From the cradle of Western civilization in Ancient Greece to the pomp and glamour of the Victorian aristocracy, Europe's long and colorful history has fascinated scholars and inspired artists for centuries. Evidence of these trailblazing ancestors can still be found throughout the continent, and these historic sites are some of the region's most-visited attractions. Europe's best historic towns and cities are the perfect getaway for the history buff and here are our top picks.
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The Best European Cities To Visit for History Lovers Besides Paris and Rome
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The town of Sintra in Portugal is famous for its 19th-century architecture, beautifully preserved and restored over the years. The town is not far from the capital city of Lisbon, and its quaint surroundings and convenient location make it one of the most sought-after real estate markets in the country, particularly the seaside town of Azenhas do Mar. Some of Sintra's most-visited historic sites include the medieval Castle of the Moors and the colorful Pena Palace, the world's most striking example of European Romanticist architecture.
Palma, Mallorca (Spain)
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A Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea, Mallorca, also known as Majorca, has been a place of cultural importance for thousands of years. Palma is the capital of the island and named after the Roman city of Palmaria founded on these shores around 120 BC. With its sand-colored Gothic cathedral known as La Seu rising up from the cobbled streets of the old town, Palma is truly the historic center of Mallorca. Thanks to the town's long and varied history, there is no shortage of heritage buildings to discover, from the Medieval L'Almudaina Palace to the old Arab Quarter established by the ancient Almohad Empire.
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Valetta is the capital of the island nation of Malta. Most of the city is comprised of old 16th-century Baroque architecture, and as a result the cityscape was declared one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites back in 1980. Valetta's stone defense walls surround a proud city of ancient cathedrals, palaces and gardens, aristocratic villas and neoclassical theaters. As an island capital, the city is also noted for its glittering harbor and attractive waterfront promenades.
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The port city of Bordeaux has the second-highest number of historical monuments in France; only the capital city of Paris has more. At night, the world's largest reflecting pool illuminates the Place de la Bourse, and it's easy to see why this city of Gothic spires and chateaus is nicknamed 'Port of the Moon'. Bordeaux's huge number of historic buildings and artifacts ranges from the ruins of an ancient Roman Amphitheater known as the Pallais Gallien to a neoclassical, 17th-century masterpiece known as the Grand Theatre de Bordeaux.
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Bath is known as one of England's most historic cities, its stone bridges and Georgian manors taking visitors back to the Victorian Era. The aptly-named city is also home to the nation's only usable hot spring source. The Ancient Romans figured this out over a millennium ago, and the remains of the regal bathhouse they built, now known as the Roman Baths, are at the heart of the city. The bathing complex is magnificently preserved, and while visitors cannot bathe in the untreated water, the spring source still fills the baths each day just as it has for centuries.
Saint Matilda of the Ottonian Dynasty founded the Quedlinberg Abbey over a thousand years ago in memory of her late husband, King Henry of Germany, and the impressive, castle-like structure still overlooks the town from atop the hill. Many of the old Romanesque buildings are from its original construction and repairs during the first decade of 1000 AD, with later additions and restorations throughout the ages. The abbey, along with the old town of Quedlinberg and its post-and-beam shophouses like something out of a Grimm's fairy tale, were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1994.
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Tallinn's Old Town is believed by many to be the best-preserved medieval city in Northern Europe. Known as Reval during its years under Danish and Russian rule, Tallinn was an important trading port between the two regions due to its strategic location on the border of Scandinavia and Russia. The wonderfully preserved Old Town transports visitors back to the Middle Ages with its cobbled streets and stone walls, historic churches and heritage buildings. Nearby, Toompea Castle and Kadriorg Palace are more than enough to finish up a history buff's itinerary.
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Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is home to one of the largest Medieval towns in Europe. The historic Old Town of Vilnius was built up over centuries and covers various European architectural styles from Gothic to Neoclassical and everything in between. The narrow, cobbled streets and low-hanging archways of the former Jewish Quarter are a must-see, while the red brick exterior of Saint Anne's Church and wooden interior carvings of Saint Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church are sure to inspire awe.
Prague, Czech Republic
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The capital of Czech Republic, Prague is a city of living history. Its Baroque palaces and medieval churches are watched over by the ancient Prague Castle, founded in 870 AD. Prague's Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Europe's most-visited attractions. The Saint Vitus Cathedral, the current structure finished in 1344 in a stunning Gothic style, along with the city's iconic medieval stone bridge, Charles Bridge, are just a few of Prague's historic highlights.
The ideal holiday destination for the history lover is right here in Europe. Whether a prehistoric stronghold in the Mediterranean Sea or the Medieval cities of the east, evidence of fierce viking warriors and noble knights, cruel monarchs or trailblazing pioneers is preserved in the continent's best historic cities for all to learn from and enjoy.