World Heritage Day is one of the highlights of our year at Historic Hotels of Europe. Celebrated on April 18, it’s dedicated to honouring historic sights across the globe - ones that tell stories of cultures and communities gone by - while lauding their vital contribution to modern society. It’s a day that closely mirrors our own philosophy on the importance of our global heritage, and our desire to preserve areas of cultural significance so that they can be appreciated for centuries to come.
Call us biased, but we’d say that there’s lots to appreciate across the continent in particular! Make the most of World Heritage Day in Europe, this year and beyond, with our insights on the best activities, cities and hotels: from the most riveting UNESCO World Heritage sites to Europe’s lesser-known hidey holes and renovated properties. Where will you end up..?
1. St Davids, Wales
Bursting at the seams with charm, Britain’s smallest city is the ideal destination for those looking to celebrate World Heritage Day in Europe. Quaint, cobbled streets and enjoyable eateries are met with brilliant places to soak up Wales’ heritage, including St Davids Cathedral and Oriel y Parc Gallery, which houses collections from the National Museum of Wales alongside diverse works by local artists.
Art lovers should take note of Blas Restaurant, too. Not only do the expert chefs here serve up delicious, local food, the restaurant itself showcases yet more art that captures the local landscape and culture: allowing you to consume a healthy dose of Welsh heritage with your meals.
Where to stay: Twy r Felin has come a long way from its origins as a windmill in 1806. Now, it’s Wales’ first contemporary art hotel, though it hasn’t given up its unique exterior. Choose from a range of exquisite bedrooms to slumber in, including a Windmill Tower Suite, which offers stunning panoramic views of the Welsh countryside.
2. Bruges, Belgium
The centre of Bruges is a historic settlement that has been masterfully preserved over the centuries. Modern builds are wedged in-between gorgeous Gothic constructs, now synonymous with the medieval metropolis that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. Keep your gaze high as you venture through its culture-rich streets, admiring its mix of architectural influences from the medieval to Neo-Gothic. Make sure to visit the Belfry, too. Built in the 13th century, this iconic tower includes a treasury (which held the city’s charters and more throughout the Middle Ages) and a music drum, used to play the tower’s 47 carillon bells.
Where to stay: Adhering to the architectural flavour of your trip, head to Flanders Hotel, which was designed by one of the foremost architects of the 19th century. Special features include an idyllic indoor pool and former Gothic room, dating back to the year 1304.
3. Milan, Italy
What better way to celebrate World Heritage Day in Europe than by seeing a real Leonardo da Vinci painting up close? The refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie contains da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”, painted between 1495 and 1497. It’s widely-known as one of the world’s finest artistic masterpieces, and is something you should definitely see on your trip to Milan.
The city itself is, too, something of a work of art. Springing up out of the lush, green Parco Sempione you’ll find the astonishingly aesthetic Sforzesco Castle, while nineteenth-century arcades such as Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II boast ornate mosaics and vaulted glass ceilings. Who knew shopping could be so stunning?
Where to stay: Close to Milan - as well as to two of Italy’s most iconic lakes, Maggiore and Como - Locanda dei Mai Intees awaits. Its beauty is in its perfectly-restored details, from its 15th century frescoes to 16th century fireplace, perfect for snuggling down next to in the evenings.
4. Lisbon, Portugal
Gorgeous sunshine, friendly people, coastal views, and even a centuries-old candle shop. Lisbon really does have it all - and for those wishing to celebrate World Heritage Day in Europe, it should be high on your adventuring agenda.
Start with a visit to Jeronimos Monastery. This building is Lisbon’s crowning glory of cultural activity. Historically, it was populated by monks of the Order of Saint Jerome, who were tasked with guiding sailors during the exciting Age of Discovery. Staggering sculptures and intricate cloisters reflect its maritime influences, portraying sea monsters, coral, rope and more. This famous sight also contains the tomb of Vasco de Gama: a famous Portguese explorer, and the first European to reach India by sea.
Where to stay: Solar Do Castelo is situated within a medieval castle village, built on the site of the former kitchens of the Royal Palace. This alone is a compelling reason to visit, but when you also factor in the property’s gorgeous gardens and world-class hospitality, booking a room here is really a no-brainer.
5. Bodensee, Germany
Lake Constance - right on the border of Germany and Switzerland - is home to several amazing UNESCO World Heritage sites, making it the ideal place to spend World Heritage Day in Europe. If religious culture is your thing, step lightly to the monastic island of Reichenau, where you can explore various churches along with the traces of a Benedictine monastery, founded in 724. Alternatively, the prehistoric pile dwellings are sure to attract those interested in historic communities. These remains used to belong to homes that sat on raised stilts over the waters of Lake Constance, and while they’ve since been submerged, you can still learn plenty about them at the dedicated open air museum.
Where to stay: Elsewhere close to the shores of Lake Constance is Schloss Wartegg: the perfect place to marry up days of culture with nights of perfect repose. This place was once so popular that Empress Zita - the wife of the last monarch of Austria-Hungary - used to roam the gardens here. Now, you can soar around them on a bike while admiring the many castle sheep - including newborn lambs - that are out during the spring season. It’s pastoral perfection.
6. South Tyrol, Italy
For a more nature-focused way to ring in World Heritage Day in Europe, visit Val Pusteria. The hiking paths around here are nothing short of sublime: cradled by the astonishing Dolomites, lush green valleys and Drava and Rienza rivers. There’s plenty to do and see around here, too, including seeing the dramatic Rio Pusteria Fortress, taking a tour of several alpine dairies and trying your hand at horseback riding.
