Dreaming about a European vacation and wondering which are the best cities to visit? It is not an easy task for sure. Most European cities have a lot in common – stunning architecture, world-class museums, charming streets, and intriguing local cultures. So how do you prioritize the must-sees in Europe? Think popularity first. There must be a reason why Paris, London, and Rome top the statistics of yearly numbers of visitors. Start with those, but where do you go next? The choice gets tougher for sure. To help you decide what other cities to visit, in this post, I am sharing my personal favorites. Here are the 12 best cities to visit in Europe.
EUROPEAN VACATION – 12 BEST CITIES TO VISIT
I am writing this post in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. After a break for winter, I was supposed to start traveling again. Unfortunately, instead of going places, I had to cancel all my planned trips, including one to Paris.
At the same time, I realize how lucky I am that I was already able to see so much of Europe to the point that I can share my recommendations. I put my favorite cities in Europe in alphabetical order, so you can see which ones speak to your the most.
Amsterdam, also called Venice of the North, welcomes visitors with its charming architecture, unique canal system, world-class museums, biking paths, and good beer. The city is also famous for its diversity and tolerance.
European Vacation – Top Things to Do in Amsterdam
Amsterdam canal cruise – see an overview of the city and its beautiful 17th-century canal belt. Take a leisurely float or use it as a way of transportation from one major attraction to another.
Van Gogh Museum – the world’s most extensive Van Gogh collection.
Anne Frank House – writer’s house and biographical museum dedicated to Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank.
Rembrandt House Museum – a historic house and art museum. The painter lived and worked there between 1639 and 1656. The 17th-century interior has been reconstructed.
Heineken Experience – a historic brewery and corporate visitor center for the internationally distributed Dutch pilsner, Heineken beer.
Most visitors spend a few days in Athens in conjunction with visiting the Greek islands, like amazing Santorini or famous for stunning beaches Zakynthos. Athens draws crowds to its ancient attractions and vibrant local districts.
European Vacation – What to do in Athens
Acropolis of Athens – an ancient citadel located above the city of Athens contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historical significance, with the most famous being the Parthenon.
Acropolis Museum – an archaeological museum focused on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens.
Plaka – Plaka is the old historical neighborhood of Athens on the eastern slopes of the Acropolis. It invites visitors with its labyrinthine streets, Neoclassical architecture, and great restaurants frequented by locals and tourists alike.
Temple of Olympian Zeus, a former colossal temple at the center of Athens.
Changing of the Guard – find it at the Presidential Mansion and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, just off Syntagma Square below the Hellenic Parliament. The ceremony takes place on Sundar at 11 AM.
You need at least two days to get a taste of Athens.
Anyone interested in architecture will fall in love with Barcelona. The city’s landscape is dominated with the work of Antoni Gaudi, a Catalan architect famous for his ground-breaking architectural style.
I only have only 12 hours in Barcelona, and I devoted this time to visit the Sagrada Familia and Park Guel. Ever since then, I am eager to return to see more of this fascinating city. I know that I missed a lot, so I am planning my next visit for at least a week. Barcelona is extremely popular, reserve your skip the line tickets well in advance.
European Vacation – What to do in Barcelona
Park Guel – this fairytale-like park reflects Gaudi’s distinctive style with colorful benches and sculptures. It also delivers beautiful views of the city.
Sagrada Familia – The Sagrada Família, a fruit of Gaudi’s imagination, is a one-of-a-kind temple. Today, more than 135 years after the laying of the cornerstone, the construction continues. It is expected to be completed in 2026.
Other work of Gaudi’s – find other must-see Gaudi’s work here
Budapest has gained its fame thanks to its stunning Parliament Building, beautiful thermal pools, and recent unique cultural phenomena – ruins bars.
European Vacation – What to do in Budapest
Hungarian Parliament Building – It is situated on Kossuth Square in the Pest side of the city, on the eastern bank of the Danube. It was designed by Hungarian architect Imre Steindl in the neo-Gothic style and opened in 1902.
Buda Castle – This palace complex of the Hungarian kings was first completed in 1265, but the massive Baroque palace standing today was built between 1749 and 1769. The castle now houses the Hungarian National Gallery and The Budapest History Museum.
Fisherman’s Bastion – located in the Buda Castle’s complex, it delivers the vast panorama of Budapest from the Neo-Romanesque lookout terraces.
Matthias Church – is a Roman Catholic church located in the Holy Trinity Square. The current building was constructed in the second half of the 14th century and was extensively restored in the late 19th century.
Szechenyi Medicinal Bath – the largest medicinal bath in Europe has its water supplied by two thermal springs. Locals and tourists alike love this beautiful complex for indoor and outdoor relaxation.
Learn more about must-sees in Budapest.
Located in the heart of the stunning Tuscany region, Florence is surrounded by natural beauty. The city itself feels like an outdoor museum with art decorating its piazzas and streets. For a more formal experience, visit Florence’s world-class museums, Uffizi Galery and Academy Galery. (Make sure to reserve your tickets well in advance!)
