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.
* * * * * *
Welcome to the 2016 Viator Travel Awards: Europe Edition! Whether you’ve already got a European destination in mind for your vacation next year or are still trying to figure out where to go, we think we’ve got something on this list to suit everyone — both in terms of different activities and different parts of the continent.
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 data 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 2016.
You’ll find all kinds of activities and sights listed here, including skip-the-line access to major attractions, castle and palace tours, cabaret shows, ancient wonders and more. Join us for this tour of the Top 25 Things to Do in Europe in 2016!
1. Bypass the Lines at Europe’s Most Popular Attractions
No one likes waiting in line, least of all when on vacation and every second seems precious. In cities like Rome and Paris, it seems there are almost always lines to get into the top attractions. Luckily, there are tours that will whisk you right past the queue. You can skip the line at the Colosseum with a walking tour of ancient Rome‘s most important sights. Skip the line on a half-day tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, or skip the line with a Vatican Museums walking tour including the Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s Rooms and St. Peter’s. In Paris, you can go DIY and buy tickets in advance to skip the line at the Eiffel Tower, the city’s iconic landmark, or book a Skip the Line: Eiffel Tower Tickets and Small-Group Tour. For a more complete Paris experience, try a Paris Super Saver: Skip-the-Line Eiffel Tower and Seine River Cruise.
2. Get to Know Europe with Hop-On Hop-Off Tours
One of the easiest ways to get an overview of a new place is with a guided tour that not only brings you to all the main attractions but gives you time to explore them at your leisure. That’s just what a hop-on hop-off tour allows, and they’re all over Europe. Take a Rome Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Tour to get an introduction to the Eternal City. Book a ticket on the Original London Sightseeing Tour: Hop-On Hop-Off. In the French capital, you have a couple of tour options — on land or water. Try a Paris L’Open Hop-On Hop-Off Tour or Seine River Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Cruise in Paris. Explore the jewel of Catalonia during a City Sightseeing Barcelona Hop-On Hop-Off Tour.
3. Dig Into the History of Ancient Rome
In Rome, history is all around you. There’s a difference, however, between gazing at the Colosseum or Forum and truly understanding their historic significance. Get more out of your visit to these ancient sights with a guided tour. Take an Ancient Rome Half-Day Walking Tour or Ancient Rome and Colosseum Tour: Underground Chambers, Arena and Upper Tier. Or double the fun with a Rome Super Saver: Colosseum and Ancient Rome with Best of Rome Afternoon Walking Tour. If you prefer a do-it-yourself tour, you can buy a Rome Card and Omnia Vatican Card: Valid for 3 Days.
4. Get Away on a Day Trip
Time is limited on vacations, but one way to make the most of it is to take a day trip or two. You’ll get to see more of the countryside, or another city, without having to move hotels yet again. In Venice, you can head from one island to another on a half-day sightseeing tour of Murano, Burano and Torcello in the Venetian Lagoon. Take a break from the capital of the Netherlands with a Keukenhof Gardens and Tulip Fields Tour from Amsterdam or Zaanse Schans Windmills, Marken and Volendam Half-Day Trip from Amsterdam. See historic and charming Ghent and Bruges on a Day Trip from Brussels. Visit the beautiful blue Danube Valley on a Day Trip from Vienna.
5. Skip the Line at Top Museums
As we’ve noted, some tourist attractions are touristy for a reason. There is only one Louvre, and only one Sistine Chapel, after all. Europe is crammed with world-class museums that are must-see sights, even if you’re not usually an art lover, but who wants to wait in those infernal lines just to get in? Save yourself the headaches with a skip-the-line tour, and you’ll have more of your precious vacation time to spend doing something else. Tuscany’s capital city is home to two top museums, both of which are famous for their long lines. Get skip-the-line tickets for the Florence Accademia and Uffizi Gallery and you’ve got both of them covered with no waiting. In Rome, get cultured with a Skip the Line: Borghese Gallery and Gardens Walking Tour. In Paris, choose a Skip the Line: Louvre Museum Audio Tour, Skip the Line: Paris Louvre Museum Guided Tour or skip-the-line tour of the Louvre Museum including a walking tour.
