The Travel Bucket List. We all have one. That list of places and experiences we dream of getting to one day, filled with things like “Wine Tasting in France,” and “Summering on the Amalfi Coast,” or maybe even “Experiencing Oktoberfest in Germany,” or “Traversing the Rugged Coast of Iceland.”
Sometimes though, when you try to start checking off the boxes of those lifelong travel goals, you realize your passports have expired, or you never actually got around to applying for passports for your kids, or the price of airfare gives you sticker shock, and suddenly that European dream destination feels too out of reach…
But guess what? What if I told you that all of those Bucket List experiences mentioned above could be found right here in the United States, and then some? That’s right! There are a multitude of destinations throughout the United States that will make you feel like you’re in Europe, without ever having to leave the country.
At a time when the wait for a passport can be as long as six months in some states, and with airfare reaching staggering heights, now may be the perfect time to explore some creative “Europe-at-Home” options! Here’s a list to get you started!
France has always been one of the most sought after destinations, with tons to do and see, from the iconic Eiffel Tower to the famous wine regions dotting the countryside, to the storied castles that transport you to another time and place. A vacation to France is one of a kind…or is it? I bet these State-side locations will have you craving croissants and macaroons before you can even say “Bon Jour.”
Carmel-By-The-Sea, California = Alsace, France
If visiting a quaint, Provincial town like the one Belle famously sings about in Beauty and the Beast is the kind of French destination you’re dreaming of, you’ll be absolutely enchanted by the coastal village of Carmel-by-the-Sea in California. Between the art galleries filled with unique local works, the cafes and restaurants teeming with delicious delicacies, the countless corners bursting with character, Carmel and one of the Provincial towns of Alsace are almost indistinguishable from each other save for the language spoken. And while the Alsace Region of France is situated along the Rhine River, Carmel-by-the-Sea, is, as its name describes, right along the Pacific Ocean, offering beautiful beaches as a bonus with your visit!
Napa Valley, California = Rhone Valley, France
France is home to some of the most famous and most prestigious Wine Regions in the world, but over the last fifty years, other Wine Regions from a myriad of locations have challenged France’s place at the top, not the least of which have been the wineries of Napa Valley. After a grassroots beginning half a century ago, the wines, vineyards and wineries of Napa Valley are now legendary in their own right, attracting oenophiles and anyone with a curiosity about wine from all over the world, even France! And like those picturesque Wine Regions in France, Napa Valley is just as breathtakingly beautiful with its rolling hills of vines. If you’re interested in the history between Napa Valley and France, check out the movie Bottle Shock, about the 1976 Blind Tasting that put Napa on the map.
Newport, Rhode Island = Nice, France
The French Riviera has long been a preferred vacation destination for the world’s elite, including aristocrats and celebrities who have summered in cities such as Nice for centuries. The rich and famous clientele helped create a coastal culture filled with yachting and architectural masterpieces. This same atmosphere can be found on our side of the pond in Newport, Rhode Island, where yachts dot the blue waters of the Atlantic, and expansive mansions line the coast. Since many of the mansions have now been turned into museums, Newport has become a vacation destination that everyone can experience, without being exclusive to a “celebrity” crowd.
Huntington, New York = Versailles, France
Besides quaint villages, wineries and the Riviera, France is also known for its castles, the biggest and best of which is the Palace of Versailles. Built in the early 1600s by King Louis XIV, the palace and its surrounding gardens exemplified the highest level of Royal lifestyle. Three hundred years later, in the early 1900s, Otto Hermann Kahn built the American Palace known as Oheka Castle, on the north shore of Long Island, where F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous fictional character, Jay Gatsby, would have also had his residence fit for royalty. While Versailles offers tours of the seemingly endless rooms and gardens, Oheka Castle is actually now a sought after venue for weddings and other occasions, where guests can even stay the night!
New York, New York = Paris, France
“Say what?” you ask. Stay with me on this one. Paris is quite possibly the most unique city in the world for many reasons, not the least of which is the presence of the Eiffel Tower. An actual trip to Paris is, of course, unreplicable. However, if it’s certain experiences you’re looking for, there are definitely some similarities to be found.
