Must see attractions in Europe

  • Top ChoiceSights in Vatican City, Borgo & Prati

    Vatican Museums

    Why you should go Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century and enlarged by successive pontiffs, the Vatican Museums boast one of the world's greatest art collections. Exhibits, which are displayed along about 4 miles of halls and corridors, range from Egyptian mummies and Etruscan bronzes to ancient busts, old masters and modern paintings. Highlights include the spectacular collection of classical statuary in the Museo Pio-Clementino, a suite of rooms frescoed by Raphael, and the Michelangelo-painted Sistine Chapel. Housing the museums are the lavishly decorated halls and galleries of the Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano. This vast 13.6-acre complex consists of two palaces – the original Vatican palace (nearer to St Peter’s) and the 15th-century Palazzetto di Belvedere – joined by two long galleries. On the inside are three courtyards: the Cortile della Pigna, the Cortile della Biblioteca and, to the south, the Cortile del Belvedere. You’ll never cover it all in one day, so it pays to be selective. Museo Chiaramonti and Braccio Nuovo The Museo Chiaramonti is effectively the long corridor that runs down the east side of the Belvedere Palace. Its walls are lined with thousands of statues and busts representing everything from immortal gods to playful cherubs and ugly Roman patricians. Near the end of the hall, off to the right, is the Braccio Nuovo (New Wing), which contains a famous statue of the Nile as a reclining god covered by 16 babies. Museo Gregoriano Egizio (Egyptian Museum) Founded by Gregory XVI in 1839, this museum contains pieces taken from Egypt in Roman times. Fascinating exhibits include a fragmented statue of Ramses II on his throne, vividly painted sarcophagi dating from around 1000 BCE, and a macabre mummy. Museo Gregoriano Etrusco At the top of the 18th-century Simonetti staircase, the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco contains artifacts unearthed in the Etruscan tombs of northern Lazio, as well as a superb collection of vases and Roman antiquities. Of particular interest is the Marte di Todi (Mars of Todi), a black bronze of a warrior dating from the late 5th century BCE, located in Room III. Museo Pio-Clementino This stunning museum contains some of the Vatican Museums’ finest classical statuary, including the peerless Apollo Belvedere and the 1st-century Laocoön, both in the Cortile Ottagono (Octagonal Courtyard). Before you go into the courtyard, take a moment to admire the 1st-century Apoxyomenos, one of the earliest known sculptures to depict a figure with a raised arm. To the left as you enter the courtyard, the Apollo Belvedere is a 2nd-century Roman copy of a 4th-century-BCE Greek bronze. A beautifully proportioned representation of the sun god Apollo, it’s considered one of the great masterpieces of classical sculpture. Nearby, the Laocoön depicts a muscular Trojan priest and his two sons in mortal struggle with two sea serpents. Back inside, the Sala degli Animali is filled with sculpted creatures and some magnificent 4th-century mosaics. Continuing on, you come to the Sala delle Muse, centered on the Torso Belvedere, another of the museum’s must-sees. A fragment of a muscular 1st-century-BCE Greek sculpture, this was found in Campo de’ Fiori and used by Michelangelo as a model for his ignudi (male nudes) in the Sistine Chapel. The next room, the Sala Rotonda, contains a number of colossal statues, including a gilded-bronze Ercole (Hercules), and an exquisite floor mosaic. The enormous basin in the center of the room was found at Nero’s Domus Aurea and is made out of a single piece of red porphyry stone. Pinacoteca Often overlooked by visitors but full of major works, the papal picture gallery contains Raphael’s last work, La Trasfigurazione (Transfiguration; 1517–20), as well as paintings by Giotto, Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Perugino, Titian, Giovanni Bellini, Guido Reni, Guercino, Pietro da Cortona, Caravaggio and Leonardo da Vinci, whose haunting San Girolamo penitente nel deserto (St Jerome Praying in the Wilderness; c 1480-82) was never finished. Sistine Chapel Home to two of the world’s most famous works of art – Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes (1508–12) and his Giudizio Universale (Last Judgment; 1536–41) – the Sistine Chapel is the one place everyone wants to see, and on a busy day you could find yourself sharing it with up to 2000 people. Michelangelo's ceiling design, which is best viewed from the chapel’s main entrance in the far east wall, covers the entire 8611-sq-ft surface. With painted architectural features and a cast of colorful biblical characters, it's centered on nine panels depicting stories from the book of Genesis. As you look up from the east wall, the first panel is the Drunkenness of Noah, followed by The Flood, and the Sacrifice of Noah. Next, Original Sin and Banishment from the Garden of Eden famously depicts Adam and Eve being sent packing after accepting the forbidden fruit from Satan, represented by a snake with the body of a woman coiled around a tree. The Creation of Eve is then followed by the Creation of Adam. This, one of the most famous images in Western art, shows a bearded God pointing his finger at Adam, thus bringing him to life. Completing the sequence are the Separation of Land from Sea; the Creation of the Sun, Moon and Plants; and the Separation of Light from Darkness, featuring a fearsome God reaching out to touch the sun. Set around the central panels are 20 athletic male nudes, known as ignudi. Opposite, on the west wall is Michelangelo’s mesmeric Giudizio Universale, showing Christ – in the center near the top – passing sentence over the souls of the dead as they are torn from their graves to face him. The saved get to stay up in heaven (in the upper right), the damned are sent down to face the demons in hell (in the bottom right). Near the bottom, on the right, you’ll see a man with donkey ears and a snake wrapped around him. This is Biagio de Cesena, the papal master of ceremonies, who was a fierce critic of Michelangelo’s composition. Another famous figure is St Bartholomew, just beneath Christ, holding his own flayed skin. The face in the skin is said to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo, its anguished look reflecting the artist’s tormented faith. The chapel’s walls also boast superb frescoes. Painted in 1481–82 by a crack team of Renaissance artists, including Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio, Perugino and Luca Signorelli, they represent events in the lives of Moses (to the left looking at the Giudizio Universale) and Christ (to the right). Highlights include Botticelli’s Temptations of Christ and Perugino’s Handing over of the Keys. As well as providing a showcase for priceless art, the Sistine Chapel also serves an important religious function as the place where the conclave meets to elect a new pope. Stanze di Raffaello (Raphael Rooms) These four frescoed chambers, currently undergoing partial restoration, were part of Pope Julius II’s private apartments. Raphael himself painted the Stanza della Segnatura (1508–11) and Stanza d’Eliodoro (1512–14), while the Stanza dell’Incendio (1514–17) and Sala di Costantino (1517–24) were decorated by students following his designs. The first room you come to is the Sala di Costantino, which features a huge fresco depicting Constantine’s defeat of Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge. The Stanza d’Eliodoro, which was used for private audiences, takes its name from the Cacciata d’Eliodoro (Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple), an allegorical work reflecting Pope Julius II’s policy of forcing foreign powers off Church lands. To its right, the Messa di Bolsena (Mass of Bolsena) shows Julius paying homage to the relic of a 13th-century miracle at the lakeside town of Bolsena. Next is the Incontro di Leone Magno con Attila (Encounter of Leo the Great with Attila) by Raphael and his school and, on the fourth wall, the Liberazione di San Pietro (Liberation of St Peter), a brilliant work illustrating Raphael’s masterful ability to depict light. The Stanza della Segnatura, Julius’ study and library, was the first room that Raphael painted, and it’s here that you’ll find his great masterpiece, La Scuola di Atene (The School of Athens), featuring philosophers and scholars gathered around Plato and Aristotle. The seated figure in front of the steps is believed to be Michelangelo, while the figure of Plato is said to be a portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, and Euclide (the bald man bending over) is Bramante. Raphael also included a self-portrait in the lower right corner – he’s the second figure from the right. The most famous work in the Stanza dell’Incendio di Borgo is the Incendio di Borgo (Fire in the Borgo), which depicts Pope Leo IV extinguishing a fire by making the sign of the cross. The ceiling was painted by Raphael’s master, Perugino. Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (Map Gallery) The last of three galleries on the upper floor – the other two are the Galleria dei Candelabri (Gallery of the Candelabra) and Galleria degli Arazzi (Tapestry Gallery) – this 394-ft-long corridor is hung with 40 16th-century topographical maps of Italy. Tickets and other practicalities Check online for the array of available tours, among them are some that include the Vatican Gardens or the Castel Gandolfo. Avoid what can be atrocious lines for the museum by buying your ticket in advance online. Print out the voucher and swap it in for a ticket at the appointed time in the entrance atrium. Overall, exhibits are not well labeled, so consider hiring an audio guide (€8 or $9.66) or purchasing a guidebook to the museums. The museums are well equipped for visitors with disabilities, with suggested itineraries, lifts and specially fitted toilets. Wheelchairs are available free of charge from the Special Permits desk in the entrance hall, and can be reserved by emailing accoglienza.musei@scv.va. Parents with toddlers can take strollers into the museums. Onsite/nearby restaurants There's a fine bistro in the Cortile della Pigna, a complex of self-service cafeterias and a cafe with an outdoor patio near the Pinacoteca. For a real bite to remember, leave the museums and head to Bonci Pizzarium, one of Rome’s best pizza al taglio (sliced pizza) joints.

  • Top ChoiceSights in L'Eixample

    La Sagrada Família

    The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family) is considered to be the symbol of Barcelona by many residents, and the one place you shouldn’t miss when you visit the Catalan capital. Initially intended to be a simple Roman Catholic church dedicated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the church ultimately became the most prominent example of Catalan Modernism. Pope Benedict XVI declared it a basilica in 2010. Dreamed up by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, the basilica exemplifies Gaudí’s philosophy that nature is the work of God. Gaudí sought to combine Christian speech and biblical allegories with complex natural symbols like organic, geometric shapes which are prominent in every column, pinnacle and stained glass window of the basilica. The end result is an astounding architectural masterpiece which, despite being unfinished and under construction for nearly 140 years, has become one of the most visited monuments in Spain, receiving 4.7 million visitors in 2019. History of the Sagrada Familia The creation and construction of the Sagrada Familia is living history. Local bookseller Josep Maria Bocabella wanted to build an expiatory temple consecrated to the Holy Family. Bocabella initially assigned the project to the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, who designed a neo-Gothic project, and began construction in 1882. However, because of several disagreements with Bocabella, Antoni Gaudí took over the assignment. Gaudí conceived a groundbreaking design that pushed the boundaries of all known architectural styles. Gaudí’s primary goal was to build a church with facades that highlighted the three phases in the life of Jesus: Nativity, Passion and Glory. The architect’s vision was to incorporate organic symbolism in the architecture, stained glass and design elements in order to tell Jesus’s story as well as highlight some key biblical histories. In 1891, when development of the Nativity facade began, Gaudí realized that the construction of the Sagrada Família was such an ambitious project that he certainly would not see its completion in his lifetime. In fear of the project being stopped after his death and once the church acquired its worship function, Gaudí decided that, instead of building the central nave, he would start on the external part of the church. At the time, Gaudí was also working on Casa Milà (La Pedrera) and when that was completed in 1912, he focused exclusively on the construction of the Sagrada Família. He worked on it until he died in 1926 and was buried inside the crypt. After Gaudi’s death, Domènec Sugrañes i Gras assumed the main role of architect. The temple suffered heavy damage during Spain’s Civil War (1936-39), when a group of anarchists set it on fire, burning a significant part of Gaudí’s workshop. Fortunately, part of his material could be restored. Work resumed in 1954 and it’s been under construction ever since. Why is the Sagrada Família not finished and when will be completed? Even with today’s technology, skilled architects and engineers are finding it challenging to decipher and bring to life the complex geometric shapes that compose what is going to be the tallest church in the world (172.5m). In addition, despite its international renown, the Sagrada Família is a project that was promoted by the people for the people, so it has always relied on private donations. There have been times in history when there wasn’t any funding, especially during Spain’s Civil War and the decades that followed. It was only after the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, when the city started to gain an international reputation and the number of visitors increased, that construction accelerated exponentially. The Sagrada Família was expected to be completed in 2026 - for the centenary of Gaudí’s death – but its completion has been postponed because of COVID-19. Work has resumed already but a new completion date hasn’t been announced. Visiting the Sagrada Família The site of the Sagrada Família has four main sections: the basilica, the school building, museum and towers. In the past, each section required its own ticket to visit. However, due to COVID-19, the only portion available to visitors is the basilica. To visit the basilica, an individual ticket with an audio-guide app - available in 16 languages - costs €26. If you prefer visiting it on a guided tour - available in 6 languages - an individual ticket costs €27, which also allows you to visit the site on your own after the 50-minute tour is finished. The Basilica The Basilica is composed of five naves, built in the shape of a Latin cross, the roof of which is supported by the angled pillars. These angled pillars are a treelike column structure that creates the effect of a living forest with dappled light streaming in. Gaudí Museum The Gaudí Museum has a recreation of the architect’s workshop, as well as a set of his materials and mockups. School Building Gaudí designed and built the school building, which was for the workers’ children, in 1909. Its design is similar to that of the Casa Milà. The Towers Four towers representing the 12 apostles ascend from each of the three exterior facades (Nativity, Passion and Glory). Gaudí built the Nativity Facade, and in 2005 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the crypt. On the west side is the controversial Passion Facade, whose architect, Josep Maria Subirachs, has been heavily criticized for being too abstract and not strictly following Gaudí’s model. The unfinished Glory Facade is supposed to be the most gorgeous of the three once it’s complete and crowned with its missing four towers. How to get to the Sagrada Familia The Sagrada Família is in the Eixample district, in Mallorca, 401 street. Metro lines 2 and 5 stop at Sagrada Família station. From Barcelona’s Old City, it’s a 30- to 40-minute walk. When to visit the Sagrada Familia The Basilica is open to visitors every day of the year, subject to change due to special events taking place inside. To avoid the largest crowds, it’s best to visit early weekday mornings. A complete visit takes 2-3 hours. Things to do around the Sagrada Familia The Right Eixample is home to some of Barcelona’s major attractions which can be easily visited after your Sagrada Família tour. An unmissable landmark is Hospital Sant Pau, a building designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, one of the most influential architects of Catalan Modernism after Gaudí. Monumental, a former but imposing bullfighting arena, is also worth the detour. Finish your Eixample circuit at Barcelona’s triumphal arch, located at Passeig de Lluís Companys, a palm-lined boulevard that leads to Parc de la Ciutadella, the largest park in town. Where to eat near the Sagrada Família Be aware that all restaurants surrounding the Sagrada Família cater to the tourist crowd. However, by walking just a few blocks, you come to a particularly local area of l’Eixample. For Spanish tapas and wine, we recommend Hasta Los Andares. For authentic Spanish tortillas, look for La Granota and, for traditional Catalan food, grab a bite at Olé Mallorca, which tends to get busy at lunch time (2 to 3pm). In the morning, you must stop at Puiggròs, a one hundred year-old patisserie.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Gamla Stan

