This year has a particularly rich calendar of anniversaries. If you are looking for a trip down memory lane, look no further.
Shakespeare’s Birthday, Italy (450th anniversary)
Shakespeare is all about England; Stratford-upon-Avon, the Globe in London and all those plays about kings suggest that to find the Bard you will do best in his home country. In fact, Italy is just as good a place for a Shakespeare tribute tour. The playwright set a third of his works here. Following their trail will take you from the sublime (Venice, home to both the eponymous merchant and Othello) to the ridiculous (Juliet’s house in Verona, arguably the world’s most tenuous tourist sight) via a few surprises: Padua, beautiful and largely undiscovered, and Rome, where Julius Caesar plays out.
Eiffel Tower, France (125th anniversary)
Paris’ identity is so deeply entwined with the Eiffel Tower that it is hard to comprehend a time when it was not there. Built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, it was only supposed to stand for 20 years. Its usefulness as a communications tower saw it preserved, and the tower remained the world’s tallest man-made structure for more than 40 years. You may wonder if braving the hordes who flock here is worthwhile, but be in no doubt this feat of engineering remains both deeply impressive and hugely fun to ascend; especially if you book ahead to beat the queues.
Panama Canal, Panama (100th anniversary)
A palindrome tells the story: ‘A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!’ The Panama Canal remains one of the greatest feats of engineering and one of central America’s biggest tourist draw-cards. It was built so ships did not have to go around Cape Horn, and the best way to appreciate it is to get on the water. A full transit takes the best part of a day. Experience being lifted by mighty locks, passing through tropical hinterland and seeing bustling Panama City’s skyline. Do not make it all you see in gloriously underrated Panama, but this centenary trip is a must.
Land and water speed records, Australia (50th anniversary)
Only one man has ever broken speed records on both land and water – British velocity enthusiast Donald Campbell, in 1964. Checking out the two scenes of his zippy record-breaking makes for an unusual Australian tour. There is not a lot to see at Lake Eyre (Australia’s largest lake – when there is water) deep in the South Australian outback, but there is a plaque marking Campbell’s efforts at Level Post Bay. Access is via rough tracks and you’ll need a 4WD and someone with rough camping experience. The water speed record was set at Lake Dumbleyung, three hours from Perth, Western Australia.
Fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany (25th anniversary)
One of Europe’s undoubted highlights is Berlin, a city whose past quarter-century has seen unprecedented change and catapulted it into the super-league of European cities. The German capital will hog the headlines, but this anniversary is a great excuse to visit some of the other cities across former East Germany that were key in the fall of the wall, most notably Leipzig and Dresden which hosted huge demonstrations in the autumn of 1989. Of course, you will not be far from a very fine German brew to help you toast the quarter-century of the Peaceful Revolution.
Channel Tunnel, England – France (20th anniversary)
It can be hard to recall the days before the Channel Tunnel; the near day-long train-boat-train slog between London and Paris is now a distant memory. The start of Eurostar services under the English Channel in 1994 has led to many changes: Paris, Brussels, Lille and London are superbly connected and travelers can easily link previously defiantly separate countries. The English capital has become the sixth-largest Francophone city in the world. Unfortunately, you cannot see fish swimming alongside the high-speed train, but minor gripes aside this is the time to sing joyeux anniversaire to an engineering feat that has made European travel even better.