine of the most notable ones:

  • Bucharest — the capital of Romania, in which megalomanic monuments, including “House of the People”, built during Ceaușescu’s reign, overlook medieval neighbourhoods.
  • Brașov — located in south-eastern Transylvania, its main attractions are the well kept medieval downtown, the nearby luxury resort of Poiana Brașov and the proximity to the Râșnov fortress and the Bran Castle.
  • Cluj-Napoca — the largest town in Transylvania, a major economic center and also a very youthful city, as it has one of the largest universities in Europe.
  • Constanța — Romania’s main Black Sea port and one of the major commercial hubs in the region. The northernmost district, Mamaia, is one of the best Black Sea resorts.
  • Iași — the second largest Romanian city, it was the capital of the Moldavian principality until 1861 and then briefly capital of Romania. Today it remains one of the major economic and cultural centres in the country.
  • Sibiu — one of the most beautiful cities in the region, it has the best preserved historical sites in the country, numerous museums and exhibitions, proximity to the stunning Făgăraș mountains, for which reasons it became the 2007 European Capital of Culture.
  • Sighișoara — the city’s downtown area, the Sighișoara Citadel, is the last inhabited medieval citadel in Europe and one of the best preserved.
  • Suceava — the main city in Bukovina and the medieval capital of Moldavia; it can be used as starting point for visiting the Painted Monasteries of the region.
  • Timișoara — the largest town in the Banat region, one of the most prosperous and modernized cities in Romania; it was here that the 1989 Romanian anti-communist revolution began.

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Romania) are:

Read more on Castles in Romania, Museums in Romania, 15 Best Places to Visit in Romania, Romanian National Opera, National Theatre Bucharest, Romania Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Romania, Wikitravel Romania, World Heritage Sites in Romania and Wikivoyage Romania.







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Slovakia
Slovakia is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is surrounded by Austria to the west, Czech Republic to the northwest, Hungary to the south, Poland to the north and Ukraine to the east. Slovakia is a modern democratic country and is a member of the European Union. The main reasons to visit Slovakia are its natural beauty, vivid history and great opportunities for relaxation (and due to the small size of the country, it is quite easy to combine all three). Slovakia has nine national parks, which cover a relatively big portion of the country and feature the tallest part of the Carpathian Mountain Range, the High Tatras, which offer great opportunities for mountain and winter sports as well as great vistas. Geologically, a sizable part of Slovakia is made out of limestone, which in combination with many springs and rivers has resulted in formation of numerous caves (12 open to the public, several of which are UNESCO listed) and the beautiful rocky formations, canyons and waterfalls of the Slovak Paradise and Slovak Karst. Even outside these areas, there are some beautiful landscapes, and all of Slovakia is covered by thousands of well-marked hiking trails. For history lovers, Slovakia has the highest number of castles and chateaux per capita in the world, ranging from simple ruins to well-preserved habitable castles with furnishings, so if you are a fan of medieval history, look no further. There are also numerous Gothic and Baroque cities and towns across Slovakia, including the capital. There are also well-preserved examples of wooden folk architecture, including churches made entirely out of wood and the tallest wooden altar in the world. There are numerous mineral and thermal springs in Slovakia, and around some of these world-famous spas have been built that offer great curative therapies or just simple relaxation. You can also chill out, swim and sunbathe at the shores of several local lakes and pools or try AquaCity waterpark if you are feeling more adventurous. In particular, Bratislava boasts a lively nightlife as well and is a popular partying destination. The country is host to 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The area that is present-day Slovakia has been settled since early Paleolithic era. Before the inward migration of Slavs and Huns, the most important cultures were the Celts and Romans. To this day, artefacts and evidence of the presence of these cultures can be found. The Slavic tribes that invaded the area in the 5th century created a succession of influential kingdoms here. During this era, lasting until the 10th century when the Great Moravian Empire disintegrated, Slavs adopted Christianity and many medieval fort castles were built, ruins of some of which remain to this day. In the 10th century, Slovakia became a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, which, after 1867, formed an union with the Austrian Empire and became the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. This union, lasting until 1918, was a great influence on the shaping of the entire region. It was a multinational state with many cultures living together, and forms a common cultural history shared by many Central European nations. In 1918 the Slovaks joined the closely related Czechs to form the republic of Czechoslovakia. Interbellum Czechoslovakia was also a very diverse state with big ethnic minorities including Hungarians, Jews and German-speakers. There were even more native speakers of German in this country than there were ethnic Slovaks. During WWII, Czechoslovakia briefly split, with the Czech regions being occupied by the Nazis and Slovakia becoming a puppet state that collaborated with the Nazis under the leadership of Father Jozef Tiso. Following the chaos of World War II, Czechoslovakia became a communist country within the Soviet-ruled Eastern Bloc. Soviet influence collapsed in 1989 and Czechoslovakia once again became free. For many years overshadowed by their north-western Czech neighbors, political representatives of Czechs and Slovaks decided to strike out on their own. The Slovaks and the Czechs agreed to separate peacefully on 1 January 1993 and Slovakia became a country in its own right. This is known as the Velvet Divorce. Both countries remain close culturally and there is a high level of political and economic cooperation between the two. Historical, political, and geographic factors caused Slovakia to experience more difficulty in developing a modern market economy than some of its Central European neighbors, but now it boasts one of the fastest growing economies in Europe (History of Slovakia and Culture of Slovakia).

