Boasting some of the most stunning architecture, medieval churches, fairytale castles, cobblestone walkways, fascinating culture, rich history, delicious food, and natural beauty, it’s no doubt that the most beautiful cities of Europe top most people’s favorite destinations.
With a total of 44 countries, it’s a challenging task narrowing the field down to just ten of the prettiest cities in Europe. Indeed, many countries have multiple cities that fit the bill.
And, of course, it’s all subjective. You know, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and all of that. I’ve had many opportunities to explore much of Europe but there is still have so much more to see. So it’s even possible that this list could change. But in the meantime, I hope it will inspire you to visit some (or all) of the amazing European cities and experience your own “aha” moment.
Without further ado, here are my picks for the 10 most beautiful cities of Europe. Fair warning: you might want to pack your bags and move abroad! I know I do.
10 Gdansk, Poland
This pick will probably surprise you, but I loved it here.
Gdansk is where World War II started and was decimated by Nazi bombs. After the end of the war, Gdansk restored the city to a former Mannerist style that had preexisted before the war. The pseudo-medieval buildings and spiky towers deliver an utterly charismatic fairytale allure. I don’t care that it’s not original (although so carefully designed and constructed that I’m sure it has fooled many); I am absolutely enamored by the Polish passive-aggressive defiance that thumbed its nose at the former German influence and dug back into a preferred time and architecture.
If you are in good physical condition, take on the lofty turret in St. Mary’s church. The massive 14th-century Gothic basilica is the largest brick ecclesiastical structure in the world, with 400 timeworn spiral steps to the viewing platform. Be prepared to sweat!
If you need a beach fix, there are a number of nice beaches near Gdansk, in the Polish Riviera.
Don’t miss walking the cobblestone promenade, called “The Royal Way,” where Polish kings had tread centuries ago.
9 Edinburgh, Scotland
Known for its vistas of lush, green hills, Gothic architecture, and narrow cobblestone alleys, Scotland’s city of Edinburgh is a magical place. And for Harry Potter fans, here is where J. K. Rowling wrote much of that series.
12th-century Edinburgh Castle, perched on a hill standing sentry over the village below is certainly the highlight. The castle contains Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny which is used in the coronation of Scottish rulers.
Below the castle, it’s great fun to wander around the winding cobblestone streets, shop in the boutique shops, and stop in at one of the pubs to experience that traditional vibe of days gone by.
Don’t forget to visit the royal residence of the 16th-century Holyrood Palace. From the palace, take in the views of Calton Hill and the peak called Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park.
8 Copenhagen, Denmark
It’s no wonder that the Danes have the hygge reputation as some of the happiest people in the world when they have a spectacular waterfront city like Copenhagen. Hygge is a Danish word that means coziness and contentment.
A fusion of old world and sophistication, it’s one of the most interesting cities in Europe. The highlight is the much-photographed waterfront houses of Nyhavn which can be viewed by a canal tour which also drifts by the “Little Mermaid” statue – the most famous landmark in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen is home to whimsical Tivoli Gardens amusement park which claims to be the world’s oldest park; go to Nationalmuseet to visit the National Museum and the Christiansborg Palace to learn more about the Danish Royal Family.
And don’t forget to try the iconic Danish pastries… and if you dare, the haggis (I like it!).
7 Bruges, Belgium
Sometimes called the “Venice of the North, the picturesque tree-canopy canals, cobbled streets, and old-world charm make Bruges feel as if you’ve stepped into a fairytale. The city sports a perfectly preserved Old Town, built between the 12th and 15th centuries.
The smallish city can be explored in just a couple of days. It’s worth the effort to climb to the top of the Belfry for the panoramic views. Historic and colorful Market Square is a great place to grab a cup of coffee and relax, or people-watch if that’s your thing. Beautiful Bonifacius Bridge and Minnewater Park are great places for photos.
6 Munich, Germany
While best-known for its spectacular Oktoberfest celebration that attracts travelers from across the globe, Munich has so much more to offer.
Located in Bavaria, Munich has more than its share of gorgeous castles, from the famous “mad King Ludwig II” Neuschwanstein Castle which is said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle, to Nymphenburg Palace and Munich Residenz.
While there, check out Marienplatz Square with landmarks such as Neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (town hall) and the popular glockenspiel show that chimes and reenacts stories from the 16th century.
