There’s no continent I’ve explored as thoroughly as Europe.
Reluctantly, at times, I’ll admit.
Yes, there was a time when I wasn’t excited by the prospect of travel in Europe. It was right when I first started travelling long-term, when the only countries that could hold my attention were the new and unfamiliar.
Europe? Yawn. I grew up in Europe. Too safe. Too normal. Too bland. Too boring.
As I grew older, I began to appreciate Europe.
I started to enjoy my trips there more than anywhere else; fall in love with the continent.
I even moved there, to Portugal first, and then to England. Before that, I had spent four months living in Granada, six weeks based in Madrid, and a month in Bologna.
And now, I can’t get enough.
I’m fortunate to have been to almost every country in Europe at this point in my life. I’ve been to 40 countries in the continent and… wait for it… 166 cities, towns, and villages. I’ve stumbled drunkenly through the streets of Paris and Berlin, sailed the coastline of Turkey and Greece, eaten my bodyweight in pasta in Italy, hiked in Switzerland, and been pelted by hailstones in Norway. I’ve walked the Camino de Santiago, toured Chernobyl, island-hopped around Croatia, and taken a hot air balloon ride in Slovenia.
I. Love. Europe.
And today, I want to share some of my favourite cities on the continent. Yes, I’m continuing my series on some of my favourite spots in the world after you guys enjoyed my post about my favourite paradise islands so much.
These are the cities in Europe that I think are the absolute best.
It took me a long time to get to Athens, but as soon as I arrived, I was berating myself for delaying that trip for so long.
Athens is such a cool city, with great street art, incredible food, colourful neighbourhoods, and so much history. I think it’s the perfect destination for a European city break.
My favourite Athenian neighbourhood is vibrant Exarcheia, with its buzzing outdoor restaurants and cafes and hipster vibe. From there, I walked all over the city, climbing hills to reach beautiful viewpoints and marvelling at the Acropolis. Everywhere you go, there’s so much history and so many ruins to explore.
The food is uniformly delicious in Greece, but Athens takes it to a whole other level with some seriously excellent eateries — I don’t think I had a single meal in the city that I wouldn’t describe as life-changing. As an added bonus, there are a ton of rooftop bars and restaurants in the city. There’s nothing quite like eating one of the best meals of your life while watching the Acropolis light up over the city.
I couldn’t get enough of Athens.
Read all about it: Three Days in Athens: An Itinerary for First-Time Visitors
Bristol, the U.K.
I’m in the very enviable position of being able to choose which city I live in. Anywhere in the world, if you pretend that visa restrictions don’t exist. I work for myself and I work online so, in theory, I could choose to live in many cities around the world.
I picked Bristol.
I chose a small British city that rains so much that it ended up with the nickname brizzle.
And yet, this place is so wonderful and so underrated, and I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else. I always describe it to friends as having all of the best traits of London, but with none of the worst.
Bristol has an amazing, diverse food scene, with some of the best meals I’ve had in the U.K., as well tons of fun street food eats to snack on. In Bristol, I’ve eaten Sri Lankan street food, Persian soul food, delicious roast dinners… every cuisine you can think of is available in Bristol, and it’s likely going to be an excellent version of it.
Bristol is close to nature, with hiking trails within walking distance of the city centre, and the Cotswolds, Mendips, and Wye Valley are a short drive away.
It’s one of the best cities in the world for street art, so there’s always something to snap photos of, including several Banksy pieces.
The city is full of creative people and is one of the more diverse places in the U.K. — and the fact that it was one of the highest Breixt-remain-voting cities is always going to be a bonus for me. And it values independent businesses! Gloucester Road is home to more independent stores than any other street in the U.K. During the age of coronavirus, this city is full of people giving back, with so many residents offering free food to others, volunteering all over the city, and even just offering to phone anyone who’s feeling lonely.