The regions of Slovakia are:

Slovakia has many cities and towns of interest to travellers (cities and towns in Slovakia). Here are nine of the most notable ones:

  • Bratislava — capital and the largest city of Slovakia with a beautifully restored historical centre full of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance churches, houses and palaces, cobblestone streets, fountains, pleasant cafes and lively and cosmopolitan atmosphere
  • Banská Bystrica — was one of the most important mining towns of Hungarian part of Austro-Hungarian Empire; beautiful restored square, many churches, castles and museums and memorial of the Slovak National Uprising
  • Košice — metropolis of the east, second biggest city of the country with the easternmost situated Gothic Cathedral in the World, the oldest European coat of arms, a great historical city centre with the Cathedral Complex, numerous churches, palaces and interesting museums.
  • Nitra — the oldest Slovak town, with beautiful castle and number of fairs
  • Poprad — the entryway into High Tatras
  • Rajecké Teplice — very peaceful spa town surrounded by magnificent Mala Fatra National Park
  • Trenčín — one of the most beautiful Slovak towns with a castle lying above the city overlooking the historical centre and the river Váh
  • Trnava — old Slovak town with the highest number of churches (12) and well preserved baroque architecture
  • Žilina — Fourth biggest city with a well preserved historical city centre influenced by German architecture and unique museum of the tinker´s culture located at the Budatín castle

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Slovakia) are:

  • Slovak Paradise National ParkSlovenský Raj consists of deep ravines and canyons created by the water cascading in waterfalls through the limestone.
  • High TatrasVysoké Tatry is the biggest national park in Slovakia and a centre of winter sports and hiking.
  • Vlkolínec — UNESCO heritage list village, preserving the character of a traditional Carpathian village.
  • Slovak Karst National Park – Slovenský kras, known for it’s cave systems, part of UNESCO world heritage.
  • Levoča — magnificent medieval pearl of the Spis region surrounded by town walls with a unique renaissance town hall, burger´s houses, numerous churches and St. James Cathedral where the biggest gothic wooden altar of the world is situated.
  • Bojnice — the most visited castle in Slovakia, almost intact with beautifully preserved interiors.
  • Piešťany — the most famous spa town in Slovakia.
  • Spiš castle — one of the largest castles in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Bardejov — is a spa town in North-Eastern Slovakia that exhibits numerous cultural monuments in its completely intact medieval town center and is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

Read more on Castles in Slovakia, Museums in Slovakia, 15 Best Places to Visit in Slovakia, Slovak National Theater, Slovakia Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Slovakia, Wikitravel Slovakia, World Heritage Sites in Slovakia and Wikivoyage Slovakia.







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© Shaund/cc-by-sa-4.0

Slovenia
Slovenia is a country in Central Europe that lies in the eastern Alps at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea, with Austria to the north, Italy to the southwest, Hungary to the northeast and Croatia to the south. Despite its small size, Slovenia has a surprising variety of terrain, ranging from the beaches of the Mediterranean to the peaks of the Julian Alps, to the rolling hills of the south. Slovenia was already more economically advanced than other nations behind the iron curtain prior to European integration and the powerhouse of Tito’s Yugoslavia. Contrary to the popular misconception, Slovenia was not a part of the Eastern bloc (not after the Yugoslavian notorious split with the Soviet Union in 1948). Added the fact that Slovenia is also home to some of the finest scenery in the “New Europe”, the transition from socialism to the European common market economy has gone well and serves as a model for other nations on the same track to follow. The country is host to 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Slavic ancestors of Slovenians came from eastern parts of Europe and inhabited territory north of present Slovenian territory in the 6th century AD. They established a state called Caranthania (Karantanija in Slovene), which was an early example of parliamentary democracy in Europe. The ruler (knez in Slovene) was elected by popular vote. The Caranthanians were later defeated by Bavarians and Franks, who subjugated them. They were Christianized, but they preserved many rituals of their pagan religion, and above all, they preserved their native language. The Slovene lands were part of the Holy Roman Empire and Austria under the Habsburg dynasty until 1918, when the Slovenes joined the Serbs and Croats in forming a new south-Slavic state ruled by Serbian Karađorđević dynasty called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians (“Kraljevina Srbov, Hrvatov in Slovencev” in Slovene), renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. In WWII, Slovenia was invaded and occupied by Germans, Italians and Hungarians, leading to a parallel civil war between pro-communist liberation forces (Partizani) and axis-sponsored anti-communist reactionary factions (“Belogardisti” and Domobranci). The victory of the Allies and consequently the Partizans resulted in a violent mass exodus of those who had fought with the occupying forces, including most of the native German and Italian minorities. After World War II, Slovenia became a republic in the reestablished Yugoslavia, which although Communist, distanced itself from the Soviet bloc and small territorial gains were made from Italy. Dissatisfied with the exercise of power in Belgrade, the Slovenes succeeded in establishing their independence in 1991 with minimal bloodshed. In 2004, Slovenia joined the European Union and NATO. Most recently, Slovenia adopted the euro in 2007, completing a quick and efficient accession to Europe and the EU (History of Slovenia and Culture of Slovenia).

