The best countries to visit in Europe starts with an overall look. Europe is the second smallest continent in the world but has captured the hearts of countless people from around the world. Its land area is only about four million square miles (about a third the size of Africa), however it has a population of about 740 million.
There are 46 countries in Europe, 27 of which are European Union (EU) members. Two-thirds of all Europeans live within the borders of the EU. There are greater than 200 different languages spoken in Europe, though the EU recognizes only 23 that are commonly used within its member countries.
The smallest country by land area and population is Vatican City and the largest country, by land area, is Russia which spans both Europe and Asia. Russia has the highest peak, Mount Elbrus, the largest lake, Lake Ladoga, and the longest river, The Volga River.
With such a vast history within Europe, it is difficult to decide where to visit. Following are four of the top-rated cities to visit in Europe. I’m sure you’ll find a favorite, too.
Here’s a quick look at this list of best countries to visit in Europe.
Any visit to France would be lacking without touring the City of Lights, nicknamed so because it was one of the first European cities to adopt street lighting. Paris has numerous sights and it would take months to tour them all. Following are highlights of some of the marvels of France’s capital city.
The Eiffel Tower was conceived by Gustave Eiffel and constructed in 1889 for the Universal Exposition. The tower was not meant to be permanent and many Parisians despised the tower originally. The tower was saved and became a permanent, and beloved, icon of the Parisian landscape for its usefulness in astronomy and physiology experiments as well as its efficacy as a radio antenna tower. Every year, nearly seven million visitors ascend to the top of the tower.
The Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle and at the western end of the famous Champs Elysees. The Arc de Triomphe honors the soldiers who fought and perished in the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies beneath the arch. Stroll down the nearly two-kilometer length of the Champs Elysees, often described as the ‘World’s Most Beautiful Avenue.’ Window shop at such stores as Guerlain, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and more affordable shops such as Zara, the Gap, and Nike.
Notre Dame Cathedral is a medieval Catholic cathedral located on Ile de la Cité. It has been hailed as the best example of classic gothic architecture. It has been immortalized in countless films. Because of the recent fire which burned a large part of the celebrated cathedral, Notre Dame is not open for tourists to enter, however visitors may still walk around the building. Reconstruction of the symbolic heart of the city should start in the near-future.
No visit to Paris would be complete without touring the Louvre. Gaze upon the mysterious Mona Lisa or contemplate the David. Even without the priceless works of art, the Louvre is an architecturally stunning and awe-inspiring display of opulence and design. If you have time, Paris has many other notable museums to view paintings and sculpture, such as the Musée d’Orsay – a converted, former railroad station – and the Pompidou Center – a masterpiece of modern construction.
Sacre-Coeur Basilica is located at the top of Montmartre, a district primarily known for its artistic history. Sacre Coeur is a Roman Catholic basilica. The top of the dome is open to the public and is the second highest point in Paris, after the Eiffel Tower.
Take a short train ride outside of Paris to visit the Palace of Versailles. Explore the vast rooms and gardens and contemplate the life of the French royalty. Versailles was the main royal residence from 1682 through 1789 and has 55 historic fountains. Be sure not to miss the Hall of Mirrors, the State Apartments, the Royal Chapel, and the King’s Bedchamber.
While in Paris, be sure to feast upon at least one baguette – the crunchy exterior and fluffy interior will almost make you feel like a Parisian. Steak frites (literally steak and French fries) are ubiquitous in nearly every café. Sample pastries and delicious macarons while sipping chocolat chaud or hot chocolate that is thick, rich, and creamy. If you’re looking for street food, indulge in both savory and sweet crepes. Your gastronomical tour would not be complete without crème brulée, French chocolates, croissants, canard or duck, and the profiteroles. There is also coq au vin, meringues, foie gras, and another famous street food – croque monsieur or madame (the madame sports an egg).
London is the capital of England and the United Kingdom. Its history reaches back to Roman times, nearly two millennia. London is one of the oldest of the world’s great cities and Britain’s largest metropolis. Greater London covers an area of 607 square miles with a population of nearly nine million people.
There is a lot to see and do in London. Try some of the activities below and you will become enchanted with this capital city.
Westminster Abbey is the nickname for the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster. It is a large Gothic abbey church in the City of Westminster, London, near the Palace of Westminster. Westminster Abbey has been the venue for over 16 royal wedding and 17 monarchs are buried within the Abbey. It is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. While touring Westminster, you may also choose to attend a complementary public viewing of the Houses of Parliament, located nearby. Big Ben in the clocktower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster. Formally, Big Ben is the nickname of the Great Bell, however, it generally includes both the clock and the tower.
Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard are two of the top tourist attractions in London. Buckingham Palace has been the official London residence of the United Kingdom’s royal family since 1837 and is also the administrative headquarters of the Monarch. Buckingham Palace is comprised of 775 rooms including 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, and 78 bathrooms. State Rooms are open to visitors in the summer, but you can see the Changing of the Guard daily in the summer and four days a week the rest of the year.
- The Changing of the Guard is a formal ceremony where a group of soldiers is relieved of their duties by a new group of soldiers. The event commences at 10:30 a.m. and lasts until 11:30 a.m. There is nowhere you can stand to watch the entire event, so choose which is best for you. Places to view include:
- Friary Court
- The Mall
- The Victoria Memorial
- Buckingham Palace Gates
- The Wellington Barracks
Tower of London is an historic castle that is officially titled “Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London.” It was founded in 1066 by William the Conqueror and was a resented symbol of oppression. The Tower was used as a prison from 1100 A.D. until 1952. It is a complex of many buildings within two concentric rings. There are also defensive walls and a moat. The Tower has had many uses: armory, menagerie, treasury, public record office, and most notably, the home of the Crown Jewels of England.
The West End of London is famous for its mainstream professional theater. More than 15 million people attended a theatrical show in 2017 in the West End. Check for shows that interest you and witness a part of history in the theater.
- London is filled with countless museums and galleries. Whichever is your favorite artistic genre, you can be certain there will be a museum to satisfy your creative fancy.
- British Museum – Britain’s largest museum houses the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone.
- National Gallery showcases art works completed prior to 1900, including works by Da Vinci, Botticelli, Monet, Van Gogh, Seurat, and Cezanne.
- Natural History Museum
- Victory & Albert
- Tate Modern exhibits artists such as Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, and Miro.
- …and many more
Even if you’re not in the mood to shop, you need to stroll through the elaborate shopping emporium that is Harrods. There is an elaborate Egyptian Room as well as the celebrated Food Hall. It is arguably the world’s most famous department store.
The London Eye is Europe’s tallest cantilevered Ferris wheel, used for observation, and is currently the most popular tourist attraction in the United Kingdom with more than 3.75 million visitors annually. It opened formally on December 31, 1999 but did not open to the public until March 2000. It was intended as a temporary attraction but received permanent status in 2002.
Dining in England has been wrongly maligned. Try these delicious, quintessentially, British foods and let your taste buds come alive.
- Full English breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, and baked beans served with toast
- Scones with jam and clotted cream
- Crumpets – a spongy version of English muffins
- Afternoon tea – scones, finger sandwiches, and pastries served with tea
- Toad in the Hole – sausages cooked in pastry
- Yorkshire Pudding – a savory pastry that is both crispy and doughy
- Shephard’s Pie – ground meat and vegetables topped with mashed potatoes
- Pimm’s Cup – a gin-based alcohol made with ginger ale or lemon-lime soda, fruit and mint
- Scotch Eggs – a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat that is then breaded and fried
- Pasty – a hand-held pie stuffed with savory fillings
- English cheddar
- Fish & Chips
- Ploughman’s Lunch – a cold meal with bread, meat, cheese, and onions served at most pubs
- Eton Mess – a deconstructed dessert comprised with meringue, whipped cream, and berries
- Bangers and Mash – sausages and mashed potatoes
- Sticky toffee pudding – moist cake topped with a toffee sauce
London has many neighborhoods known the world over: Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Chinatown, SoHo. Spend an afternoon wandering the streets and discover a delightful city with something for everyone. Harry Potter fans will rejoice in Platform 9 ¾ at the King’s Cross Train Station. Fans of the Beatles will want their own iconic picture taken on Abbey Road. London truly has something for everyone. Cheerio!
Rome, the Eternal City, is Italy’s capital city. It is a sprawling, multinational city with nearly 3,000 years of breathtaking art, culture, and architecture. Walk down any street, and you are bound to discover ancient ruins with the modern city built up around them. You could spend weeks in Rome and still not have enough time to explore all that Rome has to offer.
The Coliseum is the iconic symbol of Rome and sits in the heart of downtown. It was completed in 80 A.D. and primarily used as an entertainment venue where Roman citizens watched gladiators fight to the death or fight dangerous predators. It is doubtless one of the world’s greatest monuments, despite its bloody history.
