Diving into the best food cities in Europe offers a gastronomic journey like no other, blending centuries-old traditions with modern flair. From the high-end eateries of Paris to sampling sharma around the souks of Istanbul, there is a phenomenal range of flavors on offer to cater to even the most demanding of palates.
Long-standing favorites such as French and Italian cuisine can retain a classical feel, but there’s also an increasing move to be ever more inventive when it comes to creating new dishes as Europe is such an incredible melting pot thanks to immigration from Asia, Africa and beyond.
Spoilt for choice? A selection of the best foodie destinations in Europe is sure to cater for all tastes, whether you’re looking for sublime street food or the most magical Michelin-starred restaurants.
If Europe has a food capital, it has to be Paris. From its wide boulevards lined with fine Haussmannian architecture to the smallest of neighborhoods, the city is home to so many incredible dining options.
Traditional bistros such as the Belle Epoque dining room of Bouillon Chartier in the 9th arrondissement offer affordable classic French fare that Paris is famous for, while dining becomes an art form in restaurants such as the three Michelin-starred Épicure at the legendary hotel Le Bristol with its Louis XVI furniture overlooking manicured gardens.
Boulangeries (where bread still has to be baked on the premises to be worthy of the name) are abundant, and there are few finer ways to spend a morning here than with freshly baked take-out croissants or colorful macarons and strong coffee overlooking the River Seine, a popular landmark in Paris.
While much of the dining on offer retains a traditional feel, other cuisines are now starting to make their mark as Paris’s culinary scene expands in neighborhoods such as Belleville and Château-Rouge which have great Asian, African, and Middle Eastern restaurants and markets.
Long gone are the days when British food was seen as the butt of culinary jokes. London is now one of the most diverse cities in the world when it comes to food, a melting pot of cultures from the bagel bakeries of Brick Lane to the Middle Eastern eateries that line Edgware Road and just about anything else in between.
Areas worth exploring include central London’s Chinatown, Clerkenwell’s Little Italy, the Vietnamese dining scene in hip Shoreditch, and the Caribbean cafés that line the somewhat edgy streets of Brixton.
Prices are similarly diverse, ranging from the few remaining traditional pie-mash-and-jellied-eel eateries such as M. Manze at the lower end, to Alain Ducasse at the plush downtown Dorchester hotel.
London’s foodie scene expands far beyond its brick-and-mortar businesses, too, thanks to its thriving food markets.
At Borough Market, artisan stalls feed the many commuters streaming through London Bridge rail station. Hidden gems, such as the weekend-only Maltby Street Market, are known for their gourmet street food, craft beer, and artisanal products.
There are four things you have to pay homage to on a visit to Barcelona: the works of Pablo Picasso, the architecture of Antoni Gaudí, the silky skills of the local soccer team—one of Europe’s best—and Catalan cuisine.
Barcelona may technically be part of Spain but it stands proudly as the capital of Catalonia. Dishes from the region are featured highly on menus, whether you’re dining in some of Barcelona’s popular neighborhoods, such as the historic Gothic Quarter, hip El Born, high-end Eixample, or at a beachside bar.
Look out for dishes such as pa amb tomàquet (bread rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil), escalivada (grilled vegetables), and botifarra (Catalan sausage), as well as seafood dishes such as fish stew and fideuà (a dish similar to paella but made with noodles). All are washed down with tall glasses of vermouth and soda.
If you want to see where food in the city’s restaurants is sourced, head to La Boqueria, off Las Rambla, the wide pedestrianized central avenue. The city’s most famous market is home to stalls selling fresh produce, seafood, cured meats, and cheeses.
Another popular option for food in Barcelona is the Santa Caterina Market in El Born, smaller and with a more authentic local feel. It’s a great spot for picking up supplies for a picnic.
“Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen” goes the song that praises Denmark’s capital. Over the past decade or two, it could well apply to the city’s culinary scene, with Copenhagen now elevated to one of the best foodie destinations in Europe.
New Nordic cuisine has been all the rage as restaurants such as Noma (which has been voted the World’s Best multiple times) have led the way in creating incredible tasting menus with dishes that focus on the highest quality locally sourced ingredients possible.
You don’t have to splash out on fine dining to enjoy food in Copenhagen; street food stalls and casual eateries are in abundance.
The Meatpacking District of Kødbyen, with its trendy restaurants, bars, and food markets, is a good place to start exploring. Both Vesterbro and Nørrebro are home to multicultural cuisine, hip cafes, and cozy bistros.
