- Åland Islands (Finland)
- Channel Islands
- Faroe Islands (Denmark)
- Isle of Man
- Svalbard and Jan Mayen (Norway)
- United Kingdom
The northernmost of the three Baltic States, Estonia has fared well since the break up of the Soviet Union. When in the capital Tallinn you notice right away that people are doing well especially with their hospitality towards visitors.
For the visitor Estonia offers some nice natural parks, a few old towns, some remains from the Middle Ages and a lot of islands just off the coast.
Tallinn is a beautiful medieval old city, comparable to Prague with its multitude of spires and orange-tiled rooftops. Tallinn is also just a few hours' ferry trip from Helsinki, Finland: perfect for a day trip.
Finland is a northern European country of four seasons for the discerning traveler, not a land of mass tourism. Summer season in Helsinki, winter at the skiing centers in Lapland and few happenings all year round temp enough people to make it a crowd, otherwise you can enjoy the space and silence in the pure northern nature. During the winter months you can have a skiing holiday or visit the Santa Claus and take a reindeer tour. Summer offers you a wide variety of activity from trekking to urban holidays, or you can simply relax at a hidden summer cottage with a sauna near a lake. Besides the mainland with vast forests and thousands of lakes separated by few agricultural and urban areas, the Baltic Sea with widespread archipelagos offers plenty of possibilities for sailing and fishing. Helsinki and few other places are worth of visiting throughout the year. Finland has a high standard of living, comparable to Scandinavian countries, facilities are good and especially the telecommunications are next to none in the world.
Iceland was settled in the 9th century by Norse vikings. The first settlement to last was that of Ingolfur Arnarson in Reykjavik. This is where most of the people of Iceland live. Reykjavik has a bustling nightlive, an exciting arts scene, and offers visitors the opportunity to explore the countryside in short trips to areas such as Thingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir. If you are interested in nature, Iceland is a great place to visit. In the summer, many companies offer guided bus trips that will take you around the country. You can also take the bus by yourself and go on hikes near places such as Thorsmoerk, Snaefellsjoekull, and more. Another alternative is to ride horseback across the highlands.
Additional Notes: The terrain in Iceland is so rugged due to centuries of volcanic activity, this is where the US tested their lunar landing module that eventually drove on the moon!
Also because of Norse woodcutting and volcanic activity, there are virtually no trees on the island! There is one small "forest" that is a national landmark.
Word has it that Leif Ericsson named Iceland and Greenland like he did to get explorers to go to Greenland (only to find millions of square miles of ice). Iceland, though Greenland's neighbor, benefits from the gulf and jet streams. The warmest it got in my year there was 60F and the coldest was 0F. However, the wind blows almost constantly and reaches 100 mph (sustained for a day or two)! I had a friend who broke her leg when an empty dumpster rolled over her like a box blowing in the wind!
Participate in a UST Trail Team for a great summer experience and to see the best of Iceland, cheaply: no participation fee, food, accomodation and travel fees paid for during project. Fits in well with most University's summer holiday but you will be camping alot and involves alot of physical activity!
Located in northwestern Europe, the Republic of Ireland is bordered by the United Kingdom, the North Atlantic Ocean, and the Irish Sea. It is a land steeped in history, but not particularly well endowed with historical marvels. Ireland is known for its misty green countryside, its culture and tradition (including legends and folklores), and its warm-hearted and friendly people.
The Hibernia of yore, Ireland was too cold and bleak a country for the Romans to colonize. However, the native Celtic people continued to worship the sun till they were converted to Christianity by St. Patrick in the 5th century. The invasions by the Vikings in the 9th century and by the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century were two significant events in Irish history. The British began concerted efforts to colonize Ireland in the 17th century but succeeded only a century later. Ireland united with Britain as part of the United Kingdom by Act of Union in 1801. The potato famine of 1845-1849 and the Easter Rising of 1916 were two other turning points in Irish history. In 1921, the Irish Free State was born as a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, though six northern counties which had a Protestant majority voted to stay part of the United Kingdom. The Irish Free State adopted a psuedo republican constitution in 1936 and was renamed Eire. It remained neutral during the Second World War. In 1949, it declared itself as the Republic of Ireland and withdrew from the Commonwealth. It joined the European Economic Community in 1973, now the European Union.
