The most beautiful city in Europe is a pretty subjective term, but there is no shortage of contenders. We’ve spent years traveling around Europe exploring its historic cities and charming towns. The continent continues to draw us back to explore more and deeper each time.
Europe has us hooked. We love Europe for the architecture, art, piazzas, cafes, castles, history, and ruins. European air. Cameron and I have had many remarkable moments on the small continent.
After visiting almost every country in Europe we decided to share a few of our favorite towns and cities. These are the cities that we have traveled to personally and consider the most beautiful.
The Most Beautiful Cities in Europe
Florence, Firenze, is the capital of Tuscany and a highlight of any trip around Italy. You have to add this city to your Italy itinerary if it’s not already. The city is famous for its world-class cuisine, museums, works of art, and surrounding countryside. The architecture in Florence pulls you in and begs for you to get lost in its historic heart.
History nuts will go nuts as Florence is known for being the birthplace of the Renaissance period and packed full of treasures. Say “hello” to David! When you walk the narrow cobbled stone streets it appears as if little has changed over the centuries with marble basilicas, dark chapels, gas lanterns, and enchanting frescos. You really have the opportunity to get lost in time.
Must-See: The Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore is the most beautiful cathedral in Italy.
Reykjavik is a charming city and well worth exploring for a few days. The capital of Iceland will be your entry point to anywhere else in the country and 95% of trips will start and end here, so there’s no excuse not to explore. There are no skyscrapers or massive chains in Reykjavik. It has a small population just over 120,000 people and when you walk around you will enjoy the quaintness of the city center.
During the day it’s fun to stroll through the streets and immerse yourself in Icelandic life. I love admiring the architecture of Hallgrímskirkja church. This iconic church can be seen from almost anywhere in the city and is worth a step inside. At night the city comes alive with a bustling nightlife that goes until the early morning hours. Going out in Reykjavik is a trip in the summer as the sun barely sets. Fun fact: Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital of a sovereign state.
Oia, Santorini, Greece
Just about everyone has heard of the beautiful Greek island of Santorini. The famous town of Oia is filled with whitewashed buildings topped by vivid blue roofs all set on a cliff that overlooks the stunning Mediterranean sea. What’s not to love? The town is easily the most picturesque of all of Greece and has been seen in photos around the world.
Oia is set on crescent-shaped clifftop that provides everlasting views of the calm sea and volcanic center of Santorini. What is most notable are the stunning sunsets that occur almost every day since the island has few cloudy days. It’s beloved by both Greeks and tourists alike, so be prepared for a crowded experience in the summer months.
Must do: Walk down the neverending stairs to Amundi Bay for a delicious meal and dip in the sea.
It’s a mighty hard decision to pick the most beautiful city in Croatia, but Rovinj may just take the cake. It should be a top choice when you are wondering where to go in Croatia. The colorful seaside town is like the bigger cousin to the Cinque Terre in Italy and makes Dubrovnik look a plain Jane. Not to mention it attracts far fewer tourists than Dubrovnik, especially in the shoulder seasons.
Visitors should head to the old town of Rovinj, which is small and walkable. The Church of St. Euphemia is well worth visiting and free to the public. The real charm of Rovinj lies in its cobbled alleyways, ambiance, coastal air, and boutique stores.
Must do: Have a coffee at Brasserie Adriatic for great views and posh vibes at an affordable price.
Budapest is on many lists as one of the beautiful cities in Europe. It’s been nicknamed the “Paris of the East” because of its beautiful setting and unique architecture. The capital of Hungary is safe, youthful, and unlike anywhere else in Europe.
The nightlife scene in this city is booming with its unique ruin bars. Ruin bars are housed in abandoned buildings that date back to WWII and are a must see even if you aren’t into bars. Budapest is also well known for their natural thermal baths, which you can find around the city.
Must do: Hit up Szimpla Kert – a famous ruin bar in Budapest.
There aren’t many cities in Europe quite like Innsbruck. It’s coined itself the title “Capital of Alps” and easy to understand why once you set foot in the city. Flanked by the impressive Nordkette mountain range that towers over the city nature never feels far away.
It’s the only city where you can ski, explore a grand palace, window shop, and savor a strudel all in one day. There are plenty of things to do in Innsbruck with the Austrian Alps and a city rich in history. In many ways, it’s everything we love about Austria all packed into a modern city and historical city. We love the fact that you can be in a beautiful medieval old town and then within minutes places you in the heart of the Alps with cowbells ringing and fresh Alpine air.
Must do: Ski at one of the many resorts in the Olympia SkiWorld ski area.
Tallinn is one of the most well preserved old towns in all of Europe. Cobblestone streets and medieval homes make up the historical district but, that doesn’t mean that Tallinn is stuck behind the times! Estonia has a bustling technology sector home to thousands of startups and e-businesses. It brings a young hip vibe to residential neighborhoods with breweries, coffee shops, art galleries, and restaurants.
