Condé Nast Traveler readers cast hundreds of thousands of votes for the best cities in Europe in the 2018 Readers’ Choice Awards survey. From long-time winners like London and Paris to newcomers that include Athens and Avignon, the variety showcases the diverse nature of the continent. Counting down…
35. Oslo, Norway
There’s a lot to love about Norway’s capital—a soon-to-be car-free city center, new sleek design hotels, and so much good food. Feast at the Mathallen Oslo food hall, where you’ll find anything from a seafood bar (diners can watch as the food is prepared) to a cheese store, Gutta på Haugen; there are 30 vendors total. Once you’ve had your fill, head over to the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, which is currently exhibiting Jeff Koons and Frank Benson, among other artists. (If you stay at The Thief, you get free entry.) To cap it all off, the city is incredibly bike friendly, so you can sightsee while getting in a workout—you know, in case that’s your thing.
34. San Sebastián, Spain
Located in Spain’s beautiful Basque country, San Sebastián has no shortage of activities for travelers, be it surfing at Playa de Gros or touring the Parte Vieja (Old Town). But let’s face it: you’re going to spend most of your time here eating. The undisputed culinary capital of the country, San Sebastián has some of the best restaurants in the world—including three with a three-star Michelin rating. The city is also famous for its pintxos (Basque tapas), from beef cheeks and squid croquettes to mushroom risotto and blistered padrón peppers. Pair every meal with some of the region’s best wines, and you have yourself a vacation your stomach will never forget.
33. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon has long been one of the most underrated cities in Europe, but it looks like the secret is finally starting to get out—take in the coastal views, historic architecture, and pastéis de nata and you’ll see what we mean. Change is also on the way: “In the next few years, the city will welcome a major art, architecture, and technology museum, dozens of restored and landscaped public squares, several high-rises, a sprawling new cruise terminal, and countless additional shops, studios, and cultural spaces,” Traveler contributor Julia Cooke reports.
32. Copenhagen, Denmark
A burgeoning beer culture, some of the world’s best restaurants, royal history, and dedicated pedestrian- and cycle-friendly zones all help make Copenhagen a capital of Nordic cool. The city is routinely ranked one of the world’s most expensive, but some of the capital’s best activities—marveling at Christiansborg Palace, walking harborside in Nyhavn—cost nothing at all. Tight on time? Head to Nørrebro and walk Guldbergsgade, one of the city’s most exciting streets: You can easily fill an entire day amid this tiny enclave’s tightly crammed, glass-fronted restaurants and one-of-a-kind shops.
31. Valencia, Spain
Often overshadowed by Madrid and Barcelona, Spain’s third-largest city is ready for its turn in the spotlight. Valencia is truly a work of art, complete with Gothic architecture, Mediterranean views, and incredible interconnected green spaces. You can get almost anywhere in the city without a car, which means you have no excuse to skip gems like the City of Arts and Sciences or El Miguelete. Plan a visit during March to witness the spectacle that is Las Fallas, an annual festival that honors the feast of St. Joseph with street parties and fireworks. Seeing the 30-foot effigies set on fire during the celebration’s final night is an experience for the bucket lists.
30. Cork, Ireland
This beautiful seaside city in southern Ireland has everything you could want in an Irish town: history, scenery, and cozy pubs galore. Cork also happens to be one of the friendliest cities in the world, which means you can pop into pretty much any beer garden and share a table with the locals without any awkwardness. The walkable city is filled with enough cafes and restaurants to keep you satisfied (don’t miss local “chipper” KC & Son & Sons), while the hotel offerings are some of the grandest in the country. Make time, too, to browse the local art galleries and load up on goodies at the English Market.
29. Granada, Spain
You might know Granada by the Alhambra, a red-tinged castle that dates back to 1238 and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s one of many examples of medieval architecture within Granada, and sits overlooking the city from a hilltop—in a neighborhood that “preserves remains of the ancient Arabic quarter,” according to UNESCO. Granada is also only a 20-minute drive from Sierra Nevada National Park, which is known for its hiking, mountaineering, and mountain biking options, among other outdoor activities. Back in town, don’t miss the habitas con jamón (fried baby broad beans with ham) while you’re out to eat—it’s a local favorite.
28. Seville, Spain
The capital of southern Spain’s Andalusia region, Seville is packed with history: Moorish influences can be seen all over the city, but the UNESCO-listed Alcazar of Seville is one of its best known landmarks—and not just because it’s used as the royal palace of the House Martell in Game of Thrones. Also on our must-do list? Check out the intricate tilework at Plaza de España, squeeze in for tapas at the Bodega Santa Cruz, and when the sun sets, head to the Triana neighborhood for some flamenco, which originated in the city in the 18th century.
