Our list of top 10 European historic sites includes off the path destinations ranging from the Neanderthal age up to the mid-20th century.
There is nothing better than finding out more about the past to help us live better, more enriching lives. And getting to know how our ancestors lived, as well as what they believed in, opens up a gateway to a better understanding of them and ourselves. But since there are so many places you can visit, this post offers up a list of top 10 European historic sites to inspire a unique, more meaningful bucket list. To help out, we enlisted guest author, Rebecca Crawford, of Hiking Mastery, for recommendations. For each one, there are helpful links to informational tours to fit your schedule and budget.
1. The Acropolis, Athens, Greece
The Acropolis is an amazing place, surrounded by an aura of mysticism and ancient glory. It hosts a collection of temples that remind us of how powerful, yet how human Greek dieties were. You’ll see buildings as old as the fifth century BC, with ancient inscriptions and magnificent statues. This is definitely an architectural gem which appears on many list of top 10 European historical sites. You’ll marvel at how well the Ionic and Doric styles are preserved, with all the newer restorations.
Some exceptional tours to consider:
2. Aphrodisias, Turkey
Located near the Turkish coast, this is a city that reflects the might of the Roman Empire, and how far the ancient Romans traveled to conquer the world. And even if the city is well preserved, with various buildings that include a council chamber and temples, this site was barely discovered a few decades ago. The imposing sculptures and sanctuaries with depictions of powerful emperor and empresses will certainly leave you in awe.
Dive into history with these in-depth tours:
3. Krapina Neanderthal Site, Krapina, CroatiaEven older than the Greek and Roman remains, this site will take you as far back as 125,000BC when Neanderthals roamed the earth. Our human-like ancestors lived during the Pleistocene era in complex dwellings here in Croatia, with many well-preserved fossils found in Krapina. You’ll discover many things about how humans evolved, how they lived and what they did, thanks to the detailed explanations and the interactive videos shown.
Leave the driving to others with these highly-rated bus tours:
4. Basel, Switzerland
A small city, situated in the heart of Europe that we guarantee will enrich your mind and your soul! Basel is full of wonderful buildings, signed by famous modern architects that come in deep contrast with the Old Town.
Even better, Basel features an appealing palette of 40 museums that will keep you busy for a long time. Some museums even present world-renowned exhibitions so anyone can find something to admire and discover here. Finally, here is the home of Art Basel, the most popular art fair in the world right now.
5. Olomouc Premyslid Castle, Olomouc, Czech Republic
Nearer to the present days, the Olomouc Premyslid Castle is renowned for its Christian history, the way it was in the first centuries of its evolution. That, along with the Moravian history, makes it of central importance in the evolution of Europe.You’ll see plenty of art works commissioned and supported by the Moravian archbishops, either in the Archdiocesan Museum or the actual Premyslid Castle. The Baroque and Rococo influences are very obvious and imposing through their features.
6. Segovia, Spain
The enchanting, romantic Spain was once the home of the Romans, and quite at the center of this great Empire. That’s why it’s been blessed with a lot of technical constructions, marvels of the Roman savvy and engineering. The 2000 year old aqueducts and the tall arches will make you wonder how the Romans did it. And since the tradition of great constructions had to be kept to honor their predecessors, the medieval Spaniards constructed a city filled with places of worship and palaces worth visiting.
7. The Great Guild Hall, Tallinn, Estonia
If we’re to hold the medieval note, Tallinn is an amazing place to visit. The Great Guild Hall is an architecturally significant building which sheltered members of the German guild system, a powerful hierarchical organization of merchants during the 14th and 15th centuries. Through trade, they influenced the future of northern Europe in both cultural and economic exchanges. This building is an elegant example of Hanseatic architecture, which includes a history museum to help you understand the importance of Estonia in the evolution of Europe.
8. General Library of the University of Coimbra, Portugal
Traveling more to the south, you’ll end up in book heaven if you visit this 500-year-old library. The Joanina library is one of the oldest buildings here, and you’ll understand why and how Renaissance people thought so highly of books, literature, and history.
As this was a public library, there are subject catalogs as old as the mid-18th century, very well preserved so you can see what people liked to read 300 years ago. This is a place of huge importance for the cultural evolution of Europe, especially because the books here escaped religious censorship.
9. Auschwitz and Birkenau, Krakow, Poland
With the specter of the Nazi regime and their horrendous genocides still reaching into the present day, visiting these two concentration camps will stir emotions hard to ignore. Auschwitz and Birkenau are two of the most famous German camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. First, watch the short documentary on site about their history. Next you can choose a guided tour or go solo, but either way, the human capacity for cruelty will surely leave its mark on you.
10. Les Catacombes, Paris, France
Moving back to the 18th century again, but this time in Paris, France, we get to a time when there were too few cemeteries to accommodate all the dead. You can imagine the stench that filled Paris at those times so that the government finally decided to exhume more than 6 million remains. These were moved to specially built quarries 20 meters below ground level that are still around today. You’ll certainly get the creeps, but you’ll also understand how valuable the earthly remains to a very Christian France.
Bonus round: Masada, Israel
While Israel is not geographically a part of Europe, it does participate in many euro-centric entities. That’s why we thought to include Masada, this location rich in both culture and history! Thus, you should get your hiking snacks ready, because a visit to Masada will require plenty of energy. You’ll climb the hill that hosts the ruins of the Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire that took place in the first century AD. The rebels had a huge wall fortified with all sorts of ramps, and they managed to hold the soldiers out for seven long years, which no one could have expected. All these fortifications along with the Jewish camps and the Roman Palace are very well preserved.
Where will you go?
With so many extraordinary, impressive or momentous sites to choose from, we’re curious about what you’ll end up visiting and why. Have you already seen one of these places? Have you made your own list of top 10 European historical sites? The comments are right below!
Rebecca lives in the USA, but loves hiking all over the world. Her favorite is Everest Base Camp Trek in Nepal. It usually takes 16 days, but she likes to slow down, enjoy mountains, the company of other adventurers and take more pictures, so it took her 28 days last time. Another of her passions is the ocean, so all short and long hikes along the ocean shore bring a lot of joy. She also writes for HikingMastery.com.