Top 28 Places to Visit in Europe for First Timers: Discovering the Old Continent
For many people who visit Europe for the first time, it is easy to pick the most touristic cities and then say that they discovered the Old Continent.
However, to understand the real European culture, you need to visit different places.
To help first-timers to plan a perfect trip to Europe, I asked 27 travel bloggers to suggest a destination that they think is must-visit for your first visit to Europe. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: This is an independent travel blog, where I publish stories of my trips and help you to plan yours. I might get a small commission if you book your trip using some of the links in this article at no cost for you. All opinions and recommendations are unbiased and only reflect my opinion (or opinion of a guest writer).
Belarus is a less known destination which is often missed by tourists visiting Europe.
But with the extended to 30 days visa-free regime, the country is gaining more popularity among foreign travelers.
Why is Belarus the right country to visit during your first visit in Europe?
The country has a very rich history. It used to be a part of some of the largest states and empires in Europe like the Great Duchy of Lithuania, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Russian Empire, and the USSR.
Numerous wars crossed its territory leaving many traces and playing an important role in Belarusian history. Napoleon, Hitler, and Stalin are just some of the leaders who sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fierce fights on the territory of Belarus.
Tourists visiting Belarus usually spend most of the time of their visit in Minsk. However, there are cities which are better representations of the country’s history and culture.
For instance, Grodno.
Grodno is one of the largest cities in Belarus where you still feel very cozy like in a village. It has the largest number of historical landmarks in Belarus.
Walk along the Sovietskaya street, visit the main city park and try some delicious Belarusian national dishes.
Grodno is also a great starting location to continue the exploration of Belarus, as many of the most beautiful castles in the country are located in the Grodno region. You can also order a private tour to visit them.
A perfect experience for the first visit to Europe.
By Roman from Visit-Belarus.com
To get a glimpse into some European culture and history, add the historic city of Sibenik to your Croatia itinerary. Despite being less visited than the cities of Split and Dubrovnik, Sibenik is the only city in Croatia home to 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – St. Nicholas’ fortress and St. James’ Cathedral.
In total, the city actually boasts 4 fortresses, which are brilliant places to visit to learn more about the city’s history.
One of the best things about visiting Sibenik is the impressive Old Town. Exploring by foot gives you a feel of how things used to be in the city in years gone by.
The cobblestone streets and stonewalled buildings are truly marvelous, and thankfully Sibenik’s Old Town isn’t as busy as those found in Split, Dubrovnik, and Trogir. As fewer tourists visit the city it has a more authentic feel to it, making it the perfect place to get a feel for European culture and history.
By Sam and Natalia from SomethingofFreedom
Book a private Sibenik tour here
From the food to the tourism, to the Alpine agriculture; everything in Courmayeur, in the Italian Alps, is centered around the mountain lifestyle.
Produced locally from the island’s farms and fishing vessels as well as delve into historically and visually stunning architecture.
Though traditional French is well-understood here, the island’s insularity has yielded a separate language from the mainland, similar to French but namely Corsican, which can be heard being spoken by locals and sung in traditional music played often throughout the streets.
Corsica’s placement in the Mediterranean means the coasts are lined with incredible beaches abutting turquoise waters – hidden gems abound throughout the region, especially the Plage du Lotu, reached by boat directly from Saint-Florent.
Corsica is also well-known for the GR20, dubbed the toughest long-distance trek in Europe – hikers will love tackling the beautiful and challenging mountain range that runs the whole north-south distance of the island.
Check this Corsica mountain tour.
Even day treks into the mountains, from the Forest de Poppaghla to Lac de Nino or Castel de Vergio to the Refuge Ciuttulu Di I Mori, allow visitors to further immerse themselves in the landscape and see the heart of Corsican culture.
By Christa from Expedition Wildlife
Check my list of 50 tips on how to travel the world cheap
Around the world, Germany is known for being a beer nation with many unique breweries and beer styles. The beer has always been a significant part of German culture and tradition, which is why it is available all over the country.
However, if you really want to get to know and experience the German beer culture, consider a trip to the UNESCO town of Bamberg in the northern Bavarian region of Franconia.
