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Planning a great trip to Europe can be daunting. It’s massive, it has tons of different things to offer and there are many countries that fly under the radar but are still incredibly worth the visit. But a trip to Europe has so many benefits, the main one being that it’s so compact you’re able to travel to a lot of different places and see a lot of different things on a low budget.
But where should you go? We want to help you navigate that by giving you a guide to each country and how to make the most out of your trip, starting with the best cities in western Europe.
For Americans, one of the easiest trips for European beginners is definitely the U.K. It’s not much different from many parts of the United States, there’s no language barrier and the food doesn’t skew too far from what you find at home. But the UK has a few things that a lot of other places don’t.
There’s an amazing sense of history in the UK. In many places, you’re able to see buildings built centuries ago. And of course, one of the hottest tourist destinations is Stonehenge, which dates back thousands of years. Even in the city of London, right downtown, you’ll find remnants of a roman defense wall built in the 2nd or 3rd century. But if more recent history is more your thing, the United Kingdom is still an awesome destination, having been a major point of interest during World War II. You can walk through the tunnels where Winston Churchill himself slept, ate and strategized.
Beyond that, the United Kingdom is home to arguably the best soccer league in the world. It may not seem like a big sport to Americans, but in the United Kingdom, soccer is a way of life. If you’re a sports fan, you have to put a Premier League soccer match at the top of your to-do list, no matter where you are in the country. You’ll witness passion, excitement and a sporting experience unlike anywhere else.
- London – Capital city and metropolis full of restaurants, bars, sights, and just about everything in between.
- Edinburgh – Medieval capital of Scotland with tons of cool castles and sights to see.
- Bath – Picturesque city known for the roman baths.
- Liverpool – Hometown of The Beatles, it has a nice waterfront and a wide variety of things to do.
- Manchester – Great museum City in Northwestern England.
Tips for the perfect UK trip:
- Don’t leave out the countryside: One of the coolest parts of England is outside of the classic cities of the country. Rent a car or take the train to the English countryside. Stay in a bed and breakfast in one of the small villages, soak up the beautiful scenery and visit the places (like Stonehenge) that sits away from the high rises.
- Eat more than just the English classics: Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash and a nice Sunday roast should all be culinary priorities. But the food scene in England goes far beyond the classics you think of. In London, there’s a tradition of amazing Indian cuisine, so don’t be afraid to try something different.
- Take advantage of the train: The United Kingdom, like many European countries, is really small. They have a great system of trains that can take you to all the corners of the country efficiently. Don’t think that just because you flew into London, you can’t also go to Liverpool. The train also easily can get you from London to other countries, including Paris, in under 3 hours.
If you’re looking for one of the most picturesque trips you’ve ever taken, Ireland may be perfect for you. The beautiful rolling hills, the dramatic cliffs, and the sheep galivanting along pathways will all wow you. The Cliffs of Moher will be one of the most amazing things you’ll ever see in your entire life and are by far one of the most popular attractions in the country.
Sure, the things you can do outside in Ireland are amazing, but what excites us most is what you can do inside, specifically at breweries and distilleries. Dublin is home to the Guinness Storehouse, where you can eat, drink and learn about what makes the perfect pint of Guinness. You can even learn the complicated pour and serve some up yourself. You haven’t tasted Guinness until you’ve had it fresh from the Guinness Storehouse. It really does taste different than what you get in the US.
But that’s not all for alcohol lovers. Less than 20-minutes away, you’ll find the Jameson Distillery. Take a tour, learn about the complicated process of making whiskey and then sample it from the source. These are the types of local experiences that get tourists in Ireland excited.
And last but not least one of our favorite stops in Dublin is the Temple Bar District. Shops, museums, restaurants, and cafés by day and music, dancing, and singing by night. Be prepared to walk into a pub and everyone is singing a popular Irish ballad. Also, be prepared to make friends with everyone you meet and don’t forget to indulge in a whiskey tasting or two.
- Dublin – Capital city and main attraction. A great jumping-off point for day trips. Tons of pubs, museums and exciting activities to do.
- Galway City – Beautiful harbor town with medieval walls, pubs, Irish folk music scene and more.
- County Clare – Home to Ireland’s most visited attraction, The Cliffs of Moher.
Tips for the perfect Ireland trip:
- Have a pint in a pub: The Guinness Storehouse is great, but it’s nothing compared to the experience of fully immersing yourself into the local culture by having some drinks with the locals. No matter what part of Ireland you in, stop by a pub, order a beer and strike up a conversation with the locals. The Irish are some of the warmest and welcoming people in the world. You’re guaranteed to have a great conversation, learn something new and laugh a ton.
