One of the classic travel experiences that every traveler should have is a trip through Europe… and while that may sound simple, the planning only gets more complex from there. While Europe is the second-smallest continent, there’s an abundance of cultures, foods, and sights, so each trip to the continent could be a completely unique experience. You could travel to some of the continent’s most well-known and glamorous capitals, or enjoy some more easygoing and under-the-radar cities. The abundance of options is why it’s important to plan your trip well and know what sort of adventure you want to have.
To help guide you, here are the 10 best cities in Europe that every traveler should see at some point in their lives.
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Sure, it’s got the markets, squares, and parks that other world capitals have, but Amsterdam is anything but ordinary. The Dutch city that’s primarily navigated by bicycle, foot, or boat stands out thanks to its beautiful canals, an abundance of tulips, and laid-back culture.
“The city is known for its vibrant culture and history, as well as its liberal attitude and open-mindedness,” says Becky Moore, the founder of Global Grasshopper. “Amsterdam is a popular tourist destination, and it’s also home to a number of businesses and organizations that are headquartered in Europe. Additionally, the city’s infrastructure is well-developed, making it easy to get around.”
The city was ranked as the third-best European city to travel to in the winter by U.S. News & World Report because of its significant discounts and winter holiday festivities. While Amsterdam’s winter weather is chilly, the city has plenty of world-class museums to get you out of the cold, including the Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum, and Van Gogh Museum.
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When you’re planning a trip to Spain, you may think of bullfights, flamenco, and tapas, and there are few better places to experience all of that than Granada, Spain’s last Moorish capital where the Islamic influence is still strongly felt throughout the city. No place in Granada is that more evident than the Alhambra—the most popular tourist site in the country that receives more than 2 million visitors a year, on average.
“The Alhambra is a complex and a UNESCO World Heritage site, in the hills above Granada,” says Karen Rosenblum, the founder of Spain Less Traveled. “Its centerpiece is the Nasrid Palace, which is constantly on the list of the best Islamic architecture in the world. Inside, you’ll find beautiful and colorful geometric tile work, intricate carvings, and hidden patios. The Alhambra also contains the Sultan’s summer palace surrounded by exquisite gardens. And for a great view of Granada, you can climb up the old fort, the Alcazaba.”
Between the pull of the glimmering Adriatic sea and all of the Game of Thrones tourism, it’s no surprise that Croatia has been seeing a huge increase in visitors during the past decade. While cities like Dubrovnik may be overrun with tourists, Split, ranked in the top three spots to visit in Eastern Europe by U.S. News & World Report, remains an under-the-radar draw that has everything you’d want in a Croatian vacation.
“Split promises a fantastic mix of thriving European culture and exclusive luxury on the stunning Adriatic Coast,” says Tara Fitzgerald of Oroko Travel. “This vibrant destination is housed within one of the best-preserved examples of medieval architecture, with the walls of the two-thousand-year-old Diocletian’s Palace housing the city’s historic core.”
As one of the most visited cities in Europe, Paris is well-touristed and well-beloved for a reason. The City of Lights is home to sprawling boulevards, iconic architecture, and some of the best museums in the world—and that’s just scratching the surface of what the city has to offer.
Many travelers agree that a trip to Paris is well worth your time, as it’s been voted the top destination to visit in Europe, according to U.S. News & World Report. Eat some of the world’s best cuisine, visit stunning churches like the Sacre-Coeur, or spend the day strolling through gardens like the Tuileries or Luxembourg Gardens—no matter what you choose to do with your time in Paris, it will be well spent.
With its convenient coastal location, affordable prices, and beautiful multi-colored buildings, Porto is developing a reputation as one of the top European destinations to visit. According to U.S. News & World Report, Portugal’s second-largest city is the top destination in the world to visit in July, and the best cheap European destination, meaning you’ll have an unforgettable vacation without breaking the bank to plan it.