27. Bilbao, Spain
Spain’s northern port city is hotter than ever. You probably know Bilbao for its Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum (which, by the way, still looks good some 20 years after construction), but that only scrapes the surface of what this city has to offer. There’s also superior sparkling wine, pintxos galore, and rolling hills as beautiful as any architecture. We suggest crawling through Bilbao’s siderías (hard-cider houses) and pintxos bars before settling down for the night at Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao—then doing the exact same thing the following day.
26. Rome, Italy
We wouldn’t be the first to call Rome the world’s greatest outdoor museum. And no matter how many times we go to the Eternal City, we stop dead in our tracks at the first glimpse of the Pantheon as we turn into the Piazza della Rotonda. Ditto the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Colosseum (all recently restored—grazie to Fendi, Bulgari, and Tod’s, respectively). But what we realize, especially if we’ve been to Rome more than once, is that the monuments themselves are not the destination. Rather, they’re the backdrop to a lifestyle we came here for. We’re talking about la dolce vita—the art of lingering over long lunches and carafes of house wine in villa-lined piazzas, strolling down impossibly narrow cobblestone streets with no particular destination in mind.
25. Zurich, Switzerland
Watches, cheese fondue, a high median rate of income—it’s true, all of these things are endemic to Zurich, a city whose love for order and efficiency is well-known the world over. But for all its rigor, there’s also loads of charm to be found in this medieval-tinged metropolis: Winding, cobblestone streets, centuries-old churches, and high design-minded, albeit unpretentious boutiques, are just a few of the high notes. If you make it, drop your bags at the reader-favorite Baur au Lac hotel, and set your sights on either side of the Limmat River: There’s Fraumünster Church, with its stained glass windows courtesy Marc Chagall, and Kunsthaus Zürich, one of the country’s most preeminent art museums. And don’t forget to stop by Kronenhalle’s moody bar for a drink, where original works by Matisse and Picasso will keep you company—along with the libations, that is.
24. Athens, Greece
These days, one of the world’s oldest cities is brimming with new life. See the Acropolis and the Ancient Agora, sure, but don’t missing shopping Monastiraki’s flea market, walking up Lykavittos Hill, or exploring the city’s burgeoning Exarcheia neighborhood. Earmark an afternoon for the Renzo Piano-designed, $623 million Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which houses the National Opera and the National Library of Greece, and sits on the biggest park in Athens. When you’ve had your fill of touring, fuel up with a souvlaki (or three) at O Kostas, which serves the best in town.
23. Stockholm, Sweden
One of the world’s most beautiful cities, Stockholm isn’t just scenic: It’s also the cultural, political, media, and economic center of Sweden. Make like a local and stroll narrow cobblestone streets, hang by the city’s colorful waterfront, and take advantage of the country’s fika culture (how coffee can—and should—be consumed). Though many travelers spend most of their time in the medieval center, Stockholm actually comprises 14 islands of an archipelago, which makes it a perfect jumping off point for island hopping: Fjäderholmarna, one of the closest, is just 20 minutes by boat, and Djurgården, aptly dubbed Stockholm’s playground, is filled with idyllic woods, trails, marshes, and wetlands. And an ABBA Museum.
22. Istanbul, Turkey
Our readers and travel experts alike agree: It’s time to get back to Istanbul. Despite a series of traumas over the past two years—terror attacks, political upheaval, a currency crisis—total foreign arrivals to Turkey are forecast to rise 5.7 percent from 2017 to more than 38 million this year, the World Travel & Tourism Council says. Istanbul, the capital city, will always draw us in with its Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, and historic taverns. Looking to escape the crowds? Head up Galata’s hill and down into Karaköy, exploring the shops and restaurants along the way.
21. Avignon, France
Our readers aren’t the only ones who love Avignon. Traveler editors have also taken note of the Provence city this past year, thanks in large part to an influx of hotel openings and buzzy restaurants. La Divine Comédie, a majestic mansion with the largest private garden in town, made it on the 2018 Hot List, while La Mirande was dubbed one of the best places to eat in France right now (eat at the chef’s table downtown). But don’t forget about Avignon’s old charms just yet—the city’s stupefyingly rich architecture and Rhône views never fail to impress.
20. Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh is a beloved, distinctive capital in Western Europe. Where else can you find a medieval Old Town, extinct volcano, regal (visitable!) castle, and “New Town” from the 1800s in one city? It’s another one of those cities that looks great in all seasons—and has more than enough whiskey dens and museums and top-notch restaurants to duck into when the wet-cold of winter gets into your bones. Warm up with fresh and hearty fish pie or risotto at Scran and Scallie, a Stockbridge restaurant by the team behind Michelin-starred The Kitchin; the spicy lamb and chilli cheese toast at Indian resto Dishoom; and a wee dram in the soaring Peacock Alley lounge of The Waldorf Astoria – The Caledonian, once a train concourse and now one of the finest hotels in town.
