10 U.S. Cities That Will Make You Think You're in Europe
Visit Spain, Germany, the Amalfi Coast, and more—all without leaving the country.
Centuries-old architecture, countless unique countries, cuisines that are rooted in generations—there's nothing quite like Europe. But for a lot of people, the cost and time commitments of traveling to another continent are prohibitive. Luckily, it's easier than you think to experience European culture right here in the U.S, from a city settled by Dutch immigrants in the mid-1800s to a contemporary Floridian development that's reminiscent of Santorini. We consulted travel experts to discover the 10 best of these locales. Read on to learn how you can ski like you're in the Swiss Alps or drink beer like you're in Bavaria—all without getting your passport stamped.
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Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
The Swiss Alps is a bucket-list destination for many a skier, but if traveling to Switzerland isn't in the cards, a trip to New Hampshire might do the trick. At the base of the 6,288-foot Mount Washington (the highest peak in the Northeast) is the Omni Mount Washington Resort.
"[It's] surrounded by nearly 800,000 acres of the White Mountain National Forest and is home to Bretton Woods, New Hampshire's largest ski area, boasting 464 acres of skiing and snowboarding on 63 trails and 35 glades and offering countless all-season activities including mountain biking, horseback and sleigh riding, indoor and outdoor climbing, fly fishing, disc golf, scenic Gondola rides, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, terrain parks, and more," according to a hotel spokesperson.
The resort dates back to 1902 and is made completely of wood. It recently underwent $60 million in property renovations and expansion projects in 2020, but its historic ski chalet aesthetic was thoughtfully preserved.
Nothing says the Netherlands more than tulips and windmills, and you'll find both in abundance in the aptly named town of Holland, Michigan. Located halfway between Chicago and Detroit, Holland was settled by Dutch immigrants in the mid-19th century.
"With food like Dutch apple pie and loads of cheese, Dutch-style buildings, and celebrations like the Dutch Winterfest and the Tulip Time Festival, the city, which is practically next to Lake Michigan, has made it a priority to preserve Dutch culture," says Jenny Ly, founder of travel blog Go Wanderly.
The Veldheer Tulip Gardens have been around since 1950 and, in the spring, showcase about five million colorful tulips. Visitors can also check out Windmill Island Gardens, which features the country's only operating authentic Dutch windmill, and Nelis' Dutch Village, a collection of 30 Dutch-style buildings with gift shops, as well as "costumed klompen dancers, street organs, a carousel, [and] carillon bells," according to the website.
In addition to the Netherlands, you can also visit Germany while in Michigan. Frankenmuth is known as the state's "Little Bavaria." According to the city's official history, it was founded in 1844 by the Bavarian Mission of the Lutheran church in Germany. By World War II, however, it became more of a tourist destination, which you can still visit today.
"You can walk through the shopping district and find locally-owned stores and food shops in buildings that look like they came out of a storybook. Frankenmuth also hosts Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, which claims to be the world's largest Christmas store," according to Nick Mueller, director of operations of HawaiianIslands.com.
Martin Betch, co-founder of travel blog Hi-Van, notes that many of the locals still speak German and host traditional events like Oktoberfest and the Frankenmuth Dog Bowl, the world's largest Olympic-style festival for dogs.
One of the biggest attractions is getting a famous chicken dinner at either Zehnder's of Frankenmuth or the Bavarian Inn. Betch recommends washing it all down with a trip to Frankenmuth Brewery, which is the state's oldest craft brewery.
For another Bavarian experience, head over to Washington's Leavenworth. "Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, [it] feels like something straight out of the Alps," says Jessica Schmit, founder of travel blog Uprooted Traveler. "The town's entire downtown—think everything from its gas station to Starbucks—is constructed in a Bavarian style, with plenty of other Germanic influences, like sausage gartens and bierhalls, sprinkled throughout."
Unlike Frankenmuth, however, Leavenworth has no true German heritage. "The town was actually reconstructed in the 1960s to look like something straight out of Bavaria to increase tourism, given that Leavenworth turned into all but a ghost town when its logging and sawmill operations ceased," explains Schmit. "The revitalization was a rousing success and now millions of travelers flock here each year to enjoy annual German-centric celebrations, like Oktoberfest or its Christmas market."
Kristin Lee, founder of the travel blog Global Travel Escapades, says the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm is a can't-miss attraction. She also loves Andreas Keller Restaurant for authentic Bavarian dishes and imported beer. Don't be surprised if you see some fellow diners dressed in Lederhosen!
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Just off the coast of San Francisco, the charming island of Sausalito will make you feel like you've stepped off a yacht on the Amalfi Coast. "Just like the coast of Italy, houses are tucked away in the hills overlooking the ocean with many restaurants and hotels in town featuring the same amazing view," says a representative for the city.
There are several restaurants serving up traditional Italian fare, like Osteria Divino, Poggio, and Scoma, a Sicilian seafood restaurant that's located on a pier over the bay. Another restaurant/bar, Bar Bocce, has an outdoor area where guests can play its namesake game, a beloved tradition in Italy.
