Prior to my post, let me wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas and Happy Travels in the New Year!
Squares (plazas, piazzas, places) are great tourist stops. They are usually a beehive of activity, with restaurants, shops, street performers, and often major attractions. They are great places for people-watching and frequently offer a respite from sightseeing since they are places to relax and have a glass of wine or beer or a cup of coffee or tea.
In this series, I will list my favorite squares around the world, with the reasons why they are special. I will present them in groups of five (5) although I will not attempt to rank within the group. However, groups are ranked; group 1 is my all-time favorite 5, while group 2 is next, etc.
Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China* — This is the largest square in the world. It is fitting that it is located in the most populous country of the world. The square provides access to two of Beijing’s (and China’s) most visited tourist attractions. At one end of the square is Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, extremely popular with Chinese tourists. There is always a huge line here, waiting to visit Mao’s remains. At the opposite end of the square is the Forbidden City, for hundreds of years the very private enclave of Chinese emperors.
Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy* — This is the most popular place to gather in the “cradle of the Renaissanace.” The activity here is endless, with people scurrying through or sipping a beer or eatinig a meal at an outdoor table. Just off the square is the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world’s greatest Art museums. On the square is Florence’s City Hall, while nearby are fabulous sculptures done by the giants of the Art world, like Michelangelo and Donatelli.
Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy* — Incredible though it sounds, this square is the scene of a horse race, twice each year during the summer. This concave open space is crowded with locals and tourists all the time. It is the location of Siena’s City Hall, Palazzo Pubblico, with its great tower that dominates the city skyline.
Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA* — People flock to this delightful square to hear jazz on the streets surrounding the square, to visit the lovely St Louis Cathedral, or to linger in the park-like setting admiring the equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson or smelling the flowers in the well-manicured gardens.
Old Town Square, Krakow, Poland* — This huge square, the largest in Europe, is a fun place to spend an hour or two. The atmosphere is always festive and gay, perhaps a tribute to the Polish people, and there are plenty of sights to visit. In the center of the square is the Cloth Hall, now a covered bazaar with vendors selling local crafts and other souvenirs. On one side of the square is St Mary’s Church, with its lovely and unusual interior. Every hour a bugler begins a piece which is soon interrupted, a recreation of the arrival of the mongols who attacked the city, killing the bugler in the midst of his warning to the populace. On the opposite side of the square is Krakow’s City Hall.
* All these locations are included in my walking tours of each city. Check them out by clicking on “Walking Tour Store.”