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Europe's best bets in 2015

Are you planning a European vacation this summer?

Here's the latest news from the Continent -- what's open, what's closed, what's new and what shouldn't be missed.

Joan of Arc Museum in Rouen, France

In Rouen, a new Joan of Arc Museum
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Charly Triballeau

In Rouen, a new Joan of Arc Museum -- featuring various multimedia displays about the country's 15th-century heroine -- opened last month next to the cathedral, at the site of her trial and conviction.

Salzburg in Austria

Salzburg has packaged some of its central Old
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Sean Gallup

Salzburg has packaged some of its central Old Town sights into a single 12-euro ticket called the DomQuartier ticket, covering sights at the Residenz, Cathedral, St. Peter's Abbey Museum, and Franziskanerkirche.

Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy

You'll get more time to study the exquisite
Photo Credit: Rick Steves / Rick Steves' Europ

You'll get more time to study the exquisite detail of Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, if you visit after 7 PM and pay an additional 4 euros.

Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

At the Eiffel Tower, the first level has
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

At the Eiffel Tower, the first level has a new glass floor, theater, eateries and exhibits describing the tower's construction. A Champagne bar has opened on the very top floor. Online ticketing has gotten more convenient, with an option to download a ticket to your mobile phone.

Egypitan Museum in Munich

In Munich, the new Egyptian Museum is well
Photo Credit: Rick Steves' Europe/ Gretchen Strauch

In Munich, the new Egyptian Museum is well worth a visit; it's custom-built to evoke the feeling of being in an ancient tomb. The city's new Nazi Documentation Center will cover the rise and fall of Nazism, with a focus on Munich's role. It's slated to open Thursday -- the 70th anniversary of Munich's liberation from Nazi rule.

Duomo in Florence, Italy

On the art scene, Florence, Italy's Duomo Museum,
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

On the art scene, Florence, Italy's Duomo Museum, with works by Michelangelo and Donatello, is closed for renovation until November. The Campanile di San Marco (bell tower of St. Mark's) is pictured on the left and the Duomo (Florence Cathedral) on the right.

Red Star Line Museum in Belgium

In Belgium, Antwerp's new Red Star Line Museum
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Jonas Roosens

In Belgium, Antwerp's new Red Star Line Museum fills the hall that processed many of the two million emigrants who passed through the city on their way to the New World.

Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum will open a new
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Jasper Juinen

Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum will open a new glass-walled pavilion entrance onto Museum Square (Museumplein) in September. The museum is extending evening hours until 10 p.m. on Saturdays in July, August and October, as well as staying open as usual on Friday nights through October.

Rothenburg in Germany

The town of Rothenburg in Germany has added
Photo Credit: AP/ Daniel Karmann

The town of Rothenburg in Germany has added informative plaques along the medieval town wall and hopes to follow up in 2015 with a matching English-language brochure.

MeinFernBus and more ways to get around Germany

While trains are usually the easiest way for
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Sean Gallup

While trains are usually the easiest way for Americans to get around Germany, ultra-cheap buses are a new option worth considering. The main bus lines are MeinFernBus (with the most extensive network), FlixBus, Berlin Linien Bus, and City2City. Taking you across much of Germany for around 15 euros -- and using train stations as starting and ending points -- they can be a great value.

Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain

In Madrid's Royal Palace, the kitchen, where the
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Oli Scarff

In Madrid's Royal Palace, the kitchen, where the gala dinners were prepared, will open to the public, though the royal pharmacy has closed. The National Archaeological Museum has reopened after a major renovation -- it's like a small British Museum and well worth visiting.

Historic Art Bunker in Nuremberg, Germany

In Nuremberg, the Historic Art Bunker has opened
Photo Credit: Dreamstime/ Jank1000

In Nuremberg, the Historic Art Bunker has opened to the public. It's a series of cellars deep inside the rock of Castle Hill, where precious artwork was carefully safeguarded from the World War II air raids that devastated the city. The only way to visit the now-nearly-empty bunker is on a once-daily tour (in German, but the good audio guide is in English).

New train station in Vienna

In Austria, Vienna has finished building an impressive
Photo Credit: DarkWeasel

In Austria, Vienna has finished building an impressive new main train station, the Hauptbahnhof, in the location of the former Suedbahnhof. Most trains depart from the new station, though some trains still leave from the city's other stations. To save money on the popular route between Vienna and Salzburg, consider the private Westbahn rail service, which charges half the price of the state-run trains.

