Celebrating 40 years of Lonely Planet with 40 amazing European experiences

Forty years ago Tony and Maureen Wheeler took an epic trip out of Europe and across Asia. Their notes, stapled together on a Melbourne kitchen table, became a wildly successful guidebook, Across Asia on the Cheap, and Lonely Planet was born. But while we might have begun by leaving it behind, Europe is one place we keep coming back to.

See the Alhambra Palace in Spain. Image by John Elk III / Getty Images.See the Alhambra Palace in Spain. Image by John Elk III / Getty Images.

Think of Europe and you might think of history and culture: of English kings, Italian artists, Spanish explorers and Viking raiders. And there's no doubt Europe's wealth and dynamism has created some simply astonishing sights, from Athens’ Acropolis to France's Notre Dame cathedral. There's a reason it's the most visited continent on earth. So, for our fortieth anniversary, we've chosen forty of our favourites, amazing experiences that will whet your appetite for travel in Europe. There are grand castles, Roman ruins and Spanish bars here – the mainstays of many a classic trip. But we've also focussed on unique alternatives that aren't screamed about by tourist boards or given the glossy treatment by style magazines.

Europe is often seen as a crowded continent, but there are plenty of places you can escape to. If Pompeii feels like an ancient theme park, there's a low key alternative on Rome's outskirts. And if Edinburgh seems too refined, Scotland's coast is dotted with islands where you can hike, windsurf, birdwatch or just sit out and watch the sunset. In fact, there’s plenty of wilderness here. We've highlighted great sand dunes, cool beaches, wild gorges and the chance to follow in Lord Byron's wake in the Greek Islands. The Alps, meanwhile, may not reach quite as high as the Himalayas or the Andes, but they're still a truly vast natural feature, whether you're walking through wildflowers in summer or shooting down a piste as the snow comes down.

Go wild on Mull. Image by Helena Smith / Getty Images.Go wild on Mull. Image by Helena Smith / Getty Images.

The sheer weight of Europe's history means there's an astonishing variety of architecture and proud, richly enjoyable festivals. You could spend a whole trip exploring Italian churches or buzzing from festival to festival in Spain, but Europe’s history isn’t simple – arrivals from other continents have brought curry houses to Britain and grand Islamic palaces to Spain. And the past is about local traditions as well as big headlines – from giant dogs to karaoke contests, our eBook has plenty of ideas.

Europe, in short, can be an intoxicating, exhausting place. Thankfully, those in need of a break can fill their bellies with some of the finest food and drink on earth, whether that means quick tapas or slow food – perfect if you feel like taking a long afternoon to gather yourself.

Go swimming in Greece. Image by Wayne Walton / Getty Images.Take a dip in Greece. Image by Wayne Walton / Getty Images.

Just choosing what to do can be a difficult task. Downloading this picture-packed eBook will get you started: with 14 countries, drawing from 28 different guidebooks and 40 years of travelling, it features big sights and hidden alternatives that will inspire you whether you want to relax in Corsica or wander round eccentric London museums, whether you‘re a first-time visitor or have been exploring Europe for years. Get out there, and start making memories.