- Experience castle life: Ireland is stacked full of amazing castles that date back hundreds of years and you’d miss out if you didn’t at least go visit a few. The Blarney Castle is the most popular of all of them, home of the Blarney Stone, which you can kiss to get the gift of flattery. But castles aren’t just for looking at. There are many across the country which you can actually sleep in, which is an experience worth looking into.
- Rent a car: Driving in another country can be a scary experience for some, but in Ireland, it’s so worth it. You’ll want to see every inch of this beautiful country and the best way to do it is with a car. See the cliffs, see the rolling fields, head to multiple cities and truly immerse yourself in Ireland. It’s a small enough country where you can see it all in one trip if you do it right. Book your car now with Auto Europe. And be sure to view this guide to road tripping in Ireland.
Home to some of the best food in the world, the fluffiest bread, the most famous wines, and the most luxurious beaches, France has a bit of everything. It’s the largest country in western Europe and may take more than one trip to see, but each excursion to France is worth every minute.
Food lovers, look no further. Paris has been called the culinary capital of the world and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. But the amazing food doesn’t stop there. As far away as the south coast in Nice, there are culinary classics loved around the world, from the Nicoise Salad to Ratatoullie, which both have roots in the region. This article would be 100,000 words if we opined any longer on the French food scene, but croissants, macarons, crepes, soufflé and much, much more should all be on the list.
And what pairs well with a great meal? Wine! The wine in Paris is arguably the best in the world for a lot of different varietals. Exploring the wine regions of France allows you to get out of the cities and into the beautiful countryside. Champagne in the northeast, Bordeaux in the southwest and so many others in between. Sample as much as you can, walk through the vineyards, taste the grapes off the vine and watch the interesting process come to life in front of your eyes.
- Paris – Incredible Food, atmosphere, architecture, museums, Food, Food, and More Food.
- Bordeaux – The entire region of Bordeaux is great for wine connoisseurs and for those who want to take in the expanse of southwestern France.
- Nice – Artsy town with a wonderful old town.
- Cannes – Resort town on the luxurious French Riviera
- Champagne – The only place that makes “Champagne” and can call it Champagne. Go and taste all the delicious bubbly your heart desires.
Tips for the perfect France trip:
Don’t be afraid to eat something new: You can’t go wrong with the food in France. It’s the perfect place to step outside of your comfort zone, even for the pickiest eaters. Take it from us, that pickiness will be out the window when you board your flight home. Things like frog legs and snails might seem strange, but order them, try them out and you won’t regret it.
Live the luxurious lifestyle: The south of France is one of the most luxurious places in the world. Each summer, Cannes is home to a film festival that hosts the biggest celebrities on earth. The marinas have mega yachts docked and the streets are lined with high-end cars. It’s the perfect place to sit back, layout on the beach and live the luxurious lifestyle. Stop by the luxury boutiques, drink a cocktail at the Ritz and pretend your pockets are much deeper than they are.
Spend time in museums: Every country in Europe has amazing museums, but if you neglect the museums of France, you’ll be missing out. Starting with The Louvre, you’ll find maybe the most famous painting ever: the Mona Lisa. Beyond that, the Catacombs gives you an eerie look at a former burial place and the Fondation Louis Vuitton gives you a look at the fashion icon’s personal art collection. Outside of Paris, you’ll find museums of all kinds, but one of the most interesting is the D-Day Museum, located just a short walk from where troops stormed during the war.
An easy stop on a trip through western and central Europe, Belgium offers picturesque towns and interesting architecture. It’s smaller than most U.S. states, making it extremely easy to get around in one visit, and it’s located near Paris, Germany, and other desirable destinations. You won’t want to miss out on this.
While Belgium is amazing to visit any time of year, the holiday time period is magical. The small towns and cities are dressed up to look just like movie sets and they boast some amazing Christmas markets with stalls selling anything from souvenirs to amazing Belgian foods. Take the opportunity to slide on some ice skates and cruise around one of the many rinks set up around these markets during the holidays.
Like many of the countries in the area, Belgium also has a really interesting art and architecture scene. One of the most interesting museums for architecture lovers is in Brussels and sits inside the home of famous Belgian architect Victor Horta. Step inside the Horta Museum for an amazing, detailed look at his work and the influence he had on the city.
- Ghent – University town and cultural center, this medieval city has lots to see and a great atmosphere to soak up.
- Antwerp – Museums, cathedrals and plenty of other sights populate this medieval city.
- Bruges – Canals & cobbled streets line this wonderful and charming little port town.
- Brussels – As a capital city, it has tons to do but many people jump off from Brussels to the smaller cities.
