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One of Poland’s most beautiful cities, Gdansk, on the Baltic Sea, has played major roles in history, especially in the 20th-century. It was the 1939 flash point of World War II, and then in 1980, the birthplace of the Solidarnosc labor movement, ushering the end of Communist domination in Eastern Europe. Gdansk’s Old Town, painstakingly reconstructed to its Hanseatic League glory after being leveled in World War II, is a highlight. The 14th-century Town Hall houses the city’s historical museum.
The Latvian capital, the largest city in the Baltics, is a fascinating mixture of proud Latvian tradition and influences of the various countries that have occupied it. Independent once again since 1991, Riga's Art Nouveau center has won it UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Opened up to mass tourism with the advent of budget air travel, Riga's Old City and its abundance of bars and restaurants can be explored on foot. The New Town is easily reached by an efficient and modern bus and tram network.
Positioned at the eastern tip of the Costa del Sol, Nerja boasts nearly 10 miles of powdery beaches featuring activities like water skiing, scuba diving and sailing. Although tourist-oriented, it hasn't been overtaken by high-rises, and its huge promenade delivers panoramic Mediterranean views.
Catania has been a prize of many empires over the centuries, from Greeks to Romans to Arabs to Normans to Spaniards (to name a few). But its citizens have a more dangerous enemy right in their backyard—Mount Etna, Europe's largest and most active volcano, which destroyed the city with earthquakes and lava flows in 1693. Look closely at the baroque buildings dating from after the eruption—you'll notice a creative use of lava.
Zagreb got its start as two medieval fortress towns atop hills overlooking the Sava River, and was reborn in the Baroque period as center of business, perfectly located on routes connecting Central Europe to the Adriatic Sea. These days, Zagreb is the heart of contemporary Croatia’s culture, art, sports, and academics, but its history is not forgotten. The unique blend of medieval towers, 19th century palaces, open-air markets, and ancient cathedrals, make Zagreb the perfect city to explore.
Slovenia, wedged between Austria and Italy, has always been proud of its unique heritage. The capital, Ljubljana, is a perfect example of this blend of German, Mediterranean, and Slovenian culture. The old town is a blend of Baroque, Renaissance, and Art Nouveau buildings, watched over by a medieval castle. Cut through the gardens of Tivoli Park to the National Museum of Contemporary History for a history of modern Slovenia, featuring crumbled statues of Stalin and a recreation of a WWI trench.
Founded in 1565 by the Order of St John as a refuge for soldiers returning from the Crusades, Valletta is now the capital of Malta and a piece of living history. With an unsurpassed collection of original Baroque architecture, fortified city walls overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, and the spectacular Co-Cathedral of St John, which features intricately carved stone vaults and a famed painting by Caravaggio, it is no wonder that this smallest of European capital cities is a world heritage site.
With half a million people, Nuremberg is Bavaria's second largest city. While its history dates to the 11th century, Nuremberg is most often linked to the 20th century (specifically World War II). It first served as the site of many pre-war Nazi rallies, then was nearly leveled by Allied bombing, then was the site of the famous post-war Nuremberg Trials. The city has much to offer today's visitors, including the rebuilt Nuremberg Castle and the world-famous gingerbread at Hauptmarkt. Hansel and Gretel would have loved this place.