35 American Cities That Promise a Taste of Europe
The global pandemic certainly hit travelers hard in 2020, with many Americans canceling travel plans due to border closings. Most of Europe remains closed to U.S. citizens, with little information about when it might reopen to travelers visiting from abroad.
If you have your heart set on visiting Europe and are eager to get back on the road again (with plenty of masks), there are places in the United States that look and feel just like our neighboring continent across the pond. From St. Augustine, Florida, to Poulsbo, Washington, these American cities promise a taste of Europe, filled with culture, international cuisine and picturesque settings — and you don't have to leave the country.
(Although, we realize, that's every traveler's dream right now.)
Want to Visit Spain?
The World Tourism Organization found Spain's nearly 83 million visitors in 2018 made it the second most-visited country in the world.
What's not to love?
Its Mediterranean coastline and hilly terrain, rich culture, Moorish and Roman influences, awe-inspiring art and architecture, delicious food and drink, diverse geography, energetic cities and sleepy villages across 17 different regions offer something for everyone.
Try St. Augustine, Florida
Is it Florida or Barcelona? You may wonder this very thing when visiting St. Augustine, located in the northeast part of the Sunshine State.
Spanish explorers set foot in Florida in 1513, led by Juan Ponce de Leon who believed he found the mysterious Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, America's oldest continuously inhabited European town. Spain sent Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles back to colonize the land, becoming governor and founding St. Augustine in 1565 — well before the English created its first towns in Virginia.
Today, the Spanish influence is evident in Old City, where narrow streets wind near the grand plaza and the Castillo de San Marcos.
Or Santa Barbara, California
Spaniards traveled the coastline of California in the late 1700s hoping to expand Spain's territory and convert the natives.
Along the way, they built 21 missions from San Diego to Sonoma — each about a day's horseback ride apart — to colonize the land and bring the Spanish culture and religion to the Golden State.
Although the mission history ended in 1834, all remain open to visitors, including Santa Barbara's "Queen of the Missions," the only one to have twin bell towers.
Or Kansas City, Missouri
You may be thinking, "What do Kansas City and Spain have to do with one another?" — but it's true!
When developers began to create the Country Club Plaza in 1912, they were inspired by the marketplaces of Spain, particularly Seville. Designers visited Spain to mimic architecture that would inspire people to want to live near and visit the plaza.
It took $5 million (a huge fortune at the turn of the 20th century) to create the plaza, complete with a tower created in the style of the 12th-century Moors. The Giralda belfry was christened in 1967, the same year Kansas City and Seville became sister cities.
Want to Visit Switzerland?
In 2019, U.S. tourism to Switzerland rose 10 percent with more than a million travelers setting off to visit its alpine villages and cities and any of its more than 7,000 lakes.
The landlocked nation surrounded by Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Liechtenstein may experience traits of its neighbors, but it is purely in its own realm when It comes to its natural breathtaking beauty.
Plus, its chocolate is reason enough alone to visit!
Try New Glarus, Wisconsin
But when you cannot visit Switzerland, Wisconsin's New Glarus is the next best thing. Established in 1845 as a colony of Swiss immigrants, the village retains its alpine style and charm.
The town is renowned for showcasing its Swiss heritage through its customs, architecture, cuisine and traditions that earn it the nickname "America’s Little Switzerland.” Its tourism board even boasts that you may hear yodeling and alphorns at any given moment.
Or Vail, Colorado
For those who ache to visit Switzerland's famous slopes, especially at the height of ski season, Vail aims to accommodate with its luxurious Swiss-style village.
Here, you'll find a steaming pot of Swiss fondue at the ready in restaurants after you've enjoyed the powder of Colorado's Rockies. Enjoy apres-ski by a fire in the charming mountain town, and you won't be missing a thing.
Want to Visit the Netherlands?
More than 46 million people spent a night in the Netherlands in 2019, with many of them snapping pics of its charming windmills and fields of brightly colored tulips, imported from Turkey in the 1600s and now a symbol of the Dutch.
Sometimes referred to as Holland, which means "woodland" in Old English, there are more than 1,000 windmills in the country, many of which are still fully operational. The UNESCO World Heritage Kinderdijk houses 19 and is a main tourist attraction.
