I still remember my first trip to Europe, 9 years ago! I visited Italy and Paris and planned for months! Since then, I have visited Europe over 10 times and been to 24 countries in the continent, some multiple times. Going anywhere for the first time can be very daunting! So in thinking about the best cities in Europe for first time visitors, I was really thinking about ease of getting around, things to do, language, food and places that will make you fall in love with the continent that you will want to keep coming back for more!
Before getting into this list of best places to visit for first time travels to Europe, I want to share my tips for visiting Europe. These are common across all countries in the continent and is a must read if you are a first time traveler!
Click HERE for my must know tips for Europe.
London is a great place to visit in Europe for a first time traveler. There is so much to do in London that you could easily fill an entire week in the city. You could also do many side trips and day trips from London. From a transportation perspective, the city has a great underground tube system that is relatively easy to navigate and if you speak English, then you don’t have to worry about language either. The food in London is so diverse that you can find just about any cuisine under the sun (in case you get home sick), but, I definitely recommend trying fish and chips and a good pub pie at least once.
London has some famous sites like Buckingham Palace, the London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, world class museums and so much more. In addition to these, below are my best recommendations for London. At a minimum you need at least 3 days to see London. However, stay longer if you have more time! You will never be bored in London.
Amsterdam is another good city for a first time visitor to Europe. Schiphol airport is a major hub in Europe and connects to all parts of the world easily. Amsterdam is not a huge city so navigating it is not that difficult and their public transportation system is very easy to use. Amsterdam is also a good base for several day trips and if you are looking to visit another country nearby, there are lots of fast trains that can zip you between countries.
I’ve been to Amsterdam twice and I really loved it! The people are very friendly and you don’t have to worry about language if you speak English. Amsterdam is perfect for solo travelers! It’s also a good city if you love museums, art, architecture and bars!
Check out my things to do in Amsterdam post HERE
Compared to most places on this list, I would say Paris is big BUT if you have a dreamy vision of Europe, then Paris will knock it out of the ball park! Come prepared to fall totally in love with Europe after your first day in Paris. Here you will find beautiful buildings, inviting window displays of pastry shops, fashion and then of course some of the most recognizable landmarks of all time. I’ve heard the rumors and I’m sure you have too that language can be an issue in Paris. Honestly, I never had an issue! I even asked for directions and got them in English. Don’t let this hold you back. With today’s technology language should not be an issue. The Paris metro is a little like the London metro in that there are a lot of lines. Don’t let this hold you back either! Figuring out a metro like Paris is part of the fun of traveling to Europe for the first time.
Rome is a big city but it’s relatively easy to navigate. All the major attractions are on the metro line or a very short walking distance away. This is a huge selling point for any first time traveler who may have trepidations about how to get around! The Rome airport connects to all over the world and depending on where you are from, you may be able to find a direct flight to the Italian capital. The food is always great in Rome but stay away from touristy places. While it’s true that Rome can be crowded during peak season, you can avoid some of that by starting your day early. Rome is perfect if you are a history buff or love architecture.
I’ll be totally honest that as a bit of a seasoned traveler to Europe that Brussels does not excite me as much as the rest on this list. This is because Brussels is very simple. Which, if you are a first time traveler may not be a bad thing at all. Brussels was actually the first city I solo traveled to and I had no issues navigating brussels by myself. Brussels has all the main European food groups covered! If you love chocolates, fries, waffles, beer and mussels, then Brussels is a great city for a first time traveler to Europe.
See what to do in Brussels HERE
Vienna is a great city for first time visitors to Europe! It has all the things Europe is famous for! History, architecture, art, music, pastries and if you are going in December, some amazing Christmas markets! It’s easy to navigate Vienna, with it’s multi-mode public transporation system. Vienna’s bus, tram and metro system will get you from anywhere in the city in a short period of time.
Consider side stepping to Bratislava in Slovakia for a night or even as a day trip from Vienna. It’s a short distance from Vienna and a small and easy city to explore for any first time visitor to Europe.
Check out y post on Vienne HERE
When people say Europe, I think of cobble stoned roads and all the pastries! However, if castles are the first thing that comes to your mind, when you hear Europe, then Munich is a great city for your first time visit to the continent. Munich is a good base to see the famous Neuschwanstein castle. One of the most famous castles in the world and after visiting 24 countries in Europe, my 2nd favorite castle in the continent. Not into castles but love beer and cars? Munich has you covered! From an ease of visit perspective, Munich’s metro system is very efficient and if you are an English speaker, language should not be an issue!
HERE are the best things to do in Munich
Prague is straight out of Disney! There is something so magical about Prague! From its astronomical clock to it’s decorative buildings, Prague takes you back in time. It’s a mid sized city and easy to get around by foot or metro. If you are looking for food, Prague has some very unique and interesting options. Czech dumplings are a must is Prague. You need about 3 days in Prague, so be sure to check out the section below on how to combine Prague with other nearby countries/cities.
HERE are the must do things in Prague
The underrated city of Budapest is a great place to visit in Europe for first time travelers. Budapest is a good mixture of old verses new. It’s very laid back (during the day) and you will find that you don’t feel rushed or feel the need to ‘see/do it all’ in Budapest. Budapest will definitely impress you if you like night life, thermal baths, architecture, cruising down a river etc. Like Prague, Budapest is also a good city to combine with some other surrounding cities so be sure to check the section below.
Check out my post on Budapest HERE
Itineraries for First Time Visitors to Europe
One of the BEST things about Europe is the ability to country hop easily. With the availability of international fast trains, you can be in Paris from London or Amsterdam from Brussels in a couple of hours! With the exception of the London to Paris itinerary I recommend here, you don’t have any immigration control per se within any of the other countries. At most it may be a show of a passport to a conductor on the train. So easy!
London – Paris – Amsterdam
This itinerary is as classic as it gets for a multi-country European itinerary. At minimum, you need about 9-10 days to see all three countries. Travel between the countries are easy using high-speed trains.
Prague -Vienna – Budapest
This central European itinerary is also great if you have around 9-10 days. Follow the exact sequence of the cities I’ve mentioned to optimize travel time. In addition to trains, there are also buses between these cities that make travel easy
Paris – Brussels – Amsterdam
This is another classic itinerary for Western Europe that works really well for first time travelers. If you have more time, you can even add day trips to the itinerary. Some good example are Bruges in Brussels or Versailles in Paris.
Note About Open Jaw Tickets
Flying from one city and flying out of another is called an open jaw ticket. There’s a bit of a myth surrounding these tickets as some say it’s expensive to do this. This is not always the case. I recently booked an open jaw ticket to Europe, where it was the exact same cost as flying in and out of the same city. Check for both options when you are planning your trip. With the itineraries mentioned above, it is a lot more time saving to do an open jaw ticket.
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