Home Adventure The Best Cities to Visit in Europe: An Expert’s Guide

The Best Cities to Visit in Europe: An Expert’s Guide

As a travel writer who has been lucky enough to explore many of Europe’s amazing cities, I’m often asked which ones I’d recommend for a first-time visit. It’s a tough call, as Europe is chock full of incredible urban destinations, each with their own unique charm. However, if I had to pick the top cities to see on your next European vacation, these six would make the cut.

London, England

As one of the world’s most iconic and eclectic cities, London should be high on any traveler’s European bucket list. This sprawling metropolis seamlessly blends centuries of history with a modern, cosmopolitan vibe across its many distinctive neighborhoods. A perfect place to begin your London visit is the South Bank area. Take in panoramic city views from the London Eye before seeing historic sites like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. I’d suggest booking a tour inside the palace to witness the opulence of the royal residence first-hand.

Make time to wander regal parks like Hyde and Regent’s, go museum hopping at the British Museum and National Gallery, or take in an evening play in the lively West End theater district. Shoreditch and Notting Hill offer trendy restaurants, boutiques, and pubs, while foodies shouldn’t miss Borough Market’s array of British fare. London accommodates all budgets, but I recommend splurging on a luxury hotel in central areas like Piccadilly or Covent Garden your first time.

Paris, France

The legendary City of Light dazzles with its instantly recognizable landmarks, charming cafés, and joie de vivre ambiance. Top your Parisian must-see list with the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame Cathedral. Meander medieval lanes on the Left Bank and Île de la Cité, then rest your weary feet at a classic sidewalk café for coffee and croissants. At the acclaimed Louvre, you can marvel at artistic masterpieces like the Mona Lisa.

For the quintessential Parisian experience, stroll tree-lined boulevards like the Champs-Élysées or along the Seine River past historic bridges. In neighborhoods like trendy Le Marais, you’ll find chic boutiques and restaurants. I recommend booking a hotel in one of the central arrondissements, ideally near a Métro station for quick access. An apartment rental or boutique hotel adds a nice dose of Parisian charm. Spring and fall offer pleasant weather, but summer crowds are manageable if you avoid the hottest months.

Rome, Italy

As Italy’s historic capital, the Eternal City immerses you in architectural and artistic wonders spanning ancient ruins, medieval churches, and flamboyant Baroque palaces. Rome is a walking city, so prepare to pound the cobblestones to see icons like the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain. Vatican City is another essential stop for the Sistine Chapel’s famed frescoes and St. Peter’s Basilica. Neighborhoods like Trastevere and Monti reveal Rome’s quirky charm along narrow lanes with hole-in-the-wall trattorias and gelato shops.

Hotel options run the gamut in Rome, but I suggest picking a centrally located accommodation like near the Pantheon or Piazza Navona to minimize long walks. Stop frequently for espresso and pizza al taglio to fuel your explorations. With so much cultural and culinary richness, Rome is best experienced slowly so you can savor its delights.

Barcelona, Spain

Vibrant Barcelona captivates with its lively plazas, whimsical modernist architecture, sunny Mediterranean setting, and mouthwatering tapas. The eccentric Gothic Quarter forms the historic city center where winding medieval lanes are made for wandering between cultural sights like the Cathedral of Barcelona. Be sure to admire the fantastical details of Antoni Gaudí’s creations, especially the astonishing Sagrada Família church. The city’s old harbor, Barceloneta, provides postcard-perfect sea vistas and draws sunbathers to its popular urban beach. After exploring on foot, relax with sangria at streetside cafés along La Rambla promenade or at bohemian tapas bars in El Born. Trendy boutique hotels and cheaper hostel options often book up fast, so reserve accommodations early if possible. Spring or fall tend to be ideal times avoiding the summer crowds and humidity.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam’s network of atmospheric canals lined with gabled buildings sets the scene for quintessential Dutch charm. Begin by admiring the waterways and architecture on a canal cruise or from hump-backed pedestrian bridges before diving into the bustling city streets. The lively Red Light District and funky bars of Jordaan offer nightlife excitement. For an insightful look at the Holocaust, the Anne Frank House and the Dutch Resistance Museum are musts. You can admire masterpieces by Dutch greats at the renowned Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum focused on the troubled artist’s oeuvre.

Try some Dutch specialties like pancakes, gouda cheese, or pickled herring in a cozy brown café, and don’t leave without going on a cycling tour—it’s truly the best way to explore. With limited hotels in the compact city center, book well in advance or consider a houseboat rental for a novel Dutch experience. Late spring and summer take advantage of long daylight hours, though off-season has fewer crowds.

No matter which splendid European cities you choose, pack comfortable walking shoes to fully immerse yourself in the culture, cuisine, and history. Let your curiosity be your guide through twisted cobblestone alleys, regal museums, and atmospheric cafés that define these dynamic urban hubs. Absorb the rhythm of everyday life as the locals live it for the most rewarding experiences. Just don’t rush—part of the joy is savoring each destination at an unhurried pace to create treasured travel moments.