Cities and Towns in Europe
Kaunas is the second-largest city in Lithuania, but the former capital is equally charming as Vilnius. The city center is dominated by the tree-lined pedestrian street of Laisvės alėja, which connects the grand St. Michael the Archangel Church to the picturesque historical Old Town 2 km to the west. At one end of Old Town, towards the river junction, stands the restored Kaunas Castle from the 14th century, which can be visited. As Old Town is packed with bars and restaurants, it really comes alive at night time, where (if weather permits) people sit outside in the cobblestone streets.
While Tallinn has a pretty Nordic feel and Riga is a worn mix of Soviet blandness and ancient elegance, Vilnius has a more central European atmosphere. Less Soviet concrete and more enchanting plazas with grand churches connected with a maze of cobbled, narrow alleys, which of course is UNESCO enlisted. However, Vilnius does have its fair share of quirky sights, like the Frank Zappa monument (the man never went to Lithuania) and Užupis, an artist enclave with their own silly declaration of independence. The amount of local pubs and bars will make any beer drinking and potato/meat eating visitor happy and the locals - whereof a large portion are gorgeous women - are friendly. So there isn't that much to dislike about Vilnius.
Right on the border to Germany lies cute Echternach. It's a medieval town with, not one but, two magnificent churches and an elegant town square. Its proximity to Müllerthal forest - you can walk straight into the woods from the town - makes it a perfect base for exploring some of Luxembourg's best outdoor.
Most visitors have no idea what to expect from Luxembourg City, for it's reputation isn't up there with other European capitals. But the old quarter with cobbled streets, cathedral, royal palace, and spectacular fortifications is enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage. Along the course of the 17th-century city ramparts runs the Chemin de la Corniche, a pedestrian promenade with magnificent views over the lower lying quarter of Grund, the Bock Casemates (a rock outcrop with a cave and tunnel system), and other ancient city walls. Further across the Alzette valley, perched on a plateau, rise the business district of Kirchberg, which has become a showcase of modern architecture with the Philharmonie, Museum of Modern Art, and European Investment Bank as the masterpieces.
The eastern fishing village of Marsaxlokk is more than just an accumulation of bizarre consonant combinations. This sleepy little place is a very laid-back and chilled out place on an already laid-back island of Malta. Walking down the village's esplanade, speckled with technicolour boats, it's easy to see what the main activity in town is... fishing. For lovers of fresh fish, this is the place to go as there are boatloads of swordfish, tuna and the local lampuki. All the fish used to be sent to the capital Valletta. But local merchants have figured "Why go to a market, when you can bring the market to you?" Increasingly, tourists head directly to the source and more than a handful of shops, restaurants and stalls are there to meet the demand. Most certainly, you will be demanding more of whatever's on the menu!!
Dating back as far as 700 BC, the ancient city of Mdina once served as the capital of the tiny island nation. Today, divided into separate villages, Mdina, with only a couple hundred inhabitants, is often referred to as the "Silent City". Wandering the well-restored cobblestone streets virtually alone with only the clip-clop echo of horse-drawn carriages, it's easy to see why. With a seemingly endless supply of churches, chapels and monasteries, it is the central Piazza San Paul that seems to be at the centre of it all. Very easily accessible by Malta's comprehensive public bus system, a visit to Mdina makes for an interesting half-day trip.
Across the water from Valletta peninsula lies the pretty suburb of Sliema. It was once an affluent neighbourhood, but today the long seaside front has surrendered to tourism with lots of hotels and restaurants, making Sliema a great place to be based. There are no particular sights in here, but the view of fortified Valletta is sublime. Below the promenade, you can find several rocky outcrops which locals and tourists alike use as city beaches, either soaking up the sun or taking a dip into the sea. Away from the waterfront, in the back streets, Sliema is mostly a local's affair.
Across the harbour from Valletta are two small fortified peninsulas sticking out. They are respectively the cities of Senglea (earlier name L-Isla) and Vittorisa (Birgu), with a third city, Cospicua (Bormla), as backdrop on the main land. Today these towns blend together as one with Valletta, but back in the days they were independent towns with their own city walls. The beautiful waterfront has recently been done up, and Vittoriosa is now home to the super yachts, but if you venture into the back alleys, it's are surprisingly laid back and with locals doing their things. There are lots of ancient churches, forts and bastions as the Three Cities actually are older than Valletta – and the views of Valletta is spectacular from here, particular at sunrise.
With a whopping population of 6,098, the UNESCO listed capital of Malta can hardly be called a metropolis. But the city of Valletta most definitely proves that "good things come in small packages". Dating back some 500 years or so, the historic city has been (and continues to be) heavily restored. But both planning and execution of the refurbishments have been well done. While the main street can seem a little Disney-fied, the beauty of the endless side alleyways and magnificent churches are mesmerizing. Being the transport hub for the island's comprehensive bus network, the village-capital is unavoidable. Which is most certainly for the best as it is arguably the highlight of the island.
The charming capital of Gozo, Victoria, is scattered on a hill in the centre of the island. The heart of the city lies at the foot of the large citadel, and is a wonderful maze of narrow lanes and hilly streets. The citadel itself is very picturesque with superb views of Gozo Island. Victoria also has quite a few public squares and the one in front of St. George's Basilica (picture) is particular adorable with it's cafes. Just wait for the day trippers to leave, then you have Victoria almost to yourself.