Most interesting wonders of Europe
Below are listed the most amazing natural and man made landmarks of Europe.
- Haukadalur geothermal area with Geysir and Strokkur – Iceland, Suðurland, Iceland. Two spectacular geysers located close together. Geysir has given the name to the geological phenomenon of geysers. Geysir has been up to 100 m high in the past. Strokkur is very intense, erupting 25 – 35 m high every 4 – 8 minutes. In the area are some more geysers and hot springs.
- Dettifoss – Iceland, Norðurland eystra. Grandiose waterfall, considered to be the most powerful in Europe. Falls are 45 m tall, 100 m wide, with a single plunge. Average water flow – 193 m²/s. A bit upstream there is another giant waterfall – Selfoss. This waterfall is 11 m high, but it is very wide – the stream has shaped a long V-shaped cliff and water falls down along more than 500 m long cliff. Downstream from Dettifoss is Hafragilsfoss – 27 m tall and 91 m wide.
- Gullfoss – Iceland, Suðurland. One of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland and worldwide. Consists of two steps (11 m and 21 m tall), located at right angle to each other.
- Mardalsfossen – Norway, Møre og Romsdal. 657 – 705 m tall falls with two large drops, the highest is 358 m tall.
- Plitvice Lakes – Croatia, Lika-Senj. Unique, picturesque group of some 20 blue-green lakes arranged in chain over the distance of 8 km, divided by natural dams of tuff. Tuff formation process is active, it forms by joint geological and biological processes. Stream between the lakes has multiple waterfalls, some up to 80 m tall.
Man made landmarks
Prehistoric cave paintings
- Cave of Altamira – Spain, Cantabria. Cave with some of the best cave paintings in the world, mostly polychrome paintings of wild mammals, 18 – 14 thousand years old.
- Chauvet, Grotte ornée – France, Rhône-Alpes. Cave with some of the best examples of prehistoric painting. Contains 420 drawings (paintings and engravings) of animals which have been created since 35,000 BP, Aurignacian period. These drawings belong to the oldest artworks in the world. The quality of the drawings shows that ancient humans already very long ago professed high quality art. Paintings and engravings are done in different techniques but always in very high quality.
- Grotte de Lascaux – France, Aquitaine. Group of caves with some of the best known Palaeolithic polychrome paintings in the world. Paintings were made sometimes around 15,300 BC. Here are depicted mostly large animals.
- Alignements of Carnac – France, Brittany. Groups of standing stones, consisting of approximately 4,000 such stones. The main groups are – Ménec, Toul-Chigan, Kermario and Manio, Kerlescan Ménec. Ménec is the largest – 1,165 m long, with 1,099 menhirs in 11 lines. Kermario and Manio contains 982 menhirs in 10 lines. Kerlescan Ménec is the best preserved and has 540 menhirs in 13 lines.
- Ggantija – Malta, Gozo. Very old meghalitic temples, built in Neolithic Age. Oldest, southerly temple was built around 3600 BC and belongs to world’s oldest structures.
- Stonehenge – England, Wiltshire. One of the most popular archaeological monuments worldwide. Consists of a group of large standing stones in a circular setting, erected around 2500 BC (?). Located in the middle of dense complex of archaeological monuments.
Remnants of ancient cities
- Acropolis of Athens – Greece, Attica, Athens. One of the most important European heritage monuments – citadel of the city of Athens. Contains ruins of numerous Greek temples which have left huge impact on world architecture. Most buildings were built in 460 – 430 BC, but the history of the citadel goes back to the Late Bronze Age.
- Delphi – Greece, Central Greece. Ruins of an ancient sacred city, the navel of Gaia (Earth). Inhabited since the Neolithic period, turned into a significant center in 1600 – 1100 BC and flourished in the 6th century BC. Already by 1400 BC or earlier here was an important shrine – oracle. Here, in the Temple of Apollo burned eternal flame. Site contains Temple of Apollo – one of the most interesting and significant ancient shrines in the world, the impressive Tholos, theater and numerous treasuries – votive structures built by other cities of Greece.
- Knossos and Knossos Palace – Greece, Crete. Ruins of Europe’s oldest city, developed since the 7000 BC (Neolithic) and abandoned around 1380 – 1100 BC. The ancient palace was the administrative center of Minoan Civilization. Area of palace is 14,000 m². Construction of palace started around 1900 BC. In a way the palace and the settlement of Knossos are one and the same as in the palace lived numerous people besides the rulers and it had some 1,300 rooms, including a theater and numerous storerooms. Some parts of palace were up to 5 floors high.
