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Crossing the English Channel from continental Europe to Great Britain, the first view of England is the milky-white strip of land called the White Cliffs of Dover. As you get closer, the coastline unfolds before you in all its striking beauty. White chalk cliffs with streaks of black flint rise straight from the sea to a height of 350’ (110 m).
Numerous archaeological finds reveal people were present in the area during the Stone Age. Yet the first record of Dover is from Romans, who valued its close proximity to the mainland. A mere 21 miles (33 km) separate Dover from the closest point in France. A Roman-built lighthouse in the area is the tallest Roman structure still standing in Britain. The remains of a Roman villa with the only preserved Roman wall mural outside of Italy are another unique survivor from ancient times which make Dover one of a kind.
Portland Island and the resort town of Weymouth are connected by a 5-mile (8 km) long neck of white sand known as Chesil Beach. Renowned as the finest example of a barrier-type beach in Europe, Chesil Beach was formed 10,000 years ago as glaciers receded and sea levels rose.
The rugged coastline of Dorset and the many attractions in the area are what make Weymouth such a popular vacation destination. The Old Harbour of Weymouth is an excellent Georgian-style harbor and one of the prettiest in Europe. It bustles with activity from large catamarans, fishing boats and yachts. Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park displays over 1,000 incredible sea creatures including sea turtles, crabs, octopuses and sharks. The nearby Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens is an impressive walled garden set in 20 acres (8 hectares) of woodland. Portland Island offers stunning views across the Chesil Beach, Portland Harbour, Fleet Lagoon and Weymouth. The little egret, once a rare bird in Britain, is now regularly seen along these shores.
The largest of the Isles of Scilly has packed a lot of history onto its shores. The RNLI lifeboat service has maintained a station here since 1837, saving numerous lives along the Cornish Coast. The Star Castle at the Garrison was ordered by Queen Elizabeth I after the attack of the Spanish Armada. Harry’s Wall is the remains of a fortification built in 1551 to defend against an expected French assault. The beacon of the island’s 14-meter metal lighthouse is visible for 17 miles. The round Telegraph Tower is where Guglielmo Marconi picked up the wireless signal from 30 miles away, and British Prime Minster Harold Wilson retired here and is buried here.
Bantry Bay, framed by the Sheep’s Head Hills and the Caha Mountains, offers one of the Ireland’s most magnificent seascapes and picturesque harbors. As with other areas on Ireland’s south-west coast, Bantry claims an ancient connection to the sixth-century Saint Breandán the Navigator, who was, in Irish folklore, the first person to discover America.
A highlight of the area is stately Bantry House and Garden Estate. The magnificent garden is laid out in the Italian style over seven terraces. In addition to the many spirited Irish pubs are the Bantry Museum and the architecture of St. Brendan’s and St. Finbarr’s Churches. There are pristine, white-sand beaches, interspersed with jagged outcrops of rock and bordered by the verdant-green hills that make Ireland famous. County Cork is renowned for its megalithic stone circles and standing stones. Historic castles dot the landscape. The coastline of Cork is also home to basking sharks and fin, pilot, and minke whales.
An historic Irish castle built along the River Corrib in 1121 grew rapidly into the city of Galway. There are two main squares in the city, Eyre Square and the Spanish Parade. At the center of Eyre Square is John F. Kennedy Park, erected in honor of U.S. President Kennedy’s visit here in 1963. A carved bust of the president was affectionately placed by the people of Galway at the exact spot where Kennedy stood to deliver his speech. Spanish Parade is the site of the Spanish Arches, two stone arches that made up the historic wall that once surrounded Galway. Remnants of medieval town walls lie between shops selling handcrafted rings, books and musical instruments. In addition to the many traditional Irish pubs, are the picturesque ancient neighborhoods of The Claddagh and Salthill. The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, built in 1965 in the Renaissance-style, is the last great stone-walled cathedral to be built in Europe, while Galway Cathedral is much older, dating back to 1320.
