Being widely known as a man of culture, I am often asked which is the best city in Europe. So I decided to make a list of my top ten, with a photo of each, a reason why it’s in the list, a top tip and a link to some further reading…
Perfect food and weather, beaches nearby, historical and mafia interest and it’s small enough to fall in love with in a weekend. An offer you can’t refuse.
aBitofCulture tip: Have a drink at the bar opposite the Teatro Massimo opera house at chucking out time to people-watch as sharp-suited possible gangster-types leave with their molls.
Read more of my writing on Palermo here
Belgium’s second city is its best – a beautiful main square, bars aplenty and a fashion and diamond heritage make this port city on the River Scheldt the 9th best city break in Europe.
aBitofCulture tip: Thinking of making an honest woman of that someone special in your life? As 80% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through town, Antwerp is the unofficial diamond capital of the world. The Diamond District is near Centraal Station if you’re looking for a ring.
Read more of my writing on Antwerp here
Delightfully decrepit buildings and trams, and surprisingly few tourists make Lisbon a great choice for a weekend of fun in the sun. And don’t forget those egg custard tarts…
aBitofCulture tip: Don’t forget the other side of the river. Take a ferry across the Tagus to Lisbon’s own version of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue – a lift will take you to the top of it, for great views of the red bridge below.
Read more of my writing on Lisbon here
A controversial choice putting Portugal’s second city above its capital, but Porto just shades it courtesy of its laid-back charm, dirt cheap prices, Port-crawl possibilities and that bridge.
aBitofCulture tip: Climb the 240 steps of the bell tower at Igreja dos Clérigos for stunning views of Porto and across the river to the Port hotbed of Vila Nova da Gaia.
Read more of my writing on Porto here
Stepping out of Waverley Station onto Princes Street with its shops, gardens and castle and then seeing the Royal Mile and characterful pubs, it won’t take you long to understand why this city is so popular with foreign tourists who put it at the top of their UK itineraries.
aBitofCulture tip: Escape the bustle of the city by walking up the extinct volcano, Arthur’s Seat (from where I took the photo above) for peace, fresh air and views.
An architecture and football fan’s dream – check out the works of Gaudi and Messi, and soak up the sun on Las Ramblas and the city beach. Guapa!
aBitofCulture tip: Off to the football? It’s at the Camp Nou, not the Nou Camp. And the halftime steak sandwich I had there in 2006 still ranks as the best footie stadium snack I’ve ever had.
It’s got a reputation as a stag do hotspot, but go off-season when the snowy weather keeps people away and prices down. A tiny Old Town, but one of the nicest you’ll ever see.
aBitofCulture tip: Like chocolate? Then you’ll love the independent chocolatiers in Tallinn’s Old Town – have a mug of hot chocolate with a plate of hand made beauties from Cafe Josephine.
Read more of my writing on Tallinn here
My love affair with Italy continues, with the peninsula’s capital at number 3. I’ve only visited twice so a return is definitely on the cards soon to experience those thousands of years of history again. With the Coliseum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Vatican, Forum, Pantheon, Stadio Olimpico, Piazza Navona, Campo dei Fiori and Castel Sant’Angelo to name just ten, can there be a city with more to see and do in Europe?
aBitofCulture tip: Feeling thirsty after all that sightseeing? Save your money by swigging from one of the many water fountains dotted around the city.
Another of Europe’s great cities to receive its fair share of stag parties, but the cobbled streets of its photogenic Old Town make a visit to Prague a must. Add Charles Bridge, the castle, the Jewish quarter and the best beer in the world and you can see why this city is always full to the brim with tourists.
aBitofCulture tip: The Czech Republic is famous for its beer, but if you’re not a fan give the St. Wenceslas vineyard a go. It’s perfectly located next to the castle, so you can enjoy a glass of Moravian red and a cake overlooking the River Vltava after a day of culture.
Some might say it’s too busy/smelly/pricey. Ignore these fools and see La Serenissima while it’s still with us. There’s nowhere like it on earth – no roads or cars, just canals and bridges split into six districts (known as sestiere) and a handful of outlying islands. With works of beauty on every corner, I was in shock at how perfect the place is and could quite happily live there.
aBitofCulture tip: So many people miss out by only seeing Venice on a daytrip, or staying the night elsewhere on the mainland. Stay the night in central Venice, and have the most gorgeous city on earth almost to yourself as midnight approaches (and the lack of cars and scooters will guarantee you a brilliant night’s sleep).
Notable absentees? Paris – never been. Krakow – wasn’t that fussed. Amsterdam and Berlin – can’t remember them!
Just missed out? Copenhagen, Florence, Budapest, Bruges…actually it’s pretty hard to narrow it down to ten. I did want to include a few more hipster choices like Vilnius or Trier but I couldn’t leave some of the big boys out.
Do you agree? Have I left out your favourite? Let me know if I’ve made a howler in the comments box below.