After visiting a large part of Europe, I present you my top 10 of the most beautiful cities that have left a memorable impression. The top is composed only of the cities I visited, I’m sure there are other beautiful cities out there that I have not yet had the chance to visit. For these I’m waiting for your suggestions in the comments section. We have included only the cities that have preserved their character and authentic beauty, not including those who have sacrificed their personality just for the sake of tourism (I can give Venice as an example of this)
10 Paris – France
I wasn’t sure if this city deserves to be included in the top because it can also easily be included in the list of the most overrated cities to visit and depending on the area you stay, it can also be included in the list of the most dangerous cities to visit. In principle, the French capital lives on the laurels of the past, but although the city of lights doesn’t shine so bright as it used to, it is still quite bright and appealing. The central area that you see as a tourist is still very beautiful and an example of urban planning to be looked up to. Also, the city offers a very large concentration of attractions that will keep you busy for at least a week, so it’s always a safe bet for a successful holiday. Protests, strikes and locals who do not speak English and who do not stand criticism towards their city or their country, all make sure you get a really authentic experience.
9 Valletta – Malta
The capital of the island state of Malta is probably the smallest capital in Europe, occupying only the peninsula of the medieval fortress and having only 7500 permanent residents. This factor, together with severe restrictions on alteration of the architecture in the peninsula, contributed to preserving the authentic character of this city. Except for the new shop windows, the city is virtually the same as in 1500. Its golden limestone streets perfectly reproduce the atmosphere and capture the glory of this small country with great achievements. Unfortunately, the authenticity stops right after the city walls, where the giants cruise ships that over shadows the city are docked. Hordes of tourists come off from these ships daily and tend to ruin the atmosphere. But fortunately the number of such ships that can be moored simultaneously is limited by the size of the natural harbor of the city. Efforts have also been made to keep the city for the citizens of Malta, avoiding all businesses turning into cafes and souvenir shops.
8 La Spezia – Italy
This small Mediterranean port city squeezed between the sea and the mountains was spared from the wave of tourists coming off the cruise ships, that have largely been deviated to nearby Genoa. This small, relatively hidden gem is however very welcoming and familiar with tourists, being a popular stop among backpackers traveling to the Toscana region, Cinque Terre and Pisa.
7 Bremen – Germany
The only German appearance on our list, this is a superb little city that was relatively spared the destruction of the World War II bombings. It has a very well-preserved heritage from the Hanseatic League of which is was a part of. The preserved historical center is today a UNESCO heritage site. Being in Germany, of course it comes along with urban discipline, top infrastructure and cleanliness. Modern trams passing through the historic center blend harmoniously with the old architecture. The meticulously reconstructed facades after the war look good, but you can still see the tampering. The city loses on this account points in terms of authenticity.
The former medieval capital of Spain, located just 70 kilometers from the current capital of Madrid, is a superb and well-preserved town. The entire historical center is a UNESCO heritage site. The medieval fortress surrounded by high walls and the Tagus River was a Christian resistance point in the front line of Muslim invasions, and today it houses important universities and buildings of the Army, managing to keep the city in a normal livable state for the locals living in it, not just an outdoor museum full of tourists. Unfortunately, the many bright colored corporate billboards cut from the authentic character of the fortress. The giant McDonalds sign in the central square is a good example. Authorities should be more severe in camouflaging these signs so that they blend nicely with their historic environment. A good example of how this can be done can be seen in the next city on our list. [See more in the MADRID article HERE]
5 Sibiu – Romania
Although my native country Romania has many beautiful sites, few stand out and are properly set up. Sibiu is the most authentic city that I can give as an example. The Saxon heritage of Hapsburg Transylvania, is displayed all around and we are proud of it. “The city where homes have eyes” , as it was called by foreigners, was the European Capital of Culture in 2007 and is also the hometown of our president, Klaus Iohannis. The whole historic center has been renovated with German meticulousness and the result can be seen. Even details such as how strident the signs of the Multinationals corporations present in the historical squares were taken into account, so that they can blend nicely with the rest of the old city. Although more and more tourists and accommodation establishments appear every year, the city continues to function normally, the center is still largely inhabited by locals and functional with all the city services and institutions, thus avoiding the destructive effect of mass tourism that has destroyed the historical centers of other cities. [see article about Sibiu HERE]
