Pocket-sized Bruges punches above its weight, offering some of the most ornate Gothic architecture in the world. Picturesque canals and cobbled streets hark back hundreds of years ago when Bruges was considered the most powerful city in northern Europe. Its streets are lined with 15th-century mansions filled with art collections by Picasso, the Flemish Old Masters, and Salvador Dali, such as the Groeningemuseum. For a medieval time-warp, this little city is surprisingly forward-looking, with museums of chocolate, beer, and French fries competing for the attention of travelers alongside interactive historical exhibits at the Historium. Check out the best of Bruges on a two-hour private tour led by a local.
Denmark’s compact capital city is one of the greenest cities in Europe and the perfect destination for vacationing families with kids thanks to its easy-going vibe, dedicated cycle lanes (hop on a city bike tour to take advantage), and free public transportation. Surrounding the 17th-century Nyhavn harbor area, Copenhagen offers up candy-colored houses and romantic castles such as Rosenborg to explore, as well as nostalgic fairground rides at Tivoli Gardens and the landmark Copenhagen Zoo with its fine conservation record. Copenhagen has form in the cultural stakes as well, with superb art collections, dramatic contemporary waterfront architecture for the Copenhagen Opera House, and a thriving, sophisticated nightlife. Explore the vibrant city on foot with a small-group walking tour.
No longer the “Auld Reekie” of yesteryear, Edinburgh has dropped its unfavorable nickname and now crackles with festivals, museums, shops, clubs, and restaurants. This is a city of two halves—there’s the jumble of (possibly haunted!) Old Town tenement buildings dotting the Royal Mile around the Gothic Edinburgh Castle, and the genteel symmetry of the 17th-century Georgian New Town, neatly arranged in grid form and lined with enviable homes and designer stores. Blessed with a unique location sprawled over volcanic plugs and overlooking the sea, Edinburgh boasts a spooky history and a hilly landscape for its many attractions. See both the underground and above-ground highlights that make this city so special on a two-hour walking tour led by a guide dressed in 17th-century costume.
With Poland making its mark on the itineraries of travelers in the know, Krakow offers a wide range of funky bars and clubs, plus a rising trend in gastronomic excellence. The city’s baroque-era beauty can be seen all around the Main Market Square (the largest medieval square in Europe), as well as from Wawel Royal Castle, where Poland’s rulers governed for five centuries. Check out the trendy Kazimierz district and sample traditional Polish dishes on a 3.5-hour food tour.
Currently enjoying a tourism boom, Lisbon is a city of contrasts. Quaintly old-fashioned but constantly modernizing, it edges the River Tagus with a mixture of architecture styles showcased in the ornate, baroque Belém Tower (Torre de Belém), the National Tile Museum, and the ultra-contemporary Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (MAAT). Creeping inland up winding hills topped with Moorish castles and citadels, Lisbon’s mysterious alleyways reveal modern art galleries beside traditional bakers, designer stores flanking flea markets, and age-old cafés that echo with the sounds of mournful fado music. For a dose of Portuguese culture and a fun night out, book tickets to a live fado show in the Chiado neighborhood.
The 2013 opening of the spectacular Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MuCEM) was just one sign that the southern France port city of Marseille is a destination worth keeping an eye on—it’s an enticing, multicultural metropolis where kebab shops exist alongside gourmet seafood restaurants and contemporary seafront architecture contrasts with the centuries-old, labyrinthine alleys of The Panier, a historic quarter at the heart of Marseille. Add the city’s calanques (narrow inlet beaches) and the myriad delights of the entire Provence region and you have an irresistible French Riviera destination to add to your European bucket list. Join an electric bike tour to take in the city and coast in style.
Prague, Czech Republic
Possibly the most eye-catching city in central Europe, Prague is known for its stellar architecture, featuring cobbled streets crammed with baroque churches, Gothic spires, Art Nouveau mansions, and gabled houses in pastel shades. Overlooking all this majesty is Prague Castle, Europe’s largest medieval castle and cathedral complex. Book a small-group city walking tour to explore the Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square, and the colorful Havel’s Market, all before setting out on a Vltava River cruise.
Now on the roster of must-see European cities for its unspoiled baroque beauty, Vilnius has grown around its UNESCO-listed Old Town. Tucked in between the Neris and Vilnelė rivers, the capital of Lithuania is stuffed with ornate Gothic, baroque, and Renaissance buildings, fairytale churches, and pastel façades, all watched over by the castle complex perched atop Castle Hill. Another good spot from which to see the layout of the city is the viewing platform at the Vilnius TV Tower, with the concrete blocks of the Soviet-built city standing starkly on the horizon. Take a 3-hour guided walking tour to discover the bohemian neighborhood of Uzupis and top landmarks such as St. Anne’s Church.
Often overlooked for the Venetian delights of Dubrovnik, Zagreb is a city of two intriguing halves. The Upper Town (Gornji Grad) is a tangle of flower-strewn baroque alleys centered around St. Mark’s Church and its tiled roof, the ornate twin spires of the Cathedral of the Assumption, and the rambling, colorful Dolac Market, all of which is connected to the grandiose Lower Town via a funicular. This part of Zagreb features verdant parks and a peerless number of museums and galleries. Discover most sides of the city on a private walking tour, or perhaps make time for the charming Museum of Broken Relationships.
If our roundup has inspired you to explore even more undiscovered parts of Europe, be sure to check out TripAdvisor for more exciting things to do and see.