The magnificent palace of Alhambra in Granada
10 of Europe's Grandest Designs
Food, wine, landscapes – there are many reasons to travel to Europe and without doubt the varied architectural styles, both modern and historical, also help to provide a fascinating insight into the influences that have helped shape the various regions you may travel through. Experience some of Europe’s best buildings your own way on one of our self guided or small group active holidays.
1. Guggenheim Museum – Bilbao
For lovers of modern buildings go no further than Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Made of titanium, glass, and limestone, the unique structure was heralded as one of the most important of our time when it opened in 1997. It’s worth walking around the Guggenheim to make sure you appreciate its many different shapes, angles and featured artworks.
2. Bran Castle – Romania
While Romania’s most famous landmark is also referred to as Count Dracula’s castle, the man who inspired Bram Stoker’s famous character, Vlad the Impaler, never actually lived here. It fits the description however of an imposing castle perched ‘on the very edge of a terrific precipice . . .’ and your time here is bound to get the imagination running wild!
3. Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany
It’s pretty easy to see how this building inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Set in a spectacular location in Bavaria, the castle of the fairy-tale king is enjoyed by many thousands each year, but King Ludwig, the shy man who built the castle, never had the pleasure to withdraw to Neuschwanstein as was his plan. He died seven weeks before it was open to the public in 1886.
4. Alhambra Palace – Spain
Granada’s Alhambra is perhaps the finest example of an architectural legacy that was left by a mixture of cultures. The famous Moorish citadel and palace complex contain buildings influenced by the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths and a visit here will transport you back to what life was like in the 14th century.
5. Half timbered houses – Copenhagen and Alsace
Not a building, more a style of architecture, this medieval building technique of exposed timber structures have become an important part of the landscape in many parts of Europe, particularly the Alsace region in France and parts of Copenhagen. Their colourful exteriors help add to their fairy-tale look and a walk through the villages to observe the different styles is a day well spent.
6. Orvieto - Italy
Wow. That’s what you’ll keep repeating to yourself as you approach this Italian hill town perched high on a volcanic rock and surrounded by classic Umbrian landscape. Once inside the city walls you can easily lose track of time as you explore old Orvieto, made up of traffic free cobbled stone alleys, medieval piazzas and the intricate facade of the Gothic inspired Duomo. Do yourself a favour – go.
7. Hungarian Parliament Building – Budapest
A magnificent example of Neo-Gothic architecture (and some Renaissance and Baroque influences as well), this is the third largest Parliament building in the world. To help showcase their independence from Austria, the Hungarians held a competition for the building’s design which was won by Hungarian architect Imre Steindl, who was partly inspired by the Palace of Westminster.
8. Cathar Castles – France
History and geography go hand in hand on the secret trails that lead to the mysterious Cathar castles. The architectural remnants of Catharism, a sect that shunned conventional Christianity and was hence branded as heresy, will help you understand the story behind the short lived crusade a well as provide you with some of the most spectacular walking in France.
9. Sphinx Observatory – Switzerland
At 3571 metres above sea level, The Sphinx observatory at Jungfraujoch doesn’t just provide a unique place to research meteorology, astronomy, glaciology, physiology, radiation, and cosmic rays – it also provides an amazing 360 degree panorama of the Swiss Alps. You’ll travel to Europe's highest railway station, through a tunnel hewn in the rock of the Eiger and Mönch, just to get there.
10. Kinderdijk windmills – Holland
There are windmills, and then there’s Kinderdijk. These UNESCO listed Dutch icons are loved by the Dutch as they are a shining example of their innovation. They’re not just tourist attractions, at their zenith they drained the swampy lowlands via canals, ground grain into flour and helped raise the Netherlands from the sea to create its fertile fields and feed it growing population.
What did we miss? How many of Europe's grand designs have you been to? Let us know in the comment section below.