- Pompeii – Italy, Campania. The best preserved ancient Roman town which was eliminated by volcanic pyroclastic flows in 79 AD.
- Colosseum – Italy, lazio, Rome, Lazio. The largest Roman amphitheater ever built, constructed in 70 – 80 AD.
- Pont du Gard – France, Languedoc-Roussillon. One of most impressive existing Ancient Roman structures – an aqueduct bridge across Gard River. It represents a part of 50 km long aqueduct – a 48.8 m high and 274 m long bridge with three stacks of arches. Built in the 1st century AD and used for its original purpose until the 9th century. Used as a bridge in medieval times and up to 2000. Built with extreme precision – f.e. it descends 2.5 cm over its 456 m length. Built without mortar – stones are fitting that well that no water is lost.
Cities and towns
- Bruges Old City – Belgium, West Flanders. Once important trade center, this city has almost intact medieval architecture and numerous canals. The site of first stock exchange (1309) and numerous important financial institutions.
- Chester medieval walled city – United Kingdom, England, Cheshire. One of the best preserved medieval cities in British Isles. Street network originates from the Roman times. Town has nearly intact defensive walls – the best preserved in Britain. On the top of 3 km long walls is walkway. Unique feature of Chester is Rows – covered walkways on the first floor level of four main streets, with entrances in shops. Rows were developed in the 13th century.
- Cité de Carcassonne – France, Languedoc-Roussillon. Medieval walled city, surrounded by 3 km long double wall with 53 towers. Walls built by Romans in the 3rd century AD and further fortified by French in Romanesque style.
- The walled city of Dubrovnik – Croatia, Dubrovnik-Neretva. One of the most outstanding and beautiful medieval cities worldwide. This Dalmatian city is at least 1,300 years old, developed as important center of international trade. Walled city from three sides is surrounded by sea and is densely built up with numerous historical buildings such as Gothic-Renaissance Sponza Palace, Rectors Palace, the small Renaissance St.Saviours church and many other valuable buildings. The 2 km long fortification walls around the city have been well preserved.
- Grand Place – Belgium, Brussels. Central square of Brussels, one of the most beautiful city squares in the world. It is surrounded by gorgeous medieval structures, town hall among them. These structures were built in the late 17th century. Especially impressive the square is in the beginning of August when it is covered with intricate flower carpet.
- Mont Saint-Michel – France, Lower Normandy. Unique monument of urban planning – a fortified monastery with surrounding small town, built on a rocky tidal island. The island has been used as a stronghold since at least the 6th century AD. Monastery was established here in the early 8th century. Monastic buildings constructed in heavy Romanesque style, mainly in the 10th – 11th century AD. Abbey was closed in the late 18th century. Island is topped with the massive, Romanesque Mont-Saint-Michel church (11th century).
- Historic Centre of Prague – Czech Republic, Prague. Prague provides one of the most impressive medieval cityscapes in the world. City has a huge number of outstanding architecture monuments in beautiful natural setting. Historical center is large and consists of several parts, including Staré Město (Prague Old Town), Nové Město (Prague New Town), Malá Strana and Hradčany as well as Josefov – the historical Jewish ghetto.
- Venice – Italy, Veneto. One of the most unusual and most beautiful cities on Earth, containing an unbelievable amount of art and architecture values
- Chillon Castle – Switzerland, Vaud. One of the most beautiful castles anywhere, located on an island on Lake Geneva. Constructed in in 10th – 13th centuries.
- Hohenzollern Castle – Germany, Baden-Württemberg. Enormous and impressive hilltop castle. Current castle constructed in 1846 – 1867 in Neogothic style in the site of earlier castles – thus it is not a true castle, but not a classical palace either.
- Malbork Castle – Poland, Pomerania. Largest castle in the world by the area (21 ha), also the largest brick building in Europe. Constructed by Teutonic Knights, mainly in 1274 – 1300 as their administrative center.
- Windsor Castle – United Kingdom, England, Berkshire. One of the major castles and palaces of the world. Castle built by William the Conqueror and soon afterwards used as a royal palace. Longest occupied palace in Europe, largest inhabited palace in the world. Initial motte and bailey castle was built in the 11th century (Round Tower – rebuilt in the 19th century), but later the castle was largely extended, always trying to imitate early medieval designs. Beautiful interiors from the 19th century in State Apartments. Site of many important historical events.