Do try the wiener schnitzel and some of the infamous beer halls, including the famed Hofbräuhaus, founded in 1589.
5 Cinque Terre, Italy
Centuries-old, pastel-colored houses perched vicariously on the craggy cliffs of the Italian Riviera… this is Cinque Terre, one of the most picturesque places in Europe and one of the best summer holiday destinations in Italy.
Harbors are filled with fishing boats, the main business in Cinque Terre, so it’s no surprise that you’ll find some delicious seafood here as you dine on al fresco on an open-air terrace while watching the boats bob in and out of the harbor.
Cinque Terre is actually a string of five villages, connected by a series of hiking tracks called the Sentiero Azzurro trails. To get the best view of the magnificent coastline, villages and sweeping sea vistas, take a 20-minute hike along the Path of Love.
4 Santorini, Greece
It’s one of the most Instagram-worthy places on the planet. Postcard-perfect, the Greek island of Santorini is awash in white stucco buildings with blue domes tumbling down the cliffs (not literally) to the Aegean Sea. Those are the views you’ll find in the city of Oia, as you stroll through the labyrinth of very narrow cobbled alleys.
You’ll also find both red and black sand beaches, numerous wineries, and the ancient ruins of Akrotiri, long-buried under volcanic ash.
3 Colmar, France
Colmar is an impossibly pretty city with cobblestone streets running along a canal lined with multi-colored half-timbered 14th-century buildings. The vibe is a fusion of old-world Germanic and French charm. Flowers are everywhere, a natural and colorful adornment to the already irresistible lure.
The most Instagrammed spot is along the short canal called “Little Venice.” Head to the bridge at Quai de la Poissonnerie for the money shot.
Colmar, while small, encompasses two massive 13th-century churches, Englise Saint-Martin and Protestant Saint-Matthieu.
And of course, even if you live a Keto lifestyle like me, you will not be able to resist stuffing yourself with crispy baguettes laden with thick full-cream butter, savory croissants, and mouthwatering pain au chocolat.
2 Prague, Czech Republic
Consistently named as one of the best cities in the world, Prague has the biggest castle complex in the Czech Republic and a skyline adorned with numerous spires that gave it the nickname “City of a Hundred Spires”
With a mix of Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque, and Gothic architecture, the city of Prague is not only gorgeous but full of history. As such, the Old Town is nearly always bustling with tourists no matter what time of year. Some highlights include going to the top of the Town Hall Tower to get a birds-eye view and attend the hourly animated shows at the medieval Astronomical Clock. If you’re looking for more unusual things to do, check out these quirky things to do in Prague!
Prague also has one of the most popular and festive Christmas markets in Europe.
1 Dubrovnik, Croatia
My first view of Dubrovnik came from the taxi driving on the immaculate streets. Suddenly I was presented with a wondrous view overlooking orange tile roofs and medieval buildings juxtaposed against the shimmering blue Adriatic Sea. The introductory scene was so idyllic and fairytale-like, it took my breath away!
Of course, being an avid Game of Thrones fan didn’t hurt the experience either, and the tour of Kings Landing and Qarth was so much fun!
Sparkling and slick marble streets line the Old Town area and still-intact ancient city walls rise up to protect against long-gone invaders.
Dubrovnik is one of those cities that grabs your heart and refuses to let go.
Wait! What About…
If you didn’t see your favorite city here, e.g. Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, etc., don’t fret. This list is just one in my new “Best of Europe” series and when planning, I tried to not include the same cities in each list.
Bookmark this page and check back for links to these additional stories, where I’m sure the cities you were hoping to find will pop up:
- 10 Best White Sand Beaches in Europe
- 10 Most Romantic Places in Europe
- 10 Cheapest Countries to Visit in Europe
- 10 Iconic Cities in Europe
- 10 European Capitals for Your Bucket List
- 10 Amazing UNESCO Sites in Europe
- 10 Cultural Experiences in Europe You Won’t Want to Miss
- 10 Best Outdoor Adventures in Europe
IMPORTANT! Never travel to any foreign country without travel insurance! Random, unplanned things can happen. I was involved in a horrendous car crash in South Africa in 2014. Click here to compare prices on travel insurance.
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Some photos in this post are from Pixabay.
About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.