“Not only does Porto offer stunning river views and quaint cafes, but its history and architecture alone are a reason to visit this Portuguese city,” says Brittany Mendez, a travel expert and CMO of Florida Panhandle. “When people visit Porto, they shouldn’t leave without visiting the Porto Cathedral, which is one of the most iconic 12th-century structures in the city. Another unique structure to visit is the Livraria Lello, offering thousands of books and a gaudy gothic interior.”
Travelers to Ireland are fond of the lively music scene, stunning views of the seaside, and gorgeous Georgian architecture, but the one thing that really sticks with nearly every traveler to Dublin is a connection made with the Irish people.
“You’ll remember any interactions you have with Irish people after your visit,” says Kathleen Peddicord, the founder and CEO of Live and Invest Overseas. “They are always full of wit, jolly, welcoming, friendly, and ready to help.”
“There are a plethora of history-based attractions in Dublin,” Peddicord adds. “Live music is almost unavoidable here, with a lively busking culture on the streets and performances hosted in most pubs most evenings as well as at specific venues.”
Ireland is only 171 miles wide, so Dublin also makes a great jumping-off point for further exploring the country. If you have time on your trip, pick up a rental car outside of Dublin and see even more of the amazing sights that Ireland has to offer.
It might not be the most well-known world capital on the continent, but Tallinn, located right on the Baltic Sea, is historic and growing in popularity for European travelers, with almost 1 million visitors in 2021, according to Visit Tallinn. The city is well known for its medieval architecture, world-class museums housed in beautiful buildings, and its festive and lively Christmas markets.
“The medieval old town has been tastefully restored, and walking around it feels almost like being in a movie set,” says Charlie Neville, the marketing director of JayWay Travel Inc. “Atmospheric cellar restaurants serve hearty traditional Estonian meals, but Modern Estonian cuisine has more in common with the Nordic influences of places like [Copenhagen restaurant] Noma. The combination of medieval, post-industrial warehouses converted into arts and entertainment centers and the positive forward-thinking attitude of Estonians make a stay in Tallinn an absolute joy.”
As one of Poland’s leading cities for almost 800 years, Krakow is bursting with history and culture. While it’s now a friendly and vibrant city, many visitors make their way to Krakow to learn about a harrowing chapter of the city’s modern history by taking a day trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, located 75 kilometers west of Krakow.
Even with how historic Krakow is, the city maintains a lively, youthful energy thanks to its large student population, according to Peddicord. “Krakow is also a university town,” Peddicord says. “The 650-year-old Jagiellonian University (Academy of Krakow), founded by Casimir III the Great, is one of the oldest and most important in the world. This student population is an important part of the Krakow scene and keeps the centuries-old city lively.”
One of the first European cities that many American travelers visit is London—with a slightly different culture and a familiar language, it’s an easy and welcoming trip to dip your toes into European travel. It’s also the most visited city in Europe, as well as the top place to take a family vacation in Europe, according to U.S. News & World Report.
London is not just another European city, but Greater London is actually an entire county, so you could have a trip that’s a few days or several weeks and still not come close to seeing all that London has to offer. One of the best ways to appreciate the gargantuan city is by walking through its many neighborhoods, from regal Westminster to trendy Shoreditch, or by visiting its many free national museums including the British Library and the National Gallery.
Well known for its mountains, chocolate, and efficiency, Switzerland should be really high up on any traveler’s list of countries to visit, including a stop at its largest city, Zurich.
“Zurich is an upmarket banking city that is one of the finest Swiss travel destinations,” says Barbie Mission, a travel research analyst at Trip 101. While the city is well known for its banking, dropping off a deposit isn’t the only reason that visitors should make a stop there.
“The state-of-the-art infrastructure alone is reason enough to visit, not to mention the gorgeous lakes, high-end shopping, and fascinating adventures that await tourists,” Mission says. “Visitors can explore historical buildings, museums, parks, and zoos during the day. Hopping on an electric-powered tuk-tuk and going on an eco-friendly wine-and-dine city tour are some of the best activities.”