Alfama, Lisbon

With its labyrinthine alleyways, hidden courtyards and curving, shadow-filled lanes, the Alfama is a magical place to lose all sense of direction and delve into the soul of the Portuguese capital. On the journey, you'll pass bread-box-sized grocers, brilliantly tiled buildings and cosy taverns filled with easygoing chatter, with the aroma of chargrilled sardines and the mournful rhythms of fado drifting in the breeze. Then you round a bend and catch sight of steeply pitched rooftops leading down to the glittering river, the Tejo.

Alhambra, Granada

In Spain's sultry southern Andalucía region, in the city of Granada, is the Alhambra. The world's most refined example of Islamic art, this palatial World Heritage–listed site is the enduring symbol of 800 years of the Moorish rule of Al-Andalus. The Alhambra's red fortress towers dominate the Granada skyline against the Sierra Nevada's snowcapped peaks, while its geometric Generalife gardens complement the exquisite detail of the Palacio Nazariés, where Arabic inscriptions proliferate in the stucco-work. Put simply, this is Spain's most beautiful monument.

Greek Antiquity

Follow the path of history across Greece's dramatic Mediterranean landscape. From Athens' renowned Acropolis to the monastery-crowned rock spires of Meteora, Greece is home to some of Europe's most impressive historical sights, including the oracular Ancient Delphi, perched above the Gulf of Corinth; Olympia, home to the first Olympic Games; Epidavros' acoustically perfect theatre; and the mystical Sanctuary of Asclepius, an ancient healing centre. Olive and orange groves surround the vast ruins of Mystras, once part of the Byzantine Empire.

Ancient Rome

Rome's famous 'seven hills' (there are actually nine) offer superb vantage points. The Palatino is a gorgeous green expanse of evocative ruins, towering pines and unforgettable views over the Roman Forum, containing the remains of temples, basilicas and public spaces. This was the social, political and commercial hub of the Roman empire, where Romulus supposedly founded the city and where ancient Roman emperors lived in unimaginable luxury. As you walk the cobbled paths you can almost sense the ghosts in the air.

Barcelona's La Sagrada Família

The Modernista brainchild of Antoni Gaudí remains a work in progress close to a century after the architect's death. Wildly fanciful and deeply profound, inspired by nature and barely restrained by a Gothic style, Barcelona's La Sagrada Família climbs skyward; when completed, the highest tower will be more than half as high as today's. The improbable angles and radical departures from architectural convention confound but the decorative detail of the Passion and Nativity Facades are worth studying for hours.

Baroque Salzburg

Salzburg is story-book Austria. A Unesco World Heritage Site with 17th-century cobbled streets, its baroque Altstadt (Old Town) looks much as it did when Mozart lived here (his birth house is now a museum, as is his one-time residence), both from ground level and from the 900-year-old Festung Hohensalzburg cliff-top fortress high above. For many, this is first and foremost Sound of Music country, where you can be whisked into the gorgeous steep hills that are alive with visitors year-round.

Bath

Britain has many beautiful cities, but Bath is the belle of the ball. The Romans built a health resort to take advantage of the steaming-hot water bubbling to the surface here; the springs were rediscovered in the 18th century and Bath became the place to see and be seen in British high society. Today, Bath's Georgian architecture of sweeping crescents, grand town houses, and Palladian mansions (not to mention Roman remains, a beautiful abbey and a 21st-century spa) make the former home town and inspiration of novelist Jane Austen a must.

Belgium's Beer & Chocolate

Belgium has a brew for all seasons, and then some. From tangy Lambics to full-flavoured Trappists, the range of Belgian beer styles is exceptional, each served in its own special glass. You can sip a selection in timeless cafes, hidden in the atmospheric cores of Belgium's great art cities – Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp and Brussels – with their unique blends of medieval and art nouveau architecture; try Au Bon Vieux Temps in Brussels. Belgium also has an unparalleled range of chocolate shops selling melt-in-the-mouth pralines incorporating classic and intriguing new flavour combinations.

