Old World City Strolls
Explore Europe's cosmopolitan charms in the off-season
with these pedestrian-friendly locales
By Michelle Chumbley
Brian Morrison/Tourism Ireland
The same is true for beloved cities across Europe. Crowds thin as days shorten in autumn and winter, leaving more space for visitors to roam. Since vacation days often are spent hopping from site to site, reserve some twilight time to take advantage of the extra elbow room with a leisurely saunter. From Parisian gardens to a friendly residential neighborhood in Venice, these six charming destinations invite walkers to mingle with locals at a flower shop or take a detour when a whiff of fresh bruschetta beckons.
Many escorted tour operators offer discounted versions of their trips during the low season. Read our suggestions below before contacting you Vacations To Go specialist for the best rates.
Elaborate medieval structures meet sidewalk cafes and quaint public squares in the Gothic Quarter of this Spanish city. The district is bordered to the east by Via Laietana and to the west by La Rambla, a popular promenade from sculpture-studded Placa de Catalunya to the seaport.
While street performers and flower stands along La Rambla are a pleasant distraction, venturing farther into the neighborhood will introduce striking Gothic churches like the landmark Catedral de Barcelona, built between the 13th and 15th centuries, and Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, completed in 1391.
Head over to Placa Sant Jaume to admire Palau de la Generalitat, a neoclassical government building. Narrow boulevards surrounding the political center stir in the evening with the aroma of Mediterranean cuisine and the awakening of local nightlife.
Trafalgar's nine-day "Spanish Wonder Winter" begins in Madrid and visits Seville, Granada and Valencia. Two days in Barcelona incorporate sightseeing at La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's famed cathedral, and the tempting food stands at La Boqueria Market. Prices between Oct. 31 and April 9, 2016, start at $1,503, a savings of about $300 from the summer version of the itinerary.
The riverfront Temple Bar District hums with activity throughout the day, from morning shoppers perusing funky boutiques to energetic pub crawlers out for an early start to a raucous evening. This area of Dublin is packed with a wealth of history dating to Viking invasions of the ninth century. The main thoroughfares run for about a half mile, roughly bordered to the west by Christ Church Cathedral and to the east by Trinity College, founded in 1592.
Popular for its cafes and nightlife, Temple Bar also serves as a cultural hub, packed with theaters, record stores and galleries. Strolling the block around central Meeting House Square, you'll encounter the National Photographic Archive, Irish Film Institute and Olympia Theatre, an 1879 music hall turned multipurpose performance venue. On Saturdays, peruse a food market in the square for maple syrup crepes with creme fraiche and bananas.
The panoramic, eight-day "Irish Adventure" with CIE Tours circles the country from Dublin, heading south to Blarney Castle before tracing the west coast to the dramatic Cliffs of Moher.
A Dec. 7 jaunt opens at $1,048, nearly $600 less than summer getaways.
Baroque rooflines jut against the distant Alps in Salzburg, Austria, an idyllic sight from the banks of the Salzach, the river at the center of town. Well known as the birthplace of Mozart, the city has long-standing cultural threads.
As a modern supplement to the historic aesthetics, a series of public art installations erected in the early 2000s provokes gazers to interpret the meaning behind a lone man posed atop a golden sphere or a collection of human-sized cucumber sculptures. International artists were encouraged to study the city before selecting the location and theme for their pieces.
Most works are just off the esplanades on each side of the river, all within a square mile, mingling with sites like the domed 17th-century Salzburg Cathedral. Two require a short hike up Monchsberg Mountain to the Museum der Moderne area.
Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria are on the docket during Globus' 10-day "Imperial Splendors," which includes a visit to Mirabell Gardens, featured in "The Sound of Music," in Salzburg. Vacations take place through December with prices from $2,169, and pick back up in March 2016.
A welcome respite in the midst of bustling Paris, Luxembourg Gardens invites the public to stop and smell the orchids. The approximately 60-acre property was created in the 1600s as a backdrop to Luxembourg Palace, once a royal residence and now home to the French Senate. Napoleon dedicated the grounds to the children of Paris.
Young ones certainly find amusements here, from carousel rides and marionette shows to model boats that float in an octagonal pond, the Grand Bassin. More than 100 statues draw the attention of passers-by rambling along tree-lined pathways. Trace winding trails on the west side of the preserve, including an easy half-mile trek from the plant-filled orangery to a buzzing apiary, or saunter over to the east side for the monumental Medici Fountain.
"Paris, Burgundy and Avignon," a seven-day French sojourn with Keytours, passes scenic vineyards and rustic villages on a southbound route from the capital city. Weekly departures through Dec. 19 start at $1,525.
Venice has been romanticized through the ages, from Lord Byron's dramatic odes to painted depictions of floating gondolas. Though canal rides are the most famous form of travel in the island city, the Italian tradition of la passeggiata (the walk) is routine for locals. As twilight sets in, families dress up and wander outside to socialize before dinner.
To partake in the custom, head to the residential neighborhood of Cannaregio on the north end of the city. What once was known as the Jewish Ghetto and its Renaissance-era synagogues are located here, as well as the 14th-century Church of Madonna dell'Orto and the waterfront Ca'd'Oro palace, both open to visitors. Charming footbridges connect Cannaregio's collection of floating isles, which stretch from the Santa Lucia train station to the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal.
"Italian Intermezzo Winter," nine days with Insight Vacations, offers eight low-season departures between October and March 2016. Overnight stays are in Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome, and prices open at $1,734 on several dates, more than $500 off next year's spring and summer forays.
An icon of Middle Ages architecture and an ideal spot for panoramic views, the Charles Bridge connects the venerable Old Town and Lesser Town districts of Prague. Commissioned in 1357, the cobblestoned span over the Vltava River is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thirty religious-themed statues line the path, and towers guard each end.
For an easy walk clocking in at less than a mile, start from the Baroque St. Nicholas Church on the Lesser Town side and head east toward Old Town Square, home to the Gothic Church of Our Lady Before Tyn and a 600-year-old astronomical clock tower with an animated hourly show. On the way, pause at the Old Town Bridge Tower; a 138-step spiral staircase rewards climbers with stunning vistas of the city. Come midday for the buzz of art vendors and buskers or at dusk for a more serene environment.
Alexander+Roberts' 10-day "Budapest, Krakow and Prague" exploration of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic features private sightseeing, a cooking class with locals and a car ride through hilly countryside. Trips are available through April 2016, with departures from November to March starting at $3,649.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in September/October 2015. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858 for current rates and details.