12 European Capitals You Need to Visit

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After having spent a total of just over 5 months in Europe in the past year and a half, I often get asked about my favorites there: my favorite country, my favorite experience, my favorite food, etc. It's always really difficult to pinpoint these; Europe is SO diverse and every country is so different that it is often impossible to make fair comparisons.

Even the question of my favorite European capital is one I can't give a straight answer to. There are simply too many amazing cities in Europe.

So, instead of telling you about my favorite European capital, I'm going to tell you about my top 12 capital cities in Europe (so far).

My 12 favorite European capitals

12. DUBLIN, Ireland

Temple Bar, Dublin

I've been to Dublin multiple times, and am more and more charmed by the Irish capital each time I visit. (Which is saying something, since it's rained on most of my visits.) As far as European capital cities go, Dublin isn't necessarily the most beautiful, but it IS really fun.

Things I love about Dublin:

    • The pub culture — even though I don't drink, I do love me some live Irish music in an Irish pub
    • The people — Irish people are friendly and awesome
    • The color — like the colorful pubs and colorful Georgian doors that give the city character

Posts to read about Dublin:

11. PARIS, France

Paris from Montparnasse Tower

Paris is one of those cities that most girls (in America, at least) daydream about. In our minds, it just oozes with style and romance. And, in reality, Paris is indeed a beautiful capital city. Seeing all the famous sights like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame were a highlight of the beginning of my second trip to Europe, and it's definitely a city I plan to visit again (hopefully next time with a special someone in tow).

Things I love about Paris:

    • The architecture — it's beautiful and memorable
    • The neighborhoods — with artsy Montmartre probably being my favorite
    • The romance — there's a reason why Paris is nicknamed the “City of Love;” it IS quite a romantic place

Posts to read about Paris:

10. OSLO, Norway

Oslo, Norway

I feel like Norway's capital often gets overlooked for other parts of the country like Bergen and the fjords – but you know what? Oslo is totally cool! If you're planning a trip to Norway, be sure to allow at least a couple of days for Oslo.

Things I love about Oslo:

    • The waterfront — Which not only has nice views, but is also dotted with a mix of both old and new architecture
    • The museums — Oslo has some very cool and unique museums, including ones dedicated to Viking ships, folk traditions, and artist Edvard Munch
    • The parks — Oslo has lots of green spaces, with my favorite being the sculpture-filled Vigeland Park

Posts to read about Oslo:

9. ROME, Italy

Pantheon in Rome

Similarly to Paris, Rome is a city that most people place high up on their bucket lists. I've now been to Rome twice, and it definitely deserves a spot on this list simply because it is so grand and iconic. It's a big city as far as European capitals go, but don't let its size overwhelm you – the history and architecture in Rome is hard to beat!

Things I love about Rome:

    • The history — and the fact that things like the Roman Forum and Colosseum exist right alongside more modern architecture
    • The piazzas — with lively Piazza Navona being my favorite
    • The Vatican — it's not technically “in” Rome since it's a sovereign state, but I love St. Peter's Basilica to pieces

Posts to read about Rome:

8. WARSAW, Poland

Warsaw Old Town

This one might come as a surprise to some people, but I actually really enjoyed my time spent in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. It's not overrun with tourists, yet is an extremely interesting city. I learned about the Warsaw Uprising, enjoyed wandering around the Old Town, and explored green spaces that ranged from parks to cemeteries.

Things I love about Warsaw:

    • The history — did you know that nearly the whole city was destroyed after an uprising during WWII?
    • The architecture — which is a mix of old and new (in looks, at least), reflecting how Warsaw is evolving
    • The food — yes, the food! so many pierogi were consumed, and so many milk bars (home to cheap, traditional Polish food) were frequented

Posts to read about Warsaw:

7. BERLIN, Germany

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

I'm not ashamed to admit it: I fell in love with Berlin. You could actually say that it was love at first sight, as I felt an immediate connection with Berlin from the moment I arrived. I don't know if it's the alternative culture, the history, or a mixture of the two that draws me to Berlin. But there's no denying that it's a place I can see myself spending a lot of time in in the future.

Things I love about Berlin:

    • The history — from Nazis during WWII to the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, Berlin has a fascinating (and very recent) history
    • The creative side — because I have a soft spot for hipsters and street art
    • The vibe — it's a little gritty and a little alternative, but Berlin evolving in a way that I find exciting

Posts to read about Berlin:

6. RIGA, Latvia

Riga Old Town from St. Peter's Church bell tower

The Baltic countries are ones that you don't often hear much about (at least in comparison to the rest of the countries in Western Europe). But these historic countries all have really cool capital cities. And, so far, my favorite is Riga, the capital of Latvia.

Things I love about Riga:

    • The Old Town — With its cobbled streets and beautiful architecture, I could spend days just wandering around this part of Riga
    • The parks — Riga has lots of green spaces, with my favorite being Bastejkalna Park (Bastion Hill), which has a canal running through it
    • The New Town — The more modern part of Riga is just as cool; be sure to check out the art nouveau section

Posts to read about Riga:

5. BUDAPEST, Hungary

The Danube in Budapest

The capital of Hungary was a bit of a surprise for me — I never expected to like it as much as I did. But, whether it was strolling along the Danube, visiting a ruin bar, or soaking at the Szechenyi Baths, I found myself loving everything about Budapest. In fact, after visiting Budapest for a second time, it rose even higher on my list of favorite European capitals.

