For any traveler, Europe has interesting stories to tell and interesting cultures to share. Here’s some travel news from Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany and Austria for those visiting the Continent this summer.
Neglected corners of Spain’s cities are being made more inviting for visitors. Sevilla’s Triana neighborhood, long considered the “wrong side of the river,” is becoming the most colorful and authentic part of town. It now hosts a bustling fruit and vegetable market, numerous tapas bars and the Museo de la Cerámica de Triana, which highlights the district’s tile-producing history. After visiting the museum, it’s fun to wander and admire the lavishly decorated facades of the ceramics workshops that once populated this quarter.
Pictured: Sevillas Triana district
In Madrid, the formerly sleazy, no-go Chueca district, just north of the busy shopping street called Gran Via, is now trendy and appealing. It feels like today’s Madrid — without the tourism. Eating here is especially fun, either at a table on the main Plaza de Chueca, at the San Anton market hall or at one of the creative eateries nearby.
Pictured: Sidewalk bars in Plaza de Chueca, Madrid
The exception to this upward trend is in Barcelona, where the iconic Ramblas boulevard has lost much of its charm. Once home to authentic markets and eateries and a thriving local ambience, it’s now awash in tacky tourist trinkets and lousy restaurants. Still, if you visit Barcelona, you’ve got to ramble the Ramblas (just don’t eat or shop there).
Barcelona is home to many great buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí, the famous Modernista architect. With the opening of the Gaudí Exhibition Center (admission about $16, gaudiexhibitioncenter.com), there is finally a single place to learn about his contributions to the city. Filling a complex of ancient and medieval buildings alongside Barcelona’s cathedral, the center uses a beautifully lit, well-described exhibit and plenty of historic artifacts to introduce the man and his accomplishments.
To accommodate a steadily increasing influx of visitors in this wildly popular city, Barcelona’s main attractions are getting wise to advance ticket sales. For instance, visitors can now save time at the line-plagued Picasso Museum by buying timed-entry tickets in advance (about $15, www.museupicasso.bcn.cat/en). For last-minute types, another option is to buy an Articket BCN, which covers six top Barcelona museums and allows visitors to walk right in anytime at the Picasso Museum (about $32, articketbcn.org).
Pictured: Park Guell by Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Likewise, at the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s remarkable unfinished church, it’s best to purchase advance tickets through the website (about $16 for a basic ticket, sagradafamilia.org/en).
Pictured: Cathedral of La Sagrada Familia
In neighboring Portugal, new and improved sights are making things even more interesting for travelers. Lisbon’s recently opened Aljube Museum of Resistance and Freedom (free, www.museudoaljube.pt) covers the country’s troubled mid-20th century history. Once a prison that held political opponents of Portugal’s longtime dictator António Salazar, the building now houses a well-presented, three-floor exhibit about the repressive regime, which endured from 1926 to 1974. It’s food for thought for anyone with an appetite for recent history.
Pictured: An exhibit a the Aljube Museum
Extra crowds are expected this year at the Catholic pilgrimage site of Fatima, which celebrates the centennial of the Virgin Mary’s apparition to three young villagers in 1917. To learn more about this event, travelers can check out the new Miracle of Fatima Interactive Museum, which features a 40-minute multisensory re-creation of this apparition. The tone is evangelical, but it’s probably the best of the commercial attractions in town (about $8, www.omilagredefatima.com/en).
Pictured: The Sanctuary of Fatima at night
As it has in much of urban Europe, Uber has come to Portugal. It’s a good, cheap way to get around in hilly Lisbon and Porto. And there’s another fun new option in both towns: goofy little tuk-tuks (three-wheeled taxis).
Pictured: A tuk-tuk is a fun way to see Lisbon.
Find a likable driver with good language skills and a little charm, and negotiate a private tour. The vehicles are just right for getting into back lanes and making impromptu photo stops.
Pictured: Tuk-tuks wait for tourists.