First, speaking of the Eiffel Tower, if it’s a bird’s eye view of a major city you’re looking for, New York City has no shortage of tall buildings to ascend, from the Empire State Building to the Freedom Tower to, you guessed it, the Statue of Liberty, which as it happens, is not a bad stand in for the Eiffel Tower at all! Not only was Lady Liberty a gift from the French, but Gustav Eiffel himself was one of the architects who designed her! If it’s a unique architectural experience you’re looking for in Paris, New York is not too shabby for a substitute.
Plus, New York actually features many other well-known “Parisian” experiences: Perusing ridiculously famous artwork in the world’s top museums? Check. Corner Cafes and Bistros where you can sit outside and people watch for hours? Check. High end shopping and fashion establishments? Check. A gorgeous park right in the middle of the city? Check. When comparing experiences, both cities seem to check the same boxes. Don’t get me wrong, both cities are well worth a visit, but if jetting off to Paris is not possible yet, New York has a number of similar experiences to offer.
Italy is yet another wildly popular European country to visit, and with good reason: the Italians have something for everyone, whether you’re looking to see majestic ruins that have stood for thousands of years, or indulge in the most exquisite cuisine perhaps of your entire life, or taste famous Italian Chianti amid the rolling hills of Tuscany, or stroll along the quaint villages that line the coast, or all of the above, a trip to Italy will likely exceed your expectations.
Healdsburg, California = Tuscany, Italy
Italy is known for pairing great wine with great food, and Sonoma County in California has perfected the art of matching the caliber of its cuisine to that of its wine, as well. Foodies and oenophiles, rejoice! The town of Healdsburg gives a small-town feel, with superior restaurants and vineyards, and also high end lodging and shopping experiences. There are even Cypress Trees that dot the countryside of Sonoma County, just like the iconic Cypress Trees of Tuscany line many drives and trails throughout Tuscany. Again, whether you’re driving from vineyard to vineyard, or walking from shop to shop, the only glaring difference between Sonoma and Tuscany may be the language used!
Sausalito, California = Amalfi Coast, Italy
The picturesque towns of Italy’s renowned Amalfi Coast have drawn tourists as well as Italians for decades, and who can blame them? Quaint coastal villages with candy-colored architecture nestled into a steep and dramatic landscape? Views for days of the brightest blue water you can imagine? Meals of fresh local seafood paired with wines from local vineyards? Who wouldn’t want all these things on their vacation? You can have them all without saying “Arrivederci” to America in California’s seaside town of Sausalito. Not only will you find everything listed above, but to add to the Italy-esque atmosphere, there are a number of excellent Italian restaurants to be found in Sausalito. “Molto bene!”
Another country at the top of many European Travel Lists is Germany. Among many other notorieties, Germany is filled with famous architecture, from the churches in major cities to the Bauernhaus (or “farmhouse”) style houses (that I always called “chocolate houses” as a kid because of their brown stripes that made me think of fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel). Of course, you can’t mention Germany and not mention beer, for which they may be most famous, since they produce some of the highest quality beer in the world. After all, who doesn’t want to experience an authentic German Oktoberfest (just be ready for the crowds at that time)?
The United States is actually home to many, many German immigrants, and therefore, also many German Americans, so there are a number of towns through the country where German influence is remarkably noticeable. There are a few towns, though, that stand out as, well, stand-ins, for actual German towns from the picturesque region of Bavaria. The following three towns will make you feel totally transported to a storybook German Village.
Leavenworth, Washington = Bavaria, Germany
When you think of Germany, if you imagine soaring snow-capped Alpine mountains next to fairy tale villages, you wouldn’t be wrong, which is part of why Leavenworth makes for a perfect state-side German substitute. With mountains rising up behind the main street featuring, of course, Bauernhaus architecture, and laden with restaurants serving authentic German dishes, plus a line-up of traditional German Festivals, the town definitely achieved its goal of recreating a true German experience.
