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Hidden Places Of Europe

Fierce Castles in Friendly North Wales

A huge green courtyard is one of the highlights of Caernarfon Castle. (photo: Gretchen Strauch) A classic moat surrounds Beaumaris Castle, perhaps the most romantic castle in Wales. (photo: Rick Steves) Humble, charming little Wales is a land of lusty men's choirs, salty harbors, slate-roofed villages, stunning mountains, and stout castles.
For many travelers, these mighty castles alone are reason enough to visit, and Wales is slathered with them. During the late 13th and early 14th centuries, English King Edward I started building these awe-inspiring fortresses — arguably the most breathtaking you'll find anywhere in Europe — to subdue the rebellious Welsh. These castles were masterpieces of medieval engineering, built with state-of-the-art castle technology, with sea access to restock from England.
In the Middle Ages, the standard castle was a simple stone building (“keep”) on a hill (“motte”), surrounded by a wall that enclosed a yard (or “bailey”) where the people li..

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Hidden Places Of Europe

The Back Streets of Bohemian Montmartre

A Montmartre street artist finds a willing subject. (photo: Rick Steves) The famous Moulin Rouge dance hall, where cancan kickers have been taking the stage since 1889, is on the fringe of Montmartre. (photo: Rick Steves) Montmartre, the hilltop neighborhood hovering on the northern fringes of your Paris city map, is in many ways the perfect French cliché: red-and-white checkered tablecloths, artist's easels filling petite squares, and bohemian cabarets offering up high-kicking cancans. The literal high point is the bone-white Sacre-Cœur Basilica, from where the City of Light fans out at your feet.
Just over a century ago, Montmartre hosted a perfect storm of artistic creativity and avant-garde thinking. Back then, life on the hill was a working-class commotion of cafés, bistros, and dance halls. Its low rents lured struggling artists whose canvases now sell for millions (Renoir, Degas, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Utrillo).
These days, the hill is equal parts charm and kitsch ..

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Hidden Places Of Europe

What’s New in Germany, Vienna, and Prague for 2018

The burgeoning HafenCity district and its spectacular new Elbphilharmonie concert hall are revitalizing Hamburg's riverfront. (photo: Rick Steves) A statue of Martin Luther stands tall in his hometown of Wittenberg, which, along with the rest of Germany, will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. (photo: Rick Steves) The big event in Germany this year is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther, a priest and professor of theology, wrote and published his 95 theses, questioning the corrupt ways of the Catholic Church. Throughout Germany, visitors will find events and exhibits honoring this anniversary, highlighted by three special exhibitions that will be on display from April until November in three visit-worthy cities.
In Berlin, the “Luther Effect” exhibit, presented by the German History Museum and on display at the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition space, will examine the global effect of the Reformation..

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Hidden Places Of Europe

Christmas in Austria

An Austrian family enjoys cookies baked by grandma and the kids. (photo: Rick Steves) In Austria, children enter the room to discover the tree glistening with real candles and handcrafted heirloom ornaments. (photo: Rick Steves) The festive swirl of heartwarming sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas abound in Austria — the land where the season's most-loved carol, “Silent Night,” was first performed over 200 years ago.
Austria is known for its slow-paced, stop-and-smell-the-strudel attitude. For Christmas, Austrians start early, go slow, and touch all the holiday bases. It all begins four Sundays before Christmas with Advent, the period awaiting the “arrival” of Jesus. Families make or buy an Adventkranz (Advent wreath), usually made of fir or spruce. It's decorated with four candles that are lit successively on the four Sundays leading up to December 24.
December 5 is Krampus Day. With frightening fur, bulging eyes, and a long red tongue, Krampus runs through the stre..

