25 European Destinations That Should Be on Your Bucket list
Despite being relatively undersized for a continent, Europe is as rich in destinations as it gets. Historic cities abound, as do places of great natural beauty, and they're all relatively close to each other, so it's easy to organize a multi-destination trip. Here are some of the best places to get you started:
1. Paris, France
Still the city that best encapsulates most people's idea of romance and glamour, Paris is especially famous for its larger-than-life monuments. Who among us hasn't dreamt of scaling the Eiffel Tower or witnessing Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa inside the Louvre Museum? Not to mention the spectacular Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the imposing Arc de Triomphe. But the French capital's charms are also evident when you zoom in, with the legendary cafe culture that permeates Saint-Germain Boulevard and the well-manicured Luxembourg Gardens being just two of the places you can get lost in for hours at a time.
2. London, England
Elegant and cosmopolitan, Britain's biggest city earns a spot on this list thanks to celebrated landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and its eponymous bridge. It also hosts the royal Westminster Palace with its iconic clock, affectionately nicknamed Big Ben. But for all its grandeur, the metropolis still offers a jolly good time thanks to attractions like the London Eye, Europe's largest ferris wheel, and Hyde Park, with its recreation-oriented Serpentine Lake. History buffs will also find much to like about Churchill's War Rooms, while shoppers will be delighted to spend some time perusing the kiosks in Covent Garden.
3. Barcelona, Spain
One of Europe's most electrifying cities, Barcelona is known for its friendly weather, gorgeous architecture and busy nightlife. During your stay, be sure to visit the many Antoni Gaudi works that dot the city, with the unfinished Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, the wavy Casa Mila and the colorful Parc Guell being three of the most notable highlights. Aside from that, the social hub that is Barcelona's pedestrian-only La Rambla is another winner, while the city's very own Arc de Triomf puts a Catalan spin on the iconic Parisian landmark that it bears more than a passing resemblance to.
4. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Full of zest and life, the Dutch capital is celebrated both for its free-thinking heritage, as well as for its top-notch attractions. The city's look is quite special too, since it features numerous canals and bridges that have rightfully earned Amsterdam its moniker as "Venice of the North". Art and culture are held in high regard in the city, which boasts some of the most well-curated museums in the world, with the Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank House in particular drawing massive crowds each year. It's also a remarkably green place thanks to the presence of Vondelpark and the Botanical Gardens, not to mention the Amsterdam Royal Zoo.
5. Rome, Italy
A city that's been going strong since antiquity, Rome has all the hallmarks of a must-visit destination. There are historical attractions galore to be found here, including the iconic Colosseum where gladiator fights used to be held, and the spectacular Parthenon - still virtually intact despite being almost 2,000 years old. Rome also houses the Vatican, with its resplendent religious landmarks like St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. And if you're on the lookout for more recent highlights, the 18th century Trevi Fountain and the stylish urban square known as Piazza del Popolo should definitely be on your list.
6. Vienna, Austria
From its splendid location on the Danube River, Vienna has been attracting visitors for centuries thanks to its high-end attractions and unique atmosphere. The city is first and foremost a haven for architecture lovers, with gorgeous buildings like the Hofburg and Schonbrunn Palace being quite the sight for sore eyes. Additionally, Vienna also has the Prater, a vast recreation area replete with theme park attractions like the Giant Wheel and the Planetarium. But Vienna's beauty can also be seen at the street level, with Graben in particular hosting a plethora of shops, bars and concert venues that all clamor for your attention.
7. Venice, Italy
Even amidst heavy competition from other European cities, Venice still stands out because of its one-of-a-kind look and feel. Strewn by canals and bridges, the city was actually built on top of a small archipelago of islands in the Adriatic Sea. The Grand Canal in particular with its Rialto Bridge is the stuff that dreams are made of, and is well worth exploring via a gondola ride. But back on land, Venice is just as enticing - Piazza San Marco with its titular Basilica is a wondrous place to visit, while the Doge's Palace stands out for being one of the best examples of Venetian Gothic architecture.
8. Athens, Greece
A true symbol of Western civilization, Athens may have reached its peak level of relevance in antiquity, but that doesn't mean the Greek capital isn't still going strong in this day and age. Boasting several imposing landmarks from that era like the Acropolis and the Roman Agora, the city is a veritable treasure trove for history enthusiasts. One need only take a stroll through the Acropolis Museum to gain an appreciation of just how much the Greeks contributed to our way of life. But Athens is also a very vibrant modern destination, with busy neighborhoods such as Plaka and Anafiotika leading the way.
9. St. Petersburg, Russia
While Moscow is undoubtedly the hub of modern Russia, St. Petersburg remains the nation's cultural and historical heart. It is here that you can bask in the beauty of world-renowned landmarks like the Hermitage Museum and Peterhof Palace. St. Petersburg also features the gorgeous Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, best-known for its colorful spires and mosaics. And don't forget about the still-sturdy Peter and Paul Fortress, inside of which lies the 18th century Peter and Paul Cathedral, the final resting place of Russia's czars. As for present-day St. Petersburg, the pulsating Nevsky Avenue will fulfill all your shopping needs and then some.
