The birthplace of some of the most renowned artists, musicians and scientists. The land that built castles rivalling that of any fairy tale. The home of myths, legends and epic histories that has romanticised the hearts of literary geniuses for millennia. Europe has it all. Travelling Western Europe can be a bit more expensive than say, exploring Asia, but it is worth every penny! Western Europe is home to some of the best music festivals in the world and some of the most scenic beauty. It has some of the heaviest nightlife and my god, the food is damned delicious! Being the cultural capital of the world, Europe houses some of the most iconic attractions, that even if you haven’t seen, you will definitely have heard of. Here’s our list of the 25 must-see attractions in Western Europe.
Sistine Chapel – Vatican City – Rome – Italy
Vatican City houses some of Italy’s most famous art, the Sistine Chapel being one the highlights. Known as much for Michelangelo’s masterpiece as it is for its religious significance, the adorned frescoed ceiling is breathtaking. The painting took Michelangelo four years to complete and contains nine scenes from the book of Genesis. The Sistine Chapel is one of the most scrutinised pieces of artwork in history. (Partly due to the secret imagery Michelangelo hid amongst his work!)
Colosseum – Rome – Italy
One of the most recognisable attractions in Western Europe is the Roman Colosseum. Rome is basically an attraction in itself, but one of the highlights of this ancient city is definitely the Colosseum. Built to entertain 50,000 guests, this monumental amphitheatre now attracts 4 million visitors each year. It’s the largest amphitheatre ever built and has become the picture icon of Rome. It was once used for exhibitions of exotic animals, executions of prisoners, battle reenactments and drama. The Colosseum still holds a tremendous level of magnitude which can only be understood when standing in all its glory.
Trevi Fountain – Rome – Italy
Another attraction in Rome that is a must when visiting Western Europe, is the Trevi Fountain. Standing 26 meters high and 49 meters wide, the Trevi Fountain is one of the most famous in the world and the biggest in Rome. One of the most significant inventions of the ancient Romans were the aqueduct structures – a system to bring fresh water to the cities. This fountain was built in 19BC to be the terminal point along the Acqua Vergine to supply the ‘Eternal City’ with drinking water. It is said that if you throw a coin into the Trevi it will ensure that you return to the city once again!
Blue Mosque – Istanbul – Turkey
The Sultanahmet Mosque of Istanbul is one of the most famous attractions in Turkey and a truly exquisite site which is still in use today. The nickname Blue Mosque stems from the 20,000 handmade blue Iznik tiles that adorn the interior and make up designs of tulips, roses and lilies. The building is one of the most photogenic attractions in Western Europe, composed of curvaceous domes, and more minarets than usual for a mosque. It is just as beautiful outside as it is in, with one of the biggest courtyards of all the Ottoman mosques.
Anne Frank House – Amsterdam – Holland
Drawing more than one million visitors each year, the Anne Frank house is a top spot for tours to Western Europe and a time machine which transports visitors back to the brutal WW2. It houses the actual diary which is now a world famous book, translated into over 50 languages. Walk into the secret annex where a family of 8 hid for more than two years. Realise the space and conditions they were subjected to before being discovered by the Nazis and thrown into concentration camps.
Grand Bazaar – Istanbul – Turkey
Welcome to the largest covered market in the world. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is home to more than 4000 shops. Stalls selling everything from precious jewels to silver art. From leather handbags to quality carpets. Over 60 streets stemming from various points in the city join together under the beautiful domed ceiling of a thousand windows. Being the most famous market in the world, this can be one of the busiest attractions in Western Europe. But it’s worth it! The sweet scent of spices, the tempting smell of delicious Turkish coffee, and the hypnotising drift of incense will send you into a daze as you wander through trying not to buy everything in sight!
Notre Dame Cathedral – Paris – France
This mid 14th century cathedral is one of the most recognised churches and in the world. Being one of the oldest churches in France and built during the beginning of the Gothic era, The Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. People flock from all over the world to appreciate the exquisite stained glass windows, the looming gargoyles and the quintessential Gothic architecture. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and shrouded in legends thanks to the famous novel ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. If you have the energy, climbing the two tallest towers will reward you with one of the most spectacular 360 degree views of Paris you can find.