Central Market, San Lorenzo Market in Florence, Italy

The big news in Florence is the food
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

The big news in Florence is the food scene. The steel-and-glass Central Market has undergone an exciting resurgence. The top floor is now an inviting, upscale food court, and several of the restaurants stay open late. On the ground floor of the market, vendors still sell meat, fish and produce. The open-air San Lorenzo Market (pictured), whose stalls used to surround the Church of San Lorenzo, still sprawls down the streets ringing Central Market.

Mauthausen Concentration Camp Memorial in Austria

Between Vienna and Salzburg, the Mauthausen Concentration Camp
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ DIETER NAGL

Between Vienna and Salzburg, the Mauthausen Concentration Camp Memorial now has free admission. The museum (in a barracks within the camp) was recently renovated, presenting a chronological history in English, including stories of camp inmates and Nazi officers, along with bone-chilling artifacts.

San Sebastian in Spain

San Sebastian, Spain is spiffing itself up to
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Rafa Rivas

San Sebastian, Spain is spiffing itself up to be a European Capital of Culture in 2016. Its excellent Museum of San Telmo now has more exhibits on Basque culture than ever.

Vatican Museum in Rome, Italy

If you're Romeward-bound, book your hotel room and
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Johannes Eisele

If you're Romeward-bound, book your hotel room and Vatican Museum tickets early. Pope Francis is a big draw -- and, as anywhere, with crowds come pickpockets.

Alhambra in Granada, Spain

In Granada, if you want to see the
Photo Credit: Rick Steves' Europe / Dominic Bonucelli

In Granada, if you want to see the famous Moorish palace at the Alhambra on short notice, the easiest solution is to buy the pricey Bono Turistico city pass, which even at the last minute (sometimes even the same day) lets you choose virtually any entry time to the complex.

Picasso Museum in Paris, France

In Paris, the Picasso Museum has finally reopened
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Patrick Kovarik

In Paris, the Picasso Museum has finally reopened after years of renovation. Because of all the hype surrounding its remodeling, book tickets online in advance to avoid the lines (note it's no longer covered by the Paris Museum Pass).

The Hague in the Netherlands

In The Hague, Netherlands, the Mauritshuis Royal Picture
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Martijn Beekman

In The Hague, Netherlands, the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery has reopened after extensive renovations. The collection of Dutch Golden Age art includes top-notch pieces by Rembrandt, Rebens, and Vermeer including his family "Girl with a Pearl Earring."

Santa Maria della Scala museum in Siena, Italy

In Siena, Italy, the Santa Maria della Scala
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

In Siena, Italy, the Santa Maria della Scala museum -- the cathedral is shown here -- is open after extensive renovation displaying some of the most ancient Byzantine reliquaries in existence, many made of gold, silver, and precious stones.

Chantilly in France

Horse riders welcome guests at the Domaine de
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Francois Guillot

Horse riders welcome guests at the Domaine de Chantilly on June 15, 2013, during the inauguration of the renovated Musee du Cheval (The Museum of the Horse) in Chantilly, north of Paris. Closed ten month for renovations, the museum reopened in 15 rooms tracing the history of the horse, man's companion since 6000 years, with more than 200 objects.

Transit smart cards on trains in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, paper tickets for domestic train
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Lex Van Lieshout

In the Netherlands, paper tickets for domestic train travel are a thing of the past. Instead, the Dutch now use a transit smart card on trains, buses and trams all over the country. Most tourists will still be buying single train tickets, called "disposable" chip cards.

Arles in Provence, France

In Provence, the Fondation Van Gogh in Arles
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Bertrand Langlois

In Provence, the Fondation Van Gogh in Arles has moved into its newly restored permanent home, with exhibits on Van Gogh and contemporary artwork that pays homage to the Dutch artist. A fun feature of the building is the kaleidoscopic glass rooftop sculpture by artist Raphael Hefti.

Casa Lleo Morera in Barcelona, Spain

Across the Mediterranean, Barcelona's big news for art
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Across the Mediterranean, Barcelona's big news for art lovers is the opening of Casa Lleo Morera, which has one of the best-preserved Modernista interiors (from 1906), containing finely crafted mosaics, ceramic work, wooden ceilings and doors, stone sculptures and stained glass. Reservations are required and access is by tour only (casalleomorera.com).

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