Thought stunning scenery and beautiful beaches were reserved exclusively for expensive holidays to the far flung corners of the world like Hawaii, the Maldives, or Bali?
Some of the world's most desirable destinations are just a short flight (or even just a train ride) away.
So beat those January blues and book a long weekend to one of these enchanting European destinations.
Originally a fishing village, Amsterdam is a beautiful city built on water. The best way to get around the city is by bicycle – there are more bicycles than people in Amsterdam, as there are many cycling paths and it's a very safe city for cyclists. Aside from 75 museums, lots of beautiful boutiques, great interiors and homeware shops, there are beautiful parks, 1,281 bridges and 165 canals (that's more canals than there are in Venice!) – on which you can find 2,500 houseboats. As Amsterdam is the most culturally diverse city in the world (people from 178 nationalities are permanent residents in this city), the main language spoken is English, which also makes it very easy for tourists and travellers to find their way around.
If you like the look and sound of Amsterdam, chances are you'll also love Copenhagen. Not only is it also ringed by canals (one of the areas is even nicknamed 'Little Amsterdam'), and one of the most cycle-friendly cities in the world (55% of Copenhageners commute to work by bicycle), but English is also widely spoken. Home to LEGO and Hans Christian Andersen, it's also home to the happiest people in the world, and the UN World Happiness Report has rated Danes as the happiest people on earth two years in a row. Copenhagen is also one of the greenest and most eco-friendly cities in the world, and was awarded Green Capital Of The Year in 2014. Around 64% of the city’s hotel rooms are certified as eco-friendly, and ¾ of food served in public institutions is organic. Copenhagen is also home to the longest pedestrian shopping street in the entire world, Stroget. You’ll find plenty of international brands here, but also smaller Danish chains and boutiques. But before you stock up on Euros – although Denmark is part of the EU, they don’t use the Euro. Instead, you pay with Danish Krone.
Lapland is famous for its stunning Northern Lights (it's the best place to catch the Aurora Borealis), and as a magical real-life winter wonderland. Lapland is also famous for its reindeer – there are more reindeer than there are people, which isn't hard to imagine, considering that Lapland is very sparsely-populated (only 184,000 people call the region home), despite spanning 21 municipalities.
During the winter the sun sometimes never comes up, but during the summer the sun sometimes never sets. For 73 days each year, the sun is visible round the clock. Want to witness these nights without darkness? Visit in June, when you can expect 21-24 hours of light a day. One fun fact is that speeding tickets in Lapland are based on your income. One man with an annual income of 7 million Euros was fined was fined 116.000 Euros!
You can even rent a glass igloo to watch the Northern Lights!
4. The Verdon Gorge
The Verdon Gorge in France is a stunning canyon, 25km long, with crystal clear turquoise waters along which you can swim, sail, kayak and rock climb. It's surrounded by vineyards and pretty French towns with cobbled streets and good restaurants, which makes it great for a family or group holiday, as it has something to offer for everyone. If flights are too expensive, or you want to take your pet with you, you could even consider driving there, and bringing back some wine!
Tuscany is well known for its rolling hills and stunning vineyards. As it's the largest region in Italy, covering nearly 9,000 square miles, and boasts six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it really has a lot to offer. Art lovers will fall in love with Florence, wine lovers will love the wine tasting opportunities in areas like Montepulciano, and just about anyone will enjoy exploring the streets of Cinque Terre.
6. Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre deserves a second mention and its own bullet point. It should really be Italian for “Wowser, is this place gorgeous!”, but it actually means "Five Lands", and consists of five adjacent towns along the Ligurian coast in northern Italy. These towns are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Manarola, Corniglia and Riomaggiore, each equally beautiful and like visiting a living postcard or fairytale. With turquoise sea and pastel coloured houses perched on a cliff, it's mind boggelingly beautiful, and just about anywhere you stay will have breathtaking views. (If you like the look of Cinque Terre, you should also look up Portofino).
Another lovely spot in northern Italy, Venice is probably the most romantic city in the world. According to Venetian tradition, the couple riding in a gondola should kiss under each bridge and they will stay in love forever.
Venice is made up of a collection of approximately 115 tiny islands, all connected by 417 bridges – and 72 of those are private. From above, the island of Venice (also called 'the floating city') looks a bit like a fish, and was built entirely on water many years ago.
Venice is also home to the world's narrowest street – measuring just 53 cm wide at chest level.
Thought you had to fork out to go to Harbour Island in the Bahamas for a picturesque pink sands beach? Sardinia's beautiful beaches, delicious food, cobbled streets and pretty architecture make it a perfect faily-friendly summer holiday destination.
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