New York Times: Top European Places to Go in 2012

A number of European Cities are among the “Top 45 Places to go in 2012” as selected by The New York Times.  Among them are:

Helsinki, Finland
Design. Design. Design. Aesthetics fuel a new cool.

Copenhagen’s culinary awakening and Stockholm’s trend-setting fashion may have ignited the world’s current infatuation with Nordic culture; now Helsinki is poised for the spotlight. The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design has designated it the World Design Capital for 2012.

Design has long been part of the city’s DNA, but in recent years the scene has been increasingly energized: the official Design District has ballooned to encompass 25 streets and nearly 200 design-minded businesses, which range from shops selling housewares and furniture to boutique hotels and clothing stores. Design has infiltrated the restaurant scene as well, notably the elegant Chez Dominique and the hot newcomer (and Michelin-starred) Olo.

On top of all that is the spectacular new $242 million Helsinki Music Center. Student ensembles from the Sibelius Academy — the sole university in Finland devoted exclusively to music — will perform in the striking glass-walled space, and both the Vienna Philharmonic and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestras will give concerts in 2012.  BY INGRID K. WILLIAMS

The Olympics! The Queen! Charles Dickens turns 200!

Dotted with construction sites, London is preparing for the pomp and circumstance of the Olympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee celebration of the Queen’s 60th year on the throne. New stadiums, public spaces and shopping centers are emerging on the city’s eastern edge, and on the western edge a 137-room  Waldorf Astoria has opened on a 400-acre estate near Heathrow Airport.

But it’s not all sport and royalty. On a street of chocolate-box Georgian houses in Bloomsbury, the Charles Dickens Museum will reopen in time for the author’s 200th birthday. Across town, Warner Brothers Studio Tour will open the Harry Potter studios to those keen to re-live the films. The Rolling Stones, celebrating their 50th anniversary, might tour again, with a possible finale here. And Robert Redford will inaugurate a London outpost of the Sundance Film festival at the O2 Arena in April.

Amid the hubbub, flashes of eccentricity emerge. If the Waldorf doesn’t appeal, stay in an architect-designed boat, perched on the edge of a roof overlooking the Thames. Or visit the British outpost of Occupy London, which will be maintaining its tent city outside St. Paul’s cathedral.  BY RAVI SOMAIYA

Zaha Hadid takes on a Scottish waterfront.

Scotland’s second city now has a $115 million museum designed by Zaha Hadid to go with its shiny new harbor and river promenade.

The Riverside Museum, which opened in June, is housed in a stunning building on the waterfront, with a 3,000-piece collection devoted to Glasgow’s rich shipbuilding and engineering past. Its location, along the River Clyde, was once home to many shipyards, and considered the economic heart of Glasgow. But when the industry left, the area stagnated.

Not anymore. Glasgow has spent more than a decade redeveloping 130 acres of derelict shipyard and unused dockland in an effort to restore the waterway to its former glory. Now there’s a pleasant riverside walkway with steel street furniture, cobblestones from Victorian Glasgow and maritime paraphernalia. Lime trees are planted on both sides of the esplanade, and there are bicycle paths throughout. A new ferry stop for the Riverside Museum, which just saw its one-millionth visitor, marks the first time in around 50 years that this section of the river has had regular passenger service.  BY RACHEL B. DOYLE

Florence, Italy
A Renaissance city gets a contemporary kick.

Since 2009, Florence’s youthful mayor, Matteo Renzi, has championed efforts to build a livable, living city that celebrates — but is not yoked to — its rich history (and historic riches). The result? An energized arts scene unfolding inside various medieval palazzi, ancient landmarks restored and reopened to the public for the first time in decades and restaurants abandoning traditional Tuscan staples for sophisticated contemporary food.

The grand 15th-century Palazzo Strozzi is now home to the Center for Contemporary Culture Strozzina, a destination for must-see events like the coming “Americans in Florence: Sargent and the American Impressionists,” which opens in March. Spazi Urbani Contemporanei, an arts space occupying a 15th-century former monastery, now features works from emerging Italian artists. Last year, the 148- foot-tall 14th-century San Niccolò tower reopened to the public with one of the best panoramic views of the city. And in September, the flagship Gucci Museum made its debut in the historic Palazzo della Mercanzia.