Try Holland, Michigan
The Dutch of the Netherlands settled along the shores of Lake Michigan in 1847, naming their village after their homeland. Holland, Michigan, also is home to windmills and tulips, especially during Tulip Time.
The annual festival is the largest tulip festival in the U.S. and has been held every May since 1929, save for during World War II and the 2020 pandemic. Plans are underway to celebrate the 91st event in 2021.
Or Pella, Iowa
The Dutch also made their way to Pella, Iowa, in 1847, establishing another town made up of settlers from the Netherlands. The people here were leaving behind persecution for their beliefs and named the town Pella after the other "City of Refuge" in Jerusalem.
Today, it's a refuge of a different kind: One where you can get a taste of Dutch life without having to cross an ocean. From Dutch bakeries and restaurants to the architecture found in historic downtown and the Vermeer Windmill, you'll experience the Netherlands, if only for a bit of time — measured by the Klokkenspel carillon clock that rings with figurines telling the history of the town.
Want to Visit Germany?
It's easy to see why Bavaria is Germany's most-visited state when it is filled with Bauernhaus architecture right off the pages of childhood fairytales. These German chalets provide a picturesque backdrop on a trip to Southwest Germany, where more than 8.5 million visit each year.
Bavaria is especially popular for its beer, with strict requirements as to how it can be made, making it quite literally the Champagne of beers. Giant steins and mugs are filled with the brew during the annual Oktoberfest celebration, which was created by a Bavarian prince (later king) in 1810.
Try Frankenmuth, Michigan
With 49 million Americans reporting German lineage, German is the largest ancestry group in the U.S. So, it should come as no surprise that there are a few towns across the country with roots in Germany — and the style to boot.
Begin your German tour in Michigan in the town of Frankenmuth, meaning "courage of the Franconians" from a kingdom of Bavaria. Founded in 1845 by Germans, the town features German restaurants that serve up traditional sauerbraten and spaetzle as well as German architecture and culture, and, of course, Oktoberfest.
The love of beer extends to the World Expo of Beer that the town hosts every year.
Or Fredericksburg, Texas
Named for a Bavarian prince, Fredericksburg was established by Germans in 1846, and today, you will still find German-speaking residents.
The city holds its heritage close and has preserved the architecture found in its village, including a cobblestone Marktplatz, which welcomes revelers annually to its Oktoberfest, amongst other annual events.
You can enjoy German-style beers year-round in many of the local restaurants and breweries, including Altstadt Brewery (shown), which prides itself on having an "Old World vibe."
Or Hermann, Missouri
When German immigrants settled in this small town in Missouri in 1837, they brought their culture that continues to live on today.
The annual Wurstfest features, yes, grilled sausages to be enjoyed as well as German music, a sausage-making contest and even a Weiner dog derby. And, of course, Oktoberfest is celebrated during the fall.
You'll even find authentic German beer made at Hermann's Tin Mill Brewery.
Or Helen, Georgia
In the mountains of North Georgia, surrounded by ample forests just like in Bavaria, one little town on the verge of extinction gave itself a new look and rebranded itself in 1968 to become Georgia's own Bavarian capital.
More than 50 years later, hordes of visitors head for the hills to sample German cuisine, purchase German knickknacks and sip suds in Helen's biergartens. And, when fall begins to change the color of the leaves, Oktoberfest becomes one of the biggest parties of the South.
Or Leavenworth, Washington
Another town that reinvented itself can be found in Washington's Cascade Mountains. Originally a timber town incorporated in 1906, it was also facing extinction when town planners in the 1960s thought to create a Bavarian town in the Pacific Northwest.
Like Helen, the transformation was more than a new look. About a million people visit every year to take part in its festivals, such as the Autumn Leaf Festival and the Christmas Lighting Festival, where snow-covered Leavenworth is aglow from Thanksgiving through Valentine's Day.
Or New Ulm, Minnesota
New Ulm is the real deal: 66 percent of the population is German-American. (The biggest ethnic concentration in the country!)
