The long, rich history of Europe has blessed the continent with an enviable collection of beautiful cities, boasting jaw-dropping architectural highlights and authentic cultures which have survived for generations. Many of the world’s great artists and architects have created a tapestry of beautiful cities and settlements spread across the nations, drawing on centuries of design and building techniques.
If you’ve already visited the architectural big-hitters of Europe – Barcelona, Rome, Paris, Vienna, etc. — and have fully absorbed the beauty of these romantic cities, you may now want to delve further into the Gothic, Neoclassical, Renaissance and Romanesque works of brilliance on the continent. To help inspire the next leg of your tour of the continent’s architectural highlights, we have picked five of our favourite lesser-visited cities of extreme beauty.
These are the highlights of Europe’s architectural trail just waiting to be explored.
The first of many UNESCO World Heritage Sites included in this list; Avignon is an ancient commune of significance in southern France, notable as the papal residency for seven successive popes in the 14th century. The settlement exudes antiquity though every brick and winding cobbled street, with medieval ramparts still providing a protective shroud around the daily activities of the 12,000-strong population. Importantly, very few buildings have been added to the settlement over the past 100 or so years, ensuring the authenticity of this medieval commune remains entirely in-tact.
A relaxing and rewarding settlement to explore on foot, Avignon’s large pedestrianised centre boasts streets flanked wall-to-wall with ornate structures and medieval fortifications. Avignon has managed to retain a relaxed ambience (in fact, Pope Clement V chose Avignon as the papal seat in 1309 to escape the stresses of Rome), which complements the Mediterranean climate and rolling vineyards which surround the city limits.
Avignon is visited during the Rhône leg of Emerald Waterways’ Sensations of Southern France river cruise.
Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
The welcoming entrance to the Black Forest, Freiburg takes on the appearance of a medieval fairy tale setting thanks to the tall Germanic spires piercing the forested backdrop. Colourful houses built on, aside, and above each other offer an insight into the Germany of yesteryear – when cuckoo clocks, and not motor cars, were amongst the main exports.
Another feather in Freiburg’s cap is its title of Germany’s warmest city – creating a joyous environment to explore on foot. Wonderfully relaxed cafes line every plaza and square in Freiburg, providing the perfect setting to sit back and drink in the architectural splendour of this most German of cities.
So often overlooked by visitors in favour of Paris; Lyon’s architectural and historical landmarks continue to wow those who venture outside of France’s capital. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Lyon can trace its history back almost 2,000 years and examples of Middle Ages, Renaissance, 17th, 18th and 19th-century architecture are present throughout the city.
Architectural highlights of this enigmatic city include the Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls, a ruinous Roman amphitheatre recognised as a ‘monument historique’. One of the largest and best-restored examples of Roman architecture in northern Europe, the amphitheatre boasted seating for 60 local Gallic tribes in its heyday.
The stunning Lyon Cathedral is a 12th-century church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist which has become symbolic of the city. Brought into the 21st-century, the Cathedral is tastefully lit at night, creating a wonderful spectacle.
Lyon is the ever-popular first port of call on our Delights of France tour, giving you a chance to enjoy the culinary delights of a city affectionately known as the world’s food capital.
The skyline surrounding Melk may be dominated by the beautiful Benedictine monastery, Melk Abbey, but cast your eyes towards the ground and the centre of the town, and there are plenty more treasures waiting to be explored.
The small Austrian city, which sits proudly on the Danube, boasts an array of architectural styles dating back to various centuries. Traces of this rich history can still be explored, and one of the city’s oldest surviving buildings is a 17th-century bakery, charmingly roofed with wooden shingles and two turrets.
To experience the splendour of this delightful city, we’d recommend visiting Melk Abbey and taking in the view from the top — a truly unforgettable sight.
Located on the mouth of the Douro as she spills into the Atlantic, Porto is one of Europe’s oldest and best positioned cities. Deriving its name from the influential ports, which over the centuries helped make Portugal one of the great exploring nations, Porto is a city born from the waters. This is reflected in the charismatic positioning and design of the city’s buildings, all perched leaning towards the meandering Douro.
Porto’s eclectic architecture echoes a couple of millennia of history; from the starkly beautiful Romanesque cathedral built in the 12th and 13th centuries to the awe-inspiring Casa da Musica which, though only completed in 2005, is now a proud symbol of the city.
Emerald Waterways’ Secrets of the Douro cruise is a wonderful round trip from Porto, exploring the nation’s wonderful port wine region.
With many of Europe’s oldest, most significant and most beautiful cities and settlements placed on the banks of the continent’s wonderful waterways, a river cruise is a spectacular way to explore the great architectural sites. For a full range Emerald Waterways’ river cruises, visit our homepage or call our friendly team today on 0808 301 4705.