Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Viator Travel Awards, an annual awards competition where we – along with our readers, travelers, and fans – select the top things to do and see in each of the major regions we serve, the top things to do in our most popular tour categories, and more.
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Welcome to the 2012 Viator Travel Awards: Europe Edition! In the past, we’ve focused on specific tours for each item on this list, but this year we thought we’d feature some of the top things to do in 25 of the most exciting places to visit in Europe.
The tours and activities highlighted are chosen based on traveler reviews, data from the millions of people who check out Viator.com during the year, and information on which tours in Europe travelers book most often. We think you’ll enjoy reading about the array of activities available in each of these places – it’s the little mental vacation we could all use right now – and we also think this list is a great place to start if you’re planning a trip to Europe in 2013.
You’ll find all kinds of activities listed below, including musical field trips in Austria, island-hopping in Scotland, royal history lessons in Russia, castle visits in Portugal and Ireland, and enjoying a little luxury in Monaco. Join us for this tour of the Top 25 Things to Do in Europe!
1. See the birthplace of cabaret in Paris
Paris lives up to its nickname of the “City of Lights,” but it’s not just outdoor lights that sparkle. Paris’ first cabaret opened in 1881 in Montmartre. This remains a city of leisure and pleasure, so when you’re done with museums and art galleries for the day, treat yourself to a Moulin Rouge Show to get up close and personal with the stage lights of Paris’ most famous cabaret. You can combine your nightly activities, too, with either a Moulin Rouge Dinner and Show or make an unforgettable night of it with the Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge Show, and Seine Dinner Cruise. These experiences are popular and likely to sell out, so book your spots early to be sure you don’t want to miss out.
2. See Ancient Rome and the Vatican…without the crowds
We’ve all seen the long lines that form in front of Rome’s most famous sights and wondered whether it’s really worth all that time in line. Attractions like the Vatican Museums are second to none, so you don’t want to miss them – but there’s also no reason you need to wait for hours in line. These days, you can book tours ahead of time that allow you to walk right past the queue. Get right to the good stuff with the Vatican Museums Skip the Line Walking Tour including Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s Rooms and St Peter’s, a half-day Vatican Skip the Line tour including the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica, or a walk through historic Rome with the Ancient Rome and Colosseum Half-Day Skip the Line Walking Tour. Just try not to gloat as you walk past the people waiting to buy tickets.
3. Experience the mystical, magical, and modern in London
London is a fascinating city with a little something for everyone. There’s great history, world-class art galleries, culinary treats to explore, and a wealth of day-trip destinations to choose from. As Samuel Johnson once said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Get your tourist juices going with a London in One Day Sightseeing Tour, where you’ll get an overview of the city that will encourage you to dig deeper for the rest of your stay. Satisfy your inner wizard with a Warner Bros. Studio Tour London to see The Making of Harry Potter. Then travel back through time with a Day Trip from London to Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge.
4. Be amazed at the diversity of Spain
We couldn’t fault you if you settled in one city in Spain merely to enjoy its gorgeous scenery, excellent museums, and delicious food. But if you’re up for a little moving around the country, you’ll constantly be surprised by all of what Spain can show you in a few short days. Starting in Madrid, you’ve got a central base from which to set out on a couple popular multi-day excursions, including a 4-Day Spain Tour of Cordoba, Seville, and Granada or a 5-Day Spain Tour of Seville, Cordoba, Toledo, Ronda, Costa del Sol and Granada. You can even set foot on another continent with a Day Trip to Tangier, Morocco from the Costa del Sol. You’ll certainly get a taste for all the things you want to do the next time you visit.
5. Follow the Romantic Road to Neuschwanstein in Germany
Germany is a great place for a road trip, especially with the plethora of sights along its famous “Romantic Road.” If you’d rather leave the driving to someone else rather than think about a non-existent speed limit on the German Autobahn, however, then a series of day trips along the Romantic Road may be just what you’re looking for. You can spend a day checking out the Royal Castles of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof on a Day Tour from Munich, focus solely on a Day Trip to Neuschwanstein Castle to see the building that inspired Disney’s castle, or take a 3-Day Frankfurt to Munich Romantic Road Trip including Rothenburg, Hohenschwangau, and Neuschwanstein.
6. Climb to the Top of Europe in Switzerland
Switzerland is nearly synonymous with the Alps, so even if you’re not particularly into skiing, mountains, or heights, these legendary peaks are popular tourist attractions pretty much year-round. If you’re into skiing or snowboarding, you’ll want to plan your visit during the winter – but rest assured the mountains are ready and waiting for visitors whether the slopes are open or not. Enjoy the view from the tallest point in Europe – the Jungfraujoch – on a Day Trip from Zurich, explore the ski resort of Chamonix and the most famous Alpine peak of Mont Blanc on a half-day trip from Geneva, or visit a less-well-known mountain like Mount Titlis on a Day Tour from Zurich or a Summer Day Trip to Mount Pilatus from Lucerne.