Check this unusual Bamberg city tour
Almost every village in the area has its own private brewery while Bamberg itself is often referred to as the “beer capital of Germany” featuring 10 unique breweries in the city center. What makes this region special is the fact that it’s still very traditional.
In the small villages and medieval towns, local culture is still prevalent in everyday life – even in the way the beer is being brewed. Many of the 71 breweries in and around Bamberg have been brewing their beer following the same family recipes for centuries.
Not only has Franconia the highest density of breweries in the world, but it also makes for a cultural and authentic trip to the origins of the German beer culture.
By Lena from Lena on the Move
If you’re looking for a unique place to discover in Europe, you should check out Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Often left off most tourists’ Europe itineraries, few people know that Plovdiv is one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities in Europe with over 6,000 years of unbroken human settlement in the region.
You can check this one-day trip to Plovdiv from Sofia.
It was first inhabited by the Thracians in 4000 B.C., long before the Roman times, and later became an important city in the Roman Empire (and later the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires as well). You can actually find a gorgeous Roman amphitheater dating back two millennia, that is still in excellent condition and in use today, and is one of the top things to do in Plovdiv.
In addition to its Roman architecture and ruins, you can also find relics of the Ottoman occupation in the beautiful central mosque or a uniquely Bulgarian architecture style in the Bulgarian National Revival museum houses of Plovdiv’s Old Town which date back to the mid-19th century.
And despite all this history, Plovdiv is still renewing itself, with tons of unique bars and restaurants in the hipster neighborhood of Kapana. It’s no wonder why Plovdiv was named one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2019!
By Allison from SofiaAdventures
Most tourists visit the well known touristy sites but miss out on experiencing the real life of the regular person in that place. While the touristy sites have great significance and well-curated experiences, there is a lot to the special magic in the hidden gems and the mundane.
You should visit Kosovo to see how the young country is doing after their newly found freedom. Kosovo has to live in the constant shadow of the big global powers itching to take them over. But the people are resilient. Together with the government, they are doing great in providing a great education, health, food, and economy.
We stayed in the villages with their deep history, culture, natural beauty, and lifestyle. We stayed in a kulla, which is a farmer’s house from the early 1800s. Now some of the kullas have been converted into B&Bs and a resting place for adventure travelers, hikers, and bikers.
Staying in the kulla is like being transported back in time with the basic amenities of today. The bonus for us was the amazing, fresh local food, playing with animals and long conversations with the farmer’s family. You should try it too.
Cracow is the biggest and most famous city in southern Poland. It is a beautiful place with many well-preserved historical sites. Packed with museums, churches, exhibitions, and impressive cathedrals, Cracow allows you to get to know Polish history well (which has always been very eventful).
For many people, Cracow is a symbol of Polishness and the main element of Polish heritage.
So, why is this city so important?
Cracow is one of the oldest cities in Poland and it has always played a crucial part in Polish history. For many ages Cracow was the royal city – it was a place of birth, residence, and coronation of many kings.
Also, this city was home to many Polish poets, artists, and scientists. In Cracow, there is one of the oldest universities in Europe – Jagiellonian University (it was founded in 1364!)
Tip for a foodie: check this Cracow food tour
Cracow’s main attractions are Old Town, Wawel Royal Castle, and Kazimierz Jewish district, all of which were added to UNESCO heritage list in 1978.
Cracow is a perfect destination for history lovers, architecture geeks and basically, everyone who wants to learn about Poland and its interesting, but often painful history.
By Joanna from Overhere.eu
Every year the little town of Ptuj in Slovenia‘s northeast region is host to the Kurentovanje. The costumes used in this spectacular winter spectacle are so unique they are UNESCO listed. The Carnival is a week of celebrations with the final parade through the main streets, where the mythical creatures come out to ‘scare away winter’.
Take some time to explore Ptuj in between events, seeing the beautifully decorated Dominican Monastery built in the 13th Century, or view the archaeological, historical and cultural collections in the Ormoz Regional Museum housed in Ptuj Castle.
Visiting in low season (winter) ensures your surrounded by locals, not throngs of tourists so you can immerse yourself into the local culture. Come and discover how religion and folklore intertwine in truely Slovenian experience.
