While studying abroad in Spain this past semester, I traveled to two continents, 10 countries and 23 cities. Here is my list of the 23 cities I visited in Europe, ranked from my favorite to my least favorite. If you’re thinking about going to any of these places, I hope that you find this list helpful, as I know I was surprised throughout some of my travels as I found that some cities that I thought would be my favorites (cough-Rome-cough) ended up being my least favorites and that some cities I had never heard of before ended up being some of my favorite places I visited.
1. Seville, Spain
I will say, I am a bit biased, as I studied abroad in Seville, Spain, but either way, this is one of the most incredible, unique and charming cities I’ve seen throughout all of my travels. Seville is everything one thinks of when imagining the stereotypical Spain – beautiful Arabic-inspired buildings, warm sunshine that’s hardly ever masked by clouds or rain (I think it only rained four or five times in the four months I was abroad there.), incredible flamenco performances in bars and sometimes in the street, and more. While Madrid and Barcelona may have more tourist attractions to see, Seville has a lot of charm and between the huge Gothic cathedral (which houses the remains of Christopher Columbus), the Real Alcázar (Game of Thrones fans can get a taste of Dorn in this Arabic-inspired palace), and the Plaza de España (Star Wars filmed a scene there), the city isn’t short of tourist attractions either.
2. Paris, France
Before going to Paris, I was worried that I may have been overhyping this city in my mind (like I had with Rome the week before – see #21), but after stepping onto the streets of this elegant city, I realized that it was everything that I’d dreamed it would be and more. While in Paris, there’s just this feeling that overwhelms you – this feeling of wonder and excitement. I found it similar to the feelings I’ve had as a kid (and, heck, even still get) when I walk through the street’s of Disney’s Magical Kingdom. No matter what I did or where I went in Paris, this feeling always permeated through my body. Whether I was climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower or doing something as regular as drinking a cappuccino, the feelings of excitement remained. I think this is because this city, unlike any other large European city I’ve seen, was so elegant and beautiful and had that charm that many smaller European cities have but the larger ones tend to lack. I will also say that this city, contrary to the beliefs of many, can be very budget friendly (especially for students). Yes, restaurants there are expensive, but the street food is cheap and better! With plenty of sweet and savory crepes, delicious baguette sandwiches in bakeries and L’As du Falafel, you can save money on meals and still eat some of the best food in town. And then by saving money on meals, you won’t feel bad spending more money on all the fabulous pastries and other desserts that you can find throughout the city.
3. Dublin, Ireland
Dublin is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe! I’ve always dreamed of going to Ireland and thought that it was always a top destination in Europe (up there with Paris), but lately I’ve realized that not many people have shared that same dream. Dublin, like Paris, gave me those same feelings of excitement. Like Paris, Dublin is somewhere out of another world. I had a blast walking through streets that looked straight out of a Sherlock Holmes movie, and I especially loved listening to live Irish music at various pubs every night. Also, this city, while having a lot to do, is very compact, which is a nice change from many cities, where I end up walking over a marathon every weekend. Additionally, the country of Ireland is small, so it’s easy to take day trips to other parts of the country from Dublin – for example, I loved taking a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher! And unlike most European cities you’ll visit, the Irish are so nice and they love Americans! This kindness is the icing on the cake for this lovely city. You can read more about things to do, see and eat in Dublin in my Dublin travel guide.
4. Salzburg, Austria
Even if you’re not the huge Sound of Music fan like I am, this city is incredible. Not only is it a small, charming Austrian city, but it’s located right next to many gorgeous mountains and lakes. Even before entering the city, I was amazed as I stepped out onto the Tarmac after landing at the airport to see a huge mountain looming over the airfield. The next time I return to Europe, I’d love to spend more time in the beautiful lakes and mountains of the region. I loved exploring the city – visiting Mozart’s birth home, climbing to the top of a fortress overlooking the city and surrounding mountains, and eating and ice-skating my way through the Salzburg Christmas Market.
5. London, England, U.K.
I enjoyed my visit to London, but I think I would have enjoyed it more had I spent more time there. My advice to anyone thinking of visiting, make the most of your time by spending more to take the tube (Get a visitor Oyster Card) and spend more to stay in a central location in the city, that way you can make the most of your time there because there’s so much to see. What I did see though, I loved. I enjoyed visiting the Tower of London, flying through the wall at Platform 9 ¾ to take the Hogwarts Express, and having afternoon tea.