Beer-drinking in Munich

The southern German state of Bavaria is synonymous with brewing and its capital, Munich (the country's third-largest city), has an astounding variety of places to drink. There's the rollicking Oktoberfest festival, of course, and then there are the famous beer halls, from the huge and infamous, such as Hofbräuhaus, complete with oompah bands, to the traditional and wonderful, such as Augustiner Bräustuben, inside the Augustiner brewery, as well as sprawling, high-spirited beer gardens like Chinesischer Turm where you can enjoy a frothy, refreshing stein.

Champagne

Name-brand Champagne houses such as Mumm, Mercier and Moët & Chandon, in the main towns of Reims and Épernay, are known the world over. But what's less well known is that much of Champagne's best liquid gold is made by thousands of small-scale vignerons (winemakers) in hundreds of villages. Dozens welcome visitors for a taste and the chance to shop at producers' prices, making the region's scenic driving routes the best way to sample fine bubbly amid rolling vineyards and gorgeous villages.

Coastal Exploring

Hiking the Causeway Coast takes you through some of Northern Ireland's most inspiring coastal scenery, which is famed for its starring role in Game of Thrones. Its grand geological centrepiece is the Giant's Causeway, a World Heritage–listed natural wonder incorporating 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns, built by mythical giant Finn McCool to fight his rival Benandonner in Scotland (or, more prosaically, formed by cooling lava 60 million years ago). Another highlight of this other-worldly hiking route is the nerve-testing challenge of the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge swaying above the rock-strewn water.

Dublin

Ireland's capital city contains all the attractions and distractions of an international metropolis, but manages to retain the intimacy and atmosphere of a small town. Whether you're strolling stately St Stephen's Green, viewing prehistoric treasures and Celtic art at the superb National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, or learning about Ireland’s hard-fought path to independence at Kilmainham Gaol, you're never far from a friendly pub where the craic is flowing. And, of course, you can sink a pint of the black stuff at the original Guinness brewery.

Edinburgh

Renowned for its exuberant festivals and especially lively in the summer, Scotland's atmospheric capital, Edinburgh, is also well worth visiting out of season, to see Edinburgh Castle silhouetted against the blue spring sky with yellow daffodils gracing the slopes below; to see its graceful gardens strewn with autumnal leaves; or witness fog cloaking the spires of the Old Town, with rain on the cobblestones and a warm glow beckoning from the window of a pub on a chilly winter's day.

Eiffel Tower, Paris

Initially designed as a temporary exhibit for the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World's Fair), the elegant, webbed-metal, art-nouveau design of Paris' Eiffel Tower has become the defining fixture of the French capital's skyline. Its 1st floor incorporates two glitzy glass pavilions housing interactive history exhibits; outside them, peer down through glass flooring to the ground below. Visit at dusk for the best day and night views of the glittering City of Light, and toast making it to the top at the sparkling Champagne Bar.

The Matterhorn

It graces Toblerone packages and evokes stereotypical 'Heidi' scenes, but nothing prepares you for the impact of seeing the Matterhorn for yourself. When you arrive at the timber-chalet-filled village of Zermatt, Switzerland's mightiest mountain soars above you, mesmerising you with its chiselled, majestic peak. Gaze at it from a tranquil cafe terrace, hike in its shadow along the tangle of alpine paths above town with cowbells clinking in the distance, or pause on a ski slope to contemplate its sheer size.

The Netherlands by Bike

The nation where everyone rides bikes to commute, to shop, to socialise or just for the sheer enjoyment is perfectly designed for cyclists. Much of the landscape is famously below sea level and pancake-flat; you can glide alongside canals, tulip fields and windmills; there are more than 32,000km of dedicated bike paths; rental outlets are everywhere; and except for motorways there's virtually nowhere bicycles can't go. Even if you just take the occasional spin, it will be a highlight of your travels.

