Best Places to Visit in Europe
If the thought of cobblestone streets, taking a cruise down the Danube River, and jumping country-to-country as you taste the cuisine has you planning a trip to Europe, you’ve come to the right place. However, since Europe has fifty countries it would take weeks if not months to see it all. If you’re like most travelers, you’re probably looking for the best places to visit in Europe and how to create that perfect well-rounded European vacation.
The word “best” means different things to different people, and since there are so many incredible places to visit in Europe, we separated this article into the following sections:
- Best big cities
- Best small cities
- Best places to visit on a budget
- Best remote places to visit
- Best places to visit for foodies
Ready to plan your Europe getaway? Let’s begin!
Best Big Cities to Visit in Europe
Most of the destinations in this section are household names, and for good reason—they are truly some of the most iconic cities in the world for their rich cultures and impressive histories. To shake things up a bit, we’ve included a couple of lesser-known big cities that deserve your time.
The “City of Lights” is a must for anyone wanting to explore the most popular big cities in Europe. As you stroll the banks of the Seine River, stop at street food stands and restaurants where you can dig into crepes, macarons, and croissants.
Whether you’re traveling with your partner or enjoying it solo, no trip to Paris is complete without visiting the famous Eiffel Tower. You can opt to take an elevator or climb over 600 stairs to the second floor.
They say rain in Paris brings good luck, so spend a rainy day exploring the Paris Catacombs or Louvre Museum, which is home to the Mona Lisa.
They didn’t build Rome in a day, so you shouldn’t expect to see it all in a day, either. The Eternal City is home to the Colosseum, which is Italy’s most popular attraction.
Buy some gelato and head to the Roman Forum, where you’ll walk through ruins from 500 B.C.. Grab another gelato and head to the Pantheon, the resting ground for Roman kings. Then walk off all that gelato as you explore Piazza Navona.
When you’re ready to break away from the crowded tourist sites, meander around the Coppede neighborhood, home to beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets, and locals.
Prague, Czech Republic
If Gothic and Renaissance architecture is your thing, make a beeline to Prague. The City of a Hundred Spires offers seemingly countless places where you can enjoy the city’s old skyline. Start your visit in the Old Town Square and hang around long enough to hear when the medieval Astronomical Clock strikes every hour.
Walk across the Charles Bridge, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself doing it again and again during your stay to soak in the views. Like so many European cities, Prague’s Jewish quarter is a must-see.
When you’ve finished gawking at Prague’s architecture from the outside, head inside the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral for deeper insight into the city’s history.
If Edinburgh doesn’t initially strike you as an amazing place to visit in Europe, this might—the Edinburgh Castle, which is Scotland’s most visited attraction, sits on top of an extinct volcano. Pretty neat, right?
Edinburgh’s Old Town is another gem in the city. Make sure to explore Victoria Street, starting at the Royal Mile and ending at the incredible Grassmarket. You might need to allow more time than expected since boutique shops and cafes will summon you to visit.
Then slip on your hiking shoes and head up to Arthur’s Seat. From this cliff, which is scenic in and of itself, you’ll get a full view of Edinburgh’s cathedral-filled skyline.
We’re taking a bit of a liberty here, as Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia. You read that right—by visiting Istanbul, you can visit two continents in one day. In fact, since the ferry ride is only 10 minutes from Karakoy (Europe) to Kadikoy (Asia), you can cross continents multiple times on the same day.
There are tons of worthwhile districts to visit in Istanbul. Examples include Galata (home to the Galata Tower for views over the city), Sultanahmet (where the Hagia Sophia Museum and Blue Mosque sit), and Beşiktaş, where you can grab a fish sandwich along the Bosphorus River.
Give yourself plenty of time to stroll through the famous Grand Bazaar, where you can purchase boxes of fresh Turkish Delight sweets and Turkish lamps.
Best Small Cities to Visit in Europe
Europe’s big cities tend to get all the international attention, but what about the cities that no one talks about? Below is a list of smaller cities that’ll show you a different side of what this stunning continent offers.
The quaint Ljubljana feels more like a town than a country capital. Seated on the Ljubljanica River, Ljubljana is an environmental powerhouse—it’s the Tree City of the World and the first capital in Europe promising to become zero-waste.