Slovenia lies at the tripoint of the Germanic, Latin, and Slavic cultures, and Slovenes are fiercely proud of their culture. Two names you will run into over and over again are national poet France Prešeren (1800-1849), who penned (among other things) the Slovenian national anthem, and the architect Jože Plečnik (1872-1957), credited with Ljubljana’s iconic Tromostovje bridges and, seemingly, half the modern buildings in the country. It was the monks of the Catholic Church that kept Slovene alive over the centuries of relentless Germanization from the north. As a result Slovene survived in its unique form different than Serbo-Croatian to the south. Part of both the countryside and city architecture in Julian Alps shares a lot in common with neighboring Austria, including countless roadside shrines and pretty baroque steeples, giving the interior of the nation a truly alpine flavor. One could easily mistake parts of mountainous Slovenia for Tyrol, Salzburg or Bavaria. In modern times, industrial band Laibach (see box) has served to put Slovenia on the map. In the decades before them, Slavko Avsenik and his Oberkrainer (as known in German) did the same.

The regions of Slovenia are:

  • Coast and Karst: The southwestern corner of Slovenia with rolling hills, awe-inspiring caves and the country’s 47 km of coastline.
  • Julian Alps: The mountainous northwest with hiking, rafting, postcard pretty lakes and Mt Triglav, the symbolic heart of Slovenia.
  • Central Slovenia: The urban part with capital Ljubljana and the surrounding region.
  • Southeastern Slovenia: The region around the Krka and lower Sava Rivers.
  • Pohorje-Savinjska: Mountains in the north and the Savinja river valley.
  • Eastern Slovenia: The region around the Drava and Mura Rivers, with plenty of vineyards and a Hungarian influence in the east.

Slovakia has many cities and towns of interest to travellers (cities and towns in Slovakia). Here are nine of the most notable ones:

  • Ljubljana – the picturesque capital
  • Bled – romantic mountain lake complete with its own castle and island
  • Celje – one of Slovenia’s oldest cities
  • Koper/Capodistria – lovely Venetian city, largest on Slovenian coastline
  • Maribor – Slovenia’s second largest city
  • Nova Gorica – the city on the border with Italy
  • Piran/Pirano – gorgeous Venetian port
  • Postojna – Site of the gigantic Postojna caves
  • Ptuj – one of Slovenia’s oldest cities

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Slovenia) are:

  • Škocjan Caves — Less commercial than Postojna but similarly impressive, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Triglav National Park — Home to national symbol Mt. Triglav and mythical golden chamois Zlatorog.
  • Soča Valley — Soča river is with its emerald colour one of the most beautiful European Alpine rivers.

Read more on Castles in Slovenia, Museums in Slovenia, Top things to do in Slovenia, Ljubljana Slovene National Theatre Opera and Ballet, Ljubljana Slovene National Theatre Drama, Slovenia Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Slovenia, Wikitravel Slovenia, World Heritage Sites in Slovenia and Wikivoyage Slovenia.





