Avoid the crowds: explore the romantic side of Europe with these UNESCO sites

San Gimignano Medieval Village

Romance is all around in Europe – from the candlelight of romantic restaurants, to the flower-filled fields, idyllic landscapes and beautiful vistas. Europe is also the birthplace of the Romantic Movement – Romanticism embraces emotion, nature and the imagination, and has influenced creation and artistry of all kinds around the world. Add a little romance and romanticism to your next trip and visit one of these lesser-visited UNESCO World Heritage sites. They could just be the perfect places to kindle romantic stories of your own.

Mont Saint Michel, France

Mont Saint-Michel, France
One of the most visited tourist spots in the whole of France is the medieval monastery island of Mont Saint-Michel. It dominates the landscape for miles around. Photo credit: allou/Bigstock

Seeing the causeway island, topped with its mediaeval monastery for the first time is certainly not something you will forget. This is a romantic and awe-inspiring destination, that, though busy, will surely always amaze and enthral all visitors. Ascend to the Abbey at the top of the island and learn more about the different periods of its history. Then make your way down through the town below for a quaint and charming French experience, with cafes and local shops and boutiques. However, to get off the beaten track, you should explore the bay around the island – which is a natural reserve home to a great diversity of birds, and other fauna.

Bruges Historic Centre, Belgium

Old buildings in Bruges
Old buildings in Bruges, Belgium. Bruges (Brugge) is Belgium’s most perfectly preserved medieval town. Photo credit: Phuong D. Nguyen/Bigstock

The historic and picturesque city of Bruges, in Northwest Belgium, is a fascinating place where you can wander and take in all the sites. Built around sea-trade and canals, Bruges is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North. Strolling around the pedestrian-friendly city, you will find a charming place, with cobbled streets and old buildings beside narrow canals. A boat trip on the canals is also a good way to get a sense of this beguiling city. But lovers should also be sure to head for the Lake of Love, in Minnewater Park. Here, swans swim peacefully on its surface, and you can wander between the flowers and escape the crowds of the city center.

Upper Middle Rhine Valley, Germany

Rhine Valley Landscape
Rhine Valley Landscape and Sankt Goarshausen view from the Loreley rock. Photo credit: Alice D/Bigstock

This stretch of the Rhine Valley is renowned as one of the most romantic landscapes in Europe. Scintillating stories, gastronomic delights, historic sites, landscapes and wine make this a wonderful place for a romantic retreat. There are plenty of ways to enjoy this 67km stretch along the famous waterway – from road travel by car or by bike, to hikes, to boat trips on the river itself. The striking Loreley Rock, near the town of Sankt Goarhausen, is a symbol of Rhine Romanticism – the subject of many well known Romantic artworks, poems and songs.

San Gimignano, Italy

San Gimignano Medieval Village
San Gimignano Medieval Village, Italy. Photo credit: rechitansorin/Bigstock

San Gimignano’s towering fortifications which date from the 11th and 13th Centuries, its terracotta roofs, tranquil streets and squares and beautifully serene surrounding landscape of rolling hills and verdant vineyards makes this a romantic destination par excellence. This was an important rest stop for pilgrims during the Middle Ages and also provides respite for weary travellers today. This UNESCO listed Tuscan gem could be perfect for a romantic retreat in the Italian countryside.

Wachau Valley, Austria

Wachau Austria
Wachau, Austria vineyards in autumn. Photo credit: coboflupi/Bigstock

Located in southern Austria west of Vienna, the Wachau valley is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Nestled between the towns of Krems and Melk, you will find a beautiful 30km stretch along the banks of the river Danube. It is well known for its rolling hills, vineyards, quaint villages, impressive castle fortresses and other historic buildings. The valley has been listed by UNESCO for its cultural landscape, which showcases how people have shaped the landscape and lived harmoniously with it over time. Its long historical evolution has survived to an impressive degree. Melk Abbey, Aggstein Castle and Dürstein are just three of the area’s top romantic locations.

Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape, Czech Republic

State Chateau Lednice In South Moravia, Czech Republic
Lednice castle mansion in Lednice in Lednice, Czech Republic. Photo credit: Artush/Bigstock

This cultural site is composed of a romantic castle, picturesque village and extensive gardens. Located close to the Czech border with Slovakia and Austria, this is a wonderful place to explore. Tour the striking castle at Lednice to see the art and furniture it holds. Then, outside, follow pathways through the immaculate gardens past lakes, flowers and manicured lawns and, en route to Valtice, through expansive parkland that has been blended with natural forests and lakes. At Valtice, the small Baroque castle with the village around it awaits.

Vilnius, Lithuania

View of Buildings around Vilnius, Lithuanian. Photo credit: ilolab/Bigstock

Vilnius is a thoroughly beguiling city with some interesting oddities. Explore the romantic old town, where Baroque buildings line little cobbled streets. It is here you will also find the University, one of the reasons for the vibrancy of this intriguing city. Don’t miss the Neo-classical Cathedral or the unexpected statue of Frank Zappa. Lithuania’s unique historic heritage can be further explored by visiting Trakai Island Castle and Kaunas Castle. For insight into Lithuanian culture visit the Hill of Witches, which is covered with sculptures from Lithuanian myth and legend. Also be sure not to miss the Hill of Crosses, which is a fascinating pilgrimage site with over 100,000 crosses.

Paphos, Cyprus

Paphos archaeological park at Kato Pafos in Cyprus. Photo credit: tilialucida/Bigstock

Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, is well known for its historic and cultural attractions. Enticing ruins dating from the 12th Century BC, to the Roman period and the Middle Ages can be found here. Romantic links come from the idyllic island’s associations with the Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, who was said to have been born here. Take the Aphrodite cultural route to explore many of the most interesting natural and historical attractions to be found here, and admire the mosaics of Nea Pafos, which are said to be amongst the most beautiful in the world.  

Romance can be found in all sorts of places. No matter where you go and what you see across Europe, you are sure to find plenty of magical locations and special moments. These eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites are certainly a good place to start when seeking inspiration for your own perfect romantic break.

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