6. See the Birthplace of Cabaret in Paris
“Moulin Rouge” isn’t just the name of a famous movie — it’s a real club, the first cabaret that opened in Paris in the 1880s, and it still exists today. The idea of cabaret may not be as scandalous as it once was, but it remains a great way to kick up your heels (or at least watch the dancers do so) while you’re on vacation in France. You can book tickets to a cabaret show at the Moulin Rouge and experience some of that Parisian history. Make the evening more complete with a Moulin Rouge Paris Dinner and Show. Hit even more romantic highlights of Paris with a tour that includes the Eiffel Tower, a Moulin Rouge show and a Seine River cruise, all in one night.
7. Get Into the Outdoors
Even if you’re not an outdoors enthusiast, there are some not-to-be-missed beauties you can see in a day trip — and if you’re a nature lover, you’ll appreciate these excursions even more. Put on your walking shoes for a Cinque Terre Hiking Day Trip from Florence to walk the famous trail connecting the lovely villages. Witness the majesty of the Irish coast on a Cliffs of Moher Day Trip from Dublin. Soak in the unparalleled beauty of Lake Como on a Day Trip from Milan. Get to know the Scottish Highlands on a Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands Small-Group Day Trip from Edinburgh. Explore the rugged landscapes of Iceland on a Golden Circle Classic Day Trip from Reykjavik.
8. See the Ancient Wonder of Stonehenge
We may never know exactly what circumstances drove people to build Stonehenge, or precisely how it was used, but there’s no getting around how exceptionally interesting the ancient monument remains. This kind of window into the past — a structure erected thousands of years ago by people who walked on the same ground as we now do — is rare enough to inspire awe. Don’t miss a chance to see Stonehenge for yourself. You can book a day tour to Stonehenge from London that includes Windsor Castle and Bath. You can extend the trip with a tour to see Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, Bath and the medieval village of Lacock, with a traditional pub lunch. Opt for a Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Oxford Custom Day Trip to see the historic university city as well.
9. Skip the Lines to Get to Know Gaudi
Antoni Gaudi left his unmistakable mark all over the city of Barcelona. Avoid waiting to see the work of the great man with any of these tours. Book a Skip the Line: Gaudi’s Casa Batllo Ticket with Audio Tour to see one of the most unique homes in the world. You have a few options to see Gaudi’s famous unfinished cathedral. Take a Skip the Line: Barcelona Sagrada Familia Tour or Skip the Line: Barcelona Sagrada Familia Tour Including Tower Entry. Expand your visit with a Skip the Line: Best of Barcelona Tour including Sagrada Familia to see the cathedral as well as the city.
10. Visit Movie and TV Locations
European scenery has served as the backdrop for many of our favorite movies and television shows, and for die-hard fans it’s particularly fun to walk in the footsteps of the characters we love so much. Head for Vienna (and back in time) to revisit a classic, on The Original Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg. Venture into the Seven Kingdoms with a Viator Exclusive: ‘Game of Thrones’ Walking Tour of Dubrovnik. Relive the excitement of Hogwarts with a Harry Potter Tour of Warner Bros. Studio in London. You can also see the “Making of Harry Potter” at Warner Bros. Studio near London, including actual costumes and props used in the movies.
11. Explore the Wines of Italy
You’ve no doubt heard of the wines of the Chianti region, and perhaps some other Italian vintages as well, but wine is produced all over Italy — and there’s nothing like tasting a wine right where it’s made. You can learn more about those famous Tuscan wines with a Chianti region wine-tasting trip from Florence. Combine wine tasting with sightseeing on a Tuscany in One Day Sightseeing Tour. Get something to eat while you’re sampling wine on a Taste of Chianti: Tuscan Cheese, Wine and Lunch from Florence tour. Farther north, in the canal city, take a Cicchetti and Wine Tour of Venice’s Jewish Ghetto.
12. Walk Ancient Roman Streets in Pompeii
There are sights of ancient Rome all over Italy, but few places where you can see an ancient Roman city that looks a little bit like it might have thousands of years ago. Pompeii is one of those places. Take a Mt Vesuvius and Pompeii Day Trip from Naples to see it as well as the volcano that buried the city. Venture from modern Rome to ancient Rome with a Pompeii Day Trip from Rome. Visit multiple destinations in Campania with a Naples and Pompeii Day Trip from Rome or Pompeii and Amalfi Coast Small-Group Day Trip from Rome.
