6 U.S. Cities That Are Full of European Charm

With trips to Europe on pause for most Americans, these six domestic destinations offer appealing alternatives.

With the coronavirus still impacting much of the world, there’s no doubt that this summer will be a very different one for most of us—especially Americans, who are largely banned from traveling to Europe right now. But while your plans for Roman holidays and decadent Lyonnaise meals are on hold, there are a handful of places right here in the United States—perhaps even within driving distance of your own home—that can offer a distinctly European fix, thanks to their quaint city squares, rich architecture, and Old World food scenes. (Of course, while coronavirus remains a concern, you should always remember to check the latest local guidelines before visiting.) From coast to coast, here are six U.S. destinations worth experiencing this summer.

St. Augustine, Florida, instead of Madrid, Spain
The oldest city in the U.S., St. Augustine, Florida, was settled in the mid-1500s by the Spanish, and their influence lives on today, particularly in the city’s architecture. Among its treasures are the imposing Castillo de San Marcos, a stone masonry fortress along Matanzas Bay on the city’s western edge, and the grand Hotel Ponce de Léon at Flagler College. Built in 1888, the structure is a masterpiece of Spanish Colonial Revival design (with Moorish influence) with its symmetric cupolas, Tiffany stained glass, and grand rotunda lined with murals; for another impressive point of interest, hit the city’s Lightner Museum, a marvel of the Spanish Renaissance Revival style, which houses mostly American Gilded Age antiquities in the 19th-century Hotel Alcazar building.
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, instead of Cinque Terre, Italy
Italy’s famed string of five seaside villages, where homes are painted in candy-color shades of red, terra-cotta orange, and pastel pink, fishing boats bob in turquoise waters, and vineyards dangle precariously off of jagged cliffs, is one of Europe’s most enchanting—and heavily touristed—spots. But Carmel-by-the-Sea, a pint-sized enclave along California’s Central Coast, offers the same sort of windswept, beachy magic, with its quaint cottages, tumbling bluffs, and enticing collection of cafes, wineries, and independent boutiques.
Leavenworth, Washington, instead of Bavaria, Germany
Deep in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State sits Leavenworth, America’s very own Bavarian village. A massive civic initiative meant to boost the economy and tourism in the 1960s brought German culture, art, and architecture to this charming little mountain town, and today visitors are treated to Alpine-style buildings, food halls including Rhein Haus, Ludwig’s and München Haus, serving German beer and brats, and an adorable nutcracker museum. There’s also top-notch skiing, biking, and birding, as well as one of the most rollicking Oktoberfest celebrations this side of the Atlantic, which is canceled for 2020 but scheduled to make a return in 2021.
Solvang, California, instead of Aarhus, Denmark
Windmills spinning in the breeze. Thatched-roofed shops peddling wooden shoes and cuckoo clocks. Bakeries serving piping-hot aebleskiver, a spherical Danish pancake, and Viking-age re-enactments in the courtyards of beer gardens. It’s all here in Solvang, a city that’s just a 45-minute drive from Santa Barbara but is Scandinavian from every angle, from its half-timbered Danish Provincial buildings to its replica of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid sculpture and its own Round Tower, a scaled reproduction of Copenhagen’s identical-but-larger Rundetårn. The sunshine and salt-kissed air, though? That’s entirely Californian.
Newport, Rhode Island, instead of Nice, France
If you’re craving a trip to the French Riviera, with its pebbly shores and laid-back elegance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by Newport, Rhode Island, where Gilded Age mansions and ramshackle lobster shacks coexist in perfect seaswept harmony. Nice’s coastal walkways may have been inspiration for Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso, but Newport’s cliff walk, which stretches for 3.5 miles, is equally captivating, as is The Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s Beaux-Arts villa, built by architect Richard Morris Hunt in 1892. The city, known for its sailing, is a holiday-making heaven in its own right; and best of all, it’s driving distance from both New York City and Boston (a 3.5-hour-drive and 90-minute-drive, respectively). It’s also home to a number of storied hotels, including the Chanler at Cliff Walk, which is open with new COVID-19 protocols in place, and The Wayfinder, which opened in June.
New Glarus, Wisconsin, instead of Bern, Switzerland
Set in the rolling hills of Green County, Wisconsin, the picturesque village of New Glarus is often referred to as America’s Little Switzerland, and for good reason. Founded in 1845 by more then 100 Swiss emigrants, the town, which is anchored by its cheesemongers, farmers, and popular brewery, is now home to about 2,000 residents, all of whom showcase the city’s Swiss heritage with pride, while greeting you with quintessential midwestern hospitality. Here, the shops look like chalets, with sloping roofs and wide eaves; red and white Swiss flags flutter in the breeze; and street names are written in both German and English. Sip an ale from Spotted Cow, the city’s famous brewery; feast on rahmschnitzel, a creamy breaded veal, at the New Glarus Hotel Restaurant; and get a history lesson at the Chalet of the Golden Fleece Museum, a Swiss Bernese mountain chalet frozen in time.

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