Eiffel Tower? Check. Colosseum? Check. Buckingham Palace? Check. Maybe it’s your first trip to the old continent, maybe it’s your fifth. Either way, consider going rogue on this one, ditching the “must-sees” for the enlightening and — most importantly — the unexpected.
To help you get started, we’ve investigated eight of Europe’s top cities and uncovered some unusual, crowd-free spots: Get ready to read about a vampire museum, a prison that’s now a hotel, and a restaurant that does it all in the dark. Best of all, Norwegian flies nonstop from the US to each of these world-class locations, making your next European adventure just a low fare away.
Where to stay: Live like royalty — at least for a few nights — at the Hotel Orfila on the edge of Madrid’s Salamanca District, tucked away from the city’s busy streets. The 19th-century mansion nabs accolades for its rooftop terrace, Michelin-starred kitchen staff, and its lavish (and proper!) high tea. Expect to take your morning coffee from a silver carafe in a sun-dappled courtyard.
Where to eat: Go down — way down — into a recreated World War II bunker, and there you’ll find…sushi. Yugo The Bunker dishes up a duo of tasting menus featuring the very best of Japanese fare, all under the guidance of its Michelin-starred chef, Julián Mármol.
What to do: It starts as a funky retail store, morphs into an art gallery, and then invites guests to pull up a chair and have a drink. Kikekeller breaks all the rules for defining just what it is — but who cares? The gin and tonics are unforgettable.
Norwegian flies to Madrid nonstop from New York and Los Angeles.
Where to stay: Hotel Villa Morgagni is an oasis of quiet in a residential nook that gets you just far enough away from the big city action (the metro is steps away for your return to the bright lights). Take in the city skyline during breakfast from their ideally positioned rooftop terrace.
Where to eat: La Sagra Del Vino Di Rovazzani Valentino is almost as much of a mouthful as their dishes are delicious. The offerings are old-school and authentic, with the whole family pitching in to serve gigantic meatballs and mouthwatering oxtail creations to those lucky enough to be seated at their tables.
What to do: Get your creep on any time of the year with a visit to Capuchin Crypt. Five rooms feature displays of human bones reportedly from the bodies of long-dead friars — all 3,700 of them. Start at the Crypt of the Skulls, move on to the Crypt of the Pelvises, and work your way down.
Norwegian flies to Rome nonstop from New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Where to stay: Retrome Urban Retreat threw away the book on cookie-cutter design. Instead, each room showcases a signature style with funky floor tiles and hand-picked midcentury mod furnishings. Soak up more hip vibes — and beverages and bites — in the lounge.
Where to eat: We eat with our eyes first — except at Dans Le Noir?, where dinner is in the dark. Course after course prompts a game of dinner detective, but no one is really good at it. It doesn’t matter; everything tastes amazing, other senses are on high alert, and the game is fun.
What to do: Is it treasure or trash? That’s for you to decide. Shoppers head in droves to Mercat dels Encants de Barcelona four days a week to pick through prints and posters, jewels and jars, silverware and sculptures. Be sure to look up, way up, at the mesmerizing mirrored ceiling.
Norwegian flies to Barcelona nonstop from New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Ft Lauderdale.
Where to stay: The soaring windows of the old textile factory let light spill into the fresh and funky rooms of Hotel Fabric. After gushing over your lodging, go bask in eucalyptus-scented glory at their hammam spa — or just coat yourself in the L’Occitane en Provence products you find in your room.
Where to eat: Who says you need to eat French food all the time while in Paris? It’s all about authenticity over ambiance at Paris-Beirut, a little traiteur (takeaway stand) serving up Lebanese flavors like brochettes poulet tawouk and saucisses soujouk.
What to do: Gather your band of bloodsuckers and head for Le Musée des Vampires to stock up on vampire kill kits and dusty tomes featuring the famously undead. The owner of this private place, Jacques Sirgent, works as an English teacher and Bram Stoker translator by day, resident vampire expert by night.
Norwegian flies to Paris nonstop from New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Austin, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orlando, and Ft Lauderdale.
Where to stay: A private garden, a Nespresso coffee machine in every room, and an onsite chef that prepares daily meals using local ingredients — the only thing you won’t have is the right to complain. Pillows Anna van den Vondel offers 31 rooms plus a communal space, called The Living, where reading by the fireplace or sharing a cocktail with fellow travelers is highly encouraged.
Where to eat: “Do one thing, but do it well.” It’s an old saying that the bakers at Van Stapele Koekmakerij have taken very, very seriously: The tiny shop makes a chocolate cookie with a white chocolate center. That’s all. And when the last of their 3,000 sweets are sold for the day, the shop is shuttered.
What to do: It started as an homage to his pet cat who passed away, but Bob Meijer’s townhouse has since transformed into KattenKabinet. Now it’s filled with “cat things,” including paintings, books, posters, and sculptures — and a few actual cats. Be prepared for a serious museum experience, despite what your intuition tells you.
Norwegian flies to Amsterdam nonstop from New York.
Where to stay: It’s not quite the Tower of London, but if you’re interested in spending the night in the slammer, Clink78 will do the trick. The Victorian building was once the courthouse where punk band The Clash stood trial. Sleep in an authentic prison cell, and hang out in the original courtrooms.
Where to eat: Try a bite of everything on an Eating London food tour. The East End option starts with a bacon sandwich, moves on to bread-and-butter pudding, a couple of curries, chewy hot bagels, stinky cheeses, and finishes off with a salted caramel tart.
What to do: Everyone sees the River Thames, but most people simply admire it from the bank or hop aboard a cruise — only the brave jump into kayaks. And for their efforts, they’re gifted with unique views of the isle’s most famous waterway. Kayaking London makes it happen.
Norwegian flies to London nonstop from New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orlando, Miami, and Tampa.
Where to stay: Fans of modern architecture will love Life Gallery Athens Hotel with its soaring glass accents and minimalist design. Luxury has taken over virtually every space — but especially the glass-walled swimming pool and the horseshoe-shaped Kool Life Bar.
Where to eat: Barley Cargo is about beer, beer, beer. Hundreds of them, including 70 Greek favorites that are picking up awards worldwide these days. Drinkers are surrounded by aluminum kegs and encouraged to try seasonal favorites. This watering hole offers a tasting menu, too.
What to do: Spend a Sunday morning with the departed at the First Cemetery of Athens to admire the gorgeous sculptures and tombs that double as works of art. Three churches grace the property, and make sure not to miss The Sleeping Maiden tombstone, which chronicles a particularly tragic tale.
Norwegian flies to Athens nonstop from New York.
Where to stay: Luxury, history, and romance figure prominently at Camillas Hus, a seven-room getaway named for Ms. Camilla Collett, a novelist and activist who took up residence in the circa-1845 building. Expect canopy beds, chandeliers, lush carpets, and style to spare.
Where to eat: Beer and pork reign supreme at Crowbar og Bryggeri, where diners can feast on a whole suckling pig served with almond potatoes, Greek salad, homemade pickled vegetables, and fresh baguettes. Wash it down with a pint of Quoth the Raven, a double oatmeal stout.
What to do: If you’re too chicken to do the actual ski jump from the Holmenkollen jump tower (it’s a 197-foot drop), then opt for the only slightly less terrifying Kollensvevet Zipline. Strap in and soar across the 1,184-foot span — and do it at night, when the city views are best.
Norwegian flies to Oslo nonstop from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orlando, and Ft Lauderdale.