Do you know Europe is the second-smallest continent in the world after Antarctica? Despite that, Europe is the global leader in international tourism, accounting for roughly two-thirds of international tourist arrivals worldwide. Well, it is hardly shocking if you dig deeper into everything Europe offers.
“That is so marvellous about Europe; the people long ago learned that space and beauty and quiet refuges in a great city, where children may play and old people sit in the sun, are of far more value to the inhabitants than real estate taxes and contractor’s greed.”
~ Ilka Chase
Even though being comparatively the smallest, Europe is the land of 44 countries, as per the latest data from the United Nations. If you trace the history, the European land sparked the first seeds of the most powerful civilisations of Rome and Greece. It birthed the two greatest empires to walk the world- the Roman Empire and the British Empire (setting in motion the wheel of civilisation and modernity), and gave the greatest gifts to humankind of art and philosophy through its Age of Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. Needless to say, living through such glorious centuries, Europe is a treat to the eyes whether it is about its historical sites, gastronomy, culture, architecture, beaches or simply, mother nature. Amongst the major attractions, some of its most famous gems are the Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum (France), St. Peter's Basilica (Vatican City), Colosseum and Pantheon (Rome), Leaning Tower of Pisa (Italy), Buda Castle (Hungary), Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany), and the Prague Castle (Czech Republic).
Considering the overflowing attractive European countries, tourHQ has handpicked the top 5 European countries, which have, time and again, been successful in being the top countries to be visited in the world (and not just Europe!).
France- The Land Of Light
Located in Western Europe, France is the most visited country, with an annual 82.6 million visitors, according to the 2019 data by World Tourism Barometer. (Please note that the data for 2020 and 2021 was affected by COVID-19 and so has not been taken into account.) It is truly a delight to lovers of art and history, a country that offers the space to romanticise life in itself!
“Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.”
~ John Berger
One of France’s Great Wonders of the World that needs no introduction is the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Do you know the Eiffel Tower was planned to be destroyed after 20 years of its construction? Yes, it was the initial plan. However, to preserve his masterpiece, the creator- Gustave, convinced the government of its scientific, astronomical and strategic uses. Moreover, the first English telegraph channel ran between the top point of the Eiffel Tower and the Pantheon. According to the 2019 official data, around 7 million tourists visit the Eiffel Tower annually.
Other excursions and activities to remember are: Leonardo’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum (world’s largest art museum), experience the English royal life at the Chateau de Versailles, have a heaven-like experience at the pilgrimage site on a rocky island- the Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel (popularly called the Pyramid of the Seas), hike the French Alps (you might as well take upon the challenge of trekking Mont Blanc, the highest peak amongst the Alps), or you can even take the cable car to Aiguille du Midi to see the vastly spread snow-covered Alps, marvel at the astonishing French architecture at the Cathedrale de Chartres, visit the lovely little village of Mougins to visit Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Vie (the place full of art galleries, where Picasso spent his ten artistic years), witness the neolithic and monolithic standing rock structures at the gardens of Britany, cycle through Alsace wine routes, indulge in challenging water sports in the clear green emerald waters of Gorge du Verdon, and enjoy the freeing nightlife at the Moulin Rouge in Paris while savouring France’s best delights, like the baguette and authentic croissants with a glass of wine.
Do you know? French gastronomy has been inscribed in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List of Humanity because the French meal is a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups.
Click here to find the best tour guides in France.
Spain- The Land Of The Setting Sun
With a total of 75.6 million visitors in 2019, Spain is the second most visited country in Europe. Full of grand castles, historic medieval towns, scenic trails, and exciting pub crawls, Spain promises a precious visit. You will be awe-struck by the architectural masterpieces of Antoni Gaudi-La Sagrada Familia and the Casa Batllo in Barcelona, which are also World Heritage Sites.
If you plan to visit Spain in winter, then one of the must-experience is skiing at one of Europe’s highest ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada. Other to-dos for your Spain trip are: take the international zipline that will take you from Spain to Portugal in a minute (crazy, right!), stroll through the marvellous luxurious royal rooms in the Royal Palace of Madrid, head to Alhambra on the hill al-sabika to enjoy breathtaking historic architecture and the panoramic view of Granada, admire the mesmerising beauty of the Alcázar of Seville, get an interesting sneak-peek into the funeral traditions at the Museu de Carrosses Fúnebres, explore the streets of Plaza Mayor, take in the serene vibes at the village Masca, and most importantly, remember to enjoy Spain’s signature marks of the flamenco show and the crazy bullfighting show.
We do have special recommendations for those crazy about Game of Thrones, visit Girona to see and recall the scenes from GOT, and for those seeking a great story to tell their friends, try walking on the King’s Little Pathway (1-metre wide pathway).
Did you know? The oldest restaurant in the world, El Restaurante Botín (as per the Guinness World Record), is located in Madrid, Spain.
