Travel guide book publisher Lonely Planet recently released their annual Best in Travel list for 2020 and there were a few surprises amongst the European ‘winners’. With a tagline of ‘the best destinations, journeys and sustainable travel experiences for the year ahead’, this year’s list is comprised of a mix of perennial favourites as well as overlooked destinations.
The Best in Travel list is broken down into four categories - Top 10 Countries, Top 10 Cities, Top 10 Regions and Top 10 Value - and there were a number of European representatives in each category.
The beauty of a continent like Europe is that there are a large number of countries to visit and even within those countries, the different regions are very diverse. That gives regular travellers the perfect excuse to return again and again as there’s always somewhere new to visit.
Below you’ll find details on which places in Europe made the winner’s list and what you can expect to find if you include these destinations in your next European itinerary.
Top 10 Countries
Coming in at number two was England, a country that has drawn travellers to its shores for centuries. It’s often the launching pad for a European vacation but has plenty to offer in its own right.
Why visit England? You’ll never be bored in the thriving metropolis of London with royal palaces, museums and stunning architecture to admire. There’s red double-decker buses to ride, parks and gardens to stroll through and theatre shows to attend.
The rest of the country offers plenty to see and do, too. England’s rural landscape is stunning and it’s easy to explore quaint villages with their chocolate-box houses on one of the many holiday packages that are available.
I love the thatched-roofed houses of the Cotswolds, the elegance of Bath and the Cornish fishing villages that dot the coastline.
Other European countries making the top 10 list were:
>> North Macedonia - This landlocked Baltic nation may be small but it has plenty of interesting sites. The capital, Skopje, is home to a 15th-century Turkish bath house (now home to the National Gallery of Macedonia), historic buildings and the Old Bazaar quarter.
In the south of the country, Ohrid sits on the shores of the lake of the same name, whilst canyons, National Parks, Roman ruins, Ottoman-era mosques and vineyards are just some of the many places worth visiting in North Macedonia.
>> The Netherlands - Known for its windmills, tulips, clogs and dykes, the Netherlands is a low lying country that has embraced cycling like no other country. In fact, there are some 35,000 kilometres of bike trails across the Netherlands!
If you’re not into cycling, don’t worry. The country’s excellent public transport system can get you around the country in no time so you can enjoy the best of the Netherlands’ cities and smaller towns.
In Amsterdam, be sure to visit Anne Frank’s House (but get there early as it is very popular), the Rijksmuseum and enjoy a canal cruise. If it’s Rotterdam you are headed to, a visit to the Cube Houses should be top of your list and the country’s political capital, The Hague, is worth a visit for its numerous museums.
Don’t miss the opportunity to head outside of the cities and experience the rural landscapes of the provinces. Perhaps Zeeland, with its coastal towns and dunes appeals, or maybe you’d prefer to see the Kinderdijk windmills and tulips fields in South Holland?
Top 10 Cities
Anyone who has visited Salzburg will agree that the Austrian city is a stunner so it’s not surprising that it topped the list of best cities to visit in 2020.
Why visit Salzburg? There are so many reasons! This compact city is easily explored on foot and there are many highlights to tick off as you stroll around. Overlooking the city is Hohensalzburg Fortress, the largest fully preserved castle in Europe - an imposing sight.
Below, in the Old Town, amongst the cobbled streets, the Dom (Cathedral), Residenz and Mozart’s Birthplace are all worth a look before you head across the river to Mirabell Palace, setting for numerous scenes in the Hollywood movie ‘The Sound of Music’.
Don’t visit Salzburg with sampling a slice of Sacher Torte, a rich chocolate cake with apricot jam filling.
Other European cities in the top ten are:
>> Galway, Ireland - situated on the famous Wild Atlantic Way on Ireland’s West Coast, Galway is renowned for its laid back, friendly vibe, love of music and great food.
No visitor should leave Galway without strolling the two kilometre-long Salthill Promenade but if the weather isn’t in your favour head to Galway City Museum, one of the many traditional Irish pubs, or cosy up at a local cafe and sample some of the region’s local produce.
>> Bonn, Germany - Situated on the Rhine River, near the country’s border with Belgium, Bonn is one of the oldest cities in Germany. Birthplace of Beethoven, there are numerous references to the famous composer around the city.