If you only have a day in Copenhagen, make sure to visit Torvehallerne, the bustling central market, to pick up supplies of your own.
Look out for dishes such as smørrebrød—open sandwiches that can look more like works of art than European food—and kanelsnegle, a type of cinnamon bun that can be found in many of the city’s bakeries.
In a country renowned for its fabulous cuisine, Naples, Venice, and Rome could all lay claim to the title “Italy’s food capital.” While arguments about the various merits of each could run long into the night, most would eventually agree to settle on a single champion: Bologna.
Set in the Emilia-Romagna region and part of the fertile Po River Valley, the local produce here—salty aged Parmesan cheese, spicy Mortadella sausage, rich Balsamico di Modena vinegar, and Lambrusco wines—is exceptional.
Little wonder then that many classic Italian dishes—Bolognese sauce, tortellini (a stuffed pasta), and the meaty rich pasta and sauce combo of tagliatelle al ragu—originate here.
There are great dining options throughout the city where you can try popular Bolognese dishes. The Centro Storico boasts traditional restaurants, while the University District offers more eclectic choices.
Ristorante Ciacco in the cellar of a 1600s palazzo, rustic Cantina Bentivoglio, and Trattoria dal Biassanot are all worth checking out. And no visit to Bologna is complete with paying homage at Eataly FICO, the world’s first food theme park, located on the outskirts of the city.
Athens, Greece’s historic capital, is famed for its ancient ruins and rich history, but also for its incredible food scene.
Greek food is renowned around the world for its fresh ingredients from a rich natural larder. Most meals at neighborhood tavernas offer a series of meze starters—Greek salads, tangy feta goat’s cheese, sauteed zucchini, and herby pumpkin balls, among others. This is usually followed by a meat course: lamb chops, pork cutlets, or steak, with a serving of fresh fruit to follow.
Simple, fresh and flavorsome are all key, but over the last 20 years, there’s a growing Modern Greek movement that takes on these classics and adds new twists and deconstructions of classic dishes in Athens.
Restaurants such as Cherchez La Femme under charismatic chef Andreas Lagos and Delta by Thanos Feskos and George Papazacharias, who cut their teeth in award-winning Scandinavian restaurants, lead the way.
More traditional options in local neighborhoods include Biftekoupoli (Meatball Town) in Glyfada or Vlachika in Vari, both known for their exceptional grill tavernas and friendly atmosphere.
Athens’ suburbs spill down to the shores of the Aegean Sea and in the port of Piraeus you can get a taste of island life in the seafood restaurants that line the picturesque bay of Mikrolimano.
Almost all the neighborhoods in Athens have a weekly street market—days will change depending on the location—while the impressive downtown Central Market is worth a walk around its spice-filled stalls and impressive meat market.
A visit to Amsterdam is about more than picturesque canals, world-famous museums, and historic architecture.
For foodies, it offers an incredibly varied landscape to explore, from traditional street foods to incredible Indonesian cuisine, courtesy of the Netherlands’ long colonial history, with a number of inventive quirks along the way too.
The city is home to restaurants such as The Avocado Show. Europe’s first avocado-themed restaurant is a hip hangout in the charming De Pijp neighborhood near downtown Amsterdam.
De Kas in Park Frankendael is a restaurant with no menu given the chefs prepare whatever is harvested from their on-site greenhouses or the pastures of local farms.
Wilde Zwijnen, a short walk from the Lozingskanaal, has a similar ethos of sourcing only local ingredients for its Modern Dutch-themed dinners. Bakers & Roasters, meanwhile, is a small local chain of trendy cafés famed for its great coffee and brunch offering.
Foodhallen, an indoor market in the De Hallen cultural center, offers street food from dim sum to tacos, while Puccini Bombini is the place to go for handmade chocolates with unique flavors such as rhubarb, tea, and tamarind.
No visit to the Netherlands is complete without a visit to a cheese store. De Kaaskamer on Runstraat is a great option favored by locals rather than visitors.
Sitting on the banks of the River Tagus and surrounded by seven dramatic hills, Lisbon’s neighborhoods, with their cobbled alleyways, famous azulejo ceramic tiles, and ancient ruins can at times feel a little like a film set. And against this postcard setting is an incredibly varied and rich food scene.
For an overview of what to eat in Lisbon, the vast Time Out Market is ideal. A covered network of stalls and eateries here sell many local specialties such as bacalhau (salted and dried codfish), frango assado (spiced grilled chicken in piri piri sauce), peixinhos da horta (a battered green bean dish), caldo verde soup and the pastel de nata custard tarts.
