There simply is no way to tour Europe and not be awestruck by its scenic beauty, epic history and dazzling artistic and culinary diversity.Europe's almost unmanageable wealth of attractions is its biggest single draw: the birthplace of democracy in Athens, the Renaissance art of Florence, the graceful canals of Venice, the Napoleonic splendour of Paris, and the multilayered historical and cultural canvas of London. Less obvious but no less impressive attractions include Moorish palaces in Andalucía, the fascinating East-meets-West brew of İstanbul in Turkey, the majesty of meticulously restored imperial palaces in Russia's former capital St Petersburg and the ongoing project of Gaudí's La Sagrada Família in Barcelona. Europe has some of the best nightlife in the world. Globally famous DJs keep the party going in London, Berlin and Paris, all of which also offer top-class entertainment, especially theatre and live music. Other key locations for high-energy nightlife include Moscow, Belgrade, Budapest and Madrid, while those hankering for something cosier can add Dublin's pubs or Vienna's cafes to their itinerary. Continue to party on the continent's streets at a multiplicity of festivals and celebrations, from city parades attended by hundreds of thousands to intimate concerts in an ancient amphitheatre.
Passionate, sophisticated and devoted to living the good life, Spain is both a stereotype come to life and a country more diverse than you ever imagined. Spain’s diverse landscapes stir the soul. The Pyrenees and the Picos de Europa are as beautiful as any mountain range on the continent, while the snowcapped Sierra Nevada rises up improbably from the sun-baked plains of Andalucía; these are hiking destinations of the highest order. The wildly beautiful cliffs of Spain’s Atlantic northwest are offset by the charming coves of the Mediterranean. And everywhere you go, villages of timeless beauty perch on hilltops, huddle in valleys and cling to coastal outcrops as tiny but resilient outposts of Old Spain. That's where the country's charms are most likely to take hold. Food and wine are national obsessions in Spain, and with good reason. The touchstones of Spanish cooking are deceptively simple: incalculable variety, traditional recipes handed down through the generations, and an innate willingness to experiment and see what comes out of the kitchen laboratory. You may experience the best meal ever via tapas in an earthy bar where everyone's shouting, or via a meal prepared by a celebrity chef in the refined surrounds of a Michelin-starred restaurant. Either way, the breadth of gastronomic experience that awaits you is breathtaking and sure to be a highlight of your trip.
Ancient sun-bleached ruins pierce blue skies as the Aegean laps at the endless coastline. And Greek culture is alive with passionate music, inspired cuisine and thrill-seeking activities. Standing in the shadow of the Acropolis feels other-worldly. Greece is full of such moments. Step into the ring where Olympians first competed. Climb steps hewn out of stone to Meteora’s monasteries, perched atop towering rocks. Contemplate the oracle’s insights from the grandeur of Delphi, take in a starlit drama at an ancient outdoor theatre and be stunned by massive marble sculptures dredged up from the Aegean. But then you’ll encounter bold modern art, the melancholic throb of rembetika (blues songs) and artisans creating new work from traditional techniques. Greece has endless cultural pursuits and a calendar bursting with festivals, holidays and exhibits.
Strike out beyond the sun-soaked stretches of sand to discover an island of compelling culture and landscapes, steeped in myth and riddled with ancient riches. Crossing the line between the South and the North allows you not only to gain some understanding of the island's complex and painful modern-day history, but also experience the two Cypriot communities. Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot societies are intrinsically different yet incredibly similar, linked by the still-strong role of traditional family life and a rich history where food cultures and folk customs have intermingled, but divided by belief. One thing's for sure wherever you are on the island: the naturally warm Cypriot hospitality is much in evidence on both sides of the Green Line. Steeped in myth, coveted by every conqueror with an eye for a prize, Cyprus' tumultuous and multilayered past has left ancient riches strewn across this island. Neolithic dwellings, Bronze Age and Phoenician tombs, remnants of once-mighty city-kingdoms, Roman mosaics, mountaintop castles and Byzantine churches – home to a glut of renowned frescos – lay scattered through the countryside. While strolling the cities you can spot the preserved architectural legacy of the Lusignan, Venetian and Ottoman periods. Cyprus may welcome you to flop out on the beach, but dig into the past here and you'll unearth the entire history of the Mediterranean.