Bonn’s five-towered Cathedral and the Rococo-style Town Hall are both impressive buildings and the Botanic Gardens on the grounds of Poppelsdorf Palace are the perfect place for a stroll.
If you’re visiting during Spring, be sure to visit the Cherry Blossom Avenue (officially called Heerstrasse) for a stunning display of Japanese cherry trees in full bloom.
Top 10 Regions
Le Marche, Italy
Le Marche in Italy scored second on Lonely Planet’s list of top 10 regions to visit in 2020. Overshadowed by its famous neighbour Tuscany, Le Marche has, for now, largely slipped under the tourist radar. That may be about to change!
Why visit Le Marche? Fewer crowds for starters. Tourists may flock to Tuscany’s hilltop villages and marvel at its incredible architecture but Le Marche is just as photo-worthy.
This region, in central Italy, is home to countless medieval villages, beautiful beaches, the Apennine mountains and the Frasassi Caves, Le Marche’s most popular natural attraction.
2020 will be eagerly anticipated by many Le Marche locals as the region celebrates the 500th anniversary of the death of its famous resident, the Renaissance painter Raphael.
That’s as good a reason as any to visit Le Marche.
Other European regions in the top ten are:
>> Cadiz Province, Spain - Perched at the intersection of the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar, Cadiz offers the perfect blend of beaches, 3000 years of history and a mild climate.
Major sites include the Cathedral on the Sea (climb the Bell Tower for incredible views), the Camera Oscura - both in the city of Cadiz, and around 80 beaches.
Be sure to visit Mercado Central de Abastos, Spain’s oldest covered market, where you can browse more than 150 stalls selling every kind of food imaginable.
>> Kvarner Gulf, Croatia - Wedged between the ever-popular Dalmatia and the Istrian Peninsula, Kvarner Gulf offers everything from bustling port cities to tiny islands.
Rijeka, the country’s biggest port, is a bustling city that serves as a gateway to the many islands in the Bay. It is also one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2020. Opatija, the place to be seen in during the Belle Epoque era, is still
fashionable and popular today - it’s regarded as the Nice of Croatia.
Islands in the Kvarner Gulf include Rab, Pag, Krk and Cres - all offering superb views of the Adriatic.
Top 10 Value
It may be home to the third-largest parliament building in the world but you don’t need a government-sized budget to visit Budapest. The Hungarian capital offers great value - particularly when it comes to accommodation, food and drink - but still delivers big time when it comes to things to see and do.
Why visit Budapest? Sitting astride the Danube River, the former towns of Buda and Pest now form the city of Budapest. Home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, magnificent buildings and thermal baths, there’s something to please everyone who visits Budapest.
Must-visit sights include Chain Bridge, which connects Buda and Pest, Heroes’ Square, Andrassy Avenue, the Parliament building (which was inspired by London’s Houses of Parliament) and Szechenyi Thermal Baths.
For wonderful views of the city, hop aboard the Buda Castle funicular for the ride to Castle Hill. Here you can visit the medieval fortified castle and admire the superb views of the Danube and the many bridges linking Buda and Pest.
Other European countries that came out on top in the value stakes are:
>> Serbia - After a bloody recent history, Serbia is emerging as a worthy holiday destination.
The country’s capital, Belgrade, is one of the oldest cities in Europe and has played an important role over the centuries thanks to its situation on the Danube River. The Belgrade Fortress, which can be visited, is a testament to the city’s importance.
Outdoor lovers should head straight for Zlatar Lake, Djerdap National Park or the Resavska Pecina Cave.
Visits to thermal baths and vineyards are an option, too. And if you go now, you’re likely to have them pretty much to yourself.
>> Athens, Greece - The birthplace of Western civilization, Athens oozes history at every turn. From the Parthenon, which was completed in 483 BC, to the Roman Stadium and the labyrinthine streets of the Plaka, Athens’ ancient sites are fascinating.
Just outside the city, there’s an endless choice of beaches for those who don’t have time to island hop but if you’d prefer to stick to the heart of the city why not enjoy a free walking tour to learn more about Athens?
With cheap eats, numerous free museums to discover and priceless views to admire, Athens really is a great value destination.
As you can see, there are some interesting destinations to consider visiting on your European holiday. Will you stick with the old favourites like Paris, Venice and Rome or will a lesser-known, but still worthy, destination make it on to your itinerary?