1. Murren, Switzerland
First on the list comes Murren, Switzerland. High in the Swiss Alps, you can find the best things in life: breathtaking views, world-class hiking, and the best tasting fresh cheese and milk you've ever dreamed of.
But really, Murren is just that. A tiny village on the side of a cliff overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley that is straight out of a dream. With the exception of the occasional tractor or farm truck, there are no cars in sight in this town. The only people that live here are the families that have farmed the side of the mountain for hundreds of years.The local school has one class, ranging from toddlers to teenagers. If you're looking for some peace and quiet (and maybe trying to contemplate the meaning of life), this place is heaven. If not, there are more than enough cows to try your luck talking to.
Recommendation time! First off, a hike down to the even tinier village of Gimmelwald is a must. Here you can walk straight into a farmer's house and buy fresh milk, cheese, or yogurt to refuel for the day. Make sure to stop at the Mountain Hostel (only lodging in town) to soak in the towering Alp view with a home-brewed Bernese ale. Second, probably the wisest decision you could make is to eat some cheese fondue, served at literally any of the restaurants you can find in Murren. That's all.
So if you're looking for an outdoor wonderland to hike, camp, bike, ski, or just stuff your mouth full of alpine cheese, Murren might be right up your alley. Listen to the cow bells in the wind and be forever at peace.
2. Trondheim, Norway
If you've ever been to Norway, or even if you haven't, the spectacular nature is probably what first comes to mind. With lush green scenery and fjords galore, this Nordic nature lover's paradise will instantly take your mind off of that $10 McDonald's hamburger (without fries*) you just scarfed down. Yep, Norway is one of the wealthiest nations in the world due to their land's oil and natural gas, making it a pretty penny to vacation here.
But if you can afford it, or love camping and PB&Js, Trondheim is a gem in the midst of it all. The city is located on the Trondheim fjord, and dates back to 997 A.D. A beautiful town, with canals flowing throughout, Trondheim is very much like a Scandinavian Venice, Italy. The town has a truly seaside charm, that can only come from being surrounded by boats and delicious seafood. Another lovely aspect of Trondheim, as with many other northern cities, is the mix of old world charm and highly modern architecture. This blend exists throughout the city, and is a view into the very high standard of living it's residents enjoy on a daily basis.
Recommendation time! Walk to the Nidaros Catherdral in the center of town to revel in the beauty of the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world. Built in 1070, over the burial site of Saint Olav, the king of Norway in the 11th century, it is truly a sight to behold. Second, the pastries. Disregard this tip at your own risk, just don't say we didn't tell you so.
All in all, if you can afford the high price tag that comes with visiting Norway, Trondheim provides bang for your buck. Right next to the country's third longest fjord, and filled with a truly Scandinavian presence of new and old, this town is certainly one to remember.
3. Bratislava, Slovakia
Well, well, well. Bratislava. A town that gives the word "charm" new meaning. Set along the Danube river, and surrounded by vineyards and the Little Carpathian Mountains, Bratislava is thriving and lively as they come! The 18th century old town is known for it's amazing street side bars and cafes. Take a walk through the "ruins" and old alleyways that pulsate through the heart of the city.
One could argue that the main source of this "charm", besides the city itself, are the people. Seemingly always out and about, with a sense of pride for their work and their country, it's hard not to fall under their. In Bratislava, life is what you make it, so they dance in the streets.
Recommendation Time! It is my duty as a food eating human being to divulge a piece of information. Mestiansky pivovar. This local brewery/restaurant served a meal that might go down in the books as the best meal of my entire life, wouldn't doubt it. 300 grams of potato dumplings with smoked meat, stewed sauerkraut, sour cream, and roasted onion heaped onto a single plate. Add hot sauce and consume until euphoria kicks in.
Slovakia is a country generally less traveled, but with it's rich history, as well as amazing local wining and dining, we just can't seem to understand why. If you're a traveler on a budget, have a "meat tooth", or have just wanted to see what Central Europe has to offer aside from the mega-cities, Bratislava just may be the spot for you to get your pants charmed off.