You need only have a quick glance at a map of Norway to guess where the main attractions are: that jagged coastline is home to Norway's world famous Fjords. Almost 22,000 kilometers of dramatic coastline, glacial melting waters plunging down cliffs into fjords more than 100 kilometers long, tens of thousands of islands and skerries, and none of it is off limits. If the outdoors is where you feel comfortable, and if you would rather not stand in line to look at nature, welcome to Norway!
Located on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northwest Europe, Norway's geography is a constant reminder of the last Ice Age. In the central high plateaus of Southern Norway, the alpine terrain culminates at the peaks of Glittertind (2470m.) and Galdhøpiggen (2469m.). Several glaciers, most famous of which are Jostedalsbreen and Svartisen ("The Black Ice") are present day remains of ice that carved the many deep fjords and left behind fertile valleys with meandering rivers. Although home to the northern tip of Europe--Nordkapp, or North Cape--the country enjoys a mild climate for its latitude, in part due to the warm currents from the Gulf of Mexico. Apart from its awe inspiring fjords (the biggest of which are Sognefjord and Hardangerfjord), popular sights are the Lofoten islands, the beautiful Sørlandet (the South Coast), and the many charming towns and cities, most of which are found along water's edge. Norway is home to 4.5 million people, and occupies an area of 323.759 square kilometers.
Being the largest of the Scandinavian countries, Sweden offers you many opportunities for cultural and outdoor activities. Visit the cities and explore the country's glorious past or the life in a cosmopolitan and modern society. If you need rest from the hectic city life, just leave for the countryside, and vast forests, 90000 lakes, mountains and the beautiful sea await you.
Though on the outskirts of Europe, Sweden was never a culturally outpost. The reigning royalty often invited foreign artists to their courts and also stimulated the development of local artists. Furthermore the Swedish developed their own traditions in design, painting and architecture. Gothenburg City hall was a widely followed example of traditionalistic architecture.
The United Kingdom is formed by England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and has been called the biggest small country on Earth due to its sheer diversity.
In this site the different islands in the Irish Sea and those North of Scotland are also taken into consideration.
Each of these regions has a very distinct identity and you should not call a Welshman English or vice versa. The United Kingdom has too many sites to mention. Though detached from the continent of Europe by only a few miles of water, Britain is permeated by a strong sense of its cultural separateness. Everything is different here: measures, traffic, customs and food. Life in Britain retains an extravagant continuity with a past that has little in common with its European sisters and brothers acpean unity, many citizens still have problems not only with accepting the European idea, but also with defining the concept of the United Kingdon itself.
Northern Ireland is the most intractable aspect of national identity, but also Wales and Scotland have a long tradition of independent nationhood and autonomous cultures. Some belated recognition of this has resulted in the establishment of political Assemblies for each country, albeit with limited and differing powers for each.
But there are also things that resemble: nationwide shops and businesses start to rule the appearance of many high streets, tourist infrastructure is very well developed all over Britain and the growth of a nostalgia-obsessed heritage industry has produced a lot of museums, theme parks and comme morative monuments. However, the country is rich in monuments, that attest to its intricate history, from ancient hill forts and Roman villas, through a host of medieval cathedrals to the ambitious civic projects of the Industrial revolution.
Great Britain offers a lot of diversion to all its tourist: For pulsing cultural and nightlife, London is a must. To feel the charm of English sea bathes and the importance of harbours for an island like Britain, travel along the southeastern coastline. In the central part of England you will find towns plenty of historical heritage like Salisbury, Oxford, Cambridge and many many more.