Eiffel Tower – Paris – France
Whether you’ve been to Paris or not, chances are you’ve heard of one of the most famous attractions in Western Europe – the Eiffel Tower. Built to show France’s industrial prowess, this metal structure towers 324 meters high. Whether it’s night or day, reaching the top will give you mesmerising views over the city. If you visit in the evening, the tower sparkles gold, on the hour for 5 full minutes. Climbing to the top requires a hefty 1710 steps, but don’t worry – there is a lift! If you’re looking to make the visit truly memorable, the Eiffel Tower now hosts two restaurants. Sip away at French wine and indulge in mouth-watering cuisine in this decadent, elegant atmosphere.
Parthenon – Athens – Greece
No holiday to Athens would be complete without a visit to one of the most famous Western European attractions, built by one of the most revered civilisations we’ve ever known. The ancient structure Parthenon, sits atop of Acropolis, the ancient citadel of Greece and towers over the city of Athens. It took 15 years to build and has architecturally dumbfounded us for years. This temple was built with slightly concave foundations and slightly convex columns to create the illusion of perfection.
Westminster – London – United Kingdom
Westminster is the heart of the UK democracy and a great place to start a tour to Western Europe. The most famous feature of the Houses of Parliament is the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known as Big Ben. (You can visit it with signed consent from your local MP!) You can take a tour around the main parts of the palace and if you want to really get involved in the British culture, take afternoon tea in the dining room!
Szechenyi Bath – Budapest – Hungary
Budapest is known as the City of Baths so a trip to the Spa is definitely a must-do in Western Europe. The Szechenyi Medicinal Bath is the largest medicinal bath in Europe and the first to be built in Budapest. Dip in and out of the varying temperature levels of the 18 pools whilst marvelling at the beautiful neo-baroque architecture that surrounds you. The palace also houses a few steam rooms with various aromatherapy oils seeping into the air.
Louvre – Paris – France
The Louvre is one of the most popular attractions to visit in France and always a highlight for a tour of Western Europe. Housing a collection of 380,000 pieces, this museum has one of the best and biggest collections in the world. As well as what’s on the inside, the exterior is also something to be marvelled at with its iconic triangular design. Inside you will find famous paintings such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, or the exquisitely carved statue ‘The Winged Victory of Samothrace’. Being the single most famous museum in the world, this is definitely a must-see attraction of Western Europe.
Plitvice Lakes – Croatia
Known as one of the most beautiful natural destinations in Western Europe, visiting the Plitvice Lakes is a great day trip from the nearby Split. This national park comprises of 16 lakes, each with a natural damn creating trickling waterfalls connecting each lake to one another. The park is famous for the its vibrant colours in varying degrees of blue, green and every shade in between. This beautiful reserve is great for spotting wildlife such as bear, owls, eagles and wolves.
The Bridge of Sighs – Venice – Italy
Venice is often a highlight of a tour to Western Europe. One of the most admired landmarks in Venice is the Bridge of Sighs. Although, this is possibly the most misinterpreted attraction in Europe! You will often find couples kissing in front of the bridge, thinking its a romantic spot – we are in Venice after all! Actually, the bridge got its name from the prisoners that walked across and sighed out of the windows as they stole a last look at Venice before being imprisoned
Ponte Vecchio – Florence – Italy
Ponte Vecchio, creatively named ‘old bridge’ in English, is usually centre stage in every classic Florence picture taken from the viewpoint at the Piazzale Michelangelo. This illustrious bridge is one of the most famous landmarks of Florence and it’s free to visit – which is always a bonus in Italy! It used to be lined with all manner of shops but that deemed a bit too untidy for the Florentines and now only the town’s best jewellers are allowed to set up shop there.
Marienplatz – Munich – Germany
You could easily spend all afternoon in the Marienplatz square window shopping (or actually shopping!) and sneaking in pit stops at the restaurants and cafes that line the square. Being in the heart of the city, the Marienplatz always has a vibrant energy with events and markets constantly taking place. Group tours flock to the square to gape in awe at the stately Gothic architecture. The New Town Hall and the Old Town Hall towers both offer incredible views over Munich. Visiting the square at 11 am, 12 pm and 5 pm will give you a charming 12 minute bit of entertainment from the town’s famous Glockenspiel!
