5 new places to discover in Europe, from Berlin's Humboldt Forum to Paris' Gainsbourg Museum

The Humboldt forum at dusk in Berlin. PHOTO: AFP

The coronavirus pandemic may have slowed down Europe, but it has not stopped it from staying new.

During my travels in the continent these past few months, I found that many new attractions have opened.

Paris, Barcelona and other beloved cities are studded with fresh and fascinating museums, parks, sport experiences and more. Since the last time you were there, Europe has changed in inspiring ways.

1. Berlin

Humboldt Forum: Top cultural destination

Germany is known the world over for its efficiency, precision and ingenuity. This is why it is not surprising that during the pandemic, the Germans managed to complete construction of one of the most impressive cultural complexes in Europe.

My most lasting memory of Berlin is running out of time to view the endless artefacts and artworks on Museum Island. And now we will have to budget even more time, as the sliver of land has been embellished by the new Humboldt Forum, which cost $1 billion to build over nearly two decades.

In July last year, Berlin's newest museum complex opened in the former Royal Palace. With displays on science, art and history, the Humboldt Forum aims to be on a par with the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum.

The Berlin Exhibition, for instance, features the evolution of the German capital and its influence on Europe.

At the Humboldt Laboratory, visitors can learn about the cutting-edge research into issues like climate change being conducted by Humboldt University.

The Humboldt Forum also showcases more than 20,000 pieces of art from Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific. On top of that, this edifice is visually striking, with the palace's classical Baroque architecture complemented by modern extensions.

2. London

The Tide: Linear park and art along River Thames

The Tide in London. PHOTO: THE TIDE

Central London is so awash with attractions that I have rarely bothered to venture to its outer suburbs, even across nearly a dozen visits to the English capital. Now I have an overwhelming reason to step out into places like Greenwich, in the city's east.

In 2020, the final touches were put on The Tide, a green space beautified by raised walkways, gardens and art installations alongside the water on the Greenwich Peninsula.

The Tide's website describes it as the city's "first-ever elevated riverside linear park". It stretches for 1km along the banks of the River Thames and, in the coming years, will be extended to 5km.

Its sculpture trail features works by famous artists such as Damien Hirst and there are five designated meditation points along the walkways. This outdoor recreational space is complemented by a cluster of restaurants and cafes.

3. Rome

Largo di Torre Argentina: Cat kingdom amid ruins

The renovated site includes four temples and Pompey's Theatre, where Roman leader Julius Caesar was assassinated. PHOTO: RONAN O'CONNELL

As I sat alongside a sunken site of Roman ruins, I patted a white cat that affectionately brushed against my leg. Soon, I was besieged by a clowder of cats - yes, that's the English word for a group of three or more felines.

While most felines are lucky to have their own small corner in a house, with a pillow and a bowl of milk, these cats in Rome "own" a 2,000-year-old theatre, the Largo di Torre Argentina.

Located in the main tourist precinct, near the Pantheon, this ancient site is being rejuvenated so visitors can admire the Roman remains that, for the past 80 years, have been home to the cats. Fortunately, these cats have become a tourist attraction and will not be kicked out.

The Largo di Torre Argentina in Rome, now a sanctuary for cats, will reopen to the public this year. PHOTO: RONAN O'CONNELL

Their refuge will be integrated into the renovated site, which includes four temples and Pompey's Theatre, where Roman leader Julius Caesar was assassinated.

When Largo di Torre Argentina reopens to the public this year, it will have new walkways and a museum detailing its storied background.

4. Barcelona

Football tour: Immersive and exclusive

Camp Nou Stadium. PHOTO: BARCELONA FC

Lionel Messi, one of the greatest soccer players in history, has helped Barcelona FC become the world's richest football club - valued at $6.4 billion, according to a recent report by Forbes.

Messi may have recently left the club, where he played from age 13 to 34, but football lovers have something to cheer about - Barcelona FC has started offering a new immersive tour.

Visitors can do the Players' Experience Tour. For $190 a person, this tour gives access into the inner sanctum of Barcelona FC.

A tour guide takes visitors into many previously private areas of Camp Nou stadium, including the Barcelona FC changing rooms and the football pitch itself.

Visitors will get photos of their tour, as well as free personalisation of any Barcelona shirts they buy.

5. Paris

Gainsbourg museum: What rocked Paris

Fans have created a pilgrimage site at Serge Gainsbourg's old house at 5 bis rue Verneuil, cloaking it in graffiti and Gainsbourg lyrics. PHOTO: RONAN O'CONNELL

At first, I did not realise what I was looking at. While most of downtown Paris is neat and stately, the building in front of me was cloaked in hyper-coloured street art. A Google search showed why this street-front facade was allowed to remain in this state.

Musician and artist Serge Gainsbourg championed "Nazi rock", dated French superstar Brigitte Bardot, did publicity stunts from a hospital bed, burned money on live TV and even got banned from radio.

Yet, 30 years after his death, the Frenchman still has a cult following in Europe. Now his old home is being turned into a museum dedicated to his career.

Widely regarded as the most influential pop music artist in French history, Gainsbourg wrote more than 500 songs.

Along with his musical forte, his wild behaviour and anti-establishment attitude made him a role model for a generation of restless French youth.

Fans have created a pilgrimage site at his old house at 5 bis rue Verneuil, cloaking it in graffiti and Gainsbourg lyrics.

Early this year, the building will be transformed into Maison Gainsbourg, Paris' newest museum, which will tell this musician's raucous life story via a treasure trove of memorabilia.

If you want to know who rocked Paris in the 1960s and 1970s and how they did it, Maison Gainsbourg will reveal all.

  • The writer is an Australian travel journalist who has lived on and off in Europe for the past 10 years and has visited more than 20 cities across this continent during the pandemic.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.