Western and northern England fascinate with beautiful landscapes: rugged moorlands, picturesque flatlands and rocky coastlines. A visit to the South Western penninsular is a must with Dartmoor and Exmoor in Devon and Somerset, and Bodmin in Cornwall. Also in Newquay is world class surfing. For true wilderness, however, you better travel to the mountains of Wales or the Scottish Highlands. The finest of Scotland 's lochs, glens and peaks, and the magnificent scenery of the west coast islands, can be reached easily from the contrasting cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh .
Bulgaria has changed a lot during the last 20 years. From being a communist ruled state on the other side of the Iron Curtain it has changed into a country with some progress towards free market reforms and own tourist industry. The Bulgarian nation has come a long way since it threw off the 500-year old yoke of the Ottoman Empire in the 1870's, and is now still struggling to cope with the aftermath of Communist misrule.
Renaming themselves the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the Communist long remained the dominant force in national politics after 1989. The election of a right-of-centre government in April 1997 gave ground for new hope, although low wages and high unemployment seem to remain ever-present features of Bulgarian life.
Bulgaria has a large number of travel destinations, but independent travel is not really common, although there are relatively few restrictions and costs are very low. The country offers a beautiful mountainous scenery as well as sandy beaches on the Black Sea coast. You will find ski resorts, deep forests, ancient monasteries, greek and roman remains and the fascinating capital Sofia is a must for Bulgaria travelers. Veliko turnovo, the ancient capital, is a young and vibrant city that deserves a visit as well.
Bulgaria also recently joined the EU, which will save money on a visa, and has improved the availability of flights. This has also began to improve the roads, and other aspects of the infrastructure, but the country is still less developed than the UK, with the mafia still prevalent in some of the summer resorts (however this doesn't affect the tourists so much as the business owners).
Skiing If you're looking for a cheap ski holiday I'd definitely recommend Bulgaria. There are a few travel agencies that provide ski holiday packages, such as Balkan holidays. The ski instruction is good for beginners, and more advanced skiiers are able to hire private instruction relatively cheaply. Bulgaria has three main regions for skiing; Pamporovo, which is especially suited to beginners, although the hotel complex is located off slope, and the area can be a little quiet; Borovets, which is suited to a variety of levels of ability, and has a more lively town, with live music offered in bars such as Senior Frogs, organised bar Crawls, a karaoke bar; and finally Bansko, which is suited to the more talented skiiers, with olympic level skiiers visiting the region often.
The food on the mountains isn't of astounding quality, and generally the only salad available is cucumber and tomato, but I personally am a picky eater, and didn't find it too much of a problem. Remember to calculate the total of your meal before you order, as they often take the menus away, and then try to overcharge you as you're paying as a whole ski class, and will hope you miss their deception; however any issues are easily resolved, so don't hesitate to complain. Another odd aspect of Bulgarian restaurants on the mountains is that they tend to serve the party's food individually, but this isn't too great a problem.
Generally everyone in the region speaks English, and so there should be no issues with the language barrier, just remember that nodding and shaking your head mean the opposite in Bulgaria to what they do here!
After the fall of the Berlin wall millions of people from the west sped to the Czech republic and specially its capital Prague. And with some reason. This central European country really has a lot to show and Prague is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in the whole world. The ancient tradition of brewing beer (Budweiser was originally a czech beer) makes your stay in the country an even more enjoyable one.
Located in central Europe, Hungary is bordered by Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. Apart from its quality wines and Baroque towns, its strategic location in the continent also attracts thousands of tourists to the country.
The country is slightly larger than all of Ireland. North to south, the greatest distance is 268km; east to west, it's 528km. The landscape consists mostly of plains in the east, low hills to the west, and small mountains to the north. Kékes Mountain, the country's highest point, is a modest 1014m. The major rivers are the Danube and the Tisza. Since May, 1. Hungary is a member of the European Union (EU). The currency is the Forint (1 US$ ~ 200 HUF).