Astronomical Clock – Prague – Czech Republic
A Western Europe tour must-see is the medieval city of Prague. One of the most beautiful attractions in Prague is the Astronomical Clock. It has been in use for over 600 years and it’s the only one of its kind still in operation. It really is exquisite, delicately trimmed in a gold intricate design, detailing the calendar in days, weeks and years and the position of the celestial bodies. The calendar clock below shows which of the zodiac signs is currently in reign. On the hour hear the famous chime and watch the clock doors open to reveal rotating figures of the apostles.
The Blue Lagoon – Reykjavik – Iceland
Almost everyone who visits Iceland has two things in mind, seeing the Northern Lights and visiting the Blue Lagoon. It is just one of those things on everyone’s bucket list – and for good reason too! Swim to the bar, help yourself to mud masks (made with silica) and relax in the steamy, milky blue water taking in the surroundings. The colour and the location of the lagoon makes it feel like you’re bathing in the clouds! The water contains lots of algae, minerals and silica – so it’s great for healing and cleansing your skin.
Saint Mark’s Basilica – Venice – Italy
Venice is almost a ‘site’ in itself and houses some of the most famous attractions in Western Europe. One of the most notable sites has to be Saint Mark’s Basilica. This cathedral has a compelling history, not to mention just how beautiful it is! Almost the entire interior is coated in mosaic – the floors, the walls, the ceiling, everything! The multi-domed roof is inlaid in spectacular gold that definitely gives it the wow factor as you walk through. Mismatched columns decorate the front of the building, individually stolen from various places and brought back to Venice!
Boat tour – Bruges – Belgium
A cruise down the waterways is arguably one of the best ways to see the fairy-tale town of Bruges. Take a relaxing boat tour around the picturesque canal system and soak in the medieval beauty. It’s also a great way to get your bearings on what is where in the city. Weave your way through the historic town taking in the surroundings and learning about the history. Boats depart regularly from various meeting points along the main river. And as there’s a law on the number of boats allowed, your views will never be spoilt by overcrowding!
The Schonbrunn Palace – Vienna – Austria
When visiting one of the most culturally opulent cities in the world, a must-see is the Schonbrunn Palace. This palatial complex sits just outside the city and is definitely worth the trip. Vienna is world famous for its impressive baroque architecture. It is so easy to spend hours drifting from one room to the next appreciating the design. The gardens span across 1.2 km and are easily one of the most beautiful attractions in Western Europe. With lots of hidden pathways and trees, it’s easy to find your perfect picnic spot.
Buckingham Palace – London – United Kingdom
If you’re visiting London in the summer months, Buckingham Palace opens its doors to the public for guided tours. Walk around the official residence of the Queen of England and bask in all its glory. See the golden Grand Staircase, the collection of fine art and the majestic Throne room. If you aren’t visiting during summer, seeing the famous changing of the guards is definitely still worth the trip.
LeaningTower of Pisa – Pisa – Italy
Pisa is one of those landmarks which has fascinated tourists and architects for years. Its precarious tilt has been the focus of millions of perception-playing photos. Standing at 57 meters high, the building towers high over Pisa and offers incredible views of the town. Did you know that it was a complete mistake that it turned out wonky? But not for long! The tower has actually moved a little over time and is becoming straight! Read our five facts about the Leaning Tower of Pisa here.
Trakai Castle – Vilnius – Lithuania
If your tour to Western Europe stops anywhere near Vilnius, take a trip to the medieval Trakai Castle. Wooden bridges lead up to the impressive medieval structure – ice often covers the bridges so be careful! The castle is perfectly set upon an island in the middle of the Galves lake. You can easily find plenty of restaurants serving up delicious local food. There’s also lots of lovely walks to be enjoyed outside of the castle grounds. If you can bear the bitter cold, visiting the castle in the snow makes the whole experience extra enchanting!
Western Europe Tours
Being the cultural capital of the world, Western Europe houses a long list of must-see attractions. A great way to tick off some of those bucket list destinations is to do a tour of Western Europe. Tucan Travel offer a great choice of tours from a holiday of Italy in a week, to a 21 day Western tour of Europe – starting in London and ending in Rome. If you’re lucky enough to have more time on your hands, take the Eastern Europe Discovery tour – 66 days from Russia to Turkey via the Baltic and Balkan states.
Roxy is part of the marketing team for Tucan Travel. She has been travelling solo for years, predominantly around Asia, Indonesia and Europe. You can find her on LinkedIn here.