© Peterfitzgerald - Penarc/cc-by-sa-3.0

© Peterfitzgerald – Penarc/cc-by-sa-3.0

Spain
Spain (España) shares the Iberian Peninsula with Andorra, Gibraltar, and Portugal. It has the second-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites after Italy and the largest number of World Heritage Cities. Spain is famous for its friendly inhabitants, relaxed lifestyle, its cuisine, vibrant nightlife, and world-famous folklore and festivities, and its history as the core of the vast Spanish Empire. With great beaches, mountains, campsites, ski resorts, superb weather, varied and fun nightlife, many cultural regions and historic cities, it is no wonder that Spain is the most popular tourist destination in Europe for any kind of trip. A country of large geographic and cultural diversity, Spain may come as a surprise to those who only know of its reputation for great beach holidays and almost endless sunshine. There is everything from lush meadows and snowy mountains to huge marshes and deserts in the south east. While summer is the peak season, those who wish to avoid the crowds should consider visiting in the winter as not only is it normally mild and sunny, attractions such as the Alhambra Palace in Granada and La Gran Mezquita in Cordoba will not be overcrowded. However the ski resorts of Sierra Nevada do get very crowded. The Mediterranean climate that predominates in Southern and Central Spain is noted for its dry summers and (somewhat) wet(ter) winters, so visiting in the winter or spring brings the added benefit of the vegetation looking much more healthy. Northern Spain (e.g. Asturias) on the other hand gets quite a bit of rain year round and is ripe with lush green vegetation even in August. The country is host to 46 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Modern humans first arrived in the Iberian Peninsula around 35,000 years ago. Iberian cultures along with ancient Phoenician, Greek and Carthaginian settlements developed on the peninsula until it came under Roman rule around 200 BCE, after which the region was named Hispania, based on the earlier Phoenician name Sp(a)n or Spania. At the end of the Western Roman Empire the Germanic tribal confederations migrated from Central Europe, invaded the Iberian peninsula and established relatively independent realms in its western provinces, including the Sueves, Alans and Vandals. Eventually, the Visigoths would forcibly integrate all remaining independent territories in the peninsula, including Byzantine provinces, into the Kingdom of Toledo, which more or less unified politically, ecclesiastically and legally all the former Roman provinces or successor kingdoms of what was then documented as Hispania. In the early eighth century the Visigothic kingdom fell to the Moors, who arrived to rule most of the peninsula in the year 726, leaving only a handful of small Christian realms in the north, lasting up to seven centuries in the Kingdom of Granada. This left to many wars during a long reconquering period across the Iberian Peninsula, which led to the creation of Kingdom of Leon, Kingdom of Castille, Kingdom of Aragon and Kingdom of Navarre as the main Christian kingdoms to face the invasion. Following the Moorish conquest, Europeans began a gradual process of retaking the region known as the Reconquista, which by the late 15th century culminated in the emergence of Spain as a unified country under the Catholic Monarchs. In the early modern period, the Spanish Golden Era flourished, as Spain became one of history’s first global empires due to the Spanish colonization of the Americas, leaving a vast cultural and linguistic legacy that includes over 500 million Hispanophones, making Spanish language the world’s second most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese (History of Spain and Culture of Spain).

Spain is a diverse country with contrasting regions that have different languages and unique historical, political and cultural traditions. Because of this, Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities (comunidades autónomas), plus two autonomous cities. Some of the autonomous communities—notably the ones which have other official languages alongside Spanish—have been recognised as “historical nationalities” that have a unique historical identity. These include the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, the Valencian region, Andalusia, the Balearic Islands, Aragon and the Canary Islands. Spain’s many regions can be grouped as follows:

Spain has hundreds of interesting cities (municipalities of Spain). Here are nine of the most popular:

  • Madrid — the vibrant capital, with fantastic museums, interesting architecture, great food and nightlife.
  • Barcelona — Spain’s second city, full of modernist buildings and a vibrant cultural life, plus nightclubs and beaches.
  • Bilbao — former industrial city, home to the Guggenheim Museum and other cultural features; main Basque city.
  • Málaga — the heart of flamenco with the beaches of the Costa del Sol.
  • Córdoba — Also called Cordova, The Grand Mosque (‘Mezquita’) of Cordoba is one of the world’s finest buildings.
  • Granada — stunning city in the south, surrounded by snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada, home of La Alhambra.
  • Seville — a beautiful, verdant city, and home to the world’s third largest cathedral.
  • Valencia — paella was invented here, has a very nice beach.
  • Zaragoza — also called Saragossa. The fifth largest city of Spain that held the World Expo in 2008.

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Spain) are:

  • Costa Blanca — 200 km of white coast with plenty of beaches and small villages.
  • Costa Brava — the rugged coast with plenty of seaside resorts.
  • Costa del Sol — the sunny coast in the south of the country.
  • Galicia — historic cities and small towns, world-famous seafood, and more Blue Flag beaches than any other autonomous community.
  • Gran Canaria — known as “a continent in miniature” due to its many different climates and landscapes.
  • Ibiza — a Balearic island; one of the best places for clubbing, raving, and DJs in the entire world.
  • La Rioja — Rioja wine and fossilized dinosaur tracks.
  • Mallorca — the largest island of the Balears, full of amazing beaches and great nightlife.
  • Sierra Nevada — the highest mountains on the Iberian Peninsula, great for walking and skiing.
  • Tenerife — offers lush forests, exotic fauna and flora, deserts, mountains, volcanoes, beautiful coastlines and spectacular beaches.

Read more on Castles in Spain, Museums in Spain, Attractions in Spain, Agri-tourism in Spain, 10 of the best rural retreats in Spain, Theatres and concert halls in Spain, Spain Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Spain, Wikitravel Spain, World Heritage Sites in Spain and Wikivoyage Spain.