European Vacation – What to do in Florence
Uffizi Galery – Uffizi Gallery is one of the largest and best-known museums in the world. It holds a collection of priceless works, particularly from the period of the Italian Renaissance. See the most famous art pieces of Uffizi here.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral) and Piazza Duomo – Piazza Duomo and the group of buildings that form its cathedral complex gather some of Italy’s greatest artistic treasures into one relatively small area. Santa Maria del Fiore is the third-largest church in the world.
Galleria dell’Accademia (Academy Gallery) – Most visitors visit Galleria dell’Accademia to see the magnificent giant marble sculpture created by Michelangelo called David.
Piazza Della Signoria and the Loggia Dei Lanzi – showcases historical buildings, statues, fountains, restaurants, and more. It overflows with incredible art and hosts a beautiful copy of David. Learn more here.
Piazzale Michelangelo – The square delivers views of the city and hoasts a replica of Michelangelo’s David.
Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) – It is a first segmental arch bridge built in the West, which crosses over the Arno River. Now a popular attraction is an outstanding engineering achievement of the European Middle Ages and an excellent place for an evening stroll.
For more attractions, check out 20 best things to do in Florence.
The capital city of Portugal is famous for its unique architectural style characterized by tiled exterior walls. Lisbon is also a home of unique Fado, the soul of Portuguese music. Just outside of the city, you will find a fascinating architecture of Sintra and dramatic Atlantic beaches. See more reasons to visit Portugal.
European Vacation – What to do in Lisbon
Belem Tower – a 16th-century fortification served as a point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers and as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon.
Jeronimos Monastery – The Jeronimos Monastery is, along with the Belem tower, the most important tourist attraction in Lisbon, inside which lies the tomb of Vasco de Gama. The religious building was designed to commemorate the return of Vasco da Gama from India.
Monument of the Discoveries – Located along the river where ships departed to explore and trade with India and the Orient, the monument celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Alfama District – Alfama delivers labyrinthine streets inaccessible to cars, tiny grocer’s shops, cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. It is also a place to meet the locals.
Day trip to Sintra – Located about half an hour away from Lisbon by car, the fascinating town of Sintra remains one of the top attractions when visiting Lisbon. Spend a day there exploring its castles and gardens.
Day trip to Cabo Da Roca- visit the westernmost point in mainland Europe characterized by dramatic views of the Atlantic Ocean.
London, United Kingdom
I had only 24 hours in London but managed to see some of its famous attractions. That definitely was not enough. Plan at least a full week there.
European Vacation – What to do in London
Buckingham Palace – is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the monarchy of the United Kingdom.
Tower of London – officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London.
Tower Bridge – is a combined bascule and suspension bridge built between 1886 and 1894. The bridge crosses the River Thames close to the Tower of London and has become an iconic symbol of London.
Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the striking clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London and is usually extended to refer to both the clock and the clock tower.
The Palace of Westminster -serves as the meeting place for both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The London Eye – is Europe’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel, and is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom with over 3.75 million visitors annually.
Learn more about the best things to do in London,
Put Paris on the top of your list of the best cities to visit in Europe. It is truly a place like no other. It offers a perfect mixture of impressive architecture, rich history, culture, food, wine, and world-class museums.
European Vacation – What to do in Paris
Eiffel Tower, Paris
The symbol of Paris was built by the French engineer Gustave Eiffel. He spent several years on the project created for the World Exhibition in 1889.
Louvre Museum – the largest art museum in the world and home to one of the finest art collections, including the most famous painting, the Mona Lisa.
Orsay Museum – the second most visited museum in Paris after the Louvre. This beautifully renovated former train station holds the world-famous collection of Impressionist and Post-impressionist.
The Rodin Museum – explore the famous sculptor’s masterpieces as well as works by his mistress Camille Claudel.
The Arc de Triomphe – located in the world’s largest traffic roundabout, the 161-foot Arc de Triomphe, is the biggest and tallest triumphal arch in the world.
The Notre Dame Cathedral -this UNESCO World Heritage site is a masterpiece of medieval architecture, immortalized in Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Seine River Cruise – Plan to start the cruise in the late evening to come back at dark. You will see famous bridges and landmarks, and on the way back, you will be greeted with the Eifel Tower shining against the sky.
Plan to stay at least a week to discover all the best things to do in Paris.
Rome holds a special place in my heart. It is the first Western European city I have visited after I left Poland in search of a better life. I spent nine months there while awaiting a permanent visa to the USA and truly loved Rome then. I returned 32 years later, hoping to relive my memories. The city is still absolutely gorgeous, but the crowds grew thicker. Make your reservations for the most famous attractions well in advance.
European Vacation – What to do in Rome
Colosseum – located in the center of Rome; it is the largest amphitheater ever built. It was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles.
