“I give you my love more precious than money; I give you myself before preaching and law:
Will you give me yourself?
Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?”
~Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”
St. Valentine’s Day is nearly here, and as always, the onus is upon us to come up with just the right gift to express how we feel. New conventional wisdom says that experiences are more personal and heartfelt than things, and in that vein, no experience says “I love you” better than a romantic trip to any of the many dream destinations in Europe.
Travel is for lovers, and each one of these cities offers something special and new to couples, whether they are first-time visitors or returnees. They are all perfect for a quick weekend getaway or a more extended holiday. Whatever your fancy – sightseeing, shopping, nightlife, playtime, or just getting away from it all – you will definitely find something to keep the fires burning.
Budapest: The Forgotten Gem on the Danube
When you ask neophyte travelers about their preferred destination for a Valentine’s Day excursion, the chances are that this Hungarian capital won’t be among their answers. For experienced travelers that are in the know, however, this is a must-see location that never fails to delight.
Budapest, idyllically located along the Danube River, is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and indeed, it is highly ranked as a premier world destination by several world-class travel organizations. Condé Nast Traveler, for example, lists Budapest as “the second-best city in the world”, and it is judged to offer the highest quality of life in the entire European Union to its citizens.
Top Places to See: A tour of the Castle District is de rigeur, because you will feel as if you were transplanted into a fairy tale when you and your significant other stroll arm in arm among the Gothic, Baroque, and Medieval buildings. Buda Castle dates back to the 14th century and was recently modernized and restored.
Even opera neophytes cannot help but marvel at the Hungarian State Opera House, which has been enchanting afficianados for over one hundred and twenty-five years. Because of its architectural beauty and the acoustical quality of the interior, this is regarded as one of the finest opera houses on the planet. Happily, Valentine’s Day falls right in the middle of opera season.
Rome: The Eternal City
You can’t spell “Romance” without R-O-M-E. For almost three thousand years, this Italian capital has been among the most important cities in the world, for both cultural and historical influence. Rome is widely regarded as the birthplace of Western civilization. For timeless classical architecture, iconic statuary, and a palatable sense of history, there is no place on Earth that can match Rome’s contributions over nearly three millennia.
Couples can meander together as they marvel at the ancient monuments and sites, such as the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, or the Pyramid of Cestius. There are innumerable offerings for art lovers as well, including the 54 galleries of the Vatican Museums. At the end of this tour, visitors will arrive at the Sistine Chapel, with its famous ceiling that was painted by Michelangelo over 500 years ago.
Rome is not only about ancient architecture and influential culture. It also has a premier modern social scene. Both the Testaccio and the Ostiense districts are known to have a vibrant nightlife, with the highest concentrations of nightclubs in Rome.
If retail adventures are more to your taste, then Rome should provide the shopping excursion of a lifetime. With such high-end global brands as Fendi, Laura Biagiotti, and Bulgari calling Rome home, it is small wonder that it is considered one of the four most important fashion capitals of the world. For luxury items, Gucci, Valentino, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana, to name but a few, all have boutiques along the Via di Condotti. For shopping with a more Old World feel, visit Campo de’ Fiori, where vendors have been hawking their goods for over 150 years.
Must Do’s: No romantic trip to Rome would be complete without the obligatory stop at the Trevi Fountain, which has been granting the heart’s desire of hopeful lovers for more than 250 years. Immortalized in numerous films, notably Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita, this may be the most famous fountain in the world. The many films, along with Frank Sinatra’s song, Three Coins in a Fountain, have illuminated a long-standing tradition among both hopeful and ardent romantics.
The tradition of throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain has a very prescribed ritual. Standing with your back to the fountain, and with your right hand, you should throw three coins, one at a time, over your left shoulder and into the fountain. The first coin is said to guarantee a return trip to Rome; the second, ensures romance; and the third coin promises marriage.
Even those without a particularly religious bent should make it a point to visit Vatican City. Many people have attested how attendance at a Papal Mass was a life-changing event. Tickets are always free of charge, but it is recommended that you get there early.
For a large number of the faithful, a climb on the Scala Sancta, or “Holy Stairs”, is required. According to Catholic tradition, these are the very steps where Jesus Christ stood during his trial before Pontius Pilate. These twenty-eight white marble steps were moved from Jerusalem to Rome in 329 AD.
Paris: the City of Light
“I felt that Paris was illuminated by a splendor possessed by no other places.”
~ Isak Dinesen, Letters from Africa, 1914 – 1931
It seems as if there are scarcely enough superlatives to adequately describe the romantic appeal of Paris. Lovers of every stripe are drawn here by design, and whether you come for the cuisine, the nightlife, the sights, the museums, the culture, the shopping, or all of the above, there is an unforgettable experience available for every taste.
Part of the wonder that is Paris is the fact that the city manages to simultaneously welcome you with a warm familiarity, while at the same time offering new discoveries for your delight. What this means to a newcomer to Paris is that they won’t be overwhelmed by all of the myriad possibilities – they will be able to take it all in at their own pace. For the veteran Parisian visitor, the constant reinvention means they can never become bored.
With that in mind, any discussion of a trip to Paris has to begin with the iconic attractions. On any trip, and at any time of year, it can be rewarding to visit, or revisit, the most famous attractions. Enjoying an elegant dinner from the second level of the Eiffel Tower while you look out over the city never gets old. Taking your time to appreciate the masterpieces in the Louvre is always a day well spent.
Wherever possible, you can enhance the experience by walking your desired destination. For example, the Champ- Élysées is considered the most beautiful avenue in the entire world, and as you and your sweetheart make your way from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, it will be easy to see why. The Baroque architecture and the tree-lined streets have a unique charm not found elsewhere.
Dedicated shoppers will have their choice of upscale shops, including Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Bos, Guerlain, and many, many other luxury establishments. Both the largest Adidas store in the world and the largest Gap store in all of continental Europe are located on the Champ-Élysées.
Must Do’s: One of the more endearing traditions among lovers in Paris is the affixing of “love locks” to the Pont des Arts, a metallic footbridge that has been called the most romantic spot in all of Paris. The ritual demands that couples engrave their initials on a padlock, and then clamp it somewhere on the bridge, and then toss the key into the Seine below.
A word of caution, however. There are two bridges in Paris where you might place your love-lock, the aforementioned Pont des Arts, and the Pont de l’Archeveche, and there is an important distinction between them. The Pont des Arts is for someone you have made a commitment to, while the Pont de l’Archeveche is merely for a lover. Make a mistake, and your Valentine’s Day could be ruined.
“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou”. When you are in a country known for having the best in both bread and wine, there can be nothing more patently romantic than to grab them both and take an evening cruise on the Seine. Paris is known as “The City of Light”, and in keeping with this, many of the bridges, walkways, and riverside buildings are illuminated at night, creating a magical experience.
Obviously, there are many other European cities that can provide a wonderful memory for Valentine’s Day. Ultimately, where you decide to go is up to you, but each of the above choices offer a can’t-miss opportunity to have the sort of story-book romantic getaway that you have always wanted.