Settled in 1854, the town gets its name from the German town in the land state of Wurttemberg in Bavaria.s
To enjoy the German culture, sample any of the four festivals hosted by the town annually: Fasching (the German answer to Carnival), Bachfest to celebrate the renowned German composer, Oktoberfest and the Heritagefest, which is the town's largest event.
Want to Visit France?
More than 90 million people visit France every year, including 30 million to its capital, Paris. The country is one of the most popular in the world, credited for its decadent cuisine (this is where the world's best chefs train, after all), fabulous wine, romantic settings and an array of landscapes.
What will it be? The Cote d'Azur's rocky beaches along the Mediterranean Sea? The rolling lavender fields of Provence? The wine regions of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Alsace, Loire Valley and Champagne? The seemingly endless museums found around Paris?
The list goes on and on and you could return again and again and still uncover a new place more charming than the first.
Try New Orleans, Louisiana
There is a good reason why New Orleans' French Quarter is named as such, and it's simply that the city was founded by the French. While much of the United States was colonized by the English, Louisiana was French territory (named for its king) beginning in 1682. Unlike the Puritans of New England, the French Catholics built cathedrals and celebrated traditions like Mardi Gras, which now brings 1.4 million partygoers to the city to join the unbelievable parades, bead tosses and pre-Lent debauchery.
Overlooking Jackson Square is the towering Saint Louis Cathedral (shown), the oldest cathedral in the U.S.
Even after 40 years of Spanish rule, New Orleans refused to give up its Frenchness. A French-Creole language remains spoken across the city and state to this day. You'll need it to understand the menus at the various French and Creole restaurants scattered about the city.
Or Washington, D.C.
When the District of Columbia was being created to become the nation's capital city, George Washington hired French-born Pierre Charles L'Enfant as the architect to design it.
His design mimicked Europe's greatest cities, with much of the city being an homage to Paris' grand boulevards and open squares.
Even the C&O Canal Towpath resembles the quays of Europe today and can be found in Georgetown.
Or Montpelier, Vermont
Settled in the late 1700s and named for the French town Montpellier, Montpelier is Vermont's capital.
At the time of settlement, the new American colonies were enamored with the French, who helped in their battle against England during the Revolution.
Complete with Old World charm, the town is especially lovely to visit during the fall.
Want to Visit Versailles?
The king for which New Orleans and its first catholic church are named, King Louis XIV was such an influence that he was nicknamed the Sun King. Becoming king at the age of 28 in 1667, he set out to build Europe's most beautiful palace: Versailles.
More than 720,000 square feet make up the palace, which features 2,300 rooms.
But the gardens may be even more impressive than the palace, spanning more than 2,000 acres.
Try Asheville, North Carolina
America has its own palatial home and gardens in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The Biltmore, built for George Washington Vanderbilt, is the largest home in the United States at 175,000 square feet.
Constructed between 1889 and 1895, the French Renaissance chateau features 250 rooms, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. It, too, has extensive gardens — 8,000 acres — that provide color and blooms at various seasons of the year.
Want to Visit Norway?
Norway's Nordic landscape is truly inspiring. It's famous for its fjords, having more fjords in the country than anyplace on Earth— nearly 1,200 in total — with two appearing on the World Heritage List. Of its fjords, Sognefjord is its longest, extending more than 127 miles from Jostedalsbreen glacier to Jotunheimen National Park.
Fjords aside, the country has become quite the tourism destination following the popularity of Disney's "Frozen." In fact, tourism increased by 31 percent that first year after the film was released.
Try Poulsbo, Washington
Norwegian immigrants discovered areas of Washington looked a bit like home, including Poulsbo, founded by Norwegians in the late 1800s. Pronounced "Paulsbo" (as the town was supposed to be named "Paul's Place"), Norwegian was the primary language of the town until workers were brought in to build ships in Puget Sound during World War II.
Honoring its heritage, the fishing and farming town hosts a number of Norwegian festivals, including Viking Fest, held on Norway's Constitution Day of May 17, the Summer Solstice festival, the Poulsbo Arts Festival showcasing Scandinavian arts and crafts, and Julefest, a pre-Christmas festival.