There are many sights to see in Tallinn and to make the most out of a trip we recommend at least two days. However, we were able to have a fun time with only a day. You can head to the buzzing Christmas market with folk dancers if it is winter season, eat your way around the Medieval old town, check out the beautiful Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, walk the city walls, ice skate, and more! The city center very compact and easy to walk around.
Must See: The lively Christmas markets around the holiday
Love or hate Venice there is no denying its popularity. It is the most beautiful historic city on the planet, but it is also besieged by tourists. The sinking city is a network of 118 islands connected by bridges. Buildings here are old and if you manage to get away from the crowds it feels as if you’ve stepped back five centuries. It is surreal and after several visits, we love Venice.
In our opinion, Venice is best in the shoulder and offseasons. The canals of Venice are notorious for harboring a lot of waste and in the summer the smell can get pretty bad; however, in the cooler months there are fewer tourists, less waste, and the smell is at bay. If you were to ask us Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, except in the summer months.
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and most populous city in the country. It’s a quaint city with a small population of half a million that allows for it to feel welcoming. It’s the perfect place to get lost for a few days and a popular stop on the Baltic tour route. The city center is the largest preserved example of baroque architecture in Europe. It’s littered with Catholic and Orthodox churches and no matter where you are in the city you can see the ever present Gediminas’ Tower
We had a few days worth of fun venturing into the many small cafes, breweries, charming shops, restaurants, and art galleries. The city is well worth a few days and we can’t wait to return someday.
Must do: Take a day trip to the Trakai Castle!
Bruges is a town in Northern Belgium and is a picture perfect European town to visit. I visited once on a day trip from Brussels, but I consistently think back to that beautiful town. It was a stark contrast to dirty Brussells.
The best way to get around is to rent a bicycle. On a bike, you can explore the charming historic houses and canals. If it’s a nice day you can easily take a boat tour through the canals or venture to the Koeleweimolen and Sint-Janshuismolenmills windmills. My favorite thing to do in Bruges is a tour at the Half Moon Brewery to sip some local brew!
Must do: Learn the history of fries at the Frietmuseum. Yes, there is actually a fry museum here.
Turkey’s most popular city is one of the most amazing in the world and definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Istanbul bridges Europe and Asia, and the city crams in both cultures for everyone to experience. You can actually take a ferry along the Bosphorus and literally take a photo between two continents – where else in the world can you do that? It has long served as the crossroads between the two continents and thus has an amazing amount of history, architecture, and culture.
Istanbul is a massive city and even with two trips back here, we have yet to even scratch the surface of what Istanbul has to offer. It’s the perfect place to stroll along the Bosphorus and enjoy the old buildings and beautiful mosques nearby.
Must do: Hang out in Cihangir, the perfect place to have a coffee and shop for some antiques.
The city of Amsterdam needs no introduction. It is known as the Venice of the North because of its hundreds of canals. Amsterdam is nothing short of impressive and a must see while in Europe. Whether you’re into history, architecture, partying, food, shopping, art, or cafes there is something here for everyone.
A summer day in Amsterdam is near impossible to top in any other city. Our favorite thing to do in Amsterdam is to simply sit canal side in a quiet neighborhood, like Jordaan and enjoy a cold Amstel. Or you could do even better with a boat cruise. If you’re looking for traditional sights check out the Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum, and Van Gogh Museum.
Must do: If you go in April don’t miss your chance to see the tulips bloom in Haarlem.
It’s tough to argue with the appeal of Edinburgh as it’s one of the most stunning cities in all of Europe. The Scottish capital is packed with a long and dark history. The city center is split in two between the jumble of medieval buildings in old town and the perfectly lined Georgian buildings of New Town. The city in many ways is a mess, but a beautiful one at that! It’s brimming with class, tourist sites, and character and I assure you there is no shortage of things to do in Edinburgh.
The city contains many contrasts and offers everything from world-class art festivals to fine dining, rowdy pubs, designer shops, comedy clubs, luxury hotels, and hip coffee shops. It’s almost impossible for any visitor to have the same experience or opinion of Edinburgh. We tried our best to enjoy a bit of it all, but like all visitors, we’ll definitely have to return someday with more time.
Must do: Head out to the beach at North Berwick – it’s lovely!
Portugal is a year-round destination where vacationers and locals can be found body-surfing, parasailing, deep sea fishing, water skiing, and surfing. We spent November and December based in Lagos in search of the best beaches in the Algarve and enjoyed every sun-kissed day to the fullest.
The coastline around Lagos has some of the tastiest waves, cleanest water, and most dramatic landscapes. To top it off Lagos boasts an average of 300 days of sunshine each year! Not only are the beaches around Lagos fabulous, but the town is small, walkable, and sculpted by traditional architecture.
We would spend many days walking around Lagos watching old Portuguese men play chess, enjoy their coffee, and soak in the sunshine.
Must do: Rent a car and drive around the whole coast to see all the beautiful beaches!
