Looking for inspiration for a European holiday in 2023? We’ve rounded up the best trips to consider for the year ahead, from discovering the fjords of Iceland with its compelling volcanic scenery (and activity!) to the lush flower-filled streets of Madeira during its annual floral festival.
Whether you’re on the look-out for vineyards with tastings of fabulous local wines or for architectural or natural wonders – or a mixture of these – the following are the best European holidays to add to your travel list for 2023. Some of them are fly-free for added green appeal, too.
It’s not all about summer, either. Europe is a year-round option with an array of destinations and activities that come into their own in different seasons, from spring with its sightings of colourful tulips in the Netherland’s famed Keukenhof Gardens to autumn with its grape harvests around Porto and other European wine-making hubs, and then winter in snowy wonderlands such as the Swiss Alps.
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Mix Costa Brava beach days with spectacular Pyrenees walks and trains
With its wide beaches and historic old town, the Catalan resort of Roses in north-east Spain is perfect for blissful beach days but also for an adventurous jaunt up into the protected nature reserve of the Cap de Creus National Park aboard the Roses Express. If that gives you a taste for life on the rails, other great rides in the region include the Little Yellow Train of the Pyrenees and the Núria Valley Rack Railway.
Meanwhile, fascinating walks in the region include the Cala Montjoi to Punta Falconera coastal path near Roses, the Sanctuary of La Virgen de Núria walk, and the trails across the border used by Civil War refugees in the 1930s and then again in the reverse direction in World War II.
Discover the wildlife-rich fjords of Iceland and see its volcanic highlights
With its geothermal springs, active volcanoes and icy fjords, Iceland is one of the most jaw-dropping destinations you could ever hope to visit and always a contender when it comes to the best holidays in Europe. Must-sees on any itinerary include Strokkur geyser with its eruptions every four to 10 minutes, Gullfoss and Goðafoss waterfalls, Akureyri with its whale watching trips, and the dynamic capital Reykjavík.
This luxury cruise (which includes a talk and Q&A by weather presenter Carol Kirkwood) takes you along Iceland’s longest fjord, Eyjafjörður, and the Borgarfjörður Eystri, said to be home to elves but also a great place to spot puffins.
Cruise to northern Europe’s most glorious gardens in spring
Between them, the Low Countries are home to several superb gardens, including Kalmthout Arboretum and Meise Botanic Garden in Belgium, and Keukenhof and Appeltern in Netherlands. A cruise is a great way to join the hortitcultural dots – and to take in other sights both in your departure point, Amsterdam, and along the way, including Holland’s canal-side windmills.
A spring cruise on the stylish MS Arena includes a special Appletern Gardens visit with Gardeners’ World presenter and author Adam Frost, who will help you enjoy to the max this inspiring ‘garden ideas’ park with its themed areas including taste, smell and sustainability.
Discover the mountains and shores of Corsica by train
French but with a decidedly Italian feel, Corsica blends craggy peaks, swathes of forest and chic coastal resorts in one intoxicating mix. One of the best ways to discover its hidden nooks and crannies is its petit trains: a network of single-track railways that criss-cross the island, stopping at quaint villages along the way.
The trains also allow you to take in the must-sees of Corsica including Bastia with its convivial Old Port, gorgeous Calvi on its crescent-shaped bay, the ancient capital Corte, drenched in traditional Corsican culture, and today’s capital Ajaccio, birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte.
Mix a relaxing beach escape with Italian culture on the Sorrento Peninsula
Dividing the Gulf of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno, the Sorrento Peninsula is home to the gorgeous town of Sorrento itself and to the classic favourite Amalfi Coast, with its rugged cliffs tumbling down to coves and delectable harbourside villages.
It’s an enchanting pocket of terraced vineyards and impressive villas best discovered over the course of a week or so, blending time to kick back and unwind in the dazzling sunshine with visits to fascinating towns and historic sites, including Positano with its fragrant citrus and olive groves, Amalfi with its medieval architecture, and mountain-top Ravello with its panoramic views.
Tour Douro Valley wineries during the autumn grape harvest
Time your visit to the Douro Valley in northern Portugal for autumn and you may well get the chance to watch grapes being crushed underfoot in a traditional granite trough. The world’s oldest demarcated wine region and a World Heritage site, this enchanting landscape is a mix of rolling vineyards and riverside towns where famous vintages have been produced for generations.
Highlights include Régua, where port wine has been produced since the 18th century, local quintas (wine producers) around Pinhão, and the ancient city of Lamego. And where the Douro flows into the sea at Porto, you can explore this delightful city – Portugal’s second-largest – with its UNESCO-listed medieval Old Town and buildings with gorgeous tiled façades.
Roam the Moorish gardens and palaces of Andalucia
This region of southern Spain may be best known for the raucous resorts of the Costa del Sol but its main charms lie inland, where glorious towns and cities such as Granada, Seville, Córdoba and Ronda await, along with rugged mountains. Landmarks include the Alcázar medieval castle in the regional capital Seville, the Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral in Córdoba and the Alhambra Palace in Granada – all remnants of Moorish rule that lasted here from the 8th to the 15th century.
This trip includes a tour of the Alhambra and the neighbouring Generalife gardens surrounding the former summer palace of the Nasrid rulers with horticultural designer and Gardeners’ World presenter Nick Bailey.
See Madeira in its full floral magnificence during the annual Flower Festival
The subtropical volcanic island of Madeira (Portuguese, but located off the coast of Morocco) is known as the ‘floating garden of the Atlantic’ for its lush vegetation and its wonderful gardens, which include the Palheiro Gardens, Funchal Botanical Gardens, Quinta do Arco Rose Garden and Garden of Quinta do Lago.
Each spring, when the plants are in full bloom, the island hosts its famous Flower Festival. This trip includes a grandstand seat to watch the festival’s Allegoric Flower Parade, when fragrant floats drift along the streets of central Funchal to the accompaniment of live music.
Visit the vineyards of Bordeaux by luxury river cruise
With its quayside gardens, Gothic cathedral, impressive mansions and notable art museums, Bordeaux is a destination in its own right. But it’s also the hub of the world-class surrounding wine-growing region of the same name, and there’s every reason in the world to branch out to the world-class wine estates in the Médoc, Sauternes and other areas of the region for wine tastings to learn all about the wine-making process from the viniculturists themselves.
A five-star river cruise around the region – featuring a cooking demonstration and Q&A by revered French chef Raymond Blanc – includes several winery visits as well as the chance to take in architectural wonders such as Blaye’s UNESCO-listed citadel, Saint-Emilion’s catacombs and Libourne’s Gothic church.
Explore Switzerland’s breathtaking Bernese Oberland by rail
South of the Swiss capital city of Bern and centred on waterfront Interlaken, this region takes you away from the crowd to a world of snowy peaks, turquoise lakes and glittering glaciers. Some of its highlights, including the care-free Alpine village of Wengen, can only be visited by train, and indeed the various mountain railways, funiculars and cableways are the best way to explore this landscape.
Stand-out trips include the Brienz Rothorn Bahn steam-powered cogwheel railway (a route with views of 700 peaks), the Jungfrau Railway up to the ‘Top of Europe’ with its observatory and ice caves, and the aerial cableway up the Schilthorn mountain with its revolving restaurant made famous in the classic Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
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