Planning a visit to Europe is very exciting but with so much to see and do it can be a real challenge putting an itinerary together. 2012 is set to be a great year in travel so just to get you started here are 51 things to do in Europe.
1. Attend the Olympic Games, London - 2012 is the year London will host the Olympic games for a record third time which is without doubt the highlight of the year. London will be jam packed and probably a little crazy but then when isn’t it? Tickets are hard to get hold of but do try as you do not want to miss the biggest party on earth.
2. Compete in The World Alternative Games, Wales – If London is not your style then head to Britain’s smallest town in Mid Wales where you yourself could become a world champion. Take people on in egg throwing, bog snorkelling, snail racing or just grab the Mrs, throw her on your back and race to the finish line. Actually, forget the Olympics, this is where you will find me next summer.
3. Visit the birth place of Titanic, Belfast – 100 years on from the sinking of the worlds most famous ship you can go back to where it all began. Titanic was born in Belfast and in March 2012 the worlds biggest Titanic visitor experience opens to the public on the very slipways in which Titanic was built.
4. See the Northern Lights in Norway – One of the best places in the world to witness the spectacular Aurora Borealis is in Northern Norway. The best time to visit is between December and March but seeing the lights is never guaranteed so fingers crossed.
5. Visit Europe’s youngest country, Kosovo - On the 17th of February 2008 the Republic of Kosovo was born and became Europe’s youngest country. Kosovo is not well known as a travel destination but it is embracing it’s independence and is well and truly open for business.
6. Watch the Euro 2012 Football Championships, Poland & Ukraine -Europe’s biggest football championships kicks off in June and runs through into July. Here you can take in the sights of these two beautiful countries and then come game time you can cheer on your team as they compete to become the best in Europe.
7. Spend the day as a Cosmonaut at Star City, Russia - Ever wanted to know what it is like to prepare for a journey into space? Well at Russia’s Star City you can find out with hands on space training using the exact same simulators as the cosmonauts. This is not some fun park, this is the real deal and the experience of a lifetime.
8. Climb Mount Blanc, France – Standing at 4,810m makes Mt Blanc the highest mountain in Western Europe and a challenging climb. You don’t need to be an experienced climber to attempt to reach the summit, adventure companies such as World Expeditions and their guides will get you to the top, you just need to be in excellent shape and be determined to reach the very top of Western Europe. What an adventure!
9. Visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland – WW2 shaped the Europe we live in today and visiting a place like Auschwitz helps educate us all on what went on in the most brutal war in history. Around 1.3 million people were murdered at Auschwitz and it stands today as a sombre reminder of what we humans are capable of. For me it is one of the most important places to visit in Europe.
10. Tour Chernobyl Power Plant, Ukraine - On the 26th of April 1986 the worst nuclear disaster in history occurred when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded. 26 years on with radiation levels being at a safer level you can now revisit the power plant and the area around it.
11. See Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, France – I know it is a little obvious but standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris is still one of the great things to do whilst on a trip to Europe.
12. Travel from Berlin to Moscow on the Trans-European Express - Travelling around Europe by train is a great experience. The Trans-European Express travels between two of Europe’s great cities and on this train you can do it in comfort by booking a cabin in the luxury business class carriage that comes with en suite shower and toilet, TV/DVD system and full-width double bed,
13. Go trekking in the Accursed Mountains, Albania – If you are looking for an off the beaten track, spectacular and unspoilt landscape to explore then the mountains in northern Albania are perfect. You are not going to find any crowds whilst trekking here and an experienced trekking guide is very much recommended. This really is a true European adventure.
14. Go to the Opera in Vienna - For those of you who love opera then Vienna is the place to be. Purchase a ticket for a night at the Vienna Staatsoper, one of the leading opera houses in the world and then spend the remaining time taking in the sights of this great European city.
15. Sun yourself in the beautiful Algarve, Portugal – Portugal is blessed with some wonderful beaches and the weather in the Algarve is fantastic for most of the year. I highly recommend booking a villa in the small village of Burgau or an apartment in the town of Lagos and hitting the local beaches for some pure relaxation.
16. Propose in Venice, Italy – Yes Venice is expensive and incredibly crowded but it is still one of the most romantic cities in the world so where better to ask your loved one to become your partner for life.
17. Take the train to Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe), Switzerland – The train journey up to the highest railway station in Europe is a journey in itself. When reaching the top you will be greeted by spectacular mountain views of ice, rock and snow. Here you can explore ice caves, enjoy some lunch, do a little souvenir shopping and even embark on a husky sledge ride.
18. Enjoy a beer or three at Munich’s Oktoberfest, Germany - This is one of Europe’s great festivals with over 5 million people attending each year. If you enjoy a drink then you will love a visit to Munich where you can sample Bavaria’s greatest beers in amongst your fellow, joyful drinkers.
