With a patchwork of cultures and traditions that span thousands of years, Europe has a rich and distinctive history that can’t be matched. From the compelling architectural wonders of the ancient Greeks to the age-old monachal history of Mont-Saint-Michel, there is so much to discover when visiting Europe on a family holiday or Mediterranean cruise.
Read on to find out the top places to visit in Europe we recommend visiting if you’re a lover of history.
The top 6 places to visit in Europe if you love history
1. Acropolis of Athens
The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient site of great significance home to the world-famous Parthenon, which towers high above Athens on its pedestal-like mountain. This fascinating ancient citadel is thought to be over 2,400 years old, attracting more than one million Greek mythology and history buffs to the sacred site every year.
Travel blogger Monique from Trip Anthropologist told us what makes this UNESCO World Heritage site one of Europe’s most impressive pieces of history.
“Greece gave western civilisation many foundational institutions that evolved from myth, magic and the mighty deeds of the Greek gods. History truly comes alive here, as several founding myths are etched in stone on Acropolis Hill, such as King Aegeus throwing himself into the sea beside the Temple of Athena Nike, after believing that his son had been eaten by the Minotaur. The hole in the Erechtheion marks the passage of Poseidon’s trident as it flew into the earth, creating a spring and leaving trident marks upon the stones. Here also, you’ll find the olive tree that grew where Athena triumphed Poseidon for the hearts of the Greeks.”
Monique told us more about the Parthenon, and why it is such a significant structure in the Acropolis.
“The Parthenon is perhaps the most recognisable building in the world. It has survived the attacks of the great conquerors of European history – having been occupied, converted, looted and blown up by the Persians, Byzantines, Turks and Venetians respectively. The scars of Greek history are etched into every surviving column.
Monique also recommends visiting one other ruin in the Acropolis, particularly if you have a love for classical performance art.
“Finally, don’t miss the Theatre of Dionysius. It is the birthplace of western theatre and was used by Greek tragedy poets Sophocles, Aristophanes, Aeschylus and Euripides.”
If you love all things ancient Greece, a visit to the Acropolis of Athens is available on an exclusive Acropolis and New Acropolis Museum Guided Tour with Azamara.
2. Berlin Wall
A worldwide symbol of liberation, the remains of the Berlin Wall is held close in the hearts of the German population, serving as a poignant reminder of the country’s politically oppressive past.
The guarded structure was erected in August 1961 overnight in a bid to stop the thousands of Germans fleeing from East Berlin to West Berlin. The barrier divided the city for 28 years, not just physically, but ideologically too, with the iron curtain attempting to stop the demise of communist East Germany. In the run-up to the erection of the wall, some two thousand East Germans were crossing to the more prosperous and democratic West daily, with 2.5 million already having fled.
In November 1989, East Germany was bowing under the pressure of democratic demonstrations that were sweeping Europe and making their way into Germany, with the borders eventually being opened and the wall being torn down.
Ankita and Mohit, travel blogging duo from Trail-stained Fingers told us why visiting the Berlin Wall was such a moving experience.
“We'd heard about the Berlin Wall in countless films, articles, and books and it was surreal being there in person and seeing this monumental memory of World War II and its associated travails. Our visit was even more special because we were there during the German Day of National Unity (Tag der Deutschen Einheit) and various events had been organised at Berlin's well-known landmarks, including the Berlin Wall. It was interesting seeing and touching the preserved portions of the original wall and retracing the history in the museum.
“There's so much to do at the Berlin Wall. It is a huge complex consisting of some parts of the original wall, buildings dating back to the times of World War I and II, and statues and installations paying homage to the ordeal that those living in East and West Germany suffered at the time. History is eventually about the triumph of good over evil, and the fall of the Berlin Wall is one such event definitely worth revisiting. The museum upstairs offers an exhaustive overview of how events went down through interactive and visual exhibits.”
Explore what’s left of the ancient city of Pompeii, a once prosperous Roman city frozen forever under a thick blanket of volcanic ash from the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD.
Visitors to the archaeological site in Naples can roam freely, walking amongst the crumbling architecture and paying homage to the stone-coated bodies of those who tragically lost their lives all those years ago.
Yoga Wine Travel blogger Flo told us why this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must for history buffs with a keen interest in ancient civilisation.
“Pompeii is one of the most important archaeological sites in Italy, which makes it a must-visit destination for history lovers yearning for a glimpse into a society and its daily life frozen in time. The story of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius has been told through the ages: when the volcano erupted in 79 AD, the molten lava and dense ash engulfed the towns below it so that the inhabitants had no chance of getting out alive. Over the years, archaeologists have painstakingly restored and excavated parts of the city, revealing people and animals who were found encapsulated in the positions they were in when they died.