Click here to find the best tour guides in Spain.
Italy- The Land Of Explorers
From being the birthplace of great explorers such as Marco Polo and Leonardo da Vinci to the air that witnessed the forever love story of Romeo and Juliet, Italy does not truly need an introduction! There are some must-experiences that you absolutely cannot miss when in Italy! For heritage travellers, you can visit the Colosseum of Rome, the world’s oldest and largest standing amphitheatre to date. Moreover, you definitely do not want to miss the open-air museum of Pompeii. Years back, because of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii was submerged in the ash until it was rediscovered- the site is still being restored. Today, you can see ancient baths, houses and other Roman relics that give a deep insight into the bygone era.
To make it interesting, you can even hike Mt. Vesuvius. It is a scenic trail through moon-like land, giving you panoramic views of colourful Italy. Apart from these, make your visit wholesome by visiting the ‘water city’ of Venice, walking through the Cinque Terre or the ‘Five Lands’ (World Heritage Site), witnessing the colourful nature canvas at Amalfi Coast, admiring Leonardo da Vinci’s artwork at Uffizi Gallery, strolling through Verona- said to be the land of Romeo and Juliet, immersing in the enlightening atmosphere of the Vatican city, discovering the ‘good-luck’ granting Trevi Fountain, and taking boat trips to the Blue Grotto and the Grand Canal.
Did you know? According to a report, tourists throw €1,000,000 into the Trevi Fountain (legend prevails that whosoever throws a coin is blessed with the good luck of returning back to the country) each year! (That's crazy!)
Click here to find the best tour guides in Italy.
Portugal- The Land Of Great Wine
For someone looking for a balanced blend of historical visits and refreshing breaks, Portugal is the perfect place for you.
Although the historical places are bountiful, some of the world-famous sites are the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (a former monastery, which is the best worldwide example of the Manueline Style of art), Torre de Belem (a watchtower sitting above the Tagus River constructed to keep an eye on invaders), the University of Coimbra (a historic university dating back to the 12th century), the World Heritage Site of Castle de Guimaraes (the place that witnessed the birth of Portugal’s first monarch), and most importantly, you can visit the archaeological ruins at Evora, dating back to around 60 BC, which has experienced the transition from the first Roman settlement to the Christian reoccupation of the land (around 13th century). The blend of Roman and Christian ruins you will see here is worth a visit!
However, it wouldn’t be wrong to say the one thing that defines Portugal is its World Heritage Site of the Alto Douro Wine Region, the world’s oldest "appellation contrôlée" [guaranteed origin] wine-growing region. Do not miss taking the wine tours while sipping the best wine!
Interestingly, to diversify your Portugal experience, go for bird-watching and scenic sightseeing at the Formosa National Park, witness the native culture at the Ribeira district, immerse in the soothing environment at the Cabo da Roca trails, take a scenic train ride over the river Tagus on the 25th of April Bridge, relax at the Matosinhos beach, and most importantly, visit Cabo De Sao Vicente to experience standing at the southernmost point of Europe, on a cliff, overlooking the vast expanse of ocean.
Do you know? Portugal is home to the oldest operating bookstore in the world- Livraria Bertrand, which is 290 years old!
Click here to find the best tour guides in Portugal.
“But Portugal has a peaceful feel about it. I sit on the terrace overlooking the vineyard there, and I feel cut off from the world. You need that sort of thing.”
– Cliff Richard
Turkey- The Land Of Spell-Bounding Architecture
The one place that can definitely offer you a sight of jaw-dropping architecture is Turkey. According to the 2019 data, Turkey received an annual inflow of 30 million annual visitors! Be it the mosaics and calligraphy of the Hagia Sophia Mosque, the designed pillars and courtyards of the Topkapi Palace, or the handmade Iznik tiles of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque), Turkey’s architectural display will spellbind you!
Additionally, while in Turkey, indulge in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of witnessing the whirling dervish dance show(listed as UNESCO Heritage of Humanity), go for an exciting experience in the Miniature Park, take that hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, sightsee the World Heritage Site of the Goreme Open-Air Museum, explore the surprising underground city of Kaymakli, taste the famous seafood at the avenues under the Galata Bridge, hike to Mt. Nemrut to see the unique statues of gods, go for a desert ATV ride experience in the Cappadocia deserts, see the Fair Chimneys- a symbol of Turkey, enjoy a wholesome picnic at the colourful Kursunlu Falls and immerse in the cultural vibes at the Grand Bazaar of Turkey.
Moreover, considering that Turkey is truly an ancient land because of the ancient treasures that it has very well-preserved, you can visit the Anatolian Civilizations Museum with your guide.
Do you know? Turks were so extremely fond of coffee that until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, not providing coffee was actually considered sufficient ground for wives to divorce their husbands!
Click here to find the best tour guides in Turkey.
‘If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.’
~ Alphonse de Lamartine