The 10 Best Cities in Europe


Bologna from above

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.

Yuck. 

Bologna from above
Bologna, Italy. YOU SEE WHAT I’M SAYING?! Boring! Bland! Yuck! Yeah, I don’t know what I was on either.

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.

Acropolis and Athens at sunset

Athens, Greece

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

Colourful Bristol on a sunny day

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.

Budapest parliament at sunset

Budapest, Hungary

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!

Read all about it: I’ve Fallen in Love With Budapest | The Cost of Travel in Hungary

Istanbul skyline

Istanbul, Turkey

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. 

Churches of kiev

Kyev, Ukraine 

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!

Read all about it: A Thousand Golden Domes: The Churches of Kyev | A Tour of Chernobyl and the Ghost Town of Pripyat

Typical Lisbon street

Lisbon, Portugal

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

Panorama of Ljubljana Castle and the city

Ljubljana, Slovenia

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. 

Read all about it: Views From Ljubljana Castle at Sunset | The Cost of Travel in Slovenia

Atocha train station in Madrid

Madrid, Spain

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. 

Freedom Tower in Riga

Riga, Latvia

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.

Colosseum

Rome, Italy

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.

Girl with hot air balloons in Cappadocia

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.

San Sebastian.

I really didn’t like San Sebastian. 

Anyway! 

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!

 

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29 Comments

  1. scott
    April 18, 2020
    Reply

    I loved Malta when I was there, and I think you will too. Well, maybe everything but the food – it was just okay. But they’ve got a good bus system, history that spans thousands of years, a great climate, etc

    • April 18, 2020
      Reply

      Malta is/was definitely a priority for this year, so once the world opens up again, it’ll be one of the first places I visit!

  2. Vlad
    April 19, 2020
    Reply

    Thanks for the great list! I miss traveling so much right now – we’re going on a long Eurotrip when the virus outbreak is over.

    It’s Kyiv, not Kiev though #kyivnotkiev :)

  3. April 19, 2020
    Reply

    Albania is my favourite country in the world, and Tirana is so so cool! Love this list, I need to get to Madrid. Love these roundup posts :)

  4. April 19, 2020
    Reply

    There are so many great European cities. I didn’t get on with Budapest (but think it might be because I got very lost on the first day!) I loved Malta and Seville. We had planned to revisit Rome this year, so that will be our next European stop.

  5. April 19, 2020
    Reply

    Great choices, but my town Prague is missing :D

    • April 20, 2020
      Reply

      Oh, you know it actually rained close to non-stop for the entire time I was in Prague, so I didn’t get to see it at its best. Hopefully I can go back and have a much better experience second time around!

  6. Jub
    April 19, 2020
    Reply

    Yay, Istanbul and Riga made it too the list! Both epic spots…glad you liked Kiev, I’ll head there later this year (maybe…who bloody knows).

    And thanks for including your oversights etc at the end! It’s a pet peeve of mine when it’s not included haha.

    Chur

  7. April 19, 2020
    Reply

    I’d love to visit all of these places! (and luckily i’ve visited some) I was really surprised by Budapest and absolutely loved it! Istanbul looks amazing! I was supposed to visit Athens in March, but the trip got canceled… hopefully next year!

    • April 20, 2020
      Reply

      Ah, bummer! Hopefully you’ll get to go next year, as it’s such a lovely city.

  8. April 20, 2020
    Reply

    I haven’t visited most of these places, but I absolutely loved Athens and Lisbon. I haven’t heard anyone rave about Bristol so I’ll have to put it on my list :) I’m also dying to get to Madrid and Budapest! I can’t wait until we can travel again. Thanks for sharing :)

    • April 20, 2020
      Reply

      Yes! Bristol is the best. Honestly, one of the reasons why I love it is because it’s not filled with tourists, like Lisbon was, haha.

  9. April 20, 2020
    Reply

    Ah so many great places! I can’t wait to travel to all of them <3

    • April 20, 2020
      Reply

      Hopefully we can soon! I miss travel so much! :-(

  10. Steph
    April 20, 2020
    Reply

    I haven’t been to nearly this many places, but I’m lucky enough to have been to a few in Europe. For me the best is Rome, always Rome. It was intensely magical despite the crowds and heat and big-city inconveniences. The pure history and magic of that city!

