Spread out across its various constituent countries, Western Europe is a treasure trove of ancient monuments from fabulous palaces and imposing castles to heart-stoppingly beautiful churches and timeless historic quarters.
But Western Europe could never be described as living in the past. It remains a vibrant center of modern culture and its cities are overflowing with examples of some of the latest architecture, music and art.
Few places in the world scream ‘travel’ like Italy. Rome: a collection of ravishing Roman ruins and the Vatican; Venice: a sumptuous collection of canals and the ‘finest drawing room in the world’, St Mark’s Square; Florence: a tangled network of stunning streets spread out in the shadow of the Duomo.
Away from its showcase cities, though, a more relaxed, rustic – and breathlessly romantic – country runs away in every direction. From the gorgeous Tuscan hilltowns to the rolling olive groves and dusty villages of the arid south, Italy could hardly be any more attractive.
Like Italy, France is part of the old guard of European travel. The beaches of the south of France, the fabulous skiing in the Alps and the countless landscapes of rare natural beauty across the country have attracted almost as many travelers down through the years as its dreamy capital, Paris.
Further south, Spain is an assortment of everything that makes an attractive travel destination: great beaches line the coasts, a host of wonderful, vibrant cities like Barcelona, Madrid and Seville dot the country and then there are the evocative Moorish remains of Andalucia. All in all, it’s certainly a compelling package!
On top of its best known cities – Berlin and Munich – Germany has more wonderful sights to offer. Ancient towns of interest include the chocolate boxey Bamburg and Heidelburg, whilst the Black Forest and German Alps are breathtaking and the castles of the Rhineland are straight out of a fairytale.
The Netherlands and Belgium may sit side by side, but their capitals could hardly be more different. Brussels is a modern European bureaucratic center sitting alongside the glorious Grand-Place while the backpacking destination par excellence – Amsterdam – has its gorgeous canals, coffeeshops and seedy Red Light District.
With its fantastic shopping, peerless nightlife and weeks’ worth of sightseeing, London is the region’s biggest and busiest city. But England is an enormously varied place, even though relatively few backpackers manage to make it out to the country’s other cities – Manchester, Birmingham and Oxford – or its beautiful rural stretches like Cornwall, the Lake District and East Anglia.
Two of the other big names of the backpacking circuit – Edinburgh and Dublin – lie within easy striking distance of the English capital. But both Scotland and Ireland also cry out for more lengthy exploration with their rolling green landscapes scattered with dozens of charming towns.
To the north of the region, the countries of Scandinavia – Sweden, Norway and Denmark – all have plenty to recommend them, particularly their uniformly chic and fashionable main cities, Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen.