European squares are often home to historic landmarks or monuments. Some are entertainment hotspots. Others are ideal for relaxing and watching the world go by with a favourite drink, or some good food. Whatever your preference, they are wonderful places to come to solo. These are my 6 favourite European squares from destinations I have travelled to so far…
1. London – Leicester Square
Leicester Square was once a residential zone but it is now a main entertainment area. It is home to the Odeon Cinema, renowned for its star studded red carpet events at film premieres. Many good bars, restaurants and theatres are on its doorstep and street entertainers draw crowds on a daily basis. Over the festive period, this pedestrianised square hosts a magical, pop up market with stalls selling food, drink and unusual gifts.
2. Paris – Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde is located at the end of the Champs Elysees and is Paris’ largest square. It is actually octagonal in shape and has a monument in each of its corners. Many public executions took place here during the French revolution, including that of Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. The Egyptian monument, a gift from Egypt in the 1830s stands in the centre marking the place where the guillotine once stood. Either side of the obelisk are 2 beautiful fountains which represent rivers and oceans
3. Madrid – Plaza Mayor
Plazas in Madrid are open spaces with monuments of interest, shops, markets or restaurants. Plaza Mayor is located in the old part of Madrid and is a popular place to sit with a coffee overlooking the square. This could be accompanied by a typical Madrilian dish – the squid sandwich – crisp, fried squid rings served in crusty bread.
Imposing Casa de la Panaderia, pictured above, dates back to 1619 and is one of the finest examples of architecture in Madrid. Once home to the town’s main bakery, it is now the Tourist Information Centre. The murals beside the windows were the work of Carlos Franco and represent various mythological figures.
The statue of King Phillip III on his stallion has been standing in the square’s centre since 1848. During the period when Franco ruled Spain, many statues associated with Spanish Monarchs were vandalised, including this one. It was pulled from its base and as it hit the ground, hundreds of small bones spilled out of it. The vandals believed they were from the spirit of King Phillip III and no further damage was caused. However, it was later discovered that there was a small hole in the statue that birds could enter but not leave. Unfortunately, they died inside , explaining the amount of bones!
4. Amsterdam – Leidseplein Square
Leidseplein Square is one of the main nightlife spots in Amsterdam. This is a vibrant square with a casino, theatre and street entertainers. There is plenty to look at and get involved in. Climb onboard one of the river boats and enjoy a cruise along the picturesque canals. Enjoy some tasty food in one of the local restaurants or sip your favourite tipple in the friendly and lively Irish pub.
5. Florence – Piazzale Michelangelo
If you love sunsets and breathtaking city views then Piazzale Michelangelo is a ‘must visit’ Tuscan square. It is my favourite of all European squares. The ambience here is really quite special. Piazzale Michelangelo was built in 1869 when Florence was the capital of Italy and is accessed via a 20 minute uphill walk with a number of steps. However, the climb to the top is well worth it! The large area of open space offers spectacular 360° panoramic views of the city. The replica of Michelangelo’s Statue of David stands proud in its centre. Additionally, Florentine souvenirs are on sale from many pop-up stalls and reasonably priced drinks and snacks from the small food trucks. Piazzale Michelangelo is a perfect way to spend a couple of hours while the sun goes down.
6. Ghent – Groentenmarkt
Ah, magical Ghent. This city blew me away. It really is quite fairytale like in places. Groentenmarkt is one of my favourite European squares and will suit those who love food. The sweet smell from the freshly baked waffles and alcoholic, hot chocolate fills the air. It is a wonderful place to wander, sample some excellent food and drink while also learning a bit about its history.
Groentenmarkt Square once made national news owing to 2 sweet vendors arguing over who sold the best local sweet treats, cuberdons or little noses as they are best known. It became known as ‘War of the Little Noses’.
Groentenmarkt Square is also home to the Butchers Hall with over 200 regional products.
Additionally you will find Tierenteyn-Verlent, an old shop which still produces its mustard in the cellar. Nearby Bakery Himschoot, is the oldest bakery in Ghent, dating back to 1880. Once again, the cellar is used to bake over 65 different types of bread.
Suggested Further Reading:
Solo Travel Destinations – Other recommended destinations for solo travel
Solo Travel Shop – Recommended items to purchase, useful for solo travel