Karlskrona is a locality and the seat of Karlskrona Municipality, Blekinge County, Sweden with 66,675 inhabitants in 2018. It is also the capital of Blekinge County. Karlskrona is known as Sweden’s only baroque city and is host to Sweden’s only remaining naval base and the headquarters of the Swedish Coast Guard.
Oban is a small town on the west coast of Scotland. The site began as a small fishing outpost and has been occupied as such for literally thousands of years. Rural in its roots, the modern-day village of Oban grew around the famed whisky distillery founded in 1794. Renowned for its 14-year-old malt whisky, the Oban distillery has become a tourist attraction, drawing many visitors to the area.
The quiet, rural feel of Oban is responsible for the abundance of wildlife within the town boundaries. Here grey seals can be spotted swimming in the harbor or resting along the shore. A wide variety of land and seabirds are found throughout the area. On occasion dolphins and river otters also visit. A beautiful balance exists between this small town and the natural environment surrounding it, where the sounds of nature mingle with the melody of the streets.
Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, was founded by Vikings in the 9th century. But the Hebridean culture goes back much further, as testified by the circles of standing stones that are found on the island, and shards of pottery dated from at least 5,000 years in the past. There are remnants of various historic periods to be seen here, including traditional blackhouses, an ancient design, some of which were incredibly still in use into the 1970s. Lews Castle, which overlooks the town, is a more modern copy of a Tudor manse, which was built by a former owner of the island. Latta’s Mill, a 19th century overshot water mill, has been reconstructed and operates as an attraction. The main occupations on Lewis are fishing, farming, and production of Harris Tweed, a traditional cloth named for another nearby Hebrides isle.
Kirkwall is the largest town of Orkney, an archipelago to the north of mainland Scotland. The name Kirkwall comes from the Norse name Kirkjuvágr, which later changed to Kirkvoe, Kirkwaa and Kirkwall.
Djúpivogur is a very small, quaint town of some 456 people, located in East Iceland in Berufjörður fjord. Towering, pyramid-shaped Mount Búlandstindur dominates the landscape, rising to 3,510’ (1,069 m). It is a place of unspoiled nature, with quiet lagoons and a tranquil harbor populated by colorful fishing boats. The area is well-known for the diversity of birdlife, especially in nearby Búlandsnes Bird Sanctuary where most of Iceland’s bird species can be observed.
Time seems to flow more slowly here, because the residents have chosen a much different lifestyle, enriched with opportunities to observe their natural surroundings. Djúpivogur is a creative community, displaying its local arts and crafts in workshops and galleries. The Eggs of Merry Bay, ‘Eggin í Gleðivík,’ is a large outdoor art installation by renowned Icelandic artist Sigurður Guðmundsson. It consists of 34 large sculpted stone eggs representing the 34 bird species found in the vicinity. Located only a kilometre from the town center, it makes an easy and pleasant stroll along the shore.
Warmed by the Gulf Stream as well as by highly active thermal hot springs and volcanoes, Iceland is somewhat misnamed. While it is a stark and barren country with three huge areas of glaciers, one theory is that early Norsemen sought to mislead other potential settlers by giving a pleasant name to fierce, inhospitable Greenland, and a forbidding name to the imminently habitable Iceland. Irish monks and hermits established themselves here in the 8th century, but left a century later when the pagan Norsemen arrived. Europe’s first Parliament of General Assembly, the Althing, was established in the year 930 and still functions as the legislative body, although it was suspended by the Danes at the end of the 18th century and not reconvened until 1843. Reykjavik was the site picked by the island’s first permanent resident, Ingolfur Arnarson in 874, and is home to more than half of the island’s total population. The world’s northernmost capital, Reykjavik is proud of its virtual lack of air pollution. Both electrical power and home heating are derived from the geothermal activity on the island. The city’s large swimming pools are always warm, and in the countryside exotic fruits such as grapes and bananas are cultivated in greenhouses made cozy with the help of underground hot springs.
The charming small fishing village of Grundarfjörður is located in the middle of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and thus provides easy access to Stykkishólmur, Snæfellsbær and the Snæfellsnes National Park. Its best-known landmark is undoubtedly the peak of Mt. Kirkjufell. Translated as ‘church mountain,’ Kirkjufell is the most easily recognizable peak, and one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland. During summer months a Viking Village is built in the center of town where Viking re-enactments occur quite regularly. During the Á góðri stund town festival in July, the town’s 900 residents decorate their houses in red, blue, yellow, and green, transforming the town into a spinning kaleidoscope of color.
The town first began trade in 1786, and around 1800, French merchants came to Iceland and settled in Grundarfjörður, where they constructed a church and a hospital. The town has prospered through the fishing industry for a long time. The surrounding sea is rich with birdlife & marine life throughout the year.
Like most Icelandic towns, this one on the northwest coast was started by fisherman and whalers. The name means ice-fjord. It is a perfect place from which to explore the cultural and economic staples of Iceland. An excursion to Sudavik reveals a town started by whalers and nearly destroyed by an avalanche in 1995, now rebuilt out of the path of further slides. Its lovely church was donated by whalers, as well. The own also holds a center for the study of the indigenous arctic foxes. The Maritime Museum in Isafjordur illustrates the lifestyles of the early inhabitants, including many implements of their trades, and also a wall of accordions, one of the few forms of entertainment on bygone days. Another option is a boat ride to nearby Vigur island, a nesting site for many species of seabirds, including eider ducks, whose down is yet another example of local economy based on the surrounding seas.
Akureyri is the second largest urban area in Iceland with a population of around 18,000. Nicknamed ‘The Capital of the North,’ it is situated at the head of Eyjafjörður, the longest fjord in Iceland, only 62 miles (100 km) from the Arctic Circle. Surrounded by snow-streaked mountains, the Akureyri hills flourish in summer with a profusion of arctic wildflowers. Mt. Kerling is the highest peak visible from town, at 5,064’ (1,538 m). Often cloudy, with a mild climate, Akureyri has much less precipitation than its southern counterpart Reykjavik. It is a cultured city, with a university, numerous galleries, museums, art exhibitions, and live theater performances.
Nearby Hrísey Island is a spectacularly beautiful and peaceful island often called ‘The Pearl of Eyjafjörður,’ with an atmosphere of calm and settled tranquility. Numerous Atlantic puffins fly overhead, and the occasional whale is seen traversing the fjord.
The remote town of Seydisfjördur is perched at the end of a narrow twisting fjord in East Iceland. A very picturesque village of 700 people, it is known for its thriving arts scene and large number of resident artists. Tourism is on the rise as well, as its natural setting of mountains and waterfalls is simply breathtaking. Surrounded by impressive 1,085 meter (3,560’) tall snow-capped mountains, Seydisfjördur is home to the Technical Museum of Iceland and hosts populations of both eider ducks and Atlantic puffins. It was settled by Norwegian fishermen in 1848 and quickly became an important trading center between Iceland and Europe. It is known throughout Iceland for its colorful Norwegian-style wooden houses.
The first telegraph cable connecting Iceland to Europe made landfall here in 1906. A large dam was constructed here in 1913, which produced power for the country’s first high voltage AC power plant, a revolutionary achievement for its time.
Lerwick, Britain’s most northerly town, and is a small, bustling, cosmopolitan seaport with a population of over 7,000 people and fine architecture. Shetland Museum, located on Hay’s Dock, is an award- winning attraction. Discover the island’s many secrets through its exhibits, and take a look in the boat shed, where you can see demonstrations of traditional boat building. Also of interest is the stone-walled town hall, built in 1884, displaying an impressive array of beautifully intricate stained glass. Towering St. Magnus Cathedral, constructed in 1863, is likewise well worth a visit.
People have lived and prospered here since Neolithic times. The site of Clickimin Broch, a hollow-stone-walled structure, was a Late Bronze Age farmstead of the 7th century BCE. Historic Fort Charlotte, built in 1653, is a five-sided fortress, with cannon batteries pointing out to sea. The Shetland Textile Museum, with its fine weaving, and the quaint Crofters Museum will detail life in a much gentler time. The name Lerwick is derived from Norse and means ‘bay of clay.’