Welcome to Poland. Poland is the home of: Nicolaus COPERNICUS, Fryderyk CHOPIN, Lech WALESA and Pope John Paul II. My country, located in the plains between Germany and Russia (today Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania as well), bordered in the south by and the Czech Republic has suffered severely from the ravages of war. But each time it has been rebuilt by its inhabitants. Poland has really opened up after the fall of the Berlin wall and is becoming a very attractive destination for travelers. It has many historic towns and cities that testify of the long history of the Polish state, great natural beauty and a unique coast. The two primary destinations are the present capital , which like a phoenix rose from the ashes of total destruction in World War II, and the ancient capital Krakow, untouched by war, which is an exquisite treasure of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
Poland is too large to be properly appreciated in one visit. There is too much to see. Discover central Poland, with its many wild national parks easily reached from Warsaw, or the north and the Baltic coast with the ancient port of Gdansk. In the western part you will find Wielkopolska, the cradle of the nation, and in the south Malopolska and the Tatry mountains easily reached from Krakow. In the southwest Silesia with its many old castles and mounains is worth a visit.
The home of Dracula, painted monasteries and Ceausescu. Romania is a great introduction to Eastern Europe. It has so much to offer in terms of natural beauties,culture and cultural heritage. You can spend time skiing in Brasov, Predeal, Sinaia, Busteni or other sky resorts, sunbathing in Constanta or admiring the wonderful medieval town of Sighisoara. Constanta is a great place to be in the summer, if you don't mind the crowd. There are lots of clubs and bars, the beach is usually in good condition, with the possibility of renting deck-chairs, sky jets etc. You can enjoy a cold drink at one of the bars on the beach or take a boat ride. The hotels vary, from 1-2* hotels, with prices around 30 pounds a night, to 5* hotels, like Vega, Mamaia, Rex etc, with prices around 250 pounds a night. If you are thinking on visiting Sighisoara, you might want to go in the last weekend of July, when the medieval festival takes place.
It is easy and cheap to travel around Romania by train or bus. A 2-trips bus ticket is around 0.7 pounds, depending on the city. In Bucharest, a cheap way to travel is by using the subway ( a one day pass is 1 pound). Train tickets can also be quite cheap, if you don't mind the longer time is takes you to reach your destination. For example, a trip from Constanta to Bucharest (232 km) will cost you 15 pounds. Hitch-hiking also, is a safe way of travelling in Romania since the drivers are nice and willing to spend their time with someone.Why not hire a car and go out into some of the traditional villages where "tuica" (a natural plum brandy) is distilled in the back garden.The hospitality shown by the locals is rarely seen elsewhere. It's not unusual for them to try to practice their English on you or invite you into their homes.
If you enjoy good food, then you should definitely come to Romania. You could try tasting traditional recipes, such as "sarmale cu mamaliga", "ciorba", "ardei umpluti", "tochitura" or "placinta" as a desert. In winter, particularly if you're going skiing, you can replace the dull cup of tea with a hot cup of boiled wine or "tuica". There are all kinds of different restaurants around the country, such as Chinese or Italian, and of course fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's, Burger King, KFC etc, but if you come to Romania, try eating traditional Romanian food, as the Romanian cuisine is one of the best in the world.
In Romania you can find some of the most beautiful monasteries in the world. The most beautiful ones are located in Bucovina, being part of UNESCO's world patrimony. You can visit Sucevita, Putna, Moldovita, Humor and, of course, Voronet, famous for the unique shade of blue with which it's walls are painted. The nun's are gentle and friendly and you can even spend a few nights in the monasteries, if you're willing to help out with the daily chores, especially during the Easter holidays. Other attractions include "The Happy Cemetery" at Sapanta, the Black Church in Brasov, the Danube Delta, the "Bran", "Peles", "Rasnov" and "Corvinilor" castels and the Fagarasi Mountains. Also, in the mountains, you can visit caves such as "Muierilor" or "Ursilor".
You'll be surprised by the treasures that Romania holds - a country that does have something for everyone. It's incredible how such a short flight from London brings you the opportunity to see a really different style of life.