The Roman Forum is a series of fascinating ruins and arches located near the Coliseum. It was once the political and religious heart of the Roman Empire. Gaze upon the ruins of ancient temples, government buildings, and shrines.
The Pantheon was completed during the early second century A.D. and dedicated to the “pantheon” of Roman gods. Admire the beauty of the Corinthian columns and the vast size of its dome – which remains the largest unsupported dome in the world to this day. It was converted to a church in the seventh century, and that helped it survive destruction after the fall of the Roman Empire. It is constructed of Roman concrete – an amazing material whose recipe has mysterious origins.
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Museums of Vatican City are not technically in Rome but in the independent city-state of Vatican City contained entirely within Rome. Appreciate the vast St. Peter’s Square, designed by Bernini in the 17th century. Tour St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel to marvel at the extensive collection of masterful artworks, including Michelangelo’s Pieta. The crowds are also quite vast at the Vatican, so give yourself plenty of time to plan your trip to at least visit the highlights in the treasure trove of art and history.
Other sites not-to-be-missed include the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Galleria Borghese. Give yourself time to just wander the streets and discover ruins and buildings that are not on the popular tourist maps. Rome is an incredible city with amazing wonders around every corner.
Truly experience Rome and feast on a dish that was developed within the city – carbonara. This pasta dish is made with egg yolk, Pecorino Romano, pancetta, and freshly-ground black pepper over spaghetti noodles. It is a simple dish that is both creamy and truly delicious. Rome is also known for its unique way of preparing artichokes. Try them either Carciofi all giudia – blanched in lemon water then deep-fried in olive oil or Carciofi al Romana – braised in white wine, water, and oil. Your taste buds will appreciate these Roman treats.
Barcelona is the capital and the second most highly populated municipality in Spain. There are more than 1.6 million people who live within the city limits and the greater urban area has more than 4.8 million people. Barcelona was founded as a Roman city in the Middle Ages.
The Sagrada Familia is a minor basilica designed by Antoni Gaudi. After more than 140 years, it is only about three fourths complete. When finished, it will be the tallest church in the world. It combines various architectural styles including Art Nouveau, Catalan Modernism, and Spanish Late-Gothic. This is a jaw-dropping sight that is not to be missed.
Barcelona City History Museum preserves several Roman sites such as the Temple of Augustus and the Funeral Way. Experience ancient history in detailed layers as you descend on an elevator to view some of ancient Barcino’s walls that are still visible. This 4,000 square meter site is explored via elevated walkways. As you ascend through the building, enter the vaults of the Palau Reial Major which is the seat of the medieval Dukes of Barcelona.
Fundació Joan Miró was established by Miró in the 1960s to advance contemporary art in Barcelona and there is a harmony between the museum and the artworks inside. Miró was a Catalonian artist and you will find her sculptures, drawings, and paintings within the museum.
Gaudi is prominent within Barcelona and you can see specimens of his work at the following buildings:
Casa Battlo – an apartment block which was remodeled at the turn of the 20th century. The building’s roof and tiles represent the scales of a great dragon.
Casa Mila aka La Pedrera – an apartment building completed in 1912 which looks like the face of a quarry. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features a self-supporting stone façade.
Park Güell – a garden complex on Carmel Hill with panoramic views over Barcelona. Explore the serpentine benches with colorful mosaics, colonnades, sculptures, and fountains in Gaudi’s classic style.
La Boqueria is a market which has been in existence since medieval times. It features an elegant iron and glass roof which was installed in 1914. Shop for food or stroll through the stalls which sell vegetables, cold meats, cheese, fruits, and olives. The center of the market contains an oval plan of fishmongers.
Dining in Barcelona is a delicious adventure. Try pintxos, a Basque-style pub snack where small bites are served on a piece of bread and held together with a toothpick (pincho). Savor Pa amb tomaquet which is a rustic bread topped with tomato pulp and oil and often served as a base for sandwiches or bocatas. A tasty main dish is arros negre which is rice cooked with cuttlefish or squid, usually followed by crema catalana for dessert.
Wherever you choose to travel in Europe, you are sure to be delighted and captivated by the food, culture, and people Explore Paris, London, Rome, and Barcelona and spend your days experiencing history and amazing sights which will enchant you for a life time. Vive l’Europa!