Sure, London and Paris may attract the lion’s share of visitors to Europe, but a visit to either is really only scratching the surface—the rest of the continent comes loaded with dynamic destinations just waiting to add to your Europe bucket list. The region is awash in marvels, given its epic history, rich cultural heritage, astounding architecture, unparalleled cuisine, legendary nightlife, and majestic natural beauty.
It’s no exaggeration to say that in Europe, there truly is something for everyone. And all of that delightful diversity is packed into a relatively compact space, where just a short hop across borders will lead you to yet another pocket of language, culture, and geography that’s just as worthy of discovery.
The following incredible cities and cultural capitals, from Amsterdam to Venice, deserve a spot on your Europe travel bucket list. Each comes steeped in the best that Europe has to offer—visit any one of them, and you won’t leave disappointed.
Laid-back yet forward-thinking, well-organized but offbeat, Amsterdam is a European city all its own. Distinctive for its maze of canals and bridges, and the well-preserved downtown Amsterdam brimming with 17th-century Golden Age architecture, the city ticks off all of the checkboxes for a memorable visit. You’ll find traditional and innovative arts and culture; stylish boutiques and design-savvy hotels; and creative eateries and world-class nightlife—all to be enjoyed in a city built to human scale.
Museums lead the charge for attractions with standout collections dedicated to the masterworks of Van Gogh and Rembrandt. One of the best museums in the world, the glorious Rijksmuseum holds more still from both artists, along with other Dutch masters. History abounds, as well, and no visitor to Amsterdam should miss out on an evocative and sobering visit to the Anne Frank House.
One of the simplest pleasures of Amsterdam is simply strolling through it all, taking in what you can of the montage of church spires and gabled roofs, cobblestone alleyways and hidden courtyards, and floating houseboats and whizzing cyclists. Or, join in on the bike-and-boat mindset—bike-hire shops and canal boat tours are ubiquitous.
Welcoming and well-off, it’s little wonder then that charming Amsterdam leads the Europe bucket list of destinations for many travelers. Luckily, you can spend three days in Amsterdam and still get the hang of every twist and turn in the city.
With its omnipresent Acropolis, crowned by the iconic Parthenon, few cities evoke a sense of antiquity like Athens. Indeed, this cradle of Western civilization—the birthplace of democracy, philosophy, and theater—has titillated the imaginations of visitors since ancient times. Ancient odes to mythical gods and goddesses are still represented today in the form of glorious temples and iconic statuary—even the city’s name is in homage to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare.
Aside from being home to some of the famous landmarks in Europe, you’ll find first-rate museums like the Acropolis Museum and the Greek antiquity-filled National Archaeological Museum. Surely, no history or archeological buff leaves Athens unimpressed.
Though Athens may be one of the world’s oldest cities, it’s not stuck in the past. Yes, the metropolis embraces its heritage, as evidenced by its well-preserved landmarks and integrated layers of history, but it welcomes progress, too.
Modern touches abound, be it the contemporary visual and performing arts scene (including a surprisingly rich street art culture) or the modernized infrastructure (much of which was bolstered by the city’s hosting of the 2004 Olympics).
And then there’s the city’s signature vibrancy that brings it all to life—friendly and energetic locals fuel the jam-packed café scene all day, while ensuring the party-hearty nightlife vibe spills over into the wee hours of the night.
Mediterranean cuisine, meanwhile, doesn’t disappoint, where digging into classic local dishes that Greece is known for at a neighborhood taverna or grabbing a souvlaki to go can be just as rewarding as a five-star dining spread.
Come summertime, the beach beckons in spots like nearby Marathon, while the bustling port at Piraeus summons adventures further afield to the storied Greek Isles (which are themselves rightful stars of longer Europe bucket lists).
Read: Three Days in Athens
This Spanish city-by-the-sea offers up a tantalizing tapestry of ever-progressive art and culture, topnotch drinking and dining, and pulsating street life. Sample it all on a saunter through the winding medieval streets of the buzzing Gothic Quarter, which abuts the tree-lined Las Ramblas—one of the many spots that make Barcelona one of the best shopping cities in Europe.
Artistic touches abound throughout Barcelona, with the whimsical Modernist handiwork of Antoni Gaudí helping to define the city’s aesthetic via fabled architecture like the surreal, gargoyle-capped La Sagrada Família cathedral or at fantastical structures like Casa Mila and Casa Batlló.
Or, dip into some of the outstanding museums that Spain is known for: Both Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró have museums dedicated to their masterpieces, while the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Museum of Art of Catalonia easily make any shortlists for art aficionados.
Unwind in one of the many leafy parks, or dip your toes in the Mediterranean when it’s time for a reboot. When you’re ready to refuel, taste your way through the bustling La Boqueria Market, hop between Basque-style tapas bars, or stop by one of the seafood eateries in the old port (this is one of Europe’s great port cities, after all).
Just be sure to pack your stamina—dinner in the Catalonian capital doesn’t normally get going till 9 or 10 pm, while the bars and nightlife only pick up after midnight.
Read: Three Days in Barcelona
With its dramatic seaside perch and stunning uniformity—where centuries-old buildings come capped by red-hued rooftops—the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik is downright cinematic. The city’s graceful architecture is owed to its centuries as a powerful seaport, which enriched the sea merchants who kept residences here.
Be transported back in time while ambling about the pedestrianized and fortified Old Town, one of the most beautiful places in Croatia, where many of its main attractions are clustered. Here, you’ll come upon soaring churches and old monasteries; cozy eateries and lively bars; trendy shops and art galleries; plus, the wall itself. (A walk along the ancient ramparts is not to be missed.)