The birthplace of communism - Russia extends across a continent. It encompasses a range of different climates and cultures as you travel from St Petersburg in the west to Vladivostok in the east. The more adventurous may like to experience this vastness by making the epic 9288 km Trans-Siberian journey from Moscow to Vladivostok at the other end of the country. Otherwise St Petersberg and Moscow have plenty of tourist sights to keep you busy, including the Winter Palace and the Kremlin respectively.
Russia's colourful and influential history makes it a fascinating country of contrasts, with those wonderful palaces and churches as well as ugly tower blocks in every city. Russians may appear miserable and dour as they walk the streets, but as soon as you enter a conversation they become some of the most welcoming hosts, often inviting visitors into their homes (however small they may be) to introduce to their family and friends. A chance to practice their English is always welcomed!
Watch old men drinking beer and playing chess in parks in every city of Russia. If you enjoy cultural evenings out there are opportunities to see ballet, opera and theatre at knock down prices - a visit to the Bolshoi ballet can set you back as little as $5 if you meet the right person. See great art and sample real Russian vodka - a trip to Russia really gives you a feel for the Old Soviet Union and all that came with it.
Slovakia is a small, landlocked country in Central Europe. It's capital Bratislava is only 50 miles form Vienna so the country is easily accesible form Austria. Slovakia has great natural beauty. The north is forrested and mountainous and has great hiking and skiing possibilities. The countryside is dotted with castles that remind the visitor of the attacks the Slovaks suffered from Tartar invasions.
Despite Russian influence and Soviet occupation, Ukraine has remained faithful to its own traditions. This land bears the mark of ancient mystery and the memory of its people still preserves old customs of remote ages.
Now that it has regained its indepence you can explore the cultural richness of the former breadbasket of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is the most stable and peaceful country among the former republicks of USSR in the Estern Europe.
Take an opportunity to become privy to the ancient history, to feel the pulsing heart of this land under a thin stratum of time. Set foot on the land that still remembers the epoch of the Great Mother Goddess.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Republic of Macedonia
- San Marino
- Vatican City
Andorra is a tiny ministate between Central France and the Loire Valley and Spain. High up in the Pyrenee mountains it is a unique place to visit. In winter time Andorra has some fine ski slopes to explore. In summer it is an enjoyable stop when going from Spain to France. The capital, Andorra la vella is a nice town, with a few good museums and a relaxed atmosphere.
Andorra's shopping is known all over the world. Everything is prepared to give the customer the leading role. The privileged tax system allows very competitive prices. In the Principality you will also find Caldea, the largest fun spa centre in the south of Europe, a water palace situated at an altitude of 1000 m, with an architecture and amenities which make it a unique building.
Croatia is a beautiful small country situated on the Adriatic coast. It is known as the country of a thousand islands. If you have ever dreamt about being on a small island alone with someone, this is the place for you. If you are a nature lover, Croatia offers: camping, mountain hiking/biking, spelunking, rafting, scuba diving and skydiving. Besides its natural beauty, it also offers: a unique history, a unique mixture of cuisines, many internationally recognized hotels and helpful individuals. Zagreb is the capital of the country. It may not attract as many visitors as the coastal towns of Rijeka or Split or Zadar or Dubrovnik but is well worth a visit. There are many museums in town and at night there are lots of things going on.
The Croatian coast is among the most beautiful in the World. It has unique cities like Split with its palace of Diocletian or Dubrovnik which was the rival of Venice for centuries, great almost deserted beaches and more than 1001 islands to choose from. In addition to that Opatija is a lovely, traditional town albeit with unusual beaches.
Plitvice is Croatia's most famous National Park. It has many lakes and waterfalls and is ideal for hiking or trekking.
Don't forget Fazana and the islands of Brioni! Just a little north of Pula....You may not see them on a map...but it was a summer home for Tito ( his choice of all Yugoslavia) and farther back the Caesars during the Roman empire (even farther back, stone age man and before him dinosaurs. You can see footprints in stone!) Think about it...with all of Italy why choose to live here? That's right!