Basing yourself in Prešeren Square, you can explore all of Ljubljana’s attractions by foot. Visiting the city on either side of the narrow river is easy, thanks to Triple Bridge and Dragon Bridge. Make sure to head up to Ljubljana Castle for a history lesson and beautiful views over the city.
When you’re ready to eat, head to Druga Violina, a restaurant with cooks and waiters with special needs who prepare some of the best local food in the city.
Bruges is a scenic small city in Europe building bordering canals. Taking a boat ride through the canals is one of the best ways to observe the architecture, which will make you feel that you’re in a Belgian Venice.
Don’t miss a visit to Burg Square, where restaurants selling waffles and Belgian chocolate abound. Do you want to save some Euros? If so, head over to Friterie 1900, where you can try frites—traditional french fries made with ox fat and lard.
Burn off those calories with a climb up to the Belfry of Bruges, a bell tower built in the 1200s that’s home to 47 bells.
Set on a bay of the Adriatic Sea, Kotor is a picturesque destination that has the feel of the more well-known Dubrovnik, Croatia but without the massive crowds.
Once you’ve strolled the waterfront boardwalk a few times over and meandered through the winding cobblestone streets in the old town, walk on the walled city and hike up to San Giovanni Castle for views over this small city.
Kotor is an excellent place to base yourself for day trips to other nearby destinations—opt to take a bus, taxi, or boat to destinations such as the old town of Perast, Our Lady of the Rocks, and Lovcen National Park.
The medieval city of Freiburg sits in the Black Forest. It’s a locally hopping university town and offers incredible hiking opportunities around Schlossberg Hill (a funicular is available if you prefer).
The Freiburg Minster steals the show in Freiburg, as its 113-meter tower stands out against the city skyline. It may take you a while to look up at it, though, for brightly colored buildings line a cobblestone pedestrian square. It’ll make you feel that you’ve stepped back in time!
Make sure to check out the local market, which runs every day except Sundays. While you’re stuffing yourself full of a Freiburg-style street food wurst, crisscross your way through the city following the waterways cut into the streets from the Dreisam River.
Set in the mountainous region of Transylvania, Sighisoara is such a small city that you can explore its walled historical center in its entirety in one day. As if the massive clock tower and rich history weren’t enough of an attraction, you’ll get bragging rights for visiting the last inhabited medieval citadel in Europe.
Here’s another unique thing to do in Sighisoara—visit the birthplace of Count Dracula. Romanian ruler Vlad Tepes inspired the Dracula story in the 1400s. Dracula lovers can visit Vlad’s bedroom and the canary yellow house, which is now a restaurant.
Many of Sighisoara’s pastel buildings have a worn appearance, which makes it all the more charming.
Best Places to Visit in Europe on a Budget
Grab your backpack and a few Euros! Visiting the following destinations will help you travel cheaper and for longer.
It may come as no surprise that heading to Eastern Europe makes most trips more wallet-friendly. Upon your arrival, make a beeline to the Viru Gates, the entrance to Tallinn’s walled old town.
Grab a bag of roasted nuts from a local vendor as you meander through winding streets and observe locals dressed in medieval clothes. If you’ve spent time in Western Europe, Estonia’s orthodox churches will stand out to you—you just may wonder if you landed in Russia!
Don’t miss a trip to the Toompea Castle and end your day with a Baltic beer from the locally famous Põhjala Brewery.
You might be scratching your head at this one, but Portugal is a budget-friendly destination for being in Western Europe. Porto, translating to “Port” in English, sits on the Douro River.
You guessed it—you can take a boat ride along the river, which is a fantastic opportunity to view Porto’s city skyline, which borders either side of the water. Then choose from one of many restaurants bordering the river and “splurge” on an all-inclusive meal including cod and wine that’s a steal for U.S. standards.
We recommend getting in good shape before visiting Porto; the town sits on a steep hill. Trust us—the sightseeing is worth the climb and the elevated heart rate!
If you play George Ezra’s “Budapest” song on repeat, you won’t have to spend your life savings to check out what the hype is about. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is actually three cities combined with the Danube River running through them.
