It’s no secret Europe is an appealing continent for country-hopping. Once you’re there, cycle-friendly streets, extensive train systems, and relatively cheap inter-country flights make it highly accessible. Scenery wise, Europe has everything from snowy mountains, lush forests, and glittering beaches to ultra-modern cities, medieval villages, and Neolithic structures. Wherever you go, you can just as easily spend your time immersed in local history, art, and architecture as you can lingering over a four-hour meal, wandering cobblestone streets, or dancing the night (or day) away.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in planning a trip to Europe is deciding where to go. To make it a little easier, we’ve put together a guide to our favorite places. The first nine are the obvious contenders; there’s a reason why these countries are frequently talked about—they’re easily reachable, they’re well-adjusted to tourists, and they feature a wide range of activities, experiences, and landscapes. The remaining eight countries represent equally great options for something similar but slightly more off the beaten path (for non-European tourists, at least). Whichever you choose, you’ll find something for every type of traveler.
With four separate countries—England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland—the U.K. offers a taste of European diversity. From mountains, lakes, and valleys (like the Mourne Mountains, Snowdonia National Park, and the Scottish Highlands) to rocky coastlines, rolling hills, and pebble-strewn beaches (like Seven Sisters, the Lake District, and the Pembrokeshire Coast), it’s a hiker’s paradise. Beyond its natural wonders, the U.K. also boasts lots of lively, inclusive cities packed with bustling literary and expat scenes, LGBTQIA+ history, some of Europe’s best comedy, music, and drag festivals, and a culture centered around food and drink.
Whether you’re exploring some of the world’s best cocktail bars or restaurants in Barcelona and Madrid, lounging in the turquoise waters of the Costa Brava or Tenerife, browsing the art of Bilbao, or marveling at the medieval architecture of Seville or Toledo, one thing unites all of Spain—its warm, welcoming people. Known for closing shops to eat lunch with loved ones and later chatting for hours over pintxos and wine at dinner, Spaniards make time to appreciate life and its simple pleasures, and that energy is delightfully contagious. Solo travelers especially will never feel alone here.
Contrary to Hollywood portrayals, France is more than high-end fashion, delicious pastries, and top-quality wine—though of course those are prevalent. While you can easily live out your ritzy cinematic montage via shopping on the Champs-Élysées, sunbathing on wind-swept piers in the French Riviera, or touring chateaux in wine country, the affordable ways of experiencing French culture are what make it special. Most museums offer free or discounted hours, cabarets often have cheaper performance nights, some of the best meals come from Paris street vendors or Aix-en-Provence markets, and five euro grocery store wine is better than most table wines.
Whether you’re traveling solo, with friends, with a partner, or with family, Italy has something for everyone. You can have a city break filled with art and shopping in Milan or Florence or immerse yourself in harrowing history in Pompeii. You can relax on white sand beaches in Sardinia or the Amalfi Coast. You can have an action-packed skiing trip or hiking trip. Whatever you choose to do, there is one thing you can and should explore everywhere, at every opportunity: the country’s food and wine scene. Local cooking classes from the village nonna are especially fun.
Although Iceland is slightly harder to reach and could get overcrowded at popular spots like The Blue Lagoon, once you’re here, any hassle is forgotten. There are so many jaw-dropping waterfalls, glaciers, mountains, caves, and hot springs everywhere you look that you’ll forget you’re still on Earth. If you road trip (or travel by horse) around the Ring Road that circles Iceland’s perimeter, you can also branch off to lesser travelled lava rock fields, fjords, and potential Northern Lights viewing spots. For an extra dose of Icelandic magic scenery, keep an eye out for elf walks.
An excellent choice for nature lovers, history buffs, and partiers alike is Greece. Islands like Santorini, Crete, and Mykonos attract the most visitors and press, but there are literally hundreds of inhabited islands made for hiking, snorkeling, and dancing in the sun. If you prefer city life on the mainland, Athens is the heart of Ancient Greek history with modern levels of fine-dining and nightlife, and Thessaloniki is rich in Byzantine art and international festivals. To combine history and art all in one experience, visit during the brief public opening times of Ancient Greek theaters to catch a play.
With long, dark winter nights and long, bright summer days, Sweden is prime territory for Northern Lights viewing and Midsummer celebrations, but its friendly locals, buzzy student population, and inviting bakeries make it entertaining year-round. Stockholm is a great gateway city, as it has everything you’d want from an urban hub—museums, restaurants, nightclubs, and a distinct mix of architectural styles—plus easy access to day trips, farther afield Swedish cities, and the equally appealing neighboring countries of Norway and Finland. Always make time to enjoy fika, a daily social hour with friends over coffee and pastries like kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon buns).