    Kungliga Slottet

    A massive structure with more than 600 rooms on 11 levels, Kungliga Slottet (the Royal Palace) dominates the north end of Gamla Stan. The official residence of the Swedish monarch, the palace is both a working government building and an important historical site with fine baroque and rococo interiors and furnishings that reflect the shifting tastes of nearly 400 years of royal occupants. History of Kungliga Slottet Around the mid-1200s, Birger Jarl, the powerful earl credited with founding Stockholm, erected a stone fortress on the site of the present royal palace. Under the Vasa rulers of the 16th and 17th centuries it developed into a magnificent Renaissance palace that became known as Tre Kronor for the three gilded crowns placed atop the main tower in 1588. Following the Thirty Years War, which ended in 1648, Sweden entered an era of great power. Extensive rebuilding of the palace began in 1692 under the royal architect Nicodemus Tessin the younger, who gave the northern wing its current baroque appearance. On 7 May 1697, a devastating fire broke out, destroying everything except the newly renovated north wing. Six weeks later Tessin presented designs for a new palace that he estimated would take six years to build. In fact, it would take nearly six decades before the royal family was finally able to take up residence. Museum Tre Kronor Remnants of the original Tre Kronor palace can still be seen in the north wing, where Tessin simply covered over the medieval walls and towers as he erected his new baroque facade. Start your visit here to follow the palace’s history in chronological order. Entering Museum Tre Kronor from Slottskajen, you pass through walls 5m (more than 16ft) thick that have stood since the 14th century. Inside, exhibits trace the development of Tre Kronor from defensive fortress to Renaissance palace, using models and objects rescued from the fire. The Royal Apartments The Royal Apartments consist of a series of grand rooms used for royal receptions, gala dinners, cabinet meetings and other official state business, as well as more intimate living chambers. Every royal resident has left a mark on the interior design, beginning with King Adolf Fredrik and Queen Lovisa Ulrika, who moved into the newly completed palace in December 1754. They resided in the 14 rooms now called the Bernadotte wing after the present dynasty, which has occupied the throne since 1818. The last to live in these apartments were King Oscar II and Queen Sofia, whose portraits hang in the main gallery along with those of other Bernadotte family members. The nine rooms comprising the State Apartments include the bedchamber where Gustav III died in 1792, two weeks after being shot at a masquerade ball; Karl XI’s Gallery, a gilded chamber modeled after the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles; and the Don Quixote Room, with walls covered in 18th-century tapestries depicting scenes from the classic novel by Miguel Cervantes. Another highlight is the Hall of State with Queen Kristina’s silver throne, a gift for her coronation in 1650. Kungliga Slottet is open year round, except for major holidays. Parts of the palace may be closed at other times due to state functions; check the website for the latest details. The Royal Treasury The monarchy’s greatest treasures are kept in underground vaults accessed through an entrance off Slottsbacken. They include crowns, swords and other symbols of state made for various royals in the 16th and 17th centuries. The oldest items are the royal regalia, which include two swords of state belonging to Gustav Vasa, who came to power in 1523, and a jewel-studded gold crown, orb, scepter and key of state made for his son Erik XIV in 1561. The last coronation held in Sweden was King Oscar II’s in 1873. His son Gustaf V inherited the throne in 1907 but declined to be formally crowned. Nowadays the regalia are used symbolically whenever a new monarch ascends to the throne, and at ceremonies such as royal baptisms, weddings and funerals. Also on display is a silver baptismal font from 1696 that’s still used today, most recently in 2016 for the baptism of Prince Oscar, the son of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel. Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities Located in the northeastern wing of the palace, this museum displays ancient sculptures collected by Gustav III during an extended trip to Italy in the 1780s. The main gallery’s star attraction is a sculpture of Endymion, a beautiful mortal who was the lover of the moon goddess, Selene. Statues of the nine muses and various Roman gods and goddesses line both sides of the gallery. A second, smaller gallery houses a collection of Roman portrait busts. The museum is open from mid-May to mid-September. The Royal Chapel Although there has been a church at the palace since the 13th century, the present chapel was designed by Nicodemus Tessin and completed by architect Carl Hårleman as part of the rebuilding of the palace. The previous chapel had been inaugurated just five months before being destroyed in the fire. The chapel is open to visitors during the summer. The Changing of the Guard If you can time your visit accordingly, don’t miss the changing of the guard ceremony, which takes place in the outer palace courtyard daily at 12.15pm (1.15pm on Sundays and holidays) and lasts approximately 40 minutes. Every day from late April through August, the royal guards march or ride in formal procession through the streets of central Stockholm to the palace, an impressive sight in their blue uniforms and glittering pointed helmets. In September and October the parade takes place on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Details of the route and timing are listed on the Swedish Armed Forces website. Tickets and other practicalities A single ticket costs 140 SEK ($16) for adults and 70 SEK ($8) for children ages 7-17. and includes access to all the attractions in the Royal Palace complex, including Museum Tre Kronor, the Royal Apartments, the Royal Treasury, the Royal Chapel and Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities. Tickets are available at the entrance and online in advance. Combination tickets are available for the palace and nearby Riddarholmskyrkan, the medieval church where almost all Swedish royals until 1950 are buried. Guided tours of the Royal Apartments cost 30 SEK ($3.50) plus regular admission and are available in English at 10.30am and 1.30pm, with an additional English-language tour at 3.30pm from June through August. There’s no extra charge for the tour for children under 18 (regular admission tickets are required). Tours of the Royal Treasury in English take place at 2.30pm daily. Free audio guides to the Bernadotte Apartments and Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities can be downloaded onto a smartphone or borrowed on site. During the COVID-19 pandemic only the Royal Apartments are open to visitors, and tickets are timed. There are no guided tours, and only the download option is available for audio guides. The changing of the guard ceremony and parade are also not taking place during the pandemic. The Royal Palace also houses Livrustkammaren (the Royal Armoury), a free museum that traces the history of the Swedish monarchy since 1523 through armor, clothing and other items that once belonged to various royals. It’s accessible through a separate entrance off Slottsbacken.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Vondelpark & the South

    Van Gogh Museum

    This wonderful museum traces Van Gogh's life and artistic development via the world's largest collection of his work. More than 200 canvases are on display, stretching from his early, bleak portraits of peasants in the Netherlands through to his later years in sunny France, where he produced his best-known work with its characteristic giddy colour. Also on show here are 500 of his drawings and 700 hand-written letters. The museum is spread over four levels, moving chronologically from Floor 0 (ground floor) to Floor 3. Allow at least a couple of hours to browse all of the galleries. Paintings and artworks Van Gogh's works are scattered in museums around the world, but the Van Gogh Museum holds the largest collection, comprising a staggering 200 paintings and 500 drawings by Vincent and his contemporaries, including Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Monet. Van Gogh’s earliest works ­­– showing raw, if unrefined, talent – are from his time in the Dutch countryside and Antwerp between 1883 and 1885. He painted peasant life, exalting their existence in works such as the masterpiece, The Potato Eaters (1885). Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette (1886) is another highlight, painted when Van Gogh was a student at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. He then moved to Paris in 1886 and began to paint self-portraits as a way of improving his portraiture without paying for models, which he couldn’t afford. Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat was painted in the winter of 1887–1888 and is one of his boldest color experiments. One of his most beloved works, Sunflowers (1889), is a result of him leaving Provence for Arles, intent on painting the vibrant landscapes and achieving his dream of creating an artist's colony. Another of his iconic paintings, The Yellow House – a rendering of the abode he rented in Arles – is also from this period. In 1890, Van Gogh painted one of his last paintings Wheatfield with Crows – a particularly menacing and ominous piece finished shortly before his suicide. Aside from admiring the massive collection of masterpiece paintings, don’t pass up the opportunity to hear recordings of Van Gogh’s letters at the multiple listening stations in the museum. The letters are mainly to and from his younger brother, Theo, who championed his work, and offer a poignant insight into their relationship. History of the Van Gogh Museum After his death in 1890, Vincent left his complete collection of works to his brother, Theo. When Theo died shortly after in 1891, the collection was handed over to Theo’s widow, Jo van Gogh-Bonger, and after her death in 1925, it was then passed on to her son Vincent Willem van Gogh. He loaned the collection of artworks to Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, before a dedicated museum was called for to house the late artist’s impressive oeuvre. Opened in 1973, the Van Gogh Museum’s main building was designed by the influential Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld, who was an important member of De Stijl ­– a group of progressive artists and architects active in the 1920s. Behind the main building, reaching towards Museumplein, is a separate wing, which was opened in 1999 and designed by Kisho Kurokawa. The transparent building with its state-of-the-art glass structure hosts temporary exhibitions by big-name artists. In 2015, a swish new extension and entrance hall added 800 sq meters (8600 sq ft) of space to the museum. Tours The museum usually offers 50-minute guided tours (in Dutch) which take groups of four around Vincent van Gogh's masterpieces. However, due to Covid-19 these are currently unavailable. Opening hours and best time to visit Opening hours for the museum vary throughout the year. During the peak summer months (July-September), the museum tends to open daily from 9am-6pm, while at other times of year the hours are 10am-5pm (until 6pm on weekends). Winter opening hours are even more limited, with the museum sometimes closing completely on Mondays. Check the official website for up-to-date opening hours. As you’d expect to be the case for the world’s largest collection of works from one of the world’s most famous artists of all time, the museum gets packed. The best times to visit to try to avoid the crowds are before 11am and after 3pm. Tickets and location The museum is located at Museumplein. Tickets must be purchased online where you choose a starting time slot. It allows you entry to the permanent exhibition, as well any temporary exhibitions showing at the time. Prices Adult: €19 ($22). Admission is free for those under 18. Discount cards There is free admission for Museumkaart and I Amsterdam cardholders, but you still need to book a timeslot on the museum’s website. I Amsterdam cardholders must reserve online at the I Amsterdam website. Nearby restaurants Set in a beautiful space with huge windows and high ceilings, Rijks was awarded a Michelin star in 2016. Chef Joris Bijdendijk uses locally sourced produce, adheres to slow-food philosophy and draws on historic Dutch influences in his creative, highly imaginative cuisine. The restaurant is part of the Rijksmuseum. With old family photos adorning the walls, cozy Hap Hmm almost feels like dining in a relative’s home. The menu offers an array of classic Dutch comfort foods, from rich beef stews to chicken casseroles, and a good selection of vegetarian options. Just like any home-cooked meal, dishes are served with a selection of boiled vegetables. Note: credit cards are not accepted. Renzo's deli resembles an Italian tavola calda (hot table), where you can select hot and cold ready-made dishes, such as meatballs, pasta and salads, plus stuffed sandwiches and delicious cannoli (Sicilian 'little tubes', filled with ricotta cream). There are a few tables crammed into the space, or it's perfect to take away to nearby Museumplein. Hotels near the Van Gogh Museum There are a number of excellent accommodation options within walking distance of the Van Gogh Museum, including the Hilton Amsterdam, famous as the place that John and Yoko staged their "bed-in for peace" in 1969, and the Conscious Hotel Museum Square, which boasts a lush garden terrace and furniture made from recycled materials. However, for proximity to the museum, it's hard to beat the palatial, Conservatorium Hotel, an eight-story, five-star hotel with a huge covered courtyard and contemporary rooms with designer furnishings. The hotel is a one-minute walk from the Van Gogh Museum. Should I visit the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum? The Rijksmuseum is a magnificent art gallery located in Museumplein close to the Van Gogh Museum. If you start early and have plenty of energy you could tackle both in one day, but it’s probably  too much – considering The Rijksmuseum itself is over half a mile (1.5km) of gallery space! Spread the visits over a couple of days for a more enjoyable experience. If you must choose only one and you are a Van Gogh fan, the Van Gogh Museum will be more to your liking as the Rijksmuseum has only a few Van Gogh works on display. But if you want to get an overview of Dutch art and see more of the Dutch masters (Rembrandt, Vermeer, Steen), then spend the day at the Rijksmuseum.