There are few cities in Europe that feel as forward thinking as Helsinki. The Finns have pushed into the modern era and embraced design, food, and art. No place is this more evident than in Finland’s capital. It’s a marvelous city that delighted us with plenty of things to do.
For such a modern city you never seem to be too far away from nature, though. The city features a marvelous amount of green space as it’s spread out across a series of islands in the Baltic Sea. When you add in the cities delicious restaurants and Finn’s clear affinity for having a good time you have a brilliant mix. The Finns know how to live life with, “kalsarikannit,” a word to describe sitting at home in your underwear drinking with no intention of going out – that made us laugh.
Helsinki is a wonderful city to explore full of things to do and delicious food to eat. We spent a week here around Christmas time and could not have had a better time exploring a city. Helsinki may not be your typical European city break destination, but it is well worth a special trip to Finland for.
Must do: Go see Coco, she’s at the Helsinki Zoo and is the oldest sloth in the world!
Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Sarajevo was one of the first cities in Europe I visited. At the time I instantly fell in love. It’s not a place that many travelers get to on their Eurotrip, but it’s certainly worthwhile. Despite being the center of a war zone twenty years ago, today it is the vibrant cultural hub of Bosnia and one of the best capital cities in Europe.
Sarajevo has been called the “Jerusalem of Europe,” because of it’s strong religious identity. This is the only place I have ever been where I came across a mosque, synagogue, Catholic church, and Orthodox within five minutes walk of each other. There’s some fabulous old and modern history here, it’s got a roaring nightlife scene, and it even played hosts to the 1989 winter Olympics! If all those things don’t entice you to visit, maybe learning that it’s insanely affordable will.
Must do: Go to Cafe Tito for a drink in an interesting setting.
Kotor is a well-preserved former Venetian city inhabited by less than 13,000 people. Once visitors pass through the city walls a labyrinth of marbled streets, old lamps, stones houses, and quiet piazzas await them. The old city is fortified and encompassed by imposing stone walls while the town itself sits at the foot of a gorgeous Adriatic bay with the Dalmatian mountains rising high up above turquoise waters.
Some refer to the Bay of Kotor as being the southernmost Fjord in Europe, and with the stunning beauty of the bay, it is easy to see why. It’s a magical destination that feels as if you’ve taken a step back in time. We’ve been twice and it still stands out as one of the prettiest places to visit in Europe. Make sure to make your way down to the harboring village of Perast while there, it’s equally as stunning.
Must Do: Don’t leave Kotor without climbing 1350 steps to the Castle of San Giovanni
Ljubljana happens to be Slovenia’s largest city and capital, but you wouldn’t know it. It has been named the greenest European city and features the largest pedestrian city center that is just brimming with life. Citizens and tourist alike love to drink coffee and catch up by the gorgeous riverfront.
Our first day in Ljubljana we spoke to a local who described her city as “a little girl who likes to play dress-up in her mother’s clothes. She’s beautiful and has refined elements, but should never be taken too seriously.” The city center is brimming with cafes serving up the local specialty drink, a white coffee.
Must do: Take the funicular train to the Ljubljana Castle
The mountain of Zakopane is nestled in the Tatra Mountains. The Polish mountain town serves as a great base to this stretch of the Carpathian Mountains. It is an outdoor wonderland that provides visitors access to snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, alpine forests, mountain lakes, wildlife, and the meadow filled valleys.
Zakopane is an extremely affordable mountain town that is filled with plenty of charm and culture to go around. For us Krakow was cool, but everyone goes to Krakow. Instead, we ventured from Krakow to Zakopane for a unique experience. While it may be very popular for the Polish it is relatively unheard for the rest of the world and makes for a great city to relax in while admiring nature.
Must do: Take a day to hike into the Tatras!
Ohrid is referred to as Macedonia’s “crown jewel.” Ohrid is a small city that surrounds the northern edge of Lake Ohrid, which is possibly one of the most beautiful lakes we have ever seen. You can easily spend a few days here exploring the churches and relaxing in serenity along the quiet lake. A few days was not enough for us and we ended up spending a week in Ohrid. This city was one of our favorite destinations on our whole Balkan trip and we would add it to any Balkan’s travel itinerary.
Must do: Anything on the lake. You’ll be blown away by the beauty everywhere!
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
A mistake indeed, as Luxembourg is well worth a visit. The city and country embody many quintessential European cities and countries. We were lucky enough to visit during the Christmas season and catch one of the first snowfalls of the season and even take part in Luxembourg’s wonderful Christmas markets.
Luxembourg City is a mix of the old and new with highrises rising all over the city, and a pleasant old town located in the heart of the city. It’s a melting pot of nationalities and you’ll often hear English on the streets as many foreigners come to work for banks and tech companies based in the city. It brings a pleasant expatriate vibe to vibe to the city and adds to its character.
Must do: Have brunch at the Chocolate House for a delicious and unique hot chocolate.
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