So you’ve decided to plan your dream European itinerary. The first stage is sorting out which places you’d most love to visit! But there are so many awesome destinations; you’ll never be able to tick them all off in one trip… So let us help you find the top destinations in Europe to prioritise for your next continental adventure.
It’s a question we get asked time and time again – so don’t worry, you’re not alone! The first thing to ask is what kind of traveller are you? If it’s your first ever big trip, maybe you’ll be looking to tick off the cultural heavyweights. Or perhaps you’re an experienced traveller looking for something more adventurous? Whatever your taste, check out our guide below to work out where to go in Europe!
The best way to get started on choosing your destinations is to work out what kind of experience you want from your trip.
We’ve split this guide into four trip styles, so you can pick which persona fits you best and plan your trip accordingly!
You’re a first-time backpacker (or flashpacker!) dying to see the world’s most famous sights, soak in the atmosphere and maybe see a few hidden gems. You’re in love with the romance, the ancient history and the culture of Europe’s best-known cities. The idea of jumping from city to city by train – a new country every few days – gives you a massive buzz! You’d love to meet a lot of like-minded people along the way – looking to sample a mix of sightseeing, local food and culture – with a touch of nightlife thrown in of course! Your ideal Europe backpacking itinerary has a bit of everything.
You’re young and excited to explore – so fit in as much as possible without rushing! Your ideal Europe route should include a whistle-stop tour of Western and Central European classics. We’re talking about Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vienna, Prague and more!
These cities are Europe’s most popular – and rightly so! They’re home to world-famous sights like the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum and the Brandenburg Gate. The popularity of these cities means pre-booking your travel and accommodation is advised if you want to get the best out of your time in each.
But, while you’re ogling those insane tourist sights, try to remember that these cities are home to full-time residents too! Make sure you give yourself a chance to delve beyond the surface of these fairy-tale destinations and discover the local spots. Take an alternative walking tour, go on a day trip to a nearby nature spot or ask your hostel for local food recommendations.
Grab yourself a Eurail or Interrail pass to make the most of Europe’s extensive train network. New to travelling Europe by rail? Check out our guide to travelling the continent by train here to learn how it works.
Europe is so much more than Paris and Rome. If you’re a first-time traveller looking to experience some cool places in Europe, why not branch out further East. Explore the other side of our stunning continent and discover fairytale cities at a fraction of the cost, deliciously hearty food and friendly people.
History buffs shouldn’t miss a visit to Krakow to discover Poland’s turbulent history. For photography lovers, make sure you capture those pastel-perfect street snaps in Bratislava or Cesky Krumlov. Nightlife fans can’t miss the edgy bar and club scene in Belgrade, Serbia. Want to learn more about this beautiful region? Check out our top reasons to backpack Eastern Europe.
It’s also worth remembering that budget flights are often at inconvenient times – sneaking out of a hostel dorm at 3am to catch your 6 o’clock flight isn’t much fun.
Take a look at these routes for an example of which top European destinations you could fit into your time frame:
Whether you’ve been to Europe before or are heading out for the 5th time, your priority is always seeing the world’s most incredible scenery, taking in the best views and getting out there to experience it for yourself. Although you love seeing world-famous sights, your favourite landmarks are the natural kind. Your favourite cities are the ones surrounded by mountains, and the most important feature of any hotel or travel route is the view. Anything to remind yourself what’s out there to be explored!
Of course, you can’t talk about the great outdoors in Europe without mentioning the Alps – stretching right through the centre of the continent. Europe’s largest mountain range is also home its highest mountain – Mont Blanc at just under 16,000ft. The Alps spread across a whopping 7 different countries: France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and little known Lichtenstein.
Start your trip in Austria or Southern France, and work your way across! The great thing about travelling in the Alps is that you can plan a Europe trip covering different cultures and cuisines without ever losing sight of those snowy peaks! Unlike most mountainous areas, it’s also well connected by public transport. From perfect blankets of snow to swooping green valleys – the views from your train window are guaranteed to be stunning whatever the season.
Thrill seekers can find plenty to entertain them at any time of year. In winter there’s skiing, snow festivals and tobogganing, in summer try fresh-water swimming, zip-lining and paragliding. But that’s not all you’ll find here.
Cinderella-style castles cling to cliff-sides and perch on turquoise lakes – check out Neuschwanstein, Chillon and Oberhofen. All this and you’re only a stone’s throw from awesome cities like Munich, Milan and Bern. This region will satisfy even the hungriest culture vulture.
Already ticked off Europe’s most famous outdoor pursuits destination? Why not look further off the beaten track? The Balkans are a little-known gem in the world of European travel, but they pack a huge punch.
Venture to the borderlands of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro and you’ll be rewarded with stunning scenery. It’s straight out of a fantasy film – craggy mountains, huge unspoiled forests and National Parks cover the whole region. Here you’ll find far fewer tourists – but you’ll need to take more care if you want to go exploring. Bears and wild boar still live in these regions, and in many areas there are few official trails. Local guides are inexpensive and will be more than happy to share their beautiful region with you.