Known for its breweries, meat-heavy meals, exclusive nightclubs and festivals, and eclectic art scene, Germany is often seen as a hipster’s paradise or the perfect backdrop to a rowdy night out. While it is both of those things—especially Cologne with its university life and Berlin with its extensive street food, street art, and prevalence of eerie abandoned spaces—it’s also a country with impressive architecture, meandering scenic drives, an appreciation for literature, kid-friendly attractions, some of the best Christmas markets in Europe, and a strong commitment to remembering its darker history.
Most people associate the Netherlands with three Ws: windmills, waterways, and weed. While it’s difficult to go anywhere without encountering at least one of those—and you should wander canals and frolic in tulip-covered fields—it’s home to more than just natural and “herbal” beauty. The first country to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption, the Netherlands is a welcoming place for LGBTQIA+ visitors and hosts queer-celebratory festivals, performances, and events throughout the year. It’s also edam gouda destination for cheese aficionados, with dedicated cheese museums in Amsterdam and traditional medieval cheese markets easily accessible from the capital city.
If dramatic scenery and its culturally-ingrained love of alcohol attract you to the U.K., Ireland has both—plus even greener landscapes and even kinder locals. You’ll pay steeply in Dublin, especially for attractions like the Guinness Storehouse, but its unique architecture, literary heritage, and theater scene are worth the coin. The best way to see the country, though, is to drive along the western coastline via the Wild Atlantic Way. Accommodation ranges from homestays to full-on castles, and you can traipse woodland waterfalls, befriend Connemara horses, hike the Cliffs of Moher, and hear live music in Galway along the way.
Take everything great about Spain while subtracting the heftier crowds and costs, and you’ll get Portugal. In addition to wine and sangria, you can sip on local drinks like port, ginjinha (sour cherry liquor), and vinho verde (green wine) for a few euros a glass, plus intercity train travel and rideshare apps are often cheaper than the bus. Approachability is a big plus, but the highlights are river tours around Porto and the Douro Valley, sampling pastel de nata (egg custard tarts) and pão de deus (coconut bread) in Lisbon, exploring fairytale castles of Sintra, and hopping beaches and coves along the Algarve.
As with France, people often associate Switzerland with elaborate indulgences, like fancy ski resorts, the wealthy city of Geneva, and internationally acclaimed dining. While no trip to Switzerland would be complete without a surplus of fondue and chocolate, some of the best experiences in the country are found outside its cities. Hiking and skiing around its lakes, mountains, and parks will give you the chance to get up close and personal with its natural charm, but you don’t even have to be an active traveler to partake: there are also many ways to catch the views by train.
This central European country shares more than just a border with Italy: it also shares a passion for local wines, truffle-laden pastas, mountaintop skiing, and lakeside castles and hiking—and all at a fraction of the price. Capital city, vegetarian-friendly Ljubljana, is completely walkable, with lots of meandering canals and small farmers’ and flea markets even on the coldest of days. If you head to Slovenia’s most popular lake—Lake Bled—during the off season, you can avoid touristy beach parties and instead enjoy a virtually uninterrupted view of crisp, turquoise water shimmering beneath the mountains.
It’s hard to find unspoiled nature, but the Faroe Islands get pretty close. Located between Iceland and Norway, this remote sovereign nation offers the same rugged, otherworldly landscapes as its neighbors, but with significantly less foot, car, and boat traffic. If you’re more of an indoor cat, you may want to give this trip a skip, but otherwise suit up with layers and waterproof gear and get ready to fall in love with puffins. Stay with a local if you can—it’s more traditional, more affordable, and you’ll learn more about respecting the ecosystems around you.
Much like Greece, Croatia can impress steadfast city-breakers as much as die-hard nature-chasers. From summer festivals in Split and Dubrovnik to dedicated booze-cruise boats that take you to islands like Hvar and Brač, it has plenty of opportunities to indulge hedonistic tendencies. Equally prominent, though, are chances to rejuvenate on more remote islands, plan a leisurely food crawl, or hike through forest, mountains, and waterfalls at national parks like Krka or Plitvice Lakes.
If Germany’s castles, scenic road trips, and literary appreciation are as appealing as its vast quantities of alcohol, the Czech Republic offers all of the above but with smaller crowds and, especially outside its capital, significantly lower costs. With its Franz Kafka museum, striking Jewish quarter, and black light theater performances as well as its thriving restaurant, nightlife, and absinthe scenes, Prague is definitely worth a visit, but make sure to take advantage of the extensive domestic train system to take day trips or spend time elsewhere to see some of its best architecture, World War II history, and wine and beer producers.
If you can’t decide whether to go to France, Germany, or the Netherlands, Belgium has elements of all three. It has the excellent chocolate of France, the impressive range of architecture like Germany, and the walkable, canal-filled cities like the Netherlands. Plus, the Belgians are the inventor of frites. The bilingual capital of Brussels is an ideal gateway to other cities and neighboring countries, and with its diplomatic ties, it also offers a great cultural melting pot. Eat at least one meal in Matongé, its African quarter, before traveling out to other cities like Antwerp or Bruges.