Or Thief River Falls, Minnesota
One of the country's "most ethnically concentrated" cities, Thief River Falls is so proud of its Norwegian ancestry it has a village recreated to look like its early Norwegian settlement.
Peder Engelstad Pioneer Village includes museums, Victorian houses, churches, log cabins, a schoolhouse and other buildings to show what life was like at the end of the 1800s when the city was founded.
The city of more than 50 percent Norwegian descent also hosts its Norwegian Heritage Week festival every spring.
Want to Visit Sweden?
Norway's Scandinavian neighbor, Sweden, may not have more fjords, but its mountain and coastal landscape are the reason 7 million people visit every year.
The country's capital city, Stockholm, is actually spread across 14 different islands of the Baltic Sea and is connected by 57 bridges.
Try Lindsborg, Kansas
Despite the lack of glaciers and seas, Swedish settlers decided to make Lindsborg, Kansas, their home in 1869. Abut 30 percent of its population retains Swedish ancestry.
Located outside Wichita, the small town features homes built in a similar style as those in Sweden, Swedish dala (horse) sculptures and Heritage Square, the living history museum that showcases Lindsborg’s early days.
Nicknamed "Little Sweden," the town celebrates Midsummer every June and the musical Svensk Hyllningsfest biennially.
Want to Visit Greece?
The cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy, Greece receives 33 million visitors each year to discover where it all began.
While a visit to the Acropolis and Parthenon is a must, it's truly the 6,000 islands found in the aquamarine waters of the Aegean and Ionian seas that put Greece on the top of many travel bucket lists. Only 227 of the islands are inhabited, and island hopping is a true joy, especially when it can be done from a chartered sailboat.
Try Tarpon Springs, Florida
The waters of Tarpon Springs, Florida, just outside of Tampa, are equally as enticing as the Aegean. The Gulf of Mexico is renowned for emerald green waters cradling sugar-fine, white-sand beaches. But this city is a page out of Greek history with one in 10 residents of Greek descent — more than in any other American city.
The Hellenic immigrants came to this sleepy West Florida town in the 1880s, and today, you'll find the Greek influence in the shops and Greek restaurants along Dodecanese Boulevard, which are decorated in the colors of the Greek flag.
Want to Visit Italy?
Nearly 65 million people visit Italy each year, landing it in the world's top five countries for tourism.
Its nickname, “Bel Paese,” means "beautiful country," and that is no lie. Follow winding coastal roads through colorful villages of Cinqe Terra and the Amalfi Coast, view the birthplace of the Renaissance and take in the artwork of Florence, sample truly fresh foods like pizza in Naples and Prosciutto from Parma, enjoy a gondola ride along the canals of Venice, and face the remains of ancient Rome, which date back 28 centuries.
It's practically impossible not to fall in love with Italy.
Try Venice, California
Visiting 1,200-year-old Venice and seeing the island city with canals as thoroughfares is an experience unlike any other. But you can come close in aptly named Venice, California.
When the city was created in 1905, the area was wetlands and marshes that had to be drained. Canals did the trick, and the Venice of America was created. When cars became the main form of transportation, many of the original canals were paved over, but the Great Depression put a halt to the roadwork. Today, the remaining canals give a taste of Italy along the Los Angeles coastline.
Want to Visit Scotland?
Scotland's landscape is dramatic and breathtaking, from its Munros topped in rock, to forests lined with Amazonian-sized green ferns to waterfalls flowing near serene lochs, particularly in the Highlands of the north.
More than 3 million people flock to Scotland each year, with ancestry tours driving many Americans who want to see the land of their ancestors. Clan life was nearly extinguished at the battle of Culloden in 1746 when the Scots lost to the English, but today, travelers can enjoy Highland Games, proudly wear their tartans and explore the amazing Scottish countryside.
Try Hocking Hills, Ohio
In southeastern Ohio awaits Hocking Hills State Park. This crown jewel of Ohio is filled with caves, gorges, waterfalls and lush forested trails.
While you won't hear bagpipes or catch men in kilts, you will be awestruck by the natural beauty of the Allegheny Plateau.
Want to Visit England?
Travel to the United Kingdom hovers shy of 40 million people each year, and nearly 30 million of those visit London.
