European cities have an atmosphere unlike any other place on Earth. The architecture, history, and culture turn each of the continents major metropolises into living museums of awesome. For travelers from North America, however, getting to Europe isn't always logistically easy—nor is it easy on the wallet. Thankfully, some destinations in the United States and Canada come close to duplicating the Europe experience without requiring a plane ride across the pond. Here are some of my favorites.
New Orleans New Orleans is No. 1 in North America for European feel, thanks largely to the French Quarter. This neighborhood, also known as Vieux Carré, is the oldest neighborhood in the city, dating back to the 1700s. Many of its original buildings are still standing, which is rare in the United States. The city's European influence comes from the French Creoles who lived here in the early years of New Orleans.
While parts of “The Quarter” have been modernized, there are still strong influences of European culture throughout the neighborhood. Among them: open-air cafes, horse-drawn carriages, narrow alleys, cobblestone streets, and architecture that's often reminiscent of Europe. French Creole culture also can be experienced at local restaurants. Arnaud's, for instance, is the largest restaurant in New Orleans, and dates back nearly 100 years; the menu features classic Creole cuisine, cigars, live music and a legendary cognac cocktail, the French 75. For more of a European vibe, stop into Café du Monde or Café Beignet for a café au lait and beignets.
Solvang, CaliforniaA couple of hours north of Los Angeles (and just miles from Santa Barbara's beaches) is the Danish-inspired town of Solvang. The metropolis is small—it has a population of just more than 5,000 people, and you can walk from one end to the other in less than 30 minutes. Still, Solvang is no fake; the place was founded about 100 years ago by a group of Danes who wanted to create a Danish colony in a warmer climate.
This native Danish style can be seen throughout the town. Among the examples: Danish windmills, half-timbered buildings, a Gothic-styled church, and bakeries that serve traditional Danish (some of which are bigger than your head). When you visit, a good first stop is the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art, which highlights Danish culture and the history of Solvang. Another museum, the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum, houses numerous vintage and European bikes. There are even some hotels in town imitating the Danish style, and most of these are reliable, if not fancy. Another option for overnight accommodations: the Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, just beyond the outskirts of town.
Montreal, Canada Montreal is another city with a distinctly European vibe—after all, French is the official language. Originally, back in the 1600s, Montreal was a French outpost in North America and was called Ville-Marie. Today that part of the city is known as Old Montreal; many of the original buildings are still standing, and it is one of the oldest and most preserved urban areas in North America.
Some of the most notable older buildings in the city include Montreal City Hall, Bonsecours Market, and Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, which dates back to 1771 (yes, this makes the building older than the United States). The food in Montreal has French influence, too; this is evident from a list of best local restaurants, including Bonaparte, L'Auberge Le St-Gabriel, and Les Filles Du Roy, just to name a few.
Quebec City, CanadaJust north of Montreal is Quebec City, one of North America's oldest settlements and the only walled city north of Mexico. Quebec was founded in 1608, making it one of the first European settlements in North America. Most of Quebec City's quintessentially European architecture can be found east of the fortification walls in Old Quebec. Old buildings also reside in Place Royale, a neighborhood distinguished by stone buildings, mansard-roofed homes and cobblestone streets.
A walk through Old Quebec will take you by some of the original structures from the 1600s, such as Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, a small Roman Catholic stone church. The most distinguishable landmark, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, is a European chateau-style hotel that dates back to the late 1800s. The building's prominence in the Quebec City skyline makes it one of the most photographed hotels in the world. Other historical landmarks include The Battlefields Park and Citadelle of Quebec.
How do you like to experience European culture?