In a world of verdant hills, dramatic cliffs, stone castles, festivals, and folklore; Ireland is one of the most enchanting places in the world. Almost everywhere you go on the Emerald Isle is bound to be a spot of myths and legends.
Take, for instance, Blarney Castle near Cork. Built in the early 1200s, this castle was a medieval stronghold for the region and has changed hands among aristocracy since its inception. It's a popular vacation destination for travelers for a reason: The Blarney Stone is a thing of legend. If you're the type of person whose palms get sweaty at the thought of public speaking, touch or kiss the castle's namesake limestone. Those who do are bestowed the gift of the gab.
When in Ireland, venture on a day trip around the Ring of Kerry, a circuit that encompasses Ireland's scenic Iveragh Peninsula. It weaves through Killarney National Park, a park of forests (and possibly fairies), to the Staigue Stone Fort made from thousands of flat, narrow stones. Along the road are cottages often with gardens overgrown with wild ferns. On the coastline, the Kerry Cliffs are an impressive geological highlight that look as though they were once chiseled by giants. Offshore, the island of Skellig Michael is where you can tour an old monastery and peek at the nesting sites of adorable puffins. Veer north of the Ring of Kerry to the impressive Cliffs of Moher, grand drops of sheer siltstone and shale.
Though Ireland's remote regions make a trip to Europe worth its weight alone, drinking a pint of Guinness in a Dublin pub just makes it that much sweeter. People have been clinking glasses of this dark stout and telling tall tales — perhaps with the help of Blarney Stone — for centuries.
When taking the moment to travel in Europe it is time to tune out from any semblance of the man-made world, there's always the Greek Isles. While rotating between your lounge chair and an aquarium-clear sea might not seem like the most enthralling activity, it's emblematic of the Greek experience. Island hop from Santorini for whitewashed villages topped with blue roofs, Crete to tiptoe around ancient ruins, and Delos to see the legendary birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. The great thing about these islands is that you're never too far from the shore.
Greece is one of the best places in Europe to experience a heightened state of all your senses: the mesmerizing shades of blue contrast with the stark white coastline, the soft prickle of sunshine warm on your skin, the sweet yet tart flavor of a perfectly ripe tomato, the sound of a sail blowing taut in the wind. Greece is where you go to live in the moment. With so many ports accessing the best regions — all within close distance of one another — it's an obvious choice for a Europe vacation cruise.
The Port of Piraeus holds the key to Athens, the birthplace of democracy. Here, you can walk on stones that have been smoothed by over 2,000 years of visitors at the Parthenon. Admire Athens from above and the columns of Acropolis. The Temple of Hephaestus, Philopappos Hill and Ancient Agora of Athens are also worth a visit. Other relics like the Panathenaic Stadium and Odeon of Herodes Atticus theater reveal humanity's long-lasting love of sports and entertainment. Come sunset, watch as the city's lights flicker on under a lavender sky from the top of Mount Lycabettus.
For a change of pace, Iceland has it all. Iceland might as well be synonymous with drama. The natural forces shaping the country have a flair for hyperbole. Here, waterfalls don't trickle, they roar. Fjords don't slope, they plummet. Mountains don't just stand, they erupt. Beaches are often of the jet-black variety. And geothermal wonders, like lava fields, glaciers and hot springs are found from coast to coast. Even the sky puts on a theatrical performance. Come summertime, the sun lingers overhead all day, while in the winter, the lights of the aurora borealis dance through the sky.
The capital city of Reykjavík is home to a wealth of restaurants, museums and art galleries despite its small population. At the Perlan, you'll learn about the geology of Iceland. The museum hosts a 100-meter-long indoor ice cave where you can learn all about glacier formation, a planetarium with a northern lights exhibition, and interactive virtual reality exhibits taking you closer to Iceland's impossible-to-reach sites like coastal cliffs and lava pits.
Outside the city, Iceland's highlights truly shine. You can easily spend your entire trip venturing from cascade to cascade, like Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Haifoss, Bruarfoss and Gullfoss. Tour the golden circle, which starts in Reykjavík and ventures to Thingvellir National Park, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates adjoin. It then veers to the Geysir geothermal area, home to two grand erupting geysers, bubbling mud pools and steam vents that look like makeshift cloud factories. The route loops to Gullfoss Waterfall, and there's plenty of opportunity for side trips to geothermal baths, volcanic craters, glaciers, scenic valleys and quiet villages. When it's time to unwind, soak in the powder-blue thermal pools of the Blue Lagoon.
With architecture dating back nearly four millennia still in use today, artwork from some of the most influential artists on display, a cuisine that'll have you craving more solely for the taste, and music that'll stir even the most stoic of hearts, Italy is a land of muses and creatives.
They say all roads lead to Rome — but it's possible to get there by ship, too. Visit the ancient city of Rome for yourself, and you'll be standing in what was once the center of the Roman Empire. A wander through its narrow streets reveals frescoes, cathedrals, Roman ruins and sculptures at just about every turn. The Colosseum, Pantheon, Roman Forum, St. Peter's Basilica, Capitoline museums, and Vatican City are all found within Rome's boundary. The quilted architecture styles from era to era reveal just how much history the city holds.
Of course, you can plan an entire trip to Italy around the food. Twirl your fork at one of the many trattorias in the city. Roman classic dishes include cacio e pepe made with pecorino and pepper or carbonara with pecorino, guanciale and egg. In the mood for pizza? Order it al taglio (by the slice) or tonda (whole). Top off the meal with a refreshing scoop of gelato or shot of espresso.
Italy's landscape varies from the scenic coastline of Amalfi to the rolling hills of Tuscany to the jagged mountains of the Alps, where there's more beauty to be found even once you follow a road out of Rome.
Spain's sunny southern coastline makes for the perfect place to journey on a cruise vacation in Europe, even if it's just for the drinking and dining. Embrace traditional tapas culture in Seville, a city just a little more than an hour away by car from the port of Cadiz. Eat like a local and try pringa (small sandwich), chorizo (pork sausage) on a fresh roll, papas alinas (potatoes served with oil, green onions and peppers), and salmorejo, a refreshing tomato soup. For a twist on a vegetable you might have at home, order berenjenas con miel, which is breaded and fried eggplant drizzled in honey. El Rinconcillo, founded in 1670, claims to be the first tapas bar in the city and doles out delicious bites to date.
And while Paris may be the City of Love, France's Côte d'Azur is also no stranger to romance. To many, marriage symbolizes the blending of two families, each with its own cultures and quirks. The stretch of shoreline from Saint-Tropez to the Italian border marries some of the best elements of the Mediterranean. You'll find authentic Italian restaurants next to shops serving French cheeses and the glamour of Monaco influencing the region's shops and bars. Villefranche-sur-Mer makes for an excellent port of call to explore the coastline on a Europe vacation and is just a stone's throw away from Nice. Beaches range from quiet coves to town-fronted stretches of pebbled shoreline. You'll find yourself vowing to return someday soon.
With history that will captivate you, natural beauty that will enchant you, culture and food that will excite you, the wonderful thing about Europe is you can visit again and again and discover something new every time.