Travel the Semi-finals: See the top 4 attractions in the World Cup's top 4 countries

2018-07-09 19:00 - Gabi Zietsman
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And then there were four...

The best in soccer has finally been whittled down to four - an all-European semi-finals round - ready to bring their countries glory or shame.

While you get your laduma spirit on and head down to the various parties happening around SA, we have come up with our own list of the top 4 attractions to check out in the top 4 soccer countries.

Some you know very well, others you may hear of for the first time, but few can deny the wanderlust inspired by the worldwide get-together of the FIFA World Cup.

SEE: #WorldCup: Where to watch the edge-of-your-seat semi-finals in SA

Belgium

Grand Place

This World Heritage Site serves as the central square of Brussels, and one of the most iconic architectural marvels in the world. It's seen the brunt of executions and Inquisition martyrdom throughout the ages, but now is mostly witness to visitor tours and festivals like the Flower Carpet and concerts.

It's made up of the Town Hall, King's House and guild houses rebuilt after the devastation France wielded on the buildings in 1695.

Waterloo

History buffs will cherish a visit to Waterloo - the site that saw the final defeat of the renowned Emperor Napoleon I. The battlefield is commemorated by an artificial hill with a lion statue at the top. There's also a rotunda painting that shows the battle and a centre explains the importance of the battle to Europe.

Once a year the Battle of Waterloo is recreated and all accompanying historical events, making for quite a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.

SEE: Belgian Hotel rents out fish to lonely tenants 

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Battlefields of Flanders

Another famous war site is the battlefields and trenches of Flanders around the town of Ypres during World War I. It was a major strategic point during the war and saw many battles, and today the area is dotted by trenches and museums that give history buffs a breakdown of the Allied Forces' fight against the Nazi regime.

The biggest museum is the Flanders Fields Museum where the stories of those who lived through the battles live on as a reminder of the bloody past.

Basilica of the Holy Blood

In Bruges, one of the most important churches in Belgium is the Basilica of the Holy Blood - which claims to house a vial containing a drop of blood of Jesus Christ brought back from the Holy Land by crusaders. 

Once a year on Ascension Day, the vial is taken out of the church and goes on a procession through the city streets where other biblical scenes are acted out.

SEE: Top 5 animal oracles making predictions for the #WorldCup 

Croatia

Dubrovnik

Walking through the cobbled alleyways of Dubrovnik hiding underneath the shadows of its spatial buildings, you might get a little confused about which pop culture franchise you find yourself in. Star Wars and Game of Thrones have both filmed here, making its giant walls famous in the world.

Although it's had similar issues of overtourism like other European cities, its fortresses and cultural immersion still make this a must-do bucket list item.

Hvar

The top spot for summer holidays, Hvar Island and town has become a playground of the rich and famous with its Mediterranean climate and azure waters, a landscape dotted by olive trees and vineyards. 

It offers both a vibrant nightlife and cultural experiences, as well as natural beauty to give the best of all worlds.

SEE: The beauty of the Balkans 

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Plitvice Lakes

Part of Croatia's first national Park, the Plitvice Lakes form a cascading network of 16 lakes inside natural dams, all flowing into each other like a river. Besides their fascinating composition, the lakes also dazzle visitors with a variety of colours, created by minerals, organisms and the way the sun reflects on the waters.

The park offers various routes and hiking trails to explore the lakes, which are divided into upper and lower sections.

Pula Arena

Rome isn't the only one with a famous amphitheatre. The Pula Arena is one of the most preserved Roman sites in Europe, and not only offers a trip to the past but serves as a concert venue for big hitters like Andrea Bocelli, Elton John and Michael Bolton.

This is definitely the place to test out your panoramic setting on your camera, and they put on gladiator shows in the traditional Roman style.

SEE: Go off the beaten track and skip the Colosseum and Vatican on a trip to Rome 

England

Buckingham Palace

You can't exactly visit London and not make a stop at the main headquarters of the Royal Family - Buckingham Palace, the main abode of the reigning monarch. The Queen's guards are famous for their stoic, no-nonsense attitude towards visitors and the sheer amount of gold everywhere really adds to the glamour of the area. 

The palace is only open to the public in summer and be prepared for the crowds and the difficulty of getting a shot without getting photobombed by tour groups and the occasional bird.

Tower of London

The most famous fort in the world, the Tower of London has inspired both awe and horror in the history books and in fictional worlds. It's the home to England's shiniest treasure - the Crown Jewels - and was the site of incarceration for many royal family members over the centuries.

Besides the daily museum activities, check their calendar for other events like live sword-fighting and re-enactments of historical events.

SEE: #FindYourEscape: Commercial flights to the writers' haven of England's Lake District will start in June 

Lake District

If you're looking for a more romantic British experience take the road to England's writing haven where many literary attractions will transport you to the time when Wordsworth composed his famous Daffodils poem.

The Lake District also boasts many hikes and trails, and you can get lost with your love on the shores of Windermere or even rent a boat to wile away the summer days - or pop a very important question...

Stonehenge

Wander the spiritual home of Paganism at one of the most iconic ancient sites in the world - Stonehenge in Wiltshire. It's believed to have been built in 3100 BC, where rituals and sacrifices were once made to long-gone gods. Besides the throngs of tourists, Stonehenge is also popular around the Summer and Winter Solstice, when the sun lands in a perfect spot on the monument.

Besides being able to see it from every angle, the interactive exhibit on the site also gives lets you travel back in time to when it was built.

SEE: Royal Wedding Fever: Where to live out your British royalty fantasies 

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France

Eiffel Tower

The most iconic landmark in France, and the world, the Eiffel Tower can be seen across Paris. While many stand in long queues just to get to the top of this tower, many travellers recommend to rather get cool photos further away so that you can have it in your skyline.

Note though that at the moment they are building glass walls around the tower to make it nicer for viewing as well as reinforce security measures.

Chaîne des Puys–Limagne

This is a brand new UNESCO site which includes the Limagne fault line, the alignments of the Chaîne des Puys volcanoes and the inverted relief of the Montagne de la Serre - all part of the West European Rift created when the Alps formed. UNESCO cite it as "an exceptional illustration of continental break-up".

It's a beautiful green landscape that shows that France has as much natural beauty as it has cultural beauty.

PICS: The next time you visit the Eiffel Tower, it will be sporting new glass walls 

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The Louvre

For those who need to tick off seeing the Mona Lisa in real life, the Louvre Museum is the most famous art gallery in the world, housing some of the most important artworks in its iconic buildings and glass pyramid.

Its reputation does mean however that it's also one of the most crowded sites, and it's advised to buy tickets online and visit it first thing in the morning or on one of its night openings.

St-Tropez

If you want to take a classic detour to the French Riviera, St-Tropez is the main spot to discover that jet-set life of the 60s where yachts are the most common form of transport.

While pricey, its beaches and nightlife are the main drawcards, although it also offers art museums and the Citadel of St-Tropez as cultural offerings.

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