Things I love about Budapest:

    • The two halves of the city — the Buda and Pest sides of the city have completely different feels to them
    • The bridges — which are attractive and offer up nice views of the Danube
    • The buildings — from Parliament to Fisherman's Bastion to Buda Castle, there's plenty of eye candy here

Posts to read about Budapest:

4. REYKJAVIK, Iceland

Snowy Reykjavik

Even though many people seem to forget about it since it sits all alone up in the north Atlantic, Iceland is, in fact, part of Europe. And its capital is one of my favorites. Reykjavik reminds me a lot of Wellington, the capital of New Zealand — it's small, sits on a harbor, and is absolutely stunning on the rare sunny days that it sees. Iceland's capital is also a great jumping-off point for day trips around the western part of the country.

Things I love about Reykjavik:

    • The colors — perhaps to brighten up those cloudy, foggy, and snowy days
    • The variety — there's a little bit of everything here, from weird architecture to seafood restaurants to even a penis museum
    • The ease — easy to get to from the U.S. East coast or Europe; easy to navigate (even on foot); and easy to enjoy since the locals are nice and fellow tourists are usually outgoing and adventurous

Posts to read about Reykjavik:

3. LJUBLJANA, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

If you haven't been to Slovenia yet, what the hell are you waiting for?? Seriously, though, this little country tucked between Italy, Austria, and Croatia is probably one of my favorites in Europe — as is its capital. Filled with bridges, pretty buildings, and laid-back people, I find myself often dreaming of Ljubljana.

Things I love about Ljubljana:

    • The architecture — from colorful buildings to the Dragon Bridge, it's a very photogenic place
    • The friendliness — bike friendly, tourist friendly, you name it
    • The cafe culture — because there is nothing better than sipping a drink alongside the Ljubljanica River

Posts to read about Ljubljana:

2. EDINBURGH, Scotland

Victoria Street in Edinburgh, Scotland

The Scottish capital is one city that I probably will never tire of visiting. It's not a large European capital like the others listed here, but it still has a unique character all its own. Whether it's roaming around the Old Town or climbing up to quieter parts like Calton Hill, Edinburgh is always enjoyable — even in that moody Scottish weather.

Things I love about Edinburgh:

    • The architecture — with the gorgeous Victoria Street (pictured above) being my favorite example
    • The history — the entire city is recognized by UNESCO, which tells you something
    • The festivals — whether its the Fringe or Hogmanay, Edinburgh knows how to put on a festival and fill the Royal Mile

Posts to read about Edinburgh:

1. LONDON, England

London

Lastly (and this should be no surprise to people who know me) is London– my favorite capital in Europe if you're going to make me choose one. Out of all the cities in Europe, I've spent the most time in London in the past couple of years. And I am absolutely head over heels for it. If I could magically get a work visa and a job offer in London, I would move there tomorrow; maybe even tonight, that's how much I love it. I never used to picture myself living in a huge city — until I went to London for the first time, that is. Now, it's become my dream destination to spend some extended time in.

Things I love about London:

    • The variety — neighborhoods, food, museums, parks, historical sites; they're all here
    • The location — London is situated perfectly to explore the rest of Europe, which this traveler loves
    • The Englishness — the Tube, the Royal Family, the black cabs, the pubs, the tea… it's all just so English! and so lovely
    • How I feel there — London somehow makes me feel at home, even though it's worlds away from where I grew up

Posts to read about London:

London Eye

So there you have it — my 10 favorite European capitals. I'm sure this list won't match up to lists others might make (I can already hear your incredulous exclamations that places like Prague aren't on this list), but that's what's so great about travel — every traveler connects with each destination differently.

Tell me, which capitals are YOUR favorites in Europe?

 

Best capital cities in Europe

 

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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66 Comments on “12 European Capitals You Need to Visit

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  1. I am heading for Warsaw in early September and found your article on it interesting so I am looking forward to the trip. I will be flying there from Kyiv but see no mention here. For me, Paris is the most extraordinary city I have ever visited and there is nowhere to touch it. Oslo is nice but mindbendingly expensive and London is all about paying for everything. Other cities that I really like are Sarajevo and Belgrade. Both have an edge and are not just about tourists. Another one that I liked, although it was a mess and felt like a chaotic work in progress, was Prishtina. You can keep Tirana and Podgorica though. Don’t bother with them.

      I haven’t been to Ukraine yet, but maybe someday Kyiv will get added to this list as I’ve heard good things about it!

    I’m a bit offended not seeing my capital city in the list at all 😛
    You should’ve give Bern the first place just because it’s in a such awesome country 🙂

      Haha! I’ll admit that I haven’t spent nearly enough time in Switzerland!

    Very inspirational post 🙂 I’m ready for new adventures!