Among Budapest’s many iconic sites, the Parliament Building, Fisherman’s Bastion, and Chain Bridge are the most recognizable. Travel to the past with a visit to the outdoor Ecseri Flea Market, where you can purchase anything from vintage clothes to Communist-era items.
Spend your nights exploring “ruin pubs,” which are deserted buildings turned into bars. The most popular include Instant and Kuplung.
Sitting in the heart of the Andalucía countryside, Seville is a charming Spanish city that’s far more economical than nearby countries (minus Portugal).
Make sure to plan your trip in advance, for tickets to the Alcazar Palace and Seville Cathedral sell out far in advance. Although you can enjoy viewing these sites from the outside, the tickets are fairly priced and are worth the trip inside (although if you have to pick one, choose the palace).
Game of Thrones fans will want to make their way over to the Plaza de España filming site. It’s free to enter and explore the mini bridges and ceramic tiles indicating different Spanish regions.
If stunning architecture, colorful squares, and cheap living is your thing, head to Poznan, a small town located in western Poland.
The Renaissance-style Old Market Square boasts cute cafes, outdoor restaurants, and vendors selling delicious treats. Although it’s fun to be at the square at the stroke of an hour for a traditional bugle call, try to be there at noon. During that time, a live trumpeter performs, and two mechanical goats emerge from the clock, head-butting one another twelve times.
Make sure to order perogies, Poland’s famous dish—they even offer dessert perogies packed with fruit!
Best Remote Places to Visit in Europe
The destinations in this section go beyond being small cities. They’re remote little gems off the average tourist’s radar.
Tell your friends that you’re visiting Mostar, and they’ll likely raise an eyebrow. However, when you return with your camera full of turquoise blue river water, the picturesque Stari Most stone bridge, and buildings boasting Ottoman architecture, don’t be surprised if they start planning a trip there.
The Stari Most bridge is Mostar’s main attraction. You can walk over this bridge in just one minute, crossing between the traditionally Christian and Muslim old towns multiple times during your stay. Bridge divers are common and put on a spectacular show once they accumulate enough well-earned tips from tourists.
If you’ve always wanted to visit a mosque, you can enter Koski Mehmed Pasa, viewing its interior and climbing its minaret for views over the river for a small entrance fee.
Clonakilty, called Clon for short, is a rural dairy farming town. People seeking authentic Irish culture will love the local musicians and the Clonakilty Brewing Company, which offers handcraft 100% Irish-made beer.
Beach seekers will appreciate the quiet atmosphere that Inchydoney Beach offers. It’s a great place to set up a picnic and watch the sunset over the Atlantic. Continue your visit with a stop at the impressive West Cork Model Railway Village.
Round off your stay in Clon by exploring Glenview Gardens and Hobbit House. Yes, there’s really a hobbit house there!
Faroe Islands, Denmark
If the name Faroe conjures up thoughts of “far away,” you’re spot on. These 18 volcanic islands are a hiker and bird-watcher’s dream. You can easily travel between the islands thanks to ferries, causeways, and bridges.
A must-see on your Faroe Islands itinerary includes visiting the puffin colony on Mykines Island. Strap on your hiking boots and take the 4-hour return hike to the lighthouse, where you’ll pass loads of puffin nesting burrows along the way.
Another place you shouldn’t skip over is the Múlafossur waterfall, which sits near the adorable Gásadalur village. Since 2004 the town is accessible via a tunnel—before then, you could only get there by helicopter!
Appenzell is a charming town nestled in the foothills of the Alpstein mountains. Farms with cattle feasting on lush grass surround farmhouses, it comes as no surprise that the most popular thing to do in the region is to hike.
Try to land your visit during the procession of cattle, which takes place yearly from May to June. During this time, cows with bells around their necks head to the alp for the summer, led by Alpine people in traditional costumes.
A visit to Appenzell isn’t complete without dining at Berggasthaus Äscher, a restaurant built into the side of a mountain. Make sure to try their Rösti hash browns!
Switzerland has a lot to offer, check out my article on the best places to visit in Switzerland to learn more about this beautiful country.
Nicknamed the City of a Thousand Windows, Berat is a charming town in a country that most tourists mistakenly overlook when they visit Europe.
