So many cities, so little time! That’s the wonderful – and daunting – thing about Europe. There are just so many neatly compact gems of urban culture that it can be tough deciding which ones are most worth seeing for yourself. But what’s great about a lot of European cities is that you can have fun exploring them thoroughly in just a few days and then move on to your next amazing destination.
To make the narrowing down of options easier for you, we’ve come up with a shortlist of European cities that we think will be the best ones to visit in 2020, when you’ve only got a few days to spare. Our list places equal emphasis on some of the biggest and best-known (and some of the cheapest) cities in Europe and it’s less celebrated but no less fabulous ones while also taking into account which destinations would be perfect for a weekend getaway.
Arguably the most fun city in Europe (if not the world), Amsterdam is also one of the Continent’s most elegant and cultured places to visit. You can go for the infamously raucous nightlife if you wish, but you can also go to world-class museums such as the Rijksmuseum to ponder works by the Old Masters, the Van Gogh Museum and Rembrandt House Museum for insight into the lives of artistic geniuses, and the Anne Frank House for a poignant reminder of perseverance during troubled times. Shopping street markets, tucking into street food and generally admiring the street life at its most vibrant as you bounce between attractions and activities are big parts of the appeal here. Like a Dutch pancake, Amsterdam is famously flat. So it’s very walkable and definitely bike rideable. Trams, buses and of course canal boats mean getting around this small city is simple and often extremely scenic.
The Greek capital makes it to our list not only for its growing reputation for having the best bars and clubs but also for being one of the cheapest cities in Europe. Rooftop bars are particularly popular here. And with a backdrop that includes sites such as the Parthenon and the Acropolis, an evening of outdoor drink couldn’t be more evocative! Dive into Athens’ ancient history during the day (and maybe even squeeze in a dip at a nearby Yabanaki Beach or Astir Beach during extended stays) and check out the trendsetting nightlife when the warm and constant Greek sunsets. The hottest spots for well crafted cold drinks are the Clumsies and Baba Au Rum. For a delicious introduction to Greek wine head to Warehouse or Heteroclito.
Art fans will swoon at this small Swiss city’s seemingly unfair share of museums and galleries, especially the collections at Fondation Beyeler, Kustmuseum Basel and the Schaulager. Design aficionados will go gaga for the eye candy thoughtfully preserved and presented at the Vitra Design Museum just outside the city in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Lovers of architecture will marvel at a cityscape featuring some of Europe’s best-preserved medieval buildings and some of the 21st century’s most lauded architectural marvels. Nature lovers will admire access to the Rhine River running through Basel dividing the Old Town and the New City as well as the location making it a great base for exploring the nearby countryside.
Ireland’s youthful and friendly second city is an ideal setting for a weekend romp. The food is fantastic, especially when sourced from or served at the English Market, an 18th century covered market where traders hawk organic and regionally produced food. The locally brewed beer is tasty too and poured properly at historic and welcoming pubs, where there’s always a good chance traditional Celtic music is being played live. To burn a few calories or work up an appetite, ring the Bells of Shandon at St. Anne’s Church or hike along the river or nearby coast. Looking for a great conversation starter? Make your way to Blarney Castle, only a few miles from Cork city center, and queue up to kiss the legendary Blarney Stone.
Tapas and top chefs offer an allure that foodies should not resist. Maybe (and it’s a big maybe) Madrid is the gourmet and gourmand capital of Europe. Amazing food markets, the snuggest bars (whether you’re up for wine, sherry, vermouth, or beer there’s a watering hole for you) and an indecent number of Michelin star restaurants abound. The city is also in the running for the smartest spot for the classic art. Viewing seminal works by Velasquez, Goya and other important painters at the Prado is a splendid way to spend an afternoon. If you can saunter the 10-minute walk over to the Reina Sofia Museum to admire Pablo Picasso’s Guernica even better.
Like Audrey Hepburn said in Sabrina—Paris is always a good idea (and also one you can often find cheap plane tickets to, by the way). The City of Lights never fails to delight, whether you’re visiting for your first or gazillionth time. From going underneath the streets for a grounding experience touring the Paris catacombs to reaching the top of the Eiffel Tower to survey the city from the tip of its most famous landmark, there’s plenty to see and do. Notre Dame, the Louvre, crepes, steak tartare… even if you’ve never been you know you love Paris! 2020’s the year to make it happen or to rekindle the affair with this famously romantic French city.
Rome wasn’t built in a day but it can be enjoyed in a weekend. You’ll have a colossal few days combing the streets, devouring the food and basking in the culture. For the most must-see attractions, such as the Vatican, you’d be wise to book ahead well in advance. But the little things you’ll encounter in passing will turn out to be just as fascinating. For a more humble but no less authentically Roman outing, mosey round the neighborhood of Campo De Fiori and be sure to check out Antico Forno Roscioli for homey and delicious baked goods and pizza.
Do you have a favorite city in Europe? We’d love to hear about it and any other preferred urban getaways you’d like to recommend.