If that seems a bit too extreme for you, a happy medium could be the Tatra mountains. This beautiful mountain range in Central Europe nestles on the border between Poland and Slovakia. It’s easily reached from either side by train or bus. Explore Krakow, and then head on down to Zakopone and Poprad for a mountain-side base.
Excited to adventure in the outdoors? These itineraries might tickle your fancy:
Maybe you’ve already visited Europe’s top tourist spots in the past and want to return to one particular area. Or, maybe you haven’t been before and want to know where to go in Europe to get a real understanding of the continent. Either way, what interests you the most nowadays is really getting into the culture and atmosphere of a place.
Spending more time in each location gives you a chance to soak up as many sights as possible, explore the surrounding area and get a feel for the way of life. You’d rather spend a few weeks or months in one country or region, really making the most of your time rather than rushing on to the next destination. Savouring a glass of wine in a local restaurant is about the nearest thing to perfection you can think of.
For you, the ideal Europe trip involves seeing the most of what one or two destinations to offer. And for a trip like this, the classic bucket list destinations happen to be three of Europe’s most popular countries. France, Spain and Italy all offer that universally appealing combination of sun, amazing food and beautiful scenery. They also happen to combine very nicely together if you’re inclined to cover all three in the same trip!
Take a trip from North to South of any of these three countries and you’ll get to watch the landscape, cuisine and way of life change before your eyes. Explore the mountains of Northern Italy and the canals of Venice, before meandering down through Florence and the Tuscan hills all the way to Rome, Naples and beyond. Finish your trip in Sicily, or wind your way back up to Southern France and the Mediterranean Riviera.
Alternatively, why not combine Spain and Portugal into one long Iberian trip? Starting in the Catalan capital, Barcelona, soak up the culture before travelling down the coast to Valencia, inland to Madrid, down to Seville and across to Portugal’s Atlantic coast. Of course in between any of these destinations are at least a hundred more fascinating stopping points!
Fancy something a little more unusual than a Mediterranean tour? If that doesn’t float your boat, why not trace the length of another of Europe’s famous bodies of water – The River Danube.
Europe’s second longest river winds its way through four capital cities and an incredible ten countries. That’s more than any other river in the world! An itinerary based on the path of this majestic waterway could be the perfect slow-travel experience. Visit the Central European gems of Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade – along with countless other beautiful locations along the way. Sample the delicious cuisines, learn about the Danube’s historical importance and enjoy stunning scenery as you go.
Finally, there are the experienced adventurers among you. If you fall into this category, you’ll already be familiar with most regions in Europe. You’ve explored Ancient Rome, hiked in the Alps, wandered the cobbled streets of Central Europe. You’ve probably ventured to other areas of the world too – South America, South East Asia, India and maybe more… Perhaps you’ve started to feel that there’s nothing left for you in this well-loved and well-trodden continent of ours! But yet, there’s still a part of you that thinks there might be more to uncover, and you’re willing to spend a few weeks or months finding out…
Most likely, you’ve already ticked off a fair few hidden gems as well as the main tourist spots. But that’s certainly not to say you’ve seen all there is to see! Maybe you’ve discovered some of Eastern Europe as well as Western Europe, but have you considered venturing to Ukraine, the Baltics – perhaps even heading into Russia?
For the experienced traveller, exploring the destinations at the edge of our continent offers some of that undiscovered mystery which can be hard to find in Europe. Travelling to Russia and Ukraine, in particular, might still harbour a little worry for potential visitors. In reality, though, visiting major cities like Kiev and St Petersburg is perfectly safe with the usual precautions. With hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting each year, you’ll be in good company.
The Baltic region offers an interesting mix of Russian, Soviet and Nordic architecture which you won’t find anywhere else – plus surprisingly low prices and relatively low numbers of tourists. Similarly, Ukraine is an enormous and varied country. It boasts everything from Grand Eastern European cities, to wild plains – bordering Central Asia. Travelling this region will certainly give you a new perspective on the amount of variety to be found in Europe!
If that seems a little tame for you, then maybe now is the time to undertake one of the world’s greatest journeys. The Trans-Mongolian (Or Trans-Siberian as it’s more commonly known) route -stretching all the way from Moscow to Beijing, via Ulaanbaatar. Spend up to a month or more traversing Europe and Asia from one corner to another on one single railway, visiting some of the best places to go in Europe along the way. For the experienced traveller, is there any journey more incredible than that?!
Once you’ve worked out which category you’d put yourself into, you’re in a good place to work out where to visit in Europe to create your ideal trip. Of course, everyone’s different – so don’t take our guidance as gospel! But we reckon these options give you a good starting point for working out your ideal itinerary – priority number one for any Europe trip!
For more inspiration, head to our pre-set routes. Have a browse to see what takes your fancy, or play around with our Custom Route Builder. Once you’ve got that key bit of planning down, you can move on to the next project: figuring out how you’re getting from A to B. For more step by step information on planning your Europe trip, check out our Ultimate Planning Guide.
Remember, if you’re not sure where to travel in Europe, or how to go about getting your itinerary organised, we offer a range of options for European trips. From self-guided travel only packages to fully organised group tours, we’re the European experts. Learn more about Euroventure here.