There’s a reason most people refer to it as the Old Continent: Europe has had a long and tortuous history so far, from the barbaric traditions of the Roman Empire to the infinitely tragic aftermath of the great world wars.
Our selection of seven historical sites in Europe perfectly embodies the continent’s vast and diverse heritage.
- + additionnal reading: The 12 most beautiful UNESCO sites in Europe
Where Are the Most Historical Sites in Europe?
Located deep inside the caves found throughout the Vézère Valley in Dordogne, often described as the cradle of human art, as it holds the highest concentration of Stone Age art found in Europe, the Lascaux UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous across the world for its impressive collection of 500+ wall paintings dating back to the Upper Palaeolithic age, i.e., around 20,000 years ago. Indeed, the interior walls and ceilings are dotted with excellently preserved paintings of large animals which were found in the area at the time and which are consistent with fossils also found by archaeologists over the past centuries.
The actual cave was open to the public for a few decades after its accidental discovery by four local teenagers, but the carbon dioxide released by visitors considerably damaged the paintings; therefore, visitors are now taken to Lascaux II, a meticulous and extremely faithful reproduction of the cave created by using exactly the same techniques and pigments used by the Cro-Magnon men and women who so profusely adorned the original Lascaux.
Plan your trip to France with flights to Bordeaux
Emblem of not only Italy but also the powerful Roman empire that once had a hold on the vast majority of the European continent, making Rome the largest city in the world at the time, the Colosseum requires very little presentation.
It’s the largest amphitheatre ever built; calculations suggest that it could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, seated according to rank, who would have gathered there to watch gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, mythology-related plays and re-enactments of various kinds. Impressively enough, the massive structure was built in just eight years after construction began in AD 72. Useful tip: skip the inevitable queue (this is one of the most visited historical sites in Europe after all) by purchasing your ticket online prior to your visit.
Plan your trip to Italy with flights to Rome
Anne Frank’s House, Netherlands
Perhaps one of the most illustrious victims of the Holocaust, Anne Frank was a Jewish teenage girl living in hiding, along with her immediate family and a few relatives, inside the building where Anne’s father used to work on the Prinsengracht. This now oddly famous shelter is often referred to as “The Annex” by Anne in her Diary of A Young Girl and is now open to the public, which is guaranteed a highly emotional visit within one of the most notable locations related to the horrors of World War II.
Anne Frank gained fame posthumously when her father Otto Frank, the only survivor of the family, published her diary which thoroughly documents their quiet, isolated life in hiding until they were arrested by the Gestapo sometime in 1944 and sent to concentration camps; unbeknownst to him, it would go on to become one of the world’s most widely read books. Additionally, Anne Frank’s House is located in the charming Jordaan district of Amsterdam, giving visitors an excellent reason to venture out to the quieter canals.
Plan your trip to the Netherlands with flights to Amsterdam
Was it a burial mound or a pagan prayer site? How did the Druids transport these massive sarsen stones all the way from a quarry 40 kilometres away with their primitive Neolithic equipment? Why are these exceptional monolithic stones laid out in that very specific concentric manner? Even 5,000+ years after construction, archaeologists can’t seem to agree on what the standing stones of Stonehenge were used for nor how exactly they came to be.
What they do know, however, is that it’s clearly not a coincidence that the stones are perfectly laid out to catch the powerful sun rays of the winter and summer solstice, which suggests that they would have been at the centre of massive twice-yearly celebrations.
Today, Stonehenge is perhaps not only Britain’s, also but the world’s most famous and well-preserved prehistoric monument and, consequently, welcomes millions of visitors every year. Insider’s tip: visitors should book private sunset or sunrise visits of Stonehenge, which will allow them to actually set foot within the stone circle for an intimate, up close viewing of the mythical stones – the absolute best way to visit this historical sites in Europe.
Plan your trip to England with flights to London
Welcome to the world’s greatest heritage from the Greek Antiquity! The former citadel, built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city of Athens, is precisely where visual arts, architecture, philosophy and democracy flourished tremendously in the thriving post-Persian war era around year 500 BC. As such, it holds several noteworthy and invaluable ruins such as the iconic Parthenon, as well as the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion and the Propylaia.
The Acropolis is often regarded as one of the world’s most precious monuments as well as an enduring symbol of the early stages of western civilisation and the apotheosis of Ancient Greece. History buffs will be particularly pleased to visit the nearby Acropolis Museum, an architectural masterpiece dedicated to the archaeological discoveries on and around the Acropolis of Athens.
Plan your trip to Greece flights to Athens
While not a whole lot of people would know where to locate Lübeck on a map, much explain why it’s one of the most overlooked historical sites in Europe, the modest northern German town played an influential role in the economic prosperity of the Old Continent during the Middle Ages. Founded in the 12th century, Lübeck was, in fact, the capital of the pragmatic Hanseatic League, a mercantile, defensive association of merchant guilds which monopolised market towns throughout the Baltic trade routes, and as such quickly became a centre for maritime commerce.
This was where most of the trading routes started from or ended at for over four centuries, particularly as far as the Nordic countries were concerned. Although it was badly damaged during World War II, Lübeck still holds several unaltered medieval sites such as the town hall, the four distinctive town gates, historic warehouses and a maze of narrow cobblestone streets.
Plan your trip to Lübeck with our flights to Europe
The peculiar prehistoric monument in County Meath just outside of Dublin may not look like much at first sight, but perhaps what would make it more impressive is the fact that predates not only Stonehenge but also Egypt’s great pyramids of Giza — downright spectacular! Indeed, the large circular mound is part of Ireland’s Ancient East and also acts as Europe’s largest and most important concentration of prehistoric megalithic art.
It served a variety of purposes in its glory days, from funerary rites to economic functions as well as astronomical and religious places. Newgrange impresses by its sheer age and also by its brilliant layout. Truly one of the most mind-boggling historical sites in Europe.
Plan your trip to Ireland with flights to Dublin