Catch a cable car ride up to Mount Srđ for a splendid view over Old Town’s terra-cotta rooftops. In summer, don’t resist a plunge into the shimmering Adriatic Sea. Try the isle of Lokrum for some standout local beaches—it’s just a quick boat ride from Old Town. In July and August, the Dubrovnik Summer Festival beckons culture vultures for added layers of cultural allure.
Balmy and luminous, Lisbon spills out over seven hills abutting the Atlantic—an atmospheric setting where visitors can easily slip into the laid-back pace of life. Follow your ears to the melancholic calls of fado or the clickety-clack of an old tramway (try route 28) as it rattles past leafy squares, old churches, and terra-cotta-roofed homes. Or, follow your nose to a seafood-centric eatery, where the quality of the fresh fare is matched by the abundant (and affordable) Portuguese wine.
Wandering the patchwork of old cobblestoned bairros (neighborhoods) on foot is a sure way to uncover something special to delight you—perhaps a locals-favorite patisserie, a towering white basilica, an eye-catching piece of street art, or an impromptu street party in the bar-lined Bairro Alto district. Do hoof it over to the lantern-lit Alfama quarter, too, a charming maze of old Moorish alleyways, hillside homes, and traditional fado clubs.
Make your way up to the hilltop St. George’s Castle, where a stroll along the ramparts promises remarkable views. If you have three days in Lisbon, consider visiting the art-packed Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, the cloisters of the UNESCO-protected Jerónimos Monastery, and the Portuguese tilework-devoted National Tile Museum.
When it comes to Europe bucket lists, it seems that indeed, all roads lead to Rome. And why wouldn’t they? The city’s commanding presence has been a magnetic destination for millennium, and the Italian capital is no less beguiling today than it was in ancient times. For archaeology buffs and art-lovers alike, relic-packed Rome offers an embarrassment of riches—bountiful museums, art-stuffed churches, and a rich tapestry of ruins that recall what was once the heart of an awesome empire.
Indeed, you can hardly turn a corner in this open-air museum of a city without stumbling across a monument, with basilicas and churches, palaces and piazzas, and fountains and statuary that span the centuries. For antiquities, of course, first-timers and repeat visitors alike will be blown away by the scale and grandeur of sites like the Colosseum, Pantheon, and the Roman Forum.
And don’t forget Vatican City, where the astounding museums are so packed with treasure that you’re sure to leave with your head spinning (case in point: the inimitable Raphael Rooms or the Sistine Chapel). Throughout the city, more superlative museums will have the same effect, like the renowned art haven Galleria Borghese. Just pace yourself, and accept that when it comes to Rome’s riches, you’ll never see it all!
Of course, this is Italy, and foodies won’t be dissatisfied either, where a friendly neighborhood trattoria or pizzeria might serve up a meal that’s just as memorable as a gourmet dining spot. And there are ample opportunities to replenish in between meals, too, whether sipping an espresso at a coffee bar or lapping up a gelato at a gelateria.
7: St. Petersburg
The brainchild of Tsar Peter the Great, the sophisticated city of St. Petersburg was designed in the early 18th century to epitomize all of the best features of traditional European capitals. Today, the imperial city remains an elegant manifestation of that old-world vision, complete with opulent palaces and soaring gilded spires—all spread out on a patchwork of dozens of islands in the Neva Delta, which are stitched together by a system of canals and bridges.
Well-preserved and pleasing to the eye, Russia’s second-largest city (after Moscow) delivers eager visitors a worthy checklist of attractions among its symmetrical architectural order. Topping that list is the Winter Palace, home to the world-renowned Hermitage Museum, brimming with fine art and antiquities from around the globe. Hone in on the best of Russian art at the Russian Museum, one of the best museums in St. Petersburg, touting a robust collection that spills over several palaces.
Some of the best things to do in St. Petersburg include following in the footsteps of royals while ogling the opulence of grand estates like the Catherine Palace or Peterhof Palace, or taking in the colorful onion domes of the distinctively Russian-designed Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.
And then there’s all of the ballet, opera, classical concerts, and festivals to seek out, too. Thanks to its northern latitude, if you visit St. Petersburg in midsummer, you’ll experience “White Nights”, when the summer sun never fully descends.
Venice is a world unto itself. Here, visitors leave vehicles behind to disappear into a fantasyland of intricately woven canals, dreamy bridges, and elegant, centuries-old stone structures hugging the water’s edge. Whether exploring by boat—after all, who could resist the romance of a gondola ride?—or on foot, the logic-defying charms of this once wealthy maritime trading center are impossible to ignore.
Allot plenty of time for simply wandering through the labyrinthine network of narrow backstreets and bridges. While it’s a given (and half the fun!) that you’ll get lost, know that you’ll inevitably find your way back to one of the city’s star attractions, like the church- and palace-lined Grand Canal (Venice’s main thoroughfare) or the gothic Doge’s Palace, perched at the edge of the lagoon. Meanwhile, St. Mark’s Square, with its namesake basilica and bell tower, marks Venice’s atmospheric hub and is the perfect spot to linger over an espresso or aperitivo (prosecco, anyone?).
It’s also a city of art, making it one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. Venice’s hundred-plus churches are veritable art galleries in and of themselves, but for a more curated selection, try the Accademia Gallery, dedicated to Venetian art, or the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for a selection of world-class modern art.
For a different perspective on the city, consider a side trip to one of Venice’s outlying islands. Murano is one solid bet, known the world over for its artisanal glasswork.
What do all of these Europe bucket list cities have in common? Each is accessible by cruise ship! In fact, on some itineraries, you might even sample more than one of them in a single trip—along with other fascinating European destinations along the way.
Indeed, a European cruise vacation is an excellent way to explore the continent with ease. Start browsing Celebrity Cruises’ European cruise itineraries today to find the perfect cruise for you.