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Europe’s most beautiful cities, where timeless charm and captivating architecture abound, make some of the most breathtaking destinations. From the cobblestone streets that wind through historical neighborhoods to the grandeur of UNESCO World Heritage sites, these beautiful European cities are truly the best places to immerse yourself in rich culture and unforgettable experiences.
Steeped in history, these cities have stood the test of time, preserving their unique character and offering a glimpse into Europe’s illustrious past. As you wander through their streets, you’ll find yourself transported to a bygone era, where ancient castles, graceful cathedrals, and ornate palaces tell stories of long-forgotten monarchs and captivating legends.
There’s no denying the appeal of Europe’s most famous cities. Yet the popularity of Paris, Rome and London, to name just a few, has also been a thorn in their side. In summer hordes of tourists descend in masses to tick off their must-sees, killing much of the authentic charm in the process. But all is not lost: beyond the crowded capitals you’ll find a host of smaller cities waiting in the wings. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are our picks for the most charming cities in Europe.
A city that stands out among Europe’s most beautiful destinations is Matera. This city sits just above the heel of Italy in the southern region of Basilicata. One of the most unique things about Matera are the ancient cave dwellings known as “Sassi” and the Rupestrian Churches of Matera which have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The whole complex of houses, churches, and monasteries which contains more than a thousand dwellings are included in the World Heritage property.
These dwellings were carved into the white stone which integrated into the natural terrain and formed a beautiful urban landscape. Some of the earliest dwellings known date back to the Paleolithic era which makes this one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on Earth.
Once the city’s sassi, or cave dwellings, were left to fall into disrepair through decades of neglect. Today it’s a whole other story. This charmer of a city was chosen as one of the 2019 European capitals of culture and is one of the most underrated places in Italy. An extensive program of restoration and regeneration has breathed new life into the place, with a glut of cafés, boutiques and museums the result.
Walking through its narrow alleyways and winding streets, visitors are transported to a captivating blend of history and culture. The Sassi are not mere ruins but a thriving living community, where houses, churches, restaurants and even incredible hotels are ingeniously built within the ancient caves. As you explore Matera, you’ll be enchanted by the way the city’s historic buildings blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape, forming a picturesque scene that has graced many films and documentaries.
Beyond its architectural wonders, Matera offers breathtaking views from its panoramic viewpoints, revealing the layers of history and natural beauty that surround the city. From the Belvedere Di Piazza Giovanni Pascoli with amazing viewpoints to the majestic Cathedral of Matera, each corner of the city tells a story that leaves a lasting impression on all who visit.
Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
Iceland’s popularity has grown in leaps and bounds over the past decade, but now it’s the turn of its Nordic neighbor. The Faroese capital, Torshavn, is quaint and colorful, perched on the rugged shores of the Faroe Islands. The charming city offers an off-the-beaten-path experience for travelers who are looking for breathtaking landscapes coupled with old world charm.
Aimlessly, the sheep graze on the nearby vegetation on the outskirts. Daily, fishing boats land their fresh catch in front of a quayside packed with cute cafés. Nearby, it’s easy to locate the distinctive red buildings of Tinganes, which comprise one of the world’s oldest parliaments. Next, explore Tórshavn’s charming old town, whose cobbled alleyways unlock a labyrinth of traditional wooden cottages with turf roofs.
Although Torshavn is small in size, in fact it’s one of the smallest capital cities in Europe, the colorful rustic architecture lend it a delightful charm. The city’s traditional wooden houses, especially along the water, create a picturesque setting that seems to have emerged from a storybook.
This storybook setting provides plenty of things to do around town like strolling the streets, getting a good cup of coffee, checking out the port, or picking up a woolen knit like their internationally recognized woolen sweaters. If you plan on going beyond the city, then the rugged cliffs, the cascading waterfalls and the rolling green hills are worth exploring. Before you leave, one of the best day trips to take is to the island of Mykines where you will get to see thousands of puffins, but be sure to book ahead.
To the east in Romania, UNESCO-recognised Sighişoara is a highlight of Transylvania with winding cobbled streets lined with medieval merchant houses and a 12th century fortress to explore. Its most famous resident was none other than Vlad Ţepeş, also known as Vlad the Impaler, who was also the inspiration for the legendary character, Count Dracula. He was born in 1431 in Vlad Dracul House, which you’ll find in Citadel Square, a stone’s throw from the Clock Tower.
Despite that, the city exudes charm from the cobblestone streets to the Clock Tower that rises above the quaint streets and the red-tiled roofs. It is known as one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe which you can get great views of from climbing the Clock Tower. There, stop by the History Museum that will take you back to the intriguing history of the city.
Beyond its historical significance, Sighişoara offers a vibrant cultural scene. The town hosts one of their most important festivals, the Medieval Festival, where the citadel square turns back time into the Middle Ages as locals don traditional costumes and reenact scenes from medieval life. This lively celebration brings the past to life, immersing visitors in an exciting experience.
Surrounded by picturesque landscapes, Sighişoara is also an ideal base for exploring the natural beauty of Transylvania. From hiking in the nearby Carpathian Mountains to visiting the charming villages of the region, there are plenty of opportunities to experience the stunning scenery and rural traditions that make this part of Romania truly special.
If you thought a visit to the German city of Köln was all about the Christmas markets, you’d be wrong. This city is one of the oldest and largest cities in the country offering a blend of modern life and historical relics. The most awe-inspiring landmark is the Cologne Cathedral, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture that dominates the skyline.