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Hidden Places Of Europe

Tuscany’s Powerful, Towerful San Gimignano

San Gimignano is an amazingly preserved hill town in Tuscany, with 14 medieval towers still standing. (photo: Rick Steves) Today's tourists hang out at San Gimignano's Piazza della Cisterna, by same well that locals used a thousand years ago. (photo: Cameron Hewitt) San Gimignano is the epitome of a Tuscan hill town. About 25 miles from both Florence and Siena, it's the region's glamour girl: Visually striking and perfectly preserved, it gets all the fawning attention from passing tour buses. But despite its tourist-trap feel, it's still worth slotting into your Italian itinerary — especially if you can sidestep the hordes who descend during the day.
San Gimignano is beloved because of its skyline of medieval towers. Though a unique sight today, pointy skylines were the norm in Tuscany in the Middle Ages, when feuding noble families ran the hill towns (think Montagues and Capulets). Each family had its own private army that would periodically battle things o..

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Hidden Places Of Europe

Sunset Boulevards: Europe’s Top Evening Views

At the edge of Granada’s tangled Moorish quarter is a fine viewpoint for watching the sun set over the Alhambra, which seems to glow with its own light. (photo: Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli) Offering views out over a flooded volcanic crater, the Greek island of Santorini has some of Europe's most spectacular sunsets. (photo: Rick Steves) Sunsets decorate my travel memories. They can be a vivid, romantic capper for a beautiful day on the road. I've seen a lot of sunsets in my travels — these spots are some of my most memorable.
Ærø Island, Denmark: Four hours from Copenhagen, time-passed Ærø Island is the perfect place to wind down. At a lazy day's end, stroll out to Urehoved, a spit of land lined with cozy beach houses. As children splash in the mild, shallow bay waters, their parents sit peacefully on the porches of their tiny cabins. While waiting for the sun to set, find a spot in the sand, warm yourself by a beach fire, and appreciate the beauty of this perfectly Da..

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Hidden Places Of Europe

Venetian Day Trips: Gems of the Veneto

Colorful buildings line the canals of the small island of Burano in Venice’s lagoon. (photo: Rick Steves) Giotto's early-14th-century frescoes are wonderfully preserved in Padua's Scrovegni Chapel. (photo: Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli) I love Venice, but when the crowds become unbearable, I make it a point to get out of the center and discover what the surrounding area has to offer.
One easy escape is to the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello, which hide out in Venice's lagoon. Water taxis and ferry boats zip from central Venice to the islands, so you can easily see all three places in one day. Though hardly undiscovered, they provide a break from the hubbub of Venice.
The quickest-to-reach island is Murano, where, for centuries, artisans have been producing that famous Venetian glass. A 13th-century law restricted glass production (and its dangerous furnaces) to Murano to prevent fires on the main island, and also to protect the secrets of Venetian glassmaking. ..

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Hidden Places Of Europe

Going Solo? How to Have Fun in Europe on Your Own

Many locals are eager to share their culture with an approachable traveler, such as at this Meetup dinner in Nice. (photo: Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli) Traveling alone gives you the freedom to experience museums and sights on your own time, at your own pace. (photo: Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli) I've talked to too many people who put off their travel dreams just because they haven't found a travel partner: The prospect of going alone sounds either too daunting or just not all that fun. But traveling on your own can be rewarding, vivid, and exhilarating — a gift from you to you. Prepared with a positive attitude and solid information, you'll thrive in Europe. And you'll come home stronger and more confident than ever before.
Traveling solo certainly has its pros and cons — and for me, the pros far outweigh the cons. When you're on your own, you're independent and in control. You can travel at your own pace, do what interests you, eat where and when you like..

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Hidden Places Of Europe

Making Europe’s Art Treasures Come Alive

Michelangelo's 'David' stands with the new-found confidence of Renaissance man. (photo: Rick Steves) Learning the stories behind Europe's great art, such as Rembrandt's 'Night Watch,' is a people-to-people experience. (photo: Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli) The Mona Lisa, the Colosseum, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Michelangelo's David…Europe's cultural treasures are world-class, including some of the most beautiful and enduring objects humans have created.
But let's face it. Too many museums can ruin a perfectly good vacation. For some, Notre-Dame's vast interior can be a yawning bore, and the Vatican Museums on a busy day can make anyone a Roman ruin.
The truth is that Europe's great sights can evoke gasps or yawns — it all depends on what you know about them. You can look into the eyes of Michelangelo's David and see a supersized hunk of marble — or you can witness humanity stepping out of medieval darkness into the Renaissa..

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