When thinking about iconic landmarks in Europe, the list runs into hundreds of buildings, temples, ruins, castles, and monuments. From old and historical to trendy and modern, all are top tourist attractions and, most times, the international symbol for that town or city. Some tell the story of pivotal moments in history; some represent honourable traits like friendship or the people that died for that country. In contrast, others are commended for their unique architectural style and forever cemented as an inspiration. Do not underestimate their importance. In any year, 500 million people visit Europe, and these tourist attractions receive much admiration.
Europe is littered with notable landmarks, and anyone on a road trip should put them on their list, for they are must-visits, at least once in your lifetime. Before visiting, don't forget to check out their website for official opening hours, entrance fees, car parking facilities and a brief introduction what to expect. If you need inspiration as to which is the most visited and favourite, read on to find out our suggestions of landmark places to visit and what makes them an integral part of both the past and present.
Iconic Landmarks in Europe
1: Buckingham Palace in London
The argument whether the British royalty family contribute towards tourism rages on, but one thing is undeniable. Many people, when visiting London, put Buckingham Palace on their list. As the royal family's official London residence since 1837, this vast landmark has a staggering 775 rooms. Every summer, the staterooms open to visitors who are wowed by the luxury, artwork and royal décor and design. Likewise, the royal balcony is Europe's most famous with crowds of people eager to see royalty when they step out onto it for special occasions. Granted much of this landmark fame's stems around the family that lives in it, but the exterior neo-classical architecture also makes it one to be admired.
2: Eiffel Tower in Paris: A Towering Landmark
Standing at 300 metres high, the Eiffel tower gives off a staggering view of France's most iconic city. Constructed in 1889, in a wrought iron lattice style, this icon often features in travel magazines and on picture postcards. Once holding the title of the world's tallest structure made by man, the tower, and viewing platforms also has restaurants on the first and second floor making this an unusual landmark to dine in. To understand just how colossal this iconic landmark is, when the allies were advancing on Paris in 1944, Hitler wanted to destroy it. Every seven years, the Eiffel Tower is covered in a staggering 60 tonnes of paint to keep it from rusting away.
3: Palace of Versailles
Built in the 11th century as a hunting lodge, over the years to follow, Versailles become a royal residence then the full-blown opulent palace we see today. Covering a staggering 800 hectares, it one of France's most popular tourist attractions. One resident was the famous Marie Antoinette, who ended up being executed during the notorious French revolution. The palace splits into four major sections which are the park, Trianon estate, gardens, and the central section. Notable exhibitions of this famous museum include the hall of mirrors and the king's state apartment.
4: Notre Dame in Paris
Considered one of Europe's finest example of French Gothic architecture, the Notre Dame Cathedral is a classic Catholic landmark. Artefacts within the cathedral include part of the cross and the crown of thorns placed on Jesus's head. Construction started in the 12th century and took two years to complete. Once again, the French revolution provided a pivotal point in its history when it was damaged. Likewise, in 2019, a fire that burned for 15 hours caused extensive damage and repairs are still ongoing.
5: Vatican City in Rome
Ok, here is the quirky thing to know about the Vatican. Even though it is called a city, it is the world's smallest country. Covering just 100 acres, the pope heads the establishment and the only people allowed to live there are clergy members. Guarded by the Swiss guard, whose colourful uniform makes them look more for the show, don't be misled. They are trained soldiers whose mission is to protect the city at all costs. Not all the city is open for public viewing, but it is still Rome's most popular tourist destination. Main sights to see are the Basilica Cistern and the Vatican museums, which includes the iconic Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo.
6: Colosseum in Rome
Built in 80 AD, the colosseum is a timeless piece of architecture and an insight into one of history's most famous empires. Also called the Flavian amphitheatre, it portrays the life and times of gladiators and just how ruthless the Roman empire could be. The underground passages stretch for half an acre, and they are just as important as the exterior to understand the theatre's history. Open every day from 8.30 a.m., two museums also hold must-see artefacts, and other landmarks to see close by include the arch of Constantine and the Meta Suden fountain remains.
7: Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy
Although stunning, the leaning tower is more known for its architectural flaws than grandeur. The engineer and planners were having off days when they picked the plot of marshy soil to construct the landmark. Two hundred seventy-three steps lead to the top, which measures 60 metres in height, and despite its less than perfect structure, it is open to the public. While there, also visit the nearby cathedral, baptistery, and Sinope museum.
8: Acropolis in Athens
This ancient citadel sitting on a rock overlooking Athens is one of Europe's most iconic landmarks. The remains include several buildings, but the Parthenon Temple garners the most fame. Restoration work has been undergoing since 1975, and it belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Dedicated to the Athena goddess, it is the most talked about the historical site in Greece. Although the acropolis reflects the heyday and glory of ancient Greece, it has still given inspiration to many modern landmark buildings around Europe.
9: Blue Mosque in Istanbul
While many of Europe's famous landmarks are churches or palaces, the Blue Mosque sitting in European Istanbul is its finest Islamic place of worship. Built during the 16th century, for Ottoman royalty, it gained its nickname from the thousands of interior tiles. Visitors should be respectful when they enter. Men should wear trousers, and women should cover their arms, legs, and head. Once inside, the serene atmosphere engulfs you in a wave of peace. Entrance is free, but visitors can pay a donation to its upkeep.
10: Hagia Sophia in Istanbul
Sitting across Sultanahmet square from the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia is another Istanbul treasured landmark. Starting life as a church, it was converted into a mosque when the Ottomans invaded Constantinople. After the formation of the new Turkish republic; it reopened as a mosque. Once the world's largest domed building, notable aspects to keep an eye out for today include the Islamic calligraphy and frescoes—two representations of the world's most popular religions sitting side by side.
11: Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
Last on our list of iconic landmarks in Europe, this 18th century, neoclassical monument is Germany's most famous, but more for its symbolism rather than appearance or historical value. It was a symbol for the Nazi party when they rose to power, and although it was damaged, survived the second world war. In the years to follow, it became the division between east and west, but then when the Berlin Wall fell, it resembled unification instead. If you want a special moment, go to see it on New Years eve when locals gather to celebrate and see in another year.
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