Located on California's Central Coast, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a one-square-mile village that's considered one of the country's most romantic locales, as its quaint buildings resemble those in a sleepy English village. "Our visitors come from around the globe to enjoy the distinctive architectural aesthetic of our Village—from its secret passageways to its quaint courtyards to its whimsical fairytale-style homes," says Amy Herzog, executive director of Visit Carmel.
The tourism agency explains that builder Hugh Comstock arrived in Carmel in 1924 and began designing "fairytale cottages" that eventually became known as "Comstocks." Today, 21 of these remain, and you can explore them more on a historic walking tour.
For a truly English experience, visit the famous Cottage of Sweets, a British-style sweets shop (in the U.K. it's "sweets" not "candy"!) that's been selling loads of licorice, homemade fudge, and much more since 1959. As Visit Carmel describes, "its curlicued roof and storybook architecture" make the shop quintessentially Carmel-by-the-Sea. And since there are no chain or fast-food restaurants or national coffee shops here, you can be sure the unique charm here will last for years to come.
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Of all the cities on this list, Solvang might be the best known, but that doesn't make it any less charming. Located within Santa Barbara's wine region, Solvang has earned itself the nickname "the Danish capital of America," according to Lauren Scott, founder of the travel blog Freedom Not Fate.
The small village was settled by Danish and Dutch immigrants in the early 20th century. Today, it still has plenty of "windmills and traditional half-timber buildings," says Jocelyn Xamis Wolters, a preservationist and co-founder of the travel site Wolters World. "Eat authentic Danish pastries outside like you are in Copenhagen, ride the horse-drawn Solvang trolley, or peruse lovely antique shops and boutiques."
Scott suggests visiting the Hans Christian Andersen Museum and OstrichLand to see the ostriches and emus. And each September, there's the Danish Days festival where attendees can participate in a Æbleskiver-eating contest.
Alys Beach, Florida
Alys Beach is a seaside community along Florida's Panhandle that was developed in the early 2000s. Though it's quite new, it's easy to mistake the striking white buildings set against crystal blue waters for Santorini. "The white stucco construction culminates in flat roofs of varied elevations, accented by verandas and trimmed with pergolas, courtyard gates, and window shutters in a slightly more Mediterranean palette," explains Diana Lane, director of public relations for Alys Beach.
Alys Beach is primarily comprised of condos and townhomes to purchase, but there are also many vacation properties. If visiting, be sure to spend time at Caliza Pool, a 100-foot, zero-entry saltwater pool that's surrounded by three smaller pools and an open-air restaurant and bar. You can also access the private beach. All this will definitely make you feel like you're on a luxurious Greek getaway.
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St. Petersburg, Florida
Head further south on the Gulf of Mexico to St. Petersburg, Florida, and be transported to Barcelona. Spanish settlers first arrived in the city in the 1500s, but much of this has been modernized and influenced by other cultures. However, in the 1920s, a local developer named Perry Snell "placed his personal stamp on the city by constructing Mediterranean Revival homes and public spaces that feature stucco walls, lush gardens, and red-tiled roofs," according to an article in Architectural Digest. Other architects and developers were influenced by Snell, which helped the Spanish style proliferate throughout St. Pete.
One of the best-known examples of this aesthetic is the Don Cesar hotel. Built in 1928, the resort became known as "the pink palace," hosting the likes of Clarence Darrow and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Guests today can enjoy a private beach and two heated pools.
The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club is another pink-colored, Mediterranean Revival-style hotel, this one located on Tampa Bay. Here, you can sip cocktails poolside or on the historic veranda, according to a hotel spokesperson, and you can also visit "the waterfront seafood restaurant, Paul's Landing, which transports guests to a seaside escape in Barcelona."
Round out your Spanish-themed trip with a visit to the Dalí Museum, where you'll learn about the life of and see artwork by Salvador Dalí.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans has roots in both Spanish and French culture, but it's the latter that you can really feel transported into. "The French influence can be felt throughout the French Quarter with outdoor cafes and bistros," says Christopher Falvey, the co-founder of Unique NOLA Tours (he adds that this area is "not all a drunken party!").
The famous French Market was actually founded by Spanish settlers, but in a later incarnation, it was saved by the French Market Business Men's Association and turned into an open-air fruit and vegetable market. Today, you can find all kinds of food and gifts here, but much of the spirit feels like a Parisian market.
"There are several French cafes and patisseries that will give you a little taste of France as well," notes Jackie Carbo, a travel advisor and founder of Bon Voyage Jackie. She recommends La Boulangerie for croissants, Sucre for macrons, and Cafe Degas for French bistro dining. And, as any good tourist knows, stop by Cafe du Monde for their famous beignets.
And we can't forget about the city's most famous event. "Mardi Gras itself has roots in French Catholic culture, but beyond religious tradition, the themes of many of the parades hearken back to ancient European cultures," explains Falvey.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that the Omni Mount Washington Resort underwent a $1.2 million renovation in 2007 when it underwent a $60 million renovation and expansion in 2020. The story has been updated to reflect this.