Every American would like to experience strolling an old medieval town, exploring the imperial chambers of a castle, and marveling at Europe’s gorgeous historic monuments. Sadly, prices are on the rise, and international trips have become painfully, if not prohibitively, expensive.
If you’re still unsure about boarding a long-haul to a distant country and would prefer a more ‘familiar’ option closer to home, we bring you 4 international destinations in North America that will make you feel as if you’re in Europe, all within short flying distance of numerous U.S. hubs:
Europe Plagued By Price Surges
It might seem redundant to affirm, yet again, Europe is one of the most popular destinations in the world, but there’s no escaping from its impressive tourism figures.
In the first quarter of this year alone, 426 million tourist overnights were recorded across the continent already, easily making it the most sought-after vacation spot.
With numerous countries in Europe reporting higher costs of living, including destinations that have historically been considered affordable, and can no longer claim to be that, like Croatia, some Americans may feel like now is not the right time to spend hard-earned money flying across the pond.
Lucky for them, they don’t need to go to Europe in the first place to get a little taste of what a European summer feels like: the Americas were, after all, settled by Europeans, and the British, French, and Spanish have heavily influenced the local culture, and city-building across the New World.
Quebec City, Canada
The cultural capital of the autonomous Quebec province of Canada, Quebec City is one of a handful of cities in North America with a predominantly French-speaking population.
Its ties to the old Francophone power extend far beyond the language affinities, however, as the city proper is renowned for having gorgeous 17th-century colonial architecture.
It is the only city North of Mexico where the defensive walls and ramparts erected by the settlers have been left intact, leading UNESCO to declare Old Quebec a Heritage Site as early as 1985.
Although it is a big, modern metropolis, extending far beyond Old Quebec, where you will find your usual skyscraper districts and experimental 21st-century development zones, the historical part has retained its Old World charm and picturesqueness.
Many of the houses and narrow cobblestone streets within the district evoke the tradition of 17th and 18th-century Normand villages, from Northern France’s historical region of Normandy – a clear indication of Quebec’s irrefutable origins.
Some of the top sights around Quebec City include:
- The Chateau Frontenac, an imposing luxurious castle-like hotel and icon of the Quebecois skyline, built over a century ago
- Petit Champlain, a charming pedestrianized street often described as Canada’s ‘prettiest’, lined with adorable cafes and pubs where local beer and Quebecois food is served
- Parliament Building, a Second Empire architectural treasure housing the National Assembly of Quebec, where politicians exercise their devolved powers
- The City’s Walls, a series of 17th-century fortifications, reinforced up to the 19th-century, that surround the perimeter of Old Quebec
- Notre-Dame de Quebec, a richly-decorated Neoclassical Catholic basilica founded as early as 1647, though the modern building was only completed in 1842
- Place Royale, the public square where Quebec City is reported to have been founded
- Notre-Dame-des Victoires Church, believed to be one of the oldest stone churches in the Americas
How To Get To Quebec
Quebec City hosts flights from select departure points in the U.S., including a year-round service from Newark, at a flight duration of only 1h50.
Seasonal flights are also available from Chicago O’Hare and Philadelphia when booked through American Eagle.
Serving as the capital of the historical Free and Sovereign State of Guanajuato, one of the most culturally-charged in Central Mexico, Guanajuato is a colorful medium-sized city that wouldn’t look out of place in Europe’s Iberian Peninsula.
It is similar to Southern Spain’s coastal cities, except Guanajuato is not bounded by the sea, only mountains. The ornate facades are painted in earthy tones, alternating between vibrant red, beige, and muted yellow, and the Catholic shrines are richly decorated.
As it is located in a narrow valley, some of the winding alleys are so narrow that only motorbikes and pedestrians can access it, helping it maintain its historical appeal by keeping the hectic traffic that plagues most Mexican cities away.
Much like Quebec City’s, the historic center was inscribed into UNESCO’s World Heritage List in the eighties, and it’s a literal gateway to the past, what with its small plazas flanked by pink sandstone houses, and Spanish churches reminiscent of their bygone Empire.