“Not only is Pompeii a UNESCO World Heritage Site and impeccably preserved, this sprawling city can easily be explored on foot over the course of a day. Wander through dozens upon dozens of sites among the ruins and immerse yourself in history as you explore the once-buried roads, homes, amphitheatres and buildings (don’t miss the main Roman Forum, Amphitheatre, House of the Vetti and small on-site museum!).
Travel blogger Helen from Helen on her Holidays has also visited Pompeii, with her desire to visit starting from when she was a child.
“Pompeii was a unique experience for me because it's so iconic. I'd dreamed of visiting ever since I was little, and I don't think I'm alone - it's a real bucket list kind of place. Visiting Pompeii is like taking a city break back to Roman times. You can stroll around different areas of the town, with different types of buildings, and really get a sense of what it was like to live there.
Helen recommends exploring Pompeii on a guided tour to ensure you get the full experience.
“I particularly recommend taking a guided tour to get the most out of your visit and help you understand what you're looking at. And if you have time, try to fit in a visit to nearby Herculaneum. Herculaneum was destroyed by the same eruption that hit Pompeii, but it's even better-preserved.”
With Azamara, you can visit this remarkable archaeological site on a range of tours, including our popular Exploration of Pompeii Guided Tour.
If you are deeply interested in World War II history, a visit to Auschwitz offers the ultimate insight into life within the confines of Jewish concentration camps. An unforgettable and pivotal point in history, visiting Auschwitz is one of the most eye-opening, World War II-related tours you can experience in Europe, offering a glimpse into the treatment of thousands of Jewish families during the Nazi reign.
Travel blogger Clelia from Keep Calm and Travel had always wanted to visit Auschwitz so she could pay her respects to the 1.1 million people that lost their lives there. She tells us how she expected to be overwhelmed, but instead found it to be “the most humbling and sobering place I've ever visited in more than seven years of travels around the world”. Clelia discusses this in more detail in her article, My visit to Auschwitz, what to expect and why I felt nothing, as well as what to expect on a guided tour.
Clelia believes everyone should try to visit Auschwitz at least once. “First and foremost, we should visit to pay a tribute to those who suffered the worst atrocities in there, but most importantly to understand (or try to understand) how all this madness happened and to avoid repeating the same mistakes today.
“But also, I want to add that respecting the rules should be mandatory for everyone visiting Auschwitz. People should remember that it's not a tourist place per se but one to visit for historical reasons.”
If you’ve ever visited the medieval isle of St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, you may have been inspired to visit Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France. Although sharing a similar name, the two aren’t officially related, however, they do have religious links with one another.
Unlike St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall (a former monastery with a family-owned castle), Mont-Saint-Michel was a once-bustling pilgrimage site with a medieval abbey. Today, tourists can make their way on foot to the island (low tide permitting!) and explore the cobbled pathways, learning about the isle’s monachal history, stopping off at the array of hotels and restaurants while taking in the far-reaching, coastal sights of Normandy.
Family travel blogger Holly from Four Around the World told us what made this architectural wonder a must-visit for her and her family.
“Mont-Saint-Michel appealed to our love of historic places, and the fact that it is one of the most visited monuments in France is clearly for good reason. But what is especially unique about it is the fact that it transforms into an island each day, due to the abrupt rise and fall of the tides.
“History lovers will enjoy learning about the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel and touring the surrounding buildings. There is also a Historical Museum with over 1,000 years of history on display plus a Maritime and Ecology Museum, where you can learn more about the bay and tides that impact the area surrounding the abbey. While it is not the location used for Hogwarts, Harry Potter fans will feel like they have stepped inside a movie set. This is especially exciting if visiting with children!”
The heart of Rome, the Colosseum is a must for those looking for a glimpse into the customs of Imperial Rome. Built in 70AD with a capacity for up to 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was a significant part of Rome’s heritage, holding celebrations, animal hunts and executions as well as its world-famous gladiator battles.
“A trip to the Colosseum can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time, even for people who have been there before,” says travel blogger Soumya, in her guide to visiting the Colosseum. “The Colosseum is huge. Plus, it has tonnes of history behind it.
“The Roman Colosseum (Colosseo in Italian) is also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre after the Flavian dynasty that was responsible for building it. It was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in 72AD and completed in 80AD by his son Titus.
“The Colosseum is an oval amphitheatre built of concrete and sand. It measures 620 by 513 feet (long and short axis) and is the largest amphitheatre ever built in the world. Many of the galleries built at this time were dug into hillsides for support.”
With lots of areas to explore within the Colosseum walls, we highly recommend Azamara’s Glories of Gladiators Guided Tour so you don’t miss a single detail.
Want to learn more about Azamara’s history-rich cruise holidays? Browse our Culture and History Land Programmes today and sail back in time on your next cruise.