© Saqib/cc-by-sa-3.0

© Saqib/cc-by-sa-3.0

Sweden
Sweden (Sverige) is the largest of the Nordic countries by size and population, with about 10 million inhabitants. It borders Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark via a bridge-tunnel across Öresund. Visitors can experience deep forests and many lakes, the heritage from the Viking Age and the 17th-century Swedish Empire, the glamour of the Nobel Prize, and the country’s successful pop music scene. The country is host to 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

In ancient times, Sweden was inhabited by the Suiones (svear) in Svealand and the Geats (götar) in Götaland. Some of these participated in Viking expeditions (see Vikings and the Old Norse), and are said to have founded the first kingdoms in Russia. Written sources from the Viking Age are few and short. Around AD 1000, Christianity replaced Norse paganism, Suiones and Geats united under one king (probably Olof Skötkonung), and the first cities were founded; among them Sigtuna, Uppsala and Skara. With Christianity came written chronicles and stone architecture, which have provided the afterworld with better historical detail than earlier remnants. Swedish kings christianized and annexed Finland. During the 14th and 15th century, Sweden was a subject of the Kalmar Union with Norway and Denmark. Gustav Vasa liberated Sweden from Danish rule, was elected as king in 1523, and is regarded as the founder of modern Sweden. He also reformed the church to Lutheran-Protestant. Today’s Sweden is a secular state with very few church-goers. During the 17th century Sweden rose as a Great Power, through several successful wars (such as the Thirty Years’ War), where kings such as Gustavus Adolphus and Charles X annexed Scania, Halland and Bohuslän from Denmark, as well as temporary possessions in the Baltic countries and northern Germany. In the early 18th century, an alliance of Denmark, Poland and the Russian Empire defeated Swedish king Charles XII, marking the end of the Swedish Empire. In 1809, Sweden was again defeated by Russia, which annexed Finland. The country has been at peace since 1814; the country has a high peace profile, with internationally renowned names such as Raoul Wallenberg, Dag Hammarskjöld, Olof Palme and Hans Blix. Sweden is a monarchy by constitution, but King Carl XVI Gustaf has no executive power. Sweden is a developed post-industrial society with an advanced welfare state. The standard of living and life expectancy rank among the highest in the world. Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, but decided by a referendum in 2003 not to commit to the European Monetary Union and the euro currency. Leadership of Sweden has for the larger part of the 20th century been dominated by the Social Democratic Party, which started out at the end of the 19th century as a labor movement (coalitions of centre-right liberal/conservative parties held the power 1976–1982 and 2006–2014). Sweden has a strong tradition of being an open, yet discreet country. Citizens sometimes appear to be quite reserved at first, but once they get to know who they are dealing with, they’ll be as warm and friendly as you’d wish. Privacy is regarded as a key item and many visitors, for example mega-stars in various lines of trade, have many times realized that they mostly can walk the streets of the cities virtually undisturbed (History of Sweden and Culture of Sweden).

The three traditional lands of Sweden, Götaland, Svealand and Norrland, are further divided into 25 provinces, landskap, which largely define Swedish people’s cultural identity. The provinces mostly coincide with the 20 counties, län, the mid-level political entities. The municipality, kommun, is the bottom-level political entity, typically consisting of a town or a city, and the surrounding countryside, including small villages. Some municipalities used to hold city (stad) privileges, and still style themselves as such, though there is no legal distinction. Most municipalities have their own visitor centre. Though Swedish people rarely have strong feelings for their country, most of them are patriotic for their province or hometown, and appreciate anything good that a traveller can say about them.

Sweden has many interesting cities (cities in Sweden). Here are nine of the most popular:

  • Stockholm is Sweden’s capital and largest city, spread out over several islands.
  • Gothenburg is Sweden’s largest port and industrial centre, second in population.
  • Karlskrona is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as the base for Sweden’s navy since the 17th century.
  • Kiruna is Sweden’s northernmost and maybe most unusual city; known for a large mine, a space flight centre, and the Jukkasjärvi ice hotel.
  • Linköping has a large university, and is the birthplace of Sweden’s aviation industry.
  • Malmö, with a quarter million inhabitants, is connected to the Danish capital Copenhagen by the Öresund Bridge.
  • Umeå is a university city in Norrland.
  • Uppsala is a lively pretty university city with a Viking Age heritage, the fourth largest city in Sweden.
  • Visby is the only city on the Gotland island, a Hanseatic League centre of commerce with an impressive city wall.

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in Sweden) are:

  • Abisko is a national park at Sweden’s northernmost edge.
  • Bohuslän is Sweden’s most productive fishery, rich in maritime wildlife.
  • Ekerö is a freshwater archipelago with the Royal family’s residence Drottningholm, and Viking Age settlement Birka.
  • Laponia is Western Europe’s largest wilderness, in the Arctic.
  • Siljansbygden is an archetype of Swedish folk culture in central Dalarna.
  • Stockholm archipelago consists of islands of all shapes and sizes.
  • Ystad is a picturesque waterfront town, known from the Wallander series.
  • Åre is one of Sweden’s largest ski resorts, with 44 lifts.
  • Öland is Sweden’s second largest island, with long beaches.

