Last week I came across a great post that discussed how many travelers only ever manage to make it to European capital cities. They say they’ve “been” to England when in fact all they saw of England was London. They rave about Spain yet all they can legitimately boast about is its capital city Madrid. It’s the same way with the United States. Foreign visitors to my home country say they’ve seen the United States, but seeing New York City (which obviously is not even the capital) is not at all representative of the country (and the same goes for the actual capital of Washington D.C.). The author brings up the valid point that one visits European capital cities because it’s easy. (For the record, the author herself is European.)
I’m guilty of saying these things too. I’ve been to France three times but it was only on my first trip there that I actually saw non-Paris France. While I loved Dublin and spent almost a week based there, most people going to Ireland will only give the capital city a day or two glance because for them the beauty of Ireland is elsewhere, namely in the countryside. Although I absolutely adore London, I really am dying to see more of the country, specifically small town England. I want to wander around a quaint English village, I want to walk in the footsteps of Jane Austen’s characters, and I want to feel like I’ve been transported back in time (it’s a little hard to imagine the whole time travel thing when in the thick of London’s hectic and mobbed city center). Spain is the European country that I’ve explored the most and that was only because I was living there for a semester. Had my visits to Spain been less than a week, I’m sure I would only have seen the “main” sights.
Europeans obviously have it quite easy to visit another European country. The continent is ridiculously small when compared to a country the size of the United States, so flying from one nation to another is a minor affair. Coming from North America, travel to Europe has obviously gotten easier (board a flight on the East Coast and less than 10 hours later you’re there to many destinations). However, if you only have limited time in a European country, are you really going to go anywhere but the capital?
Generally speaking, capital cities anywhere offer visitors the most of everything including a bevy of options-sights, food, accommodations, entertainment. Not to mention, public transportation is usually plentiful and in Europe’s case, usually incredibly efficient. I have never visited a European capital city that I didn’t like. Lisbon, Madrid, Rome, Paris-they’ve all been wonderful in their own respective ways. What I like most about capital cities is that I don’t need to rent a car. I can arrive at the airport and either take public transportation or hire a ground transfer for a nominal price to get me to my hotel. I can walk or take public transportation to get around once there. Outside of major cities, these types of options don’t exist.
Don’t get me wrong, there is so much of non-city Europe I would love to see (England’s Lake District, France’s Provence, Italy’s Tuscany, Spain’s Galicia). But when having only a week’s time for a trip to Europe, I would hate to spend it on transiting, especially after such a long flight from the United States. That and renting a car abroad still scares me.
I’m not sure which European country I’ll visit next, whether it’s an oldie or a newbie, but it will probably involve a capital city…or two.