8 Palaces/Castles in Europe You Never Thought of Visiting

Are you done visiting some of the most famous and colossal palaces of Europe, like Versailles Palace in France, Buckingham Palace in England, Schönbrunn Palace in Austria, or Alhambra in Spain? How about some other notable palaces or castles that Europe has to offer to its visitors that many people don’t know about? I have tons in my mind but here are 8 that are worth visiting and will surprise the guests with lots of secrets:

  1. Chateau de Godfrey de Bouillon, Belgium: Godfrey of Bouillon was one of the heroic knights from the 11th century and his castle is a major asset in Belgium. Built in the 11th century,  Chateau de Godfrey de Bouillon offers some thrilling views of Semois Valley, the river, and town below. Godfrey’s Chateau has a huge complex of medieval defense with old walls and stone buildings. Other than some exhibitions, tourists can see a medieval torture chamber and an underground prison. If you are in Brussels, this would make a nice trip to the Wallonia side of the country.
Godfrey's Castle and its surroundings in Bouillon, Belgium

Godfrey’s Castle and its surroundings in Bouillon, Belgium

2. Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, Denmark:  This palace once used to be the official residence of the Danish Royal Family, but presently is used as the Danish Parliament and Supreme Court. The original building of Christiansborg Palace  dates back to 1167. At 106 meters high, the tower of Christiansborg Palace is the highest among all the other palaces in Copenhagen.

Entering Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, Denmark

Entering Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, Denmark

The Reception Hall consists of several important rooms of the castle, like the Throne Room, Great Hall, Dining Hall, Alexander Hall, and others. Each room is decorated with luxurious and elegant look. The beauty of the old furniture, tapestries, chandelier, art/paintings, decorative doors, lamps, vases, candle-holders, marble fire-place is beyond any expressions. If you have one day in Copenhagen, this would be the one place that one must visit.

Great Hall inside Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark

Great Hall inside Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark

3. Chateau de Blois in Loire Valley, France: This is one of many castles in the Loire Valley of France. Chateau de Blois was the residence of several French kings during the middle ages. Joan of Arc came here in 1429 to be blessed by the Archbishop before driving the English from Orleans. Also, this is where Queen Catherine de’Medici (wife of King Henri II) died in 1589. The main façade of this château was my favorite part. Interestingly, different parts of the palace features different era and style, like Gothic, Flamboyant, Renaissance, and Classicism.

One of the noble rooms of Chateau de Blois, France

One of the noble rooms of Chateau de Blois, France

4. Dresden Zwinger in Dresden, Germany: The palaces of Dresden Zwinger is the main attraction of the city. It’s a big garden surrounded by old Baroque palace buildings on all sides including Semper Building, Glockenspiel Pavilion (Clock Tower), Crown Gate, Rampart Pavilion, Nymphs’ Bath, and Marble Hall. This is a beautiful place to walk around and enjoy calm gardens and exquisite palace buildings.

Dresden Zwinger - Glockenspiel Pavilion (clock tower) on the right

Dresden Zwinger – Glockenspiel Pavilion (clock tower) on the right

5. Trakai Island Castle in Lithuania: The city of Trakai is beautiful  a lake resort area and the main attraction is the Trakai Island Castle. Sitting quietly on Lake Galve, construction of this Gothic masterpiece started in the 14thcentury. Upon entering to the main front courtyard, you can see beautiful fortress of red bricks in all three sides. Trakai History Museum is spread around the castle and linked via many arrays of wooden steps and dark spiral staircases. Soldiers’ barracks, Great Hall, and other small rooms are filled with some original furniture, decors, ceramics, potteries, and etc.

Trakai Island Castle on Lake Galve in Lithuania

Trakai Island Castle on Lake Galve in Lithuania

6. Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal:  The Pena Palace is the finest examples of 19th century Portuguese Romanticism and  is considered as the most important part of Cultural Landscape of Sintra.  Main façade of the castle is decorated with geometric patterned Moorish-style tiles and watch towers were built in various shapes, sizes, and colors making it look like a Disney fairy-tale castle. The oldest foundation of this place dates back to the 12thcentury. This is a great guided trip that can be taken if you are in Lisbon and have an extra day to roam around out the capital.

