The warm months of summer are the ideal time to explore the wonderful cities of Europe, allowing you chance to wander the ancient byways and marvel at the striking landmarks at a pace that suits you. The sun breathes new life into the old city streets, affording locals and visitors alike the chance to head outdoors and experience these ancient cities in their full splendour.
Here, we explore the best cities in Europe to visit this summer, categorising each by its cultural, historical, architectural and culinary offering.
Keen to soak up a little European culture this summer? These cities provide boundless opportunities for personal enrichment.
Henry Miller once said: “when spring comes to Paris, the humblest mortal alive must feel he dwells in paradise” — and it’s impossible to disagree. The city of light is at its most charming when the sun shines; its street-side cafés bustling with patrons and its parks dotted with idle readers. In summer, many of its residents leave town for long holidays, helping to slow the pace of the old city to a leisurely amble. Stroll the banks of the Seine, lounge in the Jardin de Luxembourg or wind your way through the landscaped grounds of the Louvre, and you too will feel you’ve discovered a slice of paradise.
Of course, the summer is also a great time to experience Paris’ cultural highlights, from the Musée d’Orsay to the Sacré-Coueur of Montmartre. For contemporary art, make for the Centre Georges Pompidou or La Gaité Lyrique, or visit the final resting place of iconic figures like Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Édith Piaf and Frédéric Chopin at the poignant Pére Lachaise Cemetery. No matter which corner of this timeless old city you choose to explore, cultural encounters are plentiful.
When the sun shines, the full splendour of Vienna is revealed — and what a showcase for the senses it provides. Elegant and handsome, the Austrian capital gleams in the summer sun, its baroque architecture shining from Hofburg Palace to the Karlskirche. Walk the graceful streets for any amount of time, and it’s easy to see why the likes of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert chose to live and work here, such is the inspiration the city provides over all four seasons.
Culture comes easily in Vienna, and you’ll soon feel immersed in the city’s art, music and heritage. Start at the Hofburg Imperial Treasury, where you can see the jewels of the Habsburg Dynasty, before visiting the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which houses a fine collection of old masters. Then, travel to the famous Ringstraße and marvel at the likes of the Spanish Riding School, Vienna State Opera, Burgtheater and Academy of Fine Arts.
Ancient and arresting, the French city of Bordeaux rivals Paris in its beauty and elegance, with much of its old city centre listed as a World Heritage Site thanks to its magnificent architecture. From the renowned Place de la Bourse to Pont de Pierre and the fabulous Musée d’Aquitaine, there is much to see in this grand old city, although it’s nearly impossible not to get side-lined by the city’s greatest triumph — wine.
Bordeaux is defined by its connection to viticulture, its streets blessed with wine bars stocking some of the finest vintages from the surrounding Gironde countryside. In June, the city hosts a three-day festival dedicated to wine, with a 2km ‘wine route’ snaking through the heart of the city, giving locals and visitors the chance to sample wine from over 80 appellations in the Bordeaux and Aquitaine region. If the festival isn’t on during your visit, take an urban wine tour with an expert guide, who will introduce you to some of the finest wineries in the city.
Thousands of years of history are showcased in the exceptional cities of Europe. Here are three which promise to charm the avid history buff.
From its medieval alms-houses to its soaring stone towers, Bruges is one of Europe’s most beautifully-preserved cities, offering up a wealth of historic treasures. Standing beside the North Sea for over a thousand years, Bruges was once the world’s wealthiest city thanks to its lucrative trading routes — a fact made evident in its striking medieval architecture, much of which has stood since the 14th century.
Begin your tour of Bruges’ historic highlights in Markt square, where you can marvel at the Bruges Belfry, before heading to the Church of Our Lady, whose 122m tower remains the tallest structure in the city. Aside from its evocative architecture, the church houses a fine collection of art, including a sculpture of the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. The Basilica of the Holy Blood ought to be your next stop, and here, you’ll find a venerated relic of the Holy Blood brought to Bruges from the Holy Land during the Second Crusades — a true once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.
The crowning jewel of northern Bavaria, Nuremberg is an ancient city distinguished by its medieval architecture, from the red-roofed Kaiserburg Castle and Frauenkirche 14th-century church to the fortifications and towers of the Altstadt (Old Town). Nuremberg has long been one of the most significant cities in Germany, and in medieval times was considered a European centre for humanism, printing, science and mechanical invention — a topic best showcased in the city’s prestigious Germanisches Nationalmuseum.
For those with an interest in more recent history, Nuremberg was, of course, home to the Nuremberg trials in 1945 and 1946 – in which Nazi Party members were held to account for their crimes during WWII. The legacy of this momentous occasion in 20th-century history can still be explored to this day.
Located close to the mouth of the Rhône River in the Provence region of southern France, Arles is an ancient city steeped in Roman-age heritage. Being close to the Mediterranean Sea, the city has been an important strategic settlement for thousands of years, with the area first settled by the Ligurians from about 800BC. In 123BC, the Romans took the town and expanded it into a major trading port and city, with it famously becoming a colony for veterans of the Roman legion Legio VI Ferrata.
The Romans had a lasting impact on Arles, and this influence can still be explored today, particularly in the Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments area of the city. This World Heritage Site includes the Gallo-Roman theatre, Arles amphitheatre, the cryptoporticus, Arles Obelisk and Barbegal aqueduct and mill — all of which date from Roman times and are exquisitely preserved.
Europe boasts many of the world’s most beautiful cities, and all have their stunning architecture to thank for such acclaim. Here are three cities whose architecture elevates them above their neighbours in the beauty stakes.
Budapest, the queen of the Danube, is perhaps Europe’s greatest architectural triumph — a sprawling mass of cobblestones and bridges, soaring castles, towers and monuments steeped in history. It’s possible that Budapest owes its beauty to the fact it’s an amalgamation of two cities, Buda and Pest, a unification which brought these two distinct cities together in a magnificent harmony of clashing architectural styles — from the Renaissance and Neo-classical elegance of Pest to the medieval, Baroque and Turkish influences of Buda.
From the moment you arrive in the Hungarian capital, its architectural splendour begins to unravel. The magnificent Hungarian Parliament Building is the first thing you’ll notice, followed by the enchanting vista of Buda Castle perched on the western slopes of the city. The Turkish bath of Széchenyi is wonderfully lavish, whilst the Hungarian State Opera House, located on the prestigious boulevard of Andrássy Avenue in the centre of Pest, is certainly worth seeking out for its Baroque grandeur.
The magnificent city of Prague showcases an extraordinary array of architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Classicism, Moorish Revival, Art Nouveau, Cubism, Functionalism and Communist Era — perhaps more than any other European capital. And yet, it manages to orchestrate these architectural highlights without appearing muddled or disarrayed, granting it one of Europe’s most iconic and beautiful cityscapes.
Begin your tour of Prague’s magnificent architecture beside the waters of the Vltava River, where you can take in the iconic 14th-century Charles Bridge. From here, you can easily access Prague Castle, a 9th-century castle complex which remains one of the largest ancient fortified buildings on the continent. Other architectural highlights within the city’s walkable limits include St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague astronomical clock, Wenceslas Square, Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, and the wonderful Josefov Jewish Quarter.
Epic in scale and arresting in its architectural decadence; St Petersburg is often lauded as one of Europe’s most elegant cities, and for good reason. Founded by Peter the Great in the early 18th century, St Petersburg was built to showcase the growing wealth and power of Russia to the West, with its wide boulevards, elegant Baroque palaces and numerous statues and monuments lending it a tangible sense of influence and authority. This was helped by the city’s extraordinary ‘white nights’, which occur during the summer and add a further layer of mystique and intrigue to this most enigmatic of cities.
As you’d expect, there are a plethora of architectural highlights to enjoy across Saint Petersburg. Begin at the prestigious Hermitage Museum, whose Baroque façade is one of the most impressive in Europe. Next, marvel at the towering spires and ornate, fortified walls of the Peter and Paul Fortress, before visiting Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Winter Palace, Kazan Cathedral and the Church of the Saviour On Blood.
From eating alfresco to visiting local food festivals, summer is the perfect time to indulge in the culinary depth of Europe. Here, we explore three cities where you can have your fill of delicious fare this summer.
If food is high on your holiday agenda, Lyon, the so-called gourmet capital of the world, promises a feast for all the senses. With its ancient streets lined with historic restaurants and homely bouchons, not to mention an ever-present ensemble of artisan street food vendors serving up everything from hot crêpes to delicious sandwiches — this wonderful French city allows for complete culinary immersion, introducing you to some of France’s finest flavours and dishes.
If you’re keen to sample the very finest in French fare, be sure to visit one of Lyon’s many authentic bouchons — small bistros serving up wholesome, meaty dishes amid a relaxed and friendly environment. Bouchons are a large part of the culinary fabric of the city, and give you the chance to sample French food which has been around for centuries. Or, if you’d prefer to sample local produce fresh from the market, why not plan your visit around the Lyon Street Food Festival, which takes place in late summer? With over 30 top chefs in attendance, and a myriad of independent food stalls from which to indulge, this is your chance to sample artisan crafted food from across Lyon and the wider area.
The grand old Portuguese capital of Lisbon has become one of Europe’s most coveted foodie destinations, with its timeless restaurants, chic cafés and colourful food markets catering to all tastes and budgets. Lisbon owes its wonderful relationship with food to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, which has long served as a larder for fresh seafood, as well as the fertile landscapes which stretch from the Tagus River to the Douro Valley — helping keep the city stocked with fresh local produce.
From traditional Portuguese taverns to contemporary, Michelin-starred restaurants, Lisbon boasts a vast array of wonderful eateries. Begin your culinary odyssey at the Time Out Mercado da Ribeira food court, where you can sample all sorts of Portuguese delicacies, from Azeitao cheese to fresh, morning-caught Atlantic sardines. Or, for a more authentic experience, visit the Cervejaria Ramiro seafood tavern, which has been aptly nicknamed ‘the seafood temple’ of Lisbon.
Amsterdam could easily have slipped into any of the categories on this shortlist of Europe’s best summer cities, with its timeless, canal-lined streets offering up historic cultural distractions and architectural wonders in abundance. But, thanks to the depth and diversity of its cuisine, we thought it only right to place it in the ‘for food’ category — and you’ll soon discover why.
From contemporary à la carte restaurants and independent food markets to cafés, coffee houses and street food vendors; the Dutch capital has no shortage of places to eat. For the finest in Dutch cheese, head to the De Kaaskamer cheesemonger, or if you need a delicious bite on the go, try Patatje Oorlog from one of the many ‘snackbars’ across the city. Throughout the year, Amsterdam hosts a number of food festivals showcasing the very best in local and regional fare; you can browse upcoming culinary events taking place in the city, here.
Interested in visiting the continent this summer to soak up the culture or enjoy a little local fare? We still have availability left on many of our upcoming European river cruises, so visit the Scenic homepage to start planning your trip today.