The city’s Velib bike program is now more accessible to visitors, who can buy a one- or seven-day subscription online (http://en.velib.paris.fr). This is a fun way to tootle between sights — the first 30 minutes of any trip are included with your subscription; after that there’s a small fee for each additional 30 minutes.
At Versailles — the number one side-trip from Paris, just a half-hour away — some rooms of the Queen’s Wing of the main palace may be closed for renovation in 2013. A new shuttle bus is whisking visitors from the Versailles train station to the Trianon Palaces and the Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, on the far side of the palace’s vast grounds (www.phebus.tm.fr).
At Mont St-Michel, the causeway that’s long brought tourists to the dramatic island abbey was closed to car traffic in 2012 (and will eventually be replaced by a new bridge). Instead of parking along the causeway, drivers now leave their cars on the mainland and either walk, ride a free shuttle, or hop a horse-drawn wagon to the island.
Along the Riviera, the big news in Nice is the reopening of its 100-year-old onion-domed Russian Cathedral, claimed by many to be the finest Orthodox church outside Russia.
Florence’s Uffizi Gallery is still undergoing a massive, years-long renovation that bodes well for travelers. Although a few rooms are off-limits, many more rooms have been opened to the public, such as the Caravaggio Rooms and the new “Foreign Painters Section,” featuring mostly Dutch/Flemish painters (including Rembrandt) with some Spanish and French artists.
Also in Florence, Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Renaissance-era Baptistery doors — featuring the original 10 bronze panels from the Gates of Paradise (1425-1452) — have been newly restored and are now back on display at the Duomo Museum.
Florence’s Galileo Science Museum, which was recently renovated, has rearranged and dramatically updated its exhibits. Engaging video screens (in English) have been added to many rooms to help illustrate inventions and scientific principles.
In Venice, the Accademia, which is known for its great collection of Venetian Renaissance art, is open but still in a constant state of disarray, with a major expansion and renovation dragging on for years.
Formerly presented every other year, the Venice Biennale — a world-class, contemporary fair — is now an annual event. It alternates between visual art in odd years and architecture in even years. The exhibition spreads over the Arsenale and Giardini park, and usually runs from June through November.
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. The towns and nearly all the trails of the region are once again ready for prime time. A handy (but pricey) new parking garage has opened at nearby La Spezia’s train station, making it easier and safer for day-trippers to leave their cars and hop the train to the Cinque Terre.
In fashion-forward Milan, travelers can now visit the high-end concept store called Excelsior in the Galleria del Corso, which feels more like a design museum than a retail store. A conveyor belt carries shoppers from level to colorful level to the beat of pulsing music, passing electronic art installations on the way. Even if you can’t afford the $1,000 shirts, you might enjoy the basement food hall with its good food at reasonable prices.
Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.