The city’s stock of refined hotel offerings has also been elevated by the opulent new St. Regis Florence, which opened in a palatial riverside palazzo in May, and the Grand Hotel Villa Cora, another five-star stunner near the Boboli Gardens. Even the once-staid Florentine dining scene has been reborn with new restaurants like IO Osteria Personale and Ossi di Seppia.

Next for the Tuscan capital are plans to restore the banks of the Arno River and spruce up the city’s largest park.  BY INGRID K. WILLIAMS

Birmingham, England
Could England’s second city be first in food?

Olive, the BBC’s food magazine, recently startled British gourmands when it declared Birmingham, England’s second largest city, the United Kingdom’s “foodiest town,” ahead of London and Edinburgh. The award came last October, just as Birmingham was hosting an annual festival, the 10-day Birmingham Food Fest, which featured such local talents as Aktar Islam of Lasan Restaurant; up-and-comers like David Colcombe of Opus, Andy Waters of Edmunds Restaurant and Steve Love of Loves Restaurant; and a troika of Michelin-starred chefs: Glynn Purnell of Purnell’s; Andreas Antona, Luke Tipping and Adam Bennett of Simpsons Restaurant; and Richard Turner of Turners of Harborne.

The chefs are building on an already rich dining scene. Birmingham is famous in Britain for its Balti Triangle, an area of town that is home to a beloved Pakistani-Kashmiri curry dish invented here; it is also birthplace to such classically British food items as Typhoo Tea, Bird’s Custard and HP Sauce.  BY ALEXANDER LOBRANO

Modern art spruces up Austria’s imperial capital.

After a flurry of activity, Vienna’s venerable museum scene is prepped for a banner year. July marks the 150th birthday of its native son Gustav Klimt, the Vienna Secessionist master whose dreamily erotic gold-leaf paintings have become some of modernism’s most popular (and expensive) works; in a range of exhibitions throughout 2012, more of his pieces will be on display in one place than ever before.

And in a city known for its starchy reluctance to change, two pre-eminent institutions have taken on ambitious new directors: Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, the influential former director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York, was announced as the new head of the sprawling Museum of Applied Arts, and the Museum of Modern Art reopened in September after extensive renovations and the appointment of a new director, the German curator Karola Kraus.

Last month, another modern art specialist, 20er Haus, reopened as 21er Haus, an exhibition space and cultural center presenting Austrian art from 1945 to the present. And a new high-profile collaboration, to make its debut this spring, will further strengthen the city’s art scene: the contemporary art doyenne Francesca von Habsburg will lend both her keen artistic direction and considerable coffers to Augarten Contemporary at the Belvedere museum, set in a Baroque palace complex. The three-year project, called Thyssen-Bornemisza Augarten Contemporary, weds the Belvedere, one of the city’s biggest public art institutions, with Ms. von Habsburg’s private foundation, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary.  BY CHARLY WILDER

The Algarve
’s Riviera gets a new spate of luxury hotels.

The Algarve, on Portugal’s southern coast, has long been a major package-holiday destination for northern Europeans. But the sun-drenched region is aiming to attract a wider crowd as it recycles itself with a crop of new or renovated luxury hotels emphasizing style, authenticity and eco-friendliness. In Portimão, a perfect example is the just reopened 38-room Hotel Bela Vista. This 1918 villa overlooking the famous seaside Praia da Rocha was renovated by the French hotelier Thierry Naidu and features a stunning design by the Portuguese decorator Graça Viterbo.

There are hotels opening in quieter areas of the Algarve, too, including the striking Martinhal resort in Sagres, and a Conrad hotel scheduled to open in November. Trendy Lisboans are also flocking to Olhão, a former fish-canning town turned resort with stylish lodging options, like the recently opened Real Marina Hotel & Spa, and natural attractions, including the Ria Formosa, a national park made up of one of the largest barrier-reef lagoons in Europe, where you might have the pristine beauty of white sand beaches to yourself — for now, at least.  BY ALEXANDER LOBRANO

A new hiking path brings new views of rugged shores.

