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Explore the culture and history of Europe's capital cities

Explore the culture and history of Europe's capital cities
(Photo by Marchello74 (Getty Images/iStockphoto))

Springtime, summertime, anytime in Europe is magical. To experience the continent’s depth of history, sophistication, innovation and cuisine, begin with its cultural capitals.



Capture the

joie de vivre


of Paris with a champagne toast at the top of the Eiffel Tower. What better way to begin your Parisian soiree than with an overview of the City of Light from nearly 1,000 feet up. You’ll see for 37 miles across the city, with the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe at your feet. Continue the fete with dinner or champagne and a show at the iconic Moulin Rouge — for 110 years the hottest cabaret act in town. Sequins, feathers, beautiful women and lavish sets are as enticing today as when artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec captured them on canvas in the 1890s. Move into the posh circles of France’s royalty at the Palace of Versailles. Follow the footsteps of Louis XIV through the Hall of Mirrors, the gilded state apartments including the King’s Chamber and the Council Study, and into the 2,000-acre Gardens of Versailles.


Live the glory of Rome. The treasures of Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel are incomparable. Gazing at Michelangelo’s frescoes including “The Creation of Adam” is a lifetime experience — newly energized by the popularity of Pope Francis. Step back in time with the gladiators at the Roman Colosseum, the emperors at the Temple of Julius Caesar and the imperial ruins on Palatine Hill. See the future of fashion in the flagship Fendi, Valentino and Bulgari boutiques near the Spanish Steps. Remember to toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, the largest of the Eternal City’s 50 monumental fountains. Legend says you’ll return if you do.



You’ll see it only in Barcelona, Spain’s sunny Mediterranean port city: the weird and wonderful architectural works of Antoni Gaudi. His landmark La Sagrada Familia cathedral dominates the scene, with 230-foot vaulted ceilings, wildly opulent décor and four spires that welcome visitors to ascend to the top for bird’s-eye city views. Ride the cable car above the harbor to Montjuic Castle. Savor the city’s renowned Catalan cuisine — perhaps esqueixada, salad with shredded bacalao (salt cod) — at Can Culleretes restaurant, opened in 1786 in the Barri Gotic, the largest inhabited medieval quarter in Europe.


Toast to the good life in the sun-warmed vineyards of Tuscany, Italy’s Chianti wine region. Wine-taste your way to historic villas and castles, repurposed into tasting rooms and boutique inns. Make Florence your headquarters and blend city sightseeing — the Duomo and Giotto’s bell towers and Michelangelo’s David inside the Accademia Gallery — with a visit to cozy San Gimignano, a medieval hill town, famous for its 13th century towers. Then watch the world go by while enjoying a cappuccino in the Piazza della Signoria, opposite Florence’s famed Palazzo Vecchio.

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