Read more on Castles and palaces in Sweden, Museums in Sweden, 25 amazing places to visit in Sweden, Swedish cultural institutions, Royal Swedish Opera, Royal Dramatic Theatre, Sweden Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Sweden, Wikitravel Sweden, World Heritage Sites in Sweden and Wikivoyage Sweden.





© TheBritishExplorer

© TheBritishExplorer

United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a constitutional monarchy comprising most of the British Isles. It is a political union of four nations: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, each of which has something unique and exciting to offer the traveller while remaining undeniably British. The UK is a diverse patchwork of native and immigrant cultures, possessing both a fascinating history and dynamic modern attractions. This is a country known for its eccentric and subversive popular culture, its creation of five major sports (golf, rugby, cricket, lawn tennis and, of course, football) and for having a music scene that may be the best in the world. Witness thousands of years of history – stone circles, castles, thatched cottages and palaces; in these islands the past comes alive. The capital and largest city is London, a truly global metropolis like no other, and many of the country’s other cities have much to offer. To understand their sheer diversity, compare genteel Oxford with brooding Edinburgh, gentrifying Manchester, sports-mad Cardiff, the cultural melting pot of Birmingham or newly thriving Belfast, while remembering these are but the tip of the iceberg. Although Britannia no longer rules the waves, it continues to be hugely influential in the wider world and welcomes over 30 million visitors to its shores each year. Whether you wish to walk in the steps of giants in Antrim, to immerse yourself in Celtic culture at Eisteddfod, to pound the streets of an English urban jungle, to climb, ski or snowboard Cairngorms-style or simply to dream of having tea with the Queen, there is something for everyone in the United Kingdom. The country is host to 31 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Great Britain, the largest island of the British Isles, has been inhabited since at least the last ice age, more than 10,000 years ago. Ireland is said to have been settled by modern humans around the same time, or perhaps slightly later. While little is known about the inhabitants of the stone age British Isles, the world famous monument of Stonehenge, and dozens of other surviving stoneworks around the islands, survive to this day as a testament to their legacy. The people of the British Isles were known as the Prettanoi by the Greeks, giving rise to the terms ‘British’ and ‘Britain’. Some three thousand years ago, the people started to become influenced by the Celtic languages and culture from mainland Europe. The islands were, over time, to become almost completely Celtic-speaking. Written history of Britain is generally understood to have begun with the Roman occupation of much of England and Wales, as well as the southern part of Scotland as the province of Britannia. Following the fall of the Roman garrison in Britain, the island was subsequently settled by waves of Germanic peoples, collectively known as the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons, as suggested by Oppenheimer, Sykes et al, made little impact genetically, but a very large impact socially. The Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton languages of today are known to be descended from the original language of the Britons. Modern-day English is primarily descended from the historical Germanic Saxon language with influences from Celtic, French, Latin and others. The British Isles eventually came to be ruled by separate kingdoms, with the Kingdom of England in the south, the Kingdom of Ireland in the west, and the Kingdom of Scotland in the north. The formerly independent Principality of Wales was absorbed into the Kingdom of England by two acts of the English parliament in 1535 and 1542 respectively. For many years, the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Scotland fought many wars for control over the whole of Great Britain. This was to come to an end in 1603 with the Union of the Crowns when the Scottish King James VI inherited the southern throne and styled himself King James I of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1707 the parliaments of England and Scotland (under English pressure) passed the Acts of Union (1707) abolishing a separate Scottish Parliament, although significant support for Scottish independence remains to this day. Despite losing the 13 colonies that became the United States of America after the American War of Independence (1775-1783), Britain continued to grow wealthy from trade and possessions in the East. In 1801, after both the British and Irish parliaments (under British pressure) passed the Acts of Union (1801), the enlarged kingdom became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (UK). Decisive victories over Napoleonic forces at the battles of Trafalgar in 1805 and, ten years later, Waterloo (in which Napoleon met his final defeat) cemented the UK’s place as one of the dominant political and military powers in the world. During the next 50 years the UK grew, under Queen Victoria, into the major world power and the leader of the Industrial Revolution, eventually possessing the largest empire the world had ever seen. At its widest extent in the early 20th century, the British Empire encompassed what is today, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, India, South Africa, Egypt and numerous other colonies in Asia, Africa and the New World. The United Kingdom and its allies were victorious during World War I, after which it gained many territories from the defeated Germany, Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary. Among those territories include what is today Samoa, Namibia and Israel. At its greatest extent, the British Empire was known as the empire on which the sun never sets, as its colonies covered every single time zone. Irish nationalists resisted British rule, driven in part by the Catholic-Protestant conflict. Eventually the United Kingdom agreed to grant self-government as the Irish Free State in 1922, with six of the northern counties without an overwhelmingly Catholic majority remaining part of the UK as Northern Ireland. The Irish Free State eventually severed all ties and became the Republic of Ireland in 1949. World War II became the turning point in the history of the British Empire. The German Third Reich, under Adolf Hitler, ignored British ultimatums not to invade Poland and the UK and France declared war. While the UK was victorious in the famous aerial Battle of Britain and was spared the fate of occupation by the Wehrmacht that befell its not-so-lucky neighbours of Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the Channel Islands, it was at a heavy cost with thousands of civilian casualties that even saw the destruction of the House of Commons chamber of Parliament. In addition, the UK lost much of its prestige in its overseas colonies, as most of its troops were tied up defending the UK against the Germans, and was unable to defend many of its Asian colonies in the Pacific War against the Japanese. Most notably, the garrisons at Hong Kong and Singapore, which were considered to be impregnable fortresses by the British government and public, ignominiously fell to the Japanese. Even though the Axis powers of Germany and Japan were eventually defeated, with the UK and its allies emerging victorious from World War II, it sparked the beginning of the end of the British Empire. The UK no longer had the resources to maintain control over such a large empire and they had lost the respect of the local people in their colonies due to their defeats by the Japanese. This allowed independence movements to gain traction and the UK granted independence to its colonies one by one. The last colony with significant population and economic importance, Hong Kong, was returned to China in 1997, an event which many called the “end of empire”. Despite having lost much of its power, the UK has remained a major player in world politics during and after the Cold War, and continues to exert its cultural influences throughout the world through institutions such as the BBC and the Commonwealth. The UK continues to hold a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council with the power of veto. London continues to be one of the most important cities in the world and, together with New York City, Hong Kong and Tokyo, is one of the world’s most important financial centres. The London Metropolitan Area is a ‘megalopolis’ and is the largest conurbation in the European Union, with a growing population at well over 13.5 million. In addition, the UK also continues to be one of the world’s major centres of higher education, being home to some of the world’s most prestigious universities such as the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge and attracts more international students than any other country in the world except the United States. The country narrowly voted to leave the European Union in the June 2016 referendum, in a process known as Brexit. The complexity and effort required for achieving a full divorce from the EU and its single market are significant and the implications are unknown, posing great challenges for the country’s economic and political future (History of United Kingdom and Culture of the United Kingdom).