France is a country full of beloved sights. While recent terrorist events may have scared away some travelers, on can return every year for a rewarding experience and feel perfectly safe. Travelers can expect a greater security presence and extra checkpoints at tourist-oriented sights.
As usual, Paris is evolving. After a long closure, its Picasso Museum is spiffed up and welcoming more tourists than ever (about $13, www.museepicassoparis.fr/en). A major renovation at the Rodin Museum has wrapped up, and the museum is fully open (about $12, musee-rodin.fr/en). Meanwhile, the Carnavalet Museum, which covers the tumultuous history of Paris, is closed for 2017 and beyond as it receives an overhaul.
In Normandy, the D-Day Experience museum at St-Come-du-Mont now gives visitors a chance to pretend they’re paratroopers and take a simulated (yet still thrilling) flight on a vintage Douglas C-47 (about $13, paratrooper-museum.org/en).
Pictured: Visitors can notice increased security at tourist sites throughout France, especially at high-profile places like Versailles.
A new addition to the Paris shopping scene is the Forum des Halles, a modern mall under a vast glass-and-steel canopy. Old-timers remember Les Halles as Paris’ gigantic central produce market. Demolished in the 1970s, it was replaced with an underground shopping mall. Now the complex has been transformed into a modern shopping center and a massive underground transportation hub capped by a huge city park.
Pictured: Forum des Halles shopping centre, Paris
The region around Paris is studded with grand châteaux. The grandest of these is Versailles, where the Queen’s Wing is closed for extensive renovation (a passport with admission to the entire estate is about $21, en.chateauversailles.fr). For cheap and efficient day-tripping to two other top châteaux — Vaux-le-Vicomte and Fontainebleau — visitors can now purchase a regional Mobilis ticket, which covers any travel within a day in the greater Paris region, including Metro rides to and from the train station and round-trip train fare, as well as the bus connecting the Fontainebleau station to the château (but not the shuttle from Verneuil-l’Etang train station to Vaux-le-Vicomte).
Pictured: Latona Fountain Pool, opposite the main building of the Palace of Versailles, created by Sun-King Louis XIV
The big news for lovers of prehistoric art is the opening of the International Center for Cave Art at Lascaux, highlighted by a brand-new replica cave that faithfully reproduces the reindeer, horse and bull paintings found in the original cave using the same dyes, tools and techniques that predecessors used 15,000 years ago. Reservations are highly recommended (about $20, lascaux.fr/en).
Finally, France continues to improve its transportation infrastructure. With the last link complete in its high-speed rail line, it’s just two hours from Paris to Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace region in northeast France. For much cheaper (if slower) transit to other large cities in France, as well as London, Amsterdam and Brussels, OuiBus (ouibus.com) offers convenient and comfortable bus service with Wi-Fi and an English-speaking driver.
Pictured: The International Center of Parietal Art at the foot of the hill of Lascaux
As in many other European cities, Florence is beefing up security these days. Visiting some major museums — such as the Accademia (with Michelangelo’s “David”), Uffizi and Bargello — will require a little extra time and patience as metal detectors and X-ray machines for bags slow down lines.
Florence’s Duomo Museum, which reopened last year after an extensive renovation, has quickly become a top sight. Highlighted by original works that adorned the Duomo, Baptistery and Campanile — including Lorenzo Ghiberti’s remarkable “Gates of Paradise” bronze panels, pictured — the museum offers one of Italy’s great artistic experiences.
Climbing the Duomo’s iconic dome in Florence now requires reservations. Get your appointment for the climb at the ticket office or online (museumofflorence.com).
The museum and dome climb are covered by the same combo-ticket, about $16, which also includes visits to the Baptistery, Campanile and Santa Reparata crypt. However, the combo-ticket is not necessary for travelers who buy the Firenze Card, which covers all of these and lets you skip the massive ticket lines at most tourist sights (about $77, good for 72 hours, firenzecard.it).
