A European vacation is one of those things that virtually all Americans dream of taking one day.
But for most of us who are always busy, or always broke, or a combination of the two, going to Europe may seem like an unattainable dream.
Generations ago, becoming a proper adult meant you completed your education with a Grand Tour. Not so much anymore.
But don’t lose hope, because we’ll show you how to fake that European vacation right here on American soil.
Many of the most famous images in the world – whether in history books or pop culture – are of European landmarks.
Obviously, since the Colonists who settled in the “new world” hailed from England and then other European nations, much of ‘American’ art, architecture, and design has European influences.
Maybe you’ll find yourself traveling through Europe someday, maybe not.
For most Americans, this doesn’t happen until retirement—after many, many long years of hard work and saving up money.
By the way, if you’re a young person who has already traveled abroad many times because of your trust fund, well, we’re happy for you. (Truthfully, most of us are overcome by resentment, but I digress.)
But fear not – there are almost countless destinations in the U.S. that will give you the feel of being in Europe. (Ok, so you may have to use your imagination really hard and pretend you just spent ten hours on a plane, but you can do it!)
Some are cheesy replicas, some are stunning examples of European influence just as breathtaking as their counterparts abroad, and some are common examples found in nearly every city.
So get ready to enjoy your European vacation right here in the states!
Well, not Athens, Greece because remember, you’re broke.
But you can – and should – visit the “Athens of the South,” Nashville, Tennessee.
Besides the fact that Nashville has something for everyone, like its incredible musical heritage and some great burgers, it also has a very unique park that all Americans should see at least once.
Centennial Park is where the Centennial Exposition was held in 1897. These massive events were held in many American cities around the turn of the century, bringing a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience to everyday Americans who may have not been able to see such wonders otherwise.
And at the heart of this exposition was an exact replica of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in ancient Greece.
Think about what an amazing sight this must have been for residents of Nashville back then. In fact, it was such a popular attraction that instead of demolishing the temporary structure (originally built with mostly plaster and wood), plans were made to rebuild it with more permanent materials.
It is now a museum in the center of this beautiful park, and the main level even includes an exact replica of the Athena Parthenos statue, just like the one created to honor the goddess Athena in the original Parthenon.
The temple also includes replicas of other statuaries from the Acropolis like the ‘Elgin’ marbles.
Because of this, you save on not one, but two trips to Europe, since the marbles are now housed in the British Museum in London.
I’d say that’s a bargain.
The Nashville Parthenon is so authentic that it’s often used as a backdrop in television and films, summer festivals, and productions of Greek theater.
Take a walk around the extensive grounds and bring the kids. They can play on the playground or feed the ducks at the pond. We bet you can’t do that on the real Acropolis.
Plus, it’s only eight bucks to get in—a far cry from the thousands you’d pay to see the real thing. Even better, you can grab a burger afterward.
Foamhenge (No, that’s not a typo.)
So, you think Stonehenge is one of the coolest places on earth to visit, only you don’t have the dough to get there.
But, you can go to Foamhenge right here in the U.S. of A.
The real Stonehenge is an internationally-recognized prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire, England and millions of visitors travel to see this awe-inspiring circle of stones each year.
But there are lots of piles of rocks in the states too. (See above for the reminder that you’re broke.)
Foamhenge is one of those great, campy American attractions carved in just one day by a man in Natural Bridge, Virginia—a place with lots of campy attractions and an amazing real one, the Natural Bridge, for which the town was named.
Mark Cline wanted to bring Stonehenge to the masses, and as he put it, “Foam is a lot easier to carve than stone.”
But you’ll want to check it out soon – one strong wind and you may miss your chance.
Mystery Hill in Salem, New Hampshire is another pile of rocks discovered by a landowner in the 1930s.
William Goodwin was so convinced that the site was like Stonehenge in every way that, as he moved the stones, he believed he was being guided by the same otherworldly powers that created Stonehenge itself.
And then, just like every other American who makes up a great and unbelievable story, Goodwin opened it up to the public as a roadside attraction and used it to make money.
There are also plenty of other “Stonehenges” in the U.S., including a famous one called Sam’s Hill Stonehenge in Maryhill, Washington. Its claim to fame is that it resembles how the real one likely looked eons ago – i.e. all the stones are actually standing upright.
Maybe this is where the expression “What in the Sam Hill is going on?” came about. After all, it must be pretty frustrating trying to move around a bunch of giant stones.
There’s also a replica that’s almost full-sized on the campus of the University of Texas, along with dozens of others – large and small – for your viewing pleasure.
From Campy To Awe-Inspiring
If you really want to feel like you’re in Europe and see the most impressive designs from across the pond, take a trip to one of the magnificent Gothic cathedrals in the United States.