Trevi Fountain – is one of the most famous attractions in Rome. Come first thing in the morning to avoid crowds. Throw a coin into the fountain to ensure your return to Rome.
Piazza de Spana and Spanish Steps – The Spanish Steps were generally a place to congregate and relax. Unfortunately, recent regulations put a stop to this tradition due to overcrowding. Shopping is excellent in the area. Find a guide to designer shopping around Piazza De Spagna here.
The Pantheon is a Roman temple built to honor the pagan gods of Rome. Today it is the most preserved ancient building in the city. From the 7th century on, it has been used primarily as a church.
Piazza Navona is one of the largest and most beautiful piazza squares in Rome with three impressive fountains, including la Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumir in the middle. The area is full of life with outdoor restaurants and music performances.
Vatican City – a center of authority over the Roman Catholic Church, is the smallest state in Europe. The best attractions to visit are St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican Museums with the Sistine Chapel.
If you are planning to explore Italy beyond Rome, discover these famous sights in Italy.
As a lover of ceramic tiles, I came to Seville primarily to see stunning Plaza de Espana, but the whole city stole my heart with its beautiful architecture, flamenco music, and peacefully coexisting mix of cultures.
European Vacation – What to do in Seville
Alcazar Seville – the palace served originally as Moorish fort built in the 10th century by the first Muslim ruler of Andalusia. With the start of the Christian era in Seville, the Alcazar was converted into the residence of the Christian monarchs.
Seville Cathedral – the largest Gothic church in the world and third largest church overall in Europe. It was registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with the adjoining Alcazar palace complex.
Plaza de Espana – was initially designed and built as the ultimate symbol and the most ambitious project of the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair. The plaza is full of life and a delight to explore.
Metropol Parasol Designed as a sunshade by German architect Jürgen Hermann Mayer, it set the record as the world’s largest wooden structure. This giant sculpture/building covers a former dead zone in Seville’s central district.
Seville Bullfighting Ring – Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Seville is one of the oldest and most famous bullrings in Spain. This beautiful construction, dating back to 1749, has capacity for over 12,000 spectators.
Flamenco – keep your eyes open for street performances or attend a formal show.
Discover more things to do in Seville.
Seville Bullfighting Ring
Venice is a must-see city in Europe! Canals, gondolas, Venician glass, architecture – all impressed me during my recent trip with the same power as 32 years before. Because of its usual location, Venice requires more visit planning than other famous cities. Learn practical tips on visiting Venice.
European Vacation – What to do in Venice
The gondola ride – it is a must-do thing in Venice. You do not need to break your bank to buy that memory. Take a short ride, no need to circle the city, especially if you are sensitive to motion. You can get a 30-minute ride on Expedia for just a little over $30 per person.
Piazza San Marco – is the heart of the city. To fully appreciate it, go early in the morning when there are fewer people, and in the evening when music is playing in the open-air restaurants. Basilica San Marco, the grand church on Saint Mark’s Square, is one of Venice’s top attractions and one of Italy’s most spectacular cathedrals.
Palazzo Ducale is a massive Gothic-Renaissance structure raised in 1309 and rebuilt after a 1577 fire. Today, the Doge’s palace serves as a museum.
The Rialto Bridge, over the Grand Canal, is an elegant arched stone bridge formed of three sets of stairs divided by arcades with shops. It is an excellent spot for photography.
Burano – famous for its brightly colored houses and handmade lace, it makes a great day trip from Venice. Visit it on your own since most tours do not give enough time to enjoy it. Learn more about Burano and how to visit here.
Murano – another excellent day trip to see a glass factory known worldwide for its exquisite hand-crafted glass. Learn more about Murano and how to get there here.
Check out more of the best things to do in Venice.
Just like many other European cities, Vienna draws its visitors with its stunning architecture, but what makes the city stand out is its music! Vienna is recognized as the world’s capital of music.
The most renowned names associated with the city are Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, and Schubert. Additionally, Vienna invites with almost a fairytale appeal. Every time I visit, I get the feeling that the city just got a fresh coat of paint.
European Vacation – What to do in Vienna
Schonbrunn Palace Evening Concert When in Vienna, you need to experience its music. During one of my visits, I attended Strauss and Mozart’s 2-hour concert in one of the world’s most renowned music venues, Vienna’s Orangery at Schonbrunn Palace.
Accompanied by singers, musicians, and ballet dancers, the concert comprises virtuosos from top conservatories. That was one of the most memorable experiences in my years of travel.
Schonbrunn Palace the primary summer residence of the Habsburg rulers located in Hietzing, Vienna. The 1,441-room Rococo palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historical monuments in the country.
Belvedere Palace – this historic building complex consists of two Baroque palaces, the Orangery, and the Palace Stables, and gardens.
Graben Street – this pedestrian street allows access to some of the best sites, restaurants, stores, and coffee houses.