Updated May 2020
It took me a long time to compile this list simply because I kept disagreeing with myself. I planned a top ten then contemplated making it longer, to fit in the other places that definitely do warrant a mention but sadly don’t quite make it (in my eyes). Of course, there’s plenty of cities I haven’t been to that almost definitely warrant being on this list but as I haven’t been there, it would be weird to put them down.
1) London, England
As I pointed out above, London is home to me and no matter where I am in the world, always will be. I’ve lived in a few places around London and am very excited to soon make it my permanent home, as my boyfriend and I put a stamp on our own place.
Yes, London is expensive and busy and the air is barely breathable and people aren’t always very pleasant but honestly, its the best. The feeling of fitting in in London – knowing where to get on the tube, the best ways to get somewhere and the psychic ability every Londoner has when sharing how much they hate anyone that does not follow these rules, without saying a word out loud.
Ok, London doesn’t have mountains or oceans but my god does it make up for it in the sheer amount of extraordinary things it does have… Free museums, forests, huge parks, historical buildings around every corner, new events and restaurants opening every night (plus in general some of the best food in the world). All this and some of the best, most diverse people you will ever meet.
These things of course make it a great place to live but also to visit – it can be a bit overwhelming but you get used to it! I adore London and no matter what negative Nancys have to say about it, I always will.
Must visit: Kew Gardens, Tower of London, Hackney canal, Dishoom, Shoreditch, Richmond Park, Tate Modern/Tate Britain, V&A, Portobello Road. I have a million more recommendations than that, so please just ask if you would like some. I would be THRILLED to give some.
2) Paris, France
If I had ever lived in Paris, this would probably be first. I’m extremely jealous of anyone that has ever had that chance.
Paris is somewhere that has a special place in my heart, in that I think its the first time I fell in love. Not with another person but with a city. It has this charm that I can’t explain. Even when I’ve had a bad time there, its never been the worst. Its just the way Paris is.
I’ve been visiting Paris since I was a teenager, on French exchanges with school. This in itself was almost always a slightly odd adventure and something that I think sparked my wanderlust without me ever realising.
I’ve been to Paris maybe 7 times now, probably more and I never get sick of it. The only thing I could maybe do without would be going up the Eiffel Tower again. Unless I’m taking a kid up there that is – a child seeing something for the first time, is the closest you can get to seeing it for the first time yourself again.
Yes, Parisians are known for being rude but honestly, I don’t think of them as any ruder than London. I speak just about passable French and do my best to use it, which in my experience has made for more pleasant conversations. Unless I’ve really mucked up my words and managed to offend someone, of course.
They say that Paris is one of the most romantic cities in the world and I suppose they’re right. Walking through its beautiful streets makes you feel like you’re in the romantic movie of your dreams. I wouldn’t say it matters if you’re on your own, with family, with friends or in fact with that special someone, its still magical.
Must visit: The Eiffel Tower (duh), The Arc De Triomphe, The Louvre (and not just to see the Mona Lisa, there’s so much more. Check out the late openings, they’re great), Musee D’Orsay, Versailles, The Pompidou and of course the general area of the Marais (including their plentiful vintage shops).
3) Edinburgh, Scotland
I’ve never lived here but it does hold a special place in my heart for many reasons. The first time I visited was part of a trip of a lifetime with my parents, driving round Scotland (Ben Nevis, Isle of Skye, John O’Groats, everything). Edinburgh was the last stop and it was the absolute cherry on top.
Since then I’ve gone up a few times to visit my very best friend, Mr Hamilton G Jones (who now lives in Toronto), as he used to live there. He’s an excellent host and tour guide (with a brain that also serves as google maps), and is great at sniffing out the coolest hangouts; outdoor brewery bars, secret speakeasies, local bars… I’ve never not had a good time there.
Yes its full of Tourists but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great place to live and visit (including as a tourist yourself). Its got hundreds of great pubs and restaurants, the best Fringe Festival there is and its streets are stun-ning.
… If you can put up with the sound of bagpipes. Goodness me, do they love bagpipes.
Must visit: Edinburgh Castle (though its pricey as hell), Edinburgh Fringe, National Museum of Scotland, Scottish National Gallery, Royal Mile, South Queensferry, their variety of secret speakeasy bars, Chihuahua cafe and the Royal Botanical Gardens.
4) Amsterdam, Netherlands
We all know what Amsterdam is known for – if thats your scene, then yeh this is the place. But I cannot stress enough how that is just a TINY part of this amazing city.
I first visited Amsterdam because a good friend of mine from University is from the next city over (Amersfoort) and I went to see her. I’ve been twice since then and every inch of the places I’ve seen has only made me love it even more. There are amazing museums, great Indonesian food, beautiful canals, insane wonky buildings and super cool upcoming neighbourhoods. Plus its home to the best hotel I have ever been to (Sir Adam).
Now that the Eurostar goes all the way there without stopping, I’m hoping to visit more regularly (as long as my wallet allows it),
Must visit: Plek/NDSM neighborhood, Stedeljik Museum, Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, the neighbourhood with the windmills and its super close to a bunch of other amazing cities, like Rotterdam.