  • Top ChoiceSights in St Gallen

    Stiftsbibliothek

    If the greatest masterpieces on earth are wrought for the glory of God, St Gallen ’s Stiftsbibliothek (Abbey Library), is like a living prayer. Religious or not, you can’t help but look up to the heavens and fall silent as you step across its creaking wood floor, breathe in the scent of 1000 years of parchment, ink, patience and piety, and cast a careful eye across its stucco-encrusted ceiling, biblical frescoes, playful putti (cherub-like figures), magnificent globe and shelves lined with 170,000 beautiful leather-bound books. Some of the world’s most precious and elaborate medieval manuscripts are hidden here, occasionally dusted off for exhibitions for all to admire. Once the beating heart of one of Europe’s finest Benedictine monasteries, the library gave St Gallen a solid foot up the celestial ladder in the Middle Ages. Today, this wondrous space forms the centerpiece of the Unesco World Heritage Stiftsbezirk (Abbey District). If you make the pilgrimage to just one abbey in Switzerland, this really should be it. History of Stiftsbibliothek St Gallen Local lore has it that St Gallen began with a bush, a bear and an Irish monk who should have watched where he was going. In AD 612, as the tale goes, itinerant monk St Gall (Gallus), one of the twelve companions of Saint Columbanus, was on a mission from Ireland to the continent. He fell into a briar (bush) and considered the stumble a calling from God. After a fortuitous encounter with a bear, in which he persuaded it to bring him a log, take some bread in return and leave him in peace, he used the log to begin building the simple hermitage that would one day evolve into St Gallen’s cathedral. Whether or not you believe the bit about the briar and the bear, St Gall was instrumental in sewing the seeds of what would blossom into one of the world’s greatest Benedictine abbeys, founded by Abbot Otmar in 747 AD. The city of St Gallen sprang up around the abbey and developed into one of Europe’s most important intellectual and religious centres. In the Middle Ages, monks flocked here from afar to pray, read, study scriptures and devote years to copying and illustrating manuscripts; a painstaking, solitary act that required a patient hand and a peaceful heart. Arts, letters and sciences flourished here and the library grew to impressive proportions, with its manuscripts inspiring accomplished artists and leading literary scholars: from Notker Balbulus to Ekkehart IV. The abbey survived the threats and fires that ravaged the town over the centuries, and the turbulent times of the Reformation. Based on plans by star architect of the baroque age, Peter Thumb of Vorarlberg, the new abbey was built in the mid 18th century, just before the abbey lands were secularised and the abbey itself dissolved in 1805. The former abbey church became a cathedral in 1848, and the whole site, including the Stiftsbibliothek, was granted Unesco World Heritage status in 1983. Architecture of Stiftsbibliothek St Gallen A master of the exuberant rococo style, Peter Thumb of Vorarlberg didn’t do things by halves. Completed just before his death in 1767, the library was his parting gift to the world and magnum opus: a swirling confection of curling stucco and frescoes depicting the early church councils. The plump putti (cherub-like figures) in the window niches embody professions – poet and doctor, botanist and carpenter, musician and painter, astronomer and architect. A balcony unfurls gracefully along the upper level, with 34 windows allowing a painterly light to stream in even on overcast days. No expense was spared on the materials, with bookshelves and bookcases carved out of exquisite walnut and cherry wood. Above the entrance, a pair of gilded cherubs hold up a sign saying psyché iatreio, the Greek for “sanctuary of the soul” or “soul pharmacy”. Treasures of Stiftsbibliothek St Gallen Books & manuscripts Only 30,000 of the total collection of 170,000 volumes are in the library at any one time, arranged into special exhibitions. Among these are 1650 incunabula (books printed before 1501). Of the library's 2100 precious manuscripts – some of which are true works of art and remarkably well preserved – just a handful are on display. The oldest manuscript, dating to 760, was penned by the monk Winithar, who complained about not having sufficient parchment. Among its other literary treasures are the 9th-century Cod Sang 555, the earliest portrait of St Columba, a version of The Rule of St Benedict, the cornerstone of medieval monastic life, and Manuscript B of the Nibelungenlied (The Song of the Nibelungs), an epic poem written around 1200. St Gallen globe Igniting the adventurous spirit in any born traveler, the library’s earth and celestial globe is a beauty, more than two metres high, replete with naturalistic detail and still incomplete as some countries were yet to be discovered. The 16th-century original was stolen more than 400 years ago, so what you see now is a very convincing replica. Vaulted cellar For more insight into St Gall and his life and work, delve into the vaulted cellar. This houses the Lapidarium, which showcases a collection of Carolingian, Ottonian and Gothic sculpture from the former church on the site. There's also some interesting background, albeit mostly in German, about the art of illustration. The standout is the late 9th-century Evangelium Longum, an illuminated manuscript with an intricately carved ivory cover bearing the hallmark of the monk and artist Tuotilo. Egyptian mummy Hailing from the Deir el-Bahri Temple Complex, Shepenese, the library’s ancient Egyptian mummy, dates to 700 BC and was given as a gift to the mayor of St Gallen in 1820, together with two wooden sarcophagi. Shepenese was the daughter of a priest and lived at the start of the Saite Dynasty (672 to 525 BC). Dom St Gallen Taking the stylistic leap from baroque to classicism, St Gallen's twin-towered, mid-18th-century cathedral is only slightly less ornate than the world-famous library nearby. A riot of mint-green stucco and rose marble, the cathedral dances with dark, stormy frescos and cherubs and saints gazing down from heavenly clouds. The cupola (ceiling dome) shows a vision of paradise with the Holy Trinity at the centre. To experience the cathedral at its uplifting best, visit during one of the Dommusik concerts. Exploring St Gallen While you’re in St Gallen, factor in time for a stroll around the Altstadt (Old Town), where many houses are embellished with Erker (oriel bay windows), especially around Gallusplatz, Spisergasse, Schmiedgasse and Kugelgasse. Locals have totted them all up and reckon there are 111. Some bear the most extraordinary timber sculptures – a reflection of the wealth of their one-time owners, mostly textile barons. Need to know Multilingual audio guides are available at the abbey library and exhibition space counters, as are felt slippers, which are obligatory to protect the parquet floor. Photography is strictly forbidden (even without flash). Included in the cost of the abbey ticket, public 45-minute guided tours in German depart at 2pm daily; no booking is required.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Jungfraujoch

    Jungfraujoch

    This is the big one. At 3454m above sea level, Jungfraujoch is Europe’s highest train station: a once-in-a-lifetime trip, with views of the deeply crevassed Aletsch Glacier and a never-ending ripple of sky-high Alpine peaks to make you gasp out loud. A little underwhelmingly for train enthusiasts, the station itself is actually located inside the mountain, in a tunnel of sorts. But (but!) the ride to reach it passes some magnificent mountain scenery, with passengers glued to the window as the tracks curl past spruce forests and eyrie-like villages, meadows sprinkled with a confetti of wildflowers, and mountains that glow pearl white in winter like a scene from a snowglobe. The higher you go, the more dramatic the journey gets, shouldering up to glinting glaciers and the legendary triple act of Eiger (3970m), Mönch (4107m) and Jungfrau (4158m). Upon completing the journey, passengers disembark to explore the snowy surrounds. We won’t lie – Jungfraujoch is no secret and it gets swamped in high season, but with some cunning planning you can give the madding crowds the slip. Stay overnight at the Mönchsjochhütte, stomp through fresh powder snow in quiet exhilaration, or take the first train to see sunrise pinken the peaks one by one, and you too will feel the magic. History of Jungfraujoch Only the Swiss had the guts more than a century ago to think you could blaze right through rock and ice and bore through the heart of Eiger to a glaciated peak 3454m high. A masterpiece of engineering in the truest sense, the railway has known few rivals since it launched on 1 August 1912, taking some 3000 workers 16 years to complete. If the journey seems audacious now, just think of how it seemed back then. Many railway pioneers had flocked to the region and proposed ways to connect the highest peaks. But it was Adolf Guyer-Zeller who came up with the masterplan for the electrically operated cog railway, factoring in several stops en route to let passengers enjoy the views. The work on the railway began in earnest in 1896 and was carried out without machinery – just shovels, pickaxes and a hell of a lot of hard graft. The construction was not without its hitches, among them the sudden death of Adolf Guyer-Zeller in 1899, and the accidental explosion of 30 tons of dynamite in 1908. But these setbacks didn’t stop Adolf’s dream from becoming a reality. What to do at Jungfraujoch Sphinx observation deck The icy wilderness of swirling glaciers and 4000m peaks that unfolds up top is beautiful beyond belief. Sidling up to the crag-perching Sphinx, one of the world’s highest astronomical observatories, Jungfraujoch’s observation deck commands grandstand views of the moraine-streaked, 23km-long tongue of the Aletsch Glacier, the longest glacier in the Alps and a Unesco World Heritage Site. The views across a sea of shimmering white peaks stretch as far as the Black Forest in Germany on cloudless days. Snow Fun Park Even when there’s dazzling sunshine at lower elevations, there is guaranteed snow up at Jungfraujoch. The Snow Fun Park ramps up the adventure. Here you can whizz across the frozen plateau on a flying fox (zip line), dash downhill on a sled or snow tube, or pound the powder with some gentle skiing or boarding (day passes available). Ice Palace Tunnels of ice polished as smooth as cut glass lead through the Ice Palace at Jungfraujoch, which offers a frosty reception at -3°C. Mountain guides wielding saws and pick-axes carved the chambers out of solid ice in the 1930s. Now they are adorned with frozen sculptures of bears, ibexes and eagles. Aletsch Glacier Jungfraujoch commands a phenomenal view of the largest glacier in the Alps: the 23km Aletsch Glacier, which blazes a trail through peaks hovering around the 4000m mark. The glacier is the showpiece of the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch Unesco World Heritage Site. From late June to early October, Grindelwald Sports offers two-day hikes across the glacier, led by experienced mountain guides. Make it happen When to go Going early, going late or going out of season is the trick to avoiding the crush at Jungfraujoch. It’s well worth getting one of the first or last trains to see the peak when it’s a shade more peaceful. Staying the night at Mönchsjochhütte lets you experience Jungfraujoch when the crowds have subsided. Good weather is essential for the journey; check the website for current conditions. Don’t forget to take warm clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen, as there’s snow and glare up here all year. The journey to Jungfraujoch The recent arrival of the tri-cable Eiger Express gondola, linking Grindelwald to Eiger Glacier station in 15 minutes, has seriously slashed journey times to Europe’s highest station. The gondola swings so close to Eiger’s ferocious north face that it feels as though you’ll slam into it. Trains from Interlaken Ost follow two different routes to Jungfraujoch: one via Lauterbrunnen, Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg (2¼ hours), the other via Grindelwald with the Eiger Express (1½ hours). From late May to October, the first train from Interlaken to Jungfraujoch departs at 6.35am, and the latest train leaving Jungfrau is 5.47pm. Seats can be reserved for a nominal extra charge. Where to stay & eat The crowds fade and the mountains rear up around you in all their frozen wonder when you hike through the snow to Mönchsjochhütte, 2.2km east of Jungfraujoch (around 45 minutes on foot). Perched at a giddy 3650m above sea level and open from mid-March to mid-October, this is Switzerland’s highest serviced mountain hut and a firm favourite among hardcore rock climbers, glacier hikers and ski tourers, not to mention mere mortals just up here for the view. The deal is simple: you’ll sleep in a basic dorm, wash in meltwater and eat hearty mountain meals. The clatter of karabiners (climbing hooks) can be heard at ungodly hours (light sleepers will want earplugs) and breakfast is served from 2am to 7.30am, which is just as well because you really wouldn’t want to miss this sunrise… Money saving passes Get yourself a Jungfrau Travel Pass for speedy access to the mountains via a brilliant network of trains, funiculars and cable cars. Available for three to eight days, the pass offers unlimited travel on mountain railways in the region, plus discounts on tickets to Jungfraujoch. From mid-April to late November, the three- to eight-day Top of Europe Pass covers the whole shebang: unlimited transport within the region and as many journeys as you like to Jungfraujoch and back. Kids pay just a fraction of the adult price.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ancient Rome

