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The Best of Europe in 2016

Europe beckons with these seven unparalleled attractions.

  • man dressed up at Mozart in Austria, image
    Photo caption
    Mozart Week fills Salzburg with the sound of music.
  • village of Zermatt beneath Matterhorn, image
    Photo caption
    The village of Zermatt glows beneath the Matterhorn.
  • plate of Martín Berasategui's cuisine, image
    Photo caption
    Martín Berasategui's cuisine looks as good as it tastes.
  • actor in a Shakespearean play in London, image
    Photo caption
    All the world's a stage, especially in London.
  • Keukenhof Gardens in Holland, image
    Photo caption
    Seven million bulbs are expected to bloom this spring at Keukenhof Gardens.
  • detail of The Birth of Venus, image
    Photo caption
    The goddess of love dazzles in this detail of The Birth of Venus.
  • Mont Saint Michel, image
    Photo caption
    Water once again encircles the stately Mont-Saint-Michel during certain high tides.

This small continent is a giant of tourism. In 2016 the lure will be stronger than ever at destinations that include a medieval monastery, a garden with millions of flowers, and a fete of Shakespeare plays.

The planet’s most photographed mountain just celebrated the 150th anniversary of its first ascent. You needn’t climb this 14,692-foot icon of the Swiss Alps to enjoy all that the region—including the chic, car-free village of Zermatt—has to offer. The main ski season lasts until April. During the warmer months, you can follow 250 miles of trails past cozy Alpine restaurants and wildflower-filled meadows. Ride a cuteas- a-toy cog train to the Gornergrat ridge for a mountain vista that packs in 29 peaks higher than 13,000 feet.

All the world’s a stage, as the Bard wrote, but in 2016 Shakespeare’s fans will flock to one part of it, his homeland, for performances commemorating the 400th anniversary of his death. This January in London, the esteemed Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) mounts a first-ever “Shakespeare’s Great Cycle of Kings” repertory series of four plays (including Richard II, starring David Tennant, formerly of TV’s Doctor Who). From March through July, the RSC presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream in venues around the United Kingdom. Not into Shakespeare? Tickets will be hotter than a goblet of fire for the brand-new play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, based on a recent J.K. Rowling story.

About 20 miles from Amsterdam, the 79-acre park called Keukenhof goes into floral overdrive each spring thanks to 7 million blooming tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and other bulbs. The festivities (March 24 to May 16 this year) include 20 indoor plant shows—the lily show alone featuring 15,000 plants in 300 varieties—as well as a weekend of Dutch culture. A nearly 2,700-squarefoot mosaic of flowers reflects the 2016 theme of the 17th-century Golden Age, and a fascinating exhibit explores the tulip mania that gripped the country during that period.

The Birth of Venus is about to be reborn. The famous painting and others by Sandro Botticelli will be seen literally in a new light at the Uffizi Gallery this spring, when they move to a renovated room with state-ofthe-art illumination. In fact, the 16thcentury building, now a treasure-house of Renaissance art, is also being reborn—50 years after one of its darkest times, the great Arno River flood. The new Botticelli Room joins other masterpiece-filled rooms, where upgrades will have those spaces sparkling as never before. Check out the new web-app guide for museum visitors—Italy’s first—accessible by in-gallery Wi-Fi.

In this Alpine city of Mozart and the singing Trapp family, 2,000-plus annual music events provide song in every season. Mozart Week celebrates its 60th anniversary in January, and a free October jazz festival features 75 concerts at 29 venues. From its debut in 1920, the Salzburg Festival (July 22 to August 31 this year) has grown into a premier destination for music and drama, not to mention the city’s largest summertime employer—the costume and makeup team alone numbers 281. During the Whitsun Festival in May, opera diva Cecilia Bartoli stars as Maria in West Side Story. Can’t get enough of The Sound of Music? Take a tour of the film’s locations led by a guide who encourages sing-alongs with the sound track.

With more Michelin stars per capita than any other town in Europe, San Sebastián may just be the continent’s center of good eating. It boasts sophisticated three-star restaurants such as Akelarre, Arzak, and Martín Berasategui. But you’ll find far more than high-end dining in this handsome seaside town, also known as Donostia in the local Basque tongue. Countless bars dish up small bites to throngs every night; think velvety foie gras with mango jam, garlicky grilled shrimp, and other pintxos—the Basque word for tapas. The cultural scene is equally lively, including July’s famous jazz festival, Heineken Jazzaldia, which turned 50 last year, and the celebrity-studded San Sebastián International Film Festival in September. With the city’s selection as a 2016 European Capital of Culture, this year’s events calendar brims with special concerts and exhibitions.

A granite pinnacle rises from tidelands on the coast in northwestern France, crowned by a soaring monastery— Mont-Saint-Michel. The Gothic-style abbey has long reigned as one of Europe’s most stunning medieval sites, drawing 2.5 million sightseers and pilgrims each year. And in 2016, visitors will find it more breathtaking than ever. A project to remove a tide-blocking 1879 causeway and replace it with a graceful bridge was completed in 2015. Now, 40 times each year during high tide, water once again encircles this Unesco World Heritage site, just as it did for the first 1,000 years of its history.

Photography by Jorg Greuel/Getty Images (Matterhorn); Paul Stuart (Shakespeare); Darrell Gulin/Ocean/Corbis (Venus); Hemis/Alamy (garden); courtesy of Tourismus Salzburg GMBH; courtesy Martín Berasategui; Prochasson Frederic/Alamy (Mont-Saint-Michel)

This article was first published in Winter 2016. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.