- Alhambra – Spain, Andalusia. Huge palace and fortress with major cultural importance. Fortress was first constructed here in 889 AD, royal palace for Sultan of Granada was built in 1333 and represents a major achievement of Muslim architecture and art. Palace and its gardens were supposed to represent Paradise. Palace was taken by Christians in 1492. At the palace is set the wonderful Alameda de la Alhambra – park which is rich with wildflowers, fountains, birds.
- Belvedere – Austria, Vienna. Complex of palace buildings in Vienna – Upper Belvedere Palace, Lower Belvedere Palace, Orangery and the Palace Stables, surrounded by an exquisite park. One of the high achievements of Baroque style in architecture. The beautiful Upper Belvedere was built in 1717 – 1723. Palace contains collection of Gustav Klimt paintings and other influential artists.
- Château de Chambord – France, Centre. One of the most iconic Renaissance buildings in the world. In its design are melted the French medieval architecture and Italian classical architecture. Built in 1519 – 1547. This castle still has fortifications, including a keep and a moat, but it primarily functions as an luxuriant residence. Palace has 440 rooms.
- Château de Chenonceau and park – France, Centre. One of the most impressive Renaissance palaces in the world, built over the water in 1515 – 1521. Beautiful interiors and valuable collections of art. Very interesting and scenic park around the castle, including a labyrinth of yew trees.
- Palace of Fontainebleu – France, Île-de-France. One of the most impressive palaces in France, developed by Francis I in the first half of the 16th century in Renaissance – Mannerist style. One of the architects is Leonardo da Vinci. Architecture of palace and its interiors has left much influence on European art.
- Neuschwanstein Castle – Germany, Bavaria. One of world’s most recognized "castles" – but in reality this is not a true fortified castle but Neo-Romanesque palace. Constructed on a hilltop at the base of Alps in 1869 – 1892 (unfinished). Very ornate interiors.
- Pena National Palace – Lisbon, Sintra. Hilltop castle, for most part built in the 19th century, One of most beautiful and scenic castles in the world, built in Romanticism style. Beautiful park around the castle with numerous exotic plants, including numerous tree ferns from Australia and New Zealand.
- Peterhof Palace and park – Russia, Saint Petersburg. One of the world’s most spectacular palace and garden complexes. Palace was designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli in Baroque style and built in 1714-1755. Spectacular are the numerous fountains with gilded sculptures which are powered by groundwater pressure. This is so called "travel palace", where high society travelers could rest after their trip and before the entering into Moscow.
- Schönbrunn Palace – Austria, Vienna. One of the most prominent palaces in the world, built as a imperial summer residence of the Habsburg dynasty. Current giant palace with its 1,441 rooms was built in 1740-50ies. It was built in Baroque style, with ornate interiors in many rooms. Facade was rebuilt in Neo-Classicism style later, in the early 19th century. Very impressive are also Schönbrunn Palace Gardens – area with sculpted relief, many examples of park architecture (including the enormous Gloriette), orangery, palm houses.
- Palace of Versailles – France, Île-de-France. The best known and possibly most magnificent palace in the world. Developed in suburbs of Paris since 1661 and served as a royal palace until 1789. With the development of Versailles there was developed a new style in many areas of life – architecture, planning, arts, governance, etiquette – thus the palace represents one of most important monuments of culture in Europe. Considered to be the largest palace in the world, with 700 rooms, facade is some 680 m long. Site includes Gardens of Versailles – the finest example of French Garden design, a Baroque style representation in landscape architecture. Gardens have a complicated hydraulics system, some 1,400 fountains and 300 statues.
- Winter Palace – Russia, Saint Petersburg. Official residence of Russian monarchs, designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli in Rococo style and built in 1732-1837. Reportedly contains 1,500 rooms, many of rooms are very ornate. Now contains the Hermitage Museum – one of the richest and largest art museums in the world, with numerous artworks of world importance.
- Aachen Cathedral – Germany, North Rhine – Westphalia. The oldest cathedral in Northern Europe. Historically very important church, residence of Charlemagne, place of coronation of 42 kings and queens. Built in 792 – 805, rebuilt numerous times adding new values.
- Borgund stave church – Norway, Sogn og Fjordane. The best preserved Norse stave church, built in between 1180 – 1250 AD, contains runic inscriptions. Representative of the unique Norse wooden architecture, uniting Viking, Celtic and Roman elements.
- Cologne Cathedral – Germany, North Rhine – Westphalia. One of the most impressive Gothic style cathedrals in world and one of the largest churches in the world. 144.5 m long, two 157 meters tall towers. Built in 1248 – 1880. Most visited landmark in Germany.
- Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral) – Italy, Tuscany – one of the most impressive buildings in world. Constructed mainly in Gothic style but seen as one of the first Renaissance buildings. Constructed in 1296 – 1469.
- Hagia Sophia – Turkey, İstanbul. Former Orthodox basilica, now museum. Possibly – highest achievement of Byzantine architecture, largest cathedral in world for nearly 1,000 years. Built in 532 – 537.
- Kizhi Pogost with Transfiguration Church – Russia, Republic of Karelia. Group of exceptional wooden buildings, located inside a fence on island. Group consists of bell tower, the Intercession Church with 9 onion domes and the exceptional Transfiguration Church with 22 onion domes (1714).
- Milan Cathedral – Lombardy. Great Gothic cathedral, one of the most impressive buildings in world, built in 1386 – 1965.
- Saint Mark’s Basilica – Italy, Veneto. One of world’s most impressive church buildings in Byzantine style, constructed in 1094.
- Sistine Chapel – Vatican. Chapel at the Apostolic Palace, an important place for papal activity, the site where new pope is selected. This church is not especially large but it has very special importance for the history of church and art history. Built in 1473 – 1481 and known in the world thanks to the frescoes made by such Renaissance artists as Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, Domenico Ghilandaio, Pietro Perugino. These frescoes are among world’s highest achievement in art.
- St. Peter’s Basilica – Vatican. Best known of the four ancient papal basilicas. The most important church in Christian history, with the largest interior of any church. The largest structure in Vatican which in fact occupies a significant part of this state. The present basilica was built in 1506 – 1626 and represents one of the most important pieces of Renaissance architecture. Contains several graves including the purported grave of Saint Peter (Vatican Necropolis).
- Piazza dei Miracoli with Pisa Cathedral, Pisa Baptistery, the Leaning Tower of Pisa – Italy, Tuscany. Iconic group of landmarks which were built in Romanesque style in 1064 – 1372. Especially famous if the Leaning Tower – 60 m tall structure which is leaning for 4 degrees.
- Reims Cathedral – France, Champagne – Ardenne. One of the best examples of Gothic architecture, built in the end of the 13th century. Towers are 81 m tall, interior hall is 138.75 m long. Excellent stained glass and sculptures. Original cathedral was here already in the 4th century AD. The kings of France were crowned here.
- Rouen Cathedral – France, Upper Normandy. Magnificent Gothic – Renaissance cathedral, one of the great architecture monuments of the world. Constructed in 1202 – 1880. The remarkable tower is 151 m tall and was the tallest structure in the world in 1876 – 1880. Church is 136.86 m long, with 28 m high nave.
- Sagrada Familia – Spain, Catalonia, Barcelona. Largest and by far – most impressive Art Nouveau church in world, designed by Antoni Gaudi, started in 1882, due to be completed in 2026.
- Saint Basil’s Cathedral – Russia, Moscow. A group of nine churches built in 1555 – 1561 to commemorate the victories of Ivan the Terrible. This building has left much influence on Russian and world architecture.
- Westminster Abbey – United Kingdom, England, Greater London. Royal church of United Kingdom with numerous art values. Built in 1245 – roughly 1745, mainly in Gothic style. One of the earliest representatives of Gothic architecture in England.
Government and museum buildings
- Hungarian Parliament Building – Hungary, Budapest. One of the best known Neo-Gothic structures in the world – a beautiful and enormous structure which was built in 1896 – 1904. Facade of the building is 268 m long and building has 691 rooms.
- Palace of Westminster – United Kingdom, England, Greater London. One of the highest achievements of Neo-Gothic architecture, one of iconic buildings in the world. Meeting place for the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Built in 1840 – 1870, works at interior continued well into the 20th century. Famous feature is the large clock tower of palace – the 96.3 m tall "Big Ben". Facade is 265.8 m long, building has more than 1,100 rooms.
- British Museum – United Kingdom, England, Greater London. Museum of human history and culture, one of the most comprehensive museums of the world. Established in 1753 and since then gradually expanded. Amazing architecture of Great Court (2000), the main building is important example of Greek Revival from the middle of the 19th century. Contains numerous unique items of high importance to the culture of world, such as Rosetta Stone, mummy of Cleopatra, Elgin Marbles from Parthenon, Discus-thrower, Cyrus Cylinder, cuneiform tablets from Ashurbanipal Library, drawings by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael and numerous other renowned artists, Hoa Hakananai moai statue from Easter Island.
