There are so many great cities to visit in Europe, if it’s your first time there you might have a hard time choosing! Though some cities were becoming overcrowded with tourists before the pandemic hit, there are steadfast reasons some places are more popular than others. I am all for visiting the small towns and the “less-busy” versions of major European hubs, but for first time travelers, I think it’s important to see the famous places before expanding your travels to the lesser known spots. These five cities are essential visits when considering traveling in Europe for the first time.
1. Florence, Italy
I think Florence is one of the best cities to visit in Europe, especially if it’s for your first transcontinental trip. Instead of heading straight for Rome, spend time in the Renaissance city first. Florence is the perfect size, which is part of the reason people fall in love with it. Visiting Florence is just easy in a way other cities are not. If you arrive at Santa Maria Novella train station, you most likely will be able to walk to where you’re staying because it’s located practically in the center of the city. Florence also has its own airport, which is just a short taxi ride away from the center. Or, if you’re flying a smaller airline, you can fly into Pisa, then take the train right in to Florence.
Once you’ve arrived, Florence is one of the best cities to visit in Europe for its art, architecture, and beauty. The city is full of treasures to be discovered, you will never be bored even if you choose not to step into any of the museums (which would be a mistake). Walk around and see the sites when you arrive: the massive duomo in the center, Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi Galleries, Ponte Vecchio. At night, wind down with a relaxed dinner at one of the many charming trattorias, then go for a stroll. I think the city is at its best by moonlight, and you’ll often stumble upon musicians playing symphonies in the most beautiful locations. It just might bring you to tears.
2. Paris, France
Fewer cities to visit in Europe evoke such fame as the City of Lights. Paris is a place that so many have dreamed of, and nothing really compares to it. That’s why it should definitely be on your list of cities to visit for your first time in Europe. The architecture in Paris can’t be found anywhere else in the world, and the Eiffel Tower will surely blow you away even if you don’t think it will (that was my impression).
Paris is a large city with many museums and cultural sites to explore. I recommend taking a walking or biking tour the first day you arrive, so you get the lay of the land. When booking your stay, make sure you’re in a good neighborhood or close to the metro, so you’re well connected. The metro in Paris is incredibly easy to ride, and very clean. But don’t spend all your time underground or inside. Have a picnic on the Seine River instead of going to dinner one night, and get lost in the beautiful gardens that have existed long before you were on this Earth. Paris is for everyone, and you will fall in love with it. Just make sure to learn a few words of French before you go.
3. Vienna, Austria
I always recommend Vienna as one of the cities to visit in Europe because it is so unique. Like Paris and Florence, Vienna is a cultural goldmine. There are many attractions to visit and history to uncover, you will surely not be bored. But if you do run out of things to do, I highly recommend a side visit to Salzburg. It’s the cutest small town surrounded by hills, made famous by The Sound of Music. Take a tour or opt to explore it on your own. Either way, you will be struck by the absolute beauty of Austria. Halstatt is another picture-perfect town on the edge of one of Austria’s lakes, and would make a great day trip.
Back to Vienna, though. As the former seat of the Hapsburgs, one of the most influential and distinguished royal houses of Europe, there are many palaces left behind in Vienna and its outskirts. My favorite to visit is the Schönbrunn Palace, followed closely by Belvedere Palace. Belvedere happens to hold one of the world’s most famous paintings, The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. Make sure you visit the Naschmarkt as well, and try all of the Austrian specialties, like schnitzel and strudel.
4. Dublin, Ireland
For something a little less metropolitan than these other cities listed so far, try Dublin. It’s actually a sizeable destination, but feels a little more relaxed because there are less major sites and museums to hit. Dublin’s airport is very close to the city center in fact, just a short taxi or bus ride away. If you stay in the center, you will be able to get around just by walking. I loved Dublin because the whole experience is more about getting comfortable in a cozy pub with friends than running around trying to see everything.
Once you’ve visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse or the Jameson Distillery, I would actually recommend getting out of the city to experience the wild beauty of Ireland. My friend and I took a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway, but were back in Dublin in time for dinner and a pint. Ireland is a beautiful (and small) country, and there’s so much more to it than what’s just in Dublin. However, Dublin is by far a lively and welcoming city and the best starting point for any Irish adventure.
5. Barcelona, Spain
It doesn’t get much more metropolitan than Barcelona, but that’s one of the many reasons it’s worth a visit. The big city feel is invigorating and exciting, and the architecture is like nothing I’ve seen before. There are a lot of major sites worth your time, like the unfinished La Sagrada Familia, which will truly blow you away. Make some time for the beach as well, you’ll be amazed by how the sea meets the city in a wonderful blur. For the best view of it all, watch the sun set from the Bunkers. I think it’s one of the best views I’ve ever seen in my life.
Of course, you could always take a side trip to Madrid or Toledo if you have the time and want to experience another part of Spain besides the Catalan capital!
Planning a first trip to Europe? Send this article to your friends for inspiration on which cities to visit in Europe!
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Images via @theartfuleveryday on Instagram.
Maggie is the blogger behind The Artful Everyday, a travel and lifestyle blog dedicated to living intentionally and finding beauty in the ordinary. She loves the idea that we get to escape our normal lives when we travel, and that it allows us to be more open to the world and its cultures. Maggie lived in Florence while studying abroad, then was an au pair in Rome last fall. She is very passionate about traveling in Europe, especially Italy, and living abroad. Maggie studied Interior Design at the University of Minnesota, but is currently pursuing a career in writing.