    My least favorite was Amsterdam. Everyone else seems to love it, I just couldn’t get into it at all. I found the architecture/art/food dull, and the red light district depressing.

  11. April 21, 2020
    Reply

    I miss Europe! My top ten (in no particular order) would probably be Istanbul, Lisbon, Granada, Amsterdam, London, Rome, Paris, Prague, Krakow, Budapest – for the larger cities at least. I would love to go to Ljubljana, Bristol and Kiev on your list. I liked Athens but it wasn’t a favorite, and I didn’t care for Riga, I much preferred Tallinn.

  12. Allyson
    April 21, 2020
    Reply

    Dublin is one of my favorite cities that I’ve been to! Of all the cities that you’ve listed, I’d love to visit Istanbul and Athens most!

  13. April 21, 2020
    Reply

    As I read about your post, I remembered how I dreamed of visiting Europe when I was younger. Budapest, Athens, Madrid…wish I can realize this dream sometime after the COVID-19 crisis is all over.

    Thanks for sharing such lovely photos. <3

  14. Alina
    April 23, 2020
    Reply

    Istanbul is amazing!! I also loved Vienna!

  15. Wanderliis
    April 23, 2020
    Reply

    I must absolutely agree with you on Istanbul, Lisbon and Budapest! I was lucky enough to live in Budapest for half a year and as I live in Vienna now I have a chance to go there whenever I want! Budapest is my favourite city ever!
    Although… I did not find Madrid very appealing 😕.
    Riga is lovely, but Tallinn is much better!
    Malta is amazing, but it has its own negative sides. I did an internship there for 3 months back in 2018. It is fabulous for a visit but if you stay for longer then … Anyway, make sure to visit the blue lagoon on a sunny day 😉
    I yet have to make my way to Athens and Bristol, hopefully soon!

    • April 23, 2020
      Reply

      Ah, I liked Tallinn a lot but it felt a little too Disneylandy for me — or at least the old town did.

  16. Abby
    May 2, 2020
    Reply

    Nice read! I’m surprised you didn’t include London in your list though!

  17. May 4, 2020
    Reply

    Edinburgh! Surprised neither you nor anyone in the comments mentioned Edinburgh. It’s such a beautiful city. I’m always torn between that and Istanbul for my favorite city in Europe, so at least you have that! :)

    • May 4, 2020
      Reply

      Ah, it was pouring with rain and hail (in July!) when I visited, so it affected my opinion a little. I definitely need to go back during a period of sunnier weather, though, as it looked so beautiful.

  18. Kyla
    May 13, 2020
    Reply

    I’ve only been to five European countries so take this with a grain of salt, but I fell hard for Munich last summer. I loved the small-town feel of it and the beer gardens on every corner. Dublin was also a highlight for me, so quaint and charming for a capital city.
    I didn’t love Madrid, but it was rainy the entire weekend I was there so that probably affected my perception. I had come from studying in sunny Valencia where it rains about 6 days a year.

  19. So many of these are on my list too! And several others are on my list to visit (looking at you, Ljubljana!). I can’t believe you’ve never been to Ireland?!!? I hadn’t until last year either, so I can’t really talk. For the record, I way preferred Galway to Dublin. :) Edinburgh is top of my list for Europe (and pretty much the world) and I’m so happy to be able to call it my home now!

  20. Eldisa
    June 15, 2020
    Reply

    Hi Lauren ! Unique and interesting list this one. Since I am Albanian I would say that the most incredible part of the country is the southern coast with amazing beaches. The second place would be Valbona Valley. You will not be disappointed !

  21. June 23, 2020
    Reply

    Hey Lauren,
    I just felt the same as you about Europe. I grew up here all my life so it seemed so boring to travel within my home continent.
    Now, due to Corona crisis, I did some research about cities worth seeing in Europe. I was so amazed by the beauty and diversity of our continent – I even started planning a whole Europe tour for 2021!
    Your post was so inspiring, I definetly have to see some of those cities you recommend. Thank you so much!

  22. underthesameskye.com
    September 13, 2020
    Reply

    Reading this on my way to Istanbul and its got me excited! Done lots of these and can’t wait to check the rest off!

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