One of the most famous American cathedrals is, of course, St. Patrick’s across from Rockefeller Center in New York City.
Completed in 1878, this cathedral is as close to being a true European structure you’ll find anywhere in the country.
After all, the artists who designed and fashioned its ornate decorative elements actually came from England and France to work on the project (as well as a couple from U.S. cities like Boston).
It boasts an exquisite replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta, sculpted by William Partridge, that dwarfs the original version in Rome.
From the stained glass to the intricate marble sculpting, this cathedral truly makes you feel closer to God.
It’s also the home church to many famous New Yorkers and has a history uniquely American—St. Patrick’s has hosted Presidents and foreign dignitaries, and has been the location for many weddings and funerals of the rich and famous.
And, of course, there’s the National Cathedral in the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C.
The cathedral is breathtaking and reflects many notable moments in American history.
Construction began in 1907 by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt (of teddy bear fame), and it’s said that he struck the cathedral’s cornerstone with the same hammer used by our first President (that’s George Washington) to dedicate the U.S. Capitol in 1793.
Like everything else that happens in Washington, D.C., apparently, no one was in a hurry to get the job done.
The cathedral was not fully completed until 1990, making it one of the nation’s longest construction projects. Don’t pretend you’re surprised.
Some notable features of National Cathedral include a foundation stone brought from Bethlehem (not Pennsylvania, but the birthplace of our Savior), and even a stained glass piece called the Space Window, where moon rock brought home by the crew of Apollo XI was installed.
The remarkable cathedral has hosted its own share of famous figures too and was, in fact, the location of Dr. Martin Luther King’s last Sunday sermon prior to his assassination.
A Man’s Home is His Castle
You can’t go to Europe without seeing a historic, medieval castle. Well, you can’t go to Europe right now anyway.
But there are dozens of castles right here in the U.S. inspired by the majestic European estates.
While you could’ve glimpsed an original European castle with a lifetime of hard labor as a servant, you can now take a tour through many of these with just a few days’ wages. (Many do have pretty hefty admission fees.)
Just like in the “old days,” these American castles were built by wealthy business moguls who had more money than they knew what to do with. Because of that, they are some of the most beautiful and frequented destinations in the country.
On a tiny island on the Hudson River in Beacon, New York lies Bannerman’s Castle.
It is uniquely European in style as its original owner came to the states from Scotland in 1851. Beginning construction at the turn of the twentieth century, he gave it many of the features of the castles back home.
Bannerman was apparently a munitions dealer and used the castle as a storage facility and “simple home.”
Much of the original structure was destroyed by a fire in 1969, so now it resembles castle ruins—just like the ones prevalent all over Europe.
The island is currently run by a trust that offers summertime tours and hosts events like concerts and picnics, but it’s still a trip worth taking since it’s likely the only castle on its own island in the U.S.
For another castle experience, travel a bit more to New York’s Boldt Castle.
Hotel mogul George Boldt was inspired by the castles in Germany’s Rhineland and built one for his wife as a summer home.
Obviously, these businessmen could afford to go to Europe all the time, but they loved the U.S. and created some pretty inspirational estates influenced by their homeland that we can still enjoy today.
Sadly, Boldt’s wife passed away before its completion and it sat unloved and unoccupied for the better part of a century.
Luckily, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority bought the property, restored it to its intended state and opened it to the public.
Like any good castle, it has 120 rooms, a grand tower, and even a drawbridge – something you won’t see in most other American castles.
There are dozens of other grand estates in the United States to tour as well, including Biltmore House in Ashville, North Carolina and Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California.
Wealthy business tycoons like the Vanderbilts and Hearsts knew that the way to flaunt their wealth was to be lord of their very own manor, and they definitely knew what they were doing.
These castles may not be ancient, but there are lots of European influences in the architecture, design, and its magnificent gardens.
There’s a little bit of Europe near you!
Did you know you don’t even have to make a special trip to another city to see a little slice of Europe in the U.S.?
Everywhere we go, European influences abound.
Nearly every town has a building whose architecture was influenced by the classical styles of Greece and Rome.
Old churches in small towns still maintain their European roots – from stained glass to soaring spires.
The banks, courthouses, and grand fountains of main streets could be found anywhere in Europe.
And don’t forget the gardens!
There is likely a public park or garden close to you that was inspired by European design. If you want to be seen as cultured and sophisticated, grab a sketch pad and sit on a bench right in the middle of one!
There’s nothing more European than that. You can draw stick figures and flowers with smiley-faces – we won’t tell.
So go enjoy all the European influences in our nation’s very own cities and towns, and don’t lament the fact that you can’t get to Europe right now. There’s plenty to see and do here.
And you will get there. You won’t be broke forever.