13. Imagine the Royal Life on a Castle Tour
It’s not a stretch to say few of us will ever know what it’s like to live in a castle, but that doesn’t mean we can’t flirt with the idea while we’re on vacation. Europe makes it easy to do that, with so many castles (which were once private homes) open to the public for tours. Some of the castles you can visit are still occupied, while others are now museums. In either case, a castle tour is a way to see how the other half lived. You can tour the Neuschwanstein Castle on a day tour from Munich or royal castles of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof on a day trip from Munich. See one of Ireland’s most famous attractions with a Blarney Castle and Cork Day Trip from Dublin. Visit a castle in the English countryside with an Oxford, Cotswolds, Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick Castle Day Trip from London.
14. Drift Down a Canal
Whenever you visit a city on water, it’s a great idea to get on the element for a whole new perspective on that place. Sometimes it’s the best way to see a city, as well as an excellent way to get around. Settle into a gondola ride in Venice after a walking tour — it’s one of those must-do things, after all. Upgrade the experience to a Venice Gondola Ride and Serenade. Tour the UNESCO-listed Amsterdam canals on a pizza cruise — because why not? Or for a more flexible itinerary, choose an Amsterdam Hop-On Hop-Off Tour with Optional Canal Cruise.
15. Learn About World War II History on Location
Sometimes history inspires awe and admiration, and sometimes facing history is difficult. Europe presents many opportunities to learn more about World War II. In France, there are several ways to visit the places associated with D-Day. You can take a comprehensive Normandy D-Day battlefields tour which includes area beaches. In Poland, you can learn the sobering history at one of the Nazi regime’s most infamous concentration camps, with an Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum Half-Day Trip from Krakow, or expand your experience with a Krakow Super Saver: Auschwitz-Birkenau Half-Day Tour plus Wieliczka Salt Mine Half-Day Tour. In Germany, choose a Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Small-Group Tour from Munich.
16. Enjoy Lively London
London, once the epicenter of the British Empire, remains one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s a city with centuries of history, a thriving arts scene and no end of exciting things to do and see. Get to know this vibrant city with a Big Bus London Hop-On Hop-Off Tour or London Full-Day Sightseeing Tour. Get an incredible bird’s-eye view of London with skip-the-line ticket for the London Eye. Check out one of the city’s top sights with a Tower of London Entrance Ticket Including Crown Jewels and Beefeater Tour. See lifelike renditions of celebrities with a Madame Tussauds London Priority Entrance Ticket Including Star Wars Exhibition.
17. Get Cultured by Old Masters
Europe is an art lover’s dream, with world-famous masterpieces just about everywhere you go. And even if you’re not an art aficionado, there’s nothing like standing in front of a painting you’ve noticed in textbooks for years, seeing actual brush strokes on the canvas. Get an overview of the birthplace of the Renaissance and see an impressive collection of art with a Florence Super Saver: Best of Florence Walking Tour, Accademia Gallery, Uffizi Gallery and Florence Duomo. See where Monet lived and painted during a Versailles and Giverny Day Trip from Paris. Take in the troubled genius with a Van Gogh Museum Ticket in Amsterdam. Spend 15 minutes with a world treasure during a Milan Half-Day Sightseeing Tour with da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper.’ See one of the world’s most wondrous collections of art at the Louvre with your Paris Pass.
18. See It All in One Day
Can you see all of a place in a single day? No. But you can certainly see the not-to-be-missed sights with a well-organized tour guide leading the way. For those with limited time, it’s often the best option. Cover the main attractions of a fascinating and unique city with an Istanbul in One Day Sightseeing Tour: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar. See what makes the French capital so appealing during a Paris in One Day Sightseeing Tour. Take to the waters of a surreal canal city with a Skip the Line: Venice in One Day Including Boat Tour.
19. Take in Live Cultural Experiences
One of the best ways to get to know a different culture is by immersing yourself in local experiences. This might involve attending a sporting event, going out dancing or playing a game of boules in a Paris park. Maybe it’s joining in an annual celebration, even if you’re not quite sure what’s being celebrated. These experiences make for unforgettable travel moments. In soccer-mad Spain, get a tour of FC Barcelona’s stadium and tickets to the museum dedicated to the club’s history. Watch an electric display of flamenco dancing at Barcelona’s famous Tablao Cordobes, then see if you can find a place to go dancing yourself. For perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience, head to Rome in 2016 during the Jubilee Year, booking Papal Audience Tickets in advance.
