Domestic Vacation Ideas: 15 US Cities That Feel Like Popular European Destinations
Looking to plan some time away? Transport yourself to a destination that has all the ambience, beauty, and romance of Europe, without the hours of travel time. Consider visiting a U.S. city that is sure to make you feel like you’re traveling abroad! From tulips to genuine cobblestone to classic architecture, these U.S. destinations will give you all the feels of a European vacation.
How many of these destinations can you check off your travel bucket list?
1. New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans’ iconic French Quarter is also known as Vieux Carré (pronounced 'voo car-ray'), which translates to “Old Square.” In the oldest neighborhoods, you see both Spanish and French architecture. But beyond its buildings, New Orleans is steeped in French culture. From the French bread used in the city’s iconic po'boy sandwiches, to street names, and holiday celebrations like Mardi Gras and Bastille Day, a visit to NOLA is about as close to France as the U.S. gets.
The overall feel and layout of the city is European all on its own. For a city this size, it’s walkable. Many homes are located near the basic amenities like dry cleaners, restaurants, and shops. It’s also one of the only U.S. cities where you can drink alcoholic beverages right on the street, a custom that’s ubiquitous in Europe.
2. Santa Barbara, California
If you’re dreaming of the Mediterranean, specifically the French Riviera, you must make a visit to Santa Barbara. The sunny coastline, the architecture, and the people will take you to that overseas destination you’ve longed for in recent months.
While you’re there, you’ll want to check out the County Courthouse and Shoreline Park first. Then, hop over to Cold Spring Tavern for a refreshing beverage. Order an Old Fashioned to enhance the European tone — it’s a timeless choice.
3. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston has all the charm of a European vacation with the hospitality of the South. Wander around its many cobblestone streets and you’ll stumble upon historic churches, eclectic cafes, and galleries.
If you only ever visit one city in South Carolina, this should be it, and you can do it any time of year with such mild weather. It’s rare for temps to drop below 50, even in the winter. And the best part? You can experience all this without shelling out the price of an international plane ticket.
4. Boston, Massachusetts
New England holds on to many of its roots as an early home to British settlers, and it shows. A walk through Boston’s historic district displays cobblestone pathways and classic architecture that can make you feel as if you’ve stepped into Great Britain. Many cities in the metro area are even named after cities in England.
The weather in Massachusetts isn’t always as forgiving as some states, but snow can be a ton of fun. In the spring or summer, take a walk along the north end of the waterfront and people watch, then spend time in the Public Garden, the first public botanical garden in America.
5. Venice Canals, California
Venice Beach, California looks like… well... Venice, Italy. At least part of the area does. These canals were designed by tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney in 1905 to imitate the city of Venice and bring a taste of Italian culture to America.
Eventually, most of the original canals were removed, but one remains. From the Boardwalk, head southeast to South Venice Boulevard and Dell Avenue to access the bridges. You may even see a local rowing their gondola on the way to visit a neighbor.
6. Holland, Michigan
Holland, Michigan shares the mood of precisely where you would expect: the Netherlands. Dutch Village is a must-see for anyone who has ever dreamed of a Danish getaway. While you’re there, check out the only authentic, working, Dutch windmill in the country: DeZwaan Windmill.
If you’re in the area in early May, check out the Tulip Time Festival, a local annual event that has been happening since 1929. You’ll see more than just flowers here. National entertainment, family-friendly activities, and beautiful Lake Michigan sights are worth a trip.
7. St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine boasts the epithet of “The Ancient City,” as it is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the U.S. since it was founded in 1565 by the Spanish. Remnants of the Spanish Empire’s influence persist in its historic gates, the Castillo de San Marcos fortress, and in the overall feel of the historic city.
One of the most stunning aspects of St. Augustine, Florida is The Bridge of Lions. While it is intended for automobiles, you can walk across the mile-long marvel for a fun workout and an up-close view of the water. It costs nothing to check out the beautiful Spanish architecture the city has to offer. The Lightner Museum, on the other hand, costs $15 for entry and can show you even more. Then, stop for refreshments at a cafe on historic St. George Street when you’re ready to relax.
8. Pella, Iowa
The tagline for this city is, “A Touch of Holland.” If you ever have the chance to visit, you’ll understand why. Pella, Iowa’s culture and architecture are influenced tremendously by that of Western Europe. Its brightly colored buildings, windmill, and centrally located canal emulate a Dutch city.
Like Holland, Michigan, Pella also holds noteworthy Tulip Time celebrations in the community. Parades, special museum tours, and displays can keep you busy for a week in early May, which is probably the best time to visit.
9. Portland, Oregon
Travelers to the Pacific Northwest have said over and over that Portland, Oregon feels like Berlin. With a thriving beer culture and emphasis on environmentalism, Portland definitely evokes a European feel. It’s also an extremely bikeable city, with 385 miles of bike lanes as of 2019 — if you decide you visit, make sure you rent bikes or take advantage of Portland’s bike share program.
The people in Portland are as diverse as they come, and the town’s unofficial slogan is, “Keep Portland Weird.” For an equally potent dose of culture and nature, and amazing food, definitely plan a visit to this unique city.
10. Tarpon Springs, Florida
The rich heritage of Tarpon Springs originated in the early 1900s, when sponge divers emigrated here from Greece to participate in the newly booming sponge industry. To this day, the city remains deeply influenced by Greek culture. Take your pick of Greek food, as there are plenty of homestyle restaurants with recipes that taste as if they’ve been perfected through generations.
If you want more than just traditional eateries, visit while the annual Opa Palooza happens at the Historic Sponge Docks of Tarpon (usually in June). Meet locals and fully immerse yourself in the local culture. You can also visit the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral all year round — it was modeled in part after the Byzantine-style Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (now Istanbul).
11. Leavenworth, Washington
If you didn’t know better, pictures taken of Leavenworth, Washington could pass as the Swiss or Bavarian Alps. This faux-Bavarian village feels as if Northern Europe has come to America with the many confectionary shops and trinket stores. Here, you’ll see locals dressed in traditional Bavarian garb.
The delightful town is the result of a community once on the brink of economic collapse. They came together with the idea to recreate their favorite place on earth, which has now become a popular tourist attraction, especially during Oktoberfest.
12. Helen, Georgia
Another place that will put you in the mindset of a quaint alpine town is Helen, Georgia. This southern town, nestled against the Chattahoochee River in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is known as the state’s “Little Bavaria.” If you like souvenirs, you will love the fact that you have over 200 specialty shops to choose from in the area.
If you’re more into outdoors, there’s something for you here too. Hop into a hot air balloon, grab an inner tube and float the river, or enjoy a stay in a rustic cabin and roast marshmallows in the evenings. You have to see it for yourself.
13. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
If you’re itching to visit a city with a historic, European feel, look no further than Philadelphia. Take a stroll down Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously inhabited street in the U.S. and feel like you’ve been transported to the 1800s. Although British colonial architecture saturates much of Philadelphia, many architectural influences prevail.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a great example of Greek revival architecture — it looks like a Greek temple next to the shores of the Schuylkill River. Visit City Hall for an impressive example of French Second Empire architecture. When you’ve worked up an appetite, enjoy a delicious fusion of Italian and American cuisine in the form of a Philly cheesesteak.
14. Hermann, Missouri
The quaint town of Hermann is located in the Missouri Rhineland, named after its German counterpart because of its topographical similarities. The German heritage of Hermann prevails in its events — every year, the town hosts a Wurst Fest and an Oktoberfest — and in its thriving vineyards. Five city blocks are still dedicated to traditional German architecture.
While you’re here, take a stroll through downtown and stop in at Deutschheim State Historic Site to learn more about the area. Then, visit one of the nearby wineries for a glass of centuries-old European tradition.
15. Solvang, California
Solvang, California stands out tremendously from the rest of the state. It feels more like Europe than the rolling hills and beaches of west coast America. The city is known for the Danish buildings and (like other towns in the state) local wineries.
If you’ve ever wanted to go visit Denmark, there might be a closer solution, especially if you like vintage motorbikes. The city is home to Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum, which rotates a broad collection of foreign bikes monthly.
If you want to visit the actual European continent, check our library of travel tips.
- How to travel Europe on a budget
- Traveling Europe by train can be a rewarding adventure.
- It takes some planning to make your European vacation success.
- The U.S. sometimes brings a little Europe home.
- Even more European vacation ideas.
Experience the rich culture and history of these European-like cities without leaving the country. So, will you add any of these cities to your perfect travel bucket list? No matter where you decide to visit, you should look for the best deals. You can count on The Parking Spot for savings on parking near 22 major US airports.
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