UNESCO named Berat a World Heritage Site in 2008, in large part to preserve the stone houses artfully squeezed next to each other on the side of a mountain. You can walk through the pedestrian-only streets, most of which you’ll likely have all to yourself.
After exploring the old town, walk or drive up to the Berat Castle. Residents still live within the castle walls, and they set up small tourist stands and restaurants, making it a great place to spend a portion of your day. To top it all off, you’ll have great views of Berat’s stone houses below.
Best Places to Visit in Europe for Foodies
Let’s face it—one of the best parts of traveling is trying out the local cuisine. Below are some must-visit destinations in Europe for food lovers.
If you think Paris is France’s food mecca, this might change your mind. In 1935, Curnonsky named Lyon the “Gastronomic Capital of the World.” The city still boasts about this title; it currently has 20 Michelin star restaurants.
Part of the reason Lyon gained its foodie fame is that its location in France makes it easy to access high-quality ingredients. It also has many Lyonnaise specialties, including smoky pork sausage and quenelles, which are creamed fish.
Bouchons are also unique to Lyon. These bistros specialize in specific cuisine décor. They aren’t anywhere else in France, so make sure to stop by one of many bouchon options while you’re in the city.
Italy is full of outstanding food, but Naples just may take the “cake.” Sweets are some of Naples’ best specialties, with pastry shops staying open late into the evening.
Of course, pizza is another Naples delicacy—it’s home to the first pizza. You won’t be doing a trip to Naples justice without ordering a Pizza Napoletana smothered in tomato sauce, cheese, and basil. Best of all, they cook their pizza in stone ovens, creating a charred crust.
Another local dish is the impepate di cozze, which combines white wine, pepper, and parsley over mussels. With the Bay of Naples at their doorstep, locals have a lot of fresh mussels to use.
Ready to visit Naples or Rome? Learn more about the best time to visit Italy.
Spain isn’t a stranger to foodies, and nor is the city of Galicia. Although Spain offers many regions with traditional cuisine, Galicia is unique because of its proximity to the interior of Portugal and the ocean, offering a mix of seafood and hearty stews.
Make sure to try the Gallega empanadas, which are like a handheld crusty pie—completely different from empanadas you’ve likely had elsewhere. Galicia’s empanadas contain meat, fish, or mussel filling.
As you lap up some Gallega stew, wash it all down with wine from Rias Baixas, the region surrounding Galicia. Because of its strong ties to unique culinary dishes, you can even sign up for a cooking class to learn how to cook like a local.
Travel to the island of Sifnos to make your tastebuds happy. Boasting tons of Mediterranean dishes, Sifnos is a paradise for foodies because of Nikolaos Tselementes. Born in Sifnos and dedicating his life to cooking, chef Nikolaos produced Greek’s first-ever cookbook in 1932 and later translated it in the 1950s.
Nikolaos’ legacy still lives on in homes and restaurants in Sifnos, as locals combine traditional Greek cuisine with new styles and flavors. A must-eat Sifnos dish includes Revithada, a slow-cooked chickpea dish left overnight in a clay pot.
Since we believe no meal is complete without dessert, try out the melopita, a cheese and honey dish, which is Sifnos’ take on cheesecake.
We’ve included Berlin on this foodie list for two reasons—it produces mouthwatering local specialties and hosts amazing options with cuisine from around the world. Let’s begin on the local level.
Bratwurst sandwiches with a healthy dose of mustard are must-eats in Berlin. As you walk between parks and museums, make sure to pick up one (or ten) mouthwatering soft pretzels from stands that dot the sidewalks.
For a more international take on Berlin food, order a plate of currywurst. They top the french fry dish with sausage, ketchup, and curry, offering a combination of German, American, and Indian flavors.
Got Your Passport Ready?
With dozens of countries packed close enough together that you can hop between borders every day, it’s easy to visit many of the destinations on this list, even if your vacation time is limited. Whether you’re a foodie or you just want to enjoy the best views that Europe has to offer, you can find something that suits your taste on this list.
As you jump between cities and traverse the European countryside by train, car, or plane, don’t be surprised if you discover some new destinations and start creating your own “best places to visit in Europe” list.