For more than 2,000 years, England's rich history includes kings and queens, major battles that shaped the entire globe and innovators in theater and music (think Shakespeare and The Beatles).
American history books are filled with pages on Great Britain, and we are fascinated by the country. We want to see its castles, its white-cliffed coasts, its quaint villages, its storied universities and then some. Because the language barrier isn't a factor, traveling throughout England is easy for Americans, too. In fact, London welcomes more travelers from the U.S. than any other country.
Founded in 1630 by English Puritans, Boston's English history is taught in American schools from a ripe age. As a Colonial city, it was built by the English, and, naturally, its historic areas such as Beacon Hill carry a look right out of England.
Unlike other areas of the United States where heritage remains important to those from other nations, you won't find any festivals celebrating England in Boston. Here, it's all about the nation's Founding Fathers and Boston's roll in creating the America we know today — when residents fought a revolution to have freedom from the Crown.
You'll find the story of independence by following the Freedom Trail where a literal red line has been painted along the streets to take you to places that impacted the nation, such as Paul Revere's home and the site of the Boston Tea Party.
Like Boston, Philadelphia played an integral part in the founding of the United States. Although its neighborhoods may have first been built during the English Colonial era, its famous residents, such as Benjamin Franklin, made it crystal clear they wanted no part of England when they drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence.
Visit Independence Hall and Old City to walk the cobbled streets our forefathers once did. The city was first founded by Quakers in 1682 — nearly 100 years before independence.
Or Old Town Alexandria, Virginia
Before it was Old Town Alexandria, it was simply Alexandria, founded in 1749. The port town was necessary for the British and Colonials and is where a young George Washington helped survey the land that had been colonized since 1669 to create the official city. (Of course, he went on to lead the charge in the Revolution and became the first president of the United States.)
Alexandria is named for John Alexander, a Scotsman who had owned much of the land. The old-world charm remains complete in what is now Old Town Alexandria. (Which is a different feel entirely than the rest of the modern city.)
Or Charleston, South Carolina
In the south, the port city of Charleston was founded in 1670. Originally called Charles Town for King Charles II, its Colonial buildings and cobblestones look similar to other English-Colony cities but with palm trees and a whole lot more humidity.
Battles were fought here, and the city fell to the British during the Revolution, but you already know that didn't last very long.
Want to Visit Denmark?
Why wouldn't you want to visit Denmark when it is one of the happiest countries in the world? The lowlands make it easy to explore the country and its cities by bike, and the people of Denmark use two wheels as their main form of transportation — nine out of 10 Danes own bicycles.
The country is filled with museums, castles and windmills, drawing more than 28 million people annually.
Try Solvang, California
North of Santa Barbara near the Los Padres National Forest is a town founded by Danes in 1911. When its founders arrived, they built a Danish folk school and worked in agriculture just as they had in Denmark. The town flourished, and on its 25th anniversary, the people celebrated by throwing the first of its now-annual three-day Danish Days Festival.
Visitors wanting to learn about and experience the Danish culture enjoy the festival's arts and crafts, food, dancing and entertainment, or visit throughout the year to get a taste of Denmark in Central California.
Want to Visit Austria?
Ever since Americans watched the hills come alive in the opening scene of "The Sound of Music," there has been a fascination with the Austrian Alps.
The Alps can be found in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, but in Austria, the Central Alps stretch more than 32,000 square miles.
Try Mount Rainier, Washington
Its 14,411 feet dwarfs Austria's highest peak, Grossglockner (at 12,461 feet) and is one of the tallest peaks within the continental U.S., making it a worthy consolation prize.
It's snow-capped throughout the year and filled with colorful wildflowers during the spring and summer, much like the Alps where you'll want to twirl and spin a la Maria von Trapp.
Want to Visit Europe's Vineyards?
France, Italy, Austria, Spain, Germany, Portugal — the wine regions spread across Europe and bring many travelers who want to visit European countrysides and sample some of the best wines in the world.
Of the 3.2 million hectares of vineyards across Europe, 75 percent are found in Spain, France and Italy.
