Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary and Austria are a traveller’s delights in Europe.
Italy’s rich architecture and cuisine; Germany’s historic monuments and natural wonders; Switzerland’s grand mountain slopes and charming plains; and Hungary and Austria are gems of art, culture and architectural beauty.
BERLIN & BLACK FOREST
Berlin’s key sights like the Reichstag, Brandenburger Tor, Fernsehturm and Museumsinsel cluster in the historic city centre, Mitte, one of Berlin’s most romantic spots. The Jewish quarter around Hackescher Markt, teems with fashionable boutiques, bars and restaurants. The residential Prenzlauer Berg has a lively cafe and restaurant scene. Further south, gritty but cool Kreuzberg is party central, as is student flavoured Friedrichshain east across the Spree River. Western Berlin’s hub is Charlottenburg, with great shopping and a swish royal palace.
The Black Forest
Schwarzwald (in German) gets its name from its dark canopy of evergreens. Charming villages, misty valleys, fairy-tale woodlands greets visitor. Things to do in Black Forest include forest hiking tours and biking. One of the most scenic roads is the 60km SchwarzwaldHochstrasse (B500), between Baden-Baden and Freudenstadt. And, yes, there are many, many places to buy cuckoo clocks.
Best months to travel: Jun-Sep
Best deals: Museumspass Berlin A combined day pass for all five museums in Berlin offers better discount; Berlin Welcome Card (www. berlin-welcomecard.de Regional trains link Alpirsbach, Schiltach, Hausach and other Black Forest villages).
Best eats: Rothaus Tannenzäpfle beer, straight from the Black Forest. Spätzle (mac ‘n’ cheese), Maultaschen (ravioli-like pasta) and Berlin cheesecake with walnuts and elderberry ice cream
Best for shopping: Kurfürstendamm (Ku’damm for short), Berlin’s busiest shopping strip
Best gifts back home: Cuckoo clocks from Black Forest
ROME, PISA & PADUA
One of Europe’s ancient and cities with a rich civilizational history to it, Rome abounds with monuments and good food. From the grand Colosseum, Palatino, Roman forum Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio, Capitoline Museums for some classical art, Bocca della Verità, the Pantheon, Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps and more, your Roman holiday is bound to be full of romantic places.
One of Italy’s signature sights, the Leaning Tower (Torre Pendente di Pisa) leans a startling 3.9 degrees off the vertical. The tower took almost 200 years to build but was already leaning when it was unveiled in 1372. Over time, the tilt, caused by a layer of weak subsoil, steadily worsened until it was finally halted by a major stabilisation project in the 1990s.
A rewarding day trip from Venice, Padua’s medieval centre and lively university atmosphere make a visit special. Do check out the Cappella degli Scrovegni frescoes.
Best months to travel: Apr-Oct
Best deals: Book online at www.coopculture.it; the Roma Pass 3 days or 48 hours is value for money
Best eats: Gelato at Fatamorgana; rigatoni all’amatriciana (pasta tubes with pancetta, chilli and tomato sauce), supplì (fried rice balls) and pizza rossa (‘red’ pizza, with olive oil, tomato and oregano).
Best for shopping: Piazza Novona, Rome
Best gifts back home: artworks, ceramics, Murano glassware and carte (handbags)
PRAGUE, VIENNA & INNSBRUCK
The Czech capital is a near perfect museum of European architecture through the ages. The Old Town Square, across the Charles Bridge and up to Prague Castle and Prague Jewish Museum are not to be missed.
Discover the grand Habsburg palaces, coffee houses and cutting-edge galleries of Vienna Hofburg (the Imperial Palace), the Museums Quartier for some contemporary art. The Innere Stadt (Inner City) boasts design stores, old-world confectioners, and Austro-Asian fusion restaurants. The Sisi Museum is devoted to Austria’s most beloved empress, with a strong focus on the clothing and jewellery of Austria’s royals.
