A dreamy European vacation is on many people’s bucket list but planning a trip across the pond is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that takes time to plan. If a European jaunt isn’t currently in the cards, this list of cities that have been heavily influenced by Old World culture offer a unique European feel and are the next-best-thing to flying across the Atlantic.
1. St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine was founded as a Spanish colony in 1565, making it the oldest city in the U.S., and that influence hasn’t waned through the years. Its rich Spanish heritage is evident through the gorgeous architecture, gardens, and fountains that fill the city. Wander the cobblestone streets and explore Spanish-style restaurants and shops, as well as sites like Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park and Plaza of the Constitution. Be sure to check out the Colonial Quarter for an in-depth feel of what it was like living in the first European waterfront village in the Americas.
2. Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara’s rich history includes a strong Spanish Colonial influence that remains to this day. Nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and Pacific Ocean, a visit to this breezy coastal city will make you feel as if you’re vacationing on the Mediterranean coast. Santa Barbara’s unique Spanish architecture is evident through the red-tiled rooftops and white stucco that make up the city’s buildings, and the iconic Old Mission Santa Barbara sits as a historic and cultural landmark at the core of the city. Make sure to check out the famous “Urban Wine Trail,” which features 29 vineyards all within walking distance of each other.
3. Montreal, Canada
Known as “Canada’s Culture Capital,” Montreal has successfully retained its centuries-old vibe. Many of its narrow cobblestone streets are open only to pedestrians, offering a quintessential European feel as you stroll along and enjoy the city’s Gothic architecture and French restaurants. Highlights include Notre-Dame Basilica, the Pointe-a-Calliere Museum, which contains 17th-century remains of the original Fort of Montreal that were found over a decade of archaeological digs, and Mount Royal, which offers incredible views of the entire city. And make sure to bring an English-to-French dictionary — Montreal’s province, Quebec, is the only Canadian province to recognize French as the sole official language.
4. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
One of the oldest cities in the U.S., Philadelphia’s Old-World charm draws from several European influences. With its narrow alleys and cobblestone streets, Old City is considered American’s most historic square mile, and Elfreth’s Alley — recognized by many as the world’s oldest residential street — features elegant Georgian-style architecture in a picturesque setting. Within walking distance of Old City is City Hall, which was designed in the French “Second Empire” style to mirror the grand buildings of Paris. If you head over to the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, you’ll also see a collection of impressive Gothic-style buildings.
5. New Orleans, Louisiana
Best known for Mardi Gras, New Orleans is also a great year-round destination with a distinct European flavor. The French Quarter is a cultural and food haven reminiscent of the arrondissements of Paris. From full course dinners to pastries and coffee, you’ll get a taste of authentic French cuisine at any of the restaurants lining the streets. And New Orleans isn’t just a “French” city as many believe — it also has deep Spanish influences dating back to a 40-year period of Spanish rule from 1763 to 1803. Much of the iron-wrought colonial architecture was built by the Spanish, including the Spanish Plaza, which is home to musical events, shops, a casino, and more.
6. Quebec City, Canada
Colonized by both France and Britain, Quebec City is one of the oldest cities in North America with European influences found throughout. This walled city and its cobblestone streets are laid out in a European style, opening into public squares lined with sidewalk cafes, open-air restaurants, and shops. Make time to visit the Chateau Frontenac, Citadel of Quebec, and Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec and keep an eye out for the numerous plaques dotting the city that commemorate battles fought between the French and British.
If you’re craving a European vacation, look no further than these American and Canadian cities to feel like you are journeying through the heart of Europe. You’ll be planning your return trip in no time at all.
Jeffery Ferraro is the Director of Marketing and Sales for the family-run Diamond Tours, America’s leader in group bus tours. Jeff has over 20 years of experience in the travel industry and enjoys sharing his knowledge to inspire others when embarking on new traveling experiences. Learn more about Diamond Tours on Select Traveler Conference.