    My favorite places in Europe:

    1. Riga
    2. Salzburg
    3. Paris

      There were plenty of cities that I wanted to include here that didn’t quite fit since they aren’t capital cities (like Barcelona!). There are so many cool cities in Europe!

    Love this! I’m a newcomer to your blog, and I find it amazing. Your unique perspectives combined with the great photos make for a really entertaining and informative read. BTW, I could tell you were a journalist even before I read your profile. That reporter’s curiosity comes through!

    Interesting list, beautiful photos…
    I personally adore Lisbon and Madrid, but I’d also put in Budapest on my list. I think it’s a little downrated. And I hear that plenty of reconstruction-restoration work has been done, so the city’s old parts are said to look better now than several years ago.
    I’m yearning to visit Reykjavik one day 🙂

      Budapest is definitely underrated! I love that city.

      Haven’t been to Lisbon or Madrid yet, but I have a feeling I would love Lisbon based on what I’ve heard/read about it!

    You wrote about two different sides of the city – Buda and Pest. But did you visit the East part od Warsaw? Praga district is called the most authentic part of the city, because it nearly wasn’t destroyed after Warsaw Uprising. But Soviets did their job and tenements on this side od the city weren’t renovated for many years. Now Praga is a very charming district, full of things that remind what happened to this city before and through WWII. It’s also full of cafes with very specitic atmosphere and clubs that make its nightlife. I’m so glad you liked Warsaw and you’ll come back to explore it more ☺

      Yes, I DID explore Warsaw outside of the Old Town! I spent an afternoon wandering around Praga with a friend of mine from Warsaw. She made sure I saw ALL sides of the city – which is why I think I ended up loving it so much!

        Oh ok, don’t get me wrong – I jest thouthg that Praga is such an extraordinary place that you would write something about it and I just wanted to reccommend it. So I’m glad you did 😉 but if you haven’t seen the Śródmieście Południowe yet, I think you should because it’s soooooo lovely ☺

    I want to travel to all ten cities!!! I have only had the privilege of traveling to London and Paris. My hubby and I are saving for a big European trip in 2016. I will have to keep this trip in mind!

      There are soooo many fantastic cities in Europe. You really can’t go wrong with any of these!

    […] you read my recent post about my favorite European capitals, you may have been surprised to see Warsaw quite high up on the list. Not many travelers venture to […]

    I’ve finally been getting around to planning my Europe itinerary for this summer. I wasn’t sure about adding Ljubliana, but maybe I’ll try to throw it in there somehow! Would it be worth it even for a few days?

      I ALWAYS recommend Ljubljana! You could easily see the city in a few days (and could probably visit Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle too), though there are other places in Slovenia (like Bled and Triglav National park) that are must-sees in Slovenia, too!

    So glad to see Ljubljana here! Seeing Ljubljana and surrounding countryside including Lake Bled was a highlight among my travel experiences. I didn´t get a chance to visit the Predjama castle (or Grad Predjama as the Slovenians call it) though so I´ll be coming back here for sure.

      Slovenia as a whole is great – one of my favorite countries thus far! Definitely get out to Predjama Castle (and Postojna Cave, for that matter) next time! And visit Triglav National Park, too, if you haven’t!

    Delighted to hear that you have enjoyed your time in London. It is a great city just like Berlin. I’m British and I do love London but Berlin would be at my number one (but don’t tell anybody that) 🙂

      Haha, I promise not to tell anybody. 😉

      Definitely love London. But I could also see myself living in Berlin for a while!

    my favorite European capitals till now are Warsaw and Berlin, even if I currently live in London. Warsaw, what can I say? The old town is amazing, the food is so delicious and in comparison to other cities very affordable and the Polish girls are absolutely beautiful. Maybe I like Warsaw so much because of the women, I am just totally into Polish girls.

    London is amazing too but everything is so expensive and because traveling is one of my biggest passions it is not an option for me to stay there for a few more years. Everything is crowded, the underground is always full and if you want to rent an apartment in the city center you have to be a millionaire.

    Berlin is also an amazing city. You could say that I have to love Berlin because I am German but the fact is, that I love Berlin so much because it is so untypically German. It is alternative, not so status orientated like other German cities and it is very affordable to live their, even if it is the biggest city in Germany.

      Warsaw and Berlin do indeed both seem like very affordable cities. I’m glad to hear that you really like them both, too!

    Woohoo!! Glad Berlin made #2 on your list – and also good to know you’ve got a soft spot for hipsters!

      I’m a semi-hipster at heart. 😉

      And yes, LOVE Berlin!!

    Stunning photos Amanda! A really great roundup too. I feel a bit of a void because I didn’t spend nearly enough time in Ljublijana when I was there and now really miss it 🙁 One of the cities I feel I need to return to. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

      Aww too bad! You’ll definitely have to go back sometime and spend more time there!

    Forgot to ask. Have you visited Istanbul? It’s a hectic and culturally fascinating city. I think you’d love it!

      Yes, I have indeed been there! I was almost going to put it on this list, but since it’s half in Asia and half in Europe I wasn’t sure if it counted. Haha.

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