10 Best Historical Destinations in Europe
Wondering where the best historical destinations in Europe are? Check out our guide to help you plan a trip through time.
Europe is home to loads of incredible historical destinations, so choosing the best ones to visit can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. From Renaissance art, to the Roman Empire, and countless palaces and castles, Europe offers some great sites to explore. Planning a trip to Europe and want to see the best historical destinations? Read this guide before you go to learn all about the 10 Best Historical Destinations in Europe.
1. Granada, Spain
This Spanish city is a must visit, and is easily one of the best historical destinations in Europe. Influenced by Muslim, and Christian history, Granada has a beauty and unique charm to it. Cobbled streets lead through the old Arabic quarter all the way to the the Mirador San Nicolás. From here, you can see the famous Alhambra Palace on the opposite hill with a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Alhambra Palace wasn’t the first to be built on this site, however. As early as 889 AD, a Roman theatre had been built on the site. Later abandoned, it was dismantled in the 14th century and its stones were used in Alhambra. The palace is an exquisite example of Muslim architecture in Europe, and is a protected UNESCO site.
The Albayzín (medieval Arabic quarter) is alive with markets and tea vendors, all scattered through the narrow, winding streets. It won’t take much for you to see why Granada makes our list!
Where To Stay in Granada
Our top recommendation in Granada is Oasis Backpackers. This centrally located hostel will more than meet your needs. Be sure to check out the amazing view from their rooftop lounge and garden.
2. Paris, France
Paris is a city rich with history. From 20th century artists and literary figures, to key players of the French Revolution, Paris will satisfy your historical curiosities!
In the Middle Ages, La Concergerie served as the main palace for French royalty but also housed several prisoners, ranging from petty thieves to political traitors. During the Reign of Terror, La Concergerie hosted more executions than ever before. While individuals like Marie Antoinette were held here, she and King Louis XVI were both executed by guillotine at Place de la Concorde. This historically significant site is also home to a 3,300 year old Egyptian Obelisk, which was gifted to France in the 19th century.
Another historically significant site one should visit while in Paris is L’Arc de Triomphe. One of the most famous landmarks in Paris, it was commissioned by Napoleon and serves as a memorial to all who lost their lives in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
If art and literary history are more your thing, you’ll be spoiled with choice in Paris. Be sure to spend some time in St Germain-des-Pres, as it was a favourite neighbourhood of Hemingway and Picasso. As for artists such as Renoir, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec, they favoured the Montmatre District. One of their favourite hangouts here was the Moulin de la Galette. Make sure you pop in for a drink!
Le Procope is Paris’ oldest restaurant and was a favourite of Balzac, Hugo and philosophers like Voltaire. Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magots were heavily frequented by Jean-Paul Sartre and Hemingway. Not surprising we’ve included the City of Lights in our 10 Best Historical Destinations in Europe, right?
Where To Stay in Paris
Our top recommendation for Paris is St Christopher’s Inn. With a choice of Paris Nord or the Canal, you’ll enjoy great facilities, friendly staff, and a comfy bed.
3. Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw is saturated in history, so naturally it makes our list. The Polish capital suffered heavily in World War II, but today the restored Old Town is as charming as it is colourful. Filled with Renaissance and Baroque era buildings, Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square) is a must visit for its historical relevance.
The Polish capital is also the birthplace of world-renowned composer, Fryderyc Chopin. Take a walk through Lazienki Park to see the monument dedicated to his work. And if you visit in summer, you can attend a free Sunday evening performance of his music. We also recommend visiting the Chopin Museum to get a better insight into the great musicians’ life.
After World War II, Warsaw found itself in the clutches of Soviet power. And with it, came plenty of communist architecture. The contrast between the ornate architecture of a pre-Soviet Poland and its Communist influence is one of the most obvious examples of Warsaw’s historical relevance. Because of this, we believe it deserves a spot in the 10 Best Historical Destinations in Europe.
The most famous communist era building in Warsaw is also one of its most famous landmarks: the Palace of Culture and Science. The tower was a gift to Poland from Josef Stalin and was intended to be a, ‘a building for the Polish people’. Today, it’s home to several restaurants, bars, shops, and a viewing platform.