Wales’s many hiking trails are known for their views of rugged highlands and cliff-hemmed coasts. Exploring the country by foot will become easier in May, when the Wales Coast Path is completed, connecting several disparate paths and creating a 1,030-mile pedestrian route that rings the country. The Wales Coast Path — which in stretches will be open to cyclists and horseback riders — follows the Atlantic and the Irish Sea over the length of the country, passing medieval castles and threading through cities including Cardiff and seaside resort towns like Tenby.

While few will have the legs to tackle the entire trail, outfitters including Celtic Trails and Contours Walking Holidays lighten the load by offering inn-to-inn luggage shuttles over several portions of the long distance path.  BY ELAINE GLUSAC

Virginal beaches and czarist palaces — at Old World prices.

Ukraine has finally seen an influx of much-needed cash to fund its long underdeveloped tourism sector, in part thanks to its selection as host of the 2012 Union of European Football Associations European Championship. Beautiful, historic cities like Kiev, Odessa and Lviv have seen modernization, restoration and fresh cultural energy, but are still cheap, laid-back and largely free of tourist traps. All three cities have revamped their airports and added numerous hotels, restaurants and retail outlets, while new roadwork makes travel outside the city centers easier and more comfortable.

Beach lovers are well advised to head to the Black Sea coast, which extends along the Crimean Peninsula to Odessa. Long a popular beach destination for Russians, the area has slowly begun attracting a wider audience with its pristine beaches, mild climate, jutting cliffs and architectural marvels.  BY CHARLY WILDER

Dubrovnik, Croatia
The St.-Tropez of the Balkans, equal parts classic and modern.
The last five years have been good to Dubrovnik: as it has opened to Western tourists, its number of visitors has climbed steadily — around 10 percent a year — since the global recession hit in 2008. Often called the Jewel of the Adriatic, this seaside city features marble streets, Renaissance fountains and white sand beaches. It has also recently completed an expansion of its airport and a sleek renovation of its cable car system, offering improved city access and views.

Meanwhile, local hoteliers compete to capture the growing stream of high-end tourists, with the 17th-century Pucic Palace , the upscale Excelsior Hotel & Spa and the gorgeous clifftop Villa Dubrovnik all seeing extensive renovations in the last few years. Newer culinary draws include the French-fusion spot Gil’s, the two-year-old Panorama and Lucin Kantun, a Croatian tapas restaurant that opened last year in the Old Town.  BY CHARLY WILDER

Crans-Montana, Switzerland
Restaurants and luxury chalets shine a light on an Alpine resort.

Surprisingly few international tourists visit Crans-Montana, favoring better-known Alpine resorts like Zermatt and Verbier to see and be seen. But with its upmarket designer shops, five-star hotels, Michelin-starred dining and 87 miles of downhill slopes, the word is getting out.

Perched high above the Rhone Valley in western Switzerland on a sunny, south-facing plateau, the two-town resort offers panoramic views of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. With more than 250 boutiques, 60 restaurants and 30 hotels, Crans-Montana isn’t lacking for après-ski activities. And new flights from the charter airline Snowjet from London Stansted to Sion airport, about 19 miles from the resort, are making it easier to be on the slopes within an hour of stepping off the plane.

Abercrombie & Kent Villas, a division of the luxury tour company, has taken notice, adding the destination to its collection of luxury ski chalets this season. Weekly rental rates at one of its five 2,700-square-foot chalets, each featuring a Jacuzzi and wine cellar, start at 3,936 euros (about $5,085) for a four-bedroom.

The mountain resort is also celebrated for being the host of the Omega European Masters, among Europe’s largest golf events, every September at one of the highest 18-hole golf courses in the Alps, the Severiano Ballesteros. Last year, the Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club opened the first year-round high-altitude European golf training center so avid duffers can practice their swing despite the snow. BY MICHELLE HIGGINS

Montpellier, France
France’s eighth-largest city is dressing up in designer style.

