Jake and I are always asking each other what are the best places to visit in Europe and which European destinations would be on our personal TOP 10 list. It’s always an evolving list and changes based on new discoveries or interests. If you’ve been following this blog for a while it’s quite obvious Europe is my favorite place and where I travel the most. The history, culture, food, and people draw me to this continent again and again.
I’m always able to find cheap flights and hotel steals and can throw an itinerary together in a hurry if needed. Europe can be a romantic trip for two, an adventure for friends, or a soul seeking destination for solo travelers. Every time I travel to a new city or rediscover an old favorite, I am always asking if this makes my list for the best places to visit in Europe.
I often have friends or family that have never been to Europe and haven’t the slightest idea of where to start asking me for recommendations. It’s a tough question because it really depends on what type of trip you want. Do you like big cities or small towns. Royal palaces and grandeur or quaint squares and quiet streets? So I figure the best way to lead people in the right direction is to list which places I think make the list for the best places to visit in Europe and why they are my personal favorite European destinations. You’ll find a mix of everything here from major capitals to quaint towns.
If you’re planning a first, second, or tenth trip to Europe, this should give you some inspiration on where to jet to next.
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Best places to visit in Europe - 11 must visit European destinations
One of the best places to visit in Europe for art and food
Hands down my favorite city in the world and easily one of the most beautiful cities in Europe! If someone said they could only visit one city in Europe I wouldn’t hesitate to send them to Florence, Italy. This renaissance city is filled with art, wine, gorgeous views, and the best gelato you will ever taste. See my post on the best gelato in Florence. I love this city because it’s small enough to be entirely walkable yet has enough to keep a visitor busy for days on end. Art junkies have their pick of museums. Foodies could spend a month here and still not hit all the best restaurants. Nature lovers can venture into the Tuscan countryside.
Florence also makes for a perfect home base for exploring other cities in Italy. Bologna and Siena are a quick train ride away. Cinque Terra is easily reachable by train as well. If you a rent a car you can visit medieval towns like San Gimignano and Montepulciano. Squeeze in a day or two of wine tours and you could easily fill a 10 day itinerary and not have to switch hotels.
You will also notice that Rome is not listed on my list of the 10 best places to visit in Europe. It’s definitely a city that everyone should visit but there are other cities that I holder nearer and dearer to my heart. Thankfully Rome is just a 1.5 hour train away from Florence and is an easy add on during your stay in Italy.
I will close with this thought if you still aren’t sold on Florence. If job opportunities and citizenship were not an issue I would sell all my possessions and move here without a second thought.
See my Italy posts:
One of the best cities to visit in Europe for affordability
Seville, Spain easily takes the spot for my second favorite city in the world. It’s actually very similar to Florence in the fact that it’s small enough to be walkable and offers some of the best food and culture. I also love Seville because it’s CHEAP. A glass of sangria will only set you back about 1.50 to 2.00 euros. An Americano is usually a meager 1 euro. A scrumptious dinner of tapas can be around 8 to 20 euros depending on how fancy you go and how much you can eat.
The passion in this city is mesmerizing. A night watching Flamenco dancers and guitarists will make you feel like your life is severely lacking intense emotion. Enjoy piping hot churros con chocolate, take an evening paseo along the river, shop the markets, step into a Game of Thrones filming site at the Alcazar palace, and discover the almost hidden Plaza de Espana in Maria Luisa park.
See my Spain posts:
One of the top European destinations for Harry Potter lovers
Are you a Harry Potter fan? Then Edinburgh is a must and should be at the top of your list of best cities to visit in Europe. J.K. Rowling wrote the majority of the series while living in Edinburgh and confirmed that this city provided inspiration for many aspects of the books. You will immediately begin to see the similarities to the fictional world of Harry Potter the moment you begin to wander the streets.
An almost magical connection to Harry Potter isn’t the only thing Edinburgh offers. Charming cobblestoned streets, an hilltop castle complex overlooking the city, a history filled with royal scandals, underground vaults with looming ghosts and spirts, and cozy bed and breakfasts.
Edinburgh is also a great starting point to explore the Scottish Highlands. The rugged and mountainous region of northwest Scotland. Hike the trails around Glencoe, wander the streets of charming Inverness, look for Nessie in Loch Ness, and visit romantic castles that take you back in time.
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One of the most Instagrammable European destinations
“When can I come back” will probably be your first thought when you arrive in Mykonos, one of the most Instagrammed European destinations. Many places don’t live up to the hype or photoshopped Instagram photos. Not Mykonos. Our time in this Greek island not only lived up to the hype but exceeded our expectations. The water is crystal clear and bluer than blue, the painted houses are just as white as imagined, and the winding streets of Mykonos town are as charming as ever.
Avoiding Mykonos because you think it’s too expensive? I did too…until I really started researching hotels, restaurants, and activities. Yes, there are plenty of luxury boutique hotels to spend your entire months’ paycheck. There are also plenty of cute mid-range hotels that you can easily find for around $100 a night with breakfast included. Go all out and spend a small fortune at a fancy restaurant or eat a tasty gyro for $2. I was happy to find that Mykonos is a place you can decide how much you spend and have a great time no matter what your budget.
See my Greece posts:
One of the best places to visit in Europe for unique architecture
Barcelona seems to have it all. Ocean, mountains, bustling streets and quiet squares, parks, art, food, wine…no wonder this gem makes the list of favorite best places to visit in Europe on so many peoples list. See the quirky flair of Antoni Gaudi’s style at the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell, people watch as you stroll down the Las Ramblas, try jambon and manchego at Mercado de la Boqueria, take a walking tour in the medieval Gothic Quarter, enjoy the sun at the beach, and work your way through the best restaurants on a tapas crawl.
