Liège, a city along the Meuse River in Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia region, has long been a commercial and cultural hub. Its old town is filled with landmarks dating to the medieval era, including the Romanesque Church of St. Bartholomew. The Grand Curtius museum houses archaeological treasures and art within a 17th-century mansion, while Opéra Royal de Wallonie has staged operas since 1820.
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Budapest, Hungary’s capital, is bisected by the River Danube. Its 19th-century Chain Bridge connects the hilly Buda district with flat Pest. A funicular runs up Castle Hill to Buda’s Old Town, where the Budapest History Museum traces city life from Roman times onward. Trinity Square is home to 13th-century Matthias Church and the turrets of the Fishermen’s Bastion, which offer sweeping views
Frankfurt, a central German city on the river Main, is a major financial hub that’s home to the European Central Bank. It’s the birthplace of famed writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose former home is now the Goethe House Museum. Like much of the city, it was damaged during World War II and later rebuilt. The reconstructed Altstadt (Old Town) is the site of Römerberg, a square that hosts an annual Christmas market.
Oxford, a city in central southern England, revolves around its prestigious university, established in the 12th century. The architecture of its 38 colleges in the city’s medieval center led poet Matthew Arnold to nickname it the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’. University College and Magdalen College are off the High Street, which runs from Carfax Tower (with city views) to the Botanic Garden on the River Cherwell.
Graz is the capital city of the southern Austrian province of Styria. At its heart is Hauptplatz, the medieval old town’s main square. Shops and restaurants line the narrow surrounding streets, which blend Renaissance and baroque architecture. A funicular leads up Schlossberg, the town hill, to the Uhrturm, a centuries-old clock tower. Across the River Mur, futuristic Kunsthaus Graz exhibits contemporary art.
Marseille, a port city in southern France, has been a crossroads of immigration and trade since its founding by the Greeks circa 600 B.C. At its heart is the Vieux-Port (Old Port), where fishmongers sell their catch along the boat-lined quay. Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde is a Romanesque-Byzantine church. Modern landmarks include Le Corbusier’s influential Cité Radieuse complex and Zaha Hadid’s CMA CGM Tower.
Montréal is the largest city in Canada’s Québec province. It’s set on an island in the Saint Lawrence River and named after Mt. Royal, the triple-peaked hill at its heart. Its boroughs, many of which were once independent cities, include neighbourhoods ranging from cobblestoned, French colonial Vieux-Montréal – with the Gothic Revival Notre-Dame Basilica at its centre – to bohemian Plateau.
Nice, capital of the Alpes-Maritimes department on the French Riviera, sits on the pebbly shores of the Baie des Anges. Founded by the Greeks and later a retreat for 19th-century European elite, the city has also long attracted artists. Former resident Henri Matisse is honored with a career-spanning collection of paintings at Musée Matisse. Musée Marc Chagall features some of its namesake’s major religious works.
Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, is known for its art and architecture. The fantastical Sagrada Família church and other modernist landmarks designed by Antoni Gaudí dot the city. Museu Picasso and Fundació Joan Miró feature modern art by their namesakes. City history museum MUHBA, includes several Roman archaeological sites.
Baku, the capital and commercial hub of Azerbaijan, is a low-lying city with coastline along the Caspian Sea. It’s famed for its medieval walled old city, which contains the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, a vast royal complex, and the iconic stone Maiden Tower. Contemporary landmarks include the Zaha Hadid–designed Heydar Aliyev Center, and the Flame Towers, 3 pointed skyscrapers covered with LED screens.