Cities and Towns in Europe
A lively university town, Estonia's second city punches above its weight. It is the oldest city, dating back to 1032, and if you ask the inhabitants they will tell you that Tartu is Estonia's spiritual capital. This claim is supported by Tartu being the home of Estonian national revival: the country's flag, the first Estonian-language newspaper, and one of Northern Europe's oldest universities - still the only classic university in Estonia - all saw the light of day in Tartu. Visitors not interested in history can take comfort in plenty of other reasons to linger. The romantic old town is full of both 18th-century buildings and a nightlife propelled out of proportion by the 20 000 students. Tartu also sports one of the largest museums-to-inhabitants ratios in Europe including museums on Estonian sports, beers, toys, the KGB, 1830 interior decoration, and of course the university's history as well as the Estonian National Museum. At the university, you can also visit the old students' lock-up, a small cell where ill-behaving students would spend up to three weeks.
Being the second largest town in Faroe Islands doesn't mean that much. Klaksvik is built around the harbour and surrounded by pretty pyramids mountains. It has what a town needs in terms schools, churches, and hospital, but most tourists will probable find it a bit dull. Before 2006, you had to sail to Klaksvik, but today you can drive all the way from Torshavn to Klaksvik (75 km) by going through the 6 kilometres long Norðoyatunnilin (The Northern Isles Tunnel).
With a population of less than 20,000, Torshavn is one of the smallest capitals in the world - and you can easily sense that. The old quarter with the traditional wooden houses with turf roofs, are just a few short streets (but manage to house the embassy of Iceland). The "lively" harbour area consists of a handful of bars and cafes and the shopping street, Niels Finsens gøta, ends after just a few shops. But that just makes Tórshavn even more charming. For panoramic views over the town, head up to Hotel Føroyar. Most tourists use Tórshavn as a base as there are hotels and restaurants here, but Klaksvik and even Gjogv are other options, so you don’t have to backtrack every evening.
Like the Finnish people, their capital Helsinki can't be accused of being flamboyant. It has an airy atmosphere, which might also have to do with the gorgeous location right at the sea and its small size. Its promixity to both Estonia and Russia means you can swing by enroute to/from Scandinavia/Baltics or even do Helsinki as a daytrip from Tallinn (Estonia). The few main sights (like the Rock Church, maritime fortress and cathedral) can easily be done in a day, and everything is within walking/ferry distance. In summer the long evenings can be spend at some of the many parks and in winter the freezing temperatures make sure you use the few hours of daylight wisely.
© Sarah Hishan
The world's prehistoric capital, Les Eyzies is surrounded by a series of prehistoric cave dwellings where some of the greatest archaeological finds of the Middle Paleolithic era (200,000 to 40,000 years ago) were discovered. The numerous wall drawings and rock shelters makes this a great place to travel back in time with relative ease. Located in the Vezere Valley, this town of 900 inhabitants is built against looming cliffs, surrounded by hills, rivers and stunning rock formations. The National Prehistory museum is located here (surprise, surprise), right next to a cro-magnon shelter dating back 40,000 years. Not lacking in bars or restaurants, this little town is frequently used as a base for exploring the Dordogne Valley either by car or if the weather permits, by kayak. This isn't a bad idea seeing that the region is filled with medieval castles, quaint churches and a beautiful, rolling countryside.
© Sarah Hishan
Sarlat is an alluring town to visit, located a few minutes away from the Dordogne river and located in a forested area. Its classification as a 'Ville d’Art et d’Histoire' attests to the exceptional preservation of this medieval town and its history, which you'll experience through its 1000 year old buildings, lanes and hot stone walls. The main street, Rue De Republique leads you through where you're free to cut off into the maze of narrow streets and hidden churches flanking its either side. Sarlat is also renowned for its Sunday market throughout France and you'll never be left wanting with the numerous activities it offers. Canoeing, horse riding, visiting pre-historic caves and even a day of golf are all made possible. Don't forget to try Sarlat's gastronomy, of which the locals pride themselves on, especially the Perigourdian Black Truffle and foie gras. Being the most famous town of the region, its flanked by tourists throughout the year though numbers ease up during spring and autumn. Visit early in the morning and you might get to feel like the town is yours.
Though most people come to Batumi for the long pebble beach, the town is an attraction of its own. The old part is a small grid of residential streets with low-rise, brightly painted houses. The central market right outside the old town is also worth exploring, with its great mix of oriental mess and ex-Soviet stalls with vendors who still believe anything can be sold. The newer part of town has been "contemporarily" done up so it fits the equally new beachfront promenade. So Batumi is not the worst place to be, even on sunless days.
Tbilisi is very easy to fall in love with. The old quarter is stuffed with old crooked balconied houses where none seem to have been built the same year, or even from the same materials. The hillside that overlooks the city is lined with churches, a fortress and a wickedly lit-up TV-tower. Walking down the fashionable shopping street of Rustavelis gamziri could make you think you have been transported to Vienna or Budapest, until you catch a view of the giant statue of Mother Georgia. There are funky cafes, outdoor bars and dungeons serving the best Georgian food for pennies. To top it all off, the river front has been through a total makeover so the sparkling new Peace Bridge doesn't seem too out of context.
Hip Berlin is all about its trendy and arty neighbourhoods, each with their own distinct vibe. The historical Mitte is as close as you get to a downtown in Berlin. It's here you find touristic landmarks like Brandenburg Tor, Checkpoint Charlie and Reichstag (German Parliament building) along with flashy fashion shops. However, it's the boroughs to the east and south of Mitte that make Berlin sehr cool. The most famous is Kreuzberg, a former West Berlin quarter favored by immigrants, which after the fall of the wall emerged into a trendy and arty neighborhood with lots of über hip cafes, organic food stores and art galleries. The former East Berlin quarters of Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg have more of a bohemian flavour, but all ooze of raw urban coolness and creative vibes. As prices go up in the popular neighbourhoods, the student places (i.e. cheap coffee and beer) and indie art scene are moving further out, so today the up-coming super-trendy borough is Neukölln in the southeast.
For many Hamburg only means Reeperbahn, a long street (well, actually a whole area) lined with restaurants, bars, strip joints, sex shops and brothels - all fueled by boozed up stags parties and business men with company accounts (Hamburg has also a big fairground). And although a night out in Reeperbahn is mandatory, Hamburg is a progressive city with many cool neighbourhoods. The harbour has always been the heart of Hamburg and these years Speicherstadt with its fine old warehouses-turned-posh condos is getting a face lift with daring new architecture. Sleazy St. Pauli with Reeperbahn, Europe's biggest red-light district, and famous football-team-accessories (think skull and bones) still has its edge. And the districts of Schanzenviertel and Karolinenviertel have cool quarters with indy fashion, alternative design shops, and weekend flea markets.