Iceland is frequently referred to as "the land of fire and ice." It is an otherworldly landscape and one of the few places on the planet where volcanoes and glaciers coexist. But with its spectacular waterfalls, hot springs like the Blue Lagoon and a sea rich with Viking lore, Iceland should be called the land of fire, ice and WATER!
Whether it's swapping stories with a friend or traveling with a group of Backroads guests on our Douro Valley River Cruise, I can't help but share all the fascination and stories about port wine production and the country of Portugal. It's all just so darn good.
One of the reasons that Europe is so special is that, within a relatively small geographic area, you can visit incredibly diverse landscapes with their own histories, cultures and scenic wonders. While Backroads provides everything you'll need to enjoy any of our trips, these 10 destinations are especially great for first time travelers to Europe. With accessible airports and hotels, friendly locals who often speak English and dependable public transportation, among other welcoming attributes, they offer a perfect introduction to European beauty, food and charm.
The vastness and beauty of Norway’s fjords and lands are beyond description and must be experienced to be appreciated. Backroads took our group to areas of Norway most tours and visitors will never see. Every detail was planned and balanced with enough free time and choice of daily hikes depending on how one felt that day. This trip was perfect for our group of seven women, giving us the freedom to simply enjoy Norway, have fun and create memories together.
Twenty years ago, I found myself in Slovenia for the first time. I had never heard of it; to me, it was just a rumor, a whisper of adventure, a place where few were aiming their sights. "You've gotta check it out, man. No one even knows it's there." So, with very little thought and absolutely no plans, my friends and I grabbed our bags and set out for the station.
One of the reasons I joined Backroads as a Trip Leader a decade ago was because it was one of the only active travel companies that had trips in Norway. Growing up, my father always loved studying our family genealogy and especially our Norwegian roots. He and my mother had visited Norway in search of family roots on their European travels back in the 1970s, when they were first married. So Norway was an obvious choice for a family trip abroad, back in 1998. On that trip we followed the family tree down to the roots but could only find the small valley our family had come from. Nothing much came from the trip other than a deep feeling of connection for myself and a little more context for our family heritage.
When I first visited Porto on a backpacking trip nearly 20 years ago, my primary interest was to explore the charming neighborhood bars of the Ribeira quarter, enjoy some fado music and savor Porto's namesake wine. Over the years, my returns to this captivating city have matured and each visit has allowed me to uncover another surprising layer of this World Heritage city situated on both the Atlantic and the Douro River. While I originally regarded the Douro as just an ordinary river, I've since come to appreciate its significance for the soul of Porto and as a transport conduit for an entire region. Instrumental in moving goods and people up and down the river were the rabelo boats, a type of cargo boat unique to this river.
"Praha" is Czech for "threshold": a reference to medieval trade taxes, but in many ways still an apt name today. My favorite city in Europe sits on the threshold between East and West, past and future.
Stockholm is not a city that speaks for itself. Like the Swedes, it exists with a quiet elegance and humility that is discovered by the foreigner with the patient peeling away of layer after layer. Its skyline is one of the most striking I’ve seen in Europe, with spires reaching towards the sky and pastel-colored buildings lining the canals and bridges that unite the city across 14 islands. From Lake Mälaren through a web of canals and rivers reaching the Baltic Sea, the Stockholm Archipelago draws city dwellers from the capital’s urban chic into the countryside.
The banks of the Danube are soaked in history, having witnessed the rise and fall of countless empires. Today, within the cities along the Danube, the past remains visible in stunning clarity. An imperial glow is embedded within the very masonry of capitals like Vienna and Budapest. One stands at the footsteps of the Hofburg Palace or the Hungarian Parliament and senses how it must have felt to be a provincial subject from some far-flung corner of the empire, awestruck by their imperial grandeur. The Danube has retained this aura of historic wonder and it flows like a gateway into the past for all travelers who tread its banks.