9 European-style places to visit in the USA


The USA is a nation of immigrants, and there are plenty of places across the country with a distinctly European vibe.

Coastal California bears an uncanny resemblance to the Mediterranean seashore, without July’s blazing temps and swarms of summer tourists. Mansions in Rhode Island give French castles a run for their money. Hiking in Colorado can make the Swiss Alps seem small. 

Get a taste of Europe by heading for one of these American destinations with “Old Continent” allure. Even the most discerning Europhile will be pleasantly surprised.

Leavenworth’s Bavarian village has the Cascade Mountains as an Alps-style backdrop © Connie Coleman / Getty Images

If you like Bavaria, Germany… try Leavenworth, Washington

The beer is Bavarian. The timber-framed buildings are Bavarian. Even the seasonal celebrations, like Oktoberfest, are Bavarian. The only thing not Bavarian about Leavenworth, Washington, is its location, though the snow-capped Cascade Range surrounding the town does look strikingly similar to the Bavarian Alps.

The mimicry is intentional. In the 1960s, after facing years of economic turmoil, Leavenworth decided to reinvent itself as a tourist magnet. Taking a cue from the natural scenery, the community worked together to model itself after the mountain villages found outside Munich. Their plan worked. Today, Leavenworth draws millions of visitors looking for a slice of German life and a base for exploring the Wenatchee National Forest. Things get particularly Deutsche around Oktoberfest and Christmas, with plenty of tourists noshing pretzels around town. If you want to beat the crowds, visit in January, when travelers are gone but holiday lights remain aglow.

If you like Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast… try California’s Pacific Coast Highway

From the redwood forests near Mendocino to the sun-kissed sands below Los Angeles, California’s Pacific Coast Highway – also known as the PCH or Hwy 1 – snakes its way through tiny beach towns and along dramatic cliffs matched only by the drive from Dubrovnik to Split along Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline. This rite-of-passage road trip unfolds like a fairy tale.

Big Sur’s rugged shores and hiking trails give way to San Simeon, where Hearst Castle rises like a mirage from the ocean’s summertime fog. This Mediterranean Revival mansion is the West Coast equivalent of old-world grandeur. For more architectural jewels, head south to Old Mission Santa Barbara, an 18th-century relic that conjures images of the ancient Roman Empire. Though these architectural sites may be enthralling, don’t forget to keep your eyes on the road – much like Croatia, there are wonderful views all along the PCH.

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Exterior of a beaux-arts-style mansion in well-kept gardens
The Breakers mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, was built in the style of French mansions and Italian villas © bodhichita / Shutterstock

If you like France… try Newport, Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s ritziest summer escape boasts enough Gilded Age glamor to give Louis XIV a run for his money. In the 1850s, American business tycoons started constructing palatial summer cottages in Newport, inspired by the Beaux-Arts mansions, Italian Renaissance villas and Elizabethan manor houses their owners and architects ogled while traipsing around Europe. Today, Bellevue Avenue – where the elite built their vacation homes – feels like the American answer to Versailles. Beware: touring the ostentatious estates will inspire serious real estate envy. 

European-style architecture isn’t Newport’s only jaw-dropping feature either. The city has a waterfront reminiscent of the French Riviera (stroll the 3.5-mile Cliff Walk) and a fleet of modern yachts large enough to make Cannes feel quaint. It’s no wonder the rich and famous never left this seaside port town.

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Danish-style buildings, and a windmill, in a town
Step into 18th-century Denmark in Solvang, California © Benny Marty / Shutterstock

If you like Denmark… try Solvang, California 

Veer east off the 101 while driving between sunny Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo and you’ll cruise through a portal to 18th-century Denmark. The streets of Solvang look like the set for a Hans Christian Anderson tale. There are half-timbered homes, a handful of windmills twirling around town and even a Little Mermaid fountain, copied after the bronze beauty sitting patiently in Copenhagen Harbor. 

This visual passion for Danish culture might initially seem like kitsch, but it’s rooted in local history. In 1911, three Danish immigrants founded the town of Solvang (meaning “sunny field” in Danish), and over the coming century, locals took it upon themselves to construct buildings adhering to traditional Danish design. Architecture aside, you can dig deep into Danish culture by participating in the annual month-long Christmas Julefest, picking up sweets from a dansk bageri (Danish Bakery, try the kringles from Birkholm) or staying somewhere like the Landsby, a hotel dedicated to all-things hygge.

