How to Experience Europe Without Leaving North America

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Artur Staszewski

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Artur Staszewski

You want to hop on a flight to gaze at the gorgeous architecture in France, sip on refreshing beer in Germany, and ski down mountains in Switzerland, but there's a catch: you lack the cash and vacation days to cross the Atlantic. Sound familiar? Don't worry -- North America is filled with cities and towns that are packed with plenty of European-inspired flair (think charming cobblestone streets, outdoor cafes, and rich history). Here, we rounded up several alternatives to your favorite European destinations. They're all just a road trip or short flight from home, but feel a world away.

Where to Go Instead of France

Montreal, Canada
Montreal, Canada

Francophiles who can't travel all the way to Paris can experience the city's charm in Canada's Quebec City. Marvel at the historic buildings, including the nearly 400-year-old Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec, or settle inside a cafe on Rue du Petit-Champlain, which was voted the most beautiful street in Canada.

Montreal, Quebec’s largest city, also gives travelers a taste of being in France without the long flight and jet lag. The predominantly French-speaking city offers old-world European charm plus award-winning restaurants, shops, and a vibrant music and nightlife scene.

Then, there’s New Orleans. From the language (etouffée, anyone?) to the architecture and cuisine, the Big Easy is beaming with French influence. Head to the city's famed French Quarter, which features plenty of cafes with outdoor seating for people-watching, live jazz, art galleries, world-class cuisine, and more.

Where to Go Instead of Germany

Leavenworth, Washington; photo courtesy of Flickr/The Wu's Photo Land

Leavenworth, Washington; photo courtesy of Flickr/The Wu's Photo Land

Those with Germany on their bucket list might consider Milwaukee instead. Hear us out. The city, which boasts a large German immigrant population, comes with plenty of German-influenced staples like hofbrau, German Fest, and traditional restaurants like Mader's.

Leavenworth, Washington is another spot where you can soak in German culture. About two hours from Seattle, the mountainside town was actually modeled after a real-life Bavarian village. The locals even host their own version of Oktoberfest plus traditional markets during Christmas.  

New Braunfels in Texas, where German immigrants settled in 1845, also feels like a mini Germany. Sure, locals might be dressed in cowboy hats instead of lederhosen, but everything from the food to buildings will make visitors feel like they've landed in Europe. The destination also features a German-themed water park called Schlitterbahn.

Where to Go Instead of Amsterdam

Pella, Iowa; photo courtesy of Flickr/Mark Hesseltine

Pella, Iowa; photo courtesy of Flickr/Mark Hesseltine

When you think of Europe, Iowa isn't the first place to come to mind. But the city of Pella is home to loads of Dutch-style architecture. There’s even a classic windmill near the main park. In May, the city hosts the Tulip Time festival, which is chock-full of tulips, Dutch garb, parades, food, and more. Don't leave without stopping by Vander Ploeg, a Dutch bakery that doles out delicious apple bread and creme horns.

And you can’t talk about Amsterdam without mentioning one of its most famous highlights -- recreational marijuana. Thanks to places like Colorado, folks no longer have to travel across the pond to legally indulge. Finally, make your way to Dubbel Dutch for sandwiches and Dutch groceries.

Where to Go Instead of Greece

Walking through Tarpon Springs in Florida might feel a little like vacationing in the Greek islands. After all, it is home to the highest percentage of Greek-Americans anywhere in the U.S. Here, brick streets are lined with art galleries, antique stores, and specialty shops that are housed in buildings that date back to the late 1800s. Saunter down streets with names like Dodecanese Boulevard or stop for souvlaki at one of the many Greek restaurants like Mykonos and Rusty Bellies. 

Where to Go Instead of Spain

St. Augustine, Florida; photo courtesy of Flickr/Kristine Paulus

St. Augustine, Florida; photo courtesy of Flickr/Kristine Paulus

The Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri was designed to resemble the stunning city of Seville. With beautiful towers, tiled roofs, and a courtyard, this shopping center will make you feel as if you've stepped into the Spanish town. Head further south to St. Augustine, Florida and you’ll find actual remnants of the Spanish conquerors. Visit historic sites like Castillo de San Marcos fort or the Colonial Quarter history museum for even more of a feel for the culture.

Where to Go Instead of Switzerland

Vail, Colorado
Vail, Colorado

You don’t need to drop tons of cash to get a glimpse into the Swiss way of life. New Glarus in Wisconsin is filled with Alpine-style buildings and eats. For dinner, head to Glarner Stube, which even offers a local Yodel Club to get guests in the spirit. Switzerland is also all about the mountain culture. Ski bunnies should hit the slopes in Vail, Colorado. Many of the homes here also resemble Swiss chalets -- perhaps because the town was modeled after Zermatt, Switzerland.

Where to Go Instead of Italy

Venice, California

Venice, California

Los Angeles' Venice, which was originally called the Venice of America because it was built with canals, gondolas, and other Venetian-style attractions, is a top substitute for those who can't make their way to the famous city in Italy. Today, travelers can still tour the Venice Canal Historic District, which dates back to 1905. 

Head up the coast to Napa for another Italian-inspired escape. The Sierra Foothills are known for great Barbera grapes (originally from Piedmont in Italy) or Montepulciano (originally from Abruzzo). Oh, and folks who are looking for some castles can check out Castello di Amorosa, a 13th-century-inspired Tuscan castle and winery.

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