What makes a great European city? Unique and well-executed food culture? A little high society blended with a fair bit of bacchanalia? Ease of transport? History? Or just the standards: Good food, plenty to do, and nice people to enjoy all of it with. That’s the simple, pulsing heart of our love of travel.
This week, we thought we’d take a look at which cities we love in Europe — more specifically, European capitals. Steve Bramucci insists that Amsterdam is the best (his Italian familia must be rolling in their graves). Christopher Osburn picked Edinburgh, which isn’t technically a capital… Yet. Vince Mancini makes a strong case for Prague. This is a short list of places we really, really love. It’s not comprehensive. And just because, say, Warsaw didn’t make the cut, it doesn’t mean we don’t love that city too … we do, just not as much as these ones… Yet.
As far as the order goes, it is semi-intentional. But there’s still plenty of room for you to argue with us in the comments.
It’s hard to put Madrid this high. This is an amazing city. The food, nightlife, atmosphere are all stellar. Plus anywhere you get little bites of food every time you order a beer or wine wins some major points.
One must stop place is Gastromaquia. The chefs are El Bulli veterans who moved back home to make a neighborhood tavern that serves the very best Spain has to offer in a local, unpretentious, and accessible setting. It’s some of the best food you can eat in a city full of amazing food. — Zach Johnston
The architecture might not be quite as cool as Budapest, and it gets a little crowded during peak tourist season, but Prague is a great city for anyone who likes old stuff and beer (that’s me!). It’s full of bridges and castles and cathedrals and all the normal things that people go to Europe for (apparently there was a Korean fad for Prague, so it was full of couples taking their elaborately-staged engagement and wedding photos around town when I was there), but it’s also small enough that it never feels overwhelming.
You don’t feel like you’re ruining the trip if you miss one of the “must do!” sites like you might if you were in Paris or Rome. You can always stop and drop into a bar, most of which have a light and a dark (the central European black lagers are some of my favorites) and neither of which ever costs more than two bucks. And of course, it’s full of young people having a good time, both local and international. — Vince Mancini
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I know, I know. Brexit has created a bit of a dark cloud over fair London town. But London is consistently ranked the “best city to live in the world” for a reason. This beautiful city is teeming with culture and history. It’s also incredibly international with some of the best global cuisine in the planet. Some of the greatest artists, musicians, and actors hail from there. And it’s a literary paradise. Like you could go to a pub that served Shakespeare, Dickens, and Chaucer. That’s insane.
London may not be the quaintest European capital, but it’s filled with pretty much anything you could want in a city, and it’s not like we Americans have any grounds to feel moral superiority over political matters so….London it is! — Alison Sanchez
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Because afternoon teas beat lunches and dinners, hands down 🙌🏻 The Bobbi Brown make up was just too pretty to eat! The pastry chefs have made incredibly edible versions of the products, with detailing to the finest level! #bobbibrown #afternoontea #creamtea #scones #blogger #bloggers #instadaily #desserts #sandwiches #balthazar #london #coventgarden #central #tea #girls
Brussels is at a crossroads. It’s been caught between the French and Germans more than once. And, hell, their own country is a sort of crossroads with both multiple cultures (and languages) all squeezed into one little space. Yet Brussels is where you want to be if you love beer. Belgian blondes, lambics, gueuzes, and ales are the mountaintop for any beer lover and a trip to Brussels is a must. Moreover, the city has a laid-back vibe where you can wile away the day in an old wood-paneled cafe, sipping beer and chatting with locals.
Delirium Café has almost created a little neighborhood around it. There are beer museums, tap rooms, and the famed cafe itself, which sells over 3,000 beers. It’s the perfect place to go hook up with some backpackers, locals, and beer geeks all in the same sudsy locale, enjoying what Belgium does best. — Zach Johnston
Edinburgh is my favorite European city by a mile. It helps that it’s the cultural heart of Scotland (which also happens to be my favorite country). Just try to walk around the city without staring at the beautiful architecture. It’s the kind of place that reminds you just how very young the US is.
