There is a reason that millions of visitors flock to Europe’s relics of ancient times every year. Europe is home to some of the oldest monuments pointing to its fascinating history, from the Romans to the Ancients Greeks. These half-buried treasures connect us with the past and offer some perspective on the vast continuum of human experience that led us to where we are today. They’re also exceptionally beautiful.
This week, we’re exploring some of Europe’s unmissable ruins. These are the best of the best, so make sure you write them into your bucket list. They’re the ultimate historical experiences.
If visiting the 5,000 year old remnants of your Neolithic ancestors sounds like a fabulous day out to you, taking a trip to UNESCO-listed Stonehenge is an absolute must. At only one and a half hours by car from London (and even less from charming, also-listed Bath), the unique rock formations of Stonehenge have fascinated people for generations as to their history and purpose. Surrounded by picture perfect windswept British countryside, the enigmatic stone structure may have been used as a healing site, burial ground or place of rituals. The mystery has continued to stir the imaginations of many a present-day visitor.
No list like this one would be complete without listing the Parthenon, the zenith of all ancient European ruins. Towering over bustling Athens, the Parthenon is the Acropolis’ largest and most impressive structure and definitely worth a visit if vestiges of ancient times make your heart beat that little bit faster. One of the world’s great surviving cultural monuments, its ornaments are considered some of the finest existing examples of high Greek art. Explore some of the most iconic sights in Athens on our Greek Odyssey trip, from the sanctuary of Delphi, the cliff-top monasteries of Meteora, plus so much more.
Efes (Ephesus), Turkey
The ancient Greek and later Roman city of Ephesus in western Turkey is perhaps slightly lesser known, yet it rivals, if not surpasses some of its more famous cousins in splendour and size. If stories of Greco-Persian battles, suppressed revolts, Roman victories and Ottoman conquests make your heart beat faster, you cannot miss visiting this imposing landmark. In fact, this fascinating history is embodied in its aqueducts, temples, remnants of chariot wheels and even a column leftover from one of the original seven wonders of the world, the Temple of Artemis. Fun fact, St John is rumoured to have written his gospel here.
Just 25 kilometres south of Naples, visitors can find the vast Roman ruins of Pompeii. Serving as a token of ancient days in which time stood still, the ruins carry a sombre undertone due to the once thriving city’s abrupt end. In fact, their origin lies in a devastating volcanic eruption which buried the city and its many inhabitants under 4 to 6 metres of volcanic debris. The upside of this tragic event however is that for visitors, Pompeii represents the most well preserved example of life as it used to be in Roman times.
Built around 80 CE, the Colosseum is one of the main reasons why Rome has proven to be a consistent tourist magnet for years. Built to serve a growing Roman population hungry for entertainment, the colossal amphitheatre (standing at an impressive 52m or 4 doubledecker buses high - could host up to 50,000 spectators. Over its years of use, it played host to such gory shows as gladiator contests, animal fights and even executions. Thankfully, present day visits are a lot more peaceful!
Make sure you check out our online Adventure Planner to visit many of these incredible sites on your own custom Europe itinerary!