    Roman Forum

    An impressive – if rather confusing – sprawl of ruins, the Roman Forum was ancient Rome's showpiece center, a grandiose district of temples, basilicas and vibrant public spaces. The site, originally a marshy burial ground, was first developed in the 7th century BCE,  growing over time to become the social, political and commercial hub of the Roman empire. If you can get your imagination going, there’s something wonderfully compelling about walking in the footsteps of Julius Caesar and other legendary figures of Roman history. Signature sights include the Arco di Settimio Severo, the Curia, the Tempio di Saturno and the Arco di Tito. History The Roman Forum was the center of daily life in ancient Rome, the site of public gatherings, trials, elections and gladiatorial combat. Markets and shops lined the narrow alleys and streets. During the Roman Empire, the Forum became the site of the city's grandest monuments and temples. Like many of ancient Rome's great urban developments, the Forum fell into disrepair after the fall of the Roman Empire until it was eventually used as pasture land. In the Middle Ages it was known as the Campo Vaccino (Cow Field) and extensively plundered for its stone and marble. The area was systematically excavated in the 18th and 19th centuries, and excavations continue to this day. Touring the Roman Forum buildings Via Sacra towards Campidoglio Entering from Largo della Salara Vecchia – you can also enter directly from the Palatino or via an entrance near the Arco di Tito – you'll see the Tempio di Antonino e Faustina ahead to your left. Erected in 141 CE, this was transformed into a church in the 8th century, the Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Miranda. To your right, the 179 BCE Basilica Fulvia Aemilia was a 100m-long (328ft-long) public hall with a two-story porticoed facade. At the end of the path, you'll come to Via Sacra, the Forum’s main thoroughfare, and the Tempio di Giulio Cesare (also known as the Tempio del Divo Giulio). Built by Augustus in 29 BCE, this marks the spot where Julius Caesar was cremated after his assassination in 44 BCE. Heading right up Via Sacra brings you to the Curia, the original seat of the Roman Senate. This barn-like construction was rebuilt on various occasions before being converted into a church in the Middle Ages. What you see today is a 1937 reconstruction of how it looked in the reign of Diocletian (r 284–305). In front of the Curia, and hidden by scaffolding, is the Lapis Niger, a large slab of black marble that's said to cover the tomb of Romulus. At the end of Via Sacra, the 23m-high (75ft-high) Arco di Settimio Severo was built in 203 CE to commemorate the Roman victory over the Parthians. It is dedicated to the eponymous emperor and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta. In front of the arch are the remains of the Rostri, an elaborate podium where Shakespeare had Mark Antony make his famous "Friends, Romans, countrymen…" speech. Facing this, the Colonna di Foca (Column of Phocus) rises above what was once the Forum's main square, Piazza del Foro. The eight granite columns that rise behind the Colonna are all that remain of the Tempio di Saturno, an important temple that doubled as the state treasury. Behind it are (from north to south): the ruins of the Tempio della Concordia, the Tempio di Vespasiano, and the Portico degli Dei Consenti. Basilica Guilia & Tempio di Castore e Polluce On the southern side of Piazza del Foro, you'll see the stubby ruins of the Basilica Giulia, which was begun by Julius Caesar and finished by Augustus. At the end of the basilica, three columns remain from the 5th-century BCE Tempio di Castore e Polluce. Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua Nearby, the 6th-century Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua is the oldest and most important Christian site on the forum. Its cavernous interior, reopened in 2016 after a lengthy restoration, is a treasure trove of early Christian art with exquisite 6th- to 9th-century frescoes and a hanging depiction of the Virgin Mary with child, one of the earliest icons in existence. Accessible from the church is the Rampa di Domiziano, a vast underground passageway that allowed the emperors to access the forum from their Palatine palaces without being seen. Via Sacra towards the Colosseum Back towards Via Sacra is the Casa delle Vestali, home of the Vestal Virgins who tended the sacred flame in the adjoining Tempio di Vesta. The six virgin priestesses were selected from patrician families when aged between 6 and 10 to serve in the temple for 30 years. If the flame in the temple went out the priestess responsible would be flogged, and if she lost her virginity she would be buried alive. The offending man would be flogged to death. Continuing up Via Sacra, past the circular Tempio di Romolo, you'll come to the Basilica di Massenzio, the largest building on the forum. Started by the Emperor Maxentius and finished by Constantine in 315, it originally measured approximately 100m (328ft) by 65m (213ft), roughly three times what it now covers. Beyond the basilica, the Arco di Tito was built in 81 CE to celebrate Vespasian and Titus' victories against rebels in Jerusalem. Nearby restaurants For a restorative coffee break, head up to the Campidoglio and the Terrazza Caffarelli, the Capitoline Museums' panoramic rooftop cafe. If you want something more substantial, search out Terre e Domus, which serves excellent regional cuisine and fine local wines. Tips for visiting the Roman Forum 1. Get grandstand views of the Forum from the Palatino and Campidoglio. 2. Visit first thing in the morning or late afternoon; crowds are worst between 11am and 2pm. 3. In summer it gets very hot and there’s little shade, so take a hat and plenty of water. Comfortable shoes are a must. 4. If you're caught short, there are toilets by the Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua. Tickets and admissions To visit the Roman Forum's internal sites, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua, Rampa di Domiziano and Tempio di Romolo, you'll need to purchase a SUPER ticket and plan carefully. The ticket, valid for two consecutive days, covers the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatino. The Roman Forum sites (Tempio di Romolo, Chiesa di Santa Maria in Antiqua, Rampa di Domiziano) are open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sunday afternoons.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Windsor & Eton

    Windsor Castle

    The world’s largest and oldest continuously occupied fortress, Windsor Castle is a majestic vision of battlements and towers. Used for state occasions, it’s one of the Queen’s principal residences; when she’s at home, the Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower. History The story of Windsor Castle began in 1071, when William the Conqueror ordered the construction of a hilltop, earth-and-timber fortress. A century later, his great-grandson Henry II replaced it with a stone round tower. Edward III added a Gothic palace; Elizabeth I, the sturdy North Terrace; and Charles II gave the State Apartments a baroque makeover, creating an ‘English Versailles’. George III stuck on turrets and battlements, to make it look more medieval, while George IV inserted a modern palace into the ancient ensemble. After a thousand years of rebuilding, the 951-room castle thus displays an amazing range of architectural styles, from half-timbered fired brick to Gothic stonework. Inside Windsor Castle The castle precincts are divided into the Lower, Middle and Upper Wards. A visit will take you through the lavish State Apartments and beautiful chapels; certain areas may be off limits if in use. Here are some of the highlights: Inner Hall Created by George IV in the 1820s as a welcoming area for heads of state and official guests, this hall was later closed by Queen Victoria in 1866 – its entry sealed by a stone wall – and used primarily for storage space for 150 years. Reopened to the public in 2019, restoration works included chipping off layers of paint to reveal the intricate Regency ceiling bosses created by stuccoist Francis Bernasconi, and linking the visitor entrance on the North Terrace with the State Entrance Hall on the south side, which offers an uninterrupted view of the Long Walk. Also on display are stone remnants believed to be part of the buildings constructed by Henry I around 1110. Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House Filling a side chamber as you approach the State Apartments from the North Terrace of the Upper Ward, this astonishing creation is not a toy but a masterpiece of artful miniaturization. Designed at 1:12 scale by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Queen Mary, and completed in 1924, it displays a phenomenal attention to detail. It's equipped with fully functional plumbing, including flushing toilets, plus electric lights, tiny Crown Jewels, a silver service and wine cellar, and even a fleet of six cars in the garage. State Apartments The State Apartments, in the castle’s Upper Ward, reverberate with history and style. Around two dozen rooms are usually open to the public, with the crossed swords, suits of armour and banners of the initial Grand Staircase setting the tone. A seated statue of Queen Victoria presides over the Grand Vestibule at the top, which displays tribute and trophies from the British Empire. Highlights include a life-sized tiger’s head of gold with crystal teeth, seized from Tipu, sultan of Mysore, and the musket ball that killed Lord Nelson. The Waterloo Chamber beyond, commemorating the 1815 battle, is festooned with portraits of triumphant generals and diplomats. Two self-guided routes – ceremonial and historic – take in the fabulous St George’s Hall, the headquarters of the 24-strong order of the Knights of the Garter, which is still used for state banquets. Its ornate ceiling, re-created following a devastating fire in 1992 – it began in the adjoining Lantern Lobby – holds the shields of Knights past and present. Blank shields record "degraded" knights expelled from the order; most are foreign royals who declared war on Britain. Beyond the Grand Reception Room, where the Queen hosts state visits, lie 10 chambers designated as the King’s Rooms and Queen’s Rooms. Largely created by Charles II, they’re bursting with opulent furniture, tapestries, frescoed ceilings and carved wall panels, as well as paintings by Hans Holbein, Bruegel, Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, Van Dyck and Gainsborough. The Queen’s Guard Chamber, bristling with pistols and swords, holds statues and busts of military leaders including Sir Winston Churchill. St George’s Chapel This elegant chapel, commissioned for the Order of the Garter by Edward IV in 1475, is a fine example of Perpendicular Gothic architecture. The nave and beautiful fan-vaulted roof were completed under Henry VII, and the final nail driven under Henry VIII in 1528. Along with Westminster Abbey, it serves as a royal mausoleum. Both Henry VIII and Charles I lie beneath the beautifully carved 15th-century Quire, while the Queen's father (George VI) and mother (Queen Elizabeth) rest in a side chapel. It’s also where Prince Harry married Meghan Markle in May 2018, and where Prince Philip's funeral took place in 2021. Albert Memorial Chapel Built in 1240 and dedicated to Edward the Confessor, the small Albert Memorial Chapel was the place of worship for the Order of the Garter until St George's Chapel, alongside, snatched away that honour. After Prince Albert died at Windsor Castle in 1861, Queen Victoria ordered the chapel to be restored as a monument to her husband, adding a magnificent vaulted roof that incorporates gold mosaic pieces from Venice. Although the chapel holds a monument to the prince, he’s actually buried, with Victoria, in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore House in Windsor Great Park. Their youngest son, Prince Leopold (Duke of Albany), is, however, buried here. Changing of the Guard A fabulous spectacle, with triumphant tunes from a military band and plenty of foot stamping from smartly attired troops in red uniforms and bearskin caps, the changing of the guard draws crowds to Windsor Castle each day. Although the Household Troops march through the streets of Windsor, the actual handover happens in the Lower Ward or, when the Queen is in official residence, the Quadrangle in the Upper Ward. Weather permitting, it usually takes place at 11am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, but this is subject to change. Check the Household Division website for more information. Tickets Entry is timed and tickets must be booked in advance. The price includes a multimedia guide. If you wish to visit again, your ticket can be converted to a year-long pass – just ask a member of staff before you leave.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Museumsinsel & Alexanderplatz

    Museumsinsel

    Walk through ancient Babylon, meet an Egyptian queen, clamber up a Greek altar or be mesmerized by Monet's ethereal landscapes. Welcome to Museumsinsel (Museum Island), a one-of-a-kind collection of five grand museums capturing diverse cultures and historical periods through rare artifacts. Museumsinsel is situated on the northern half of Spreeinsel, a small island in the River Spree, where Berlin's settlement began in the 13th century. Spread across five buildings constructed under Prussian rulers, Berlin's most important treasure trove spans 6000 years’ worth of art, artifacts, sculpture and architecture from Europe and beyond. The first facility to open was the Altes Museum, which presents Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities. Behind it, the Neues Museum showcases the Egyptian collection, most famously the Nefertiti Bust, and also houses the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Museum of Pre- and Early History). The temple-like Alte Nationalgalerie focuses on 19th-century European art, while the island's top drawcard, the Pergamonmuseum, displays monumental architecture from ancient worlds, including the stunning Ishtar Gate from Babylon. Last but not least, the Bode-Museum, at the island's northern tip, is famous for its medieval sculptures. In addition to the museums, Museumsinsel is also home to the lovely Lustgarten park and Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral). The history of Museumsinsel Each of Museumsinsel’s five buildings were designed by different architects, who were commissioned by a succession of Prussian kings between 1830 and 1930. The Altes Museum (originally known as the Königliches Museum) was the first cultural facility to open on Museumsinsel in 1830. It is considered the most mature work by Prussia’s most important architect, Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Dedicated to Enlightenment ideals of furthering art and science, the museum made significant historical collections and artworks – including Old Masters paintings, prints and drawings – publicly accessible for the very first time. The Neues Museum (New Museum) was conceived as an extension for the overflowing Königliches Museum, which was struggling to display its growing number of artifacts. It was designed in neoclassical and Renaissance Revival styles and opened in 1855. As a consequence, the existing Königliches Museum was eventually renamed to the Altes Museum (Old Museum). By 1876, the Alte-National Galerie, which takes the form of a traditional Greek temple, opened its doors to display paintings and sculptures donated by a prominent banker. This was followed by the opening of the neo-baroque Kaiser Friedrich Museum, today’s Bode-Museum, in 1904, and the Pergamonmuseum in 1930. Exactly 100 years after construction began on the original museum, Museumsinsel was finally complete. World War II, however, brought a turbulent period to the Museumsinsel. Bombings destroyed entire sections of buildings and bullet holes pockmarked facades. The worst hit was the Neues Museum, which, as a consequence, was disused until the 2000s. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Altes Museum and Alte-Nationalgalerie were renovated and reopened, along with the Pergamonmuseum in 1959 (although a thorough restoration only began in 2013 and remains ongoing). However, in a divided city, the museum complex fell on the East Berlin side of the wall, making the facilities difficult to access for those in West Berlin during the years following the war. In the direct aftermath of the fighting, items from the museums were also taken as war trophies, notably by USSR forces. Most items have since been returned, but some still remain outside Germany. The Trojan Gold (a collection of gold from ancient Troy), for example, remains on display to this day at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. After the reunification of Germany in 1990, it was decided that the complex should be restored and renovated for contemporary times. In 1999, the government developed what was termed the “master plan” – a decade-long, billion-euro project to transform Museumsinsel into the modern spectacle that greets visitors today. That same year, Museumsinsel was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. Besides overall restoration work, the master plan included the reopening of the Neues Museum (which had remained closed since the war) in 2009, with a brand-new visitor center and art gallery – both designs were spearheaded by British “starchitect” David Chipperfield. More recently, the Humboldt Forum, encompassing the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the Museum of Asian Art, opened in late 2020 in the Berlin Palace opposite the Lustgarten park. Like many large historical museums in major European cities, the facilities on Museumsinsel face a growing backlash over displaying ancient artifacts taken from other countries following historical wars, expeditions and invasions. To aid in addressing this issue, a handful of items, including the 3000-year-old Sphinx of Hattusa from Turkey (formerly on display in the Pergamonmuseum), have been returned to their country of origin. In addition, in 2021 a new government initiative, MuseumsLab, was launched, with an aim of decolonizing Germany’s museums and “fostering international cooperation”. Plan your visit Museumsinsel is one of Berlin’s busiest areas. The grounds, indoors and outdoors, are always bustling with school children, buskers and tour groups. As such, use common sense and be aware of potential pickpockets. The most budget-friendly way to visit the different museums is by getting the WelcomeCard for Museum Island. For one price, it grants access to the island’s five museums as well as free public transport in central Berlin over three consecutive days. Alternatively, the Museum Pass Berlin offers entry into Musueminsel and some 30 other museums such as the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) and Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum). Getting there Museumsinsel is easily accessible by public transport. The U5 line stops right outside at Unter den Linden station. Museumsinsel is also a short walking distance from the S-Bahn stations Friedrichstraße and Hackescher Markt. Trams M1 and 12 will take you to nearby Kupfergraben, while buses 100 and 200 stop at the Lustgarten on Unter den Linden.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Gràcia & Park Güell