Try Napa Valley, California
The Italian wine regions of Tuscany, Chianti and others are thought to receive 4 million to 6 million tourists every year. But when you cannot make it to Italy, California's famed Napa Valley is thought to most closely resemble the European country's beautiful, sun-drenched countryside.
Napa and neighboring Sonoma County offer a combined 800 different wineries — too many to visit all on one trip. That means you'll just have to go back again and again!
Or Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
The Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah Valley are also filled with vines climbing up the hills. Nearly two dozen wineries can be visited along the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail, which happens to run beside Shenandoah National Park and its vibrant mix of colors every fall.
Virginia is home to numerous wine regions and offers a variety of wine trails, including Monticello Wine Trail's more than 30 vineyards.
Or Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
Although the eastern Pennsylvania valley doesn't receive the same magical year-round sun, its location between the Pocono Mountains and Philadelphia make it an enticing wine region.
Folino Estates (shown) resembles a Tuscan vineyard, and you can follow the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail to visit the eight vineyards featured. (Now that you can do in a weekend!)
Want to Visit Portugal?
The capital and largest city of Portugal, Lisbon is a vibrant riverfront city that dates back 2,700 years, making it one of the oldest cities in Europe.
Stroll through the pastel-colored buildings of Old Town, visit the Sao Jorge Castle, take in the views and enjoy the museums scattered across the area before sampling the cuisine.
Of the 12.8 million travelers to Portugal, a third visit Lisbon and enjoy its until-the-wee-hours nightlife. Nearby beach towns along the Atlantic Ocean and wineries provide relaxing getaways.
Try San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge may be far more famous than Lisbon's 25 de Abril Bridge, but you'll certainly notice the resemblance. The Golden Gate, completed in 1937, is 8,979 feet long and stretches over the San Francisco Bay, while Ponte de 25 Abril, completed in 1966, is 7,470 feet and extends across the Tagus River.
You'll see other similarities between Lisbon and San Francisco, from the cable cars, hilly terrain and water views to the pastel-colored buildings and colorful museums.
Or Fall River/New Bedford, Massachusetts
It may not have the same look as Lisbon, but considering nearly half the population of Fall River (and 38 percent of neighboring New Bedford) are of Portuguese ancestry, you'll get about as close as you can come.
Found along the Mount Hope Bay separating Massachusetts from Rhode Island, the city's Portuguese roots can be attributed in large part to the whaling industry, as ships stopped in the Azores to pick up crew.
But the Portuguese here today mostly arrived between 1958 and 1990 when immigration laws eased up. The population of Portuguese here — still speaking Portuguese as well — is akin to that of Miami's Cuban population and the Tex-Mex border.
Little Portugal, in the Columbia Street Cultural District, is the place to go for authentic Portuguese restaurants, markets and stores.
Want to Visit the Azores?
Speaking of the Azores, this archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean is in fact part of Portugal. The islands are covered with lush green mountains and are surrounded by gorgeous blue seas connecting fishing villages and plantations.
With a remote location comes a more relaxed and simple way of life, making it the ideal destination for mainland travelers to escape to.
Mainlanders of the U.S. can fully relax when they, too, head west and land upon the islands still being created from its underwater volcano.
Fishing villages and plantations can be found on these islands of green and blue that resemble the Azores with their lushness, waterfalls, dramatic cliffs and ample hikes.
Bonus: Orlando, Florida
OK, OK, we get that this is more like a European stage set than walking the streets of Rome, but Disney World's attempt at bringing the world closer to home was made complete when Epcot's World Showcase opened.
Situated around a lagoon, Norway, Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom are represented (along with Mexico, China, Japan, Morocco and Canada) with accurate architecture, international cuisine and even employees from represented countries working to ensure each "country" does feel like you are abroad.
Bonus: Las Vegas
Las Vegas' casino resorts also pull out all the stops when convincing you to visit Nevada instead of a foreign destination. Need proof? Look to Paris Las Vegas and the Venetian Resort.
Paris features a half-scale Eiffel Tower that you can experience as well as replicas of the Arc de Triomphe, La Fontaine des Mers and a Montgolfier balloon.
At the Venetian, ride a gondola through the canals beneath a painted sky while gondoliers serenade you.