Helen, Georgia = Bavaria, Germany
Helen is another town that was designed to replicate the fabled Bavarian villages that draw so many tourists to Germany. And again, with architecture, cuisine, merchandise and festivals galore that reflect some of the most popular reasons people are drawn to Germany, Helen offers the experiences travelers seek without having to leave the United States!
Frankenmuth, Michigan = Bavaria, Germany
While Leavenworth and Helen were purposefully overhauled to become “state-side” German towns, Frankenmuth was organically developed by the original German immigrants who found home there. Frankenmuth provides authentic German experiences with cuisine, artisan crafts, festivals, and also Christmas, which is a beloved holiday in Germany. Frankenmuth is even home to the world’s largest Christmas store, Bonner’s, where it’s Christmastime 365 days a year!
Not far from fairy tale Bavaria is a country with a similar vibe, but with its own unique culture and reasons for visiting: Switzerland. With the majestic Swiss Alps, Switzerland is home to some of the world’s most stunning mountains and lakes, drawing adventurers from all over the globe in every season, especially skiers and snowboarders in winter. Not only that, but everyone knows the Swiss are famous for their cheese and chocolate, too. And don’t forget about the architecture, which is distinct and adorable, and a style many have emulated to capture that fairy tale feeling.
Vail, Colorado = A Quaint Swiss Mountain Town
While the Rocky Mountains, like the Alps, certainly have some of the most sought after ski and snowboarding conditions in the world, there is way more to Vail than just the mountain sports that have made it famous. Vail has proven itself to be an enchanting “European” Village nestled into America’s grandest mountain range that is worth visiting in every season, not just for the winter snow. With festivals throughout the year, a renowned culinary scene, dozens of outdoor activities for every season and charm around every corner, Vail will transport you to the Swiss Alps for sure!
Denmark is repeatedly ranked as one of the Happiest countries in the world, and has been since the 1970s, which is a pretty impressive span of time to be collectively Happy as a country. What keeps the Danes so positive and loving life? A lot, actually. Their lifestyle is infused with “Hygge,” a term that many people tried to explain and emulate, but just couldn’t do it justice; they are surrounded by gorgeous architecture and delicious food (care for a Danish, anyone?); their landscapes are rich with beautiful cities and windswept coastlines, and both are steeped in fascinating history, among many other things.
Solvang, California = One of Denmark’s Charming Coastal Towns
Solvang, California may be the one place where the “Hygge” infused lifestyle is actually successful, probably because nothing is lost in translation in the traditional Danish town and community. Solvang offers much of what keeps Danish people so happy: the town itself looks plucked right out of Denmark, from the architectural style of the shops, to the foods served in cafes and restaurants, to the Danish Festivals and lively everyday music and dancing. And with its location in California, Wine Country and the breathtaking outdoors of the Golden State are just outside of town.
Holland, otherwise known as The Netherlands, the land of tulips, windmills, wooden clogs, and of course, Amsterdam. While Amsterdam is the most visited city in the country, not to mention also one of the most visited cities in the world, there is so much more to see in Holland besides the famous architecture and gorgeous canals of Amsterdam. The countryside is lined with tulip farms and gardens, and dotted with iconic windmills, too. The Dutch are also famous for their famous artists, amazing cheese and signature white and blue pottery.
Holland, Michigan = Keukenhof Gardens, The Netherlands
The Netherlands may be the easiest location to find in the United States because the town literally bears the country’s name, Holland, Michigan! And while there are plenty of towns across America named after other countries that have nothing to do with those places, Holland, Michigan is one that actually does! Settled by the Dutch in the mid-1800s, Holland is an authentic immigrant town built on grit and determination, that has grown into a thriving vacation destination for people from all over the country. With Dutch festivals, food, and of course, tulips and windmills, you’ll forget you’re in the middle of America and think you’re in the middle of Europe instead.