Breathtaking location of Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal...as we saw it from Queen's terrace

Breathtaking location of Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal…as we saw it from Queen’s terrace

7. Malaga Alcazaba in Malaga, Spain: Alcazaba de Malaga, a Moorish palace/fortress that has been standing on a hill since the Muslim era in Andalusia in 11th century and is one of the emblematic monuments of this town. The Nasrid Palace, Orange Patio and Patio de la Alberca (with a pool) are remarkable areas of Malaga Alcazaba. Among few other Moorish palaces of Spain, this Alcazaba is one of the best preserved palaces and a must-see.

Malaga Alcazaba - a Moorish castle in Malaga, Spain

Malaga Alcazaba – a Moorish castle in Malaga, Spain

8. Keukenhof Castle, The Netherlands: Many people don’t know about Kasteel Keukenhof in The Netherlands. Thousands of people from all over the word come to Keukenhof during the Tulip festival. When you are there, take a 5 minutes walk to this castle and you won’t be disappointed. The most amazing part of  Keukenhof Castle is that many of the furniture and belongings of this castle are from the original owners from the 17th century. It is a guided tour to visit inside the mansion but stay as long as you want in the garden.

An original Venetian chandelier, look at the detailed work

An original Venetian chandelier, look at the detailed work

Exterior of Keukenhof Castle

Exterior of Keukenhof Castle

Craving for Old Europe? Here are Top 7 Cities to Visit !!!

It’s not just the European food or people or cultures that attracts millions of people to visit the continent each year. Yes, those are appealing, but for the most part, it’s the unique medieval charms of Europe that people can’t get enough of when they are getting lost in the narrow alleys of small towns in Europe, looking at centuries old cathedrals or  ruins of ancient fortresses,  or walking on cobbled stoned squares from the middle ages.

Every time I’ve visited the big or tiny towns in Europe, I was taken back in time. I could feel and see the life that existed hundreds of years ago. It was like an open museum that has surprises in every corner of it. From big cities like Rome to one of the smallest ones, like Cyprus have medieval elements scattered though the cities.

After visiting more than 130 cities in Europe (it’s not enough for any continent, let alone for Europe), I had hard time hand-picking cities that will give the tourists most medieval experience of Europe. Oh yes, there are plenty of these towns where you can go and feel like you traveled to the past thru a time machine in this continent. But here are 7 not-so-common places that you should visit to experience some enticing old European charms. They are not in any particular order…enjoy

  1. Toledo (Spain): Once the capital of Spain, Toledo, is a must-see city when you are in Madrid. The history of this town dates back to 192 B.C. which became a UNESCO World Heritage site for its rich cultural and historical monuments. Some spots to hit in Toledo are Cathedral of Toledo, Monuments of Greco, Old city wall, the synagogue, San Martin Bridge, and finally the magnificent Alcazar.
An overview of Toledo with River Tagus and Puente de St. Martin

An overview of Toledo with River Tagus and Puente de St. Martin

2. Volterra (Italy): This is a perfect day-trip if you are in Florence or Sienna in Italy. Volterra is one of many walled cities of Toscana and it attracts thousands of tourists every month. Other than its sweeping beauty of its countryside and other small hill-towns, it has those cozy piazzas, like Piazza dei Priori, a roman theater, couple good museums like Alabaster Museum and Pinacoteca Museum, and finally an old baptistery…Santa Maria Assunta Church. To finish off the day, have some gelato from a local store.

Old Town of Volterra, Italy

Old Town of Volterra, Italy

3. Plovdiv (Bulgaria): Dating back to more than 4000 B.C, Plovdiv is one of the oldest towns in whole Europe. The town is very well-preserved and many old buildings, paved streets, fortifications, walls, water-supply, and sewerage survived from its early period. Visit the Virgin Mary Church, St. Dimitar Church, Roman Theater, ancient Stadium of Philippopolis, and Djoumaya Mosque from the 14th century. Plovdiv would make a perfect trip if you are in Sophia and have an extra day to taste the old Bulgaria.