Norway’s capital lies at the head of the majestic Oslofjord, encircled by wooded hills and snowcapped peaks. Dating back to the mid-11th century, it was at one time renamed Christiania while under Danish and Swedish rule. An act of Parliament finally changed the name back to Oslo in 1925. With barely half a million inhabitants, Oslo is the smallest among the Scandinavian capitals. Yet it has much to offer – most notably its spectacular scenic beauty, as well as many of the nation’s finest cultural achievements.
Arriving by ship, your first sight is the imposing Akershus Fortress towering above the docks. With the city center only a few blocks from the pier, you can easily spot the handsome modern City Hall with its two block towers. Dedicated in 1950 to commemorate Oslo’s 900-year anniversary, it is the city’s most familiar landmark. Many of Norway’s leading artists contributed to the decoration of the interior and as a result Socialist modernism in its purest form can be seen here. More extraordinary art works can be admired at Frogner Park, site of the famous Vigeland sculptures depicting a world of human beings and animals in stone. Fine examples of Scandinavian impressionists, referred to as the “Northern Light” artists, are exhibited in the National Gallery. The Munch Museum houses an enormous collection of art bequeathed to the city by Norway’s leading artist Edvard Munch. Most of Oslo’s historic sites are concentrated on the Bygdoe Peninsula; the Norwegian Folkmuseum, the Viking Ship Museum, the Fram, and the Kon-Tiki Museums are outstanding.
Gothenburg is situated on the Göta älv River on Sweden’s west coast. An important seaport, it’s known for tree-lined boulevards, quaint cafes, shops, theaters and sculptured gardens. The 340-acre (137 hectare) Trädgardsföreningen Park is a natural gem and a wonderful place to relax along a scenic 17th century canal. At Slottskogen Park one can view many of Sweden’s wildlife species, in particular the impressive elk, known in North America as a moose. Local people refer to the park as the ‘green lungs of the city.’ Explore the nearby botanical gardens with its beautifully sculpted flower beds, and award-winning stone gardens, where North America, Europe and Asia are represented by some 5000 plant species. Those with an interest in modern architecture should discover the prize-winning wonder of Museum für Weltkultur.
Gothenburg was founded as a trading colony in 1621 by King Gustavus Adolphus and is now the largest port in the Nordic countries. Gregarious and beautiful Gothenburg will charm everyone!
As one of the important cultural hubs of Denmark, Aalborg is known for its mixture of contemporary architecture, traditional wooden Danish houses, and the many preserved stone buildings in its historical city center. A number of large city parks, fountains, a gothic cathedral and a colorful waterfront make Aalborg a favorite vacation spot. Square-rigged heritage sailing ships make a contrast with numerous architectural masterpieces such as the ultra-modern designs of the Utzon Center and the University of Aalborg. The Aalborg Carnival, one of Scandinavia’s largest festivals, takes place every year in May and draws tens of thousands of participants. The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art exemplifies the creativity and energy of this beautiful Danish city.
Situated at the narrowest point of Limfjord in Jutland, Aalborg abuts some of the richest waterways in the country, which attracted not only the original Viking adventurers to the area, but settlers as far back as the Iron Age.
Denmark’s capital is arguably one of the world’s best-loved cities, and certainly the liveliest of all the Scandinavian capitals. It is a gracious and comfortable place, with a decidedly friendly, hospitable and fun-loving atmosphere. If there is such a thing as a cozy city, Copenhagen is it. From the lingering memory of the tales of Hans Christian Andersen to the colored lights of Tivoli Gardens, there is a delightful ambience that surrounds the visitor everywhere. Tidy, narrow streets are lined with tempting restaurants and cafes, and the pedestrian-only Stroget abounds with stylish shops. The spirited Copenhageners are imaginative and unconventional and exude a “do-what-you-want” philosophy that embraces and respects almost all aspects of life. Every friendly Dane you meet further illustrates the city’s motto “Wonderful, wonderful, Copenhagen.”