Recently, Norway has been climbing the ranks on many travelers’ bucket lists with its dramatic landscapes and fjords (and not just because of Disney lovers and the Frozen phenomenon, though that’s certainly been a contributing factor). Known as the “Land of the Midnight Sun,” Norway is one of few highly visitable places on Earth that gets 24 hours of daylight (from late May to late July), while at the other end of the spectrum, their darkest months in winter offer some of the best opportunities for viewing the Northern Lights on the planet. These Natural Wonders are just the start of the many reasons to visit Norway, from the mountains and outdoor adventures to the history and culture of Norway’s indigenous people.
Poulsbo, Washington = A Norwegian Fjord Town
Known as “Little Norway,” Poulsbo is a town nestled into the dramatic landscape of a fjord, just like many towns of Norway. Established in the 1880s, Poulsbo is a small town that brings a whole lot of Scandinavian culture to the West Coast of the United States. With traditional Norwegian Festivals, like the Viking Fest, Midsommer Fest and Julefest, to the authentic Norwegian shops and restaurants throughout the town, Poulsbo knows how to celebrate their history and heritage.
Iceland used to be a hidden gem of the Northern Atlantic, but it seems like the secret is out, as “The Land of Fire and Ice” is attracting travelers from all over the world. The unbelievable landscapes of Iceland make it hard to remember that you’re still here on Earth and not on some mythical planet. Iceland boasts waterfalls, both flowing and frozen, depending on the time of year, beaches filled with ice boulders, geysers and hotsprings, active volcanoes, regular showings by the elusive Northern Lights, and a variety of arctic wildlife, among so many other things. Seems one of a kind, right? Almost…
Silver Falls State Park, Oregon = Cave Waterfalls of Iceland
One of the most famous features of Iceland are the waterfalls, especially the ones you can walk behind in a cave, but you can experience exactly that in Silver Falls State Park in Oregon. In fact, in that Park alone, and on one trail alone, called the Trail of Ten Falls, there are, you guessed it, ten waterfalls! Among those ten waterfalls are a few that you can walk behind, the same way you can in Iceland. Besides Silver Falls State Park, there are actually many similarities between Iceland and Oregon, throughout the whole state. Just like in “The Land of Fire and Ice,” in Oregon, besides the beautiful waterfalls, you can also find: crater lakes, black sand beaches, mountain peaks, rugged shoreline, and more!
Glenwood Springs, Colorado = The Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Another signature attraction of Iceland is the Blue Lagoon, which is actually just one of many natural hot springs throughout the country. And just like Iceland, the Glenwood Springs Hot Springs are just one of many natural hot springs in the area. Plus, also like Iceland, there is so much to do outside, from hiking and climbing, to more relaxing activities like art strolls and window shopping. If you were thinking about hoping halfway across the Atlantic for a famous hot spring, why not consider a trip to the Rockies instead?
The Emerald Isle! A place on almost everyone’s Travel Bucket List, and there is no wonder why. Steeped in history and magic, and filled with fairy tale castles and iconic coastline, Ireland truly deserves a place on every “Must Visit” List. Not only does Ireland have the greenest countryside you’ve ever seen (obviously), dotted with exquisitely quaint villages full of pubs and friendly locals, but it also has lively cities bustling with culture and fun. And, of course, one can’t forget about the dramatic coastline that quite literally lines the island; the famous Cliffs of Moher are one of the most visited sites in Ireland.
Cape Meares, Oregon Coast = The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
And speaking of the Cliffs of Moher, though there may be nowhere exactly the same, you can come pretty close by, once again, visiting the state of Oregon here in the United States. As mentioned earlier in comparison with Iceland, Oregon is an untapped gem for outdoor enthusiasts. The Oregon Coast features secret beaches between towering cliff walls, seemingly sky-high redwoods, and, like Ireland, sheer cliff faces that stretch for miles. At the Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, for example, you may very well forget you’re on the West Coast of the United States, and not the West Coast of Ireland.
