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Despite being the second smallest of the seven continents, covering just 2% of the Earth’s surface, Europe has a vibrant and varied history. No matter which European city you choose to visit, you’re usually never too far away from hundred-year-old houses, museums brimming with relics and artefacts, and mysterious archaeological sites. In fact, there are so many historical places in Europe to explore, you might want to consider taking a multi-city holiday so you can cross a few of Europe’s top historical sites off your bucket list in one trip.

So, where are the top historical places in Europe to visit?

The best historical places in Europe

1) Berlin Wall – Berlin, Germany

Built by the German Democratic Republic in 1961, the Berlin Wall divided Berlin into two halves both physically and ideologically up until 1989, when it was pulled down as the Cold War began to thaw throughout Eastern Europe.

Although little remains of the Berlin Wall today, the site is one of the longest open air galleries in the world at 1.3km. The remaining section of the wall is known as East Side Gallery because of the colourful murals painted onto it by local artists.

A section of the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall - one of the most iconic historical places in Europe.

2) Hagia Sophia – Istanbul, Turkey

The only city in the world to span two continents, it’s hardly surprising that Istanbul is home to several of Europe’s most important historical sites.

A breath-taking cathedral thought to be one of the biggest of its kind in the world, the Hagia Sophia was built around AD 537. The focal point of this magnificent structure is its large domed roof, considered to be one of the best examples of preserved Byzantine architecture.

Over the years, the cathedral has also played host to a mosque and it was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople until 1453. Today, the Hagia Sophia is Turkey’s second most popular museum and a staple feature of many Turkey travel packages, attracting over 3 million visitors every year.

Interior of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

3) St. Paul’s Cathedral – Mdina, Malta

Once the capital of Malta, the medieval walled city of Mdina (also known as Malta’s Silent City) has a history dating back as far as 4,000 years. Visiting Mdina is like taking a step back in time, with its narrow, winding streets lined by Medieval and Baroque architecture. Fans of popular TV series, Game of Thrones may be interested to discover that some of the earliest scenes were filmed in Mdina.

One of the most popular historical highlights of Mdina is St. Paul’s Cathedral, said to have been built in the 12th Century on the site of the villa that once housed Publius, the Roman governor who welcomed St Paul the Apostle to Malta in AD 60. The original cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake in the late 16th Century and was rebuilt in a traditional Baroque style between 1696 and 1705 by Maltese architect, Lorenzo Gafà. Today, St. Paul’s Cathedral is a Grade I listed monument and one of Malta’s most popular tourist attractions.

A narrow, winding street in Mdina, the old capital city of Malta.

4) Buda Castle – Budapest, Hungary

The capital of Hungary, the city of Budapest was formed when three other cities joined together: Obuda, Buda and Pest. Today, Buda and Pest are connected by the Chain Bridge, which straddles the Danube River. 

Budapest is highly regarded as one of the most historical places to visit in Europe, boasting several significant historical sites and more thermal springs than anywhere else in the world.

Perhaps the most iconic of all historical attractions in Budapest is Buda Castle. Perched at the top of Castle Hill, the best way to reach Buda Castle is to ride on the Funicular from the Buda end of the Chain Bridge. Initially completed in 1265, the castle’s colossal Baroque Palace was added between 1749 and 1769.

Buda Castle in Budapest, Hungary

5) City Walls – Dubrovnik, Croatia

Known as ‘the pearl of the Adriatic’, Dubrovnik conserves Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance monuments including medieval churches, monasteries and museums. Once used as protection against pirates, the harbour is now used by local fishermen.

No visit to Dubrovnik would be complete without a tour of the City Walls. At almost 2,000 metres in length and around 25m high, these clean white walls stand in stark contrast to the sparkling azure sea that surrounds them.

A guided tour of the City Walls will enable you to understand how the walls came to be built, while you can take advantage of panoramic views and unmissable photo opportunities as you explore the Walls’ various towers.

The City Walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

6) St. Mark’s Basilica – Venice, Italy

One of Italy’s most popular tourist hotspots, Venice is home to a seemingly never ending selection of historical attractions spanning 118 islands, 177 canals and 417 bridges. It’s no surprise that both the city and its lagoon belong to the UNESCO World Heritage scheme.