If you’re unsure of what to see, walking along the Royal Mile is a good start. But, no trip to Edinburgh is complete without taking in the view from atop Calton Hill. From one side, you can see the whole city and on the other sits Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat, a mountainous range that seems to come out of nowhere. This is pure, Harry Potter-inspiring, Scotch swilling magic. — Christopher Osburn
My parents met in French class, so I’ve romanticized France and everything about it for almost as long as I’ve had memory and the capacity to love anything. I used my good grades in middle school to apply for the special privilege of taking French at the high school when I was still only in eighth grade and dutifully studied the language up through college as an extension of my Paris fantasies.
Because, for those of us who have spent any time analyzing or learning about French culture, Paris is the culmination of a commitment to art, culture, food, and arrogance that simply cannot be matched. Paris is the dream personified, Paris is the belief in love and romance as a religion of their own, Paris is as superfluous and ultimately useless as the Eiffel Tower itself. The French know this — the best parts of life are those that don’t insist on purpose and utility. The best things in life are those things that simply exist, for the sake of being.
Even so, it’s not like I — or anyone else — needed an intensive personal connection to be totally astounded by Paris when I visited the city for the first time in college, as part of my larger study abroad program. Eating hot, sweet crepes under the Eiffel Tower, staring up and up at the glittering glass pyramid atop the Louvre, walking down empty side streets into a brimming hostel full of travelers equally enchanted by the myth and marvel of the place — all these thing are Paris to me. So too is sipping hot, bitter espresso at the random train station shop, and eating pain au chocolat that has no right to be as good as it, given the grimy subway locale. Paris is booking the wrong hostel and taking a train way out into the suburbs, watching the city loom into view alongside the local French commuters who take it as a given, now.
Paris is gazing at the impressionists in the Musee d’Orsay and wondering how anyone could see the world in such vivid, dreamy color, and silently thank these masters for allowing us to see it that way, too. Paris is Notre Dame and the hushed, elegant mysticism of a rose window, splintering light and faith into a million sunbeams that roll out across the ancient stone floor like a red carpet.
But, most of all, Paris is standing at the very edge of the fence that keeps the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and its many, many visitors from tumbling down off the hill it’s perched on. Paris is me, an America girl who studied French ever since she was twelve years old, just so she could one day join in the cult of worship for a city built in, around, and upon the many iterations of love and romance that exist in our brief, brutish lives. Paris is the reason for the love song, and the song itself; Paris is a city singing itself, self-involved, content and complete in the way only the best loves can be. — Caitlin White
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Vista de París desde la catedral de Notre Dame, está situada en Isla de la Cité rodeada por el río Sena. . . . . . #europe_bnw #bnw_planet_2017 #ioscatto_bnw #total_bnw #ok_bnw #be_one_bw #loves_bnw #bnw_addicted #bnw_rose #vision_bnw #cat_bnw #bnw_vizor #europe_gallery #total_europe #world_europe_ #todoclick #socnikon #paris #parisbnw #blancetnoir #blancoynegro #monochrome #notredame #total_france #loves_paris #monumental_europe #capturabnw #amateurs_bnw
Rome is hard to beat. There’s amazing food on almost every corner to go along with the deep, rich, oodles of history. Plus, it’s Rome — the Eternal City — everyone should go there at least once. The windy streets of the bohemian quarter called Trastevere are probably one of the cooler neighborhoods in Europe — where you’ll find endless bars, restaurants, galleries, and hip people to enjoy all of those things with.
One can’t miss in Rome (besides the obvious of the Vatican, Collessuem, etc.) is Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà. This hole-in-the-wall beer bar is a one of the best you’ll find anywhere. The owner spends his time traveling around Europe collecting the best kegs, casks, bottles, and cans of beer and brings them back home. Grab a pint of fantastic beer and strike up a conversation with a Roman, then see where the night leads. — Zach Johnston
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Where do I even begin with Copenhagen, arguably my favorite foreign city in the world? The lakes and rivers that serve to enhance the beauty of an already breathtaking city? The forward-thinking biking culture that a) encourages physical activity and b) discourages clogging the streets and polluting the air with automobiles? The diverse, inventive food scene that’s given birth to some of the world’s most revolutionary restaurants — most notably Noma, of course — in recent years? The embrace of street art that makes the whole architecturally striking city feel as if it’s a broad, open canvas for artistic expression.