In nearby Pisa, renovations are under way at that city’s Duomo, the huge Pisan Romanesque cathedral with a famous leaning bell tower. Through 2018, the upper and front part of the Duomo interior will be covered by scaffolding, and the associated Duomo Museum will be closed for renovation. Combo tickets or single monument tickets are available (about $5-$26, opapisa.it/en).
Rome is, as usual, in a state of flux, with changes to transportation and construction going on around town. At Termini train station, entry to the platforms is now restricted to ticket holders, though there are no metal detectors and lines are short. Airport access is now a bit easier and cheaper, as two new competitors — T.A.M. and Schiaffini — have started running buses between Termini station, pictured, and Fiumicino, Rome’s main airport.
Rome’s ancient sites are getting a few tweaks. Outside the Colosseum, the crude costumed “gladiators” are now officially banned from posing for photos with tourists for money. And on Palatine Hill, the House of Augustus and House of Livia are finally open to the public (tickets for the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill are about $13, coopculture.it/en).
Venice continues to bustle, of course, and visitors will be reassured to find a new first-aid station staffed by English-speaking doctors on St. Mark’s Square. The number of “traghetti” (shuttle gondolas) that ferry locals and in-the-know tourists across the Grand Canal has reduced from seven to only three: at the Fish Market near Rialto Bridge, at San Toma near the Frari Church and at Santa Maria del Giglio — not far from St. Mark’s Square. Just step in, hand the gondolier 2 euros, and enjoy the ride.
The big news in Germany 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.
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, including in the United States (through Nov. 5, about $13, berlinerfestspiele.de/en).
At the Luther House museum in Wittenberg, pictured, where he lived and preached, the exhibit will focus on the early days of Luther and the Reformation, highlighted by some of his writing and his personal Bible with handwritten notes (about $9, lutherstadt-wittenberg.de/en). The third exhibit, covering Luther’s effect on five centuries of German culture and history, will be at Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, where Luther hid for 10 months after refusing to disavow his statements (about $10, wartburg.de/en). He spent that time translating the New Testament from the original Greek into German, thereby bringing the Bible to the masses.
Better late than never, Hamburg’s striking (and strikingly over budget) Elbphilharmonie, the centerpiece of its HafenCity harbor redevelopment, has finally been completed and is open to visitors (elbphilharmonie.de/en). The building houses a concert hall, viewing plaza and hotel. Visitors can ride a 270-foot-long escalator called the “Tube” to the plaza level, which features an outdoor promenade and grand harbor views.
Frankfurt’s Museum Judengasse, located at the Holocaust Memorial, has reopened and now covers Jewish history in the city before 1800 (about $6.50, museumjudengasse.de/en). When the Jewish Museum near the river reopens in 2018, it will cover the period from 1800 to the present.
At Frederick the Great’s New Palace in Potsdam (about $13, spsg.de/en), two showstopper rooms have reopened after an extensive renovation: the Marble Hall, pictured, with its dramatic 52-foot-high ceiling, and the Grotto Hall, featuring marble walls encrusted with thousands of seashells, semiprecious stones and fossils. The observation tower and platform at another palace building — the Italian-style Orangery — is closed for renovation until 2018.
Vienna’s impressive new Hauptbahnhof (main train station) is now the hub of most train departures and offers plenty of ways to kill time in its many shops and restaurants. For sightseers, the new Vienna Pass, available for one, two, three or six days, covers entry to the top 60 sights in the city (about $63-$133, viennapass.com). Even if planning to visit just a fraction of those sights, the pass can be worthwhile for its line-skipping privileges and unlimited access to Vienna Sightseeing’s hop-on, hop-off tour buses.
Karlsplatz, a popular square southeast of Vienna’s Ringstrasse (ring road), is dominated by the massive, domed Karlskirche church, pictured. But in recent years, the city has made this square more inviting by adding a playground, skateboard park, open-air summer cinema, cocktail bar (in what looks like a shipping container) and a pond meant to lend the square a beachy vibe, with music festivals hosted on a “lake stage.”