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Europe is diverse, Europe is strikingly beautiful, and Europe is a cultural overload. From the sunny beaches of Greek islands to the snow-capped Alpine peaks, from the vineyards of central France to the black volcanic soil of the Spanish Canary Islands, from the picture-perfect villages of the Ligurian coast in Italy to the bucolic Slovenian countryside. This region is filled with charming small towns, beautiful national parks, underrated hidden gems, and off-the-beaten-path destinations. A whole life wouldn’t be enough to visit everything the European continent has to offer, but you can certainly try.
Here’s a suggestive list of what’s worth experiencing at this particular moment in time, country-wise. Treat it as inspirational advice rather than a merits-based list, “best” stands more for a friendly directional nod. Sustainability and eco-consciousness are taken into account too.
There’s no bad time to visit Italy, and you should absolutely do it. This country is an essence of beauty, the crescendo of tastes, sights, and arts. While visiting the tourist powerhouses like Venice, Rome, and the Amalfi Coast is still very much worth it, it pays off to go off the beaten track and explore the lesser-known regions. Like Adriatic Sea-hugged Puglia, the stunning western coast of Sicily with the paradise-looking Aegadian Islands, quiet fishing villages of Sardinia, and the mouthwatering restaurants in sleepy towns of central Emilia-Romagna. The elegance of Milan is ever-welcoming luxury-seeking travelers, and Naples is still a chaotic vehicle of the best views and food in the world.
A quiet neighbor of Austria, Croatia, and Italy, tiny Slovenia has everything for a rewarding holiday without crowds. The small size makes it extremely easy to explore. And there are just so many wonderful things contained within the country’s borders. Postcard-worthy shores of Bled Lake are a must, and so is another great lake by the name of Bohinj. The Triglav National Park nearby is the Alps at its most striking without the crowded ski resorts and with a perfect degree of tranquility. Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana is an embodiment of the country’s easygoing and nature-respecting spirit, immediately engulfing you in the atmosphere of cheer and lightness paired with superb Castle views and a vibrant cafe culture. Finally, descend to a microscopic (compared to Croatia and Italy) Slovenian Riviera with such gems as medieval Piran and Kotor for some Adriatic bliss.
You may feel very familiar when in Greece – all these pictures of whitewashed houses against unreal blue sea backdrops and infinity pools are very firmly included in a travel canon. And it’s very much what you see here, except it’s not only Santorini and Mykonos. Greece is just naturally stunning. And you find that effortless sense of aesthetics all over the country, on each of its hundreds of islands, and in the interior too. Greek island-hopping is definitely something one should do in his or her lifetime. The beaches will be outwardly astonishing, the food crazy delicious, the accommodation scene highly inspirational, and the ancient history as thrilling as the books tell. Don’t miss a chance to spend some time in energetic Athens and the second-largest Thessaloniki for a dose of a special Greek-bred frappe-infused urban electricity.
It’s extremely easy to fall in love with Spain. The path to one’s heart is different for every person. For some, it’s about phantasmagoric architecture and the incomparable energy of Barcelona. For others, love at first sight happens upon seeing wonders of nature of the Canary Islands that bring tropical vibes to European canon. The ocean’s grandeur in the region of Galicia is hard to resist too, the food of the Basque country is what the dreams are made of, and the island glamor of the Balearics is one-of-a-kind. Everyone has a different Spanish love story, but it’s a common thing to love this country with the whole heart and count the days when you return to its sun-drenched beaches, leafy streets, and life-filled terraces.
Epic is a good word to use when talking about Portugal. Its ocean coastline is among the most stunning in the world. Once you witness the high waves at Nazaré, the tall cliffs of Cabo da Roca, or the sandy coves of Algarve, you’re officially hooked for life. And then there are the Azores, nicknamed Hawaii of Europe for its mesmerizing green landscapes, and Madeira that conquers you with unparalleled landscapes and an eternal spring climate. The country’s capital, Lisbon, is high on the list of desirable places to live for expats from all over the world and is known for its azulejo tile-covered buildings, windy streets, and excellent restaurants. Porto, on the other hand, is one of the last authentic strongholds of the Old World kind of experience with its charming riverside promenade, historic cafes, and fantastic bridge vistas.
There’s nothing ordinary about Norway’s nature. The fjords are a magnificent work of natural art, the cities like Bergen and Ålesund enjoy some of the most striking locations in the world, and the sight of Northern Light in Tromsø is a bucket list thing to do. Norway is among the most sustainable countries on the planet too where nature is deeply respected and cared for. Oslo is the poster child of harmonic outdoor connection within a big city with its bathing culture, numerous parks, and eco-friendly museums. It’s a perfect European country to return to as the potential for discovery is truly immense and so is the hiking, biking, kayaking, and camping. And be sure to ride a train here – Norway has some of the most scenic rail journeys in the world (like the Oslo-Bergen route, for instance).
With its big size and wide array of attractions, Poland is still very much an underdog of European travel. It’s high time to book a trip her – there are just so many exciting places to discover. Like the UNESCO-protected medieval core of Krakow, for instance, with an imposing Wawel Castle towering over the river and one of the most famous historic Jewish quarters in the world that is Kazimierz. Or the relaxing Baltic Sea Riviera with long sandy beach dunes, resort towns like Sopot, and Hanseatic jewels like Gdansk. Mountain lovers will be delighted to hike in the glorious High Tatra mountains and find an old-school sanatorium atmosphere in numerous mineral water resorts at the Tatra foothills. Romance lives on the Gothic streets of excellently-preserved Torun and water-dominated Wroclaw.
Strolling along the River Seine embankment to the sound of the accordion with the Eiffel Tower view in Paris. Or maybe cycling the boardwalk of Nice during sunset? You can hike in the Alps, explore the dormant volcanoes of the Auvergne, marvel at the cliffs at Étretat, and drive along the infinite ocean coast near Biarritz. France is full of experiences that are timeless and unforgettable. With the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea you’ve got a fantastic beach diversity too. Paris doesn’t need an introduction, but be sure to go outside of the tourist-frequented spots for the more authentic and less crowded moments on your next visit. And this country is also among the most rewarding destinations in the world for food with a neverending supply of bistros, Michelin-starred restaurants, family-run tavernas, and countless wineries.
Estonia is a Baltic country that is always a good idea for a calm, affordable nature-filled break. Start in Tallinn, a vibrant Baltic Sea-hugged capital with a picture-perfect UNESCO-protected medieval town, non-stop nightlife, and many exciting modern museums. Once you’re out in the countryside, it’s all forests and water here. Take a ferry to Saaremaa Island for the ultimate Baltic detox journey, kayak among the bogs in Soomaa National Park, and embrace the tranquil beachside leisure at Pärnu, a beautiful resort town with pretty old timber houses. For more culture and nightlife head to Tartu, the university capital of Estonia and an exciting Baltic gem of a destination.
Malta is incredibly small as a country (one-tenth the size of Rhode Island), but it’s also exceptionally rich in things to do. This little Meditteranean island is filled with terracotta-colored historic towns, dramatic sea cliffs, pristine beaches, partying till dawn, and amazing food. Malta’s capital Valletta is a dreamy-looking city fortress with tall walls, photogenic narrow streets, and giant domes of centuries-old cathedrals. Other top sights to visit include the UNESCO-protected city core of Mdina, the quaint fishing town of Marsaxlokk, the pre-historic temple of Ħaġar Qim, and the incredible Blue Grotto cliff. For food, you can’t leave without trying the pastizzi (a savory pie with ricotta) and the traditional rabbit stew, Malta’s favorite.
The beauty of Switzerland has no limits. It is always among the best countries to visit in Europe and boasts some of the most beautiful places on the planet. The most rewarding way to explore the magnificent landscapes of Switzerland is by train. Hop on one of the panoramic carriages, such as the Bernina Express, Glacier Express, or GoldenPass to enter the miraculous kingdom of colossal mountain peaks, idyllic valleys, sparkling glaciers, and idyllic meadows. Switzerland offers year-round leisure so you can hike, bike, paraglide, ski, sail, and spa anytime you want. All of it with world-class service and unforgettable views. Take some time to appreciate the urban beauty of historic cities like Bern, Lausanne, and Zürich, visit the spellbinding Lauterbrunnen village, and definitely try the raclette, an iconic Swiss melted cheese dish.
With more than 5,000 kilometers of coastline and 1,246 islands, Croatia is a fascinating Adriatic playground that offers beaches for all tastes. The medieval seaside gems like Dubrovnik, Šibenik, Trogir, and Pula will be a gift that keeps on giving for all the history buffs. Islands like Hvar, Brač, and Korčula are ideal for a Mediterranean break with their untouched beaches and pretty villages. Natural marvels like Plitvice Lakes and Krka are full of the turquoise beauty of the waterfalls. And then there’s hearty, delicious local cuisine with seafood dishes, fresh olive oil, amazing cheeses, and exceptional wine. Croatia’s potential to impress and inspire is immense, and it’s firmly placed among the best countries to visit in Europe at the moment.