Tips for the perfect Belgium trip:
Eat chocolate: There’s a reason Belgian chocolate is famous around the world, and when you’re eating it in the country, you know you’re getting the best of the best. The two varieties you need to try are Pralines and our personal favorites, truffles.
Drink beer: Belgium is an absolutely must-visit for beer lovers, with more than 200 breweries in this small country alone. You can find great craft beer everywhere you turn. Stop into a brewery or restaurant and ask your waiter for a recommendation. Beer is such an important part of this country, there’s even a Hop Museum, which is worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Walk around at night: This may seem counterintuitive but there’s something so charming about how Belgium lights up at night. You’ll especially want to check out the Grand Palace in Brussels during the evening hours and enjoy the glow of the buildings nearby.
Sitting just north of Belgium sits the Netherlands, which offers a lot of the same great elements of Belgium, like the craft beer and architecture, but it also has a ton more to offer. The country is a hotspot for modern art, with amazing museums, art galleries and more. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is a great place to start if you’re looking for a full art immersion.
The country is also known for its beauty outside of its cities. It has massive fields of flowers, with tulips being the flower of choice. It has long rolling farms and is probably most famous for its windmills, which line the countryside in a way that looks like a perfect photograph.
- Amsterdam – Of course, this city has so much to do it requires an entire blog post. But be sure not to miss it.
- Rotterdam – A modern city with a rich history.
- Haarlem – Cobblestone streets lead to museums and cathedrals in this beautiful town west of Amsterdam
- The Hague – The royal city by the sea Scheveningen the most popular seaside town in Holland
- Utrecht – An ancient university town built around the Dom Tower
- Gouda – World famous for its cheese, syrup waffles, pipes, and earthenware
- Delft – The city of the world-famous Delft Blue ceramics, the birthplace of the “Master of Light” Johannes Vermeer.
Tips for the perfect Netherlands trip:
Ride a bike: The Netherlands is one of the most cycling-friendly countries in the world. You’ll find a surplus of easy-to-rent bikes and easy-to-understand bike lanes around the major cities. It’s also the perfect vehicle for exploring the areas outside of the cities as you have the opportunity to take a stroll down a country road.
Pro Tip: Watch out for the bike lanes (you might not even realize you are standing in one) and make sure you constantly look to your left and right because the bikers are everywhere, all the time
Float through a canal: The canals in Amsterdam are only rivaled by those in Venice. They’re an easy, exciting and relaxing way to see the city, and who doesn’t love a nice boat ride? It’s so beautiful that it’s been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sample the cheese: A lot of these countries on this list have some great cheese, but only the Netherlands can claim that it created gouda. Find yourself a cheese market, eat some gouda and other varieties on sale and enjoy it from the source.
Situated between Germany, France, and Belgium, Luxembourg is a small country that often gets overlooked by travelers, which is in large part due to its size. Luxembourg is smaller than Rhode Island, but there are still plenty of reasons to visit.
Luxembourg’s only real city, also called Luxembourg, is as cute as any city in Europe, with museums, coffee shops, and great architecture. It’s also a country with tons of history with towns and buildings dating back hundreds of years. In Luxembourg’s city, you’ll want to check out St. Michael’s Church, built 500 years ago.
- Luxembourg’s only city is the obvious first stop, but you can see this entire country in just one weekend.
Tips for the perfect Luxembourg trip:
Relax: Since Luxembourg is such a small country, you have the chance to see it all in a short period of time, which gives you the opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery the country has to offer.
See some castles: One of the main attractions of the country is its castles. Some are ruins and some have been well-preserved but all of them are worth checking out.
Eat fancy: Luxembourg is home to ten different Michelin-Starred restaurants, some having multiple stars. Enjoy an extremely unique dining experience by checking one out during your visit. Beyond that, one of the most interesting restaurants is called Restaurant Chiggeri, which has a wine list of 2,200 different wines. No, that’s not a typo.
Another one of western Europe’s largest countries, Spain is an epicenter of culture, with amazing architecture, bustling cities, and amazing beaches. It has a few really great cities that feel completely unique to one another and offer something completely fresh and new. Madrid is a sweeping modern city in the middle of the country with fantastic nightlife, while Barcelona sits on the coast and is a slow-paced beach city with divine seafood.
One of the more interesting aspects of the country is its unique architecture, whether it be the vaulted markets in Valencia, the beautiful plazas of Madrid or the eccentric styles of Barcelona. In Barcelona specifically, the influence of Antoni Gaudi is everywhere you look. You can’t miss his quirky buildings which have become major tourist attractions, from Park Guell to La Casa Mila. But his most famous work is La Sagrada Familia, or “the unfinished church” as it’s often called. Construction on the cathedral began in the late 1800s and still continues today.
