Europe’s Most Romantic Destinations
A romantic trip to one or all of a dozen of Europe’s most beautiful destinations? These are my dreamy choices (after more than 50 years of traveling there), along with tips to make the most of each of them. One by one, you can make the dream come true, however long it takes, hopefully with someone you love.
Barcelona, Spain– Gaudi of course. And nearby sea-side fishing villages to share a lunch by the Med, and the abbey at Montserrat in the mountains above. But you may not know that the Palau de la Música Catalana is the world’s only concert hall in Art Nouveau style that’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. To hear great music in this setting is extraordinary, and romantic.
Bruges, Belgium– Swans floating on canals, handmade dark chocolate, medieval buildings — Bruges remains very much a fairy-tale city. You may think a day trip is enough, but to keep it romantic stay at least one night so you can avoid the crowds — and get up early, or start in the late afternoon into the evening. Those are the times when the real magic happens.Today In: Lifestyle
Cinque Terre, Italy– I’ve floated here and driven here, and hiked the Via dell’Amore, a mile of trail along the cliffs, famous for its kissing statue and a tunnel covered in declarations of love. What could be more romantic than that? (The longest trail, the Sentierro Azzuro route, spans all five little cliff-side villages and takes about six hours; it is closed until next spring.) Or just sit in a cafe and enjoy the beauty of the sea below, watching the people and the clouds go by.
Greek Islands– You know about the donkeys and sunsets in Santorini, the windmills and clubs of Mykonos. But there are hundreds more islands that are special. Naxos, Chios, Skyros, Kos — on and on, and all different. You can ferry around like the locals and rent rooms last-minute by water, staying as long as you like. Highly romantic. Check it out and find your favorite.
Isle of Skye, Scotland – Retreat here for wild weather, big skies, narrow lochs, soaring mountains, picturesque fishing villages and medieval castles. This largest island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago has a charming town called Portree with harborside pubs and boutiques, but much remains off the grid. There are lovely small accommodations, and a getaway here feels like a tryst. (I stayed at a B&B owned by the head of the MacDonald clan. He walked around in a green tartan.)
Lake Como, Italy – Boat around the lake, and stop off at the grand Villa d’Este to stroll the gardens and have a drink. I like the village of Bellagio, but then again, I like them all — cascading flowers, cafes, mountain-fringed water, fabulous food, pretty people.
Ljubljana, Slovenia – The capital’s Baroque facades mix with the 20th-century Tromostovje (Triple Bridge) spanning the tightly curving Ljubljanica River. The country is so small that you can visit all of it in a week or so. Don’t miss beautiful Bled, and hire a paddle boat to its picture-perfect, mountain-framed islet. And take a train within the huge Postojna cave. The country is not only picture-perfect, it’s become a foodie haven and an ecological standout.
Paris, France – Walks along the Seine. The sparkling Eiffel tower and sparkling champagne. Food to adore. Wine to remember. We all know that Paris is … well, Paris. It’s probably on just about everyone’s romantic list. My fave hotel is the ultra charming little Hotel St Paul Rive Gauche, with eaves, boldly flowered wallpaper and a perfect location. Just know that there are no more “Locks of Love.” Too heavy for the bridge. Boo.
Port0, Portugal – Travelers’ current darling on the Douro River deserves its popularity. Timing here can help you avoid crowds. Sip port at sunset, check out the staircase at Lello, maybe the prettiest bookstore anywhere. In the Ribeira (riverside) district, narrow cobbled streets wind past merchants’ houses and cafes. Eat fresh-caught fish in restaurants by the sea. And oh, those blue tiles.
Prague, Czech Republic– It’s romantic to walk hand-in-hand over the pedestrian Charles bridge, completed in 1402 and lined with statues of Catholic saints. Stroll round the Old Town Square; and by Baroque buildings, Gothic churches and the medieval astronomical clock, with its animated show on the hour.
And perhaps the most romantic restaurant in Europe (if you love great architecture), Francouzska Restaurace, is tucked in a corner of the Municipal House, a supreme example of Art Nouveau design.
San Sebastian, Spain – A charming harbor, three beaches, mountain summits, Baroque buildings and a grand carousel. Plus pintxo bars in the romantic Old Town, with some of the choicest bites anywhere. Pour the apple cider from on high. Stay in a gorgeous room in the Maria Cristina, with pale gray walls and jewel-tone accents.
Sorrento/Amalfi Coast, Italy – I wrote the chapters on this gigglingly gorgeous area for a Fodor’s guidebook, so I know every winding, cliff-hugging 33-miles of road that connects towns such as Positano and Ravello. Walk high above the drive in a path through lemon groves. Hotels like Sireneuse are world-class. And if there’s time, spend a night in nearby Sorrento, with its ancient hotels set on tufa cliffs. Stroll among artisan shops and sip cold limoncello. Emperors came here to play. They knew a good thing.
From Sorrento you can ferry to Capri, Ischia and my favorite, still largely undiscovered fisherman’s island, Procida. All beautiful and romantic, any time.
Shameless plug: A dreamy gift for a travel-loving sweetheart, even if you just stay in an armchair. You can read more about these destinations and others in 100 countries, in my funny/poignant travel memoir (with my illustrated photos).