19. Explore the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – A trip to Amsterdam would not be complete without at least one visit to the magnificent Rijksmuseum which is an art lovers dream.
20. Compete in the Wife Carrying World Championships, Finland - It’s rather simple really, you just grab the Mrs, throw her on your back and then set off around a course competing against other couples from around the world to reach the finish line first and become world champions. The official website states ‘wife carrying is good for your relationship‘
I wonder what your neighbours will think when they see you training?
21. Embark on a ski expedition across Spitsbergen, Svalbard - This spectacular and extreme wonderland sits high in the Arctic waiting to be discovered. During April and May the conditions are perfect for an expedition across it’s untamed landscape and you may even see a Polar bear. For me this is one of the biggest European adventures possible and at the top of my wish list.
22. Search for Europe’s largest land animal at Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park, Belarus – A Unesco World Heritage site and the pride of Belarus is the Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park. The park is alive with wild animals and home to the 300 plus European bison. They are a little smaller than their American cousin’s and sadly you are actually able to pay to shoot them, why can’t people just watch?
23. Enjoy afternoon tea at the Ritz, London – England is well known for its love of tea, throw in a few cucumber sandwiches and stimulating conversation and you have yourself a lovely little afternoon party. Head to the world famous Ritz hotel in London if you want the true afternoon tea experience.
24. Take an early morning walk around the streets of Prague, Czech Republic – One of Europe’s most enchanting cities can be a blooming nightmare in summer due to the large crowds. A great way to see the city is to get up at dawn when the sun is just rising and go out into the streets where you will find you have Prague and it’s beautiful sights pretty much all to yourself.
25. Volunteer with an animal aid charity, Romania - There are a lot of countries that struggle with regards to stray animals but in Romania it is a real problem. It is heartbreaking to see such a large amount of animals living in such a way. The handful of animal aid charities are desperate to capture, treat and find homes for these stray animals.
26. Bathe in the therapeutic Blue Lagoon, Iceland – It’s not everyday you get to relax in a lava field but this is where you will find Iceland’s most visited attraction. The water temperature averages an absolutely wonderful 39c which will keep you relaxed and content for hours.
27. Take on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, one of the worlds most spectacular hikes, Wales – The 186 mile coastal walk is the ranked number 3 in the worlds most spectacular walks ahead of the likes of the Inca trail and Kilimanjaro. What’s even more exciting is that in 2012 this will become part of a complete coastal walk as you will be able to walk the entire Welsh coast.
28. Go on Safari in Kent, England – Waking to the sound of the Serengeti after a wonderful nights sleep in your cosy Safari lodge does not quite sound like England but at the Livingstone Lodge Safari Experience at Port Lympne in Kent you are transported to the plains of Africa. Here animals roam free whilst you jump on board a land rover for the complete safari experience.
29. Spend a night at the worlds largest ice hotel, Sweden – Don’t forget your thermal pants, a warm hat and gloves as it is -5c in your bedroom which is pretty darn cold. But what a fantastic experience! How often do you get to sleep on a special bed of snow, ice and reindeer skins in a room with spectacular ice sculptures.
30. Cruise around the Mediterranean – Number 30 brings us something a little more relaxing. Forget marathons and ice hotels, why not embark on a comfortable, summer cruise around the beautiful Mediterranean. Make yourself at home in your cosy cabin, enjoy the on board entertainment and look forward to the next port of call.
31. Cycle the route of the Berlin Wall, Germany – Built in 1961, the Berlin Wall not only divided a city, it was the symbol of the divide in Europe. In 1989 the wall came crumbling down and over time most of the wall has been removed and turned into souvenirs. There are, however, still a few areas where it still stands and where the rest of it once stood is a thin marker on the road/pavement in which you can follow the exact route.
32. Visit the worlds smallest village, Belgium – The French speaking village of Durbuy claims to be the world’s smallest. You can enjoy this fact whilst sitting at a local cafe enjoying a glass of Belgium’s finest beer.
33. Admire the Acropolis, one of the worlds most stunning monuments , Greece - Sitting up proudly, looking out over the city of Athens is the quite spectacular ‘Acropolis’. Everybody wants to capture an amazing photo so I recommend staying at the St. George Lycabettus Hotel and waking early as the sun slowly hits the city.
34. Take part in the worlds most iconic half marathon, England – Every September in Newcastle over 50,000 runners turn out for this great event which is broadcast live on the BBC. The race consists of professional and Olympic runners, celebrities and everyday folk as people from all over the world aim to complete the thirteen and a half miles for charity.