7. Tiptoe through the tulips in Amsterdam
You might think that if you’re not a serious gardener there’s no reason to spend time looking at tulip fields in the Netherlands – but you’d be wrong. Not only do these vast gardens make colorful photo-ops and an interesting counterpoint to your Red Light District exploits the night before, it’s quite something to consider that the Dutch are such huge floral exporters that those flowers will end up on the other side of the planet the next day. Take a Day Tour from Amsterdam of the Keukenhof Gardens and Tulip Fields or combine Tulips and Windmills on this Day Trip from Amsterdam. You can also explore popular sights in the countryside with the Amsterdam Super Saver: Windmills, Delft, The Hague, and Madurodam Day Trip.
8. Follow the Sound of Music in Salzburg and Vienna
Whether it’s Mozart or the Von Trapp Family that makes your heart sing, you’ll find both musical histories represented well in Austria. In Salzburg you can learn the real story behind “The Sound of Music” family on The Original Sound of Music Tour, and you can also visit Mozart’s birthplace and attend a Mozart Concert and Dinner at Stiftskeller in Salzburg. To keep following Mozart’s trail, however, you need to head for Vienna, where he spent many of his prolific years. Spend an evening pretending you’re Austrian Royalty with a Schonbrunn Palace Evening, including a Palace Tour, Dinner, and a Concert with works by Mozart and Strauss. You may not find your inner Amadeus, but we’re pretty sure you’ll have “the hills are alive with the sound of music” running through your head on repeat for a while.
9. Explore castles and cliffs in Ireland
Ireland offers ample opportunities to marvel at historic buildings and be wowed by grand, windswept vistas. Outside the cities, you’ll find impossibly green countryside, storybook castles, and scenery so big it won’t fit in your camera. Savor the sights slowly, and without worrying about driving on the other side of the road, by taking the train. Head out on a Limerick, Cliffs of Moher, Burren and Galway Bay Rail Tour from Dublin, or visit Cork and Blarney Castle from Dublin by train. With a little more time to spare, take a 3-Day Rail Trip to Cork, Blarney Castle, Ring of Kerry and Cliffs of Moher. You can even check out neighboring Northern Ireland by train, including a stop at the Giant’s Causeway.
10. See the Scottish Isles and Highlands
If you spent your entire Scotland vacation enjoying the sights along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, you’d have a fantastic trip – but to really get a feel for the country, you need to see, well, the countryside. Much of Scotland is blissfully uninhabited, starkly beautiful, and (thankfully) not hard to reach. You can take a Day Trip from Edinburgh to see Loch Ness, Glencoe, and a bit of the Highlands, or do a West Highland Lochs and Castles Small Group Day Trip. You could invest more time to check out the Isle of Skye on a 3-Day Tour from Edinburgh. With even more time, you can indulge in a 5-Day Highland Explorer and Isle of Skye Small Group Tour from Edinburgh.
11. Explore the cities of Ancient Greece
To be honest, you’d have a harder time avoiding history in Greece than seeing it – but when the whole country is so steeped in historic significance it can take the work of a skilled tour guide to help you understand the significance of what you’re seeing. Otherwise you could walk right past something you’ve literally read about in every history book without knowing any better. Cover the bases of Classical Greece with a 4-Day Tour of Epidaurus, Mycenae, Olympia, Delphi, and Meteora or a 3-Day Tour of Epidaurus, Mycenae, Nafplion, Olympia, and Delphi. If you’ve got less time to spare, you could take a Hydra, Poros and Egina Day Cruise from Athens or simply explore Delphi on a Day Trip from Athens.
12. Indulge in beer and chocolate in Brussels, Belgium
Every traveler’s gotta eat, but in some places the eating is part of the sightseeing. In a city like Brussels, that means two things – beer and chocolate. Belgians are enormously fond of both, and sampling the local fare is just your way of respecting tradition. It’s just an added bonus that it’s so darned tasty. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a Brussels Chocolate Walking Tour and Workshop (where, yes, you get to make your own, too) and then wash it all down with a Brussels Beer Tasting Tour. Compare the flavors of other nearby cities with a Ghent and Bruges Day Trip from Brussels or even explore Two Countries in One Day with a Luxembourg Day trip from Brussels.
