The most beautiful cities in Europe range from medieval fairytale towns to cool cosmopolitan cities.
The cobblestone path you’re walking on was built by a mason 500 years ago. To your right, you see a colossal cathedral with stain glass windows and pointy Gothic spires. To your left, a gentle river skirts around beautifully painted homes (that you can totally imagine yourself living in). You decide to sit down on a bench in the Old Town.
Then, your ears suddenly perk up at the sound of people speaking a foreign language. You don’t understand what they’re saying, but their hand gestures and facial expressions give you a slight indication.
Welcome to Europe, a continent of timeless intrigue home to some the prettiest cities in the world. This scene could describe hundreds of cities in Europe, but which are the prettiest? Here are some of the most beautiful cities in Europe you should visit in 2021.
Note: This list is in no particular order. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
Disclosure: Due to COVID-19, there will likely be travel restrictions in certain areas. Before booking any travels, be sure to follow relevant government guidance and safety protocols. And of course, be sure to practice social distancing!
26 of the Most Beautiful Cities in Europe
Here’s a list of the most beautiful, intriguing, and enriching cities in Europe.
1. Dubrovnik, Croatia
This charming city lies on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. Nicknamed the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik has been a treasured seaport and cultural center since the Middle Ages. As such, it’s one of the most beautiful European cities that you should visit in 2021.
When you step inside Dubrovnik’s 16th century walls, you’ll be dazzled by its Baroque architecture and limestone streets. As expected, the Old City of Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After the dreadful bombings during the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991, Dubrovnik underwent extensive restoration work preserving its medieval flair. Today, the cityscape has been fully restored and contains many trendy shops and restaurants.
Top attractions include walking on the Walls of Dubrovnik and taking a ferry ride to the nearby island of Lokrum. With its cultural identity and architectural splendor, Dubrovnik deserves the top spot among the prettiest European cities.
2. Strasbourg, France
Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace region in eastern France. Cherished for its vibrant timber houses, Strasbourg looks like a scene straight out of a fairytale. It’s no wonder why it’s considered one of the most beautiful European cities.
Strasbourg has endured a rocky past, switching hands numerous times between Germany and France. As a result, you will hear French, German, and Alsatian (a language similar to Swiss German) spoken on the streets.
The top sight in Strasbourg is undoubtedly La Petite France, a district with quaint canals and timber homes. Another must-see sight is the Strasbourg Cathedral, a Gothic cathedral dating back to the early 15th century.
When you visit Strasbourg, be sure to also visit nearby Colmar. And don’t forget to indulge in the Alsatian wine and cuisine. Bon appétit! Guten Appetit! E Güeter!
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3. Florence, Italy
Florence (Firenze) is the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region. It’s the notable birthplace of the Renaissance, which is strikingly visible throughout the city. Florence is also known for its world-class art, fashion, and cuisine, which embody the city’s dolce vita (“sweet life”).
During the Middle Ages, Florence was the wealthiest city in Europe due to its thriving trade and banking. Florence’s top-notch standing was shaped by the Medici family. This noble dynasty dominated the city’s political and financial landscape during the 14th and 15th centuries.
The magnum opus (masterpiece) of Florence is the Duomo di Firenze, a Gothic Revival and Renaissance cathedral. Another top sight is the Piazzale Michelangelo, a hilltop square with stunning panoramic views of Florence. The entire historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Revered for its art and architecture, Florence is unequivocally one of the most beautiful cities in Italy and Europe.
4. Santorini, Greece
Santorini is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea comprised of several tiny villages. Its most popular settlements include Oia, Fira, and Imerovigli. For the purposes of this article, I’ll consider Santorini a city, as these settlements form one municipality.
Santorini’s rugged clifftops formed during a massive volcanic eruption 3,600 years ago. Similar to the Roman ruins at Pompeii, Santorini’s prehistoric settlement, Akrotiri, is miraculously well-preserved. This excavation site sheds light on the Minoan Civilization that thrived here during the third millennium BC.
From sunset cruises to hikes along the coastline, Santorini has something to offer for everyone. Santorini’s white-washed houses, brilliant blue roofs, and crystal clear water are a feast for the eyes. To see it all, I recommend in staying at one of these amazing Airbnbs in Europe.
5. Lisbon, Portugal
It would be a crime to write an article on the most beautiful cities in Europe without mentioning Lisbon.
As Portugal’s coastal capital, Lisbon is best known for its colorful buildings, cobbled streets, and seven imposing hills. With no shortage of steep streets and cable cars, Lisbon is the old world doppelgänger of San Francisco. There’s even a bridge in the city that looks identical to the Golden Gate Bridge!
If there’s just one thing you should see in Lisbon, make sure you make it to the Ascensor da Bica (Bica Elevator). This iconic cable car is found in the Bairro Alto quarter of the city, and it cannot be missed. There’s usually a long line to get on, but the best views are from the top of the street, looking down on the cable car and tracks below.
Another must-see sight in the city is the Belém Tower. It was built in the early 1500s to defend the city, but later became a lighthouse and customs house. This tower features a variety of architectural styles, including Moorish, Gothic, and Romanesque. Today, the Belém Tower stands watch over the Tagus River and serves as a reminder of Lisbon’s multicultural past.
Walk around Lisbon, and you’ll quickly see why it’s one of the best cities to visit in Europe.
6. Venice, Italy
Venice is the capital of Italy’s Veneto region, and comprises more than 100 small islands in the Adriatic Sea. Nicknamed La Serenissima (the most serene), Venice is one of the most beautiful cities and UNESCO Sites in Europe.
This city of canals has been a cultural and commercial center since medieval times. Venice is home to numerous historic and architectural treasures, including the Piazza San Marco, Grand Canal, and Saint Mark’s Basilica.
When in Venice, you’ll be enchanted by the sight of gondolas and ferryboats maneuvering through the city’s narrow waterways.
Among the most beautiful and historic cities in Europe, Venice is top-notch.
7. Würzburg, Germany
Würzburg is a beautiful baroque city nestled in the heart of Franconia wine country.
It’s often called the Pearl of the Romantic Road, the most popular tourist route in Germany. Würzburg is known for its medieval towns and castles, breathtaking landscapes, and fine wines. After seeing its vibrant baroque buildings and vineyard-covered hills up close, I can definitely see why!
When visiting Würzburg, be sure to enjoy a glass of Silvaner wine on the Alte Mainbrücke (Old Main bridge). This was one of the highlights of my visit. Another must is sampling local delicacies at the market square. And of course, exploring the Marienberg Fortress wine trail.
From history and cultural attractions to cuisine, there are countless things to see and do in this beautiful city. Architecture aficionados and wine lovers alike will find plenty to do in Würzburg, Germany.
While some people choose to do a Würzburg day trip from Frankfurt, I recommend spending at least a night here. That way, you’ll be able to fully experience Würzburg’s baroque charm, which makes it one of the prettiest European cities.
8. Bologna, Italy
Bologna is a city where you arrive hungry and leave in a food coma. I’m kidding about the last part, but Bologna is known to have the best food in Italy. But aside from its endless trattorias and gelaterias, Bologna has so much more to offer in the way of being one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Hailed as one of the prettiest cities in Europe, Bologna is the capital of Italy’s Emilia Romagna region. It’s known for its beautiful architecture, namely its 40 kilometers of porticoes. These columned walkways were built to shield people from the weather, but now serve as the city’s top tourist attraction.
In addition to these UNESCO-worthy porticoes, Bologna is home to one of the oldest squares in Italy, the Piazza Maggiore. This piazza has an intriguing mix of old buildings, monuments, shops, and restaurants. Unlike Florence’s Piazza del Duomo or Venice’s Piazza San Marco, it offers plenty of breathing room. Yet, it’s still the pulse and soul of the city.
Bologna also has a leaning tower that tilts more than Pisa. Fun fact!
Bologna’s cool culture can be attributed to it being a university town. It’s home to Europe’s oldest university, which dates back to 1088 AD. Whether you’re into good food, fine wines, or amazing architecture, add Bologna to your 2021 bucket list!
9. Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg is a picturesque city in western Austria that borders Germany and the Eastern Alps. It’s one of the prettiest cities in Europe on many accounts.
As the birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg is often branded as the ‘capital of music’. Fittingly, it’s also the setting of the popular 1960s movie, The Sound of Music.
Salzburg’s Altstadt, or Old Town, is a remarkably well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site that embodies classical Austria. Here, you’ll find marvelous sights such as the Hohensalzburg Fortress, Mirabell Palace, and Salzburg Cathedral.
Needless to say, Salzburg’s pristine scenery and medieval architecture will have you singing.
10. Paris, France
As the capital of France, Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world. Paris is a global leader in the arts, fashion, and cuisine.
The Parisian cityscape is defined by world-class attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, and the Louvre Museum. This cosmopolitan city is also home to wide avenues like the Champs-Élysées and massive monuments like the Arc de Triomphe.
The River Seine skirts around the city, offering sightseeing tours and dinner cruises.
With over 20 arrondissements (districts) in Paris, it would take years to explore all that this European capital has to offer.
11. Nuremberg, Germany
Nuremberg, long considered one of the prettiest cities in Europe, is a magical medieval masterpiece in northern Bavaria. Dating back to the Holy Roman Empire, Nuremberg was an attractive residence for kings and artists alike.
The charming city of Nuremberg is best depicted by its imperial castles and vibrant facades. Some of the top sights in the Old Town (Altstadt) include the Nuremberg Castle and Albrecht Dürer House.
Nuremberg’s beauty is magnified during the wintertime when the city unveils its Christkindlesmarkt. Their Christmas Markets are known to be some of the most beautiful in all of Germany and Europe.
During World War II, Nuremberg was reduced to rubble. However, during the decades that followed, Nuremberg was seamlessly reconstructed to return the city to its former splendor.
Today, Nuremberg is one of the best and most beautiful cities in Europe!
12. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona is such an incredible European city that you should add to your bucket list.
It’s the capital and cultural center of Spain’s Catalonia region. Attracting 32 million tourists last year, Barcelona is the most visited city in one of the most visited European countries.
Nestled between scenic mountains and coastline, Barcelona has a diverse natural and cultural landscape. From Mount Tibidabo to the Barceloneta Beach, Barcelona has something special to offer for everyone.
Barcelona’s popular cultural attractions include the Sagrada Família and Parc Güell. Each of these sights were built by the acclaimed Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí.
Treasured for its culture, cuisine, and history, Barcelona is a beautiful and budget-friendly city. As a former study abroad student in Barcelona, I would definitely choose to live here again!
13. Tallinn, Estonia
Looking to visit one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries? Add Tallinn to your bucket list!
Tallinn is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in all of Europe. Just look at the defensive towers guarding the city, and the old churches and other historic buildings sprawled around the city. It’s no wonder that this pretty European city is a favorite amongst architecture lovers!
In addition to its historic charm, Tallinn has grown into a cultural hub in the Baltic Region. It’s got a modern and even bohemian feel to it, as well as a variety of alfresco and nightlife spots. Stroll around the colorful squares and courtyards around Tallinn, and you won’t want to visit anywhere else!
With so much charm and vibrance, it’s no wonder Tallinn is among the most beautiful places in Northern Europe!
14. London, UK
London is the capital of the United Kingdom and is undoubtedly one of the top cities in Europe. Even though London isn’t as colorful as the cities above, its authentic charm and riveting history bring out its beauty.
Founded during the Roman times, London has arguably been the most influential city during the past millennium. Kings and queens have reigned from its royal palaces, a hallmark of the British Empire’s global presence and prosperity.
Many of the city’s historic and cultural treasures are found in the City of Westminster. Top sights here include Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and the Westminster Abbey.
For nature enthusiasts, Hyde Park offers a serene setting away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This park is also home to Kensington Palace, a residence of the British Royal Family.
Given its extraordinary history and brilliant architecture, London deservedly closes out the top 10 most beautiful cities in Europe.
15. Vienna, Austria
Vienna is such a beautiful city. It’s the capital of Austria, an Alpine country in Central Europe.
With a history spanning 2,000 years, Vienna was founded by the Romans as a strategic fortification along the Danube River. During the subsequent two millennia, Vienna was at the helm of powerful empires, including the Holy Roman Empire and Austria-Hungary.
As a cultural center in Central Europe, Vienna is well-known for its operas, waltzes, and classical music. The city is also a top destination for international conventions and congresses.
Throughout Vienna, you will discover an array of parks, gardens, churches, and palaces. Most notable among them are the Volksgarten (People’s Garden), St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and Schönbrunn Palace.
Vienna is so beautiful that it’s considered one of the most livable cities in Europe, and even the world.
16. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the most beautiful (and vibrant) cities in Europe. It’s a place seemingly plucked from the pages of a Grimms’ fairytale, making it one of the most magical, medieval destinations in Germany, and Europe as a whole.
Stepping inside Rothenburg ob der Tauber for the first time, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Beautifully painted half-timbered homes, quaint cobblestone streets, and medieval city gates and towers are some of the things you’ll see in Germany’s best-preserved medieval city. It’s truly a dream come true, and deserving of all the praise and tourists it receives each year.
Everything is remarkably intact in the Old Town, painting a picture of what life looked like centuries ago.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the top destinations along the Romantic Road, a 350-km picturesque route that runs through Southern Germany. If possible, stay overnight, as you’ll have the whole compact city to yourself once the day trippers leave!
If you love the Old Towns of Europe, you’ll have to visit add Rothenburg ob der Tauber to your 2021 bucket list.
17. Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is a scenic city in the Flemish Region of Belgium.
Interestingly, Bruges was one of the world’s first tourist destinations. It was here, where wealthy British and French tourists began visiting en masse during the second half of the 1800s.
Its name is derived from the Old Dutch word “brugga”, which means “bridge”. With a plethora of canals, Bruges is nicknamed the “Venice of the North”. As such, its most picturesque spots are best seen by boat.
Bruges’ historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contains many medieval buildings that are remarkably well-preserved. These sights include the Church of Our Lady and the Belfry of Bruges.
With its medieval architecture and Old World canals, Bruges earns a top spot among the most beautiful cities in Europe.
18. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is the capital city and cultural center of the Czech Republic. Located along the Vltava River, Prague was a strategic city for mighty empires. The Holy Roman Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Bohemia all had a substantial impact on the city we see today.
Prague’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some of the city’s most noteworthy sights are the Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, and Old Town Square. Each of these landmarks are very well-preserved and embody Prague’s medieval flair.
Aside from its rich heritage, Prague is also a modern city known for its world-class dining, art, and nightlife.
In recent years, Prague has become a very popular weekend getaway destination in Europe. It helps that it’s also one of the cheapest cities in Europe. Your Koruna will go far in Prague.
19. Lucerne, Switzerland
Lucerne is a small city in the heart of central Switzerland. This Swiss city is situated between an idyllic lakeside setting and snow-capped mountains.
To complement the countryside that surrounds it, Lucerne is enlivened by its vibrant streets, colorful houses, and covered bridges.
Many of Lucerne’s medieval features date back to the 14th century. Chief among them are the Musegg Wall and Chapel Bridge.
Not only does Lucerne embody the Old World, but is also offers a dose of modernity. Lucerne’s Culture and Congress Centre is a sleek, state-of-the-art venue where the Summer Festival and concerts take place. Lucerne is also a popular destination for shopping, eating, and drinking.
As the gateway to central Switzerland’s Alpine landscape, Lucerne is a must-visit during all seasons of the year.
Planning a trip here? Check out these 12 amazing Airbnbs in Switzerland!
20. Annecy, France
Annecy is one of those places where you have to keep pinching yourself to make sure it’s real.
Tucked away in the French Alps, Annecy is nicknamed the “Venice of the Alps” because of the rivers and canals that flow through its Old Town. It’s a great day trip from Geneva, but I recommend spending at least a couple of nights here to soak in the alpine ambiance.
In addition to the beautifully painted buildings that straddle its canals, Annecy is also popular for its serene waterfront area. Lake Annecy adds a unique flavor to this medieval town, as it’s dotted with boats, birds, hiking trails, all with an epic mountain backdrop.
21. Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg is a beautiful city in northern Germany that’s known for its bridges and canals, of which there are thousands! In fact, Hamburg has more bridges and canals than Amsterdam and Venice combined!
One of my favorite parts of Hamburg is the Speicherstadt district. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest warehouse district in the world. Built on timber-pile foundations, these red-brick buildings are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
The scene is especially brilliant right after sunset. This is when the lights are switched on and golden hues illuminate the water and brick buildings around it. Such a spectacular sight!
When you’re in the city center, be sure to visit Hamburg’s Rathaus (City Hall). This grandiose building has nearly 650 rooms and is 367 feet (112 meters) tall. It is definitely among the most magnificent city halls I’ve seen in Europe.
The Rathaus is surrounded by a lively square, street food stalls, shops, and a beautiful lake. Wie schön!
With its unique architecture, fascinating museums and even a beach, Hamburg is one of the most livable cities in Germany. Hamburg is also one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
22. Valencia, Spain
Mounted on Spain’s eastern seaboard, Valencia is the third largest city in the country and one of the nicest cities in Europe. Valencia is the birthplace of paella, and a cultural center where the past coexists with the present.
Known as the “City of Arts and Sciences”, Valencia has a variety of innovative and contemporary attractions. Most notable among them is the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències. This ultramodern entertainment complex contains an aquarium, planetarium, museum of science, performing arts center, and opera house.
Valencia also has an old town, or Ciutat Vella. It’s hailed for its distinct architecture, quaint cafes, and cobblestone streets. Here, you’ll find Roman and Gothic marvels, with a tinge of Arabic influence from the Moorish occupation.
Valencia is also one of the most livable cities in the world. As such, there is no shortage of parks, beaches, and greenways.
Valencia is partitioned by the Turia Park, spanning 5 km from the western part of the city to the beach. Along the park’s many paths, you’ll discover pretty playgrounds, bike lanes, and gardens.
With its eclectic cityscape and delightful nature, Valencia is befittingly one of the best and most beautiful cities in Europe.
23. Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is one of the best-preserved ancient cities in Europe. Located on the Bosphorus Strait where Asia meets Europe, Istanbul was once a pivotal port city along the Silk Road. Its treasure trove of historical sights make it one of the most beautiful European cities that’s worth visiting in 2021.
Istanbul has a population of 15 million people, making it the biggest city in Turkey and top 5 worldwide. However, you wouldn’t know the city’s sheer size when you’re strolling through Istanbul’s historic center (Sultanahmet).
Some must-see sights in Istanbul are the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Grand Bazaar. Hence, you should include each of these stops on your Istanbul itinerary.
In addition to its assortment of historic attractions, Istanbul is also a cultural and entertainment hub in the region. The city is sprawling with lively shops, bars, and restaurants at every turn.
With a history spanning 2,500+ years, Istanbul is truly an open-air museum. And this alfresco museum belongs on your bucket list in 2021!
24. Heidelberg, Germany
Heidelberg is the quintessential German town. It’s quaint, historic, and filled with personality, surely making it one of the nicest and prettiest cities in Europe.
Heidelberg is jam-packed with interesting sights and things to do. Begin your adventure in the Old Town (Altstadt), where you’ll discover medieval buildings dotted around cobbled streets and vibrant squares.
The Marktplatz (Market Square) and Hauptstraße (Main Street) are in the center of all the action. Each of these scenic places are sizzling with life and energy.
When you look up from the Old Town, you’ll be enchanted by the Heidelberg Castle looming overhead. Erected in the 13th century, the Heidelberg Castle is a magical mix of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. You’ll be enchanted by the city and river below.
Nature lovers also love Heidelberg!
For nature lovers, Heidelberg offers two unique experiences. The Philosophenweg, or Philosopher’s Walk, is perched atop the city opposite from the castle. It’s a great place for hiking and, well, philosophizing. Over the centuries, this beautiful hiking trail has been a source of inspiration for artists and intellectuals.
Another top experience, literally, is the Königstuhl Mountain. This mountain is home to many scenic hiking trails, as well as a fairytale amusement park, charming cafe, and falconry. Königstuhl is a great place for enjoying the crisp fresh air while soaking in the vistas of Heidelberg.
From its history and culture to its nature and cuisine, Heidelberg is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
25. Kotor, Montenegro
This one feels like a small town, but has the beauty and charm of a vibrant European city.
Camouflaged by a bulwark of mountains and coastline, Kotor is a municipality in Montenegro. The Bay of Kotor, a fjord-like waterway, surrounds Kotor, which happens to be among the nicest and prettiest cities in Europe.
The Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area includes the Old Town, its fortifications, and the adjoining bay.
Within the Old Town of Kotor, you’ll find medieval architecture dating back the 12th and 14th centuries. In particular, the St. Tryphon Cathedral and St. Luke’s Church are two architectural masterpieces built in the 1100s.
Another top attraction is the Castle of San Giovanni, a hillside fortification with breathtaking vistas of the city and bay.
From walking tours of the medieval ramparts, to boat cruises around the bay, Kotor offers a harmonious blend of attractions. As such, it deserves a mention among the most beautiful cities in Europe that you should visit in 2021.
It’s also among the most budget-friendly cities on the continent, so your Euro will go a long way here.
26. Budapest, Hungary
It’s easy to fall in love with Budapest, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
This city is a top destination on the Danube River and one of the prettiest cities to visit in Central Europe (some also consider it Eastern Europe). Here are a few things you need to see:
Hungarian Parliament Building: An iconic building on the Danube River (the largest structure in Hungary).
Széchenyi Thermal Bath: The largest medicinal bath in Europe (the one you probably see a lot on your Instagram feed).
Buda Castle: Baroque palace dating back to the mid-1700s.
Fisherman’s Bastion (Halaszbastya): Part of the Buda Castle with an amazing panoramic viewing terrace of the city.
With so many historic buildings and cool cultural attractions, Budapest is the perfect city break in the heart of Europe.
Discovering the most beautiful cities in Europe
I hope you enjoyed reading and learning about these 24 most beautiful cities in Europe.
Ironically, the hardest part about writing this article was choosing the “right” cities and ranking them.
In addition to the “Instagram” definition of beauty, I also considered each city’s culture, history, and overall personality. After all, there is more to a place than meets the eye.
With hundreds of pretty cities in Europe to pick from, I narrowed down my list to only 26. Admittedly, this process was pretty heartbreaking (Amsterdam, Krakow, Stockholm, and Sevilla, I’m looking at you).
Are there any other most beautiful cities in Europe worth mentioning?
Based on your travel experiences, what do you think are the most beautiful cities in Europe? Perhaps they will appear on this list in the future!
Thanks for tuning in! Happy Travels! -Jon
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