4. Gothenburg, Sweden
Stockholm's cool little brother. Göteborg (in Swedish), pronounced yeat-eh-bor-ee, is the second largest city in Sweden with around half a million inhabitants. While this is definitely the largest town on our list, there is a feeling that it is much smaller and more intimate than the population number suggests. Gothenburg is home to a major university, giving the town a very vibrant feel, as well as huge music scene and plenty of nightlife. Also, being a port city, there is no lack of fresh seafood, and an ever growing number of world class restaurants for the foodies out there. The Gothenburg Film Festival is the leading Scandinavian film festival with nearly 200,000 attendants each year. If you're into the arts and/or food, this place is for you. Did we mention that Gothenburg is home to indie band Junip? If you've never heard of Jose Gonzalez, do yourself a favor, close this page, and listen instead.
Recommendation time! Cinnamon buns are delicious. Sweden is home to the world's tastiest. Gothenburg is home to Sweden's tastiest. Cream of the crop. In Gothenburg, check out Cafe Husaren, home to the Hagabulle, the city's tastiest, and world's largest cinnamon bun. Secondly, if you're a thrill seeker and find yourself in downtown Gothenburg, you're in luck! In the city center lies Liseberg Amusement Park; just look up for the giant ferris wheel and roller coasters, you can't miss it.
Photos by Joel Delgado
Needless to say, Gothenburg is a cultural hotspot, and an extremely hip one at that. To top it off, if you enjoy beautiful nature, the rocky cliffs that span the coastline are some of Sweden's most picturesque and visit-worthy. Restaurants, live music, bars, amusement parks, nature, and delicious cinnamon buns...what more could you ask for?
5. Bruges, Belgium
Last, but in no way least, Bruges finishes off our list. While definitely a bit more well known than the others, we just couldn't leave it out. Let's try to paint a picture. Walking in from the train station to the city, you are welcomed by a kingdom of swans who have nearly taken the city for their own. Yes, real swans. Guess this is where they've been the whole time we've grown up hearing about them in children's books and amusement park rides. The feeling is that of walking into a Disney princess story, a straight up fairy tale. Is this place even real?
Bruges, a commercial metropolis of Europe in medieval times, gets its name from the numerous canals that surround and flow through the city center. With more than 80 bridges in town, this makes for some pretty picturesque canal side views. Bruges takes "walkable" to a whole new level. More so than any others on the list, you can spend the entire day on foot walking the cobble stoned streets, and trust us, you'll want to in order to properly soak in the truly inspiring medieval architecture. Most of which is still fully intact, making it one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in all of Europe.
Recommendation Time! No trip to Bruges is complete without a canal boat ride. Gliding through the water, you get a completely new perspective of the whole town, with a close-up of spots otherwise hidden. Plus, having a tour guide to dish out history and interesting tidbits about the city is a great way to step back in time. Next, comes a mandatory stop at Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc. At this famous, local chocolate shop, you point to the chocolates that you want from outside the window while the owner bags them. Step inside to pay, have a taste, and become mesmerized, like only Belgian chocolate can do. Last, make a stop at lesser known hole in the wall Rose Red Cafe. Here you can select from a plethora of Belgian beers, ranging from traditional Flemish reds to highly sour ales. Get the cheese platter, and talk the afternoon away in the coziest courtyard in the universe.
Pro Tip: Go to the beautiful Church of Our Lady, and scope the sculpture Madonna and Child, found in the transept, which is believed to be Michelangelo's only sculpture to leave Italy within his lifetime.
Swans. Fairy Tale. Chocolate. Canal Boat Ride. More Swans. Michelangelo. Finish it all off with dinner at a waterside brewery, and you've just had what we like to call a "perfect day".
P.S. Remember to bring your new favorite travel daypack along for the adventure!