15 Best Cities in Europe
Despite its size, Europe is home to a wide range of distinctly different cultures, languages, and peoples. It is a treasure trove for historians, a diverse buffet for those looking for a foodie holiday, and a playground for art lovers. The greatest cities in Europe are those that encapsulate the best of what each region has to offer.
Mediterranean countries offer some of Europe's oldest cities, like Rome and Athens, filled with ancient spiritual sites and edifices that have endured millennia. Farther north, Prague embodies the unique charms of eastern European life, while Vienna offers grand palaces and museums. To the west, Paris is the hub of French culture, and across the channel, Edinburgh's traditions rival London's mystique.
Discover your next favorite place to visit with our list of the best cities in Europe.
Paris holds a charm that is unparalleled, rich with history and a romantic appeal that draws couples and tourists from all over the world. Its most famous landmark, of course, is the Eiffel Tower, but there is far more for visitors to explore and enjoy.
Even if there isn't time to explore the galleries and museums in Paris, a visit to The Louvre should be at the top of the list for its stunning courtyard and the Pyramid. The Musée d'Orsay is another excellent Paris museum featuring 19th- and 20th-century art, while the Centre Pompidou houses an excellent collection of modern art, among other top Paris museums.
A day exploring the medieval Latin Quarter is a wonderful way to discover small shops and cafés, while a visit to the busy Champs-Élysées presents opportunities for upscale shopping and fine dining. A visit to Montmarte is a must for artists and art aficionados, and the Arc de Triomphe is a must for photographers.
Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Paris
2. Rome, Italy
Rome's rich history holds an almost mystic power over visitors, thanks to the landmarks and ancient sites that still remain, and it is one of the most visited cities in Italy.
Aspiring time travelers will particularly enjoy exploring the Roman Forum, home to extensive remains of ancient sites like the Arch of Titus, the grand Basilica of Constantine, and the Temple of Romulus.
Since there are so many sites to see, tourists short on time should seek out a sightseeing tour that focuses on their main interests. This is especially true for those who want to see Vatican City and its museums.
3. London, England
London is truly a city with everything, and an excellent option for English-speaking tourists who are visiting Europe for the first time. Many first-time visitors will be pleased to find that, despite the modern additions to the cityscape, there is plenty of history and romance to be found in England's largest city.
One of the top things to do in London, especially for a first-timers, is a visit to Buckingham Palace, and those who time their arrival right can witness the Changing of the Guard ceremonies that take place every day at 11:30am. Tourists can see even more royal flair at the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels reside, as well as displays of royal armor and armaments, and other artifacts.
London is also home to a plethora of museums, including the British Museum, which houses an unparalleled collection of antiquities. Art lovers will want to visit the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square to see works by Michelangelo and DaVinci, and visitors to the Victoria and Albert Museum can explore both natural history and science museums.
Accommodations: Best Resorts in London
4. Barcelona, Spain
This stunning seaside metropolis is the capital of Catalonia, offering the best of Catalonia's cultural attractions. With plenty of things to see and do for art lovers, architecture aficionados, foodies, and music lovers, Barcelona offers endless opportunities for the perfect visit to Spain.
Barcelona's Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) is one of the most history-rich areas of the city, best explored by foot. After visiting top attractions like the Plaça del Rei and the stunning Gothic Catedral de Barcelona, tourists should leave time to wander the narrow medieval streets to discover quiet courtyards, small shops, and popular cafés.
Another popular area with tourists is Montjuïc, a neighborhood that sits overlooking the city to one side and the Mediterranean to the other. The area is home to several museums, including the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (National Art Museum of Catalonia), the Museu Etnològic (Ethnology Museum), and the Museu d'Arqueologia de Catalunya (Archaeological Museum of Catalonia). It is also home to some of Barcelona's best parks and the welcoming neighborhood of Poble-Sec.
Barcelona's diverse architectural heritage draws visitors from around the world to admire landmark buildings, especially those designed by Antoni Gaudí. Among these are Casa Mila (La Pedrera), which looks like a giant avant-garde sculpture, and the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, a breathtaking surrealistic Art Nouveau church that is still under construction nearly 100 years after it was begun.
After a day of sightseeing, be sure to take time to relax on one of Barcelona's sandy beaches and take in the views of the Mediterranean.
5. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is the gem of Eastern Europe, home to some of the world's most picturesque architectural masterpieces. Its crowning jewel is Prague Castle (Pražský hrad), an edifice that has grown from a 9th-century fortress into the world's largest castle complex. Tourists will find some of Prague's top tourist attractions on the grounds, including St. George's Basilica and St. Vitas Cathedral.
Tourists can also find several beautiful historic landmarks on and near Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), unusual for its somewhat meandering course across the River Vltava. It is also well-known for its dozens of statues, some dating back to the late 17th century. The Old Town Bridge Tower, located on its eastern end, serves as an excellent vantage point and is home to a museum.