From Various places along the cost (Piran, Porec, Rovinj, Pula, Rabac and Losinj) you can board ferries which go accross the Adriatic to Venice. This is a must do day trip, which allows you to experience more than just Croatia. Similarily it is fairly easy to hop borders and visit their neighbouring countries. Slovenia is a great country to go to especially with the longest caves in Europe.
Greece is a paradise for different kind of tourists. It is far out for the beach bum, it is great for the lover of the classics and it is a must see for anyone interested in knowing where civilization as we know it stems from. Located in southeastern Europe, Greece is bordered by Bulgaria, Albania, Turkey, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Balkan Peninsula, which constitutes Greece, is surrounded by over a thousand tiny islands, of which less than 200 are inhabited. It is primarily a mountainous country with a major chunk of its landmass perched at over 1,500 m above sea level.
Italy is the cradle of civilisation; home of gladiators, the Renaissance, the Pope and the best food in Europe - the experiences are endless. Whether you are looking for a Russell Crowe moment or perhaps wish to indulge in the masterful creations of Michelangelo, Titian, Leonardo and Raphael, Venice, Florence and Rome all offer tantalising access points back to the past. Theses cities are centres of European history and artistic enlightenment and the responses to the 'David' in Florence, the excavations of Pompeii near Naples and the Sistene Chapel of Vatican city, equal, if not better, bungee jumping, skiing and jungle trekking.
By far the largest and most popular island historic Malta merits a minimum of four nights. Sun worshippers should know that the sandiest beaches in the nation are located on the northern coast.. The Maltese archipelago consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. Malta, the largest island, is 237 sq. kms in area; Gozo is 68 sq. kms and Comino, 2 sq. kms.
The population numbers circa 370,000. Of these, 28,000 live in Gozo. Comino is only inhabited by a few farmers. Because of their strategic position, Malta and Gozo have been inhabited for the past 7,000 years. The two islands have a long and varied prehistoric period: Neolithic, Copper and Bronze age civilisations lasted more than 4,000 years; one can still admire vestiges of those remote times in form of impressive stone temples, a unique hypogeum and remains of skilful handicrafts.
For any traveler wanting to get off the beaten track in Europe, Portugal has infinite possibilities to experience small towns and diverse landscapes that remain very much like they were a hundred years ago. Portugal is a small, compact country, whose history and customs are deeply influenced by its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. The Portuguese are proud of their seafaring past, as Vasco de Gama, Columbus and others were pioneers of exploration in Africa, the Americas and India. Portugal was a major colonial power until less than twenty years ago. Following the independence of several of Portugal’s African colonies (1974-1975) over a million refugees moved into the major urban areas of Portugal. The immigrants have integrated well into Portuguese society which has led to a fascinating multi-cultural atmosphere in the major urban areas, especially in Lisbon.
Due to political turmoil it wasn't very easy to go to Serbia. Things are clearing up pretty fast now with Milosevic in prison in The Hague, so you can start thinking about a trip to Serbia again. Serbia actually consists of three parts. In the north there is the semi-autonomous Vojvodina, where many Hungarians live. Serbia is right in the heart, with the capital Belgrade. .
The Kosovo Province is part of Serbia only in name. It's effectively controlled by the Albanians living there and calm is ensured by the NATO peace troops there. Northern Kosovo is populated by Serbs.
Montenegro is in the south on the Adriatic, the Bay of Kotor is one of the major attractions here. Montenego was intially joined with Serbia (forming 'Serbia and Montenegro'). They have recently again independance.
Slovenia is the ex-Yugoslav Republic that is most like Western Europe. Bordering on Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, this small state is easy to explore. It has both natural beauty and historical sights, so it makes for a good destination.
It's very easy to say that one county is beautiful, what makes Slovenia different, unique in the company of other beautiful countries is it's diversity. It's the only place on our planet were you can find mountains, see, karst, lowland, ... so closely together.
