When time is short, how do you narrow down Europe's tourist sights to just a handful? From the Swiss Alps and London to Granada, St Petersburg and Versailles, here are five that will stir the soul
A trip to Europe is for many the fulfilment of a lifelong dream, a chance to experience for oneself all those famous sights from movies and books. The problem, though, is that some of the continent’s best known attractions are also some of its most disappointing.
Psychologists have a name for the condition that sums up the experience at its most extreme: Paris Syndrome. Japanese visitors to the French capital apparently develop panic attacks when confronted with sights that just don’t meet their expectations. Likely locations for such attacks include the Eiffel Tower (far better on the postcards), the Acropolis in Greece ("Ah, there it is I think, through the smog") and the famous gondola rides in Venice. Other strong contenders for crushing disappointment are the Manneken Pis in Brussels and the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, both guaranteed to elicit a cry of “Is that it?”.
So what should one make a point of seeing on a European vacation? What sites will stir the soul, fire the imagination and leave you feeling glad you made the journey? Here are my top five:
THE SWISS ALPS (Geneva, Switzerland)
Take the railway from Chur to Martigny in southern Switzerland and see the Swiss Alps unfold in all their majesty. Snow-frosted peaks soar into oceans of blue sky, and wondrous vistas peel into view as you gently traverse the mountain range. What's more, the train always leaves on time…
THE LONDON EYE (London, England)
In a city that is both constantly moving and surprisingly flat, the London Eye’s capsules of calm – and the elevated perspective they provide – create a memorable experience for harried sightseers in the capital. As the big wheel gently turns, you may for the first and only time think of London as rather beautiful.
THE HERMITAGE (St Petersburg, Russia)
Catherine the Great set out to gather the world’s greatest artistic treasure-trove, then built a suitably magnificent building in which to house it. The Hermitage is an astounding temple of decadent luxury, designed with impeccable taste. You will need Raybans to take in all the glittering gold and diamonds on display.
THE ALHAMBRA (Granada, Spain)
A million photographs and thousands of articles about the Alhambra can be distilled into a few simple words: the most beautiful building on earth. From its meticulous carvings and lavishly proportioned hallways to its tranquil courtyards and fountains, this 14th-century Moorish palace is poetry rendered in stone.
THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES (France)
The Sun King, aka Louis XIV, built Versailles to be the grandest palace in Europe and a lavish statement of monarchical power. So successful was this magnificently opulent structure, it became a symbol of royal excess that helped to inspire the French Revolution of 1789.