Where to stay: When you’ve been specialising in hospitality for nearly a thousand years, you’re bound to be pretty good at it. This is the particular advantage of Hotel Alte Goste, which has been operating as a traditional guest house since 1142 (according to known records). Make sure to spend at least one evening in the property’s “Gostner Cellar”, where you can enjoy your pick of wines in a rustic room where time itself seems to slow down.
7. Limerick, Ireland
In 2014, Limerick became Ireland’s first-ever City of Culture, and it more than earned the title. From the family-friendly King John’s Castle to the Terra Nova Fairy Garden - which contains an ancient “fairy fort” - there’s culture around every corner in the bright and lively Irish hotspot.
Perhaps most relevant to your World Heritage Day in Europe travels, though, is the Lough Gur Heritage Centre. Celebrating roughly 6,000 years of life, the lough now doubles up as an amazing nature spot and pseudo-outdoor museum. You’ll see an ancient stone circle, ruins and more, as well as get to learn all about the many myths and legends surrounding this mysterious locale. It’s a truly memorable day out.
Where to stay: With so much to do in Limerick, you’re bound to be out of doors and active for most of the day… so why not return to a spa? VOYA spa, located in the basement of No.1 Pery Square Hotel & Spa, offers a range of luxurious treatments to help you relax before enjoying the rest of what the boutique hotel has to offer, including an award-winning restaurant. Life doesn’t get any better than this.
8. Rhodes, Greece
For equal doses of sunshine and heritage, look no further than Rhodes’ medieval city. This ancient stronghold is home to an incredible amount of history, ruled by various leaders from different cultures across the centuries. Gaze at Gothic and Ottoman structures - like the city’s ornate public baths - and learn all about its multi-layered past at the Archaeological Museum, built in the Hospital of the Knights over a period of over 500 years. The intricate and diverse artefacts it contains, such as vases and tomb groups, give a detailed glimpse at the many influences that inspired this medieval city, and made it the diverse and fascinating locale it is today.
Rhodes - Image Source: Andrew Vvedenskij
Where to stay: Allegory Boutique Hotel is impeccable from head to toe. Enchanting, rustic bedrooms contain everything you’ll need for a comfortable stay, while customer-focused perks give it an even more charming edge, including access to a free journal: perfect for writing down the details of your travels for World Heritage Day in Europe.
9. Riga, Latvia
We’ve got a lot of love for Riga. It’s simply filled with fascinating things to do, and between the opulent House of the Blackheads, its verdant parks and stunning Old Town, you could find enough to do here to fill a whole week - let alone just one day!
If you do only have one day in Latvia’s capital, though, we’d definitely recommend prioritising the Ethnographic Open Air Museum. This exceptional sight demonstrates, in a truly absorbing fashion, how people lived across the four Latvian provinces over the years. It contains 118 historical buildings - built between the 17th and 20th centuries - exhibiting the day-to-day lifestyles of farmers, craftsmen and more. Don’t miss it.
Where to stay: METROPOLE by SemaraH is one of Riga’s finest jewels, particularly in the hospitality sector. The first operated hotel in Riga, this elegant establishment combines riveting culture with cosmopolitan living. It’s right in the heart of downtown Riga, too, meaning you’re right next to many of the city’s main attractions.
10. Vienna, Austria
The Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn was once the residence of the Habsburg emperors, and it’s no less fit for royalty today. Highlights include the Great and Small Galleries - resplendent in gold and pastel-painted ceilings - and its incredible gardens, which, from a birds-eye view, looks like a living, floral tapestry. It’s no wonder the UNESCO World Heritage website dubs the palace “one of the most impressive and well preserved Baroque ensembles of its kind in Europe”.
Where to stay: Hotel Stefanie is the oldest hotel in Vienna, but has been completely renovated in recent years, making it the ideal pitstop for travellers enjoying World Heritage Day in Europe. It’s family-owned, too, which means it’s full of personable details, including an incredible collection of Austrian antiques - a particular passion of the hoteliers.
11. Düsseldorf, Germany
Museum Kunstpalast is undoubtedly one of Düsseldorf’s most awe-inspiring attractions, and a great sightseeing spot for every type of culture lover. Enjoy a range of artistic genres and eras all under one roof, including - if you time your visit right - a huge range of events such as concerts, festivals and plays, which the building hosts throughout the year. It’s a brilliant place in which to embrace culture and the arts throughout the ages, from works that are centuries old to modern performances.
Where to stay: The only inhabitable castle in Germany, Schloss Hertefeld is an unmissable hotel. Owned by the same family for 800 years, it’s lived through centuries of German history, and guests can enjoy a majestic stay in its historic cross vaults, tower and more. A truly one-off experience.
12. Kotor, Montenegro
In between a sky-blue bay and dramatic mountains, the Montenegrin city of Kotor thrums with life. With cobbled streets stretching off into the cliffs and dramatic city walls casting a unique reflection against the mirror-like waters, this city feels perfectly at one with nature, while offering all the exciting benefits of an urban escape. Historians will particularly approve of the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, built in 1116, while explorers taking a more languid approach to their World Heritage Day in Europe explorations will appreciate Kotor’s mix of colourful cafe bars and immersive local markets.
Where to stay: Hotel Cattaro has been voted a traveller favourite in three categories of Kayak’s 2020 awards. Deservingly, too. This exceptional property is perfectly-situated to help you enjoy the best of what Kotor has to offer, and is built within the town walls itself. Decorated to preserve the city’s rich history, the hotel hosts luxurious events, has its own restaurant and is even home to a world-famous nightclub, Maximus. Check out this virtual tour before you book.