Where To Stay in Warsaw
Stay at the colourful Oki Doki Hostel if you’re visiting Warsaw. Their rooms are designed by local artists, and their staff has the friendliest reputation in Warsaw! With pierogi making classes, pub crawls, and more, you’ll be happy at Oki Doki.
4. Vienna, Austria
A list of the best historical destinations in Europe would be incomplete without Vienna! Famous for Habsburg palaces, world renowned composers, operas, and more, the Austrian capital is a must visit.
The Habsburg dynasty ruled the Holy Roman Empire for hundreds of years, and built several palaces in Vienna. Constructed in the 13th century, the Hofburg served as their principal residence for over 600 years. Also known as the Imperial Palace, it underwent several expansion phases, and also functioned as the seat of government. Essentially, it was the centre of the Holy Roman Empire in its prime. Nowadays, it’s the home to the Austrian President.
Another Habsburg palace worth visiting is the Schönbrunn – one of the largest Baroque palaces in Europe. The palace served as the Habsburg summer home, and has 1,441 rooms! Due to its relevance to history, it became an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. You can visit the palace alone, or on a guided tour. And if you have an appreciation for Mozart’s music, then be sure to catch a concert!
Where To Stay in Vienna
Our top recommendation is Hostel Ruthensteiner – the best hostel in Vienna since 1986. Known for their friendly staff, great bar service, and welcoming atmosphere, you’ll feel at home at Hostel Ruthensteiner!
5. Berlin, Germany
Berlin is best known for its role in 20th century history. The German capital has undergone an extreme transformation since the collapse of the Berlin Wall. And while Berlin’s history is tragic and complicated, today it’s known as a trendy and vibrant city. Because of its role in recent history, it has to be included on our Best Historical Destinations in Europe list.
During World War II, Berlin served as the headquarters of the Nazi Party. When the Germans surrendered to the Soviets and Allied Forces in May 1945, the city was in ruins. Germany was divided up between the two in order to take over control and stabilise the area. This is when the two new countries, West Germany and East Germany, were born.
Because Berlin was at the centre of collapsed Nazi regime, it was divided as well: the Allied Forces controlled the West, and the Soviets controlled the East. From 1945 until August 1961, a loose border existed between the two. But political and economic tensions were high between East and West Germany, and many were leaving for West Germany. In an effort to stop the mass exodus of people, the East German government constructed the Berlin Wall overnight on August 13th, 1961. Crossing the border became nearly impossible after that.
After years of economic sanctions and political tension, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Berlin wall happened in 1991. Today, it’s known as the East Side Gallery and is worth a visit!
Check-Point Charlie was the border crossing between East and West Berlin, and is also a popular tourist attraction you should visit. Other notable sites include the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.
Where To Stay in Berlin
Berlin is home to lots of different kinds of neighbourhoods, but our favourite is Friedrichshain in East Berlin. Book accommodation at Sunflower Hostel, minutes away from the Berlin Wall and tons fo great Berlin clubs.
6. Rome, Italy
We could write several blog posts on Rome as a historical destination in Europe, but we’re not esteemed historians. The Eternal City feels like a museum itself, and can turn anyone into a history lover.
For over 1000 years, Rome served as the seat of the powerful Roman Empire. While you can find evidence of the empire all over Europe, the most famous landmarks are found in the Italian capital. A visit to The Colosseum is a must, as well as the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. These three historical sites are all in the same area, and you can access them all with a single ticket. Other sites to witness the grandeur of the Roman Empire include the Pantheon and Circus Maxiumus.
Vatican City is another historical attraction worth visiting. Home to St. Peter’s Basilica, The Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museum, you’ll be overwhelmed with all the history here. If you’re lucky, you might even see The Pope!
7. London, U.K.
London calling! The British capital is another historical gem you won’t want to miss. Home to the British Monarchy, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and so much more – you’re going to love London!
One of the best sites is the Tower of London, founded in 1066. Now an UNESCO World Heritage Site, it served as a royal residence and a prison. Visitors to the Tower of London can wander through the castles, see Henry VIII’s suit of armour, and admire the Crown Jewels. Visiting takes quite a bit of time, so plan accordingly. Currently, the Queen resides at Buckingham Palace.
