In previous years, European vacations were possible for all types of travelers. A strong dollar, cheap airfares, and an array of budget accommodations and restaurants made for affordable vacations, even quick "across the pond" excursions only lasting a few days.
However, in recent months, the euro and British pound have surged ahead of the dollar, making European trips budget busters. If you'd like to go to Europe, but don't think it's within your budget this year, consider visiting a Europe-like destination right on this continent instead. And for an added savings perk, if you live within driving distance, you won't have to shell out extra money for airfare.
Our top five Europe-style destinations within North America are:
Denmark on the West Coast: Solvang, CA
Solvang, located in California's Santa Ynez Valley, is considered the Danish Capital of America. The town is known for its Old World architecture, windmills, Danish bakeries, wineries and breweries, and stores selling European imports (such as porcelain, wrought-iron, and cuckoo clocks). See the history of the town and Danish culture at the Elverhoj Danish Heritage and Fine Arts Museum, or learn more about Denmark's famous native son at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. And for an excursion that's a unique blend of California and Denmark, stop by one of Solvang's many tasting rooms to sample local vintages.
At the time of publication, we found a Wine Tasting Package at the Petersen Inn, available from $199 per night for weeknights, and $225 per night for weekend stays, excluding taxes. The package includes accommodations, dinner for two at the hotel's Cafe Provence restaurant, a European buffet breakfast, wine tasting for two at the Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards, and two complimentary wine glasses. For other accommodations and package options, visit the Solvang CVB website.
German heritage in Texas Hill Country: Fredericksburg and New Braunfels
You won't have to fly to Germany for authentic wurst, beer, and schnitzel. Head to the Texas Hill Country, where the towns of Fredericksburg and New Braunfels (both short drives from Austin) celebrate their German roots all year round.
New Braunfels is known for its authentic German foods and heritage festivals, including the Folkfest in April and the Wurstfest in November. Have a meal at the Schnitzelhaus restaurant in the historic Hotel Faust, where you can also sample beer from the restaurant's own brewery. In Fredericksburg, stop by the town's German-themed stores, admire German-influenced architecture, and feast at a local restaurant. You may even hear the locals speaking German.
At press time, two Fredericksburg inns, the Alte Welte Gasthof Old World Inn and the Schandua Suite Bed and Breakfast, offer accommodations from $150 per night. In addition, the Alte Welte Gasthof Inn have value-added extras, such as food baskets and massages, ranging from $40 to $75. Or, find other places to stay on the Texas Hill Country visitor website.
A blend of France and Spain in the South: New Orleans
New Orleans, a melting pot of European culture in the South, is a treat for the senses: Hear live jazz and Zydeco at a neighborhood bar or club, taste beignets and cafe au lait, smell Cajun dishes as they're prepared for evening meals, and see French- and Spanish-inspired architecture, especially the city's famous wrought-iron balconies. Explore the many faubourgs (suburbs/neighborhoods) on foot, or take a leisurely stroll by the Mississippi.