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a union made up of the following home nations and territories:

  • England: The largest component, both in terms of size and, by far, population. “Green and pleasant land” it may be, England nonetheless has some of the most exciting and inspiring cities in the world, which exist alongside the “Merrie England” of rolling countryside, village greens and traditional pageantry.
  • Scotland: The second largest home nation occupies the northern third of Great Britain. Bagpipes, kilts and haggis may spring to mind, but the contrast between the remote beauty of the Islands, cosmopolitan grittiness of the Lowlands and desolate panoramas of the truly wild Highlands reveals the Scotland beyond the stereotype.
  • Wales: This hilly western peninsula of Great Britain is home to an ancient Celtic language and culture, spectacular sceneries of mountain, valley and coast, unique industrial heritage and some of the most impressive defensive castles in Europe.
  • Northern Ireland: In the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, consisting of six of the nine counties of the Irish province of Ulster. Despite being off the traditional tourist trail, Northern Ireland offers a colourful history, exceptional natural beauty, rapidly-developing cities and warmly welcoming inhabitants.

British Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories are non-sovereign territories under UK jurisdiction. However, they are not part of the UK or (with the exception of Gibraltar) the EU, and are mostly self-governing.

The UK’s overseas territories comprise Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctica, British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands and two Sovereign Military Bases (Akrotiri and Dhekelia) on Cyprus.

Many cities and towns in the United Kingdom are of interest to travellers (cities in the United Kingdom). Following is a selection of nine – others are listed under their specific regions:

  • London — the capital city of the United Kingdom is one of the most influential cities on Earth. Home to most of the UK’s principal tourist attractions, London’s landmarks are instantly recognisable the world over as symbols for Britain
  • Belfast — the capital of Northern Ireland is in the midst of an urban renaissance, and is fast becoming a popular tourist destination due in part to its reputation as being somewhat undiscovered, but also as testament to the unique character of this city and its inhabitants.
  • Birmingham — Once known as the “Workshop of the World”, the UK’s second largest city is still home to a strong industrial heritage, as well as great shopping and the famous Balti cuisine, a product of modern Britain’s multiculturalism.
  • Bristol — an historical city famed for its colourful Georgian architecture, impressive Victorian engineering landmarks and nautical heritage. These days Bristol is equally known for trip-hop music and a significant “foodie” culture.
  • Cardiff — the capital of Wales is equally proud of its coal-shipping past as of its rugby fandom. Come for Cymru’s top museums, stay for Cardiff Bay’s much-applauded regeneration.
  • Edinburgh — capital of Scotland and second most-visited city in the UK. In August it hosts the largest arts festival in the world; all year round, visitors admire Edinburgh’s illustrious history, stunning vistas and uniquely Scottish traditions.
  • Glasgow — Scotland’s largest city, home to great shopping and better architecture. Glasgow’s former status as European Capital of Culture hints at the strength of its creative arts scene and the beauty of its parks and gardens
  • Liverpool — home to The Beatles and famous for its prominence in music, sport and nightlife, there’s no place like Liverpool. The world’s greatest port for more than two centuries, the city played a regrettable role in the transatlantic slave trade, a fact not forgotten in its excellent art galleries and museums
  • Manchester — the archetypal “northern city” which has transformed itself from textile town to modern metropolis. Highlights include a thriving bohemian music scene, the Gay Village and the world’s only new work arts festival