If you’re more into cultural sights, then check out Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre or visit the Sherlock Holmes’ Museum on Baker Street. Due to England’s long colonial history, many artefacts rest in London’s museums, most notably the British Museum. While some items have been gifted to the museum, others have disputed ownership. You can visit the British Museum for free.
Where To Stay in London
Located near London Bridge, you’re located in the centre of it all when you stay at St Christopher’s Inn at The Village. You can choose from dorms, private rooms, and even a POD bed! Make sure you book direct so you can get a free breakfast with your reservation.
8. Athens, Greece
The ancient city of Athens has to feature on a list of the best historical destinations in Europe. After all, it’s the birth place of Western civilisation and democracy!
The Acropolis is an ancient citadel overlooking Athens, and is easily one of the most recognised ancient landmarks. Touring the Acropolis will give you access to the Parthenon (5th century BC) and the Theatre of Dionysus. Spend some time atop the ancient city and enjoy the view, including that of Pnyx Hill.
So what is Pnyx Hill? It’s where ancient Athenians used to gather to discuss politics and other relevant issues. It’s also the spot where the world’s first democracy was formed. Other historic sites include the old market place – the Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Arch, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Where To Stay in Athens
For the best hostel in ancient city, book with SafeStay Athens. Friendly, safe and fun, this hostel offers the best accommodation on a budget, and it even has a rooftop!
9. Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul: a city bridging Eastern and Western culture, is one of our final suggestions for the best historical destinations in Europe. With so many monuments and mosques, you’ll have a lot to squeeze in while visiting Istanbul!
A good place to start is at the famous Topkapi Palace. Built in 1459, it served as the main residence and administrative centre for the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire. After the end of the empire in 1923, the Turkish government converted it into a museum, giving the public access to the palace’s most important rooms. Afterwards, head to Aya Sofya, a 5th century mosque which holds a lot of significance. In the days of the Roman Empire, Istanbul was called Constantinople, and this place of worship was the largest Christian church in the East. Once Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, it was converted into a mosque and remains one to this day.
One of the most recognisable and historical sites in Istanbul is the 17th century Blue Mosque. This gorgeous building dominates the skyline with its 6 minarets and intricate tile work. If you like museums then don’t miss the Istanbul Archaeology Museum and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, both housing huge collections of historical artefacts.
Where To Stay in Istanbul
Stay at Hush Hostel – a fun, clean and affordable accommodation in a newly renovated historical and stylish building. Located in the heart of the Kadikoy district, you’ll love being their guest!
10. Jerusalem, Israel
So maybe Jerusalem isn’t in Europe, but this place is just too good to miss! A place where Jews, Christians, and Muslims have been living for over 3000 years, Jerusalem certainly has some sites to see.
Jerusalem’s Old City is packed full of history. You’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time as you wander its narrow and enchanting streets and alleys. One of the first things to see is the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. It was originally part of the Second Jewish Temple, built in c. 516 BCE. It’s one of the holiest sites in Judaism due to its proximity to Temple Mount.
Temple Mount is a holy site to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. It’s believed this was the site of King Solomon’s First Temple, and will be the site of the Messiah’s Third and final temple. Muslims consider it, as well as the Dome of the Rock, to be one of the 3 holiest sites in Islam. On the other hand, Jews see it as so holy that stepping foot inside is forbidden. Temple Mount is easily one of the most contested religious sites in the world.
Another incredible place to check out is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Since the 4th century, this church is believed to contain Jesus’ tomb, as well as the site of his crucifixion (Calvary).
Jerusalem is also home to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre. Home to museums, archives, artefacts, Yad Vashem is is certainly worth a visit. Established in 1953, it is entirely dedicated to preserving the memory of the more than 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, as well as those that worked to rescue Jews from the Nazis. Please visit with respect and intention.
Where To Stay in Jerusalem
If you’re visiting Jerusalem then stay centrally at the fun and friendly Abraham Hostel – they organise great parties and tours and have a chilled roof terrace to enjoy.
10 Best Historical Destinations in Europe
As stated, Europe is full of amazing historical destinations, and choosing which to visit can be hard. With that said, we hope you enjoyed our recommendations for the top 10 Best Historical Destinations in Europe!
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