Experience the Best of Europe

Santillana Del Mar

Dundee is enjoying a renaissance with developments like the stunning V&A Design Museum contributing to the city coming in at number six on the Lonely Planet’s ten best European destinations to visit this year. It is a serious accolade to receive from the respected travel guide, so let’s see which three locations took podium positions.

Main Square in Bologna

Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Italy has some stunning medieval cities, with one of the finest being the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna (picture above). This city truly offers something for everyone with incredible museums displaying breathtaking artefacts, ancient archaeological sites, shops you can’t pass by and restaurants serving delicious food like tortellacci, Bolognese, and garlicky mortadella.

Take a day trip from the city to explore the Terra di Motori, or Valley of Motors, which is revered for racetracks that include Modena and Imola, is the home of the Museo Enzo Ferrari and Museum Ferruccio Lamborghini, as well as being the home of Ducati, Pagani and Maserati.

The Emilia-Romagna region also consists of Parma, Ravenna and Rimini, with a landscape that stretches from the mountains to the coast. Bellissimo!

Santander City Beach

Cantabria, Spain

Forget your cheesy, packaged Brits-Abroad Spanish holidays because Cantabria is something else entirely. Pristine mountains, beautiful beaches and vibrant cities are all on offer, with lots of exciting ways to explore.

The capital city, Santander (picture above), is a fantastic choice for first-time visitors as it gives a genuine flavour of the wider region, all in a compact area that is ideal for a long weekend break. Cantabria has almost 140 miles of coastline, and some of the region’s most popular beaches are close to the capital, including Playa Primero de El Sardinero and Playa de Mataleñas, which are on the Bay of Biscay.

The Picos de Europa National Park (picture below) is a playground for hiking, mountain biking, caving, skiing and snowboarding. It is also home to wild bears, wolves and deer, so be careful if you are camping! If you visit, be sure to pay your respects at Santa Cueva de Covadonga. Pilgrims have visited the chapel, which is inside a cave and above a lake. Visit the ancient cave paintings at Altamira and El Castillo and wander medieval streets of Santillana del Mar (main picture). It is a rare opportunity to discover a place of immense natural beauty that remains untouched by mass tourism.

Picos National Park

Friesland, Netherlands

Coming third on the Lonely Planet’s list of the best places to visit in Europe this year is Friesland. Also known as Frisia, this region may not have the glitzy excitement of Amsterdam, but what it lacks in nightlife it more than makes up for in beauty. With miles of waterways, cycle routes and footpaths, Friesland is the sort of place that leaves you feeling refreshed both in mind and body.

Leeuwarden is the region’s capital, full of fantastic places to eat and drink as well as museums, shops and galleries. Other great places to see include Heerenveen, Stravoren, Franeker and Dokkum (picture below), with each location having a distinct vibe.

Once you have had your fill of the city’s relaxed urban pleasures, sample the delights of the stunning Wadden Islands, recognised as unique and protected by a UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The Waddens are astoundingly breathtaking and utterly unforgettable.

Dokkum

Best of the Rest

Rounding out the rest of the top ten list include Kosovo, Vilnius, the Vipava Valley and Tirana – all places which a decade ago would never have been considered by Brits as a potential holiday destination but which now offer the natural charm that more overdeveloped cities have lost.