There is little more mesmerising than a stroll through the winding cobbled streets of Europe’s beautiful medieval towns. This is especially true in the wintertime, when snow often blankets streets and bridges, parapets and church towers. The cities’ beauty is in their cultural, architectural and social history, and there is something about the wintertime that brings this into particularly sharp focus – a sense of endurance perhaps, the thought that these cities have stood strong amid many thousands of snowstorms. It is a rare beauty found nowhere else in the world.
Cities such as Prague, Vienna and Budapest offer some of the most exquisite medieval experiences visitors to Europe could hope to find. While the three cities vary greatly, they are united by their historical beauty, their wintertime charm and, perhaps most importantly, their ‘under the radar’ status when compared with European big-hitters such as London, Paris and Milan.
Prague, or Praha as it is called locally, is the capital of the Czech Republic and, much more excitingly, the historical capital of Bohemia – it doesn’t get much cooler than that. It has been a key city for many political and religious movements, the home of kings (and even a Pope) and has endured more than its fair share of war. Much of the old city is stunningly preserved, with a multitude of monuments and buildings a must see: Prague Castle, the astronomical clock and the gorgeous Old Town Square to name a few. The streets that weave in and around these buildings are sprinkled with bars and cafes that serve excellent coffee and, more famously, world-class Czech lager. When the frigid temperatures get a little to much, dive inside, warm your bones and sample the local brew – a slice of history in its own right.
When most people think of Vienna, they think of the opera, or Mozart, or Beethoven. The reason is simple: Vienna has been at the forefront of classical culture for centuries and continues to be amongst the vanguard today. Once the capital of the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire, it is a city that has seen the ebb and flow of power and invasion, but many of its streets and buildings have endured and are as stunning today as they ever were. Indeed, the entire city centre has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site – rubberstamps for authenticity don’t come much more emphatic than that.
Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is located just a few hours drive from Vienna and is fast becoming just as popular. Much like its Austrian neighbour, its city centre has been designated a World Heritage Site and the city-at-large boasts some glorious monuments, including Buda Castle and the Liberty Statue. If that’s not enough to tempt you, then how about the fact it has got 80 geothermal springs? Just what’s required after a day walking meandering city streets in subzero temperatures!
Ultimately, there is something special about these medieval cities of Europe, and that magic can only be experienced firsthand. The thrill of winding your way along a snow-dusted street, surrounded by perfectly preserved history, is something hard to find anywhere else in the world. It is as fixating as gazing at delicate artefacts in a museum, but without the do not touch sign. So why not step right in and feel that history.