Imperial Vienna

Imagine what you could do with unlimited riches and Austria's top architects at your disposal and you have the Vienna of the Habsburgs. The monumentally graceful Hofburg whisks you back to the age of empires as you marvel at the treasury's imperial crowns, the equine ballet of the Spanish Riding School and the chandelier-lit apartments fit for an empress. The palace is rivalled in grandeur only by the 1441-room Schloss Schönbrunn, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the baroque Schloss Belvedere, both set in exquisite landscaped gardens.

Live Music, London

Music lovers will hear London calling – from the city's famed theatres, concert halls, nightclubs, pubs and even tube stations, where on any given night countless performers take to the stage. Find your own iconic London experience, whether it's the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, an East End singalong around a pub piano, a classic musical in the West End, a superstar-DJ set at one of the city's hottest clubs, or an up-and-coming guitar band at a local boozer.

Luxembourg's Castles

Beyond the gleaming glass banks and high-powered financial centres that help make Luxembourg Europe's wealthiest country, the diminutive Grand Duchy is a picturesque patchwork of undulating fields, thickly wooded hills and deep-cut river valleys. Take in Luxembourg City's extraordinary fortifications along 'Europe's most beautiful balcony', the pedestrian promenade Chemin de la Corniche, which winds along the 17th-century city ramparts. Further afield, Luxembourg's bucolic countryside is strewn with impressive castle ruins. Among the most dramatic are Château de Bourscheid and Vianden.

Remembering the Wall, Berlin

Even after nearly three decades, it's hard to comprehend how the Berlin Wall separated the city for 28 years. The best way to examine its role and ramifications is to make your way – on foot or by bike – along the Berlin Wall Trail. Passing the Brandenburg Gate and analysing graffiti at the East Side Gallery, the world’s largest open-air mural collection, the path brings it all into context. It's heartbreaking and hopeful and sombre, but integral to understanding Germany's capital today.

Santorini

On first view, startling Santorini (Thira) grabs your attention and doesn't let go. The submerged caldera, surrounded by lava-layered cliffs topped by villages that look like a sprinkling of icing sugar, is one of nature's great wonders, best experienced by a walk along the clifftops from the main town of Fira to the northern village of Oia. The precariousness and impermanence of the place is breathtaking. Recover from your efforts with Santorini’s ice-cold Yellow Donkey beer in Oia as you wait for its famed picture-perfect sunset.

Chamonix

Skiing, mountaineering, trekking, canyoning, rafting, you name it, French mountaineering mecca Chamonix, in the glaciated Mont Blanc massif, has it all and more. Afterwards, toast your triumphs at Chamonix' chic après-ski bars before getting up the next day to tackle the area's outdoor challenges all over again. And even if you're not an adrenalin junkie, year-round you can take the vertiginous Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi cable car from Chamonix to the top of Aiguille du Midi and marvel at the unfolding Alpine scenery.

Slow-boating the Rhine

A boat ride through the romantic Rhine Valley between Koblenz and Mainz is one of Germany's most memorable experiences. As you sit back on deck, glorious scenery drifts slowly past like a magic lantern: vineyard-clad hills, idyllic riverside towns and, every now and then, a mighty medieval castle. Stop off for a hearty meal, sample a few of the local wines and spend an hour or two wandering around a half-timbered village – the Rhine is a highlight of any Western Europe trip.

Tuscany

Battalions of books, postcards and lifestyle TV shows try to capture the essence of the enchanting Italian region of Tuscany, but nothing can match experiencing it for yourself. Here, monumental art cities and picture-perfect towns, including its magnificent capital Florence, as well as tower-famed Pisa and medieval Siena, are filled with Renaissance treasures. They vie for visitors' attention with medieval monasteries and rolling hills ribboned by ancient vineyards bathed in golden light. Also vying for attention is some of Italy's finest food and wine.

Venice

There's something especially atmospheric about Venice on a sunny winter's day. With far fewer tourists around and the light sharp and clear, it's the perfect time to lap up the magical atmosphere of the romantic waterways. Wander Dorsoduro's shadowy back lanes while imagining secret assignations and whispered conspiracies at every turn. Then linger in one of Venice's top galleries, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which houses works by many of the giants of 20th-century art in her palatial canalside former home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.