Other destinations of touristic significance (Tourism in United Kingdom) are:

  • Giant’s Causeway — 40,000 basalt rocks rise spectacularly out of the sea at Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO site
  • Gower Peninsula — a picturesque corner of south west Wales, perfect for bracing walks along the coast
  • Hadrian’s Wall — Britain’s own Great Wall once defended Rome from the Pictish hordes
  • Isle of Arran — “Scotland in miniature” packs in mountain, sea, beach and forest and a geologically diverse terrain
  • Lake District National Park — the land of Wordsworth brings together England’s highest mountains and largest lakes
  • Loch Ness — The world’s most famous loch is definitely not home to anything out of the ordinary – or is it?
  • Peak District National Park — Britain’s first and most-visited national park , loved by millions for its beauty and accessibility
  • Snowdonia National Park — Wales’ answer to the Alps is the place in Britain for extreme outdoor pursuits
  • Stonehenge — these 4,500-year old stones still baffle archaeologists, inspire believers and enchant all manner of visitors

Read more on Castles in England, Castles in Ireland, Castles in Scotland, Castles in Wales, Museums in the United Kingdom, Top things to do in England, Top 10 Northern Ireland experiences, Top things to do in Scotland, Top things to do in Wales, Theatre of the United Kingdom, Theatres in the United Kingdom, Royal Opera House, Indoor arenas in the United Kingdom, Venues in the United Kingdom, Great Britain Tourism, LonelyPlanet.com Great Britain, Wikitravel United Kingdom, World Heritage Sites in the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories and Wikivoyage United Kingdom.


















Read more on The Guardian, 9 March 2019: 40 of the best beaches in Europe, The Guardian, 2 May 2019: 10 of the best railway hotels in Europe: readers’ travel tips, Europa.eu/YourEurope – Travel (documents, rights, security etc.), Pulse of Europe and europa.eu – Overview of EU Tourism Policy, VOLT Europa, United Europe and Pulse of Europe (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.



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Theme Week United Arab Emirates - Emirate of Fujairah

Theme Week United Arab Emirates - Emirate of Fujairah

[caption id="attachment_168476" align="aligncenter" width="590"] Al Bithnah Fort © Mike "fasmike" Che/cc-by-sa-3.0[/caption][responsivevoice_button voice="UK English Female" buttontext="Listen to this Post"]Fujairah is one of the seven emirates, and the only one of the seven that has a coastline solely on the Gulf of Oman and none on the Persian Gulf. The emirate of Fujairah covers approximately 1,166 km2, or about 1.5% of the area of the UAE, and is the fifth-largest emirate in the UAE. Its population is around 153,000 inhabitants; only the Emirate of Umm al-Quwain has fewer occupants. Fujai...

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The InterContinental Berchtesgaden Resort

The InterContinental Berchtesgaden Resort

[caption id="attachment_24359" align="aligncenter" width="590"] © ichotelsgroup.com[/caption][responsivevoice_button voice="UK English Female" buttontext="Listen to this Post"]At a height of 1,000 metres the scenery between Watzmann, Untersberg and Kehlstein, surrounded by Germany's one and only Alpine National Park, is simply impressive. Nesting in the midst of untouched nature the InterContinental Berchtesgaden Resort sits like a horseshoe among lush mountain pastures on the eastern outskirts of Berchtesgaden, just 30 kilometres from Salzburg. You will be intrigued by the rich local...

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Terra Sancta College on Keren HaYesod Street © Djampa/cc-by-sa-4.0
Theme Week West Jerusalem – Rehavia

Rehavia, also Rechavia, is an upscale West Jerusalem neighborhood located between the city center and Talbiya. The Prime Minister's Official...

Men's and women's prayer area © Daniel Case/cc-by-sa-3.0
Theme Week East Jerusalem – The Western or Buraq Wall

The Western Wall, Wailing Wall, or Kotel, known in Islam as the Buraq Wall, is an ancient limestone wall in...

© flickr.com - Ana Paula Hirama/cc-by-sa-2.0
Theme Week West Jerusalem – The Mamilla Mall

Mamilla Mall, also known as Alrov Mamilla Avenue, is an upscale shopping street and the only open-air mall in West...

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