    Park Güell

    Visitors and locals alike love Park Güell. The waving balcony and the colorful Guard’s House, with the imposing Barcelona skyline and sea in the background, is the city’s favorite postcard. It's also a great summary of what the Catalan capital is like: a creative, cosmopolitan city with a Mediterranean lifestyle. Antoni Gaudí created Park Güell, an architectural masterpiece, with tree-shaped columns and undulating forms that merge in perfect harmony. The colors of the broken tile mosaics that cover the surface of the distinct elements is an unprecedented technique of Gaudí that makes the astonishing shapes come to life. It was also built in the middle of the city atop a hill, hence it is blessed with some of the best views in Barcelona. Park Güell is one of the outstanding examples of Catalan Modernism and an unmissable destination for anyone visiting Barcelona. History of Park Güell The 1888 World Expo showed that Barcelona had become a modern metropolis, at a time when local artists and architects started to seek new forms of art and expression that represented urban elements. That’s how Catalan Modernism began to prosper. It was then that local businessman and count Eusebi Güell ordered Antoni Gaudí to design a residential area for wealthy families. Güell’s idea was to recreate the popular British condominiums, which is why he named it Park Güell, instead of Parc Güell, its Catalan translation. This wasn’t the first time that Gaudí and Güell had worked together – Palau Güell, Celler Güell, Pavellons Güell and Cripta de la Colonia Güell, were all pieces of Modernism built by the architect for the count. Construction began in 1900 but was abandoned in 1914 because they never managed to sell the different plots of land. Park Güell became a big private garden instead and Güell decided to give it up for public functions. Very quickly, the park began to show up in tourist maps and, not many years later, became one of the most visited spots in the city. By that time, only two out of sixty planned houses had been built. Today’s Gaudí House Museum is one of those two houses, which the architect bought in 1906. Eusebi Güell died in 1918 and his heirs sold the park to the Barcelona Council. It became a public park in 1926. In 1984, Park Güell became a UNESCO World Heritage site for its historical, architectural and artistic uniqueness. How to visit Park Güell Park Güell is essentially divided into two parts, the forest and the monument's area, where most of Gaudí’s work is concentrated. The monuments can be accessed from Carrer d'Olot (Olot Street). The majestic entrance to the park is loaded with strong symbolism, with allegories and references to industrial development, the Catalan bourgeoisie and, of course, religion. The entrance represents the access to heaven. Interesting that it was intended to be the access to one of the most exclusive residential areas in Barcelona. Beyond the entrance, the first elements you find are two cute Modernist buildings, Casa del Guarda, where the doormen used to sleep, which is now a museum, and Pabelló de l’Aministració, which houses a souvenir shop. Both buildings demonstrate the purest Gaudí style. Continue walking and you will bump into the magnificent stairway, which features the most famous element in Park Güell, the 2.4-meter-long dragon, or salamander, a fountain covered with Gaudí’s technique of trencadís (broken tiles mosaic). Its real meaning is uncertain but most people believe it represents the natural element of fire, while others claim it refers to the crocodile emblem from Nîmes (France), Güell’s native town. Climb over the stairs and you will find yourself in La Plaça (The Square), which is circled by the colorful, undulating bench, from which you get the imposing city views. La Plaça is supported by the 86 columns that form Sala Hipòstila. The rest of Park Güell is the forest area, a set of trails and pathways which all form a proper city park where the local citizens go for a jog or a stroll. El Calvari is the highest point in the park (182m). Gaudí’s initial idea was to build a chapel there but instead, he built a calvary-shaped monument with three crosses. The views from the top are also stunning. Park Güell tickets In 2013, due to the exponential increase of foreign visitors, the Barcelona Council restricted access to the monuments in order to preserve the work of Gaudí. They limited the entrance by only allowing a certain number of people per hour and imposed a fee. The forest area, however, can be accessed for free. - General admission: 10€ - Guided tour: 22€ - Private tour: 50€ Rates subject to change If you want to avoid unnecessary queues, it is recommended to book Park Güell tickets online through the official website. An entrance ticket allows you to visit the 12 hectares that comprise the park, including the monuments. For the Gaudí House Museum, you have to buy a separate ticket. Once inside the monument area, you can stay as long as you want but must enter no later than 30 minutes after the time specified on your ticket. Best time to visit Park Güell If you want to beat the crowds, the best time to visit Park Güell is on weekdays at 9:30am, when the park opens. How to get to Park Güell From Lesseps metro station (Line 3), it is a 15-minute walk to the monumental area main gate. From Vallcarca metro station (Line 3), it is also a 15-minute walk, but you access the park from the west. For those coming by foot, Park Güell is within a 20-30-minute walk from anywhere in the districts of Gràcia and Sant Gervasi, but the Old City is not within easy walking distance. Where to eat around Park Güell The good news is that Gràcia is filled with inexpensive local eateries and tapa joints that are absolutely delightful. La Pubilla, for example, is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the city for traditional Catalan food. In addition, look for Bar Bodega Quimet for traditional homemade tapas. For slightly more modern and elaborate tapas, we recommend Vermuteria Puigmartí.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Brú na Bóinne

    Newgrange

    Why you should go Newgrange is one of the most remarkable prehistoric sites in Europe, famous for the illumination of its passage and tomb during the winter solstice sun. Newgrange, together with Dowth and Knowth, are the three main Megalithic passage tombs that make the Brú na Bóinne Unesco World Heritage site. The site is so ancient (constructed about 5200 years ago) that it predates Egypt's pyramids by some six centuries. Winter Solstice It’s magical to see it at any time of year but winter solstice (weather permitting) is incredibly special — a bucket-list event if you’re lucky enough to nab a ticket. At around 8.20am on the winter solstice (between December 18 and 23), the rising sun's rays shine through the roof-box above the entrance, creep slowly down the long passage and illuminate the tomb chamber for 17 minutes. There is little doubt that this is one of the country's most memorable, even mystical, experiences. No matter when you visit, there's a simulated winter sunrise for every group taken into the mound. History: facts and legends Newgrange dates from around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza. No one is quite sure of Newgrange’s original purpose — it has been the subject of much archaeological debate over the years. The most common theories are that it was a burial place for kings or a center for ritual. The tomb's precise alignment with the sun at the time of the winter solstice suggests it was also designed to act as a calendar. After being sealed for several millennia, Newgrange was eventually rediscovered in 1699 when a local landowner began quarrying the mound for stones. Over time, Newgrange, like Dowth and Knowth, deteriorated and at one stage was even used as a quarry. Archaeological excavations didn't begin until the 1960s. The site was extensively restored in 1962 and again in 1975. Newgrange's name derives from 'New Granary' (the tomb did in fact serve as a repository for wheat and grain at one stage), although a more popular belief is that it comes from the Irish for 'Cave of Gráinne', a reference to a popular Celtic myth. The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne tells of the illicit love between the woman betrothed to Fionn MacCumhaill (or Finn McCool), leader of the Fianna, and Diarmuid, one of his most trusted lieutenants. When Diarmuid was fatally wounded, his body was brought to Newgrange by the god Aengus in a vain attempt to save him, and the despairing Gráinne followed him into the cave, where she remained long after he died. This suspiciously Arthurian tale (substitute Lancelot and Guinevere for Diarmuid and Gráinne) is undoubtedly a myth, but it's still a pretty good story. Newgrange also plays another role in Celtic mythology as the site where the hero Cúchulainn was conceived. Inside Newgrange A startling 80m in diameter and 13m high, Newgrange's white round stone walls, topped by a grass dome, look eerily futuristic, despite its ancient origins. Underneath the dome lies the Stone Age passage tomb. A superbly carved kerbstone with double and triple spirals guards the tomb's main entrance, but the area has been reconstructed so that visitors don't have to clamber in over it. Above the entrance is a slit, or roof-box, which lets light in. Another beautifully decorated kerbstone stands at the exact opposite side of the mound. Some experts say that a ring of standing stones encircled the mound, forming a great circle about 100m in diameter, but only 12 of these stones remain, with traces of others below ground level. Holding the whole structure together are the 97 boulders of the kerb ring, designed to stop the mound from collapsing outwards. Eleven of these are decorated with motifs similar to those on the main entrance stone, although only three have extensive carvings. The white quartzite that encases the tomb was originally obtained from Wicklow, 70km south – in an age before horse and wheel, it was transported by sea and then up the River Boyne. More than 200,000 tonnes of earth and stone also went into the mound. You can walk down the narrow 19m passage, lined with 43 stone uprights (some of them engraved), which leads into the tomb chamber about one third of the way into the colossal mound. The chamber has three recesses, and in these are large basin stones that held cremated human bones. As well as the remains, the basins would have held funeral offerings of beads and pendants, but these were stolen long before the archaeologists arrived. Above, the massive stones support a 6m-high corbel-vaulted roof. A complex drainage system means that not a drop of water has penetrated the interior in 40 centuries. Tickets and other practicalities Brú na Bóinne Unesco World Heritage site in County Meath is roughly a 45-minute drive from Dublin. Access to Newgrange is granted by guided tour from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre where a shuttle bus will take you to the tombs. Allow plenty of time: an hour for the visitor center alone and two hours for Newgrange. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis (no advance booking). Arrive early in the morning or visit midweek and be prepared to wait, especially in summer. Alternatively, visiting as part of an organised tour, such as Mary Gibbons Tours (€45 per adult - departs from Dublin), guarantees a spot. Tickets for the Brú na Bóinne and Newgrange Chamber tour cost €18 per adult, €12 for children between the ages 12 and 17, and €16 for seniors. Family tickets (two adults and two children) cost €48. Children under 12 go free. To be in with a chance of witnessing the Solstice Sunrise event on one of six mornings around the winter solstice, enter the free lottery that's drawn in late September; 50 names are drawn and each winner is allowed to take one guest (be aware, however, that over 30,000 people apply each year). Fill out the form at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre or email brunaboinne@opw.ie Where to stay near Newgrange Some of the best accommodation options near Newgrange are in the town of Slane, with a small choice that runs from budget to luxury. Slane Farm Hostel Rock Farm Glamping Conyngham Arms

