Those who love ancient ruins understand that there is an element of time travel to exploring remnants of a long-ago era.  Turn your European travel into time travel with visits to these four stunning sites, perfect for those who love things not just old, but ancient.

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Even with only 15% of the city uncovered, Efes (Ephesus) is the largest excavated area in the world.  It’s beautifully preserved and restored streets are home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But it’s not just the temple that’s a wonder – the streets and buildings look like someone’s sketchbook brainstorm of a civilization, making it easy to imagine the living city as it once was, especially with swarms of tourists filling the streets and giving them life.  Go ahead and pretend you’re an ancient metropolitan citizen running errands as you wander the streets.  We won’t judge.

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Tragedy is poignant in that it points out to us the beauty of our humanness, exquisite despite all its flaws.  There lies the glory of exploring the massive expanse that is the ruins of Pompeii.  Buried in 79 AD after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the city is suspended in a moment, preserved just as it was the day of the eruption, right down to the paintings on the walls.  Pack a lunch, and possibly dinner; you could easily wander the streets for a full day, exploring people’s houses, places of worship, public buildings, theaters, all essentially frozen in time.  It’s an inspiring experience – the Pompeian’s built a grand city in the time before heavy machinery, and the tragedy of all that death and destruction has given us an opportunity to see the humanity’s beautiful facility for creation despite all its frailties.

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Athens is a playground for lovers of old things.  There’s something ancient to marvel at around every corner, whether it be a temple to the goddesses of old or a stalwart little Byzantine chapel.  Mixed in with the urban skyline, the Athenian historical sites prove that things that seem like they shouldn’t go together are often the most joyful combinations of all.  Go on, geek out over every inch of the Acropolis.  Let your jaw drop at the magnitude of the columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.   And don’t forget a climb up Philopappou Hill to call on the Muses– one second at the top and you’ll understand completely why the Greeks chose this as the spot to honor the goddesses of inspiration.  For true ancient history aficionados, as well as those casually drifting through, the new Acropolis Museum is a beautifully organized must-visit.

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People will tell you Stonehenge is sterilized, over-touristic, and overrated.  You tell them to shut their pretentious mouths.  Yes, it’s a little tamed and commercialized – crowds of the curious move from numbered point to number point around the enigmatic structure, audioguides in hand.  The truth is, however that sometimes the reason something is “touristy” is because there is good reason for people to want to see it.  You don’t understand just how mysterious Stonehenge is until you’ve been there– and then somehow, fenced off and all, its mysticism permeates, filling your mind with the strange nagging feeling of inscrutability that makes you think about just how weird and wonderful humanity really is.  Plus, the audioguide is actually pretty informative.  And it, like all of these sites, is only the beginning.  Europe’s vast past is waiting for you to explore, time travellers.  Get started with these, and then see what else you find!

Photo Credit: Daniel Dai, akool1511Daniel Boethtekrei and Glen Scarborough