The most well-known church in Venice and one of the most easily recognisable churches in the world, St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) was originally the Doge’s (Leader of the Republic of Venice), private chapel. Inside, the church is adorned with treasured pieces of Byzantine art captured by Venetian ships after the fall of Constantinople. Marvel at the gold mosaics covering the domes and walls, not to mention the glorious golden altarpiece – the Pala d’Oro – said to be composed of almost 2,000 precious gems and stones.

St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy

7) Auschwitz Birkenau – Krakow, Poland

The most notorious of all concentration camps, a visit to Auschwitz Birkenau in Krakow, Poland makes for an eerie and emotional experience, but it’s also one of the most interesting historical places in Europe to visit.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site still houses the chilling signs of the Nazi genocide that took place here during the Holocaust, from fortified walls, barbed wire and barracks to gallows, gas chambers and cremation ovens.

Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Krakow, Poland

8) The Colosseum – Rome, Italy

One of the seven wonders of the world, the Colosseum or Coliseum (formerly known as the Flavian Amphitheatre) is an ancient Roman amphitheatre that was the largest of its kind when it was completed in around AD 80.

Featuring 80 arched entrances, the Colosseum once welcomed between 50,000 to 70,000 spectators at a time, who would be seated according to rank. Visitors would come to watch gladiator flights and hunting simulations.

Today, tourists can see for themselves how the hoists, ramps and trapdoors of the underground theatrical system were operated in order to showcase animals, gladiators and scenery machineries to lively crowds.

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy  - one of the most historical places in Europe to visit.

9) Stonehenge – England, UK

A prehistoric monument based in Wiltshire, England, the Stonehenge is one of the most mysterious places in the world and, without doubt, among the top historical places to visit in Europe.

The Stonehenge consists of concentric rings and horseshoe arrangements of standing stones, each around 13 feet high, seven feet wide and around 25 tons in weight. The mystery of exactly how these stones came to be here has baffled scientists for thousands of years.

Every year on the summer solstice (21st June), a special ceremony takes place at the Stonehenge, when the sun rises in alignment with the heel stone that stands at the centre of the horseshoe shaped stones that lies within the ring of rocks.

The Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, near Amesbury.

10) Catacombs of Paris, France

Not for the faint-hearted, the Catacombs of Paris were built within the tunnels of former limestone quarries and are said to hold the skeletal remains of over six million people who were killed during the French Revolution.

In order to preserve the delicate nature of the site and for safety reasons, only 200 visitors can enter the Catacombs at any one time. So, be sure to plan your visit in advance and aim to attend during quieter periods.

Skulls and bones inside the Catacombs of Paris, France.

Where are your favourite historical places in Europe? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Here are some of my other posts covering the destinations mentioned within this article:

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16 Comments on 10 Historical Places in Europe for Your Bucket List

  1. There are so many wonderful historic places that I would really love to visit. I would love to go see Stone Henge and learn more about the history.

  2. So many fab places to explore. I’ve only been to the Colosseum – I did intend to visit the catacombs in Paris but they were closed when I was there and I’ve only ever driven past Stonehenge, never stopped. I really want to visit all of these places though.

  3. I’ve visited about half of these, but there are a few places which are on my bucket list. However many times I’ve been to Paris I’ve never done the catacombs so that’s firmly on my list x

  4. These are all phenomenal and I want to see them all! We did go to a church in Malta once but it might have been over on Gozo island. They were VERY strict about what we could or couldn’t wear before we went it but it was stunning!

    • I’ve heard Gozo is beautiful; I have a friend who visits family there every year. The wedding sounds like it would’ve been an interesting experience.

  5. Visiting the Berlin Wall was a real eye-opener. We’ve also visited the wall in Belfast. It’s incredible to think of cities segregated in this way.

  6. The Berlin Wall and the Catacombs of Paris have always been on my travel list. I was actually gutted last time I visited Paris that the catacombs were closed and were due to reopen the day that I travelled home!

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