Where To Travel In Your Downtime In Europe

If your expat assignment takes you to Europe, why not travel beyond the major Western cities to these recommended places in your time off?

 

Istanbul, Turkey

Europe and Asia meet in Istanbul, this year's #3 Travellers' Choice Destination in the World, where breathtaking ancient architecture coexists with modern restaurants and nightlife. The city's mosques, bazaars, and hammams (Turkish baths) could keep you happily occupied for your entire trip. Start with the awe-inspiring Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), visible from many points of the city. Stroll the Galata Bridge and stop by the Miniaturk Park to see its tiny artifacts. The Grand Bazaar has thousands of shops to browse, while the Egyptian Bazaar is a fragrant trove of spices and fruits.

 

Prague, Czech Republic

The bohemian allure and fairytale features of Prague, #5 in the World in this year's Travellers' Choice Destination Awards, make it a perfect destination for beach-weary vacationers who want to immerse themselves in culture. Spend a full day exploring Prazsky hrad (Prague Castle), then refuel over a hearty dinner at a classic Czech tavern. Spend some time wandering the Old Town Square before heading over to gape at The Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock. Prague’s best bars are found in cellars, where historic pubs set the scene for a night of traditional tippling.

 

Zermatt, Switzerland

When most people think of Zermatt, they think of one thing: The Matterhorn. This ultimate Swiss icon looms over Zermatt, first drawing visitors here in the 1860s. The village of Zermatt, a Travellers' Choice Destination, is lovely and car-free, with old-fashioned brown chalets and winding alleys. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to walk everywhere—there are electric vehicles and horse-drawn cabs.) Skiing in the region often lasts through early summer, but when the weather’s warmer, it’s a great time to hike.

 

Goreme, Turkey

A town literally carved into the volcanic rock, Goreme is the gateway to the Goreme National Park, a vast UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses spectacular 10th- and 11th-century cave churches. The park itself is known for its chimney rock formations and is very popular with backpackers. This Travellers' Choice Destination is also a great area to sample Turkish cuisine and wine.

 

St Petersburg, Russia

The second largest city in Russia and a Travellers' Choice Destination for 2015, St. Petersburg is the country’s cultural heart. View splendid architectural gems like the Winter Palace and the Kazan Cathedral, and give yourself plenty of time to browse the world-renowned art collection of the Hermitage. Sprawling across the Neva River delta, St. Petersburg offers enough art, nightlife, fine dining and cultural destinations for many repeat visits.

 

Budapest, Hungary

Over 15 million gallons of water bubble daily into Budapest's 118 springs and boreholes. The city of spas offers an astounding array of baths, from the sparkling Gellert Baths to the vast 1913 neo-baroque Szechenyi Spa to Rudas Spa, a dramatic 16th-century Turkish pool with original Ottoman architecture. This Travellers' Choice Destination, called the "Queen of the Danube," is also steeped in history, culture and natural beauty. Get your camera ready for the Roman ruins of the Aquincum Museum, Heroes' Square and Statue Park, and the 300-foot dome of St. Stephen's Basilica.

 

Rimini, Italy

The biggest beach resort on the Adriatic Sea, Rimini is a favored Italian seaside holiday destination for Italians themselves. The city offers an impressive nine miles of beaches, though many of these have private access for the scores of hotels facing the shore. The old town, about a 15-minute walk inland, has many interesting sights, including the Arch of Augustus from 27 BC, and Tiberius Bridge from the early 1st century. Rimini also boasts many great restaurants and an energetic nightlife.

 

Sorrento, Italy

Land of Mermaids. Land of Orange and Lemon Groves. Land of Colours. This small city in Campania has earned a plethora of alluring names. Famed for its sea cliffs, the town's steep slopes look out over azure waters to Ischia, Capri and the Bay of Naples. The birthplace of Limoncello liqueur offers some good diving, great sea fishing, boat cruises and appetizing restaurants. Excellent hiking trails cross the peninsula. Rent a car or take a taxi if the steep streets look too intimidating.

 

Funchal, Portugal

Funchal, the capital of the Madeira archipelago, was declared a city in the 1500s, and became an important point between the old and new worlds. The laid-back city owes much of its historical prominence to the white gold, the Madeiran sugar. Today Funchal is known for its appealing temperatures, wine and crafts. Top spots to visit include the open Worker's Market, Blandy's Wine Lodge and the Sacred Art Museum. Friendly locals, walkable streets and cheap taxis make the city easy to get around.

 

La Oliva, Spain

Nestled in the northern part of the Canary Islands’ Fuerteventura, charming La Oliva features beautiful Spanish architecture, dramatic views, and eclectic nightlife. And the beaches? Oh, the beaches. Picnic on a pearly stretch of sand, take a dip or snorkel in the serene waters, or hop on a surfboard to enjoy the area’s most popular sport. Don’t worry if you’ve yet to get your proverbial feet wet—there are lots of area surf schools that will have you hanging ten in no time.

 

Source: Travellers’ Choice Awards 2015, Tripadvisor