The most celebrated architect in France, Jean Nouvel, and a collaborator, François Fontès, introduced their blue and cube-like city hall in November, and early next year Mr. Nouvel’s RBC Design Center — another coolly modernist structure that will house the RBC brand’s furniture showroom — is to open its doors in this medieval, student-filled Mediterranean city.

Even more innovative, the long-awaited Pierres Vives Building from the star architect Zaha Hadid will be ready by year’s end. A long, sprawling edifice of swirly white concrete layers and green-tinted glass, the futuristic structure will hold a library, archives and municipal offices.

And to reach them, the city is installing what may be Europe’s sexiest tram system. The two existing lines sport exteriors of kaleidoscopic birds and flowers by Christian Lacroix, and two new lines with Mr. Lacroix’s trademark color-soaked style are on their way. Both will make their debut this spring with an underwater design theme and a solar theme, respectively, along roughly 17 miles of new track. Think of it as France’s longest fashion runway.  BY SETH SHERWOOD

Lodz, Poland
The Hollywood of Poland reclaims its industrial past.

Poland’s third-largest city and the movie-making headquarters of the country (with a film school that started the careers of Roman Polanski and Andrzej Wajda), Lodz has seen its labyrinth of textile warehouses and industrial-era relics repurposed for artistic and entrepreneurial ventures.

The latest is by the director David Lynch, who has a deal to establish a major film studio in a former 19th-century power plant in the city. Its makeover — which will also include a planetarium, a library, an exhibition space and a theater — is scheduled to be shown to the public in 2014. Additionally, the architect Frank Gehry, whose grandparents were from Lodz, is in talks to design a festival and congress center with an avant-garde, building-block shape.

These ventures will be in good company. One Lodz weaving mill is now a retail and entertainment center called Manufaktura, while another, Ms2, is a three-year-old contemporary art museum filled with experimental leanings. A 19th-century industrial complex has been reborn as an art incubator, Lodz Art Center, that is the host of lectures and festivals. BY RACHEL B. DOYLE

Dalarna, Sweden
A storied region offers a getaway from Stockholm.

Most travelers know Sweden only for the urban cool of Stockholm and Gothenburg. But when the sun approaches its summer apex, city dwellers often leave town for one of the country’s central provinces, Dalarna. Its deep forests and glimmering lakes host traditional midsummer parties, and every brick-red farmhouse deserves its own postcard. With Dalarna’s southern edge only about 125 miles from the capital, getting there — by car, bus or rail — is easy enough, though the rustic landscape of “the Dales,” as Dalarna translates, can feel worlds apart.

That’s made it a natural respite for Swedish painters like Anders Zorn, whose home in the town of Mora is now a museum. Artisans still produce traditional handicrafts like the Dala Horse, a national mascot. But Dalarna is not just for summer journeys: every March, the region hosts the Vasaloppet, one of the world’s biggest cross-country ski races, and autumn brings incredible foliage and rich game dishes at restaurants of surprising sophistication like the Dala-Husby Hotell. BY EVAN RAIL

Portovenere, Italy
Stepping in while the Cinque Terre rebuilds.

In late October, torrential rain caused catastrophic mudslides and flooding that devastated Monterosso and Vernazza, two of the cliff-clinging, seaside villages in the famed Cinque Terre on Italy’s northwestern coast.

Though the towns are slowly being rebuilt, travelers seeking the pleasures of the area in 2012 should instead consider Portovenere, an equally charming, though largely overlooked, town just south of the Cinque Terre.

Like its more famous neighbors, Portovenere is a traditional fishing village with a picturesque jumble of pastel houses, boats bobbing in the harbor and a network of meandering hiking trails. But here, crowds are sparse, so poke around the 13th-century, black-and-white striated church in peace, before marveling at the views across the glittering Bay of La Spezia, which has long inspired poets and writers, from Lord Byron to D.H. Lawrence.  BY INGRID K. WILLIAMS

With these great tips the EACC wishes you happy travels through Europe.