The most interesting points in Slovenia:
- Triglav National Park, with Bled Bled and Bohinj
- Karst with many great caves, like Postojna caves, Skocjanske jame and spectacular places like Predjamski grad
- Slovenia's capital Ljubljana, the only larger city, with somewhat unique identity
- Slovenian coast with typical north Adriatic towns like Piran or Izola
- Some of the small medival towns, like: Ptui, Celje, Skofja Loka, Kranj, Radovljica, Novo mesto, Idrija, ...
Spain is more than bullfights, flamenco dancers and crowded beaches. It's a spectacular and diverse country, the north resembling the rolling, green hills of Ireland and the south giving you a taste of Moroccan landscapes and architecture. Its tremendous history is reflected in its prehistoric cave paintings, Moorish palaces, crumbling castles, Roman ruins, Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals as well as some very unique modern architecture. The uniqueness of Spain lies in the separate kingdoms which made up the original Spanish nation. These regions remain diverse in their language, culture, cuisine and art. These regions include: Andalucía, , Asturias, Basque Country, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castilla La Mancha, Castilla León, Catalonia, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra and Valencia.
Located in central Europe, Austria is a landlocked country bordered by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and Switzerland. The country was a centre of power in Europe at the time when it was ruled by the mighty Habsburgs. Although today it is relegated to being a minor player in the European Union, Austria offers some of the most impressive destinations on the Continent.
Located in north-western Europe, Belgium is a small country bordered by The Netherlands, France, Germany, and Luxemburg. There's more to the country than Belgian fries, glass and beer: multicultural and multilingual, Belgium is a veritable Europe in miniature.
Belgium reached its zenith under the Duke of Burgundy during the 14th century. However, the country declined in the mid-15th century. During the First World War, despite Belgium's neutral policy, the Germans invaded the country in 1914. The Germans attacked it again in 1940, this time taking control over the entire country within barely three weeks. After the war, Belgium witnessed an economic boom, which was further boosted by Brussels appointment as the headquarters of both the European Union and NATO.
Brussels today is a bustling city of diplomats, followed closely by towering skyscrapers and numerous restaurants. You will see superb examples of art and architecture, both past and present-Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Nouveau. The city is also famous for some well-preserved ancient châteaux, colourful fairs and festivals, nature reserves as well as amusement parks-all within easy reach.
Due to the country's strategic location, Belgians play host to tourists from all parts of the world. The local people are always friendly, cooperative and courteous. Though Dutch and French are the commonly used languages, you'll find that almost everyone can manage to communicate in English.
Belgium has some of the renowned art cities of Europe- Antwerp , Bruges and Ghent . The southern region of the country is interspersed with the rolling hills of the Ardennes, numerous castles, and the cities of Liege , and Tournai . The Ardennes, in particular, are a major centre for skiing in winter and kayaking in summer, with added facilities of hiking and mountain biking along the forest tracks.
The sheer physical diversity of France would be hard to exhaust in a lifetime of visits. The landscapes range from the fretted coasts of Brittany and and the gentle fields of the Loire Valley to the half-moon bays of Corsica and the glaciated peaks of the Alps. Each region looks and feels different, has its own style of architecture, its own characteristic food and often its own dialect. Though the French word pays is the term for a whole country, many people frequently refer to their own region as mon pays – my country – and this strong sense of regional identity has persisted despite centuries of centralizing governments, from Louis XIV to de Gaulle.
From the High Alps in the South, the Bavarian plain, and the flowing hills of central Germany to the coast of the North and Baltic Sea: it all looks like a miniature train landscape packed with the nicest of old towns, medieval houses, gothic churches and small villages.