  • Top ChoiceSights in Vondelpark & the South

    Vondelpark

    Attracting over 12 million visitors per year, Amsterdam’s favorite playground is the green expanse of Vondelpark, with its 116 acres (47 hectares) of manicured lawns, ponds, quaint cafes, charming footbridges and winding paths. It holds a special place in the city’s heart ­– a lush green egalitarian space where people from all walks of life hang out. On a sunny day, an open-air party atmosphere ensues when tourists, lovers, cyclists, in-line skaters, pram-pushing parents, cartwheeling children, football-kicking teenagers, spliff-sharing friends and champagne-swilling picnickers all come out to play. Located southwest of the city center close to the wealthy Old South neighborhood, Vondelpark is free and open all day and night, year-round, offering plenty of activities and events ­from cycling to open-air theatre. History of Vondelpark Originally Vondelpark was a private park, only open to the rich. Its sprawling, English-style gardens were laid out on marshland by architect Jan David Zocher and opened in 1865. Between 1875 and 1877, Zocher’s son, Louis Paul, expanded the park to its current size. It was known as Nieuw Park (New Park), but in 1867 a statue of poet and playwright Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679) was created by sculptor Louis Royer. Amsterdammers began to refer to the park as Vondelspark, which led to it being formally renamed. During the late 1960s and early 70s, Dutch authorities turned the park into a temporary open-air dormitory for the droves of hippies who descended on Amsterdam. The sleeping bags are long gone, but remnants of the era live on in the squats that fringe the park, such as OT301 and OCCII, now both legalized into underground cultural centers. Vondelpark was bought by the City Council in 1953 and finally opened to the public. It was listed as a national monument in the mid-1990s and underwent major renovations to incorporate an extensive drainage system and refurbished walking and cycling paths, while retaining its historic appearance. What is there to do in the park? Theater and events There is a wonderful open-air theatre, Openluchttheater, in the park that hosts events from May to September, such as classical music concerts, stand-up comedy and plays. For something a bit more alternative, check out what’s on at Vondelbunker ­– a hidden-away space beneath the 1e Constantjin Huygensstraat bridge. This former fallout shelter, dating from 1947, became Amsterdam's first youth center in 1968 and was a hotbed of hippie creativity and activism. Check the website for upcoming happenings, from gigs and film nights to poetry. Open-air art Artwork is dotted around the park, with 69 sculptures all up. Among them is Picasso’s huge abstract work Figure découpée l’Oiseau ( The Bird; 1965), known locally as The Fish, which he donated for the park’s centenary. Rose garden Take in the heady scent in the lovely rose garden. Added to the park in 1935, there are some 70 different species here. It’s in the middle of the park; signs point the way. Bike rental Join the locals zipping around the park’s winding paths on a bike ride. For bicycle rentals, MacBike is fairly close to the park’s main entrance. They have a range of bikes for hire, including kids’ bikes and e-bikes. Prices start at around €5 per hour. Running Joggers can often be seen tearing around the park, working up a sweat. A good route to follow is the paved outer path, which is 2 miles long (3.2 km). Opening hours and other practicalities Vondelpark is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the year. Entry is free. Tours Bespoke tours of the park are available for €35 (for a small group). Lasting 90 minutes, guides offer themed tours around history, nature and architecture. Book 1-3 months in advance via the website. Car parking There is no car parking at the park and only limited (and pricey) on-street parking nearby. Try Emmalaan for on-street parking, else your best garage parking can to the northwest of the park at ParkBee Conscious Hotel Vondelpark (from €3.50 an hour). Where to eat and drink nearby Located in the former Vondelpark pavilion at the northeastern end of the park, Vondelpark3 is a stylish and comfortable cafe with a large terrace overlooking the pond – perfect for a morning coffee or sunset drink. Het Groot Melkhuis is a rambling Swiss-chalet-style timber house sitting at the edge of the Vondelpark forest. It houses a cafe serving coffees, beers, wine and light snacks. With a playground and sandpits, it’s the go-to hangout for families with young kids. No, it's not a blue and white UFO cake stand landed in the park, Proeflokaal 't Blauwe Theehuis is the Vondelpark outpost of local brewery heroes Brouwerij ’t IJ. Opened in late 2019, it is the perfect place to while away a sunny afternoon with excellent craft beer on the large circular terrace. Nearby hotels Practically in the Vondelpark, Stayokay is a HI-affiliated hostel that attracts a mix of international backpackers, families and groups. Renovated in 2018, this huge hostel offers private rooms and fresh mixed, female- and male-only dorms sleeping from two to nine, with lockers, private bathrooms and well-spaced bunks. Breakfast is a cut above most hostels and there's a plant-filled spacious lobby bar-cafe with workspaces and quiet nooks. Conscious Hotel Vondelpark is a friendly place to stay, close to Overtoom restaurants and green Vondelpark. It wears its eco-heart on its sleeve, with a plant wall in the lobby, self-sustaining pot plants in the rooms, huge floral murals, and recycled materials made into artful furnishings (including pressed-cardboard bathroom benchtops). Pillows Anna van den Vondel is a grown-up boutique hotel with exemplary service, housed in a row of three grand, red-and-white-striped 19th-century mansions. Rooms come with views over its private tranquil English garden. Beds are clothed in soft, white linen, walls are gentle dove-grey, and chairs have a mid-century look and pale-blue crushed-velvet upholstery. A bedside device makes ordering room service a breeze.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Western Canal Ring

    Anne Frank Huis

    Visiting the Anne Frank Huis is one of Amsterdam 's most profound experiences. Tragically, of the 107,000 Jewish adults and children deported from the Netherlands to concentration camps during WWII, only 5000 survived. Entering the "Secret Annexe" where the teenaged girl and her family desperately hid from the Nazis for over two years until their capture puts the Holocaust's atrocities into acutely human scale, intimately personalizing the war's catastrophic effects. Standing in these sombre, airless rooms and viewing the diary Anne wrote while hiding here is impossible to forget. History of Anne Frank and her family Born in Germany in 1929, Anne Frank, along with her sister Margot and parents Otto and Edith, fled when Hitler came to power in 1933. The family settled in Amsterdam, where Otto Frank founded companies selling pectin, meat, and sausage seasoning in offices and warehouses on Amsterdam's Prinsengracht canal. Following Germany's invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, Otto and his colleague Hermann van Pels – assisted by helpers who would provide invaluable supplies throughout their stay – set up a hiding place in a "Secret Annexe" of Otto's work premises in spring 1942. For Anne's 13th birthday in June that year she received her red plaid diary. In July, when Margot was summoned to Nazi Germany, the family took refuge in the hideout. The Franks were soon joined by Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste and their son Peter, and later by another friend, dentist Fritz Pfeffe. Here they lived in uncertainty, with blacked-out windows and daytime silence, for what would be just over two years. Anne spent the days writing in her diary about the experience and her hopes and dreams for the future. In August 1944, however, the Gestapo arrived when the hiders were mysteriously betrayed. Their furniture was seized by the Nazis and all eight were deported. Anne died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945 just weeks before its liberation, aged only 15. Her diary was salvaged from the ransacked annexe, and published by her father, Otto, the sole survivor, immortalizing Anne's story and life. The diary has since sold millions of copies and been translated into more than 70 languages; copies are on sale at the museum's bookshop. What to see at Anne Frank Huis Inside, within the modern shell's interior that now contains the house, the lower levels present history using interactive technology, such as WWII newsreels overlaid with narration of Anne’s diary. You can view the offices of Otto Frank's business partner and other colleagues who helped the hiders, with displays of personal effects and documents. Passing the bookcase that swings open on hinges and going inside the "Secret Annexe" of the achterhuis (rear house) provides a sharp contrast. These two floors, below the attic and above the office kitchen, feel frozen in 1942. Anne's pictures of Hollywood stars and Dutch royals still adorn the walls of her small bedroom, which she shared with Fritz Pfeffer. In the mornings, the families could not use the bathroom to avoid alerting the warehouse workers to their presence; their midday meal was taken with their helpers only when the staff went home for lunch. At Otto's request, the annexe remains unfurnished, but after the museum opened in 1960, he had models made of the house that convey the cramped conditions of the carefully concealed layout. After visiting the annexe, you can view more haunting videos in the front house, along with exhibits including Anne's diary, alone in a glass case. Tickets and tours Capacity is limited at the small museum. It's compulsory to purchase tickets in advance online, when you need to choose a timeslot for your visit. Be aware that tickets can't be changed or refunded. Evocative audio guides in multiple languages are included in admission. While there are no guided tours, when booking your tickets, you can add on an "introductory program" (available in English, not suitable for under 10s). This 30-minute talk prior to your museum visit equips you with an in-depth understanding of the house, the war and persecution of the Jewish people. Best time to visit The Anne Frank Huis is open daily with exceptions noted on its website. Evenings tend to be quietest, often making this the best time to visit. How long does it take to visit? Allow around an hour to visit Anne Frank Huis (plus an extra half-an-hour if you've booked an "introductory program"). Once you've arrived for your ticket's time slot, you're free to take as much time as needed. Accessibility Steep stairs make accessing parts of the Anne Frank Huis difficult for visitors with limited mobility. Photography Photography is banned to preserve the house's exhibits and contemplative atmosphere. Nearby hotels Close to the Anne Frank Huis in the elegant Western Canal Ring, 't Hotel, in a 17th-century canal house, is a boutique top-end address. In the nearby Jordaan neighborhood there are some great mid-range places to stay like the welcoming Linden Hotel. Good cheap hotels near the Anne Frank Huis include the train-themed A-Train Hotel, located opposite Centraal Station in the Medieval Center, which also has plenty of hostels. Nearby restaurants The Anne Frank Huis has a museum cafe overlooking the Prinsengracht. Nearby you'll find excellent restaurants for lunch and dinner, such as charming Bistro Bij Ons, serving classic Dutch dishes including pancakes. Spanjer en van Twist is a perfect choice for burgers at its canal-side tables (don't miss its house-made apple pie). Low-lit Black & Blue specializes in steaks and mixes terrific cocktails.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mystras

    Mystras

    Spread over a steep mountainside and surrounded by verdant olive and orange trees, this former Byzantine capital and fortified city is the single most compelling set of medieval ruins in Greece. Treading the cobblestones, worn smooth by centuries of footsteps, you can walk with the ghosts, ducking into the ruins of palaces, monasteries and churches, most dating from between 1271 and 1460. History The Frankish leader Guillaume de Villehardouin built the fortress in 1249. When the Byzantines won back the Morea from the Franks, Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologos made Mystras its capital and seat of government. Settlers from the surrounding plains began to move here, seeking refuge from the invading Slavs. From this time until Dimitrios surrendered to the Turks in 1460, a despot of Morea (usually a son or brother of the ruling Byzantine emperor) lived and reigned at Mystras. While the empire plunged into decline elsewhere, Mystras enjoyed a renaissance. Gemistos Plethon (1355–1452) founded a school of humanistic philosophy here and his enlightened ideas, including the revival of the teachings of Plato and Pythagoras, attracted intellectuals from all corners of Byzantium. Art and architecture also flourished, as seen in the town's splendid buildings and frescoes. Mystras declined under Ottoman rule, but thrived again after the Venetians captured it in 1687 and developed a flourishing silk industry. The population swelled to 40,000. The Turks recaptured the town in 1715 and from then it was downhill all the way; it was burned during the Orlov uprising in 1770 and Ibrahim Pasha torched what was left in 1825. By the time of independence it was a largely abandoned ruin, and the refounding of nearby Sparta in 1834 contributed to the decline, though Mystras remained inhabited until 1953. Much restoration has taken place since the 1950s (and continues to this day) and in 1989 it was declared a Unesco World Heritage site. Touring Mystras At least half a day is needed to do justice to the ruins of Mystras. The site is divided into three interconnected sections – the kastro (the fortress on the summit), the hora (upper town) and the kato hora (lower town). The fortress (upper) gate is between the kastro and the hora, while the lower gate is at the bottom of the kato hora. The following route takes in some of the site's top highlights: The fortress From the upper-entrance ticket office, the right-hand path (signposted ‘Castle’) leads up to the fortress; it's a 10-minute ascent. The fortress was built by the Franks and extended by the Turks; the views of the Lakonia plain, spread out below, are nothing short of fantastic. Agia Sofia The left-hand path descends from the ticket office to Agia Sofia, which served as the palace church and burial ground for several emperors' wives; some frescoes survive in a side chapel, including a well-preserved Birth of the Virgin Mary over the doorway. Steps descend from here via the church of Agios Nikolaos to a T-junction. Convent of Pantanassa Head right, through the Monemvasia Gate, the former entrance to the lower town, and on to the well-preserved 14th-century Convent of Pantanassa. Featuring a beautifully ornate stone-carved facade, it is still maintained by nuns, Mystras’ only inhabitants besides the motley crew of stray cats. The convent is an elaborate, perfectly proportioned building that's never overstated. The exquisite, richly coloured 15th-century frescoes here are among the finest examples of late-Byzantine art. Look out for the tiny stamped silver and gold votive offerings beneath the large icon of the Virgin. You’ll find images of eyes, ears, legs, arms, breasts, babies, husbands and wives stamped onto these small tablets, depending on the problems for which the faithful have come seeking aid. It's a continuation of a long tradition going back to Classical Greece and beyond. The nuns may provide wraps to cover your legs. Monastery of Perivleptos The path continues down, via an impressive mansion house, to the exceptional Monastery of Perivleptos, which is built into a rock and tucked away in a pine grove at the far end of the site. Inside, the 14th-century frescoes, preserved virtually intact, equal those of Pantanassa. It's an extraordinary place. The marble-floored church has a dome in whose centre you'll find the Pantokrator (depiction of Christ as the universal, all-powerful ruler) surrounded by the Apostles, and the Virgin flanked by two angels. Mitropolis (Cathedral of Agios Dimitrios) Continue down towards the Mitropolis (Cathedral of Agios Dimitrios), a complex of buildings enclosed by a high wall. The original church was built in the 1200s, but was greatly altered in the 15th century. The church stands in an attractive courtyard surrounded by stoas and balconies. Its impressive ecclesiastical ornaments and furniture include a marble iconostasis, an intricately carved wooden throne, and a marble slab in the floor featuring a two-headed eagle (the symbol of Byzantium) located on the exact site where the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI, was crowned in 1449 (he died in battle during the fall of Constantinople in 1453). The church also has some fine frescoes. Exhibits at the small but modern museum upstairs include fragments of ancient cloth, buttons, jewellery and other everyday items. Tickets and other practicalities The ticket price to enter Mystras is €12. Entry to the site is free every first Sunday from November 1st to March 31st. Aim to start early in the morning to beat the tour groups, wear comfortable shoes and bring water (you can refill at the convent).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ancient Rome