The restaurant scene is pretty special too. Great options include Mini Bar with its quirky vintage décor and elaborate tasting menu, the elegant Five Oceans, offering great seafood and equally impressive marina views, and the farm-to-table cooking on offer at Prado.
“Small plates” (Portuguese tapas) are a big deal in Lisbon, and Magnolia on Praça das Flores is a favored spot for locals. Look out too for ginjinha, a sour cherry-infused brandy that is a typical post-prandial tipple and sold from small shop fronts around the city.
At times, Sicily can feel like a different country to the rest of Italy thanks to both its huge size and its long history as a strategic crossroads in the Mediterranean. Its unique position means it has variously been conquered by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, and French, making for an incredibly diverse culture that also shines through in its food scene.
Sicilian specialties abound. Panelle (crispy chickpea fritters often served in sandwiches), arancini (deep-fried balls of gooey cheese and rice), sfinciuni (a Sicilian take on pizza) and sarde a beccafico (butterflied sardines stuffed with breadcrumbs, garlic, and parsley) all beg to be sampled. Unsurprisingly, the best restaurants are in the major towns.
Capital Palermo’s elegant palazzos are home to some superlative fine dining, as well as bustling markets at Capo, Vucciria, and Ballarò that are reminiscent of Arab souks and great for grabbing street food on the go.
The island’s other big draw is the cliff-top Sicilian town of Taormina, overlooking the sparkling Ionian Sea. Its winding streets are home to elegant restaurants such as Trattoria Da Nino for seafood and Bam Bar, famed for its traditional granitas.
Much like Sicily, the strategic position of Istanbul, sitting at the crossroads of Europe and Asia makes for a diverse culinary scene where both western and eastern traditions blend together.
Traditional dishes in Istanbul that are ubiquitous across the city include doner kebabs (arguably Turkey’s national dish), manti dumplings filled with ground meat and dressed with yoghurt sauce, and lahmacun, a thin, crisp pizza-like dish typically topped with minced meat, vegetables, and herbs.
Those with a sweet tooth can indulge in two classics: baklava, a sweet pastry made with layers of filo pastry, chopped nuts and honey, and Turkish Delight, aromatic jellies dusted with icing sugar.
The evocative Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar are some of the best markets in Istanbul. One could spend hours if not days exploring the many stalls laden with spices, cheeses, and olives.
With street food seemingly on every corner, low-cost ways to eat are abundant, while there are also local eateries, called lokantas, serving traditional food, and high-end restaurants offering modern takes on Turkish food.
Of the latter, Mikla on the rooftop of the fashionable Marmara Pera hotel deserves a mention for both the high quality of food on offer and its incredible views over the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.
The quintessential Belgian dish that has to be tried is moules-frites or steamed mussels and French fries, where the mussels come with either a white wine or cream sauce.
Along with other traditional dishes in Belgium, such as carbonade flamande (a beef stew) and waterzooi (a creamy stew with fish or chicken), it’s a staple on many restaurant menus.
Fin de Siècle on Rue des Chartreux is a great option for traditional Belgian fare in a relaxed brasserie-style atmosphere, while Comme chez Soi, a short walk from Grand Place, offers award-winning dishes in an art nouveau dining room.
Sampling street food in Brussels is a must, from rich, sticky Belgian waffles to the ethnic shawarma, kebab, and gyros stands on Rue du Marché aux Fromages, fondly known by locals as Pitta Street.
No foodie visit to the Belgian capital is complete without sampling chocolates and pralines from the many chocolatiers here. Beer is also an essential part of local cuisine with hundreds of varieties, from strong Trappist ales to fruity lambics.
Eating in Berlin has long been seen more as a perfunctory process—good, wholesome food that doesn’t break the bank. However, the culinary scene is becoming increasingly innovative and experimental thanks to restaurants such as Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer and Tim Raue’s creative Asian-inspired dishes.
When it comes to street food, Berlin really does excel. Currywurst (sausage with a curry sauce) is ubiquitous on street corners, as is döner kebab, brought to the city by its large Turkish population. Those with a sweet tooth will love Berliner Pfannkuchen, a jam-filled donut.
KaDeWe, the food hall of the Kaufhaus des Westens department store, is a must visit, as is the evocative Turkish Market held on Tuesdays and Fridays along the Landwehr Canal.
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