13. Follow the Golden Circle in Iceland
Iceland is a small country, and outside Reykjavik it’s almost entirely countryside. This may seem daunting if you don’t know where you’re going, but luckily there’s a popular tour called the “Golden Circle” that will give you a glimpse of the beautifully rugged Icelandic scenery, and it’s an easy day trip from the capital. Hop on a coach for a Golden Circle Classic Day Trip from Reykjavik, or get a little more active with a Golden Circle Super Jeep Tour that includes Snowmobiling. You can also opt for the Iceland South Coast and Jokulsarlon Lagoon Day Trip from Reykjavik or the Blue Lagoon and Gulfoss and Geysir Express Tour from Reykjavik.
14. See the treasures of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul, Turkey
The city of Istanbul stretches across the Bosphorus Strait to occupy space on two continents, but if you’re one of the many visitors with limited time in this compelling city you’ll want to plan your trip carefully. It’s easy to get happily lost in the Grand Bazaar or mesmerized by the Blue Mosque and lose all track of time, so having a tour guide keep you on track might be just the ticket. Sign up for an Istanbul in One Day Sightseeing Tour that includes Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar (or make sure you’re getting all your questions answered with a Private Tour of Istanbul in One Day, including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and Topkapi Palace). Visiting on a cruise? No worries – this Istanbul in One Day Sightseeing Shore Excursion will have you back at the ship in time.
15. Explore the Czech Republic both in and outside of Prague
Visiting the Czech Republic means starting in Prague for most people, and with good reason – the city is dynamic and beautiful, and although it’s not as cheap as it once was it’s still quite a bit less expensive than (say) Paris or London. Still, after you’ve done your Prague in One Day Sightseeing Tour or taken a Full-Day Tour to Prague Castle and Vltava River Lunch Cruise, consider getting out of the city, too. Most of the Czech Republic goes ignored by visitors, which is a shame – the smaller towns are charming, the countryside is picturesque, and the historic sights don’t draw enormous crowds. The Cesky Krumlov Day Trip from Prague is an excellent bet (it’s probably the most popular stop outside Prague) and a Terezin Concentration Camp Day Tour from Prague will give you a different perspective on historic Prague’s Jewish Quarter.
16. Visit the castles and coasts of Portugal
Lisbon is a gorgeous capital city, and there’s enough to do and see that you could happily occupy several days there without needing to explore further afield. What you’d miss by seeing only Lisbon, however, is the incredible beauty of Portugal’s mountainous regions, its varied coastline, and the historic buildings that dot the countryside. Take a Day Trip to Obidos, Nazare, Fatima and Batalha to visit nearby towns, including a UNESCO World Heritage site and the famous Sanctuary of Fatima. Opt for a focused Sintra Day Trip from Lisbon to see another UNESCO World Heritage site and the Sintra National Palace. Or combine a morning Lisbon Sightseeing Tour with a Day Trip to Sintra, Cascais and Estoril Coast for a little bit of everything.
17. Take a royal tour of Copenhagen, Denmark
Let’s face it – there’s not much about the story of Hamlet that you’d want to emulate in your own life, right? It’s best to focus instead on the spectacular locations in and around Copenhagen that Shakespeare used as the settings for his famous play. Prince Hamlet’s “Elsinore” is really Kronburg, a 15th century fortified castle outside Copenhagen, one of many castles in the area you can visit. Take a Castles Tour from Copenhagen to see North Zealand and the “Hamlet Castle,” or focus solely on Elsinore with this Hamlet Castle Tour from Copenhagen. In the city itself, get the “Royal treatment” with a Copenhagen Grand Tour, and don’t miss out on the plentiful discounts available to those holding the Copenhagen Card.
18. Day trip from Dubrovnik in Croatia
Dubrovnik is rightly popular for its picturesque historic center, walkable fortified walls, and gorgeous beaches. It’s still a small town, though, so if you’re visiting for more than a few days and you’re getting restless, you’ll be happy to know there are several excellent day trips options from Dubrovnik. With a Montenegro Day Trip from Dubrovnik you get to see not only another city, but a whole other country. The same is true of a Mostar Day Trip from Dubrovnik or Small-Group Bosnia and Herzegovina Day Trip from Dubrovnik including Medjugorje and Mostar. You can take advantage of the sights off the coast, too, with a Cruise of the Elafiti and Green Islands from Dubrovnik or Island of Korcula Day Trip from Dubrovnik.
19. See two sides of the city in Budapest, Hungary
You may already know that Budapest is made up of two formerly independent cities – Buda and Pest – on opposite sides of the river. Although they’re now connected by beautiful bridges and together form one cohesive city, Buda and Pest still retain some of their individuality. One of the best ways to see that is with a tour that covers both sides of the river. Sign up for a Budapest Sightseeing Tour with Parliament House Visit (and bypass any entry lines), or hit the highlights with a 3-hour Budapest Half-Day Sightseeing Tour by motorcoach. Zip through the sights with a Budapest Segway Sightseeing Tour, or you can put a romantic twist on your tour by opting for the Budapest Night Walking Tour and River Cruise.