    Palatino

    Sandwiched between the Roman Forum and the Circo Massimo, the Palatino (Palatine Hill) is one of Rome's most spectacular sights. It's a beautiful, atmospheric spot, complete with towering pine trees, majestic ruins and unforgettable views. This is where Romulus supposedly founded the city in 753 BCE, and Rome's emperors lived in palatial luxury. Look out for the stadio (stadium), the ruins of the Domus Flavia (imperial palace), and grandstand views over the Roman Forum from the viewing balcony in the Orti Farnesiani. Rome’s mythical founders, twin brothers Romulus and Remus, were supposedly brought up on the Palatino by a shepherd, Faustulus, after a wolf saved them from death. Their shelter, the 8th century BCE Capanne Romulee (Romulean Huts), is situated near the Casa di Augusto. In 2007 the discovery of a mosaic-covered cave 15m (49ft) beneath the Domus Augustana reignited interest in the legend. According to some scholars, this was the "Lupercale," the cave where ancient Romans thought Romulus and Remus had been suckled by the wolf. History Roman myth holds that Romulus established Rome on the Palatino after he killed Remus in a fit of rage. Archaeological evidence, however, puts the establishment of a village here to the early Iron Age (around 830 BCE). As the most central of Rome's seven hills, and because it was close to the Roman Forum, the Palatino was the ancient city's most exclusive neighborhood. The emperor Augustus lived here all his life, and successive emperors built increasingly opulent palaces – in fact, the word "palace" is derived from the hill's Latin name, "Palatium." But after Rome's decline, the area fell into disrepair, and in the Middle Ages churches and castles were built over the ruins. During the Renaissance, members of wealthy families had landscaped gardens laid out on the site. Most of the Palatino as it appears today is covered by the ruins of Emperor Domitian's vast complex, which served as the main imperial palace for 300 years. Divided into the Domus Flavia, Domus Augustana, and a stadio, it was built in the 1st century CE. What to see On entering the complex from the main entrance on Via di San Gregorio, continue left until you come to a gate giving onto a path (open 9am to 3pm). This skirts the hill's southern flank, offering good views up to the ruins and providing a clear chronology of the Palatino's development – as you walk, you're essentially going back in time as the ruins become increasingly older. Back on the main site, the first recognizable construction you come to is the stadio. This sunken area, which was part of the main imperial palace, was probably used by the emperors for private games and events. A path to the side of it leads to the towering remains of a complex built by Septimius Severus, comprising baths and a palace. Here you can enjoy sweeping views over the Circo Massimo and, if they're open, visit the Arcate Severiane , a series of arches built to facilitate further development. On the other side of the stadio are the ruins of the huge Domus Augustana, the emperor's private quarters in the imperial palace. This was built on two levels, with rooms leading off a peristilio (peristyle or porticoed courtyard) on each floor. You can't get down to the lower level, but from above you can see the basin of a big, square fountain and beyond it rooms that would originally have been paved in colored marble. Also here are the Aula Isiaca and Loggia Mattei, two of several sites accessible with a SUPER ticket. The former is a frescoed room from a luxurious Republican-era house, while the latter is a Renaissance loggia decorated by Baldassarre Peruzzi. The white building next to the Domus Augustana is the Museo Palatino, a small museum which charts the development of the Palatino with video presentations, models and archaeological finds. North of the museum is the Domus Flavia, the public part of the palace complex. This was centered on a grand columned peristyle – the grassy area you see with the base of an octagonal fountain – off which the main halls led. To the north was the emperor's audience chamber ( aula Regia); to the west, a basilica where the emperor judged legal disputes; and to the south, a large banquet hall, the triclinium. Near the Domus, the Casa di Livia is one of the Palatino's best preserved buildings. Home to Augustus' wife Livia, it was built around an atrium leading onto what were once reception rooms decorated with frescoes of mythological scenes, landscapes, fruits and flowers. Nearby, the Casa di Augusto, Augustus' private residence, features some superb frescoes in vivid reds, yellows and blues. Near to the Casa di Augusto, but closed off to visitors, are the Capanne Romulee, where it's thought Romulus and Remus were brought up by a local shepherd named Faustulus. Northeast of the Casa di Livia lies the Criptoportico Neroniano, a 130m (427ft) tunnel where Caligula was thought to have been murdered, and which Nero later used to connect his Domus Aurea with the Palatino. The area west of this was once Tiberius' palace, the Domus Tiberiana, but is now home to the 16th century Orti Farnesiani, one of Europe's earliest botanical gardens. A viewing balcony at the northern end of the garden commands breathtaking views over the Roman Forum. Tickets and other practicalities Access to the Casa di Livia and Casa di Augusto requires the SUPER ticket and is by guided tour only. The ticket, valid for two consecutive days, covers the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatino. Numbers are limited, so it's best to book an entry time when you buy your ticket.

  • Top ChoiceSights in El Retiro & the Art Museums

    Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

    The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is one of the three points composing Madrid ’s Golden Triangle of Art along the Paseo del Prado (Art Walk), together with the Museo del Prado and the Reina Sofía. Once a privately owned art collection started by the Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, and later on expanded by his son Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Thyssen is home to a magnificent collection of nearly 1,000 paintings from several of the world’s most celebrated artists, from Dalí to Degas, Rembrandt to Renoir, and van Eyck to Van Gogh among several others. While the Prado and Reina Sofía’s massive size allows you to delve into the life’s work of a particular artist, which could take days to fully explore, the Thyssen’s relatively compact size offers visitors with limited time the memorable experience of immersing in a wide and varied range of artistic styles and periods from the 13th to the 20th century. History of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum The story of how the Thyssen family’s prized art collection moved from an aristocrat’s private gallery housed in Switzerland to the Spanish capital is a curious one that spans three generations. The Thyssen Museum’s earliest pieces could be traced to the seven sculptural groups of Auguste Rodin, which were commissioned by August Thyssen — the German industrialist and founder of the steel and iron Thyssen empire in the late 19th century. After his death, his third son Heinrich continued the family tradition of collecting art, acquiring major pieces in the 1920s. Heinrich had gained noble status after marrying the daughter of the Hungarian Baron Gabor Bornemisza de Kászon, Margit, and later adopted the surname Thyssen-Bornemisza. Between 1933 and 1935, Heinrich added many pieces to the collection, including Jan van Eyck’s “The Annunciation” and Caravaggio’s “Saint Catherine of Alexandria.” As his collection grew, he bought the palace of Villa Favorita in Lugano, Switzerland, to build an art gallery where he could privately exhibit his collection to guests. Upon Heinrich’s death in 1947, his treasured art collection went to his youngest son, the Baron Hans Heinrich. He further expanded his father’s collection to include avant-garde styles and modern art, and eventually opened the Villa Favorita gallery to the public. Wishing to preserve his collection, the Baron explored the possibility of expanding Villa Favorita in a foreign location. Subsequently, he received multiple offers from several German cities, the Getty Foundation, and the Spanish government. Owing to the influence of his Spanish wife, Carmen Cervera, the Baron eventually took his collection to Spain and loaned 775 works to the Spanish state in 1988. In June 1993, these were sold to the Spanish state for 350 million dollars. Baron Hans Heinrich bequeathed most of his paintings to Carmen Cervera, who continues to lend these paintings to the museum as part of the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza collection. Museum highlights A good way to explore the Thyssen’s treasures is to do it chronologically, by starting on the top (second) floor and working your way down. The second floor showcases medieval art, including 13th and 14th century Italian, German and Flemish religious paintings and triptychs. Room 11 features masterpieces by El Greco and his Venetian contemporaries Tintoretto and Titian, while Room 14 and 15 display paintings by mid-century Spanish masters Zurbarán and Murillo. Aficionados of Dutch and Flemish art would not want to miss Rooms 19 to 21, which showcase works from Rembrandt, Rubens and van Dyck. The top-floor highlights are Rooms A to H, which showcase the impressive collection of Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, including masterpieces from Boudin, Canaletto, Courbet, Fragonard, Matisse, Picasso and Renoir, among several others. The museum's first floor is home to an exquisite assembly of 19th-century French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings by Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, Pissarro Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh. Finally, the Thyssen’s ground floor is a toast to contemporary 20th-century art, with works from Cubist and Surrealist masters, including Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Chagall and Salvador Dalí. Here is also where you can gaze at celebrated pop art and expressionist paintings from Lichtenstein and Jackson Pollock, a highly charged contrast to the medieval religious-inspired art at the start of your tour. Thematic tours and temporary exhibitions One curated way to experience the Thyssen’s collection, especially if you don’t have too much time to explore all its rooms, is taking a thematic tour marked by special routes according to specific themes such as food, wine, fashion or love and sensuality. It’s not hard to understand why the Thyssen has embraced the motto, “Everyone’s Museum” — its layout is quite the opposite of the stuffy museum stereotype. There’s a vibrant, open and friendly atmosphere enlivened by regular open-air concerts, temporary exhibitions, educational programs for the youth, as well as free entry on Monday afternoons. After an enriching day of art appreciation, the Thyssen’s lobby and open-air terraces by the courtyard and garden are a welcoming setting for guests to enjoy cocktails and art-soaked conversations. Tickets and opening hours It is highly recommended that you book tickets in advance, especially during weekends when the museum gets packed. Full access tickets (EUR13) and tickets with an audio guide (EUR18) can be reserved online on the Thyssen website. The museum offers free entry on Mondays all year round from 12:00nn to 4:00pm.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ancient Rome

    Colosseum

    Why you should go Everyone wants to see the Colosseum, and it doesn’t disappoint, especially if accompanied by tales of armored gladiators and hungry lions. More than any other monument, this iconic amphitheater symbolizes the power and drama of ancient Rome, and still today it’s an electrifying sight. Inaugurated in 80 CE, the 50,000-seat Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, has survived in remarkably good shape. And it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to picture it in its pomp, with its steeply stacked stands full of frenzied spectators as armored gladiators slug it out on the arena below. After 2000 years, it's still Italy's top tourist attraction, drawing more than seven million visitors a year. To avoid the crowds, visit in the early morning or late afternoon. Consider booking tickets online, and make sure to get in the right entry line – the quickest are for those with pre-purchased tickets or passes. History The emperor Vespasian (r 69–79 CE) originally commissioned the amphitheater in 72 CE in the grounds of Nero's vast Domus Aurea complex. But he never lived to see it finished, and it was completed by his son and successor Titus (r 79–81) a year after his death. To mark its inauguration, Titus held games that lasted 100 days and nights, during which some 5000 animals were slaughtered. Trajan (r 98–117) later topped this, holding a marathon 117-day killing spree involving 9000 gladiators and 10,000 animals. The arena was originally named the "Anfiteatro Flavio" after Vespasian's family (Flavian), and although it was Rome’s most fearsome arena, it wasn’t the biggest – the Circo Massimo could hold up to 250,000 people. The name "Colosseum," when introduced in medieval times, was not a reference to its size but to the Colosso di Nerone, a giant statue of Nero that stood nearby. The outer walls have three levels of arches, framed by decorative columns topped by capitals of the Ionic (at the bottom), Doric and Corinthian (at the top) orders. They were originally covered in travertine and marble statues filled the niches on the second and third stories. The upper level, punctuated with windows and slender Corinthian pilasters, had supports for the 240 masts that held the awning over the arena, shielding the spectators from sun and rain. The 80 entrance arches, known as "vomitoria," allowed the spectators to enter and be seated in a matter of minutes. The Colosseum's interior was divided into three parts: the arena, cavea and podium. The arena had a wooden floor covered in sand – "harena" in Latin, hence the word "arena" – to prevent the combatants from slipping and to soak up spilled blood. Trapdoors led down to underground chambers and passageways beneath the arena floor – the hypogeum (aka Sotterranei del Colosseo). Animals in cages and sets for the various battles were hoisted up to the arena by 80 winch-operated lifts. The cavea, for spectator seating, was divided into three tiers: magistrates and senior officials sat in the lowest tier, wealthy citizens in the middle and the plebs in the highest tier. Women (except for Vestal Virgins) were relegated to the cheapest sections at the top. The podium, a broad terrace in front of the tiers of seats, was reserved for emperors, senators and VIPs. With the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Colosseum was abandoned. In the Middle Ages it became a fortress occupied by the powerful Frangipani family. Later, it was plundered of its precious travertine, and marble stripped from it was used to decorate notable buildings such as Palazzo Venezia, Palazzo Barberini and Palazzo Cancelleria. More recently, pollution and vibrations caused by traffic and the metro have taken a toll. To help counter this, it was given a major clean up between 2014 and 2016, the first in its 2000-year history, as part of an ongoing €25-million  ($30 million-plus) restoration project. Tickets and other practicalities General admission tickets and tours can be purchased online for €16 ($19.21) plus a €2 ($2.40) booking fee. Valid for 24 hours, each ticket allows one entrance to the Colosseum and one entrance to the Forum-Palatine area. A ticket purchased on Friday can be used on Monday. You might also consider getting the Roma Pass or SUPER ticket. If you don't want to buy a ticket online, and the lines onsite are long, you can get your ticket at the Palatino. The top three floors (known collectively as the "Terrazzo Belvedere") and hypogeum are accessible only by guided tour. These require advance booking and there is an additional charge on top of the normal Colosseum ticket. A guided tour of the Colosseum's main area can be booked for an additional fee as well. Basic full-price admission tickets can be pre-printed; others (reduced/free/tours) must be picked up on site. Print your ticket rather than relying on a saved smartphone version. The Colosseum is open from 10:30am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday and is closed Saturday and Sunday. Visitors are screened at security checkpoints. Glass containers, alcoholic beverages, aerosols, backpacks, bulky bags and luggage are prohibited. Medium and small backpacks will be inspected. Nearby restaurants Avoid the rip-off restaurants in the immediate vicinity. Instead push on to the area east of the Colosseum for a light casual meal at Cafè Cafè. Alternatively, head up to Via Cavour where Cavour 313 is a good bet for a glass of wine accompanied by platters of cheese and cured meats.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Argolis