Prague is also one of the best places in Europe to visit at Christmas, with a large market sitting at the foot of the decorated castle, as well as Christmas markets and festivities in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square.
6. Florence, Italy
Located on the Arno River in the Tuscany region of Italy, Florence is brimming with cultural and historic attractions.
It is often best known for its churches, with the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore representing the most stunning example of Italian Renaissance architecture. Other ecclesiastical masterpieces include the 13th-century Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella, which features numerous noteworthy frescoes; the 14th-century Franciscan church of Santa Croce; and San Lorenzo, a Renaissance church built by the infamous Medici family.
The palaces of Florence are equally impressive, and the Palazzo Vecchio (Palazzo della Signoria) is one of the city's top attractions. The largest palace in Florence is Pitti Palace, a sprawling estate that is home to the Boboli Gardens and an art collection.
Florence is also the perfect city for art lovers, home to several excellent museums, most notably those that contain collections of Renaissance art. The Uffizi Gallery is one of the largest art museums in Europe, home to the famous Birth of Venus by Botticelli.
Other top museums in Florence include the Galleria dell'Accademia (Academy Gallery), which houses Michelangelo's David; the Galleria Palatina, which features works by Italian masters; and the Bargello Palace National Museum.
7. Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
The stern walls of Edinburgh Castle sit high above the city, a medieval fairy tale overseeing the streets of the Old Town, as well as the New Town. Edinburgh's Royal Mile stretches from the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's official residence in Scotland. Both castles afford excellent views of the city, as does the lookout at Arthur's Seat on the Salisbury Crags.
Among Edinburgh's other top attractions are the National Museum of Scotland and the Royal Botanic Garden. Visitors will find plenty of shopping and dining along the Royal Mile in the Old Town, as well as Princes Street in the New Town.
Tradition is an important part of Scottish culture, and Edinburgh is the hub of many annual events, including the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is an international festival of military bands. Other major events include the Edinburgh Fringe arts festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and, of course, an excellent selection of Christmas markets.
8. Athens, Greece
Athens is possibly the top place to visit for those fascinated with ancient history. It's home to some of the world's most celebrated thinkers and a plethora of ruins that have endured millennia. The Acropolis is Athens' most famous landmark, the temple of the Parthenon unmistakable as it patiently watches over the city from atop its perch.
The ancient city complex, which dates back as far as 447 BCE, also includes the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion, most famous for the six statues that make up the Porch of the Caryatids.
Visitors can also explore the incredibly well-kept remains of the ancient Agora, home to the Stoa of Attalos and the Temple of Hephaistos, as well as the ruins of the Roman Agora; Hadrian's Library; and the Olympieion, the temple of Olympian Zeus.
Athens is home to several excellent museums that add depth and context to the ancient sites. In addition to the Acropolis Museum, there is the National Archaeology Museum, the Museum of Cycladic Art, and the Byzantine Museum.
Athens also has several great neighborhoods for shopping, dining, and simply soaking up the atmosphere. On the northern slope of the Acropolis, the Pláka neighborhood is popular with tourists for its picturesque streets and the Anafiotika neighborhood is known for its dining, especially along the Restaurant Staircase on Mnisikleous Street.
9. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon is the capital city of Portugal, situated in a protected bay along the country's Atlantic coast. The Castelo de São Jorge (St. George's Castle) sits overlooking the city and the water, serving as an important military vantage point in one form or another for thousands of years. What stands there today is a Moorish castle built in the 11th century, which houses a museum.
Located in the stunning Belém neighborhood, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is arguably the city's finest work of architecture. Built in the 16th century, this monastery is primarily Manueline, with elements of Renaissance and late Gothic styles.
Other Lisbon highlights include its fine museums, including the family-friendly Oceanário de Lisboa (Lisbon Oceanarium); the Museu do Oriente; art museums Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and Museu Nacional de Arte Antig (The National Museum of Ancient Art); and the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, which is dedicated to decorative tile work.
Read More: 1-Day, 2-Day, and 3-Day Lisbon Itineraries
10. Vienna, Austria
Vienna's 18th-century Schönbrunn Palace (Schloss Schönbrunn) is one of the top tourist attractions in Austria and the city's most iconic landmark. Visitors who aren't up for touring many of the 1,441 rooms will still enjoy a visit to the park and gardens that sprawl in its wake, which are free to visit.
Visiting Hofburg Palace, seat of the Hapsburgs for 600 years and current seat of the Austrian President, is another one of the top things to do in Vienna. The Belvedere Palace is also beautiful, featuring two Baroque palace buildings, a medieval treasury, stables, and beautiful gardens with fountains.
