Ah, a European vacation. You might be past your backpacking days and in the mood for a little more comfort but still interested in getting the best values for your travel dollar. A whole continent is a lot to take in, so we've broken it down for you with three of our favorite European cities to visit. Our guide gives you some insider tips to loafing in London, sightseeing in Paris, and soaking up beauty and history of Rome. You can scrutinize Mona Lisa's smile, study the perfection of the Venus de Milo, or take a leisurely stroll down the elegant Via Veneto, immortalized by Frederico Fellini in La Dolce Vita. Keep in mind that November through March can be the best months to visit Europe. Crowds are thinner, rates are cheaper, and you'll have a better chance of getting the most out of your trip.
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Britain has perched at the cutting edge of Western culture for hundreds of years, and today its capital of London still leads trends in art, music and fashion. Once you land in Heathrow airport, what may strike you more than anything about this vibrant and bustling city is the sheer size of the place. Whatever your tastes or budget, be sure to take a stroll across Waterloo Bridge; because of its location at a strategic bend in the River Thames, the views of London are fantastic. You can see Westminster, the South Bank, and London Eye to the west, the City of London and Canary Wharf to the east. Make sure to look below at the historic River Thames, once one of Europe's most important commercial waterways. If you want to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, make sure to plan for it: it takes place at 11:30 every day in summer, every other day in winter, and lasts about 45 minutes. Art lovers, hop on the Underground or "tube" and get yourselves to the National Portrait Gallery (which has free admission for their permanent collection) and the nearby National Gallery at Trafalgar Square, which also offers free admission. Theater lovers should head to London's famed West End to see shows for prices far lower than in New York. After taking in a play or musical, stick around Leicester Square in the heart of the West End, to have a drink at a nearby pub and people-watch.
Perhaps no other European vacation destination has an aura as beguiling and beloved as Paris. The City of Light has so much on offer, it's easy to get overwhelmed, and there's more than just the Eiffel Tower to see. Begin by taking a walking tour in Parc Monceau on the border of the 8th and 17th arrondissements. You'll see beautiful landscaping and classical sculptures on your stroll. After the park, walk up Avenue Hoche to Etoile, where you'll find yourself at the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the famed Champs Elysees. Enjoy panoramic views of the great boulevards of Paris from here. Continue down the Champs Elysees toward the Louvre. You can spend a ton of time at the museum, so pace yourself once you're there and make sure to leave time for some shopping at the Grand Magasins. If you love Impressionist art, be sure to visit the Musee d'Orsay. Smaller and easier to navigate than the Louvre, it's housed in an old train station on the Left Bank and a great place to see the works of Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, and other famous painters and sculptors. If you have time to visit only one, have a café crème at Café de Flore, the former Gitane-and-espresso fueled hangout of Jean-Paul Sartre, Andre Breton, Ernest Hemingway, and other literary and artistic lights.
Visit the remnants of an ancient empire when you explore the Colosseum, the Pantheon and St. Peter's Basilica in the Eternal City. But save some energy for modern Roma, whose cafés and restaurants buzz with life. For something different, don't miss a visit to the Capitoline Museums. It features Roma's most important archaeological treasures and a wonderful view of the Roman Forum. Remember to fuel up as you sightsee, and what better way than to sample some pizza bianca, fried cod fillets, ewes' cheese, or ravioli with zucchini flowers in cream sauce? Eating alone is a fabulous adventure in Rome. Wine lovers should visit the International Wine Academy of Roma, near the Spanish Steps. A half-day course consists of five wine tastings and a four-course meal. For great shopping, look no further than Via Condotti (home to Gucci and Valentino) and the Via del Corso.