Roman amphitheater from the 1st century in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Roman amphitheater from the 1st century in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

4. San Marino (San Marino): This is one of the littlest countries in Europe yet it claims to be the world’s oldest republic. San Marino not only  offers impressive views of the surrounding hills, countryside, Adriatic Sea, and Italy, but it also has spectacular historic landmarks for its visitors. If you are in the Tuscany region in Italy, San Marino would be a perfect day-trip from there. Visit the Old Town, 1st Tower – Guaita, Basilica di San Marino, Piazza Publica, and enjoy its great Italian cuisine in any restaurants.

Walking thru the old cobble-stoned alleys of San Marino

Walking thru the old cobble-stoned alleys of San Marino

5. Luxembourg City (Luxembourg): This is probably one of my most favorite capitals to visit in Europe. The history and the beauty of Luxembourg City will truly make your trip a memorable one. Here are some places to see here: Gella Fra Monument, Notre Dame Cathedral, Grand Ducal Palace, Bock Casamates, and finally the whole town. This should be on your top list if you are visiting Belgium…too good to miss.

Walking around the old ruins of Luxemburg (Casamates)

Walking around the old ruins of Luxemburg (Casamates)

6. Valletta (Malta): This is a unique place where rich history, good Mediterranean food, scenic beauty, and colorful atmosphere come together in harmony. Malta’s capital, Valletta, was one of the earliest sites that got listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site for its old world splendor and magnificent Baroque architectures. While in Valletta, make sure to take a boat ride to the unforgettable Islands of Gozo and Comino. But in the city, roam around its old part and enjoy places like, St. John’s Cathedral (and many other old churches), Upper Barracca Garden, National Library of Malta, St. Fort Elmo, and Great Siege Square.

Valletta, Malta -the whole city is A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Valletta, Malta -the whole city is A UNESCO World Heritage Site

7. Dinant (Belgium): Situated by River Meuse, Dinant is a French-speaking (Wallonia) part of Belgium. This is the hometown of Adolphe Sax…the inventor of saxophone that dates back to 800 B.C. Visit the Dinant Citadel (and enjoy stunning view from there), Collegiate Cathedral of Dinant, Saxophone Bridge and River Meuse, and get lost in the old alleys that are packed with local goods and cafes. Another sweet trip if you are ever in Brussels.

Breathtaking view of the city and river from Dinant Citadel in Belgium

Breathtaking view of the city and river from Dinant Citadel in Belgium

 

 

The Best Cities To Visit In France (Other Than Paris)

I have absolutely nothing against Paris. It’s the city of l’amour, the birthplace of revolution, the home of the Mona Lisa, and was once the site of the world’s tallest building. (I’m sure I don’t need to tell you which one…) But though Paris should be on every new adventurer’s bucket list because, well, it is Paris after all, there are many more vibrant and gorgeous cities that this beautiful and cultured country has to offer beyond its uber-famous capital. And, with the French ETIAS visa waiver in effect, NOW is the time to visit!

  1. Strasbourg

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Strasbourg is right on the German border and – perhaps suitably – is also currently home to the European parliament. Walking through it is like stepping back in time in some ways, with its incredible gothic architecture, winding streets and old canals. It’s no wonder it’s thought of as being one of the greatest historical cities not only in France but in all of Europe.

  1. Nice

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Pronounced ‘Neess’ (for the unfamiliar), this Southern city resort sits right between the Mediterranean and the French Riviera, so temperatures can reach a toasty 74 Fahrenheit in the summer months. As you’d expect from a coastal city, its beaches are big tourist draw, particularly the sweeping Baie des Anges, which is right next to the renowned Promenade de Anglais. Farther into the city itself, there are lots of art galleries, museums, the historic ‘old town’ district, and – of course – the famous flower market.    