Its no surprise that the cathedral was added as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The towering dual spires and intricate carvings showcase incredible human craftsmanship in architecture. Inside, it is no less inspiring with the colorful glass windows letting the light shine through and illuminate the extremely tall church. With millions of people visiting this popular landmark in Germany, it has made Cologne a charming city to put on your travel bucket list.
Another historical stop is the city’s old town where the historic square is lined with colorful buildings and boasts a large green lawn for lounging. Nearby, the Rhine River buzzes with life during the summer, its parks and gardens the host for countless street entertainers. Take a boat trip, indulge in the tasty treats of chocolate at the city’s Chocolate Museum and explore many of the museums where the vibrant cultural scene shines through.
Cologne’s location on the banks of the Rhine River provides a picturesque setting for leisurely walks, river cruises, or simply enjoying the view from one of the many riverfront promenades. The Hohenzollern Bridge offers a stunning view of the city and is a popular spot for romantic moments, capturing the hearts of all who visit.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The world held its breath in the early 1990s as the former Yugoslavia tore itself apart. The ancient city of Mostar was one of the more high-profile casualties and still bears the scars of that conflict. Its most famous landmark, Stari Most, was built by the Ottomans to span the River Neretva but was tragically destroyed in war and had to be rebuilt again. Now rebuilt, it’s the focal point of a delightful old town and paints a charming scene as it gracefully arches over the river.
A visit to the Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque offers panoramic views of the city, where the red-roofed houses and the graceful arch of the Stari Most create an unforgettable scene. Although the climb to the top involves a narrow staircase, the views are rewarding showcasing the beauty of Mostar and its surrounding landscapes.
Back in town, wandering through the narrow streets of Mostar’s Old Town, visitors are transported back in time. Old Town’s vibrant atmosphere is brimming with pavement cafes, shops selling intricate handicrafts, and the mouthwatering aroma of traditional Bosnian cuisine. The Old Bazaar is where you will find a collection of local vendors selling all kinds of souvenirs and hand-made goods.
As a day trip from the city, the Kravice Waterfall offers a tranquil retreat with their cascading waters and lush greenery. Enjoy the scenery on a laid-back boat trip or getting lunch with a view at one of the three restaurants operating during summertime.
The Swedish capital is as beautiful in winter under a dusting of snow as it is when the wildflowers bloom on its islands in the heart of summer. Nestled across a series of islands, the capital of Sweden is captivating with its beauty and rich history. The islands are connected by bridges which add to the unique structure of the city.
To see the city’s skyline and one of the most photographed places of the area, visit the city hall where you can climb the tower for a sweeping view. One of the most dominant parts of the city is the Royal Palace which is one of the largest palaces in Europe.
Explore the Skansen Open Air Museum with its centuries-old wooden architecture or hop on a ferry for a stroll in the tranquil Feather Islands. The city’s Vasamuseet explores its fascinating maritime history while the interactive ABBA Museum ramps up the fun quotient.
Delft, The Netherlands
You might not be familiar with Delft, but you may well have seen its distinctive blue and white pottery, known as Delftware.
Under an hour from Amsterdam, the city is the birthplace of celebrated Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, best known for his painting “The girl with the Pearl Earring”, on show in the city’s Vermeer Centrum.
This ancient city with its warren of cobbled streets is perfect for wandering or idly drinking coffee in an outdoor cafe. Visit the Palais des Papes, once home to the Pope, which stages a dazzling sound and light show throughout the summer.
Don’t forget the ruined bridge, made famous by the children’s song “Sur le pont d’Avignon”. The bridge to which it refers is the Pont St-Bénezet, completed in 1185.
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Salzburg has it all – a wealth of history and culture, close to pretty lakes and snow-capped mountains. The big money-spinners are Mozart and the Sound of Music, but even if you’re no fan of either, you can’t fail to be enchanted by the place.
Explore on foot, by bicycle or by Segway. Tick off centrally located sights such as the Baroque cathedral, Mozart’s birthplace on the Getreidegasse and the hilltop 11th century fortress, but don’t miss the trick fountains of Hellbrunn in the city’s suburbs before you leave.
You’ll find historic Cáceres halfway between Madrid and Seville but without the crowds of either. Like its neighbours Merida and Trujillo, it has bags of character.
Walk until your muscles scream through the cobbled streets of its UNESCO-listed Ciudad Monumental, which boast countless fortified mansions, palaces and mediaeval churches.
Afterwards, opt for a restorative massage or dip in the thermally heated waters of the atmospheric Baños Arabes El Aljibe.
The Ukrainian capital doesn’t register on most people’s radar when it comes to European city breaks. Travellers to this overlooked gem should make a beeline for the UNESCO-listed St Sophia Cathedral and the Kiev Cave Monastery complex found alongside it.
Rivalling these is the exquisite china blue St Michael’s Monastery whose golden domes glitter in the sunshine and the opulent exteriors of the riverside 18th century Mariyinsky Palace, now home to the country’s president.
Spring is the perfect time to visit the delightful Belgian city of Bruges. Take a cruise along its many canals, climb the steps of the Belfry for views of the city under blue skies or clip clop over the cobbles in one of its horse-drawn carriages.
Foodies are well catered for, and we don’t just mean chocolate: though you’ll have to brave the summer crowds for mussel season, there’s no bad time to eat frites with mayonnaise from a Bruges street cart.
No matter which time of year you plan to visit, there are so many charming cities scattered across Europe that you’ll return again and again. Which will your favorite be?