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.
Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium — This is, without question, one of the most elegant squares in the world. The Guild Houses, with their gold trim and elaborate facades, were designed to impress. The Brussels Town Hall (Hotel de Ville) is a beautiful Gothic structure which towers over the square. The place is alive with hundreds of people, at all times of the day and night. If all this is not enough, every other year, in August, a sizable portion of the square is covered with a carpet of coloful begonias — quite spectacular!
Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic — Prague is referred to as the “Paris of the East” because it is a truly beautiful city. The most beautiful place in Prague is its Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti), a delightful space surrounded by pastel-colored palaces and interesting churches. One of the major attractions on the square is the Astronomical Clock, located on the City Hall tower. There is also a prominent statue to Jan Hus, a Czech revolutionary. Churches on the square include St Nicholas Church and the Tyn Church which overlooks everything.
Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy — This is my favorite square in one of the world’s greatest cities. The large oval space once hosted chariot races. Now it is one of Rome’s most important and most popular gathering places. Piazza Navona is graced with not one but three beautiful fountains. The square is surrounded by restaurants which feature outdoor dining.
Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy — Napoleon called this square “the drawing room of Europe” and visitors can easily see why. It is symmetrical and elegant, surrounded by shops and restaurants on the ground floor and high-end apartments above. The square is anchored by the glorious St Mark’s Cathedral, one of the world’s most distinctive and recognizable churches. The square is busy even when Venice floods (which is quite often), because the merchants erect wooden walkways for pedestrians which keep them dry.
Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa, Italy — This “field of miracles” is one of the world’s most beautiful public spaces. It is the home of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, one of Italy’s most recognized landmarks. Besides the tower, the piazza also contains Pisa’s Duomo and the nearby Baptistry, both intricate and elaborate architectural treasures.