  1. Bordeaux

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Bordeaux is the place for wine enthusiasts! But as well as its vineyards, it’s also mainly known for its being home to one of the finest theatres of the 18th century, as well as a great collection of 17th – 19th statues and monuments in its ‘old’ center. Situated on the banks of the Gironde, Bordeaux was once a bustling port city in its heydey, and to a certain extent, it still is, as it’s become a popular spot for cruise liners to dock.

  1. Lyon

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If Paris is the city of love, then Lyon is the city of food – packed full of some of the best restaurants in the country. There’s also a fine selection of museums and shops, making it an attractive weekend getaway destination. Nestled between the Saone and Rhone rivers sits its historic center (listed as a UNESCO world heritage site) home to the busy urban piazza: Place Bellecour. The pleasantly contrasting “old quarter” – Fourviere – sits to the west of the Rhone.

  1. Toulouse

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You might also know Toulouse as La Vie En Rose (‘The Pink City’) thanks to the terracotta bricks used in most of it buildings. Toulouse is home to both another UNESCO world heritage site: the oldest canal in Europe (Canal du Midi), and also a hugely popular aerospace museum – truly making it a place to suit all holiday-maker’s tastes. The other must-see attractions include the Place du Capitole at the center of the city, the breathtaking St Sernin basilica, and the impressive Jacobins church and cloisters, and because of its Southern location near the Spanish border, it also has a distinctly Mediterranean feel – similar to Nice.   

 

The Foolproof Volunteer Abroad Fundraising Guide

If you’re keen to see the world, but don’t have the cash to get away, volunteering abroad could be the answer you’ve been looking for. This kind of opportunity does involve costs, but it’s possible to raise the funds for your trip with a little time, effort and creativity. Here are our top ways to get the money together so that you can head off to a faraway land and do something really important at the same time…

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  1.     Ask people to help you

If you really care about the people and places you want to help, show that to friends, family and members of the public. Explain why you are so determined to volunteer in Ghana, work in a school in Thailand, or help to look after the sick in Costa Rica. If you really believe in what you are trying to achieve, people will see that and want to help you.

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  1.     Get online

At the very least, you should set up a page on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat explaining your plans and appealing for help. It’s also a great idea to set up your own website. If you’re lucky enough to have a computer expert friend or family member, ask them to help. If not, search online for hosting services: many are designed to be easy to use without expert knowledge, and these companies will help you to tailor your site according to your requirements.

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  1.     Offer to give something back

If you’re asking people to give towards your cause, it’s a great idea to promise that you will give something in return. You could give your online supporters a blog account of your time away, describing what you are doing to help and how it is all going. Alternatively, you could opt for a postcard or photo on a regular basis, so that the people who have helped to fund your trip can follow your journey and feel that they are a part of it.

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  1.     Allow plenty of time

It will take time to organise your fundraising efforts, so don’t leave the planning until the last minute. Ask friends and family for ideas on events that you could hold to raise funds for the trip, and make sure that your cause is known about within your local area. Put posters up in the windows of local shops, and spread the word by chatting to people wherever you go.

Raising money to fund volunteering abroad requires a lots of planning and hard work, along with a determined and positive attitude. This kind of approach will be extremely useful when you head off on your travels. Find out tips on travelling on this page.

Going abroad to work at helping others is a much more rewarding experience than simply buying a package holiday and lying on a beach. This is the kind of experience that can change your whole life, and give you an entirely new perspective on things – and that will actually mean something to those you help, so the fundraising process is well worth getting right.

 

Christmas in Peacock Lane

After living in Portland, OR, for many years, I finally got to visit this place that becomes magical during the holiday season. It’s in a neighborhood in the SE Portland which becomes pedestrian only area for the last two weeks of every December.

This is an old Portland tradition since 1920. Every house here are fully decorated with extravagant Christmas lightnings and ornaments. My girls had a blast walking in front of every house and checking out all the different themes and dazzling scenes.

The event is absolutely free, but we had to park couple blocks away from Peacock Lane. It does get crowded pretty quickly as soon as it gets dark.

Check out the pictures of Peacock Lane in Portland, Oregon…hope you like them.

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