Great Britain will likely be taking a deep breath (and perhaps a sigh of relief) this year as it recovers from a busy 2012, when it hosted both the Olympics and Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, but it remains a dynamic destination. In Germany, urban renewal is giving Hamburg’s city center a new look. In Paris, the Picasso Museum, closed in 2011 for renovations, should finally reopen this summer. The Cinque Terre, Italy’s picturesque Riviera, is back to normal after two of its towns were badly damaged in a flood in the fall of 2011.
Across Europe, many of the amenities that tourists enjoy are being updated or rebuilt, new exhibits are being organized, and new museums and other facilities have opened or will open later this year. Here’s a rundown.
One of the biggest changes is to the London skyline, which now boasts Europe’s tallest building, designed by Renzo Piano, the co-architect of Paris’ Pompidou Center. Rocketing 1,020 feet above the south end of London Bridge, the Shard (www.the-shard.com), which shimmers in the sun and glows like the city’s nightlight after dark. The tip houses a 15-story stack of observation platforms enclosed in glass which opened to the public in February.
Visitors hoping to capture some of the Olympic afterglow can soon visit the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The northern part, opening this summer, will feature footpaths, playgrounds, and picnic-friendly greens. The southern half, highlighted by the twisty red Orbit, is slated to open in spring of 2014. Visitors will also be able to swim in the pool where Michael Phelps won his 18th gold medal, as construction is underway to open up the Aquatics Centre for public leisure.
Travelers interested in royalty will delight in the newly refurbished Kensington Palace, (www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace) which now hosts a worthwhile series of exhibits on its most notable past residents, including William and Mary, and the Hanovers (the “Georges”). The highlight is the exhibit on Queen Victoria, who was born and raised in this palace.
The wizarding world is abuzz over the “Making of Harry Potter” studio tour in Leavesden, a 20-minute train ride from London. The attraction lets Potter-philes see the actual sets and props used in the films, along with exhibits about how the special effects were created. Visitors must book a time slot in advance (www.wbstudiotour.co.uk).
In the charming city of York, in northeast England, the noble Kit Kat, Aero bars, and Chocolate Oranges are now featured in a fun attraction dubbed “Chocolate: York’s Sweet Story” (all three confections were famously born in York). Visits start with a film and guided tour before flowing into a virtual chocolate factory.
Two relatively new museums in Liverpool and Glasgow celebrate the heritage of these proud and scrappy port cities. The Museum of Liverpool is packed with interactive displays covering everything from the city’s music and sports background to housing and health issues. Glasgow’s Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel sports high-tech displays, a re-creation of a 20th century street, and plenty of recollecting Glaswegian seniors. Its vast collection includes stagecoaches, locomotives, the world’s oldest bicycle, and the Glenlee, one of Glasgow’s five remaining tall ships (docked outside the museum).