Looking to scratch your wanderlust itch for all things Europe but are stuck in the US? Or just cannot afford to fly to Europe?
While there is no 100% solution to actually being in Europe, here are some relatively wallet-friendly destinations to experience Europe in North America.
In addition to the below places, there are countless authentic (or faux) Irish pubs, Italian restaurants, European festivals, often in towns and cities named after the European homeland. Look for a partial listing of such places at the end of this article.
8 Great Places to Experience Europe in North America
1. Solvang, California
On many road trips between Monterey and Los Angeles, I stopped for amazing European style pastries in Solvang, California. Solvang is called “Little Denmark” or the “Danish Capital of America” and they even employ workers from Denmark to make everything more authentic. I would love to spend more time in Solvang, like at Danish Days or other events.
2. Quebec City / Montreal
For my big x-0 birthday, my family spent a week in Montreal and Quebec City. Both destinations have strong French influences. It is not necessary to speak or understand French in either destination but it would be really helpful.
3. New Orleans, Louisiana
Another popular destination oozing with French culture is New Orleans, Louisiana. Sure, “Nawlins” might be best known for the rowdiness of the French Quarter but European essence can be experienced in the architecture, food, and events.
4. Smith Island, Maryland
While many places on this list were settled by Europeans, things changed over generations. On an island in the Chesapeake Bay—on the Maryland and Virginia border—is a “place that time forgot.” The residents of Smith Island speak a mostly ancient dialect from Cornwall, England. Even when you are near Smith Island, such as in the Virginia Eastern Shore area, make sure you try Smith Island cake. It is phenomenal.
5. St. Augustine, Florida
The oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in North America is St. Augustine, Florida. Many of the streets are still cobblestone and much of the architecture has Spanish and French influences.
6. Newfoundland, Canada
A group of three islands, a few miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada are French. Not only French but France. St. Pierre and Miquelon are part of the country of France. Imagine someone asking you what you did this summer and you tell them you drove to France.
7. US Cities That Feel European
Did you know that Washington, D.C. was designed by a Frenchman? The great public walk (National Mall) river setting, wide streets, grand buildings, amazing public art, and cafes are all very European. New York City, Chicago, and other cities have European ethnic neighborhoods. I ate at fantastic Polish restaurants in Pittsburgh and Detroit, Hungarian bakeries in Ft. Lauderdale, and old school Italian restaurants in North End (Boston) and North Beach (San Francisco). My mother was born and grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.
8. Disney World, Florida
On a lighter note, EPCOT theme park at Disney World—near Orlando, Florida—hosts a World Showcase which shares the culture and cuisine of 11 countries. Five of the countries are European: France, Germany, Italy, Norway, and United Kingdom. I have read that pavilion employees are from the respective countries and only spend one year at Disney. Thus, there is some authenticity to the EPCOT experience. I can tell you that the Norwegian buffet lunch is something I will never forget.
BONUS: Other Places to Experience Europe in North America
By no means are these the only places or even best places to experience Europe in North America. Some other places I have visited in North America that remind me of Europe include: Helen Georgia, Gatlinburg Tennessee, Victoria British Columbia, Minnesota (Vikings!), San Juan Puerto Rico, and many ski resorts (such as Vail and Whistler). And you can even take a European road trip in Texas.
See a professional Shakespeare performance in the only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theater in the world (in Staunton Virginia). How about Pennsylvania Dutch country where German heritage still exists?
Tarpon Springs Florida was settled by Greek fishermen (sponge divers) and the area still has a Greek vibe. Nearby Dunedin is similar with a Scottish vibe. Speaking of which, Highland Games festivals are wonderful European flavor events.
What places in North America have you visited to “experience Europe” or would like to?