Thanks to the different regional princedoms, earldoms, monarchies and states Germany did not develop unique during the last centuries. Thus Germany has not one but many major cities. And each city has its own unique character, formed by its history and the surrounding region. Each is a whole new world unto itself in which you will experience not only different architectural styles and art treasures but also a very distinctive lifestyle. Local traditions and mentalities are clearly reflected everywhere - in the arts, the nightlife, the shops, the pubs and restaurants and the way people work and live.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg with a population of only 435,700 is bordered by Belgium on the north and west, Germany on the east, and France on the south. It has an area of 2,586 sq km (998 sq mi). Until the EU expansion of May 1 2004, Luxembourg was the smallest member country in the European Union (now Malta is the smallest EU member country). Luxembourg is one of the world's most industrialised countries and has the highest standard of living in the EU.
Founded in 963, Luxembourg became a Grand Duchy in 1815 and an independent state under the Netherlands. It lost more than half of its territory to Belgium in 1839, but gained a larger measure of autonomy. Full independence was attained in 1867. Overrun by Germany in both World Wars, it ended its neutrality in 1948 when it entered into the Benelux Customs Union and when it joined NATO the following year. 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. The center of Luxembourg is Luxembourg city and there are a number of other beautiful small cities and villages to visit. Really worth a visit is Echternach and Vianden. All places can be easily visited in a day from the capital or neighbouring Trier.
Amsterdam is a city that rarely rests and has a welcoming small town feel to it, with small cobbled streets flanked by tall buildings, occasionally widening to accommodate the canals Amsterdam is famous for.
Amsterdam's peak tourist months are from June to August, when the city becomes a more expensive and much busier place to be. Hostels are abundant, place an emphasis on safety but can be pricey. You can also stay on boats, which provide a fun and authentically Dutch alternative to hostels.
There's a lot to see and do in Amsterdam, from the notorious sex museum to tiny cafés overlooking canals and the more conventional art museums. Amsterdam city passes are available for 1, 2 or 3 day periods (www.amsterdam.nl) which give free admission to many museums, a free canal cruise, travel on the city's trams, subways and buses and 25% discount on selected restaurants, trips and bike hire.
Switzerland is one of Europe's most visited countries, but one of its least understood. Pass through for a day or two and you'll get all the quaint stereotypes – cheese, chocolate and clocks – but not much else. Stay a bit longer and another Switzerland will emerge, which can be an infinitely more rewarding place to explore. Sights are breathtaking, transport links are excellent and costs are no higher than in Britain or Germany. Almost everyone speaks some English along with at least one of the official languages (German, French, Italian, and, in the southeast, Romansh).
Notoriously placid these days, Switzerland spent the first 500 years of its existence rent by conflict. The Swiss Confederation (abbreviated to "CH") dates back to 1291, when Alpine peasants formed an alliance to defend themselves against the Habsburgs. By the early 1500s, it had grown into a military superpower. The Swiss reputation for neutrality emerged with the Reformation and persisted right through to the boom years after World War II. In the 1990s, exposés uncovered Swiss banks' wartime collusion with the Nazis. Public soul-searching in the aftermath of the scandal heralded Switzerland's entry into the UN, and its first steps towards joining the EU.
The most visited Alpine area is the central Bernese Oberland, which has the highest concentration of picturesque peaks and mountainside villages; the loftiest Alps are further south, where Zermatt provides access to the Toblerone-peaked Matterhorn. In the southeast, forested mountain slopes surround the chic resort of St Moritz. Of the northern German-speaking cities, Zürich has a wealth of sightseeing and nightlife possibilities and provides easy access to the tiny principality of Liechtenstein on the Rhine. Basel and the capital Bern are quieter, each with an attractive historic core, while Luzern lies in an appealing setting close to lakes and mountains. In the French-speaking west, the cities lining the northern shore of Lake Geneva – notably Geneva and Lausanne – make up the heart of Suisse-Romande. South of the Alps, sunny, Italian-speaking Ticino can seem a world apart, particularly the palm-fringed lakeside resorts of Lugano and Locarno, with their Mediterranean atmosphere.
- Americas Travel Guide
- Asia Travel Guide
- Africa Travel Guide
- Europe Travel Guide
- Oceania Travel Guide
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