10. Istanbul, Turkey
As one of history's most remarkable cities, Istanbul manages to mix both European and Asian influences into a wholly original blend that proves thoroughly irresistible to this day. The city has its fair share of incredible buildings, with the Hagia Sophia Mosque and Topkapi Palace being two respective marvels of architecture. You can also add the Grand Bazaar to this list, which still holds the title of the world's largest indoor shopping area and is a place where you can find pretty much any product under the sun. The Asian side of Istanbul is just as rich, with Uskudar boasting monuments such as Kiz Kulesi, also known as the Maiden's Tower.
11. Prague, Czech Republic
A visual feast on par with any European capital, Prague possesses one of the best-preserved historic centers on the continent. Some of the highlights of this area include Charles Bridge, with its spectacular views of the Vltava River and many superb statues, and the 15th century astronomical clock that decorates Old Town Hall. The city is also famous for housing Prague Castle, the largest castle complex in the world, which contains the likes of St. Vitus' Cathedral and the Powder Tower. But Prague's beauty goes beyond its historical value – newer areas such as Wenceslas Square provide a taste of Prague's contemporary side at its finest.
12. Budapest, Hungary
A city that's more than worthy of its "Paris of the East" moniker, Budapest elegantly lies on both banks of the Danube River, a prime candidate for an unforgettable river cruise. Its top-notch attractions include the likes of Buda Castle, an 18th century palace that also houses the Hungarian National Gallery, and St. Stephen's Basilica, known for the gorgeous Venetian mosaic that lies in its sanctuary. Aside from them, Budapest features several other points of interest, ranging from the colorful Matthias Church to the spacious Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden, one of world's oldest still-operating zoos.
13. Santorini, Greece
A Greek paradise island if there ever was one, Santorini is justifiably celebrated for its incredible vistas and one-of-a-kind architecture. Formed as a result of volcanic activity, the island's settlements such as Oia and Fira are famous for their whitewashed buildings and stunning cliff-side views. Fans of history owe it to themselves to also check out the Akrotiri Archeological Site, an ancient Minoan settlement that was buried beneath the lava following a 16th century volcanic eruption. The beaches on Santorini are another can't-miss proposition, with Perissa and Red Beach in particular being quite popular with visitors.
14. Florence, Italy
Art and beauty go hand-in-hand in Florence, perhaps the single most emblematic city of the Renaissance period. Here you can bask in the majesty of Piazza Duomo with its Cathedral of Santa Maria and nearby museum. You can also stop to admire the views from Piazzale Michelangelo or stroll the historic Ponte Vecchio bridge. And if it's famous art you're looking for, the Uffizi Gallery has it in spades, as does the Academy Gallery, where you'll find Michelangelo's original David sculpture. Then you're free to cap off your visit with a trip to the beautiful Pitti Palace and its resplendent Boboli Gardens.
15. Lisbon, Portugal
As a bright and vibrant destination, Lisbon boasts an impressive history to go along with several modern landmarks that attest to its continued evolution. In the former category, nothing can beat the iconic Sao Jorge Castle, a spectacular construction that was built to safeguard the city from invaders. But just as impressive is the 16th century Jeronimos Monastery, the supreme symbol of Portugal's flourishing Age of Discovery. Meanwhile, the city's recent strength is evident in places like Commerce Square, bookended by the triumphant Rua Augusta Arch, or the vast Oceanario de Lisboa, a thoroughly modern construction that may very well be Europe's finest aquarium.
16. Copenhagen, Denmark
With its relaxed and charming atmosphere, Copenhagen might just be the most inviting city in all of Northern Europe. One need only take a stroll through the Tivoli Gardens, a historic theme park that served as the inspiration for Disney's own parks, to see evidence of this. Alternatively, a quick look at the colorful shoreside homes of Nyhavn along with a glimpse of the famous Little Mermaid statue will do the trick. Copenhagen also has a few other surprises up its sleeve, including the beautiful Christiansborg Palace and the Stroget Shopping Mile, where a wealth of boutique shops, cafes and restaurants await your visit year-round.
17. The Azores, Portugal
A small archipelago situated quite a ways away from mainland Portugal, the Azores present an entirely new kind of European beauty. Featuring a milder climate and plenty of untouched scenery, the islands are a haven for those seeking a stronger connection to nature. The Sete Cidades Caldera alone would be worth the price of admission, with its spectacular twin lakes known as the Lagoon of the Seven Cities, but add to that the majestic beauty of Montanha do Pico and you have all the makings of a truly exotic escapade. And if you crave a bit of civilization, small settlements such as Angra do Heroismo and Marina da Horta offer many recreational opportunities to go along with their top-notch amenities.