It’s also the most active city in the country, so it’s super-outdoorsy, with dozens of people paddle-boarding and kayaking on the river in the sunshine, tons of rock climbing gyms, yoga studios everywhere, and cyclists all over the city.
I love Budapest so much that after my most recent visit, I decided to send my parents there as a birthday getaway! I want to send everybody there.
It’s important to know that Budapest originates from the blend of three separate towns: Buda, Pest, and Óbuda, and even today, they all offer something different for visitors. Buda is hilly and green, more residential, and home to Buda Castle, whereas vibrant Pest is flat in comparison, a lot busier, with a great nightlife scene, and some wonderful restaurants. Óbuda is Old Buda — the oldest part of the city that’s full of Roman ruins.
What I love about Budapest is that it has so much to do as a tourist. Usually by my fourth day in a city, I’ve run out of activities, but in Budapest, I was still rushing around trying to pack everything in. There’s so many great viewpoints in the city, especially in Buda, and the architecture in Pest was beautiful. I mean, just check out the city’s parliament building in the photo above. So pretty!
Budapest is known as the City of Spas because there’s an abundance of thermal water beneath the city. Szechenyi Baths is the most popular place to visit, but there are dozens of other spots to get your relaxation on.
My absolute favourite activity in Budapest, though, is hanging out in the ruin bars! Found in the Old Jewish Quarter of the Pest district, these bars look no different to any of the other buildings in the street. But inside? They’re filled with mismatched furniture and decorations that look like they’ve been sourced from junkyards and flea markets. In Szimpla Kert, the front half of an old car was being used as a table; bathtubs and dentist chairs were being used as seats. Rooms were filled with sewing machines, birdcages and old film projectors showing Russian cartoons and silent movies. It was so fun!
There’s nowhere quite like Istanbul. Every time somebody asks me where they should head on a city break to Europe, I nearly always recommend Istanbul.
It’s a phenomenal city, with mosques scattered throughout the skyline, an incredible food scene, and so much history to delve into. And the breakfasts! I firmly believe that Turkey is in the top five countries for breakfasts, and I every single one I had in Istanbul — even in the most touristy of neighbourhoods — was delicious. They’re so good. But there’s also the apple-flavoured tea, the kebabs, and the delicious fried fish sandwiches.
And the architecture! The Hagia Sofia! The Blue Mosque! Basically any mosque in the city! It’s such a photogenic destination, with plenty green spaces, cool trams to ride, markets to wander around, and lovely viewpoints scattered across the city.
Ah, I just love Istanbul so much.
When I first arrived in Kyev, my jaw dropped. Every single street seemed to be home to one of the most gorgeous churches I’ve ever seen. They were all topped with shimmery golden domes that reflected the sunlight and left me smiling.
When I wasn’t gazing up at the churches, I was cafe-hopping my way around the city, enjoying how quirky and offbeat the city felt. And it was so inexpensive! I think Ukraine is one of the cheapest countries in Europe, and I was amazed by how little money I spent in Kyev — I’m talking like, $15 a day.
As an added bonus, you can even take a day trip to Chernobyl while you’re spending time in Kyev — it was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had. Oh, and I can’t not mention the Kyev Metro! Kyev has the deepest metro station in the world and it took me a solid five minutes to descend from ground-level to the platform. So cool!
I loved Lisbon so much that after spending just two days in the city, I decided to make it my home. A month later, I had signed a lease on an apartment and I spent the next 18 months living there.
Yes, it was love at first sight.
What I love about Lisbon is its weather. Its beautiful blue-and-white tiled buildings. The friendly people. The underrated food scene. The parks that fill up with wine-brandishing locals every weekend over summer. Its accessibility to the beach. Its compact size, which means that everywhere is within walking distance. The fact that even though it’s overrun with tourists these days, it’s easy to escape them by just walking more than 20 minutes away from the popular Time Out Market.
The eighteen months I spent living in Lisbon were some of the happiest of my life, and although it was the right decision to move on, I still miss it every day.