    Ancient Mycenae

    On a hilltop backed by powerful mountains stand the sombre and mighty ruins of Ancient Mycenae, home of Agamemnon, the legendary king who commanded the Greeks during the Trojan War. For four centuries in the second millennium BC, this kingdom was the most powerful in Greece, holding sway over the whole region and influencing other Mycenaean cities. History The World Heritage-listed Mycenae is synonymous with the names Homer and Schliemann. In the 9th century BC Homer told in his epic poems, 'Iliad' and 'Odyssey', of ‘well-built Mycenae, rich in gold’. These poems were, until the 19th century, regarded as no more than gripping and beautiful legends. But in the 1870s the amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann (1822–90), despite derision from professionals, struck gold, first at Troy then at Mycenae. This link, between the mythical and factual, runs thick through Mycenae's history. According to Homer, the city was founded by Perseus, the son of Danae (a princess) and Zeus (a god); and by King Agamemnon’s time, the Royal House of Atreus, which ruled Mycenae, was the most powerful of the Achaeans (Homer’s name for the Greeks). Whether Agamemnon and his family ever existed is uncertain. However, the archaeological facts are that Mycenae was first settled in the Neolithic period and came to prominence in the late Bronze Age, from about 1600 BC. In the wake of the Indo-European wave that arrived in Greece between 2100 and 1900 BC, and influenced by the already-present Minoan and Cycladic civilisations, an advanced culture developed on the mainland. This new civilisation is now referred to as the Mycenaean, named after its most powerful kingdom. The other kingdoms included Pylos, Tiryns, Corinth and Argos, all in the Peloponnese. Evidence of Mycenaean civilisation has also been found at Thiva (Thebes) and Athens. The city of Mycenae consisted of a fortified citadel and surrounding settlement, at its height from 1450 to 1200 BC. Due to the sheer size of the 'Cyclopean' walls (13m high and 7m thick), formed by stone blocks weighing 6 tonnes in places, legend has it that Perseus enlisted the help of a Cyclops, one of the one-eyed giants described in the Odyssey, to build Mycenae. Archaeological evidence indicates that the palaces of the Mycenaean kingdoms declined sometime around 1200 BC and the palace itself was destroyed around 1180 BC, possibly by fire. Whether the destruction was the work of outsiders or due to internal division between the various Mycenaean kingdoms remains unresolved. Through the entrance gate, it's worth stopping by the Ancient Mycenae Museum (entrance included in the general ticket price) for additional context. Touring Ancient Mycenae Lion Gate Agamemnon's fortress is entered through the dramatic Lion Gate, a solid construction of massive stone blocks over which rear two large lions. This motif is believed to have been the insignia of the Royal House of Atreus. Grave Circle A Once inside the citadel, Grave Circle A is on the right. This was the royal cemetery and contained six grave shafts. Five shafts were excavated by Schliemann between 1874 and 1876, uncovering one of the richest archaeological hauls ever to be found, including a well-preserved gold death mask. Schliemann sent a telegram to the Greek king stating, ‘I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon’, though the mask is thought to have belonged to a ruler who lived centuries before the era when the Trojan War might have taken place. Agamemnon’s Palace Follow the main path up to Agamemnon’s Palace, accessed through what was once a monumental doorway. The rooms on the north side of the palace were likely private royal apartments (where Agamemnon was supposedly murdered). On the palace's southeastern side is the megaron (reception hall where the great hearth would have been), with the column bases remaining. Beyond this are buildings that probably served as artisans' workshops. The valley views from the top of the hill here are phenomenal. Secret cistern Head down to the northeast extension, and you'll find the entrance to the secret cistern in the corner. This marvellous vaulted tunnel, a masterpiece of engineering at the time, descends via dark steps (half-heartedly roped off) to a spring. Follow the main path anticlockwise and on the northern boundary of the citadel you'll come across the Postern Gate, through which, it is said, Orestes escaped after murdering his mother, Clytemnestra. Tombs Until the late 15th century BC the Mycenaeans interred their royal dead in shaft graves; later they used a new form of burial – the beehive-shaped tholos tomb. Back outside the Lion Gate, head down to the tholos tombs of Aegisthus, with its collapsed roof, and Clytemnestra's Tomb, with its dramatic entrance and dome roof. Near the museum, the Lion Tomb is also impressive, while another Mycenae highlight, the Treasury of Atreus, also known as Agamemnon's Tomb, is found 500m down the road from the car park, beyond the main Mycenae site. Tickets and other practicalities The entrance fee to the Ancient Mycenae site is €12 and includes access to the main complex, the Ancient Mycenae Museum and Treasury of Atreus. Two to three daily buses (excluding Sundays) head to Mycenae from Nafplio (journey time: one hour) via Argos. Buses stop in Mykines village, continuing the 1.3km to the site from April to October. A return taxi from Nafplio with waiting time is around €70.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The West End

    Westminster Abbey

    A splendid mixture of architectural styles, Westminster Abbey is considered the finest example of Early English Gothic. It's not merely a beautiful place of worship – the Abbey is still a working church and the stage on which history unfolds. Never a cathedral (the seat of a bishop), Westminster Abbey is what is called a "royal peculiar", administered by the Crown. Inside Westminster Abbey At the heart of the Abbey is the beautifully tiled sanctuary, the stage for coronations, royal weddings and funerals. Architect George Gilbert Scott designed the ornate High Altar in 1873. In front of the altar is the Cosmati Pavement, dating to 1268. It has intricate designs of small pieces of stone and glass inlaid into plain marble, which symbolize the universe at the end of time (an inscription claims the world will end after 19,683 years). At the entrance to the lovely Chapel of St John the Baptist is a sublime translucent alabaster Virgin and Child, placed here in 1971. The most sacred spot in the Abbey is the shrine of St Edward the Confessor, which lies behind the High Altar; access is restricted to guided tours to protect the fragile 13th-century flooring. King Edward, long considered a saint before he was canonised, was the founder of the Abbey, and the original building was consecrated a few weeks before his death in 1066. Henry III added a new shrine with Cosmati mosaics in the mid-12th century where the sick prayed for healing – and also chipped off a few souvenirs to take home. The Quire (choir), a stunning space of gold, blue and red Victorian Gothic above a black-and-white chequerboard tiled floor, dates to the mid-19th century. It sits where the original choir for the monks' worship would have been but bears little resemblance to the original. Nowadays, the Quire is still used for singing, but its regular occupants are the Choir of Westminster Abbey – about 30 boys and 12 "lay vicars" (men) who sing the services and evensong. Henry VII's magnificent Perpendicular Gothic–style Lady Chapel, with an impressive fan-vaulted ceiling and tall stained-glass windows is at the eastern end of the church. Opened in 2018, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries are a museum and gallery space located in the medieval triforium, the arched gallery above the nave. Among its exhibits are the death masks and wax effigies of generations of royalty, armor and stained glass. Highlights are the graffiti-inscribed chair used for the coronation of Mary II, the beautifully illustrated manuscripts of the Litlyngton Missal from 1380 and the 13th-century Westminster Retable, England's oldest surviving altarpiece. At the western end of the nave near the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, killed in France during WWI and laid to rest here in 1920, is St George's Chapel, which contains the rather ordinary-looking Coronation Chair, upon which every monarch since the early 14th century has been crowned (apart from joint monarchs Mary II and William III, who had their own chairs fashioned for the event in 1689). Apart from the royal graves, keep an eye out for the many famous commoners interred here, especially in Poets' Corner, where you'll find the resting places of Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Alfred Tennyson, Samuel Johnson and Rudyard Kipling, as well as memorials to the other greats (William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters etc). Another set of illustrious stones is in Scientists' Corner near the north aisle of the nave, including the final resting places of Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and the ashes of Stephen Hawking. The octagonal Chapter House dates from the 1250s and was where the monks would meet for daily prayer and their job assignments, before Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries some three centuries later. To the right of the entrance to Chapter House is what's claimed to be the oldest door in Britain – it’s been there since the 1050s. Used as a treasury, the crypt-like Pyx Chamber dates from about 1070 and takes its name from boxes that held gold and silver to be tested for purity to make coins. History Much of the Abbey's architecture is from the 13th century, but it was founded much earlier, in AD 960. Henry III began work on the new Abbey building in 1245 but didn't complete it; the Gothic nave was finished under Richard II in 1388. The Lady Chapel was completed after 13 years of construction in 1516. For centuries, the country's greatest have been interred here, including 17 monarchs from King Henry III (1272) to King George II (1760). Every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned here, with the exception of a couple of Eds who were either murdered (Edward V) or abdicated (Edward VIII) before the magic moment. It has also hosted 16 royal weddings, the most recent being that of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011. Tickets and other practicalities Sightseeing visitors must book their tickets in advance via the website. There is an additional charge for a multimedia guide. The Abbey is open for worship and individual prayer, and there are daily services. Check the website for the schedule. Evensong is 5pm on Tuesdays and 3pm on weekends. Photography is allowed inside the church, but beware that there are restrictions on what you can photograph and when.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Museumsinsel & Alexanderplatz

    Neues Museum

    For over 60 years, not a soul was able to visit Berlin’s Neues Museum – in fact, it sat in ruins. But today it’s one of the city’s most celebrated attractions thanks to an extraordinary architectural design blending past and present with ancient historic collections. After decades of disuse, an extreme makeover for the bombed-out Neues Museum was unveiled in 2009. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, British starchitect David Chipperfield's design incorporates every original shard, scrap and brick that could be found into this dynamic space. Massive stairwells, intimate domed rooms, mural walls and airy, high-ceilinged halls are juxtaposed with modern concrete elements and gray scars on damaged friezes – bringing the neoclassical building’s past into a future that remembers. The collection The collection itself showcases ancestral histories from world cultures. With 8000 sq m over four separate levels, the Neues Museum displays around 9000 historical exhibits spanning the weird, wild and wonderful. There are two permanent collections: the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung (Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection) spanning four millennia’s worth of ancient Egyptian and Nubian artifacts, while the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (Museum of Pre- and Early History) journeys across Europe and the Middle East from the Stone Ages to the Middle Ages. Among all these artifacts, is Berlin’s most coveted – the Nefertiti Bust, which has come to be a cultural symbol for the city over the years. Beyond the Queen’s showstopping likeness, the Egyptian Museum also features mummies, sculptures and sarcophagi. Trojan and Neanderthal relics are placed around the building’s massive stairwells and echoey rooms. One highlight from the Late Egyptian Period (around 400 BCE) is the sculpture of a priest's head carved from a smooth green stone known as the “Berlin Green Head“. Meanwhile, pride of place at the Museum of Pre- and Early History (in the same building) goes to Trojan antiquities, a Neanderthal skull and the 3000-year-old “Berlin Gold Hat", an elaborate headdress made from thin, delicate gold leaf. The history of the Neues Museum The Neues Museum was commissioned by King Frederick William IV of Prussia as an extension for the overflowing Altes Museum. Construction for Museuminsel ’s second building started in 1843 with a design in neoclassical and Renaissance Revival styles by architect Friedrich August Stuler. The Neues Museum opened in 1855 to much fanfare, with its main artifact being Nefertiti's Bust – part of the treasure trove unearthed by a Berlin expedition of archaeologists around 1912 while sifting through the sands of Armana, the royal city built by Nefertiti’s husband, Akhenaten (r 1353–1336 BCE). The museum was closed at the start of WWII in 1939. During the bombings of Berlin, it sustained considerable damage. Airstrikes on November 23, 1943 destroyed the central stairway, frescos and many artifacts. Two years later, in February 1945, Allied bombs destroyed several wings as well as a connecting walkway to the Altes Museum. Post-war, the Neues Museum sat in ruins for decades in former East Berlin. Lesser damaged areas were used for storage by the other buildings on Museuminsel. In 1986, the East German government began restorative work to bring the Neues Museum to its original design, but plans were halted after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The museum's redesign After German reunification, the museum’s redesign was launched as a competition. Renowned architects applied with their ideas, but the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Berlin Senate weren’t keen on any of the proposals. A so-called “closed competition” followed with contracted architectural firms. David Chipperfield, who had already gained a reputation for designs elsewhere in Germany, was officially appointed to take over the project in 1997. Chipperfield’s proposed design conceived the Neues Museum as a blend of old and new. The building’s restoration and repair would be influenced by the preservation of the original structure. New elements would compliment and acknowledge what was lost without an heir of replication. It was important for Chipperfield that traces of WWII damage not be glazed over but respected within a modern context – for example, restoring the original sequence of rooms with the addition of new building sections. It was an architectural plan that was considered controversial by traditionalists who wanted the building restored to its original state, but nevertheless, the reconstruction began in 2003 and the Neues Museum reopened to the public in October 2009. Plan your visit The Neues Museum is one of Berlin’s busiest museums, so be sure to skip the queue by buying your timed ticket online. The main attraction, the sculpture of Queen Nefertiti’s head, is displayed alone in the domed hall in the north of the building near the end. The museum is closed on Mondays. Getting there The Neues Museum is located on Museumsinsel and is easily accessible by public transport. The U5 line stops right outside Museuminsel at Unter den Linden station. The museum is also a short walking distance from the S-Bahn stations Friedrichstraße and Hackescher Markt. Trams M1 and 12 will take you to nearby Kupfergraben, while buses 100 and 200 stop at Lustgarten on Unter den Linden.