The mountains here are so close that within 25 minutes it’s possible to travel from the heart of the city to over 2000m above sea level. Summer and winter outdoor activities are popular. Innsbruck has an authentic medieval Altstadt (Old Town), inventive architecture and vibrant student-driven nightlife. Visit Gothic Hofkirche, one of Europe’s finest royal court churches and the Goldenes Dachl & Museum.
Best months to travel: May-Jul (Prague) Jul-Oct (Vienna)
Best deals: www.prague.eu; Vienna Card (48-/72-hour gives you unlimited travel plus discounts at selected museums, attractions, cafes and shops); Innsbruck Card allows one visit to Innsbruck’s main sights/attractions, a return journey on lifts and cable cars, unlimited use of public transport including the Sightseer bus, and three-hour bike rental.
Best eats: Potato pancakes and beef rending; the humble wurst (sausage); coffee and cake is Austria’s sweetest tradition. Must-tries: flaky apple strudel, rich, chocolatey Sacher Torte and Kaiserschmarrn (sweet pancakes with raisins).
Best for shopping: In Prague, the longest Mariahilfer Straße; in Vienna Rathausgalerien and Kaufhaus Tyrol in Innsbruck.
Best gifts back home: Viennese coffee, Dirndl pochettes (tiny purses)
Budapest is perhaps the most beautiful city in Central Europe. Parks full of attractions, unique architecture and museums filled with treasures and boats sailing up and down the scenic Danube Bend, Turkish-era thermal baths, it’s easy to see why the Hungarian capital is one the continent’s most delightful, fun cities to visit. Castle Hill (Várhegy) is Budapest’s biggest tourist draw. Here, you’ll find the Royal Palace and sweeping views of Pest across the river.
Best months to travel: May-Jun, Sep-Oct
Best deals: Budapest Card (www.budapestinfo.hu), Hungary Card (www.hungarycard.hu); offers free entry to many museums; 50% off on six return train fares and some bus and boat travel; up to 20% off selected accommodation; and 50% off the price of the Budapest Card
Best eats: Gulyás (goulash) Hungary’s signature dish is a soup made with beef, onions and tomatoes; Palacsinta thin crêpes
Best for shopping: Central market hall in Budapest
Best gifts back home: Art nouveau posters, panels of Alfons Mucha, Rubik’s cube and wooden handicrafts.
To the Swiss, Central Switzerland – green, mountainous and soothingly beautiful is the very essence of ‘Swissness’ and its heartland. Lake Lucerne is a dreamy city of designer hotels, art galleries and resorts and hikes. This gorgeous Swiss city’s charms include the Old Town with 15th-century buildings and bridges Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) and Spreuerbrücke over River Reuss and the Lion Monument.
Switzerland is the world’s second-biggest adventure-sports centre and Interlaken is its busiest hub. A variety of options include rafting, canyoning, hydrospeeding, bungee or canyon jumping, tandem paragliding, ice climbing, hang-gliding, skydiving and mountain-bike tour and more. Straddling the glittering Lakes Thun and Brienz (thus the name), Interlaken boasts exceptional scenery.
Best months to travel: Dec-Apr (for Alpine holiday); May-Sep
Best deals: Lake Lucerne Region Visitors Card (www.luzern.com/en/ visitors-card) is free and entitles visitors to discounts on various museums, sporting facilities, cable cars and lake cruises in Lucerne and the surrounding area.
Best eats: Fondue (bread dipped in liquid cheese), rosti (pan fried grated potato), papet vaudois (leeks with potatoes and sausage).
Best for shopping: Williseger for vintage and hand-carved decorations, from Erzgebirge nutcrackers and more; Swiss Army Recycling Collection shops; Schweizer Heimatwerk
Best gifts back home: Souvenir cowbells, cuckoo clocks, chocolate bars and Matterhorn snow globes and exclusive hand crafted wooden toys.