Rosina from Find The Map
Mojacar Pueblo is one of the gorgeous white towns of southern Spain – clustered around a steep hilltop, it’s a maze of winding streets, whitewashed buildings, and traditional tapas bars.
True Spanish culture is alive and well here – although the town is small, it has an annual roster of fiestas and processions in true Spanish style: my favorite is the Noche de las Velas when the whole town is lit up at night by tealights and candles.
Another annual highlight is the Moors and Christians procession, which celebrates the town’s diverse history.
Although there are a lot of things to do in Mojacar, a lot of the town’s appeal lies in the town itself.
It’s the perfect place to discover a different side of Spain – a Spain where women still fill their water bottles in the fountains that have brought water from the nearby mountains since Moorish times. Where leisurely meals, siestas and good conversation reign supreme.
What more could you want?
By Julianna from The Discoveries Of
Orkney is an archipelago made up of over 70 islands and is a very special place to visit. It has a very strong identity of its own. In fact, if you ask a local if they consider themselves Scottish or British, they will say neither, this is because they are Orcadian.
The reason for this is partly geographical, as Kirkwall is closer to Norway than to London. And partly because of the 1000s of years of history connecting Orkney with Norway.
The Vikings settled here, they left runic writing and dragons etched into the Neolithic stone of Maes Howe. St Magnus Cathedral was built by Norse Earls in 1137 and they still have close ties with the Norwegian royal family.
Check this Orkney and Scotland 5-day tour
You will also notice that Norse names such as Magnus, Rognvald and Thorfinn are still commonplace amongst the young.
By Gillian & Jonathan from Scotland Bucket List
When traveling to The Netherlands most people tend to visit Amsterdam, and maybe Rotterdam or Utrecht. But there is a whole other world out there. Amsterdam doesn’t represent The Netherlands.
It has beautiful canals and canal houses, but so do hundreds of other cities in The Netherlands. That’s why you should visit Bolsward in the province of Friesland. This city is small, has beautiful canals, but hasn’t lost its authentic touch.
Only when it’s summer you might come across a few tourists, with a few I mean around ten tourists. But besides that, the city is all yours. Bolsward in Friesland is one of those authentic cities where you will experience the way Dutch people live.
You can enjoy sitting along the canals for hours without traffic disturbing you and destroying your mood. People are open and say hi to each other. Everything goes a bit slower in Bolsward.
The pace of the people is not rushed, but calm. And that has a great effect on your mood. You will get smiles from strangers. And after a long day exploring this beautiful city in Friesland you will be completely relaxed.
By Manon from Visiting The Dutch Countryside
Bristol England is the vanguard for urban art in Europe, earning that position by spawning both Banksy and the Upfest street art festival. Street art is always a commentary on contemporary society.
It often rails against regentrification, commercialism, and uptight social values. Banksy personifies that ethic with his anti-establishment messages and epic pranks.
Bristol’s Stokes Croft neighborhood also reflects that sort of guerilla attitude with edgy political graffiti and murals flowing down the streets and alleyways.
Check this Bristol tour
Each year, Bristol’s Upfest commissions works from 300 local and global artists and they swarm the Bedminster neighborhood with new murals. Bristol understands that street art is meant to be ephemeral and every year, the festival makes a point of covering over old works with fresh murals.
Visiting Bristol is a lesson in contemporary urban culture and you can learn more by checking out this Bristol street art guide.
Carol from Wayfaring Views
There are many beautiful locations to visit in Italy to grasp the culture and history. However, if you are wanting a more spiritual interlude Assisi may be a perfect destination.
The best way to describe Assisi is the character holds a mystical and holy mood. The visitor feels this atmosphere immediately. It is noticeable that there is a quieter and compliance with the tourist themselves. A respect and understanding that you are in a very spiritual location.
Assisi draws many tourists every day to experience the solitude and peace that you find in Umbria. It is so fitting that Assisi is the home of Saint Francis the patron Saint of animals. Birds are constantly soaring above the town. It is also home to more saints such as Clare of Assisi and Agnes of Assisi.
Explore Assisi with a guided tour
Assisi area has been inhabited since 1000 BC, with 9 churches filled with frescos. The Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi which was completed in 1253 was damaged when a major earthquake hit the area in 1997.
My family was fortunate to see Assisi only one month prior (read more). The restoration took a few years; however, some frescos were destroyed.
A visit to Assisi will leave you with a more understanding ofthe Catholic religion, saints, and history of the Umbria region. An understanding of the real Italy.
By Sherrie from Travel by a Sherrie Affair
Although most people go crazy for Amsterdam, you can find the heart of the Netherlands elsewhere! One of my favorite cities in the Netherlands, as someone who has even lived here for a while, is Dordrecht.
This charming city just fifteen minutes from Rotterdam was known as the Venice of Holland. This off the beaten path Dutch city is still full of historic warehouses and it’s a great introduction to Dutch history, including trading and the many floods that plagued Holland.
Within the city, you’ll find numerous cozy cafes (with a view of the stunning canals), boutique shops, and friendly people happy to chat about Dutch culture.
Check this Dordrecht walking tour
One of the best ways to experience Dutch culture (in my opinion) is to have a coffee (or a small beer) at a cozy cafe along the canals. It’s hard to beat the atmosphere and views in Dordrecht. Once you’ve experienced some of the smaller cities in the Netherlands, you won’t look at Amsterdam the same way again!
By Karen from Wonderlusting K
Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
It would not be a stretch to suggest that Český Krumlov might just be the most beautiful town in the Czech Republic, and some might even say all of Europe. I’ve been lucky to visit almost every European country, and I have a hard time picturing anywhere that’s more picturesque.
Český Krumlov is located in the South Bohemian Region, and it’s been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992. What’s special about this place is that it’s a small town, but it has a large, impressive castle that befits a much, much larger town.
It’s widely considered to be the second most impressive castle in the country, after the Hradčany castle complex of Prague.
Discover the city with a private tour
It’s also a very romantic city to visit with a spouse, and there is no shortage of lookouts to take in with a significant other.
It’s a classic, gorgeous European small town that’s oozing with history and will shed light on what a small medieval town truly can be.
By Christopher from Traveling Mitch
Hadrian’s Wall, England
Bordered by France, Andorra, the Mediterranean Sea, and the rest of Spain, Catalonia is a rich culture overshadowed by big-city Barcelona.
In reality, this northeastern region has a kaleidoscopic culture due to its varying landscapes: the countryside of rural quietness and medieval castles of Central Catalonia, the snow-capped mountains of the Pyrenees, and the coastal fishing villages like on the Costa Brava.
For ancient medieval villages, a romantic place to visit is Besalú, a monumental small town untouched by big corporations, whose architecture has Moorish, Jewish, and Visigoth influences. It’s also adorned with an 11th-century stone Romanesque bridge.
A town with a historic quarter and a 15th-century castle is Begur. It also has small, secret beach coves lined with camis de ronda. These are ancient scenic footpaths that line the Mediterranean coast along Catalonia.
For a larger destination that still preserves its culture is Cadaqués, the whitewashed coastal town of surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. Wherever you visit, be sure to try the local gastronomy, characterized by traditional cheeses, sausages like fuet or llonganisa, and of course the regional wines of Empordà or Priorat.
Catalonia is truly distinctive from the rest of Spain, and as the Catalan locals say themselves, “Catalonia is different.”
By Justine from Latitude 41
Portugal is one of the trendiest countries in Europe nowadays. And while everybody knows that Lisbon with its wooden trams is a must-see destination, if you want to feel a real authentic Portuguese vibe, you need to visit the capital of the north – Porto.
Porto epitomizes everything the most western European country is all about. Imagine small windy streets surrounded by azulejo (the typical Portuguese tiles) covered houses.
Gothic churches and breathtaking miradouros (viewpoints) leading your way to the banks of the Douro river where cozy restaurants, situated only meters from the water, offer typical Portuguese seafood and wine.
Check this Porto tour with visiting of wine cellars
And talking about wine, Porto is the birthplace of the world-famous Port wine. Going on a wine tour around the cellars is one of the cities’ top attractions.
Representing the laid back and colorful nation of Portugal to the fullest, Porto is my favorite town in the country and a must-have spot on your European itinerary!
By Verislav from Global Castaway
Bratislava is the only European capital to border on two countries: Slovakia’s capital abuts Austria and Hungary (Bratislava is Pressburg in German and Hungarians still call it Pozsony). Few cities on the continent offer such a unique window into the spirit and history of Central Europe.
The place to start exploring is the Bratislava Castle, the city’s most famous landmark. Hike up to it from the Danube and see the neighboring countries across Austria to the west and Hungary’s Pannonian plain to the south beyond the Petržalka panelák quarter.
Check this Bratislava walking tour
In Old Town below, St. Martin’s Cathedral, completed in 1452, is Bratislava’s main Catholic temple. During the period of Ottoman occupation, between 1563 and 1830, Bratislava was the capital of Hungary and the king was coronated at St. Martin’s.
A golden crown in place of the cross at the top of the tower and the annual Coronation Days celebration, in June, evoke those golden days.
Another place to appreciate Bratislava’s unique position and history are WWII and Cold War military bunkers scattered around Petržalka’s perimeter. A group of enthusiasts is working to restore them and offering tours.
By Peter from I Heart Slovakia
The city of Parma, Italy is one of the best places to discover in Europe as has a vast and rich history, plus it is one of the top foodie destinations in the entire world.
Established all the way back in the year 183 BC, this city is in my opinion, if not the best city in all of Italy and in Europe as well. If you visit the city of Parma, you have to make sure you don’t miss out on these places: Battistero di Parma, Monumento a Guiseppe Garibaldi, Basilica di Santa della Steccata and Cattedrale di Parma.
Check this Parma cheese tasting tour
The best time to go to the city of Parma is during the festival season. There are two festivals which you should consider.
The first being the Verdi Festival which will enrich you culturally and musically with incredible Italian operas.
The second is the Parma Ham Festival where you can discover what Parma Ham is all about. A fair warning to ham and prosciutto lovers.
Once you visit the city of Parma, you will never crave store bought Parma Ham ever again. To learn more about the city of Parma, check out my travel review on my food and travel blog here.
By Michelle from Greedy Gourmet
Vojvodina is a region in Serbia that starts at the edge of Belgrade and extends north to where Serbia borders Croatia and Hungary. The region is an interesting one to travel, as this part of Serbia was controlled by the Austro-Hungarian empire, whereas southern Serbia was controlled by the Ottoman Turks.
As such, you can see a distinct difference in the architecture once you cross into Vojvodina, because even the Orthodox churches are constructed in the Baroque style and look like Catholic churches do in Austria.
The cuisine here is also a blend, with Hungarian street foods being available in northern towns like Subotica. You can also find goulash, more typical of Hungary.
As you travel around Serbia, you can see how the differences between the legacies of the two empires affect everything about the culture, architecture, and religion of the diverse Serbian people.
Its a microcosm of the clash of cultures between these two empires which is a major part of the identity of the Balkans.
By Sophia from Sophia Adventures
The spectacular Asturias region in the northwest of Spain is a province of misty green mountains, blue waters, and prehistoric caves.
The area is famous for its rugged coastline lined with amazing beaches and it’s grandiose mountain ranges covered in bewitching forests. The gorgeous landscapes are dotted with plenty of interesting religious sites and distinctive medieval architecture.
Charming villages with unique traditions and smashing gastronomy consolidates this as one of our favorite areas to visit in Spain.
Outdoor lovers will relish the renowned mountain range the Picos de Europa, with some peaks over 2600m. Asturias is home to several short and long distance hiking trails including the Camino Primitivo pilgrimage known as the original and toughest Camino way to Santiago De Compostela.
The mountains are strewn with shorter hiking and cycling trails, mostly well marked for an amazing adventure holiday. If you want to go to the beach there are several nice coastal towns like Gijón and Llanes where you can enjoy sandy beaches, clean water, and delicious local food.
Want to ride the waves, check out one of the Asturian surf towns Rodiles and Tapia de Casariego.
Are you a foodie?
Don’t miss the pintxos, a range of small heavenly tapas, complementary with your beer at most local bars.
By Campbell and Alya from Stingy Nomads
Belfast, Northern Ireland
My first trip to Belfast was the very last leg of my three-month solo European adventure. Before visiting, I didn’t know much about the city other than it being located in Northern Ireland and the remnants of news I heard as a kid of the violent conflicts of the 90’s.
It wasn’t until one of my best friends hopped the pond and got her master’s abroad in Belfast did I have the opportunity to explore the gem of a country. A cab driver there once described it best, “Belfast is a big city with a village feel.”
That was the most accurate description I could ever think of. Not only are the people so genuinely friendly, but the serene natural beauty encompassing country is beyond anything I could have imagined.
Check this Belfast tour
From low-lying pastoral land to snow-capped mountain peaks surrounding a metropolitan and historical city center, Belfast is the epitome of what you’d want out of a European city.
Deep-rooted and very recent history, a vibrant culture, lush green landscapes, inspiring architecture, and friendly people – Northern Ireland is a place you won’t want to miss out on before it too, becomes the next big tourist destination.
By Alex from The Wayward Walrus
At the foot of the Alps, the region of the Allgäu is characterized by rocky mountains, steep meadows, fir forests, and traditional agriculture. Located in the very south of Bavaria, the Allgäu is one of the most traveled regions of Germany.
It’s famous for cheese, ham, and Käsespätzle (a special noodle dish with cheese). Various quiet, crystal-clear mountain lakes can be found here for relaxed swimming vacation with a panoramic view of lush nature.
The region is perfect for outdoor sports providing various hiking and biking trails and take-off sites for para- and hang-gliding. Rich in unspoiled nature, the region has also become popular for recreational vacation and environmental protection.
By Lynn from Green Pearls
The Carpathian Mountains, Romania
If you travel to Romania, I suggest you run from its capital city Bucharest and head for the center of the country. Here, in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, or very close to them, I have several suggestions for your travels.
You could do a tour of the castles in the Prahova and Brașov counties. Your first stop should be in Sinaia, to visit the Peleș National Museum. Here, you will find two wonderful castles: Peleș and Pelișor, the latter creatively decorated to the liking of the late Queen Mary of Romania.
You can continue your journey to Bușteni, where you can visit the Cantacuzino castle, and have a coffee on its terrace while admiring the gorgeous Bușteni Mountains. Last, but not least, make a stop at the so-called Dracula’s Castle: Bran Castle, and learn its true history.
To return to Bucharest, I suggest you go through the Rucăr-Bran Pass, to get a taste of Romania’s beautiful traditional village life.
Another option for a short tour would be to visit Brașov and Sibiu, two towns which were fortified in the past. You can still see parts of their walls and the towers which belonged to different guilds.
In this area, you can also visit some of the famous fortified churches of Transylvania, some of them listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. To return to Bucharest, you have the rare chance to drive on one of the most beautiful roads in the world: the serpent-like Transfăgărășan.
Mirela from The Travel Bunny
If you are going to Norway, have you planned your mountain adventure?
Because if you want to get a feel of what a true local Norwegian do, you have to go hiking. Norwegian’s love being outdoors and explore the scenic nature and best of all getting fresh air and exercise for free.
Remember when you are hiking in the mountains, we do say, Hei Hei, which is a joyful hello in Norway, this is maybe the only time we greet strangers, maybe that’s because that person is the first person you have seen in five hours.
My highest recommendation for visiting Noway is go hiking! Either the famous hike Besseggen or other small hikes. Go hiking if visiting Norway! If you are hiking in Sunnmore you will be hiking with a view of the famous fjords!
Pauline from Pauline Travels
Tips for Your First Trip to Europe
To have a perfect experience during your first visit to Europe, you should know some information about traveling to the Old Continent.
The best website to check plane tickets is Skyscanner.
The largest hotels choice can be found on Booking.com website.
Read more tips on traveling to Europe.
It was a list of 28 amazing destinations in Europe to understand and discover the Old Continent to have a unique cultural experience different from what the typical tourists have.
Plan your trip to Europe using my trip planner.
My blog is an experiential travel blog. I always try to help you discover new amazing destinations as well as rediscover the old ones.
I try to give as many local tips as possible and tell about as many hidden gems of popular cities as possible.
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