Guanajuato is so pretty it was recently named the most beautiful colonial gem of Mexico, and when visiting, you should make sure these hotspots are added to your list:
- The University of Guanajuato, an education complex formerly frequented by the city’s elite in the olden days, featuring a landmark staircase
- Mercado Hidalgo, a historical street market where tourists can find local produce, handicraft, and other beautifully-assembled souvenirs
- Hacienda del Cochero, a colonial property sitting just three miles North of Guanajuato, now converted into a museum, offering visitors a glimpse into the city’s golden age
- The Alley of the Kiss, an incredibly Instagrammable, romantic narrow passageway
- Iglesia de San Diego de Alcala, recognized for its beautifully carved dark wooden door and the icons of saints that guard the entrance
- Plaza de la Paz, the liveliest spot in Guanajuato Old Town, flanked by centuries-old civil buildings
- The Subterranean Streets, where the city’s signature color-splashed houses are crammed together
How To Get To Guanajuato
Guanajuato is served by a small airport called Bajo International.
From the U.S., nonstop flights depart from Houston-Intercontinental (United Airlines), Chicago O’Hare (Viva Aerobus), Chicago Midway, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Jose in California (all operated by Volaris).
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Out of all North American nations, Mexico may be the one with the highest concentration of perfectly-preserved colonial-era settlements, so it’s no surprise it would feature twice on this list.
The second Mexican entry is the enchanting San Miguel de Allende, a short one-and-a-half-hour drive from Guanajuato.
It is named after Juan de San Miguel and Ignacio Allende, two important figures in History and martyrs of Mexican independence who were born in the province.
Also comprising parts that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, San Miguel, as it is commonly shortened to, is Guanajuato’s quainter sister.
As it is even smaller, it bears similarities with Mexico’s small magical towns more than it does with the historical metropolises.
Walking the cobbled streets, you will be greeted by friendly locals, who will either offer you a welcoming smile or try and politely sell you handicraft items.
At every turn, you will instinctively reach for your camera, as the ocher houses and their porches spilling onto the streets couldn’t possibly be prettier, and staying in town overnight, you will likely find accommodation in a colonial mansion that’s been modernized in order to receive visitors, without losing their rustic essence.
The most important locations in San Miguel are:
- Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, the famous pink cathedral with Neo-Gothic spires in the center of town
- Fabrica La Aurora, an old clothing mill now used as a day bazaar
- El Jardin, a lush green garden with a typical European layout laid out by the colonizers
- Iglesia de San Francisco, a late 18th-century church with an elaborate Baroque exterior
- El Mirador, a viewpoint commanding incredible views of the San Miguel skyline and its many domes and spires
- Sazon, a renowned culinary school where tourists can attend workshops and sample some of the award-winning local cuisine
How To Get To San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende does not have an airport, though it isn’t at all hard to get to.
It is about one and a half hours away from both Guanajuato’s Bajo International and Queretaro Intercontinental Airport, in the neighboring state of Queretaro.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
The capital and largest city of the Dominican Republic, a small nation within the island of Hispaniola, Santo Domingo is the oldest European settlement in the Americas.
Founded upon Christopher Columbus’ landfall in 1492, it is perhaps the only colonial city in the New World to have been established in the 15th century, at a time when Europe was seeing off the Middle Ages.
Medieval-style landmarks can be seen all around Santo Domingo’s UNESCO-protected historic center, including the oldest cathedral in the continent – the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor – the first university to be founded in the Americas, a series of defensive walls and turrets that mirror Europe’s fortified towns, and even a castle and fortress.
Modern-day Santo Domingo is a lot bigger than its colonial core, having expanded disorderly amid a 20th-century development boom, but interestingly enough, a lot of the historical buildings in the Old Town have been left untouched.
The same cannot be said about a number of cities in the United States, where modernism and experimental architecture took precedence over tradition and heritage.
Believe it or not, Old Santo Domingo’s grid pattern became a model for every other New World settlement that followed.
So if you’re flying to the Dominican Republic’s number one city and beating heart anytime soon, these are the top attractions not to be missed:
- Ciudad Colonial, the UNESCO-protected cobbled Old Town, dotted with colonial monuments and beautiful 16th-century houses
- Ozama Fortress, one of the very first European fortifications built in the Americas, resembling a medieval castle
- Museum of the Royal Palace, one of the oldest buildings erected by the Spanish upon their conquest of the island, now housing a national museum
- Alcazar de Colon, a 16th-century imperial palace famous for its luxurious interior and lush green gardens
- Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the oldest cathedral of the Americas
How To Get To Santo Domingo
Flights to Santo Domingo and other popular destinations in the Dominican Republic, such as Punta Cana and Puerto Plata, are available from countless departure points in the U.S.
Recently, five new low-cost flights launched from the States and Canada, including Frontier’s new Tampa-Santo Domingo and Tampa-Punta Cana services and Air Century’s Miami-Santo Domingo and Miami-Punta Cana.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com