Generally speaking, both my partner and I are not city people. In our almost three years of non-stop travel around the world, we’ve found ourselves staying longer in small charming villages and sleepy beach towns. However, we’ve found that Europe is a whole different ball game. The art, the culture, the stunning architecture, and the food. Oh my God, the food. It’s been almost a year since our last trip to Europe and today was just one of those days where I can’t think of anything else. So to sort out my European blues (is that even a thing?) Here’s our list of the most beautiful cities in Europe, including a quick guide on what to see and do. However, if you’re like me and you also like places that are a little off-the-beaten path, we’ve also included a few alternative towns and cities to check out.
Iconic from the popular movie In Bruges, this fairytale-like city is known for its many canals which is why it is dubbed as the “Venice of the North”. One of my favorite memories in Bruges was wandering around until we found a quiet spot where we spent the whole day sitting down having a picnic. While we didn’t do anything particularly exciting, sitting down and people watching was the perfect way to take in the fantastic charm of this city. When in Belgium, a visit to Bruges is a must.
Highlights: Wine and dine (or for people on a budget like myself, picnic and dine!), stroll around Bruges’ Markt, Go on a canal boat ride and if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, you can visit the Frietmuseum (a museum dedicated just to French Fries). Yes, you can thank me later.
Alternative to Bruges
If you’re turned off by the touristy aspect of Bruges, you can opt to check out Knokke-Heist, a lovely seaside town full of beaches, nature reserves, and art galleries. While Knokke can have a bit of an upper market feel due to the many seaside holiday homes, we had a blast exploring the town and it’s nearby areas.
Related: Heading to Europe? Check out our complete Europe Packing List Guide to make sure you don’t miss out on anything!
London, United Kingdom
Naturally, London has to make it to our list as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Last year, I spent my birthday in London wandering around Trafalgar Square, visiting the beefeater guards (yes, that’s what they are called) by Buckingham Palace, and visiting Westminster Abbey. Yes, London can be quite touristy and overwhelming, however, if you know what to do and where to go, it’s an exciting city.
Highlights: Apart from the bits mentioned above, make sure you take the time to check out alternative street markets like Borough Market, Camden Market, and Leather Lane Market.
Alternative to London
For those who want to explore a city that is less intimidating as London, a good alternative would be Edinburgh in Scotland. This medieval city is jam-packed with character and style. Not only does it have a lot of cultural things to see and do, it also has a vibrant nightlife and a budding food scene.
The moment I got to Greece, I knew I was in love. The whitewashed buildings, the narrow pathways, the quaint little shops, and the endless view of the ocean from just about any angle. While I know I might be cheating as technically, Santorini is an island, nevertheless, this destination is a must on every European bucket list trip. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about Greece that reminds me of home (the Philippines). I don’t know if its the seaside landscape, the friendly smiles of random strangers or the close family ties that is apparent everywhere in Greece.
Highlights: Watching the sunset by Oia, eating in small tavernas (Greek Salad!!!), or just basking in the many beautiful and multi-colored beaches.
Alternative to Santorini
If you find Santorini a little bit too commercialized for your liking, consider heading to Paros. The island is much smaller yet is as lively and full of charm. The town itself is lively, without the hefty price tag due to tourism. The beaches in Paros are not as crowded and is suitable for a wide variety of water sports. In fact, I think I enjoyed my time in Paros more than I did in Santorini. Go figure!
Editor’s Note: Planning the perfect Europe Trip? This comprehensive guide covers everything from planning, researching, and even deciding on the length of your trip.
Madrid over Barcelona? I know, I know, you think I must be crazy. However, while the decision was tough, I absolutely adore Madrid for quite a few reasons. First, because it was my first ever stop when I decided to quit my job and travel the world and second, because I have family there. While you could argue that Barcelona has everything from culture, art, to beaches, nothing beats the feeling of wandering around a city by yourself for the very first time, with no particular plan.
Highlights: Wander around Plaza Mayor, Have a picnic in Buen Retiro Park, and eating and drinking your weight in tapas and sangria
Alternative to Madrid:
While nothing can really compare to Spain’s capital city, a great alternative city which I really enjoyed exploring is Granada, a small city by the Andalusian region. Between the stunning architecture of the Alhambra and the fact that every drink order gets you a free plate of tapas, a visit there is well recommended.
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The city of light has to make the list as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. I have to admit, the first time I visited Paris, I was a bit disappointed. I found it overly touristy, overpriced, and man..was I overwhelmed. The next time I visited, we were with my partner’s dad who knew the city inside out. Needless to say, don’t underestimate the value of having an insider’s know how on what to see and do!
Highlights: While you will be tempted to see and do everything, the best way to soak up the true Parisian vibes is to sit by a cafe and watch the world go by. I swear by it! However, if you would much rather have a complete list on what to see and do, this Paris bucket list has pretty awesome suggestions.
Read: Where to Stay in Paris
Alternative to Paris
If the city of lights is too much for you, a great alternative is the nearby city of Lille, France. Home to France’s second best museum, The Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille, you can have as much culture and art as you want, without having to blow your budget.
Another one of the most beautiful cities in Europe is the city of Vienna. Home to a few of the musical greats like Mozart and Beethoven, this place is one of the best parts of Europe where you can soak up history and culture. Unknown to many, you can even chill out by the banks of the Danube River which has beach-like areas where you can swim and even sunbathe.
Highlights: Visit the Danube River, stroll around Stadtpark, eat at the iconic schnitzel shop, Figlmüller Wollzeile.
Alternative to Vienna
If you want to skip Vienna, naturally, a good alternative would be Salzburg, a place popularized by the movie Sound of Music. However, another great alternative would be Budapest in Hungary. Offering a rich history and culture, while still being affordable, Budapest is one of our favorite European cities that we recommend you visit.
When in Rome…you eat, eat, and eat. Well, at least that’s what I did. While many marvel at Italy’s art capital, Florence, Rome is a fantastic city in Europe to visit because of its incredibly rich history. Walking around Rome is quite surreal as you are surrounded by both modern shops and restaurants and yet are in the presence of structures like the colosseum which has been around since AD 72.
Highlights: A few staples are wandering around the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Pantheon. While you’re at it, don’t forget to drop a coin and make a wish by the Trevi Fountain. Also, a trip to the Vatican is a must as well as exploring more hip areas like Trastevere.
Alternative to Rome
While I have to argue that there is nothing else like Rome, anther great alternative would be Milan. If art and history is what you’re after, Milan has plenty to offer, including Da Vinci’s famous last supper painting housed at the Santa Maria delle Grazie. To add to this, Milan has one of the most incredible gothic churches in all of Europe.
Clearly I could go on and on as Europe has many beautiful cities that are worth mentioning. Hopefully, this guide has helped you narrowed down to a few of the best cities to visit and has provided you with some alternatives. Happy exploring!
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