19. Lyon, France
Located about an hour west of Geneva, the third-largest city in France should move up a few notches on your list—especially if you consider yourself a foodie. Lyon is known for its nap-inducing feasts, but a slew of innovative restaurants is waking up the streets. Try La Bijouterie for French dim sum; or Le Bouchon des Filles for lighter spins on traditional favorites, like lentil salad spiked with sausage. In between meals, take advantage of Lyon’s other activities, whether it’s strolling through UNESCO-listed neighborhoods or relaxing in one of the Old City’s boutique hotels.
18. Venice, Italy
There’s nothing like Venice: Its canals, labyrinth of car-free cobblestone streets, and hidden passageways are perfect for wandering—even getting lost here is magical. Head to Al Muro for authentic Venetian cuisine, or for a more adventurous itinerary, get out of the well-trod historic center and take a boat to nearby islands Sant’Erasmo or Giudecca. Want to avoid the crowds? Book a trip in January, just before Carnival arrives, or follow our guide to eating and shopping around “Secret Venice.”
17. Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Windmills, cycling, Van Gogh, and canals are all part of Amsterdam’s storied charm, but there’s more to the Dutch capital than its most apparent associations. For a taste of the “new” Amsterdam, grab a drink at Droog, a renovated 17th-century hotel with just one room; float in a weightless state in the saltwater pods at Koan Float; or try innovative takes on seasonal fruits and vegetables at De Kas, a restaurant housed in the former Amsterdam City Greenery. Sleeping in the city just got more stylish, too: Kimpton opened its first European outpost here in spring 2017.
16. Porto, Portugal
Porto may be known for its wine and port, but oenophiles aren’t the only ones who have fallen in love with this cozy northern city. Aside from booze, Portugal’s second city has some of the best scenery in the country—and some of the best shopping: think idiosyncratic artwork, crafts, and handmade clothing. We’re fans of the hillside Yeatman Hotel, and we even dubbed Zé Bota one of the best restaurants in the world. And with TAP Air Portugal offering more non-stop flights to Porto—including daily flights from Newark—you really have no more excuses not to visit.
15. Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn, Estonia looks straight out of a fairytale, complete with colorful buildings, turreted castles, and a lovely location right on the Baltic Sea. The city is known for its Old Town—another UNESCO winner—which is a “well preserved example of a medieval northern European trading city,” including historic churches, craftsman guilds, and merchant houses. The Pirita district (on the river of the same name) is excellent for families—there’s a beach and seaside restaurants, plus an amusement park, “fitness trail,” and botanical gardens. Next stop, Estonia…
14. Budapest, Hungary
With some of the best Art Nouveau architecture in Europe, scenic Budapest has few bad angles. It’s also Europe’s unlikely capital of hedonism, where the pursuit of pleasure hits a new high. Explore the Hungarian capital’s spa culture at thermal baths built in the 16th and 17th century; have your coffee and pastry with a side of ostentation at the gilded Gerbeaud or New York cafes; and walk the Széchenyi Chain Bridge at night over the Danube River for magnificent views—and a reminder of the good life.
13. London, England
Whether it’s their first or 15th trip to London, our readers can’t get enough of this city. It’s a starter trip for many Americans looking for that first passport stamp; it’s also constantly changing, despite its deep roots on display at, say, Westminster Abbey, or the Tower of London. After checking out the classics, head to Brawn in Bethnal Green; catch a show at Almeida, a performance venue housed in a former train station in Islington; go shopping or hotel bar hopping in Shoreditch; and see how many of the city’s best cocktail bars can be ticked off the list in one weekend.
12. Madrid, Spain
The magic of Madrid is best captured on foot, strolling through the streets, stopping in a museum or sitting for a drink at La Alemana, a historic bar once frequented by Ava Gardner and Ernest Hemingway. For a taste of everyday Spanish life in this vibrant capital city, shop at El Corte Inglés, sample the market culture at Mercado San Antón and the Mercado de San Fernando, and bring your picnic to the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod, which was donated to Spain in 1968 and can be found in the Parque del Oeste.
11. Antwerp, Belgium
Last year, we dubbed Antwerp a “capital of cool”—and that title holds true today. The Flemish port city is truly a haven for design-lovers, with Balenciaga sneakers in boutiques and Warhol paintings in museums (don’t miss modern-art museum M HKA). The food offerings range from three-star restaurants to weekend farmers’ markets, while new hotels like Hotel Franq and Hotel Pilar make bedtime something to look forward to. And then there’s Kanaal—a 180,500-square-foot private arts center created by local designer Axel Vervoordt. Open in 2017, the complex features three art galleries, an organic food market, a Japanese restaurant, and edgy apartments for people to rent. Hey, there are certainly worse places to spend a long weekend.