4 Lisbon – Portugal
Although it is still behind its Spanish neighbors, the capital of Portugal, which I criticized for its inadequate condition of many of it’s historical districts, it’s precisely for this reason one of the most authentic capitals to visit. This city has successfully retained its character, being relatively isolated from the rest of the tourist circuits. The city has seen recently an explosion of visitors and new business, and it’s rapidly becoming a global destination for multinational corporations and expats, a phenomenon that will inevitably lead to the loss of the unique character of this beautiful city. Visit it now while it’s still got it. [See full Lisbon article HERE]
3 Cassis – France
Indisputably one of the most beautiful cities on the South Coast of France. This town, located in a natural bay, has retained the old charm of France, and has not allowed any kind of real estate development in its historic center. The city is known for its wine production and its status as gateway to Calanques National Park. This is the perfect place to find a small French brasserie terrace where you can enjoy a glass of wine and a view of the Mediterranean. Not being near any major highway or train line, it was spared from the large flow of tourists who mostly stay in nearby Marseille or Nice. Locals pretty much get on with their lives unhindered. It is easily accessible by regional train from Marseille, so I definitely recommend a visit if you are in the area. There is a quite a walk from the train station to the city center , but the winery landscape is worth it. [see more in the article about Marseille or France]
2 Florence – Italy
There is much to be said about this gorgeous place, but the city deserves all its praise. This historic UNESCO heritage site, famous for the works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, made under patronage by families such as Medici, is simply superb. The city is dominated by the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the place of the Renaissance that brought Europe out of the Dark Ages. Today it is an important university and industrial center in Italy, functioning normally, not just as an outdoor museum for tourists. A ride along Arno river along with students or locals who live in those beautiful old buildings will always give you a satisfying sense of authenticity.
1 Prague – Czech Republic
Although in recent years it has become a favorite destination for more and more expats from the American continent, the Czech capital has managed to turn this influx of expats and tourists to its advantage. The gorgeous architecture of the city (a historic center included in UNESCO, of course) was nicely combined with strict urban planning laws that maintain the look and authentic character of the city. The local authorities have locked in place laws that limit the price of rents required for its own citizens, thus ensuring central homes for those who actually live and work in the city, not just favoring tourists and wealthy expats. Apart from it’s architecture, thanks to the German heritage , we discover in Prague also top infrastructure, very well organized public transport and numerous facilities for tourists and for those who leave their cars at home. I definitely recommend a visit to this gorgeous city, which is still quite accessible. The country did not yet adopt the Euro currency. PS: local sausages, foods and beers are absolutely fantastic here. 😀 [see full article about Prague HERE]
** Valencia – Spain
Even though it did not make the top, I still wanted to mention Valencia. The Old Historical Center, although small, has preserved its medieval heritage. The city is now better known for its newer attractions such as Calatrava’s City of Arts and Culture, the new harbor and the promenade and beach area that make Valencia an appealing destination but have taken out some of the charm and character of the city.
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Check out other trips: Lisbon Portugal vacation, The London Week ,Saint Tropez France , First 48 days in Marseille France, Romania road trip across the country in 7 days , Budapest Hungary road trip, Prague – dream vacation , Excursion Dobrogea: Enisala, Ibida, Histria , Vacation Madrid Spain , Two days in Jacksonville USA, Paralia – Greece road trip, Brasov 12.2014 , Buzau quick stop , Lepsa & Vrancea county , Chisinau city break , Nessebar Bulgaria , Bucharest weekends 2014 , Busan Korea , 40 days in Cluj Napoca , Hunedoara Castle ; Singapore 2013 , Brasov 02.2014 , Istanbul 01.2014, Cluj Napoca 08.2013 , Sibiu 07.2013 , San Pedro-Ivory Coast , Bucharest 2013 , Varna 2012 , Los Angeles 2012 , Budapest & Viena trip , Salerno Italy , Cluj Napoca 2012 , Florence Italy , Brasov 02.2012 , Amsterdam , Antofagasta-Chile, Valencia Spain , Lima-Peru , Bremen Germany , Istanbul 2009 , Valletta Malta , San Juan-Puerto Rico , Barcelona Spain , Singapore 2010 , Los Angeles 2010 , Transilvania road trip , La Spezia , Bosphorus by ship , Sydney , Melbourne Australia , Auckland New Zealand , San Francisco USA , Tauranga NZ
Check out other expat lifestyle articles: UK Immigration – how much does it costs to relocate to England? , First 30 days in Hull England UK as Expat , France one year impressions , How to get PACS in France , Expat beginner’s guide to moving to France , First 48 days as expat in France , After six years at sea