Greece, which includes Oia in Santorini, seen here, won Best in Europe’s top spot.. (Photo: Artle Photography/Moment/Getty Images)
Greece took the top prize alongside such under-the-radar spots as Plzen, Ljubljana, and Stavanger in Lonely Planet’s Best in Europe top 10 rankings, announced today.
“We’re drilling down a little deeper and coming up with specific choices, particularly for the American market, that people might like to experiment with beyond the usual highlights of a European trip,” Noirin Hegarty, Lonely Planet’s Managing Destination Editor, told Yahoo Travel.
The ranking criteria include accommodations, cuisine, culture, historical experiences, sports, and activities. What really comes into play, though, says Hegarty, is “That je ne sais quoi element or experience that lifts it above the rest and makes it special.”
Landing in first place is Greece, ranked high for its affordability, lack of crowds, and safety. “There may have been fears about traveling there in the past because of protests, but now is absolutely the right time to visit,” Hegarty said. She exhorts Crete as a great destination: “Here, you get a bit of everything – beaches, hiking, old harbor towns, archaeology, cuisine, wine – with prices for hotels and restaurants 23% cheaper than equivalent ones found in the U.S.”
Here’s the remaining top 10, with travel ideas for each:
Ljubljana castle. (Photo: E. Kase/ www.slovenia.info)
2. Ljubljana, Slovenia: “It’s difficult to pronounce, but well worth getting the tongue around,” Hegarty said. She likens the area’s landscape Switzerland’s, but with a stay costing half the price. Ljubljana gets high marks as a walking city with great nightlife, cafés and bars. This year there’s a plethora of quirky Roman-themed events joining the mix, to mark the 2,000th anniversary of the Roman colony, Emona.
Corfe Castle in Southwest England. (Photo: VisitEngland/Weymouth and Portland Borough Council/Cycle West - Tim Pestridge)
3. Southwest England: “People will probably think of Downton Abbey, but that’s a little 2012,” says Hegarty. Instead, she suggests immersing in Stonehenge and historical Bath. What else is there to be discovered? Picturesque little chocolate box cottages in the countryside, the Cotswolds, English cream teas, traditional country pubs, desolate moors, and Roman ruins. Literature fans can also delve into the lives of favorite scribes from the region, including Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier.
The Medieval fortified hill town of Ostuni, in Puglia Italy. (Photo: Paul Williams- Funkystock/Imagebroker/Getty Images)
4. Italy: “American travelers will be very familiar with Italy, but we’re saying, have a look at Sicily. Have a look at Southern Italy,” says Hegarty. “It’s in the south where you really get the true Italian spirit.” Instead of recommending historical sites, she suggests communing with the locals. “They’re known for wearing their hearts on their sleeves, giving big warm welcomes, are opinionated, laugh, argue, gossip … it’s all integral to the life.” Lonely Planet advises basking in these personalities over long lunches of great food.
5. Viking Denmark: Whereas many of the top 10 get high marks for their value, this one pricey. “It’s expensive, but boy do they do it well,” says Hegarty. She points to attractions like Roskilde’s Viking Ship Museum’s five authentically recreated ships recovered from the fjords, Viking strongholds, and rune stones. Worth seeing in July: the annual Viking Moot Festival in Moesgaard for markets, food, archery, and battle re-enactments.
In the Plaza de Espana, Seville, Spain. (Photo: Stephen Candler/Moment Open/Getty Images)
6. Seville, Spain: Flamenco, bull-fighting, festivals, tapas, nightlife, and a sophisticated style are just some of the reasons Seville makes the list. “This Andalusia capital often gets overlooked in lieu of Madrid or Southern Spain’s beaches, but Seville has such a rich and interesting culture, we think it’s worth looking at.” Not to be missed is the Gothic Seville Cathedral, where Christopher Columbus is buried.
Sunset at Tangasdale, Isle of Barra, Outer Hebrides of Scotland. (Photo: Luca Quadrio/Moment/Getty Images)
7. Outer Hebrides, Scotland: Garnering seventh place are these 119 islands off Scotland’s northwest coast. “They’re majestic in terms of scenery with wildflower meadows, deserted sugar white beaches, rugged hills and sprawling lochs,” Hegarty said. Lonely Planet urges keeping an ear open for the 60% of the population that speaks Native Gaelic. Another reason Scotland is on Lonely Planet’s radar: “The referendum of independence is coming up in September, so there’s a lot going on politically and economically, and there are big questions about the country’s future,” Hegarty said.
Square and town hall in Plzen. (Courtesy: www.visitpilsen.eu)
8. Plzen, Czech Republic: The country’s fourth-largest city gets the top ranking. “We think it’s interesting because it’s Europe’s Capitol of Culture in 2015,” Hegarty said. As home to the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, Plzen is recognized as the birthplace of modern beer brewing. This, of course, brings with it a happening beer scene, brewery tours, and exploration of the 14th-century Pilsen Historic Underground tunnels. Not to be left out are the Great Synagogue and a vibrant arts and cultural scene, with highlights such as the annual Plzen Summer Of Theatre Under The Pilsen Sky.
Stavanger, Norway, on a summer evening. Photo: Jim Boud/Moment/Getty Images)
9. Stavanger, Norway: Cruise ship aficionados might be familiar with this one. The old port town, which gained its wealth from oil, has Europe’s highest concentration of wooden architecture. It’s also known as Norway’s culinary center and a gateway to fjords best seen by air or sea. Beyond taking in the waterfront, Hegarty says to check out Stavanger’s street art scene, inspiration for its international Nuart Festival.
(Photo: Alley Rue du Taur in Toulouse, France. Photo: Aldo Pavan/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images)
10. Toulouse, France: “It’s got a 2,000-year-old history and an atmospheric old town, but the real heart of the city is its rugby team, the Stade Toulousain,” Hegarty said. Indeed, the Heineken Cup originated in Toulouse. Known as La Vie en Rose, the pink city, Toulouse also has a bounty of Michelin-star restaurants, street-side cafes and tea shops.