6. Prague, Czech Republic
People always told me that this city looked straight out of a fairy tail, and they were right. The city is full of charm and also some interesting history, between the Protestant Reformation, its old communist regime, and Nazi control of the city during WWII, anyone even remotely interested in history will enjoy a visit to Prague. I also loved the city’s two beautiful parks overlooking the city (one even has its own miniature Eiffel Tower), the Christmas Market, and beer of course (the people of the Czech Republic drink more beer than those of any other country). If you want to try a variety of Czech beers, there are plenty of organizations offering beer tastings, or you can “Czech out” the Beer Museum, a bar, where you can order flights of beer with 5 or 10 of their many different Czech brewed beers.
7. Amsterdam, Netherlands
I really struggled with the placement of this city, as it really rivaled Paris for me. This large city too, is full of charm with its many canals, boats and bikes throughout the city. I never thought of Amsterdam as somewhere that I really wanted to visit, but I tagged along with some friends and was pleasantly surprised. I loved just wandering the beautiful streets; touring the Heineken brewery; eating a lot of cheese; and exploring a nearby national park full of beaches, sand dunes, and pine tree forests. The Dutch, like the Irish, tend to be some of the nicest of the Europeans, too, which was another added bonus.
8. Barcelona, Spain
It was hard for me to choose between Barcelona and Madrid as my favorite of the two Spanish city rivals, but I decided to choose Barcelona because of its incredibly beautiful setting: nestled in a valley on the coast of Spain. Gaudi’s work in the city is also something incredible that Madrid doesn’t have. I’ve seen a million European cathedrals now, so many so that seeing Notre Dame in Paris wasn’t as exciting as it sounds, but the Sagrada Familia designed (and still yet to be completed) and worked on by Gaudi is breathtaking and unlike any other cathedral in the world. Park Güell, another work by Gaudi, is also incredible. Check out my post on 5 Tips for Seeing Barcelona for more information.
9. Madrid, Spain
Although this Spanish city is sometimes overshadowed by Barcelona, I loved my time in Madrid. Although not as beautiful and charming as Seville, or even Barcelona, does have some charm. I loved visiting the royal palace, exploring the Parque de Buen Retiro (Home to a crystal palace!), and eating Spanish tapas at El Mercado de San Miguel. It’s also easy to take cool day trips from this city to Toledo (see #11) or Segovia. Check out my post on 11 Things to do in Madrid.
10. Granada, Spain
This smaller Spanish city reminds me a lot of Seville because it’s filled with so much charm. To begin, it has arguably the most impressive of all of the palaces in Spain, serves as the central attraction to the city, and it really is incredible. The palace is nestled at the top of part of the Sierra Nevada mountains and has an incredible view of the city below and the surrounding mountains. Not to mention, the inside of this palace is incredible as well, especially because it’s so massive – it feels a bit like a small city in and of itself. While the Alhambra is the central attraction, the rest of Granada is full of fun too – every tapas bar gives free food with every drink ordered (something unique in Spain), and as the birthplace of flamenco, there are sure to be incredible flamenco performances throughout the city.
11. Toledo Spain
As one of the former capitals of Castilla, Toledo is quite the historic city, which can be seen immediately upon entering, as the city still has some old medieval-looking walls, bridges and a huge old alcazar (palace and fortress) sitting atop a hill. The city also has some interesting religious history, as Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures used to coexist there. The famous painter El Greco also made his home in Toledo after moving from Crete, so you can find some of his most famous works in various churches throughout the city as well as in the El Greco Museum, a recreation of his old home in the city (I’m usually not a museum person, but I enjoyed it!). This city is just a short 30-40 minute train ride away from Madrid, so Toledo’s worth a visit if you’re in the capital city.
Córdoba, like Sevilla, Granada and Toledo, also feels like another world. It’s famed for its old mosque, which the Christians later took over and put a chapel inside. The mosque is beautiful and incredible and so are the streets of this city. Don’t forget to walk on the old Roman bridge built in the first century that still stands strong in the city – right across the street from the mosque.
13. Gibraltar, U.K.
Gibraltar has to be one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been to. The military history is interesting, the monkeys are adorable and hilarious, but I think my favorite part was the unique blending of cultures. While it is a U.K. territory, the Spanish influence in the city is strong, as it’s so close to Spain. It’s also so close to Morocco, so there’s a strong Moroccan influence as well. I enjoyed seeing this blending of cultures scattered around the city – hearing its citizens speaking perfect British English and perfect Spanish and seeing the variety of food (fish and chips, Moroccan pitas and Spanish tapas).
