Europe encompasses an area of 10,180,000km² (3,930,000 square miles), stretching from Asia to the Atlantic, and from Africa to the Arctic. European countries welcome more than 480 million international visitors per year, more than half of the global market, and 7 of the 10 most visited countries are European nations.
It’s easy to see why – a well preserved cultural heritage, open borders and efficient infrastructure makes visiting Europe a breeze, and rarely will you have to travel more than a few hours before you can immerse yourself in a new culture, and dive into a different phrasebook. Although it is the world’s smallest continent in land surface area, there are profound differences between the cultures and ways of life in its countries.
The eastern border of Europe, for instance, is not well defined. The Caucausus states are sometimes considered part of Asia due to geography, and much of Russia and almost all of Turkey are geographically Asian. The UK, Ireland and Iceland all manage to sneak in.
Must-visits include France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Don’t let your sense of adventure fail you by missing out on Scandinavia, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, or the microstates of Andorra, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. For a more exotic European adventure, be sure to tour the Balkans.
Many European countries are members of the European Union (EU), which has its own currency (the Euro) and laws. There are no border controls between signatory countries of the Schengen Agreement (only at the outside borders). Note that not all EU members adopted the Schengen Agreement (open borders) or the Euro, and not all countries that adopted Schengen or Euro are European Union members.
1. Paris, France
Paris, the cosmopolitan capital of France, is one of Europe’s largest cities, with 2.2 million people living in the dense, central city and almost 12 million people living in the whole metropolitan area. Located in the north of France on the river Seine, Paris has the well deserved reputation of being the most beautiful and romantic of all cities, brimming with historic associations and remaining vastly influential in the realms of culture, art, fashion, food and design. Dubbed the City of Light (la Ville Lumière) and Capital of Fashion, it is home to the world’s finest and most luxurious fashion designers and cosmetics, such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent, Guerlain, Lancôme, L’Oréal, Clarins, etc.
A large part of the city, including the River Seine, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city has the second highest number of Michelin restaurants in the world (after Tokyo) and contains numerous iconic landmarks, such as the world’s most visited tourist site the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre Museum, Moulin Rouge, and Lido, making it the most popular tourist destination in the world with 45 million tourists annually.
2. London, England
Noisy, vibrant and truly multicultural, London is a megalopolis of people, ideas and frenetic energy. The capital and largest city of both England and of the United Kingdom, it is also the largest city in Western Europe and the European Union. Most residents of Greater London are very proud of their capital, the multiculturalism of the city, and their membership of the European Union, despite 52% of the UK population as a whole who voted in a recent referendum choosing to leave the EU. It is unclear what the outcome of the referendum will be on London.
Situated on the River Thames in South-East England, Greater London has an official population of a little over 8 million. However, London’s urban area stretched to 9,787,426 in 2011, while the figure of 14 million for the city’s wider metropolitan area more accurately reflects its size and importance. Considered one of the world’s leading “global cities”, London remains an international capital of culture, music, education, fashion, politics, finance and trade.
3. Rome, Italy
Rome, the Eternal City, is the capital and largest city of Italy and of the Lazio region. It is famous for being the home of the ancient Roman Empire, the Seven Hills, La Dolce Vita (the sweet life), the Vatican City and Three Coins in the Fountain. Rome, as a millennia-long center of power, culture (having been the cradle of one of the globe’s greatest civilisations ever) and religion, has exerted a huge influence over the world in its roughly 2800 years of existence.
The historic centre of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With wonderful palaces, thousand-year-old churches, grand Romantic ruins, opulent monuments, ornate statues and graceful fountains, Rome has an immensely rich historical heritage and cosmopolitan atmosphere, making it one of Europe’s and the world’s most visited, famous, influential and beautiful capitals. Today, Rome has a growing nightlife scene and is also seen as a shopping heaven, being regarded as one of the fashion capitals of the world (some of Italy’s oldest jewelry and clothing establishments were founded in the city). With so many sights and things to do, Rome can truly be classified a “global city”.
4. Madrid, Spain
Madrid is a huge city with several district articles containing sightseeing, restaurant, nightlife and accommodation. It is the capital and largest city of Spain, as well as the capital of the autonomous community of the same name (Comunidad de Madrid). The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million with a metro area population of almost 6.5 million. Madrid is best known for its great cultural and artistic heritage, a good example of which is the El Prado Museum. Madrid also boasts some of the liveliest nightlife in the world.
Madrid is located just northeast of the geographical center of the Iberian Peninsula, in the middle of the Spanish central Castillian plateau (Meseta central), at an average altitude of 650m. Nearly all of the most famous tourist areas are located in the center of the city including Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, Palacio Real, and Plaza de Colón. The major streets in Madrid include the Gran Via, Alcalá Street, and Paseo de la Castellana.
5. Berlin, Germany
Berlin is best known for its historical associations as the German capital, internationalism and tolerance, lively nightlife, its many cafés, clubs, bars, street art, and numerous museums, palaces, and other sites of historic interest. Berlin’s architecture is quite varied. Although badly damaged in the final years of World War II and broken apart during the Cold War, Berlin has reconstructed itself greatly, especially with the reunification push after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
It is now possible to see representatives of many different historic periods in a short time within the city centre, from a few surviving medieval buildings near Alexanderplatz, to the ultra modern glass and steel structures at Potsdamer Platz. Because of its tumultuous history, Berlin remains a city with many distinctive neighbourhoods. Brandenburger Tor is a symbol of division during the world war, which now shows German reunification. It was built after the Acropolis in Athens and was completed in 1799 as the royal city-gate.
6. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands. With more than one million inhabitants in its urban area (and almost two and a half million inhabitants in its metropolitan area), it is the country’s largest city and its financial, cultural, and creative centre.
Amsterdam derives its name from the city’s origin as “Dam” of river “Amstel”. In the past, the name was “Amstelredamme” which later changed as “Amsterdam”. Amsterdam is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, attracting over 7 million international travellers annually.
Amsterdam is colloquially known as Venice of the North because of its lovely canals that criss-cross the city, its impressive architecture and more than 1,500 bridges. There is something for every traveller’s taste here; whether you prefer culture and history, serious partying, or just the relaxing charm of an old European city.
7. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is the capital city and largest city in the Czech Republic. It is one of the largest cities of Central Europe and has served as the capital of the historic region of Bohemia for centuries. The city is famous for it’s unique medieval architecture, the historical centre of Prague is inscribed in the World Heritage List.
This magical city of bridges, cathedrals, gold-tipped towers and church domes, has been mirrored in the surface of the swan-filled Vltava River for more than ten centuries. Almost undamaged by WWII, Prague’s medieval centre remains a wonderful mixture of cobbled lanes, walled courtyards, cathedrals and countless church spires all in the shadow of her majestic 9th century castle that looks eastward as the sun sets behind her. Prague is also a modern and vibrant city full of energy, music, cultural art, fine dining and special events catering to the independent traveler’s thirst for adventure.
8. Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is Turkey’s most populous city as well as its cultural and financial hub. Located on both sides of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, Istanbul bridges Asia and Europe both physically and culturally. Istanbul’s population is estimated to be between 12 and 19 million people, making it also one of the largest cities in Europe and the world.
Istanbul is divided in three by the north-south Bosphorus Strait (Istanbul Bogazi), the dividing line between Europe and Asia, the estuary of the Golden Horn (Haliç) bisecting the western part and the Sea of Marmara (Marmara Denizi) forming a boundary to the south. Most sights are concentrated in the old city on the peninsula of Sultanahmet, to the west of the Bosphorus between the Horn and the Sea. Across the Horn to the north are Galata, Beyoğlu and Taksim, the heart of modern Istanbul, while Kadıköy is the major district on the comparatively less-visited Anatolian side of the city. The Black Sea forms the northern boundary of Istanbul.
9. Athens, Greece
Athens is the capital of Greece. It was also at the heart of Ancient Greece, a powerful civilization and empire. The city is still dominated by 5th-century BC landmarks, including the Acropolis, a hilltop citadel topped with ancient buildings like the colonnaded Parthenon temple. The Acropolis Museum, along with the National Archaeological Museum, preservessculptures, vases, jewelry and more from Ancient Greece.