20. Learn about viking history in Stockholm
For many travelers, learning about history in the locations where things actually took place makes it infinitely easier to retain the information. Plus, it’s always a bonus to come home from a fun vacation with new trivia tidbits, right? While visiting Sweden, hop on a Viking History Day Trip from Stockholm to see the old Viking Parliament and other historic Viking sites. Back in Stockholm, get an overview of the city (and many Viking sites) with a Stockholm in One Day Sightseeing Tour or Stockholm Grand Tour by Coach and Boat. And don’t forget to bring The Stockholm Card, which gets you discounts all over the city.
21. Explore the history and nature of Poland from Krakow
Krakow is a beautiful Polish city with enough attractions and activities to keep just about everyone happy. What you’d miss by not leaving the city, however, is a chance to experience not only some of the gorgeous countryside but also a unique underground attraction and some important historic sites. Take a Zakopane and Tatras Mountains Day Tour from Krakow, for instance, to ride a funicular railway into the Tatra Mountains for spectacular views. Go in the other direction on a Wieliczka Salt Mine Half-Day Trip from Krakow, journeying far below ground to see one of Europe’s oldest salt mines. Then you can learn from history (so as not to repeat it) with a Communism Tour in a Genuine Trabant Automobile from Krakow or Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum Half-Day Trip from Krakow.
22. See how the czars lived in St. Petersburg, Russia
The long line of Russian Czars may have come to an end in the early 20th century, but thankfully for visitors to St. Petersburg today their palaces remain standing and open to the public. One could argue a visit to St. Petersburg isn’t complete without seeing the sights of Imperial Russia – including the enormous Hermitage Museum – and what better way to do that than with a guided tour? Get the Grand Tour of St Petersburg with a small group, which gives you the perfect overview of the city. Spend five hours on a Half Day Tour of Peterhof (Petrodvorets), the city’s most famous Imperial estate. Or you can venture outside the city for a Tour of Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo) and Catherine Palace to see the Czars’ summer residence.
23. Cruise around cosmopolitan Oslo
Sometimes big capital cities can be overwhelming to the visitor – there’s lots to see and do, but it’s still very much a living, breathing city (rather than a museum piece), so it’s tempting to just go with the flow. Oslo offers just such a dilemma. One of the best ways to spend your time in Oslo is to live like the locals do, but if you want to make sure you see at least the major sights before you settle into Oslo life, then a day tour is a great solution. An Oslo City Hop-On Hop-Off Tour gives you chances to spend more time at a few spots if you like, and an Oslo Mini Cruise lets you see the city from the water (always a nice idea). You can also opt for a Visit Oslo Pass, which gives you the ultimate in flexibility with your schedule, but still gives you discounts on attractions and transportation all over the city.
24. Live the good life in Monaco
No matter your travel budget, there’s something about a stop in glamorous Monaco that makes you want to live the good life. Of course, when you’re traveling it’s a perfect time to indulge. Do that in Monaco with a private tour and you’ll get a taste of luxury without spending a fortune. Explore the French Riviera in One Day from Monaco with a Small-Group Tour, or head into the hills for a Small-Group Tour of the Grasse Perfumery and Nice Wine-Tasting Day Trip from Monaco. Go even more deluxe with a Private Tour of the French Riviera in One Day or a French Riviera Scenic Helicopter Tour. Stopping in Monaco from a cruise? You can still live like a king for a day with a Monaco Shore Excursion: Private Day Trip to Monaco, Eze and Nice.
25. See a less-visited corner of Europe in Slovenia
Much of Europe has been on the tourist radar for centuries, but there are still European destinations that (so far, at least) remain mostly crowd-free, even in the high season. You’ll find other tourists in Slovenia, but they’re more likely to be from other parts of Europe than overseas. Making the capital city of Ljubljana your home base is a great idea, not least because it’s beautiful and a manageable size, and then you can take day trips into the countryside to see more of Slovenia. The popular Postojna Caves and Predjama Castle Tour from Ljubljana takes you into a fascinating two million year old cave system and a castle clinging to the side of a mountain. The Bled and Bohinj Valley Tour from Ljubljana takes you to picturesque Bled with its much-photographed lake. And the Lipica Stud Farm and Skocjan Caves Day Tour from Ljubljana lets you get up close and personal with the famous Lipizzaner stallions.
- Viator Travel Team