35. Visit the world famous Louvre, Paris - The French are very proud of the Louvre and so they should be. It is the largest and most visited art museum in the world. If you are heading to Paris in 2012 be sure to make the Louvre number one on your sightseeing list.
36. Spend the night in a real Jumbo Jet Boeing 747 hostel, Sweden – Most of us would not associate a good nights sleep with being on board a Boeing 747 but this is a little different. Situated at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, this 747 stays right where it is (no turbulence) and has been decked out as a very comfortable hostel. Personally, I want the captains bed as it is bound to be the most comfortable.
37. Travel along the Danube on a river cruise - Ah, now this is how to do it. Taking in the sights of Europe as you sail gently along one of the continents greatest rivers is a wonderful experience. You will travel through scenic countryside and pass through some of Europe’s great cities like Nuremberg, Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade.
38. Live like a local in Moscow, Russia - I love slow travel as I like to be able to see a place as a local does. One city that has always fascinated me is Russia’s great capital, Moscow. To live like like a local you need to find a longer term place to stay and companies like holiday-rentals.co.uk offer some terrific houses and apartments at very good rates. I have yet to book with them but it is certainly on the cards.
39. Celebrate St Patrick’s Day, Ireland – Every year on the 17th of March the Irish celebrate St Patrick’s Day and boy do the Irish enjoy a good party. If you are a solo traveller then a visit to Ireland on the 17th is highly recommended as you will come away with a thousand new smiling friends.
40. Buy a holiday home in Eastern Europe to renovate – Up until the financial collapse of 2008, the British were buying up Eastern European property like nobodies business. But now with the pound being much weaker than what it was the buying boom has certainly come to an end but there are still some great bargains to be had. Personally I would like to find a nice old building on a remote mountainside with great views that is in need of renovation and have it as a long term holiday home project.
41. Go in search of Wolves, Poland – Poland is home to Europe’s largest population of wolves. Wolf tracking is certainly a privilege as is seeing any animal in it’s natural environment. Week long tours will take you into the Bieszcady mountains where local guides will lead you close to get a glimpse of one these beautiful creatures.
42. Explore the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy, France – In June 1944 thousands of young lives were lost in bitter fighting when the allies opened up a second front in WW2 by invading Hitler’s ‘fortress’ Europe to help end the war. The beaches at Normandy is where the invasion took place and today there are tours of the beaches and cemeteries where you are able to pay your respects to the brave young heroes.
43. Go rafting through Europe’s deepest canyon, Montenegro - the Tara River provides one of the most powerful and challenging rafting expeditions on the European continent. The river passes through Europe’s deepest canyon which by comparison is only 200m shallower than America’s Grand Canyon. Get ready for a wild ride.
44. Spend a weekend exploring the Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia – The beautiful old town of Tallinn is certainly one of Europe’s gems. History, medieval markets, cobbled streets and culture galore await you. Be sure to give yourself at least a couple of days here to explore this enchanting part of Estonia.
45. Take a relaxing dip in Budapest’s thermal baths, Hungary – Budapest is one of Europe’s great cities and whilst there you have the chance to unwind in one of the cities famous thermal baths. It is without doubt Budapest’s most enjoyable activity and this alone is worth a trip to Hungary.
46. Go island hopping in Croatia – Whether you are in search of a little luxury, some piece and quiet or a party, the dozens of sunny islands off the Croatian mainland have it all. Travelling between the islands is easy with regular water taxis, ferries and catamarans. If money is not an object you could do it in style and rent your very own sailing boat.
47. Party through the night in Ibiza, Spain – Ibiza has a reputation for attracting young people who are in search of some serious partying. There is far more to Ibiza than just partying, it is in fact a very beautiful island but if you are looking to party hard into the night then few other places in Europe can beat it.
48. Cycle from London to Paris for charity - From the heart of London to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, this 5 day cycling adventure is a great way to raise money for charity. You could do it on your own, part of a team or do it as a tour group hosted by an adventure company. It’s certainly a great way to arrive in Paris.
49. Visit the house of Anne Frank, Amsterdam – The story of Anne Frank and her diary need no introduction. Here at the house where Anne and her family hid from the Nazis for two years before being caught has been a museum since 1960. The museum documents the story of Anne and houses exhibitions on the Holocaust. The house is incredibly popular so get there early.
50. Visit Father Christmas in Lapland, Finland – If you are looking to do something special with the kids you could head to Rovaniemi at the magical artice circle in Finland where you will find Santa’s office and village. He is of course a busy man but if you have been good then you may just get to sit on his knee. The village is open all year around.
51. End the year where it all started, London baby! – Where better to end the year than in one of the worlds most exciting cities. London will be in a party mood and ready to celebrate so get out on the streets and join in with the fun. Head to the London Eye for the new year fireworks which as you will see from the video are the best in the world!