Further, in the heart of Spain, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, you will find Granada. Granada is mostly known for the Alhambra, an Arabic Castle built to house the Arab Sultans who ruled the province. And is commonly referred to as heaven on earth.
Pro Tip: If you decide to venture to Granada and visit the Alhambra buy your tickets way in advance because they sell out fast. Over 2 million people visit each year and approximately 8,500 a day.
- Barcelona – There is so much to do in this city. Great food, wonderful atmosphere, great nightlife, cathedrals, art, and more.
- Madrid – Capital city and great for art, food, nightlife, cathedrals and more.
- Seville – This southern Spanish capital is famous for its historic churches and palaces, Moorish buildings, flamenco dancing, and the filming of “Game of Thrones”
- Granada – Most known for the Alhambra
And many more…
Tips for the perfect Spain trip:
Be patient: Spain moves slower than many other parts of the world, and you should welcome that with open arms. Take a nice afternoon nap, have a late dinner and sit around until the early hours of the morning as you sip some great Spanish wine and enjoy a real paella, which takes upwards of five hours to perfect.
Check the calendar: Spain loves a good festival: Carnival, The Fallas of Valencia, The April Fair in Seville and many more. These are some of the most enjoyable cultural experiences around. The most unique and exciting of them all is called La Tomatina a tradition in August dating back decades, which includes a massive tomato fight.
Soak in the art: Obviously, check out the art no matter what country you go to, but the art scene of the last century has tons of roots in Spain. Sit in a cafe where some of the most famous artists met, worked and displayed art. See authentic works from Miró, Dalí and of course, Pablo Picasso.
Just a short drive away from Spain, Portugal sits on the western coast of Spain and offers a warmer climate than other European countries, blue waters, colorful architecture, and incredible food. While Spain and France both have some great beaches, they don’t hold a candle to those of Portugal, which are the best in western Europe.
If you’re looking for a beach holiday, look no further than Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal. Great beaches, nice resorts, and picturesque coastlines, all combined with good food and wine make this the perfect vacation destination.
The cities of Portugal, Lisbon being the most popular, are seeping with interesting cultural experiences and history. In Lisbon, you can take their famous, yellow trolley around some of the most popular neighborhoods and you can stop and ride an elevator designed by Gustave Eiffel himself.
- Porto – A very romantic city and is the home of Port wine. Wine tasting, architecture and comfort food are a must in Porto.
- Lisbon – Capital city with great architecture, famous sights and not too far from the beach!
- Sintra – One of the most unique architectural destinations, including a famously colorful castle, Pena Palace.
- The Algarve Region – Including Faro, Albufeira, Lagoa, Lagos, Loulé, Olhão, Portimão, Quarteira, Silves, Tavira, and Vila Real de Santo António. Each of these cities has something spectacular to offer.
Tips for the perfect Portugal trip:
Wear loose pants: The food scene in Portugal is next-level. And luckily, in Lisbon, they curate the best of the best all in one place at the Time Out Market. Walk the halls of this place and you’ll see stall after stall of amazing Portuguese cuisine. Be sure to try sardines, cozido, acorda and a personal favorite, bacalhau, which is a delicious cod fritter. Top it all off with a sweet delicacy, Pasteis de Nata, which is a well-known pastry featuring egg custard.
Bring your walking shoes: Portugal is a wilderness paradise, but beyond that, it’s extremely hilly. Lisbon alone is one big hill with tons of slopes and stairs. The trip out to Sintra features a ton of walking if you’re going to do it right and then the many different hiking trails are a must for any tourist. You’ll just need comfortable shoes.
Learn how to order a coffee: Portugal has some amazing coffee and before your trip, it’ll help to brush up on some of the coffee terms to be sure you get exactly what you want. The standard cup of coffee isn’t “café” as it is elsewhere in the world, you’ll want a “meia de leite.” A “café” will get you an espresso, which is quite strong in Portugal, so if you need some milk in it, add “um pingo.”
Pro Tip: Watch out for pickpocketers. Shamefully, they got us while we were sitting at a table listening to music and grabbing a beer. Disguised as a homeless lady that was begging for coins. She masterfully distracted us with her English translation sign all the while stealing one of our phones off the table.
Western Europe: Something for Everyone
You can’t go wrong in traveling to Western Europe. Western Europe is home to a rich and vibrant history and culture. It is also home to some of the greatest food in the world. Even if you spend years in Western Europe, you can’t possibly know everything there is to do in its great cities. Be sure to take your time in exploring these so you can truly soak up everything there is to offer.
We hope this guide to the best cities in Western Europe has helped you with your trip planning and be sure to keep an eye out for other guides to Europe coming soon!