My 12 Favorite European Capitals

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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 dozen (so far).

My 12 favorite European capitals:
12. DUBLIN

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.

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

11. PARIS

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

10. OSLO

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

9. ROME

Pantheon in Rome

Similarly to Paris, Rome is a capital 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.

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

8. WARSAW

Warsaw Old Town

This one might come as a surprise to some people, but I actually really enjoyed my time spent in 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

7. BUDAPEST

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. Having only spent a couple of days there, it’s a city I definitely plan to return to.

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

6. BERLIN

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I have fallen 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

5. RIGA

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

4. REYKJAVIK

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

3. LJUBLJANA

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

2. EDINBURGH

Victoria Street in Edinburgh, Scotland

The Scottish capital is one city that I probably will never tire of visiting. It’s not a large 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

1. LONDON

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

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

 

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. This sentence, above all others, spoke to me: “The reality is often hours of bus rides, plane flights, rough hotels,
    endless negotiations for vegetarian food, and a whole lot of days spent
    getting lost and asking many questions…”

    I haven’t spent a lot of time in a lot of Africa (I lived in Kenya for eight months and took one trip to Uganda during that time), but I found that every day took effort. Things didn’t come easily, even when I assumed they would or common sense would tell me otherwise. It’s a place that requires patience and flexibility, but the rewards can’t be found anywhere else in this world.

  2. I have been experiencing some big traffic spikes recently and ouch I have lost days on this stuff!!! Last week just before I went away for 5 days I had a break and it screwed up a lot of stuff finally forcing me to update to a $120 a month VPS server…. Ouch but that is the price you pay to keep these websites running. It’s funny that servers make traffic spikes a bad event!

    Glad it’s all fixed.

  3. It sounds like we will need some popcorn to read your next years adventures…

    PS Ultimo Guerrero (the wrestler’s mask that you are wearing) should be your sponsor hehehe.

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