20. Visit Palaces to See How the Other Half Lived
It’s easy to forget, when touring a famous palace, that it wasn’t always a tourist attraction — it was once someone’s home. As you walk through stately halls and peer into museum-quality rooms, try to imagine the former occupants going about their daily lives. It’s not easy. See all the sights of France’s most famous palace with a Best of Versailles Day Trip from Paris: Skip-the-Line Palace of Versailles Tour, Grand Canal Lunch and the Grand Trianon. See not only the Doge’s former residence but the seat of the Venetian republic with a Venice Super Saver: Skip-the Line Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Basilica Tours, Venice Walking Tour and Grand Canal Cruise. Enjoy the tranquility of the gardens and Moorish palace on a Skip the Line: Alhambra and Generalife Gardens Half-Day Tour.
21. Tour the Cities of the Dead
Cemeteries aren’t everyone’s idea of a tourist attraction, but in many European cities they’re not only popular but informative. Particularly with the underground catacombs, some of which date back thousands of years, touring the cities of the dead can be truly enlightening — if not also a little morbid. Visit the tombs of ancient Romans on a Skip the Line: Crypts and Roman Catacombs Small-Group Walking Tour. In Paris, explore a seemingly unending labyrinth of underground tunnels with a Small-Group Paris Catacombs Tour, or bypass the queue with a Skip the Line: Catacombs of Paris Small-Group Walking Tour.
22. Eat Your Way Through History
Never mind that the old “calories don’t count on vacation” saying isn’t even remotely true. We love exploring new cuisines when we travel, and it’s even more interesting when you can make eating a learning experience, too. Fascinating food tours are all over Europe, as are cooking classes so you can bring home new skills. Upgrade the usual Madrid tour with a City Sightseeing Madrid City Hop-on Hop-off Tour with Optional Food Tastings. Take a Tapas Evening Walking Tour of Barcelona for a progressive Catalonian dinner. On a Rome Food Walking Tour, sample the delicious staples of pasta, wine and gelato. Head into the countryside from Florence with a market tour, cooking class and lunch at a Tuscan farmhouse.
23. Raise a Toast to the Emerald Isle
It might be said that no visit to Ireland is complete without a stop at an Irish pub. Unlike some of the rowdier places calling themselves Irish pubs in other parts of the world, a traditional pub in Ireland is primarily about socializing with the community — over a drink or two, of course. Go on a traditional Irish music pub crawl in Dublin to sing along as you sip. Or learn more about the iconic Irish tipple at a museum — skip the line at the Guinness Storehouse (or upgrade to a skip-the-line connoisseur taste experience at the Guinness Storehouse) in Dublin.
24. Ride a Romantic Train
Taking trains to get around in Europe is usually practical, but it has the added bonus of being one of the most romantic ways to travel. You don’t need to limit trains to simply transport, however — there are train tours in Europe that are as much about the journey as the destination. Take a rail tour from Dublin to see Limerick, Burren, Galway Bay and the Cliffs of Moher. Let the natural wonders of the mountains mesmerize you on a Swiss Alps rail tour from Milan on the Bernina Express. Board a historic train for a Montserrat Monastery Tour from Barcelona Including Cog-Wheel Train Ride.
25. View Natural Wonders in Person
Many people plan European itineraries full of cities and towns, and Europe has plenty of both worth seeing — but there’s an awful lot of natural beauty in between population centers, too. If you’re one who likes getting out into the wilderness now and then, treat yourself to seeing some of Mother Nature’s greatest hits in Europe. See surreal volcanic “fairy chimneys” in Turkey during a Cappadocia Balloon Ride and Champagne Breakfast. Tour Croatia’s stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park on a private tour from Split. Head up to Europe’s highest train station for an amazing view with a Jungfraujoch Top of Europe Day Trip from Interlaken. Watch the best light show on earth on a Northern Lights Night Tour from Reykjavik.
— Viator Travel Team