There’s certainly a lot to love, but for me I think my favorite thing about Copenhagen are the people who inhabit Denmark’s capital city, an almost universally fit, attractive, intelligent, fun-loving, kind, and welcoming lot. It’s downright striking how they seem to have it all together; they all seem exceedingly happy and largely free from the type of stress and anxiety that’s so palpable in the U.S.
I’ll close with a quick anecdote: I visited Copenhagen for the first time last year, traveling solo. Not long after arriving, I headed over to Props, a coffee shop/bar on Blagardsgade street in the city’s Norrebro neighborhood, and grabbed a seat at the bar. Within 5 minutes of my being there, a Dane getting drinks for himself and his friends struck up a conversation with me. Upon learning that I was alone, he invited me to join he and his group of 8 or so friends, and for the next few hours they all spoke English (flawlessly) on my behalf as we chatted about everything and nothing and played Danish drinking games well into the night.
In short, I’d barely been in Copenhagen for more than a few hours and I’d already formed a solid base of friends. There just aren’t many cities in the world that an American (or any foreigner) can easily do that. What’s not to love about that? — Brett Michael Dykes
I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a city as picturesque as Budapest. The river separating the two sides, surrounded by castles and cool old buildings (you’ve almost certainly seen pictures of the parliament building, whether you know it or not) it’s just one of the coolest looking places ever. The architecture is such a unique mix of the different empires that have ruled it — Turkish, Hapsburg, and Soviet — that there’s really no place like it. Add to that natural baths (you can party till the wee hours in gigantic hot tubs), bars made from the ruins of old communist party buildings (the “ruin pubs”), and one of the nicest market buildings in all of Europe (I highly recommend taking a guided food tour there), and it’s just a damn nice place to visit all around.
Oh, also the people are good looking and food and booze are super cheap. It manages to be both a great place to be single and a romantic place to take a significant other. — Vince Mancini
My stance on Amsterdam versus other Euro capitals is, basically this:
- Cheaper and cleaner than Paris.
- Better art scene than the Nordic countries.
- More manageable/ less sprawling than Madrid.
- Less tourist-y than Rome.
- Better party scene than just about anywhere.
Plus there are the endemic perks:
- The best library on earth.
- Massive parks.
- Aged gouda.
- Drug cafes (Oh, stop it! They’re fun.)
But the center of Amsterdam, what makes the city so amazing, are the bikes. Hundreds and thousands upon thousands of bikes. It’s a culture that can’t be exaggerated. I can think of nothing better than cycling through the Jordaan on a balmy spring day, whipping past galleries and retail shops, seeking out the perfect scoop of gelato. This, as far as I know, is how life is supposed to be lived. Everyone is outside and life feels eternally young.
Bike. Cobblestones. Bridges. Pretty people with their hair streaming behind them. Laugher. Gelato. This is why I travel. — Steve Bramucci
It was always going to be Berlin in the end. Berlin is a city that’s constantly reinventing itself either through massive historical forces of nature or progressive ideas driving it towards the future. The city is whatever you make of it, since there’s something for every fetish, nerd, drinker, molly-head, and enthusiast you can think of in one of Berlin’s many, many corners. Plus, it’s dirt cheap — any place you can get a cold beer and hot slice of pizza for under five bucks is a winner by my count.
Moreover, take everything everyone said above about their favorite city, and it’s true in Berlin at a cheaper price and easier to access. Steve Bramucci thinks Amsterdam has a good “party scene.” Motherf*cker, please. Berlin also has more bridges than Amsterdam, Venice, and Gothenburg combined. Scenic.
There are few cities with as historical significance as Berlin. Marx lectured on Berlin’s streets. Mendelssohn invented modern Judaism in this city. David Bowie lived with Iggy Pop in Berlin and they both recorded three of their more iconic albums there — oh, yeah, and a lot film as we know it started in Berlin’s studios. Not to mention it’s a place that endured a literal apocalypse just 75 years ago and still reflects upon that darkness with a savage, brutal honesty. There are few places in Europe that are as important to the world that also happen to be insanely inexpensive and wildly fun.
Markthalle Neun is a must stop on any trip to Berlin. Streetfood Thursdays are when some of Berlin’s hippest and most innovative chefs get together in one spot and make great food until Sunday. There’s craft beer, great cocktails, and foods from all over the world cooked to perfection. It’s the perfect place to fill up before an epic night out in Berlin bar and club hopping. – Zach Johnston