14. Nuremberg, Germany
This German city is home to what many consider to be one of the best Christmas markets in all of Europe. I did love the market – unlike many others it had two extra sections apart from the main one: one geared towards kids and another international section filled with booths representing countries from all over the world (There was even an Atlanta, Georgia booth!). Apart from the market though, I loved visiting this adorable German city. A much smaller city than Munich, Nuremberg has a lot more charm and looks more like the quintessential German town one thinks of. It also has some interesting history, as it was one of Hitler’s favorite towns and was of course home to the Nuremberg trials.
15. Munich, Germany
Munich itself didn’t seem very charming to me, but there were a few charming parts, like the park – bigger than Central Park (and it has a wave pool for surfers)! I’m sure the palace there is cool as well, although I didn’t have time to visit it. This city is in a great location though, so I loved how easy it was to visit the Nuremburg Christmas Market, Neuschwanstein Castle, and Dachau Concentration Camp. It’s also close to Salzburg (only about an hour by train). Bavaria is very cool and a beautiful part of Germany. I enjoyed eating the largest schnitzel in Munich, drinking German beer of course and eating lots of pretzels!
16. Bilbao, Spain
Bilbao is such an underrated Spanish city. It’s located in the beautiful País Vasco, located on the North Eastern coasts of Spain and full of beautiful mountains. Bilbao was once a grimy industrial town, but the city has done quite a lot to clean it up and make it more attractive to visitors. It’s now home to the famous Guggenheim, the city’s central attraction, and many other modern buildings and bridges, but it’s still home to a very charming old town. And if you’re a foodie wanting to visit Spain, then Bilbao is the place for you, as people say that the País Vasco has the best food in all of Spain Go pintxo hopping in the Plaza Mayor in the old town and you won’t be disappointed (don’t forget to try the txacoli, their white wine). You might also try one of the famous cider houses, where you can fill up your glass as many times as you want straight from a barrel of their also famous hard cider.
17. Chefchouan, Morocco
Ever since discovering this city from my wanderlust-y searches on Pinterest, it’s been a dream of mine to go. This is a beautiful Moroccan city where all of the buildings are painted Carolina blue. The people there were nice, and I enjoyed bartering with the merchants there.
18. Cádiz, Spain
Cádiz is a relaxing and historic beach town that’s only an hour train ride from Seville. The sand and ocean were beautiful as well as the historic city, as it’s the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in Western Europe.
19. Málaga, Spain
Málaga too is a relaxing coastal city, although it’s much larger than Cádiz with a fairly large airport, as it is a popular destination for many British tourists and retirees. The beaches were beautiful, and the city has a charming city center that is somewhat historic as well, as it was home to the young Pablo Picasso and now has a museum dedicated to the painter.
20. Estepona, Spain
I stayed near this teeny town just to stay at a Marriott beach resort. I never went inside the town myself, although it seemed somewhat dirty to me, which was surprising as it’s close to Málaga and is one of the most popular European beach destinations. The resort was very nice though, although I wasn’t a huge fan of the rocky beach. It was beautiful at first, but then I soon found it annoying as it made it difficult to enter the water and impossible to take a stroll along the ocean.
21. Rome, Italy
Rome was a huge let down. I’ve always imagined myself studying abroad there if I didn’t want to practice my Spanish, but I’m so glad that I didn’t. I never felt unsafe in Europe during my travels, but Rome was the closest I came to it. It’s a very shady and dirty city. Apparently my friend saw a drug deal going on in this weird park we stumbled upon that was full of stray cats… Weird, I know. While I did enjoy seeing the Vatican and the Coliseum, my overall experience of this city was very poor. The food was good too, of course, but it wasn’t anything special, as I’ve eaten food just as good or better in the U.S.
22. Ceuta, Spain
Ceuta is one of two independent cities in Spain that is located in Africa. It was very cool to visit this city, located just an hour ferry ride away from Algeciras, near La Linea de la Concepción and Gibraltar. However, once my father and I wandered around for about an hour, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves until our ferry to return back to the Iberian Peninsula. The old fort that’s there is very cool, but didn’t take long to see.
23. Asila, Morocco
I absolutely hated this city. It’s sad because it’s a beautiful coastal Moroccan city with buildings with white walls and blue doors. But there isn’t much to do in this city, and what made it the worst were the street vendors who were extremely aggressive and kept harassing us. I’ve never passed out before, but I felt like I was about to because of how overwhelming the harassment was. I literally told a man after he kept pestering us after we told him no, “No queremos comprar nada de tus cosas. Dejanos en paz.” We don’t want to buy any of your things leave us alone. Even after that, he kept bothering us. It was just too much for me.
Well, I hope you find this list helpful if you’re thinking about visiting any of these cities. If you have any questions about these places, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below!