Europe is an amazing continent, with a physical, architectural and cultural diversity that could easily provide a lifetime of visits. Yet for those of you with limited time, it’s hard to decide which places to visit. Sure you could just opt for the most famous landmarks- take a bow the Eifel Tower or Coliseum- but you could look at the following destinations instead, all of which provide you with experiences and sights that are completely unique to the continent, and in some cases to the whole world.
Iceland is one of the most interesting countries in the world, let alone Europe. With unique food, drink, culture, landscapes and wildlife, you’ll be spoilt for choice of what to do while here.
Why is it unique?
It’s unique in dozens of ways, not least in having Europe’s only active Geyser field- indeed the Great Geysir in Iceland actually gave rise to the word Geyser. And the geothermal activity here isn’t just confined to geysers either- there are few places on earth where geology is so important in human activity and tourism. Iceland owes its very existence to a volcanic hot spot sitting on a mid-oceanic ridge. The setting is so unique that you can actually see and walk around the place where North America meets Europe. Then of course there’s the food- where else on earth would you eat putrefied shark? And if that sounds revolting then there’s the traditional beverage used to wash it down- Brennivin is a spirit so pungent that even the locals only drink it to prove their Icelandic-ness. Iceland also has to be the only country in the world in which road construction has known to be halted so as not to disturb land in which elves are believed to live – a survey in 1998 showed that 54.4% of Icelanders believe that elves exist. But then after a few shots of Brennivin and a week or so in the Middle Earth like landscape and you might even start to believe in them yourself.
If all that’s not enough reason to visit then there’s the largest waterfalls in Europe, the Northern Lights (in Winter), the midnight sun and whales (in summer), Viking heritage, pint sized Icelandic Horses and swimming in geothermal springs such as the famous Blue Lagoon- where the temperature is as warm as a hot bath- or Nauthólsvík beach where the air temperature can be below zero while the sea is warmed by thermal springs to a balmy 20 degrees.
Return flights from London Luton can be found to Reykjavik for under £90 with Easyjet. For more information on Iceland visit www.visiticeland.com
Gibraltar is a ferociously loyal British colony, with a population smaller than many university campus’ it has been disproportionally involved in modern European history.
What’s unique about it?
First of is the wildlife- it’s the only place in Europe where you’ll find wild native primates. With a population of around 300 Barbary Macaques- who love nothing better than to beg, borrow and steal food from unwitting tourists. You’ll be amazed at how cheeky and fearless these monkeys actually are. Secondly is the undisputed- in Gibraltar at least- British-ness of the place. In 2002 a referendum on whether to remain British ended with an astonishing 98.48% voting yes. All this results in a unique Iberian atmosphere where English is as widely spoken as Spanish and red post boxes can be seen with North Africa looming in the distance. The airport is fairly unique too, you don’t get many opportunities to walk across a functioning runway but the one at Gibraltar airport also acts as the border between Gibraltar and neighbouring Spain.
Another reason to visit “The Rock” is of course the rock itself, a 426 metre high limestone promontory with views of Africa across the straights and a strategic position that has seen more history per square inch than most countries in the world. The famous siege tunnels helped to hold off four years of Spanish and French attacks during the American war of Independence and were instrumental in winning the war in north Africa during WW2, when Gibraltar was used as the command centre for Operation Torch.
Return flights from London Luton to Gibraltar with Monarch for less than £85. For more information on Gibraltar visit www.visitgibraltar.gi
Italy is teeming with beautiful cities, but there are surely none more unique than Venice. From the moment you step out of the train or bus station onto the Grand Canal you’ll be blown away by the sheer majesty of this city
How is Venice unique?
For a start Venice is the world’s only pedestrian city, where the equivalent of London’s Underground is the Vaporetto water bus and even the garbage is removed by boats. Secondly Venice is known for having more art per square mile than any other city in the world, The Galleria Accademia for instance has a massive collection of masterpieces as does the Peggy Guggenheim- which boasts works by Pollock, Dali and Picasso to name a few. But these world famous works of art aren’t just restricted to major art galleries; even the smallest buildings in Venice house works by some of the world’s most famous artists.
If that’s not enough for you then there’s the city’s unique Venician Gothic architecture, the narrowest street in Europe- the Calle Varisco (which is 53cm wide at chest level) the bizarre numbering system for buildings and of course the Venitian Gondolas and Gondoliers which won’t be found anywhere else in the world, and don’t let Las Vegas tell you otherwise!
Flights from London to Venice can be found on Ryanair for under £50 return. For more information on Venice visit www.venice-tourism.com