5) Copenhagen, Denmark
I’ve only been here once but I absolutely fell in love with it. It just felt like my ‘scene’ – it reminds me a lot of London, in that there are super cool neighbourhoods with independent shops, cool restaurants and plenty of breweries (with excellent beer), and in perfect contrast to that; beautiful buildings with a rich history.
It’s very pretty and also very walkable, which I really liked. We spent a long weekend there and gorged ourselves on beer, pastries and coffees; it doesn’t quite beat London but if I ever had a reason to move for a bit I would absolutely jump at the chance. Otherwise, I’ll definitely be returning here as soon as I can.
Must visit: Tivoli Gardens (Especially during Halloween/Christmas etc when they dress it up), Nyhavn, The Little Mermaid Statue, Warpig (in the Meatpacking District), Christiania and Torvehallerne.
6) Zagreb, Croatia
Zagreb is often overlooked for the seaside towns of Dubrovnik, Pula and Split but when Hamilton and I did our Croatian road trip, it was here that we fell in love with.
While we were there we spoke a lot about coming back to the city for the weekend, simply because its so close and cheap to get to from London. I’m genuinely unsure why we haven’t done so. We came away with full bellies (from the lovely beer and food), full eyes (if thats a thing – from the beaut architecture and emotive Museum of Broken Relationships) and full hearts (from their lovely people).
We both said that we would happily live there and I stand by it. It wasn’t full of tourists, in fact it was mostly people wandering around with their dogs and stopping for drinks outside (even in early April) yet when people encountered us as British tourists they were more than accommodating.
Its Croatia’s capital city yet somehow feels like an undiscovered gem.
Must visit: Museum of Broken Relationships, St Mark’s Church, Zagreb Cathedral, Mirogoj Cemetery (sounds weird but trust me on this) and Zagreb City Museum.
7) Porto, Portugal
People often overlook Porto to visit Portugal’s larger city Lisbon instead. Now I’m not saying Lisbon isn’t great because of course is, it’s Lisbon! For me personally though, I would rather visit Porto for the weekend than Lisbon – it feels like a much younger, more welcoming city with a real artsy vibe. Plus, there are way less tourists.
It’s a beautiful city to walk around – we spent our time there eating pastries, drinking wine, meandering in and out of boutique shops, catching trams and of course, drinking more wine. It felt like a place I could easily settle down and relax in, and I would love to come back for a weekend or longer sometime soon.
Must visit: Sao Bento station, McDonalds Imperial (just trust me on that), O Galleria (art shop), Seafront trams and Dom Luís bridge.
8) Riga, Latvia
Riga was the start and end point of our recent Baltic Road Trip. I was sad leaving the first and even more the second time, because I had no reason to return within the week.
Walking round the streets of Riga feels like straight out of a fairytale. Unfortunately it has been slightly tarred with the brush of tourism and there are a few chain shops/restaurants dotted around but you don’t have to walk far to get away from that.
There are gorgeous churches, museums, art galleries, alleyways, streets… Ok, almost everything is pretty.
Must visit: Old Town, St Peter’s Church Tower, National Museum of Art and Art Nouveau Architecture (near the national museum of art).
9) Stockholm, Sweden
I went to Stockholm in February and I must say, this was a mistake. It was bloody FREEZING. Like hurt faces, frozen toes, will I ever be warm again kind of freezing.
Mind you, I think it says a lot that its still made this list in spite of that. It was one of the strangest yet amazingly culturally fulfilling trip I’ve been on. We saw all sides of the Swedish spectrum – we went to ALL of the museums, including one of the oddest places in the world… Skansen Open Air Museum. I don’t know how to explain to you what Skansen is like. In the same day, we saw elk, people dressed up in old time costume and monkeys.
Stockholm is insanely pretty – all of the little islands make for a really dramatic cityscape, especially in winter. Yes its expensive but the views and experiences are more than worth it, if you’re willing to jump in to what they have to offer.
Must visit: Skansen, Gamla Stan, Vasa Museum, Nobel Museum, Stockholm Palace (the tiny little crowns are the sweetest thing), Moderna Museet and Nordic Museum.
10) Brighton, England
Another place I have lived and therefore love like it belongs to me – I went to Sussex University, which is in Brighton (well, just outside). I then stayed on for about a year after I’d graduated to work. I’ve lived in Falmer, Kemp Town, the Marina, Preston Park… I would love to live in North Laine one day but I’m not sure when that could ever happen.
People often talk of Brighton in a few ways – like a little London and the gay capital of the UK. Both of these things are true and an enjoyable part of living there but its so much more than that. In the same way that London has a million things going on at once, Brighton is a metropolis of activities, shows, events and communities that make it easy for everyone to find something they like. This is why it was such a perfect place to go to University – whatever person you are destined to become, you have the opportunity to and I really feel like it made me the (perfect and humble) person I am today.
Seriously though, its by the sea, the houses are colourful, the vintage and boutique shopping is excellent, the music scene is rad and there’s a big ass historical pavilion that looks like its been dropped in the wrong place in the world right in the middle.
Must visit: The Royal Pavilion, the Seafront, the Undercliff walk, Brighton Fringe, Brighton Festival, North Laine, the Lanes, Green Door Store, Coggings and Co (best burgers around) and the Brighton Museum.
What’s your favourite European city?