Alright I’ll admit it; I am a serious Europe junkie. I’ve visited the continent 3 times in the last 10 years and, at the ripe age of 25, I’ve nowhere near had my hit. It’s the history, the culture, the cobbled lane-ways and age-old local traditions blended with modern finesse that draw me to Europe like a hopeless romantic to her charming lover. It’s my dream, my life’s ambition, to live on this continent one day so I can become utterly lost in the addictive and ever-so-chic European city lifestyle.
But, for now, for all you first time travellers to Europe, here is my pick of the Top 10 Cities to visit on your once in a lifetime adventure (that may indeed occur on several occasions if you get infected by the travel bug).
1. London, United Kingdom
Perhaps a predictable option but simply a must for everyone visiting Europe for the first time. Oh, how I love London! Wander at your leisure through idyllic Hyde Park, observe the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, become dizzy by the fast-paced action in Piccadilly Circus, get lost in Harrods, take a (rather expensive but worthwhile) turn on the London Eye , wander idly alongside the Thames by night and marvel at the haunting rooftops of London as they cast a shadow into the night’s sky. Oh, and all you die-hard Harry Potter Fans, don’t hesitate to take a tour of the Warner Brother’s Studio just outside of the city for a truly magical experience!
2. Paris, France
A European Top Ten list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the City of Love. Paree is the ultimate European cliche and is brimming with fashion-conscious locals, romantic walks, hidden-away cafes and restaurants, charismatic lock bridges and world-renowned attractions. In true European-tourist style, enjoy a nutella crepe in front of the Eiffel Tower or meander to the the observation point at Arc de Triomphe and appreciate the urban glory of this cultural and chic metropolis.
3. Vilnius, Lithuania
If you’re looking for a unique European experience, take a step back in time in the charismatic capital of Lithuania situated in Northern Europe. This fairytalesque city offers 360 degrees of pure charm and a dark and alluring past. Explore hidden bakeries specialising in mouth-watering pasties, get to know the locals in the city’s vibrant pubs, become lost in antique shops selling amber or visit the old KGB building where the Museum of Genocide Victims currently resides to gain insight into the city’s haunting past and fight for independence in the 20th century.
4. Munich, Germany
Ah, Munich – home to the oh so famous Octokerbest – yet renowned for so much more than this short lived beer-drinking frenzy. Inhale authentic Germany in this uber- cool yet traditional corner of the country. Munich was made for wandering aimlessly, so ditch the map, grab yourself a Bretzel and explore the charisma of Marienplatz, lay-back in one of the beer gardens of the Englischer Garten or visit the city’s cutting-edge museums. History buffs will appreciate the short day trip to haunting Dachau Concentration Camp for sobering insight into the infamous Second World War. The magical Neuschwanstein castle is also just a short drive away and an absolute must for visitors to the area.
5. Salzburg, Austria
The hills are alive with the sound of music in Salzburg and fans of the Sound of Music shouldn’t miss a visit to this picture-perfect Austrian city. Simply wandering down the cobbled streets will be enough to put you in a sing-song mood, embracing your inner Julie Andrews. Visit Hohensalzburg Castle and the idyllic gardens of Mirabell Palace where the Von Trap children sung their oh-so-famous Do-Re-Mi. Hardcore fans of this timeless film shouldn’t miss the Sound of Music Tour for once-in-a-lifetime historical insight into this wonderful musical.
6. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amsterdam is Europe’s hippie city; embracing a liberal and artistic mindset. In addition to being a free-thinkers oasis, it is also perhaps the most picturesque place I have ever had the joy to experience. By day, traipse down the achingly beautiful cobbled laneways divided by the charming canals and by night, become part of the city’s more daring atmosphere in the infamous red light district. Hire a bike and explore the city like a local, paying a visit to the hands-on Heineken Museum, visit the Anne Frank House and have your picture taken by the iconic ‘I Amsterdam’ structure in Museumplein. Don’t miss a late night tour of the canals to admire the city’s old-world architecture.
7. Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki is a charming city with outstanding landmarks and fascinating locals. Marvel at the imposing beauty of Helsinki Cathedral, peruse the water-front markets and explore the quirky boutique stores that are aplenty. My favourite experience in this cultural capital was just a 15 minute ferry ride across the bay to World Heritage listed Suomenlinna, a picturesque inhabited sea fortress. Explore the iconic ‘hobit-house’ mounds where weaponry was once stored and simply walk the quiet streets of this significant Finish historical site.
8. Ghent, Belgium
After visiting Ghent on two separate Europe trips, I have decided this quaint Belgian city is more than worthy of a place in my top 10. Ghent is home to a charismatic old centre with beautiful St Michael’s Bridge often coated by a layer of mist on early autumn and winter mornings. Make time to eat some freshly-made Belgian fries or coated chocolate waffles before paying a visit to Gravensteen Castle to learn about the barbaric history of torture. Wander around the out-skirts of the historic centre to marvel at the quaint local houses and scenic parks.
9. Belfast, Ireland
For most people, Dublin is Ireland’s shimmering jewel attraction and Belfast often gets missed off the travel route. A shame, as this edgy and student-orientated city is well worth a visit on your Irish adventure. Enjoy an authentic dose of history at the the various murals around the city, pay a visit to the Ulster museum and appreciate the grandeur of Belfast City Hall. At night, grab yourself a pint of Guinness at the charismatic Crown Liquor Saloon and appreciate some lively Irish music.
10. Naples, Italy
Naples is authentic Italy and home to the most delectable, flavorsome pizza in the country (I should know, I sure ate a lot of it). By day, explore the many museums of the city and appreciate the rugged beauty of Castel dell’Ovo, the oldest standing forte in Naples. Try a just-melted hot chocolate in any of the local cafes and take a tour of the Naples subterranean which will take you through a hidden trap door, forty metres below the cobbled streets of the historic centre. Get lost in the winding alleyways of the historic centre and eat as much pizza as humanly possible – after all, you only live once!
Over to you – what are your favourite European cities?