See my Spain posts:
One of the best places to visit in Europe for those that love to wander and get lost
I fall more in love with this floating city each time I visit. Yes, one of the most touristy European destinations, but the moment you learn how to work Venice you’ll find yourself here again and again. Once I discovered the reward of waking up early…and I mean early as in 5:00 or 6:00am…it was a game changer. Wandering the city as the sun was rising and the usually packed sights like St. Mark’s Square or the Rialto bridge were empty is an experience you will never forget.
It doesn’t take long to realize the big attractions draw the crowds and as long as you steer clear of said attractions you can easily find peaceful bliss in the never-ending paths, bridges, and squares all over the island. Take a day trip to close by islands like Murano or Burano when the afternoon cruise ship crowds are the worst.
See my Italy posts:
One of the best European destinations for turquoise waters and views
Croatia in general is becoming more and more popular with tourists and showing up on more publications listing the best places to visit in Europe. Game of Thrones is partly to thank for that. Many know Dubrovnik as the filming location for King’s Landing. The red tiled rooftops, turquoise ocean waters, high city walls, and narrow cobblestoned streets made Dubrovnik the perfect backdrop for the Game of Thrones series. Very littler SGI was added so the moment you step foot in Old Town you will immediately begin to recognize scenes like the walk of shame and the battle of Blackwater Bay.
Even if you aren’t into Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik is a special city to visit. Walking the intact city walls and viewing Old Town below is a highlight. Strolling down the Stradun (the main promenade) in the glow of early morning light is a memory you won’t easily forget. View the city walls from below on a sea kayak tour, take a day trip to Montenegro or Bosnia and Herzegovina, sip wine around the Peljesac Peninsula, Dubrovnik’s wine region, or slurp fresh oysters on a boat at an oyster farm. There is plenty to keep any type of traveler busy for days on end.
Dubrovnik also makes the list of the best places to visit in Europe because of how far your dollar will go. We stayed just outside Old Town at a hotel right on the water. Ocean views and breakfast overlooking the Adriatic Sea set us back a meager $200 a night. A steal when you know you would easily pay double or triple that elsewhere in Europe. Go soon because prices are increasing each year as more and more people discover Croatia.
See my Croatia posts:
One of the best places to visit in Europe for romantics
Bruges seems to have been plucked straight out of a fairytale and is one of the best European destinations for romantics. The Flemish architecture paired with endless water canals will make you fall in love with Bruges. This small city was once considered the Venice of the north and was a successful port town in years past. Bruges, or Brugge, is tiny and can easily be explored in one day. It deserves far more than that and is a place you will want to slow down and learn the art of strolling.
Take your pick from charming and quaint hotels, sample some of the best Belgium chocolate you will ever taste, scarf down melt in your mouth liege waffles (I think Jake and I averaged 3 a day), and take a boat ride and float along the canals. Foodies likely already have Bruges on their list as it hosts over 10 Michelin star restaurants.
Bruges is compact, which means it’s easy to feel the squeeze of tourists during busy season. Try to visit during shoulder season and avoid summer if possible.
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One of the best places to visit in Europe for opulence and grandeur
The glory days of the Habsburg Empire can be glimpsed in Vienna. The buildings are grandiose and the entire city is impeccably clean…probably one of the cleanest European destinations you will visit. Want to feel like a royal? Duck in to one of the many elaborate cafes for a slice of decadent cake paired with a strong espresso. The café culture in Vienna is almost worth the trip alone.
Getting around Vienna is a breeze with the walkable city center and cheap bike share program. Summers are filled with outdoor activities and events while winters bring some of the best Christmas markets in Europe. Tour the Schonbrunn Palace, catch an opera performance, and eat schnitzel in a wine garden.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the city take a train to popular cities nearby like Budapest, Prague, Munich, and Salzburg.
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One of the top european destinations for history buffs
London, another city I would move to in a heartbeat if given the opportunity. You can’t help but feel alive in this bustling metropolis. The diversity of people, culture, and food make this such a fun city to explore. I’m also a nerd when it comes to royal history and a sucker for the Philippa Gregory book series telling the fascinating stories of King Henry the VIII, the Tudors, and the Plantagenets. Touring London brings that fascinating era to life.
London will cater to any taste. Sample street food at one of the many markets, lift your pinky finger high during a fancy afternoon tea, or grab a meal to go and eat in one of the many parks. Tour palaces that are still inhabited by the royal family, take a ghost tour to learn of London’s gory past, be the typical tourist on a Big Red Bus tour, watch the spectacle of the changing of the guard, and become a master at navigating the Tube.
London also is well connected for endless day trips. Visit the charming villages of the Cotswolds, feel like a scholar at Oxford or Cambridge, tour the Queen’s favorite residence in Windsor, or discover for yourself if Stonehenge is as mystical and mysterious as many say.
See my other United Kingdom posts:
One of the best places to visit in Europe for fairytale settings
I was really hoping to make this a TOP 10 post, but once I made my list I couldn't take one of these European destinations off my list of the best places to visit in Europe...so here is number 11.
Charming and picturesque to the core, the Alsace region seems like a faraway land in some Disney film and easily makes the list for the best places to visit in Europe. In fact, Colmar and Strasbourg served as Walt Disney’s inspiration for the villages in Beauty and the Beast. Half-timbered houses sporting every color of the rainbow, water canals, and explosions of flowers hanging from balconies and bridges make this region worthy of every ooooh and ahhhh it gets.
Strasbourg is the bigger city and a good base with more hotel options. Colmar has the most “wow” factor and without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in Europe...but it's tiny. Both are must visit European destinations and only 30 minutes apart by train. Be sure to take a walking tour to learn the history of the region and how many times it changed from belonging to Switzerland and France.
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Need some itineraries now that you have your top European destinations picked?