- Musée du Louvre – France, Île-de-France. One of the largest museums in the world with more than 35,000 objects exhibited. Many works are among the most important artworks in the world. Located in a palace, which was started as a castle in the late 12th century. Gradually extended and now it is one of the largest palaces in the world.
Other man made landmarks
- Great Mosque of Córdoba (Cathedral of Cordoba) – Spain, Andalusia. Mosque, converted into church, renowned as the best example of Umayyad architecture. Begun around 600 AD as Christian church, rebuilt into mosque in 784 AD and in 1236 recaptured by Christians and converted to church. Inner hall contains 856 columns holding (for most part) double arches – architectural innovation.
- Eiffel Tower – France, Île-de-France. One of the best known landmarks in the world, a symbol of Paris and to some extent – whole France. This 324 m tall iron lattice tower was built in 1889 and was the tallest man-made structure on Earth until 1930.
- Keukenhof – Netherlands, South Holland. World’s largest flower garden where annually are planted some 7 million bulbs over an area of 32 hectares. In spring, during the bloom this is one of most popular tourist destinations in the Netherlands.
- Margravial Opera House (Markgräfliches Opernhaus Bayreuth) – Germany, Bavaria. Very ornate opera house, constructed in Baroque style in 1744 – 1748.
- Meteora monasteries – Greece, Thessaly. Six (earlier – 14) unique monasteries on natural sandstone pillars. Inhabited by hermits since the 9th century, first monasteries established in the 14th century. These six remaining monasteries are Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, Holy Monastery of Varlaam, Holy Monastery of Rousanou, Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, Holy Monastery of St. Stephen, Monastery of the Holy Trinity.
- Villa Capra "La Rotonda" – Italy, Veneto (Vicenza). Prototype for many thousands of villas across the world, built in 1566-1592 in Renaissance style.
Described wonders of Europe
Europe is part of Eurasian continent. This part of the world is very diverse and very diverse is also the natural and man made heritage. Highlights of Europe are:
- Historical architecture – Europe is unsurpassed in terms of historical architecture and art. People are spending their whole lives, travelling and researching this heritage but we can be confident – no one is able to comprehend all these values. Many buildings in Europe represent a peak of artistic and structural skills of people – such as Florence Cathedral, Rouen Cathedral, Palace of Versailles, Palace of Westminster and numerous other buildings. Venice, Chester, Prague and many other European cities belong to the most beautiful historical cities of the world.
- Heritage of ancient civilizations – Europe was the birthplace of several major civilizations, notably – civilizations of the Ancient Greece and Roman Empire. We are still inspired by the ancient Greek and Roman art, their buildings and cities. Among the best known monuments are Acropolis of Athens, Colosseum, Pompeii.
- Prehistoric heritage – cave art and megaliths. Tens of thousands years ago Europeans created magnificent art – making us to understand that people back then in those distant times were not less skilled than us. Among the best examples are paintings in Lascaux (France), Chauvet (France), Altamira (Spain) caves. European megaliths are the best known in the world – especially the grand megalithic structures in the United Kingdom, Ireland and France. These structures are many thousand years old and – what irritates and fascinates modern people a lot – their purpose often remains unknown. Some of the best known megaliths are Stonehenge (United Kingdom) and Carnac stones (France).
Countries and territories of Europe
Europe here is divided in 52 following countries and territories:
- Azores (Portugal)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Czech Republic
- Faroe Islands (Denmark)
- Gibraltar (United Kingdom)
- Jan Mayen (Norway)
- Republic of Macedonia
- Madeira (Portugal)
- Russia (European part)
- San Marino
- Svalbard (Norway)
- Turkey (European part)
- United Kingdom
- Vatican City
The word "megalith" brings one immediate association to many people around the world – Stonehenge. This archaeological monument certainly is a part of pop-culture. It is silent hero of numerous movies, paintings, comics and – countless pseudo-scientific theories and even religious movements.
At a first glance Stonehenge is far less impressive than many other archaeological wonders of the world. Nevertheless it is very distinct, unique landmark without comparable matches worldwide.
An inspirational journey through the ‘old continent’, Europe’s Greatest Places captures the magic and magnificence of every location worth visiting. It roams from must-see blockbusters such as Venice and Paris to exquisite tucked-away gems that relatively few people visit, like the impressive waterfalls of The Plitvice Lakes, the magnificent monasteries of Moldavia and the romantic Douro Valley in Portugal.
You can count on Rick Steves to tell you what you really need to know when planning a Grand Tour of Europe. In this guide, Rick covers the best of Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.