Like many Kiwi adventurers, we couldn’t resist a few years in London soaking up the sights and visiting Europe. Even though London has so much to see and do, the lure of Europe’s variety had us visiting new destinations without much of a second thought.
Cheap flights and package deals from London’s Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick airports are easy to find and convenient to purchase, but there are so many places to visit and narrowing down the selection can be a challenge.
Here are our top European cities to visit, from London.
Fly: approx 2hrs with all major airlines and budget options, like Ryan Air and Easy Jet
Train: approx 9.5hrs starting at St Pancras and changing trains in both Brussels and Cologne
Bus: approx. 23hrs with Eurolines
Berlin has a unusual balance of conservative and liberal which can easily be noticed through both architecture and attractions. For instance, the remnants of the Berlin Wall which separated East and West Berlin into separate countries until as recent as 1989 is a powerful symbol of a divided nation during the cold wall; a communists answer to keeping “fascists” out of East Germany. Close to where a section of the wall remains in Berlin is Check Point Charlie. Back when the wall was in effect Checkpoint Charlie served as a patrolled gateway between East and West Germany. Now both Check Point Charlie and the remaining section of the Berlin Wall offer travellers an opportunity to learn, comprehend, and understand a regimented system of Berlin’s history. In further demonstration of the power and authority that Berlin’s leaders had over it’s people, the Memorial of the Murdered Jews takes place over a 200,000 square metre site. Designed by architect Peter Eisenman, the memorial depicts a grim time which affected ever person of Berlin in some way.
Large, domineering buildings such as Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag Building show architecture designed to demonstrate authority and the clean lines of the square metro trains that systematically run through snow or shine back up a well rehearsed city. But then there is another side of Berlin altogether.
In 2005 UNESCO awarded Berlin the ‘City of Design’ in honour of it’s commitment to the creative industries. You only need to wander the streets while sightseeing to notice locals comfortable in their own skin; an element of freedom running through their being.
The music and club scene of Berlin is well known across the U.K and Europe,. With the fall of the Berlin Wall also came a fall in previous behaviour and an invitation to explore music. Techno music was in many ways founded in Berlin and as such an intense club scene has served as a the backbone of Berlin’s underbelly.
We love Berlin for the sights and attractions which invite curiosity at mind blowing attempts to regiment society while at the same time being a city easy to navigate and easy to let loose in.
Fly: approx 1hr 15min with all major airlines and budget options, like Ryan Air and Easy Jet
Train: approx 4hrs from St Pancras
Bus: approx 13hrs with Eurolines
For many countries in the World, Amsterdam’s liberal take on drugs and sex is considered wild and debaucherous. But what might surprise travellers on a visit to Amsterdam, is that despite the cities choices on entertainment, this is a very clean city. Bizarrely, the cities layout is designed in grids making it easy to navigate and strictly systematic. You won’t find trash on the side of roads or poorly maintained store fronts; crisp, clean and sharp lined architecture makes Amsterdam’s visual impact contrast the free views on fun and lifestyle.
Due to Amsterdam’s part in the War there are plenty of historical sights to explore wiht one of the most famous being Anne Franks house. The place where a family hid from Nazi’s, in an attic hidden by a bookcase for 25 months before eventually being taken to concentration camps became an iconic tale of the war, read through the mind of a teenager in Anne Frank’s diary.
Netherlands culture of fancy free meadows, daffodils and windmills permeates through the city with a variety of flower markets along the canals and bikes are a more common source of transport than car which means Amsterdam is totally pedestrian friendly.
When night falls, the red light district lights up with crowds of travellers wandering the streets, noticing the abundance of shows lining the pavement. Sex museums and galleries, store front ladies-of-the-night or across the canal to the centrepiece of Amsterdam’s famous ‘coffee shops’ and bars certainly keeps travellers busy be it for sight seeing or partaking.
We love Amsterdam for a plethora of history and entertainment delivered in easily managed doses.
Fly: approx. 2hrs with all major airlines and budget options, like Ryan Air and Easy Jet
Train: approx 13hrs from St Pancras with multiple interchanges en route
Bus: approx 35hrs with Eurolines
The Spanish have a reputation for being passionate people, and in Barcelona the one word that best describes the city is “energetic”. Barcelona is a city seemingly in festival season, with locals needing siesta by day for all the energy and passion exuded through every waking moment. A weekend in Barcelona can leave a traveller feeling like a holiday after a holiday is well deserved.
Interestingly, this beach fringed city full of architectural wonders gathers momentum through it’s people, rather than necessarily events and occasions. In Barcelona, starting the day on the famous Las Ramblas with authentic paella and jugs of sangria can easily escalate into a full blown party with locals who quickly become fond friends. While Barcelona is more recognised as a football pilgrim site than a club Mecca, anywhere and everywhere can easily turn into the party of a lifetime; be it cafe, restaurant, or public arena.
Despite the emphasis on social activities, Barcelona has some exquisite sites. The most famous being the works of Spanish architect, Gaudi. 10 of Gaudi’s unique, fairy-tale like buildings can be viewed in Barcelona. Sagrada Familia is a Gaudi masterpiece which began in 1826 and was being worked on at the time of Gaudi’s death in 1926. Completion is due to mark the 100th year of Gaudi’s passing in 2026 but irrespective of sins of works, is an absolute highlight for a visit to Barcelona – weather travellers are typically building enthusiasts or not.
We love Barcelona for the inviting, welcoming energy that assures there is never a dull moment.
Fly: approx 4hrs with all major and local airlines
Potentially a surprise to see a Turkish city on a European list, but Istanbul is the only city in the World to be spread over two continents (Europe and Asia). Totally unique to other Europe destinations, Turkey is a predominately muslim country and in Istanbul this can be noticed through the call to prayer heard from speakers over the city throughout the day; just one element that makes this an interestingly city to visit.
Asia and Europe combined seamlessly together through domes architecture, colourful mosaic patterns, and traditional Turkish food. The overriding customs come from a deep commitment to the muslim way of life, and traditional dress worn by locals paves the way for a culture shock of sorts for many travellers to Europe.
Yet with the obvious priorities to a pilgrimage of the Koran, Istanbul is both welcoming and alluring. There are plenty of activities to do, and sights to see. The Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar are typically tope of a travellers list in Istanbul but even the simple act of walking from sight to sight, among locals, delivers plenty of satisfaction.
We love Istanbul for the interesting culture and customs which have remained completely authentic to the Turkish people.