Here it is, the 10 ultimate European experiences every traveller should tick off their list. Just a stopover away, these once-in-a-lifetime happenings are not to missed.
LONDON: SIT DOWN TO AFTERNOON TEA AT THE RITZ
Few things in life give as much pleasure as jumping into a black London cab and saying "To the Ritz!". On arrival, the legendary hotel's Palm Court is a glittering confection of chandeliers and mirrors, the experience made even more magical by the resident pianist and harpist.
Choose from finely cut sandwiches – yes even cucumber – and daintily sip a blend of tea suggested by the Ritz's certified tea sommelier. Finish off with scones with clotted cream and jam (sorry, "strawberry preserve" according to the menu), pastries or teacakes. And naturally, everything is impeccably served to you on the finest china.
PARIS: SAY 'OUI' TO AN ARTIST PAINTING YOUR PORTRAIT
In Picasso's time Montmartre was a bohemian paradise of seedy drinking dens and a hilltop windmill turned into a raffish dance hall. Today, the Place du Tertre in the shadow of the Sacré Cœur is full of artists who will readily capture your likeness. Watch out for rogues but many tourists come away pleasantly surprised with their likeness.
Afterwards, visit the world's most famous art studio, the Bateau Lavoire, where Picasso painted and Braque, Juan Gris and Modigliani once lived.
BARCELONA: BE CAPTIVATED BY PASSIONATE FLAMENCO
The intense initial stirrings of flamenco create an atmosphere of fervent anticipation, its first notes picked out on guitar followed by slow, incessant stamping of heels, then the rhythm picks up pace and everything comes together in smouldering, incendiary dancing.
There should be no microphones or amps, just pure and unadulterated passion. The most authentic venue is a traditional "tablao", tablao being to flamenco what jazz club is to jazz: an intimate venue with excellent acoustics.
PRAGUE: STROLL ALONG A MEDIEVAL BRIDGE AT SUNSET
In the heart of Europe's most mysterious and intriguing city, the 14th century Charles Bridge crosses the Vltava River with the massive bulk of the 1000-year-old castle looming behind it. Until 1841, it was the only way to cross the river from the Old Town.
Offering fairy-tale views, the pedestrian-only gothic stone bridge is lined with 30 statues of saints and best visited in the early morning or at night for maximum romance and minimum crowds. Adding to the atmosphere is the Bridge Band, who play an intoxicating Dixieland jazz most afternoons if they're in town.
VENICE: GLIDE ALONG THE CANALS ON A GONDOLA
Many may write it off as a cheesy and pricey tourist trap but one question you're sure to be asked back home after visiting this breathtakingly beautiful city is: "Did you go on a gondola?"
It's well worth doing. Not only so you can reply "Of course!" but also because gliding silently past captivating palaces, bridges and squares is one of the world's most serene experiences.
Consider engaging a private guide to accompany you and bring the views alive. And afterwards, pop into the stylish Harry's Bar for a refreshing Bellini (white peach juice and prosecco), where the cocktail was invented by the bar's founder.
ISTANBUL: HAGGLE FOR A SOUVENIR IN THE GRAND BAZAAR
Plunge into the more than 500-year-old Grand Bazaar through one of its 11 gates and you'll be immersed in a maze of mayhem with over 3000 shops selling lamps, rugs and ceramics. These are just a few of the staggering selection of items on offer.
Bargaining is all part of the fun. The salesperson will start off with "Welcome my friend, how are you?" an offer of mint tea, and then it's game on!
However, even the keenest shopaholic may find it overwhelming, so afterwards relax in a traditional "hammam" bath house where you can sweat it all out. Follow this with an invigorating massage or be covered in restorative marine mud and cocooned in linen.
NICE: PLAY ROULETTE AT MONTE CARLO CASINO
Get in touch with your inner James Bond, Bond girl – or even Bond baddie – at the legendary Casino de Monte-Carlo, a seven-minute helicopter ride from Nice airport. The inspiration for Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, this opulent structure was designed by Paris opera house designer Charles Garnier.
Place your bets under crystal chandeliers and gold-painted ceilings, choosing the snappier English roulette or the more majestic French version and its four croupiers.
Monte Carlo is of course the legendary playground of the rich and famous. So stroll along the marina and daydream that the biggest, most luxurious vessel is yours; or look up longingly at the royal palace on the headland and hope for an invite to drop in for cocktails with the Prince.
VIENNA: WALTZ INTO THE NEW YEAR AT A GLAMOUROUS BALL
The venerable city's imperial ball has been revved up but is still steeped in tradition. After entering the Imperial Palace (the winter quarters of the Hapsburg royal family), whirl around the ballroom to the strains of Johan Strauss until well past midnight. Or chill to a little jazz. Or even pop into the disco and boogie your way into the new year.
Don't worry if you can't be in Austria at the end of December, there are hundreds of balls to choose from during the season (November to February). And if your waltzing skills are a little wobbly, indulge in a private dancing lesson at the prestigious Elmayer dance school.
ATHENS: ADMIRE THE ACROPOLIS FROM NEAR AND FAR
The sheep that grazed on the Acropolis in Byron's day are long gone but there's still plenty to enchant besides the crowning glory of the Parthenon.
An expert guide will help you know your Doric from your Ionic and Corinthian architecture and provide illuminating background detail to not only the Parthenon but other structures such as small but perfectly formed Temple of Athena Nike and the female figures of the Caryatids.
Linger over the views longer by staying in a hotel with views over the Acropolis. Then you can gaze upon it at different times of the day, including by moonlight.
ST PETERSBURG: BE DAZZLED BY THE HERMITAGE'S TREASURES
From ancient gold treasure to paintings by Picasso and the Impressionists via works by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, the Hermitage Museum is a must-see.
With so much on display, plan on taking in the collection over two or three visits. And work out your strategy in advance, there 400 rooms spread over three floors of five interlocking buildings. And don't forget the majestic state rooms of the Winter Palace.
Hiring a guide will add another dimension to your exploration and splashing out for private access will let you see areas usually restricted to the public.
This article has been produced in association with Qantas & Emirates
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