18. Brussels, Belgium
Several European cities serve as capitals of their respective countries, but only one can claim to be the official administrative center of Europe itself. That honor goes to Brussels, Belgium's largest city and a place that many travelers should have on their bucket lists. That's because it features one of the best-preserved Old Towns on the continent, centered around the elegant Grand Place plaza, as well as a host of splendid buildings like Saint-Michel Cathedral and the Place Royal. Meanwhile, more recent landmarks include the bizarre Atomium sculpture and the Belgian Comic Strip Center, a place dedicated to the history of cartoons and comic strips.
19. Stockholm, Sweden
The capital of Sweden is a remarkably clean and well-maintained city, one that perfectly encapsulates classic Scandinavian values while paving the way for an even brighter future. The historic part of the city known as Gamla Stan is as beautiful as they come, with several noteworthy landmarks such as Riddarholmen Church and the Royal Palace among its highlights. Then there's the Vasa Museum, an incredible presentation of the eponymous ship that sank during its maiden voyage. Last but not least, the Skansen Open-Air Museum on the island of Djurgarden offers visitors a glimpse into the traditional side of Sweden, replete with timber churches and sturdy manor houses.
20. Lake Como, Italy
The area around Lake Como has been attracting travelers since ancient times thanks to its natural beauty and great location. The lake itself is of glacial origin, a large and deep body of water that created the perfect environment for several settlements to thrive. Among them, lakeside towns such as Bellagio and Cernobbio have become tourist hotspots thanks to their idyllic settings and top-shelf amenities. You also owe it to yourself to check out some of the superb villas that adorn the shores of Lake Como, with Villa Serbelloni and Villa Balbianello in particular being quite stylish. And if it's history you're after, the Como Cathedral with its Gothic architecture and lavish interiors will instantly transport you to another time.
21. Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland's capital may be relatively small when compared to other famous European cities, but that doesn't make it any less alluring. The city's downtown area is colorful on its own, but when you add unique touches like the Solfar sculpture it really stands out. But then you've got one-of-a-kind landmarks such as Hallgrimskirkja Church, whose steeple provides the best aerial views of Reykjavik and is the perfect viewing platform for enjoying the Northern Lights. Finally, the numerous public thermal pools that exist throughout the city provide a great way to decompress and relax, with the Blue Lagoon being a local favorite.
22. Krakow, Poland
Much like its rival city of Warsaw, Krakow is one of those places that experienced a substantial rise in profile over the last 20 years or so. And for good reason too. The Polish city offers an excellent blend of historical landmarks and lively urban areas. You definitely won't want to miss the opportunity of seeing the Wawel Castle up close, which is located at the end of the so-called Royal Route. It's also worth noting that Krakow's Main Square is absolutely chock-full of Medieval-era buildings, from St. Mary's Basilica with its Gothic underpinnings to the Renaissance gem that is Sukiennice Cloth Hall.
23. Tuscany, Italy
As one of the most picturesque areas on Earth, Tuscany is famed for its gentle weather and beautiful rolling hills. Nestled among them, a variety of towns can be found, ranging from big ones such as Florence and Pisa to a variety of smaller but no less charming settlements. Among the latter, a few that stand out are San Gimignano, a former Medieval powerhouse known for its tall towers, and Sorano, a city whose foundation dates back to Etruscan times. Also, be sure to indulge in that famous Tuscan lifestyle by perusing some of the area's premier wine regions, with Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino being just two of your options.
24. Ibiza, Spain
Known primarily for being perhaps Europe's partying capital, Ibiza is a Spanish island located within the Mediterranean Sea. Featuring legendary clubs such as Amnesia and beautiful beaches like Playa d'en Bossa, the island's reputation for letting loose is well deserved. But Ibiza has another side to it, one filled with rich history thanks to well-preserved landmarks such as Dalt Vila, a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to the 16th century, and the towering Ibiza Cathedral. Be sure to cap off your escapade with a trip to San Antonio's legendary Cafe del Mar, where chillout music accompanies some of the best sunsets you'll ever see.
25. The Swiss Alps
Switzerland's pristine natural beauty is on full display in the Swiss Alps, a breathtaking stretch of land known for its snow-capped peaks and world-class resort towns. Centered around the sky-piercing Matterhorn, Zermatt is one such place, boasting top-notch ski facilities as well as year-round service for visitors who come during the warmer part of the year. Lugano is another winner, one that caters primarily to high-end travelers and is sometimes referred to as the Monte Carlo of Switzerland. And don't forget about Interlaken, the destination of choice for adrenaline junkies and hopeless romantics alike.
With its top-notch infrastructure and highly-developed touristic sector, Europe is a dream destination for every category of traveler. While you'll undoubtedly like some places better than others, it truly is a continent that deserves your time and attention. Try to map out an itinerary in order to get a sense of what you're looking for, and then go ahead and bring your European adventure to life.