Places with photo galleries in Europe
When people are talking about enchanting Tallinn, they are talking about Old Town. It's a neat, UNESCO-listed maze of old houses, hidden courtyards and spire-topped churches dating back to the 14th century. Large parts of the huge medieval town wall still stand with imposing gates and tall towers (one even has cannonballs embedded in the wall). The maze is made up of narrow, cobbled lanes - it can hardly become more photogenic than this. Even the occasional Russian tour group seems to fit in well. That said, there are more amber/knitting/souvenir shops than you can poke a stick at (along with a fair share of strip bars), but Old Tallinn has managed admirably to keep its charm without being tarted up or tacky.
Right off the coast of Helsinki, spread out on four tiny islands, lies the maritime fortress complex of Suomenlinna, Fortress of Finland. It was initially built in 1748 by the Swedish to protect Helsingfors (Swedish for Helsinki) against the Russians. As with other big constructions in history, the creator had big expectation to it, in this case the Swedish thought Suomenlinna to be inpenedable... but it wasn't. The Russian took it 1808 and kept it along with the rest of Finland until Finland's independence in 1917. Today people still live on Suomenlinna and it's now an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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.
In 1858 Virgin Mary occurred for a poor peasant girl, Bernadette, in a cave outside the small market town of Lourdes. The seeing of Virgin Mary continued that year and Bernadette was even told by Mary to dig a hole where holy water suddenly sprung from. The whole thing was then named "Our Lady of Lourdes" and confirmed as a miracle in 1862 by the local bishop on order from the pope. Today Lourdes is one of the major destinations for Roman Catholic pilgrimage and sick from all over the world come here for the claimed miraculous healings. The population of the town is only around 15,000, but more than 5,000,0000 pilgrims and tourist come by every year. The town can seem like a religious theme park and is adapted to the hordes of Catholic pilgrims with special lanes for the sick in wheelchairs and mobile stretches. It can be hard to understand the mania for nonbelievers, but why not join the madness and buy an "Our Lady of Lourdes"-shaped water bottles from one of the many souvenir shops and bring home a splash of holy water - you never known!
Marmots are large rodent that live in mountainous area. They have a dense grey fur and can weigh up to 8 kg. They live in underground tunnel systems, which they also retract to when feel in danger. Luckily they are extremely curious and will rarely hide for very long before they stick their heads up again. The high pitch calls which they use to warn each others are usual the giveaway that there are marmots in the area. The circle valley of Troumouse is particular good place to see this cute animals. Head for the north end of top plateau of the horseshoe shaped valley.
The Pyrenees is a rather small mountain range, but every top and every valley offer amazing nature and great trekking opportunities. In summer the French Haute Pyrene (High Pyrenees) is lush with an ever-changing carpet of alpine flowers covering the slopes. Peaks and high passes can in the early summer still be covered in snow, which will then feed the many alpine lakes and roaring mountain streams through out the summer. Staffed refuges (huts) are abundant and offer food and a bed within a day's hike, so you don't have to lug tent and cooking gear. If you have the time and stamina it's possible to trek the GR10, Grand Randonnee, that traverse the full length of the Pyrenees from the Atlantic Ocean to Mediterranean Sea, an 866 km trek taking about fifty-something days.
Svaneti is a picture-perfect mountainous region. Here you can find traditional villages with strange soaring defensive towers set in lush valleys on a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. The alpine scenery here can easily compete with the crowded Alps. The main town in Svaneti is Mestia which can be reached by a winding mountain road or a often-cancelled flight. From here there are plenty of good trekking opportunities (pick any direction), either just day treks or, for those with the right gear, multi-days treks to, for example, the base of some of the highest peaks in Caucasus. You can also continue further to the UNESCO World Heritage enlisted town of Ushguli at the foot of Mt Shkhara (5068 m), the highest mountain in Georgia.
Svaneti is slowly but surely turning into a hot travel destination for nature lovers, trekkers and backpackers, and Mestia is already gearing up for the boom. It got a new (tiny) airport, ancient Svaneti towers are getting restored, homestays and even hotels are shooting up and the town square is getting totally rebuilt. So come to Svaneti, the sooner the better.
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 (a UNESCO site) 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.