Read all about it: Why I Decided to Move to Lisbon, Portugal
Ljubljana was the first European city I fell head over heels in love with.
It happened almost immediately when I stepped off the train and walked into the most perfect scene.
A group of buskers were playing a song on the street. As I stopped to record some video, I watched as a random girl just decided to jump in with the band and start singing with them, to everyone’s delight. The sun was shining, the buildings were immaculately painted, and it felt like I was standing in a fairytale.
Later, I sat beside the river with a glass of wine in hand and the most delicious pizza on the table, and wondered if I should extend my four-night stay by a month or two.
It was the perfect city. And as I got to know Ljubljana better through many repeated visits, I only fell more in love. With its artsy vibe. With the calming river. With the cocktail bars. And it felt so safe. As a solo woman, I was more than happy to wander the streets alone at night.
Plus, it has a castle! It’s one of the best spots in the city to catch the sunset.
You may be sensing a theme here, but after I spent just 24 hours in Madrid, I decided to base myself there for a couple of months.
Several months later, I spent a dream summer in the city, and it fast became one of my favourite places in Europe.
Madrid has so much personality, and I loved its energy; how lively it was. It’s a city where people live outside, where it’s normal to head out for dinner at 10 p.m. and spend your evening lingering over drinks while children play in the streets. It’s a sun-soaked city, filled with squares and parks, and the most impressive palace I’ve ever seen. I miss walking back to my apartment every evening, wandering along tree-lined streets with locals hanging out on the pavement and children running around my feet.
Madrid is even affordable to visit, compared to other major European cities like Paris and London.
Ah, lovely, underrated Riga. I loved it so much!
I especially loved Riga’s old town, which was filled with so many photogenic buildings. Riga has over 800 art nouveau buildings, which is more than any other European city. It’s also home to Riga Central Market, which is Europe’s largest market and bazaar, and it was the best place to buy some fresh and healthy foods for breakfast and lunch. When evening rolls around, though, you can forget about your health, as Riga turns into party-central and it’s so fun to go bar-hopping here.
There are also plenty of parks and green spaces in Riga, which is always a bonus for me when I travel. And you guys know that food is a big factor in making me fall in love with a place. The traditional Latvian food is so good, if a little dense, and especially when served at Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs, an underground restaurant with the loveliest atmosphere and staff.
Rome, Rome, Rome.
I’m obsessed. I arrived in town fully expected to be disappointed, but was blown away by this incredible city. I think it helped that I was visiting in November, when it wasn’t overrun with visitors.
Rome is my everything. I couldn’t get over how many times I found myself wandering down the most picturesque alleyway and then bam! I’d emerge into a square with one of the most impressive buildings or ruins I’ve ever seen.
In Rome, I loved touring the Colosseum with audio guide in hand, walking around the Roman Forum for hours because I was so enthralled with the ruins, flicking a coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure I’d return to Rome once more, gazing up at the crumbling Pantheon, and, most enjoyable of all, eating as much as I could possibly fit in my stomach.
My Greatest Oversights
Of course, I can’t visit everywhere, so there are definitely a whole bunch of beautiful European cities I’ve missed out on.
I still haven’t been to Belarus, Moldova, Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Malta, and Ireland. Of these, I have a feeling that I’d love Tirana, Valletta, and Dublin, and I hope to make it to them soon.
And there are the city oversights within each country I’ve visited. I’ve never been to Florence. Seville. Krakow. Kotor. Innsbruck. Munich. Brussels. Lyon.
And then there are those cities that everybody seems to love that I just couldn’t warm to: Bratislava, Bergen, Belgrade, Barcelona, Bucharest…. every city in Europe that begins with a B?
That’s, um, kind of weird.
Oh, and also, Vienna.
I really didn’t like San Sebastian.
I hope you enjoyed this list of my favourite European cities, and I’d love to hear about yours. Is there anywhere you think I’ve missed? Any of my choice that you disagree with? Share away in the comments below!