Fountains and courtyard in front of a large Spanish Renaissance-style building
Admire Flagler College’s Spanish Renaissance architecture in St Augustine © Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

If you like Spain’s Mediterranean coast… try St Augustine, Florida

St Augustine holds the distinction of being America’s oldest continuously occupied city established by Europeans. Founded by Spanish settlers in 1565, this seaside city still bears the stamp of its imperial parent. Thanks to the Spanish Renaissance architecture by Gilded Age railroad tycoon Henry Flagler, the Spanish colonial buildings dating back to the 1700s and Castillo San Marcos – a 17th-century fort overlooking the ocean – much of St Augustine appears like the historic center of a Mediterranean town. For those interested in traveling through time, St Augustine’s Colonial Quarter offers an immersive look at life in the former Spanish colony, replete with Disney World-worthy reenactments.

A swimming pool in mountain surrounds
Soak in Swiss vibes at Ouray Hot Springs below the San Juan Mountains © Chip Kalback / Lonely Planet

If you like Switzerland… try Ouray, Colorado

If Ouray’s outdoor offerings don’t take your breath away, the elevation (8000ft above sea level) certainly will, which is precisely why locals call it the Switzerland of America. The San Juan Mountains flanking the river valley scrape the sky just like Switzerland’s Matterhorn, and the mineral-rich geothermal waters at Ouray Hot Springs are as therapeutic as those surrounding St Moritz. Seasonal activities such as hiking and ice climbing mean that the only iconically Swiss thing missing are sheep along the hillside. Roll down your window while zipping along the San Juan Scenic Highway and the snow-capped scenery might inspire you to yodel – particularly while driving over Red Mountain Pass, which climbs to 11,075ft.

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A vineyard on a sunny day
Winemakers in Napa Valley adopted and adapted wines from Tuscany © Kyle Spradley / 500px

If you like Tuscany, Italy… try Napa Valley, California

In Tuscany, the way to travelers’ hearts is through their taste buds. The Italian countryside’s supply of wineries, sustainable farms and agritourism outposts have welcomed foodies to the area’s rolling green hills for centuries, leaving visitors buzzed by both the booze and the beauty. While northern California’s wine industry is only a couple of hundred years old, Napa Valley vintners adapted the best of Tuscany for their similarly bucolic backdrop. With more than 400 wineries and a growing roster of family-run farms that offer tours, classes and vacation stays, visitors need only to drive an hour north of San Francisco for Italian flavor with Californian flair. For a complete Mediterranean immersion, head to Castello di Amorosa, where oenophiles sample Sangioveses inside a fortress resembling a 14th-century Tuscan castle. Follow it up with a visit to the area’s first premium winery, Buena Vista, founded in 1857 and housed in a fairy-tale chateau.

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A town with a small red church with a pointed steeple next to a river
Hermann was founded next to the Missouri River by German immigrants in the 19th century © John Elk / Getty Images

If you like Germany’s Rhine River Valley… try Hermann, Missouri

Clink “prost” to this jewel of the Missouri River, founded by 19th-century German immigrants who initially settled in Philadelphia. At first, the lush landscape reminded the town’s founders of the Rhine River Valley, so they got to work building a tiny Deutschland. It wasn’t long before they realized Hermann’s soil was far different from any farm on the Rhine, and constructing their new German society would be more demanding than anticipated. Still, the community persevered, cultivating a crop most suited for Missouri – grapes. 

Today, German-style wines (sugary, fruit-forward) attract travelers, who hop on the Hermann Trolley as it chugs to local vineyards. Stop by Adam Puchta Winery, founded in 1855 – the US’s oldest, continuously-owned family farm winery. There’s also plenty more German-American history unrelated to grapes. Explore the lives of German immigrants by touring 19th-century brick homes scattered about the Deutschheim State Historic Site, then visit the Historic Hermann Museum inside the German School building from 1871. Finish with bratwurst and a beer from Tin Mill Restaurant. Order enough locally-made hefeweizens and you may think this is the Rhine region, too.

People dancing to music on a street corner in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana
A two-man band plays on a corner in the French Quarter in New Orleans © Kris Davidson / Lonely Planet

If you like colonial France and Spain… try New Orleans, Louisiana

Between the late 17th century and the early 19th century, French and Spanish imperialists traded control of Louisiana’s most famous port town, leaving an indelible mark on the city’s cultural heritage. Between biting into beignets in the French Quarter’s open-air, European-style market and lusting over the Spanish-inspired iron-lace balconies that adorn the city’s iconic homes, New Orleans might first feel like a copy of countries that first colonized the area. But on closer inspection, labeling the Big Easy isn’t so simple. From epicurean curiosities like jambalaya to musical stylings like jazz, New Orleans is a cultural melange with so many Cajun, Creole and indigenous American influences that the city’s lively spirit feels like a country unto itself.



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