Rich in culture, full of charm and steeped in fascinating history, European towns and cities have captivated travelers from across the pond for centuries. Enticed to sample the local delicacies, take in unique architecture and cultivate a better understand their rich history, North Americans often yearn to spend quality time in the 'old world.' Surprisingly, much of the magic one can see, taste and smell in Europe can also be experienced in a handful of particularly special cities across North America. Next time you're looking to get away, consider visiting one our favorite Euro-style American cities.
Boston, Massachusetts (Pop. 685,000), British Influence
Founded in 1630, Boston is one of America's oldest cities. Affectionately called Beantown, for a regional dish made with molasses, New England's most populous city is filled with narrow winding streets, a plethora of monuments and diehard sports fans, giving it a unique blend of old-world charm and new world cosmopolitan. The city served as the location for three of the most important events in the American Revolution, including the Boston Tea Party when angry colonists protested 'taxation without representation.' These days, the city's neighborhoods are a diverse mixture of sights, smells and inhabitants. Historic Beacon Hill with its federal-style rowhouses and gaslit cobblestoned streets is the perfect place for a weekend stroll. Head to the North End, Boston's hub for Italian-American culture to savor a fresh pastry and an afternoon espresso. The formerly puritanical suburb of Jamaica Plain is home to a thriving LGBTQ community while Charlestown offers glimpses of its Irish working-class roots. If you're short on time, head downtown to follow the Freedom Trail, which links monuments such as Faneuil Hall, a historic marketplace that has served the city since 1743, the Granary Burying Ground, where some of America's most famous forefathers can be found as well as the beautiful Boston Common, America's oldest park.
Visit Boston before or after Backroads Martha's Vineyard & Nantucket Bike Tour!
Friday Harbor, Washington (Pop. 2,400), Irish Influence
Looking for a slower pace of life? Somewhere on the water? How about some lavender? If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, consider visiting the small town of Friday Harbor, located on the eastern shore of San Juan Island in Puget Sound between Canada's Vancouver Island and the Washington State mainland. Accessible only by ferry or float plane, this walkable seaport town just might make you think you're somewhere on the southwestern coast of Ireland... without the crowds. And if you like cycling, hiking or kayaking, the rolling green hills and rugged coastline provide a plethora of opportunities to explore. In fact, if you plan correctly, you might even be able to squeeze all your favorite activities into one afternoon! After your day of adventures, meander through Friday Harbor's quaint shops and boutiques. Or if you'd rather, kick back and enjoy a special massage backlit by locally produced lavender candles or simply head to a local pub for a pint of your favorite brew accompanied by some delicious fresh catch of the day.
Santa Barbara, California (Pop. 90,000), French & Spanish Influence
Known as the American Riviera for its magnificent white sand beaches and upscale boutiques, the city of Santa Barbara can make you feel like you've found a little slice of southern France no matter what time of the year you visit. Located along the central California coast, it's situated between the rugged Santa Ynez mountains and the seemingly endless Pacific Ocean. Santa Barbara's Mediterranean feel is further accented by its plethora of Spanish Colonial architecture. Wander the city's elegant streets lined with outdoor shops housed in white stucco buildings with red-tiled roofs before making your way to the city's mission, one of the most beautifully maintained in all of California. Throw in some top-notch wineries, delicious local eateries and olive oil producers--all of which are situated within biking distance of the city center--and you'll see why many come to Santa Barbara and never want to leave! Be it in the saddle, with your hiking shoes or out on the water, you'll love your time in this Mediterranean-style paradise!
Check out Backroads Santa Barbara to Ojai Bike Tour or Backroads Santa Barbara to Ojai Family Multi-Adventure Tour to set up your next adventure along the California coast.
Vail, Colorado (Pop. 5,500), Swiss Influence
Tucked into the majestic Colorado Rockies, Vail is closest thing America has to a village in the European Alps. Boasting the largest ski mountain in Colorado (including 10 bowls and 31 lifts) along with a bevy of high-end accommodations and restaurants, this world-renowned city hosts numerous annual events ranging from film festivals to ski competitions. It was founded in 1962 by a local rancher and a former 10th Mountain Division member, who modeled it after the Swiss village of Zermatt, the birthplace of mountaineering. If you're looking for some rugged winter sports activities located within close proximity to luxury chalets stocked with tasty après ski beverages, look no further than the Rocky Mountains for your next getaway.
Napa Valley, California (Pop. 79,000), Italian Influence
Rolling hillsides, luxury resorts & spas, sunshine and vino. Serving as the hub of Northern California's wine region, Napa Valley is a great jumping off point for avid connoisseurs of the fruit of the vine as well those seeking some world-class cycling. Home to more than 400 wineries, Napa Valley is the west coast's premiere adult playground. Combining elements of Italy's rustic old world feel with sweet, new world vines, the valley's villa-style vineyards and wineries may have you wondering if you've somehow been magically transported to the heart of Tuscany. And as in Italy, where there is great drink, there is exceptional food. Be sure to try at least one of the region's Michelin-starred restaurants, which include The French Laundry and Auberge du Soleil. And what better way to work off your delicious culinary adventures than with some fantastic riding! Suited for cyclists of all abilities, Napa Valley has flat and gently rolling rides through oceans of vineyards as well as extended climbs and descents along quiet backcountry roads for more determined riders. Many of the surrounding hills have terrific hiking trails if that's more your speed. Whether you're a rider, a hiker, a wine connoisseur or all three... head to Northern California for some unforgettable experiences under the Napa sun.
New Orleans, Louisiana (Pop. 393,000), French Influence
New Orleans is unlike any other city in North America. A rich mélange of stately French and Spanish architecture, mouth-watering Creole cuisine and warm southern charm, The Big Easy welcomes visitors with a good-times-for-all attitude that is sure to win over your heart (as well as your stomach). Originally called La Nouvelle-Orléans, the city was founded in the Spring of 1718 by the French Mississippi Company under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville in honor of Philippe II, the Duke of Orleans. Designed with a series of small neighborhoods, similar to the arrondissements of Paris, the city is a wonderful place to get lost in. If your time is limited, head to the French Quarter, initially named Le Vieux Quartier. The neighborhood's intimate streets are teeming with mouth-watering cuisine, live music, beautiful European-style homes as well amazing po-boy sandwiches...did I already mention this city has great food? Whether you're on the hunt for classic French dishes, such as duck confit or more modern takes on haute cuisine--try the bayou pigeon frog legs with Vietnamese caramel sauce if you're feeling adventurous--New Orleans will undoubtedly have what you're looking for. And the best part is that you'll most likely be privy to some first-rate music while you enjoy your meal. Go ahead... grab your walking shoes and your appetite and laissez les bon temps roulez!
Portland, Oregon (Pop. 647,000), Dutch Influence
Bohemian, drizzly and filled with a heavy dose of free-thinking cyclists, Portland, Oregon is the closest thing North America has to bike-centric European cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam. Originally settled in the early 1830s, the City of Roses has a little something for everyone... be it a handcrafted cup of coffee, a lively political debate or a bicycle-based food truck adventure via the city's more than 350 miles of bike lanes. Portland's proximity to the windswept Pacific coast as well as the waterfall-filled Columbia River Gorge also make the city a great jumping off point for those looking for some revitalizing time in nature. Just east of the city you'll find hundreds of miles of hiking trails as well as a plethora of quiet country roads perfect for cycling. The imposing, often snow-topped Mt. Hood also makes for a great ski destination in the winter. Although grey and gloomy days might be the norm in the Pacific Northwest, planning your visit for the spring--or better yet summer--will give you a better chance to snag a sunny day to enjoy the bountiful flowers that are part of this magical city, which prides itself on staying weird.
Belfast, Maine (Pop. 6,700), Irish Influence
The gentle but persistent swaying of ship masts, the call of passing seagulls, the smell of salty sea air. Can you imagine it? If you can't, look no further than Belfast, Maine (named for the capitol of Northern Ireland), a small port city located at the mouth of the Passagassawakeag (yes, you read that right) River estuary on Penobscot Bay. The city burnt down during the War of 1812, then was rebuilt and developed into one of the largest shipbuilding centers in the country. As a result, local shipbuilders became wealthy and built large Greek Revival and Italianate mansions, which can still be seen sprinkled throughout the other classic New England cottages in Belfast's historic downtown district. With the advent of refrigeration, the economy shifted to harvesting seafood, which continues to be sold to nearby cities like Boston and New York as well as across the country. Take a stroll through Belfast's charming streets then pop into a nearby pub for some butter-soaked lobster to fuel yourself for some cycling, which is quite abundant in the area. From rocky coastline with pounding surf to quiet pine forests and rolling green hillsides, spinning in and around Belfast can transport your spirit to a simpler time that you may have thought only still exists in places like Ireland.
Get a taste of Belfast on Backroads Maine Bike Tour!
Quebec City, Quebec (Pop. 532,000), French Influence
Perhaps more than any other city on this list, a visit to Canada's Quebec City is like stepping right into old-world Europe. Surrounded by impressive fortified walls, the quaint neighborhood of Old Quebec, also a UNESCO heritage site, is filled with Baroque and Nouvelle France architecture, including the iconic Château Frontenac, one of the most photographed hotels on earth, as well as the spectacular Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, located just a funicular ride away. It's interesting to note that many of Quebec City's buildings date back to 1608, more than two hundred and fifty years before Canada officially became a nation. Quebec City's food culture also has deep ties to la belle France. Poutine, arguably the Québécois' greatest culinary gift to the world (french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds), combines the rich and decadent ingredients of France, but with a gluttonous twist that would make any red-blooded North-American proud. And for anyone still questioning where Quebec City's roots, one only has to lend an ear to the local passers-by, many of whom speak French, Quebec's official language.
Get a taste of French Canada with Backroads Quebec Multi-Adventure Tour!