To help you plan your next trip to Europe, we rounded up a list of vibrant cities known for their museums, shops, restaurants, nightlife, recreation and architecture. After careful consideration of these factors – and opinions among travelers and experts – we found 5 must-see destinations in Europe. Use this list to guide your travel choices.
Rome, the city of seven hills, enjoyed a mythic beginning. Romulus and Remus — twin brothers who were nursed by a she-wolf and fathered by a war god — reportedly founded the Eternal City. And although historians are a little skeptical about this epic entry into the world, most travelers are absolutely certain that there is something magical about Rome. Whether it’s the mystery of nearby Vatican City or the ghosts of the Colosseum, an afternoon caffè on Piazza Navona or a piled-high plate of pasta at a trattoria, Roma is sure to enchant.
Italy’s capital city, Rome is also known for a history that dates back to the eras of Octavian, Julius Caesar and Hadrian, among others. Left behind are structures like the Pantheon, the Roman Forum and dozens of churches, among other historic gems. Art enthusiasts will relish the trove of art housed at the Vatican Museums, and foodies will enjoy the splendid Italian fare, not to mention the gelato. And though its momentous past is the focus for many vacationers, Rome is also a fast-paced, modern and relevant city, with gleaming designer storefronts, sleek hotels and cutting-edge restaurants.
The City of Light draws millions of visitors every year with its unforgettable ambiance. Of course, the divine cuisine and vast art collections deserve some of the credit as well. The gentle River Seine rambles through the city, flanked by stately museums, centuries-old churches, and blocks of Rococo- and Neoclassic-design architecture, further enhanced by charming trees and glowing streetlamps. Peppering the Seine’s cobbled walks and graceful bridges are impossibly chic Parisians, probably on their way to the market, cafe or cinema.
Containing world-class museums, fashion, cuisine, and an atmosphere all its own, Paris is also a city of “many splendors,” as Ernest Hemingway recalled in his memoir, “A Moveable Feast.” Visit the Centre Pompidou, enjoy gourmet pastries, shop couture on the Champs Élysées or hit the boutiques in Les Halles, take in the view atop the Eiffel Tower, or even plan a day trip to Versailles Palace. But don’t miss out on the simple pleasure of meandering the marvelous arrondissements (districts).
The English writer Samuel Johnson famously said, “You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” More than two centuries have passed since Johnson’s era, but his words still ring true. Life in London is nothing short of invigorating, and travelers find that one visit isn’t enough to experience everything this two-millennia-old city has to offer.
Here, the antiquated clasps hands with the contemporary. You’ll find the historic Tower of London and the avant-garde Tate Modern both considered big must-sees. Shakespeare’s sonnets are still being uttered by actors who don modern garb. Londoners most certainly still respect the royals, but they also jam to the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Adele. And while they still praise the power of tea, they now make room for some Starbucks here and there, and pressed juice too. A current leader in everything from politics and banking to fashion and music, London’s culture compass is always attuned to what’s next.
Venice is enchanting. Yes, that may be cliché to say, but once you see the city on the water for yourself, you’ll surely agree. Step off of the Santa Lucia train station and the breathtaking Grand Canal will soon greet you. You’ll see water taxis coast along, passing underneath the Ponte degli Scalzi (Bridge of the Barefoot) and might hear the faintest hint of a serenading violin, or is that your imagination? It might not be all in your head. Romantic gondolas carrying smitten couples glide through the web of the city’s many waterways, and gondola drivers are known to sing when the moment feels right. On land, narrow passageways twist past Old World storefronts and residences, and over bridges. You should note that maps aren’t all that helpful here and getting lost is the norm — embrace the disorientation.
This canal-clad city’s main draw is its magical atmosphere, but you’ll also find quite a few diversions, too: The tour guides at Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace give some great historical insight; the Gallerie dell’Accademia hangs works by Titian, Veronese and other famed Venetians; and the Teatro La Fenice puts on some world-renowned operas. You can also travel to nearby islands like Lido for the beach, Murano for the well-known glass and Burano for its lace.
Barcelona contains both the authentically historic and the wildly bizarre. From the tree-lined Las Ramblas to the narrow alleys of Barri Gòtic; from the beachside nightclubs to the city’s dozens of sacred churches and cathedrals, this city by the sea seems to attract all types: the family, the adventurer, the couple, the backpacker, the culture lover — and more — with an almost overwhelming variety of things to do. You could stay for a few days, but chances are you’ll need a whole week to explore.
In Barcelona, even the beach is bustling, but it’s really the cosmopolitan city that gets all the attention. Much of the activity revolves around Las Ramblas, a series of narrow streets and alleys packed with restaurants, nightclubs and a vibrant pedestrian market. But you should also take a tour of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces; Gaudí is responsible for sites like Parc Güell, Casa Batlló and La Sagrada Familia. And it would also be absurd to miss out on the eclectic shopping scene and the region’s exquisite food and wine. Do you see why we suggest a week vacation?