From picturesque countryside and beach escapes, to amazing art galleries and architecture - Europe has much to offer even the most seasoned travellers, and best of all, its so close to home. Whether it's exploring the romantic heart of Provence, relaxing lakeside in the mountains of Montenegro, going volcano trekking in Iceland or dancing the night away at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona, there's plenty to see and do on the continent this summer. Read on for the top 10 must-visit destinations and experiences for 2013...
Words: David Whitley
Lake Skadar, Montenegro
The Montenegro coast is old news – the Russian masses have already invaded the seaside resort towns. But Montenegro’s mountainous interior is just as special. Brave the dog-legging roads and you’ll end up at Lake Skadar. Surrounded by mountains and forming a watery border with Albania, the lake is surrounded by cute hilltop monasteries and postcard-shot fishing villages. Undiscovered Montenegro has started offering activity holidays on and around Skadar before the rest of the world cottons on.
Picture credit: Undiscovered Montenegro
As if there weren’t enough treasures in the Uffizi to keep you occupied, Italy’s top art museum is opening two more rooms this year, including one that goes heavy on 16th century masterpieces. And once the art attack is over, there’s always the traditional trio of the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio and leather-makers shops before heading out for wine and good food in the Tuscan countryside. Florence is also becoming easier to get to – Vueling is launching direct flights from Heathrow – a vast improvement on the usual budget airline schlep to Pisa followed by tiresome bus transfer.
Picture credit: David Whitley
If the Gaudi glamour, tapas-fuelled nightlife and arty accommodation hadn’t convinced you to dive into Catalonia’s capital of cool, then the Primavera Sound festival should. Between May 22 and 26, Barca’s Parc Del Forum is hosting the hottest musical line up assembled for years. Blur, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, My Bloody Valentine, the Wu Tang Clan, Hot Chip and the Breeders are the tip of one spectacular iceberg.
Picture credit: Chris Van Hove
Malmo’s in the musical spotlight too, but for camp rather than cool reasons. In May, the southern Swedish city hosts the Eurovision Song Contest. Between the ballads and novelty backing singers dressed as pirates, there’s gorgeously maintained medieval Old Town full of galleries and restaurants to explore and Santiago Calatrava’s Turning Torso to gawp at. The city has a strong green ethic too – expect plenty of organic cafés, Fairtrade fashion and indie shopping opportunities.
Picture credit: Malmotown.com
Much, much cheaper than it was a few years ago, Iceland is now back in the realms of affordability. New budget airline flights from Gatwick to Reykjavik with Wow are a bonus for anyone who wants to indulge in the Icelandic capital’s galloping live music and nightlife scenes, while those seeking natural wonders can expect the best Northern Lights displays in 50 years. If, of course, you’re wanting something truly bizarre to boast about, how about climbing into a magma chamber? Inside The Volcano takes groups inside the Thrihnukagigur volcano after trekking across a spectacular highland lava field.
Picture credit: Inside the Volcano
Going to the south of France the green way gets a hell of a lot easier when Eurostar launches direct trains from London to Avignon in the summer. The walled city, famous for the palace that was once home to renegade popes and a picturesque unfinished bridge, is the romantic heart of Provence. It’s also the heart of the Côtes du Rhône wine region – and once you’ve finished browsing the boho galleries around Rue de les Teinturiers, you can embark on a rigorous sampling session inside the Palais des Papes.
Picture credit: David Whitley
Central Europe’s unassuming budget contender celebrates its 20th birthday this year. It’s an affordable all-rounder, with capital Bratislava raised above quietly enjoyable status by having bizarre public artworks cropping up in unexpected places. To complete the basic recipe, add scores of countryside castles and bargain basement skiing in the Tatras mountains, mix in 2013 European Capital of Culture, Kosice, and top off with hardcore cryotherapy spa treatments at the Aquacity resort.
Picture credit: Slovakia.travel
New Easyjet flights to Kalamata give the Greek mainland a fighting chance of proving it’s as sexy as the islands. In the Peloponnese region of south-western Greece, the area around the city has the architectural honeypots – classical temples, Byzantine churches and medieval castles – without the crowds. It’s also the gateway to Costa Navarino, an ever expanding strip of luxury coastal resorts that go for sophistication rather than sordid.
Picture credit: Costa Navarino
Amsterdam is giving its cultural muscles a serious flex this year with the reopening of two signature museums. The Van Gogh Museum should be back in business by May but the major makeover has been at the Rijksmuseum, home to countless masterworks. Ten years and €375 million have been spent revamping it. Throw in a new king’s coronation, a sprucing up of the Canal Ring for its 400th anniversary, and the city has got its celebration swing back.
Picture credit: John Lewis Marshall
The hordes pouring into Dubrovnik have driven prices sky-high in Croatia’s most famous coastal city. But there’s still great value to be had further north. In 2013, Ryanair is launching flights to Zadar – a more down-to-earth town that locals still venture into the heart of. Island boat trips, medieval churches and Roman ruins are part of the appeal, but the stand-out attraction is the Sea Organ. This extraordinary public artwork has pipes laid into stone stairs that descend into the sea, and the music made depends on the size of the waves.
Picture credit: Croatia National Tourism Office