If you’ve been here for a while, you know how I feel about Scotland; I am both Outlander and Scotland-obsessed, especially after November’s Inspiring Itinerary tracing the show’s locations throughout the series (if you missed it, check it out here). I can’t think of anything better than road-tripping through the Scottish Highlands in the footsteps of Jamie and Claire, or exploring Edinburgh during its famous Fringe Festival, or feeling the magic of mystical places like the Isle of Skye. It’s hard to imagine that anything could stand in for an epic dream trip to Scotland, but…
Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina = The Scottish Highlands
It’s no coincidence that the fictional Fraser’s Ridge wound up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina (trying not to give any spoilers as I describe this, just in case), since the area is particularly known for its Scottish and Irish Heritage. Many Scottish and Irish immigrants settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and brought with them the richness of their culture in forms of music, artistry, agriculture and storytelling, which can all still be seen and felt today. The area has various heritage museums, as well as festivals and events celebrating the Scottish and Irish cultures.
It seems like every country on this list is on someone’s Travel Bucket List, but hey, Europe has drawn travelers and crowds for thousands of years for a reason: there is something special about everywhere and something for everyone. And Spain is no different. Between the incredible coast and picture-perfect beaches, to the world-renowned wine and cuisine, to the history and tradition steeped in every tiny village and bustling city, Spain is rich in culture and scenery.
St. Augustine, Florida = Seville, Spain
Did you know that St. Augustine was discovered and founded before even Jamestown and Plymouth? Ponce De Leon found himself on the shores of Florida and claimed it for the Spanish Crown in the early 1500s. St. Augustine, therefore, is the oldest perpetually inhabited European settlement in the United States. And although the city wasn’t always built up to what it is today, you can absolutely feel the town’s long history while you’re there, especially when visiting one of the many museums. Plus, there are a myriad of festivals that take place almost all year long, numerous tours of the area, and of course shops and restaurants that continue to celebrate authentic Spanish heritage.
Randomly last on this list, but first on many people’s Travel Bucket Lists is Greece. Most people are aware that Greece is one of the most historically rich countries in the world, home to some of the most famous architectural ruins, and to some of society’s most important advances in mathematics and philosophy, and of course to an incredibly distinct culture filled with beautiful traditions, delicious wine and cuisine, and music, art and architecture. In addition, Greece has bustling city life nearly side-by-side with luxurious island living, offering the best of both worlds within one country.
Tarpon Springs, Florida = A Greek Fishing Village
Tarpon Springs, Florida has a higher percentage of Greek Americans than any other city in the United States, even to this day, so the Greek Culture in Tarpon Springs is certainly alive and well, even if the industry it was founded on hasn’t fared so well. It all started in the 1880s, when Greek immigrants came to the area to work as sponge divers, and subsequently grew the sponge industry of the city into a multi-million dollar business by the 1930s, but not long after, unfortunately, an algae epidemic nearly wiped out the ability to dive for sponges. But it didn’t wipe out the Greeks in the area! Instead, locals capitalized on their history and turned the area into a tourist destination, offering information on sponge divers of Tarpon Springs, and of course, serving up scores of Greek food and souvenirs.
If you’ve read many of our blogs or are familiar with Love of the Magic Vacations, you know that we help people plan vacations all over the world, and of course, we plan Disney Vacations, too! And one of the most popular Parks in Walt Disney World, EPCOT, offers a literal World Showcase of experiences! At EPCOT, you’ll find representation of European countries like France, Italy and Germany, as well as representation from all over the world too, including China, Japan and Morocco. So, if you’re looking to get a taste from as many countries as possible, all in one place, EPCOT is a perfect vacation choice for you!
Ready to Plan?
The United States has been a mash-up, not just of music, but of so many different cultures for centuries, so of course this list is just the beginning of where you can find European influences throughout this country. In fact, it’s probably more difficult to find somewhere where there hasn’t been some sort of European influence, although every location on this list has been more than just “influenced,” and often very purposefully designed to resemble the original homes of the founding immigrants.
So, what “European-at-Home” destination would you like to travel to? “Little Norway,” perhaps? Wine Country akin to France and Italy? A German Oktoberfest celebration? The dramatic West Coast? Wherever interests you, I would love to help you choose and plan the perfect “European” vacation, without leaving the country! Email me today at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started planning, or click here for a free quote from me or your favorite Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor!