Europe amazes me. When I studied in Nice as an 18-year-old I spent my weekends traveling to European cities and marveling at their beauty. From the rooftops of Prague to the canals of Venice, I was awed by heritage buildings and layers of history. I still am. I’ve visited a lot more cities since then and haven’t lost my sense of wonder. If you’re looking for the prettiest cities in Europe, today I want to share 11 of my favorites with you.
Prettiest Cities in Europe
From east to west, there are beautiful capitals and regional centers in Europe. Some are preserved in history and have managed to keep their beauty intact despite changing fashions, wars, and natural disasters. Others—like Dresden—have risen from the ashes of bombings and rebuilt in traditional style—while still more—like Rotterdam—have focused on expressing their beauty in new architectural ways.
As a Californian who grew up surrounded by modern buildings, I’ve always had a preference for European cities that have maintained their medieval streets and structures. When I visit them I feel like I’m traveling back in time, and even after a decade of living in London I still can’t get over that feeling. So my list is going to skew that way. I hope you like it.
I have to put Prague at the top of my list. I studied abroad here during my university years and I still think it’s the prettiest city in Europe. With Baroque churches, orange tile rooftops, a hilltop castle, historic cemeteries, and one of the most stunning bridges on the continent, the center of the Czech capital is a dream.
The more I got to know Prague, the more I found to love about it. While Castle Hill and Charles Bridge are stunning, it was the little streets in Mala Strana and the sumptuous interiors of centuries-old palaces that really won me over. I spent hours walking cobblestone streets and getting off the beaten path in parks in Bila Hora, and those are the things I remember most fondly about the city.
Back in Britain, I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to pretty cities. From regional gems like Chester and York to capitals like London, there’s a lot of beauty here. But if I had to choose just one, Edinburgh would be my pick. The view of castle on the hill gets my heart fluttering every time I travel here, and I always enjoy discovering the tiny streets off the Royal Mile.
In recent years I’ve spent a lot of time in Edinburgh and have discovered a lot more to the city than just the Old Town. From pretty streets like Stockbridge’s Circus Lane to riverside charm in Dean Village, Edinburgh has as much beauty in tucked-away corners as it does in big attractions.
Across the Channel, Paris is another of the prettiest cities in Europe. While much of its medieval heritage was wiped away by Baron Haussmann in the second half of the 19th century, the wide boulevards he replaced them with have a lot going for them. And that’s to say nothing of icons like the Eiffel Tower and hilltop churches like the Sacre Coeur.
But perhaps my favorite things about Paris are the parks and squares. When I worked here for a summer I loved going to Parc Monceau, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, and the Jardin du Luxembourg to read or picnic with friends. And the Place des Vosges and Palais Royal are some of the prettiest squares in Europe.
When it comes to coastal cities, Dubrovnik is hard to beat. The walled old town of Stari Grad is paved with marble and has lots of narrow streets to explore. Limestone churches and palaces abound, and there are fountains dotted throughout. The views from the city walls are also a treat, both looking into the city and out to the sea.
There are lots of little surprises in Dubrovnik that are easy to miss, too. I love exploring the steep streets that come off the main squares and getting lost among the flower pots and local houses.
Up north, Tallinn has another remarkably well-preserved old town. With orange tile rooftops, domed church spires, and thick defensive walls, the city feels straight out of a time capsule. The details on the historic buildings are a delight—I spotted one with a dragon-like gargoyle wearing a crown—and it’s worth taking time to look up.
Or down, for that matter. One of my favorite memories of my trip to Tallinn was climbing up to the top of St. Olav’s Church and taking in the views of the old town below.
When it comes to Italy, there’s no shortage of beautiful cities. From Rome to Florence, Bologna to Ravenna, I could write about a lot of them. But I have to choose Venice for how unique it is among Italian cities (and European ones, for that matter). Colorful and canal-laden, Venice is a magical, multi-sensory experience. From bustling crowds in the Piazza San Marco to haunting songs of gondoliers echoing off walls at night, the city touches every sense.
Add to that the incredible art in the Palazzo Ducale, the Bellini cocktails with views on rooftop terraces, and the exhilaration of getting lost in the tangle of streets, and Venice is an incredible place to experience.
Like Venice, Bruges is a city with waterways and wanderlust-inducing streets. This medieval city in Belgium won my heart with its colorful squares, historic bell towers, and intact old town. Being in Bruges is like stepping back in time, and everything from the city’s bridges to its waterfront houses is picture-pretty.
Not far from Bruges, Amsterdam is another of the prettiest cities in Europe. This Dutch beauty is full of skinny homes and canals, not to mention world-class museums housed in beautiful buildings of their own. I love walking along the waterways in Amsterdam and soaking up the colors in the floating flower market.
Amsterdam has natural beauty, too, and when I’m here I like wandering through the Vondelpark or renting a bicycle and riding out to see the windmills in the surrounding area.
Down in Spain, Seville has been one of my favorite cities in Europe since I spent my 13th birthday here. I’ll never forget the smell of orange blossoms or the sound of the flamenco guitar. And that’s to say nothing of the Moorish architecture of the Alcázar palace or the imposing Gothic cathedral.
And it’s not just outer beauty that makes Seville so special. The culture is also attractive. From the lively tapas bars to the mouth-watering food markets, I could spend all day eating my way through the city.
In the Mediterranean, Malta’s Valletta is one of the most fascinating European cities in addition to being one of the most picturesque. With layers of history relating to its strategic position between empires over time, it has a lot of beautiful streets, squares, churches, and coastal views.
When I traveled to Valletta I was struck by everything from its domes and spires to its position on the sea. It’s one of the most unique cities I’ve been to in terms of how tall buildings line narrow streets, making them appear larger-than-life.
I’ve been to Budapest a number of times, and every visit confirms my belief that it’s one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The views along the river are spectacular—everything from the Gothic Revival Hungarian Parliament Building to the Chain Bridge impresses—which is to say nothing of the historic spas. The Gellert Spa’s Art-Nouveau gallery with its columns and swimming pool are iconic, and swimming under the glass roof was a surreal experience for me.
I hope you enjoyed this little tour and found some travel inspiration in it. The more cities in Europe I visit the more I want to explore the rest. My list is still long, so I hope to discover some new ones soon. I’ll make sure to share them with you when I do. And if you have favorites please share them with me, too.
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