10. Barcelona, Spain
From the mountains to the beach, the historic to the contemporary, sunny Barcelona—lucky city that it is—has it all. Brush up on Catalan history at El Born Centre Cultural or take a street art tour of the trendy El Raval district. For dining, try a 40-course meal at Enigma, a restaurant by Ferran Adrià, or stay classic at Quimet y Quimet, a standing-room-only joint that’s been operated by the same family for more than 100 years.
9. Paris, France
Paris hardly needs an introduction—proper nouns will suffice: the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, Sacre-Coeur, Musée Rodin, Centre Pompidou, Saint-Germain, the Seine (at dusk). Dine like the French near the Bastille at Chez Paul or stroll among the statues at the elegant Luxembourg Gardens. To stay, treat yourself to a room at the exquisite Hôtel Plaza Athénée or the remodeled Hôtel de Crillon, which reopened in September 2017 after a four-year renovation. Put it all together, and you’ll see why the city is firmly established as one of the most beautiful in the world.
8. Florence, Italy
Though Rome is Italy’s much-beloved capital and Milan has serious cosmopolitan clout, Florence remains unrivaled in history, art, and architecture (its beauty and cuisine don’t hurt, either). In addition to being the birthplace of the Renaissance, the Firenze of recent years has had a modern makeover: Study Tuscan classics with celebrity chef Arturo Dori at Desinare, one of the city’s hottest cooking school/design store hybrids, or take in modern art at La Strozzina, Florence’s center for contemporary culture. Wherever the day takes you, save room for a panino al lampredotto—this stewed tripe sandwich is a Florence must.
7. Nuremberg, Germany
Germany has no shortage of picturesque cities, but Nuremberg stands out for its distinct blend of old and new. Once the “unofficial” capital of the Holy Roman Empire and an early capital of science and invention, Nuremberg today is best known for its Christkindlesmarkt, castles, museums, and bratwurst, which have been sold here since the 14th century.
6. Cologne, Germany
Cologne is often overshadowed by Berlin and Munich, but the 2,000-year-old city on the banks of the Rhine River has its devotees for a reason: Think High Gothic architecture, 12 Romanesque churches, annual literary festivals, and the Museum Ludwig, one of the most important collections of modern art in Europe. (Kölsch beer, specially brewed here, probably helps, too.)
5. Basel, Switzerland
Despite being one of Switzerland’s financial centers, Rhine-side Basel feels more like a storybook setting than a tight-laced commercial center. That’s probably due to the city’s cobblestoned Old Town, complete with a picturesque cathedral, market square, and fountain. Scenery aside, Basel also happens to be Switzerland’s cultural capital, with world-renowned art museums and plenty of orchestras and theaters. Plan a visit during December to experience one of the best Christmas markets in all of Europe.
4. Lucerne, Switzerland
With its covered bridges, turreted buildings, and colorful Old Town, Lucerne is storybook Swiss. And it is always, always on this list of top cities. Settled on the shores of Lake Lucerne, the city is also a popular departure point for the Swiss Alps, which are visible from the town. Walk the city’s famed Kapellbrücke, the oldest covered bridge in Europe, and grab a home-brewed beer nearby at Rathaus Brauerei when finished. To sample traditional Lucerne dishes like veal with cream sauce and rösti, head to Wirtshaus Galliker, which the Galliker family has run for more than four generations.
3. Hamburg, Germany
Love the canals of Amsterdam and Venice? Hamburg reportedly has more than both cities, combined. Float through the historic Speicherstadt warehouse district and past the 19th-century Town Hall, or stay on dry land to walk under the river via the Alter Elbtunnel, which has artwork lining its tiled walls. Whatever you do, don’t miss the 361-foot, $1 billion Elbphilharmonie concert venue.
2. Salzburg, Austria
Made famous by Mozart (and the Von Trapps), classic Salzburg sits divided by the Salzach River: Its pedestrian Old City lines its left bank, and the nineteenth-century comprises the right. To drink like a local, head to Bräustübl zu Mülln, Austria’s largest beer hall, where beer is drawn directly from wooden barrels and can be enjoyed alongside traditional and regional specialties from the Schmankerlgang, an Old World food court of sorts.
1. Vienna, Austria
Artistic, exquisite, and largely shaped by its musical and intellectual foundations, Austria’s capital and largest city is packed with culture. It’s the kind of city where you could happily visit four museums in a day and still have more to see, or join fellow culture vultures for an outdoor simulcast of the latest opera—in the dead of winter. (There will always be a crowd for the opera.) Make time to get a figurative taste of royalty at Schönbrunn, the Habsburgs’ former summer residence, and get an actual taste of Sachertorte, a chocolate cake that’s a local treat, at Hotel Sacher Vienna’s Cafe Sacher. Just be sure to ask for the extra decadent dessert mit schlaag—with cream.