From Ephesus in Turkey to the Eiffel Tower, Venice to Versailles, The Telegraph selects its top 30 European places to visit before you die.
Travel awards and top ten lists always greatly interest me and The Telegraph’s bucket list is no exception. Described as “the ultimate collection of places to see and things to do within five hours of London”, this list of 30 European travel essentials covers all bases, from perennial city break and regional favourites such as Venice and Gaudí’s Barcelona, Tuscany and the Var, to pre-requisite sightseeing landmarks including the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower and Granada’s awesome Alhambra.
The wonders of the natural world also feature highly in this bucket list, with Switzerland’s mighty Matterhorn, Lake Bled in Slovenia, Pamukkale in Turkey, the black beaches of Iceland and the Northern Lights all getting a nod from the Telegraph’s travel writers. Feats of architectural brilliance are also celebrated, from the majesty of Versailles and the Loire Valley’s Château de Chenonceau to centuries-old archaeological wonders: the Acropolis, the Colosseum, Ephesus, Pompeii and Herculaneum to name but a few.
And of course, the ecclesiastic sphere also triumphs in abundance, with the Vatican’s incredible Sistene Chapel, Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia, Paris’ Sainte-Chapelle and the Mezquita de Córdoba all rightly recognised for their cultural heritage and importance. Here’s a little further insight into just a few of those ‘bucket list’ essentials…
Set atop a rocky limestone outcrop and dominating the city skyline, the Acropolis or ‘High City’ in Greek represents the ancient upper city upon which the original settlement in Athens was founded and indeed represents the birthplace of Western Civilisation itself. On entering the Acropolis complex, you’ll see the Beulé Gate, a late-Roman structure dating back to 320 BC, the stunning Temple of Athena Nike, designed by Kallicrates and built in 427 – 424 BC to celebrate peace with Persia, and the architecturally exquisite Propylaia, the monumental entrance to the Acropolis.
Set at the highest point of the Acropolis and thus the most prominent amongst the temple treasures therein stands the mighty Parthenon, the epitome of Ancient Greece itself, dedicated to the goddess Athena. Immediately recognisable thanks to its column-lined façade, the Parthenon remains Athens’ most iconic and enduring structure. And of course there’s the spectacular Erechtheion Temple, a dual shrine to both Athena and Poseidon built on the most sacred site of the mythical battle between these two great gods.
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
The Brandenburg Gate has become a symbolic backdrop for reunification and a focal point for momentous city occasions following years of obscurity behind the Berlin Wall. Built in the late 18th century by Carl Langhans as one of 14 triumphal city gates for King Frederick Wilhelm II (and the last one remaining), the gate stands at the intersection of the colossal Unter den Linden and Ebertstraße overlooking Pariser Platz, one of Berlin’s most famous and historic squares. Having suffered heavy bomb damage during World War II, the Brandenburg Gate was extensively restored at the turn of the 21st century and is today recognised as leads the charge as an undisputed iconic Berlin landmark.
Red Square, Moscow
Most visitors to Moscow will naturally gravitate towards Red Square as their sightseeing starting point, the distinctive onion-shaped domes and colourful tented roofs of St Basil’s Cathedral one of the most spectacular and recognisable landmarks that Moscow has to offer. And alongside St Basil’s is the mighty Kremlin, Russia’s nerve centre of political power and one-time commander-in-chief of the country’s Orthodox Church. A visit here offers a fascinating wealth of treasures to explore, from its many cathedrals – Cathedral of the Assumption being the oldest, biggest and grandest, to the Patriarch’s Palace, Ivan the Great Bell Tower and Diamond Fund.
Also situated inside the Kremlin’s walls is the Armoury, home to an abundance of arms and armour, carriages, glittering gems, jewels, gold, silver and elusive Fabergé eggs. And if that’s not enough, you’ll also find situated in Red Square Lenin’s Mausoleum, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, situated within the Alexander Garden and the fascinating State History Museum, whose extensive collection dates all the way back to the ice age.
Situated on the Île-de-la-Cité in the very heart of Paris just a short walk from Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Sainte-Chapelle is a royal Gothic chapel, particularly famed for its stunning and extensive collection of 13th-century, stained-glass windows. Built in the 12th century on the orders of King Saint-Louis to house precious religious treasures including Christ’s Crown of Thorns (now held at neighbouring Notre-Dame), the chapel boasts some 600 square metres of stained-glass windows and was known in its time as the stairway to heaven. Although damaged during the French Revolution, Sainte Chapelle was faithfully restored in the 19th century and remains one of Paris’ most impressive landmarks and a masterpiece of medieval architecture.
Charles Bridge, Prague
One of the most visited sites in Prague, the Charles Bridge was commissioned in 1357 and completed in the early 15th century, an important trade route between Eastern and Western Europe across the Vltava River. Connecting Prague’s Old Town with the Lesser Quarter, the bridge is renowned for its Baroque statues and today serves as a pedestrian walkway, buzzing during the day with tourists, street artists and musicians yet particularly romantic at sunset.
Just a stone’s throw from Piazza Navona, the Pantheon is one of Rome’s most iconic sights and one of the most influential structures of the western world. Over 2,000 years old, this former temple of the gods stands out not only as the best-preserved ancient monument in Rome, but also for its architectural brilliance, its striking façade dominated by 16 imposing stone columns whilst its interior is topped by an impressive dome.
State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
An absolute pre-requisite, the State Hermitage Museum commands a reputation as one of the finest institutions worldwide, containing an unrivalled collection of over three million artworks housed in a sumptuous palace set on the banks of the Neva, from which the Romanov tsars ruled the Russian Empire. The collection covers all the main European movements, with works on display by a veritable who’s who in the roll call of artistic greats including Canaletto, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, El Greco, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse and Degas. There’s also an impressive selection of Oriental and Middle Eastern art, as well as treasures from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and Persia.