Thanks to its central location, Vienna is also an excellent city to use as "home base" for day trips to other major attractions and cities including Melk Abbey in the Wachau Valley, Klosterneuburg Abbey, Salzburg, and Hallstatt, as well as other European cities like Budapest and Prague.
11. Berlin, Germany
Once a city divided, Berlin is the capital of Germany and the country's cultural and social hub. Tourists can now visit the Berlin Wall Memorial, the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, and the Marienfelde Refugee Center Museum, which remember some of its darker days in hopes that mistakes of the past won't be repeated.
Tourists can visit nearly all of Berlin's top museums in one convenient area: Museum Island (Museumsinsel). Literally surrounded by water via the river and a canal, it is home to nearly a dozen museums, including the Pergamon, which houses the Museum of Islamic Art, the Middle East Museum, and the Antiquities Collection. It also houses several examples of ancient architecture, including the Pergamon Altar, which is one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Museum Island is also home to the Old Museum (Altes Museum), New Museum (Neues Museum), Old National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie), the Bode Museum, the Ethnological Museum of Berlin, and the Museum of Asian Art.
Top architectural landmarks include the 17th-century Charlottenburg Palace, the Konzerthaus, the French Cathedral (Französischer Dom), and the German Cathedral (Deutscher Dom). Several of these are on Gendarmenmarkt, the old town square, which hosts public events, including Berlin's world-famous Christmas Market.
Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Berlin
12. Venice, Italy
Venice is known for being one of the most romantic cities in Europe. The canal, the architecture, and the atmosphere give the city a unique charm.
Although many cities have canals, the image of a romantic gondola ride is a trademark of the Venetian holiday. The Grand Canal (Canale Grande) serves as the city's main artery, snaking 3.8 kilometers through the city and connecting many of Venice's top tourist attractions.
A gondola ride or sightseeing cruise is one of the best ways to get acquainted with Venice, providing a chance to admire the facades and bridges, like the lovely Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge), as well as a smooth ride for photographs.
Tourists should start their visit in the central San Marco neighborhood, home to the iconic St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) and its famous basilica. One could spend a day or more exploring St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco), a stunning feat of architectural and artistic greatness.
Another must-see attraction in Venice is the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), an ornate Byzantine palace that houses an excellent museum.
13. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam is the Netherlands' cultural hub, home to dozens of world-class museums and a thriving arts and entertainment scene. It's also one of the most picturesque and pedestrian-friendly cities in Europe, with canals and many streets limited to cyclists and foot traffic.
Among the city's top museums is the Rijksmuseum (National Museum), which is a collection of arts and antiquities, but the Van Gogh Museum comes in a close second, offering hundreds of the enigmatic artist's paintings, drawings, letters, and even personal belongings.
First-time visitors should leave time for exploring the Jordaan neighborhood, home to the Anne Frank House, as well as a cheese museum and the Woonboot Museum, which is dedicated to houseboats. This is also an excellent place to go shopping, especially on Monday mornings at the bazaar-market Westerstraat.
The best place for people-watching is Dam Square, a good resting spot while visiting Amsterdam's top attractions like the Royal Palace (Koninklijk Palace) and New Church (Nieuwe Kerk).
14. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Nicknamed the "Pearl of the Adriatic," Dubrovnik is one of the top tourist destinations in Croatia. It is popular with couples and anyone looking for a seaside vacation that offers culture and history alongside water sports and sunbathing.
Thanks to the TV series Game of Thrones, the old city walls of Dubrovnik are easily recognizable. The 10th-century fortifications are well worth exploring, but tourists can skip the steep climb (and fees) and admire it easily from many of the city's other attractions. Tourists can get a taste of what it would have been like to enter the city centuries ago at the 16th-century Pile Gate and the 14th-century Ploce Gate.
Stradun, also known as Placa, is the city's central social hub and the best place to visit for people-watching while enjoying a bite at one of its numerous cafés. Loggia Square is another beautiful area to explore, featuring landmarks like Orlando's Column (Orlandov stup) and the Baroque Church of St. Blaise.
15. Madrid, Spain
More modern than counterparts like Seville and Barcelona, Madrid is the capital city of Spain, with nearly endless things to see and do. Best known for its stunning public spaces and extensive museums, Madrid offers the perfect immersion into Spanish culture.
Tourists visiting the massive Museo Nacional del Prado will want to follow one of the museum's self-guided routes to avoid missing personal areas of interest; the museum houses nearly 9,000 works, including sculpture and paintings. Those who enjoy contemporary art will want to visit the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, which boasts more than 23,000 pieces of art.
One of the greatest joys of visiting Madrid is admiring its stunning buildings and numerous public parks. The Real Jardín Botánico (Royal Botanical Garden) is a good place to start after visiting the Prado, and the Buen Retiro Park (Parque del Retiro) is the city's most famous green space, featuring 125 hectares with a variety of specialty gardens, fountains, an observatory, and the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace).