Europe is a beautiful landscape of a mix of traditions, cultures, and people. From the Brits on the west to the Fins on the east, I’ve traveled extensively all throughout the continent and have felt safe, at home, and had thrilling adventures in every country. From trying different traditional foods of fish and chips, reindeer, goulash, pierogi, and more… to participating in unique activities suited to each country, I’ve been hooked ever since my first visit to Europe. After all, each country feels wildly different than the last.
While I aim to visit a country in its entirety (versus pass from capital to capital), sometimes trips work out better when you only visit the capital city. In all, I’ve visited over 25 European countries, passing through most country’s capital city. Below you’ll find a list of the best European capital cities to visit and why!
The Best European Capital Cities
Budapest absolutely blew me away. When I think of some of my “favorite things”… Budapest has just about everything. Wine, food, history, architecture.
Budapest is cheap, lively, and is bursting with things to do. From the historic Hungarian Baths to watching Parliament light up at night. You can dance the night away in the ruin bars or visit during Christmas for some of the best Christmas markets Europe has to offer. Budapest is a place that should be visited by everyone at least once.
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Ljubljana is one of the most charming cities I’ve visited. With cotton candy-colored homes and historic castles; the back-drop of Ljubljana is drool-worthy. Then add in the quaint cafes lining the streets, the good food and wine, and you get one of the best capital cities in Europe.
Not to mention, Ljubljana is a great starting point to explore the rest of Slovenia. If you visit, don’t miss visiting the picturesque Lake Bled.
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People seem to have very strong opinions on Paris, and they aren’t always good. I, however, think that Paris is one of the most beautiful, romantic, and intriguing cities in the entire world. You can spend days at churches and art museums, sitting in cafes sipping wine or hot chocolate, and dine on exquisite French cuisine. After spending six days in Paris, it captured my heart and I’m positive that I’ll be back to explore more of what Paris has to offer.
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Prague, Czech Republic
My very first trip across the pond brought me to Prague in the Czech Republic. I was young and carefree (I made tons of travel mistakes), but I learned a lot visiting Prague and today it still holds a special piece of my heart.
Having been to the city twice – once in the wintertime and once in the spring – Prague can draw one heck of a crowd no matter which season it is. Visit the historic castle, John Lennon wall, cross the Charles Bridge, and hang around the main square. Prague is affordable, fun, and full of history.
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One of the Baltic Countries, Latvia is widely a widely overlooked travel destination. However, not only is Latvia one of my favorite countries, but Riga is a lively, affordable, and fun city that every traveler should visit.
Riga is located on the Baltic Sea with the River Daugava running through. Famously known for having the highest concentration of Art Nouveau style architecture in the world, walking through Riga is like walking through a time machine taking you back to a dreamy and whimsical world in the early 1900s. Aside from the incredible architecture throughout the city, if you visit Riga you can expect a well preserved medieval Old Town, a beer district, a tasty food scene, and opportunities to experience the Latvian spa culture. It’s truly a hidden gem amongst a sea of capital cities to choose from – I highly recommend not passing Riga up.
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With zero intention to ever visit Rome, (I thought I would hate it), I found myself in Italy’s capital after having a SERIOUS pizza craving. Having always pictured Rome as the evil stepchild of Europe, I pictured it to be overcrowded, much too touristy, and highly overrated. And while it was crowded and touristy, it was far from overrated.
Walking through Rome is like walking through a huge, ancient museum. Every street tells a story and some of the things that have influenced world history the most took place in Rome. From the Roman Colosseum to Vatican City. You can eat gelato while watching the sunset from the Spanish Steps and then move to a cozy restaurant where you can watch pasta being rolled out in front of you. To experience Rome is to experience life, and I can’t say my European trip would have been the same without a visit to Rome.
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If you’re looking for a cheap, less crowded option for a capital city… I present to you Tallinn, Estonia. Recently growing in popularity, Tallinn has become a hot spot for those looking to explore a different part of Europe, the Balkan region, while not breaking the bank. And with easy transportation to and from Finland, Tallinn is a top choice and why it made my list.
Tallinn had everything that I wanted in a capital. Charm, friendly locals, great food, great drinks, and it was CHEAP! While it might not stand out as Paris and Rome do, Tallinn is unique and special in its own way. Visit the hipster Telliskivi neighborhood, or climb to the highest viewpoint to see the orange rooftops that make Tallinn so uniquely Tallinn. Trust me when I tell you, there is no way you want to miss this city.
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Although Georgia associates itself as being European, technically Tbilisi, Georgia is located in what is called Eurasia. The country sits on the continental divide of Europe and Asia – south of Russia and east of Turkey. Tbilisi is an incredibly fascinating capital city. It’s beautiful, historic, and most importantly Tbilisi is one of the most affordable capital cities I’ve visited. Add in incredible food, culture, and wine – (did you know Georgia is the birthplace of wine?!), and Tbilisi may just top my list for “favorite capital city in the world”.
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Another Balkan country, Lithuania is similar to Estonia and Latvia – all while being entirely different. The capital city Vilnius is a hip mix of modern and artsy, giving you a sense of a true local feeling as you stroll through town. You’ll definitely want to stroll through the Užupis neighborhood and visit Halle Market – one of the oldest and largest markets in Lithuania. Similar to Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania is also fun, affordable, and seems to be the least crowded of the three Balkan cities.
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The European capitals that are mentioned above are some that hold an extra special place in my heart. Whether it’s the kind people I met along the way, the number of fun things to see and do in the city, or the architecture that took my breath away – I urge you to venture off the beaten path and visit some of these places you may not have considered before.