20 Beautiful European Cities to Explore on Foot

I think it’s fair to say that Europe is a premium holiday destination for most of us here in Malaysia. Be it for the weather, the difference in culture and atmosphere, or simply the novelty of it all, Europe is a special place for travellers in Malaysia.

That’s why I sometimes get a little bit annoyed when people try to rush through their itineraries in Europe. I mean, come on, you took a 10-hour plus flight to get there, the least you could do is take some time and really explore the place, right?

Actually, thanks to the pleasant, cool weather during spring, autumn and winter, we can do something we hardly ever get the chance to in Malaysia: enjoy a leisurely stroll. Oh yes, take it from me, there’s nothing quite as memorable as a lovely walk through the romantic streets of Europe.

With that in mind, here are my personal recommendations for the best 20 cities in Europe to explore on foot!

1. Florence, Italy

Image credit: Nick Fewings

While most people flock to Rome to see the famous Colosseum, Florence is actually just as captivating. The capital of Italy’s Tuscany region is one of the artsiest cities in Europe and is historically the centre of the Renaissance movement.

You’ll easily fall in love with the alluring architecture, rich history and fervent love of the arts as you walk about the cobblestone streets. Some of the must-see attractions include the iconic Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, the statue of David, and the many quaint museums and galleries around.

2. Oia, Santorini, Greece

Image credit: Yoshi5000

When it comes to Santorini, Greece, walking is arguably your best mode of transport on the island. Surrounded by the azure Aegean Sea, Santorini Island exudes a relaxing ambiance that is punctuated by the lack of motor vehicles. People here either take the public bus, ride ATVs, or walk.

You’ll prefer the latter when you traverse through the many charming alleys in Oia, one of the most important towns on the island. It’s here where you will see the famous white-washed buildings of Santorini and get to peer into Amoudi Bay. I was there for a few days in 2015 and trust me when I say I didn’t want to leave!

3. Rovinj, Croatia

Image credit: Erin Johnson

Croatia is no stranger to scenic towns and beautiful scenery. After all, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ve probably heard about Dubrovnik. But if you don’t fancy cities that are overpopulated by tourists, head to Rovinj instead.

This beautiful coastal city is a lovely place to stroll about as you explore the cobbled alleyways and soak in the romantic atmosphere. The Church of St. Euphemia in the old town is one of the must-visit spots in the city along with the seaside views and coffee houses.  

4. Budapest, Hungary

Image credit: Marcell Katona

The vibrant capital of Hungary is nicknamed the “Paris of the East”, which already gives you an idea of just how beautiful the city is. Not only is Budapest a lively city, but it is also one of the safer cities to explore in Europe.

What sets Budapest apart from most other European cities is its alluring night scenery. There’s just something magical about the city when the sun sets and the lights start to illuminate the many streets in Budapest.

One unique experience you shouldn’t miss is hitting up a ruin bar. Housed in abandoned buildings dating back to World War II, these bars are sure to be an unforgettable experience!

5. Innsbruck, Austria

Image credit: Marydoll1952

Nestled within the Austrian Alps, Innsbruck is one of the most unique cities in Europe that’s sadly underrated. Nicknamed the “Capital of the Alps” due to it being cocooned by the majestic Nordkette mountain range. This is the city to visit if you’re looking to ski, visit grand palaces and explore a sleepy city on foot all in one day.

Those who have a thing for historical architecture will rightly fall in love with the old town portion of Innsbruck. This medieval-looking part of the city is perfect for scenic walks, photography, and enjoying the fresh, crisp air of the Austrian Alps.

6. Bruges, Belgium

Image credit: Naval S

If you ever find yourself in Belgium during the autumn season, do yourself a favour and make your way up north to the lovely city of Bruges. While it’s not as big (and crowded) as Brussels, it certainly has a charm of its own, and I’m not just talking about the lovely architecture.

If you often think of Europe as a hotbed for medieval architecture, then Bruges will fit right in. The best way to explore this historical town is either on foot or by bike. Heck, if the weather is good, you can even take a romantic boat ride along the canals in the city! Don’t forget to check out the city’s iconic Koeleweimolen and Sint-Janshuismolenmills windmills!

7. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Image credit: _dChris

The capital of the Netherlands is a cauldron of various cultures and traditions. It’s also one of my personal favourite cities in Europe, and no, it’s not because of the Red Light District. Although it IS a nice place to visit, if not for anything then the good food that’s sold there.

But yes, between the Canals of Amsterdam and the colourful streets, Amsterdam is another top European city to explore at a leisurely pace. This is especially true if you’re visiting between March and May when spring is in full swing and the tulips are blooming. You’d also want to visit the rustic area of Jordaan for some authentic Dutch cuisine and a good ol’ pint of Amstel beer!

8. Edinburgh, Scotland

Image credit: Damian Bakarcic

I’ll always have sweet memories of Edinburgh. It was the first-ever destination I backpacked alone to and arguably the place where I fell in love with travelling. While we often think of the U.K. as a modern but congested and noisy place, I can assure you that the capital of Scotland is far from that description.

You need only head to the old town at the foot of Edinburgh Castle to experience just how magical this city truly is. The cobble-lined paths and towering Victorian architecture are reminiscent of a scene from a Charles Dickens novel. And if you’re looking for a stunning aerial view, hike up to the beautiful Arthur’s Seat hill.  

9. Helsinki, Finland

Image credit: Sami C

Helsinki is one of those criminally-underrated cities in Europe that well and truly deserves more love. The capital of Finland is a marvellous city which combines green spaces well with its modern way of life, making it an ideal city to see the best of both worlds.

I would recommend visiting the city during the Christmas season. This is when the place is decorated in traditional Christmas colours and the air is filled with the scent of sweet Christmas pastries. You could even visit a Christmas Market (try mulled wine!) if you plan your journey right!

10. Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Image credit: Jocelyn Erskine-Kellie

I’ve always been fascinated with the Balkan, and Sarajevo in Bosnia & Herzegovina is one of the top reasons why it is so. This once war-torn city has turned into the cultural hub of the country merely 20 years after it was ravaged by the Bosnian War.

Many travellers who visit instantly fall in love with Sarajevo the moment they enter the city and it’s not hard to see why. Despite not having any ultra-modern buildings, Sarajevo is a captivating city where religious harmony is celebrated. Indeed, it’s one of the only cities in Europe where you will find a mosque, synagogue and Catholic Church within close proximity of each other.

Enjoy exploring this historical city and soaking in the unbelievably calming ambiance!  

11. Kotor, Montenegro

Image credit: Gilles Messian

Before anyone makes any jokes, Montenegro’s Kotor is not dirty, okay? In fact, it’s quite the opposite, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the region! With less than 13,000 inhabitants, this is THE place you should go to if you feel like escaping the world, even for just a little while.

The old city is fortified and shielded by imposing stone walls while the town itself sits at the foot of a gorgeous Adriatic bay with the Dalmatian mountains rising high up above turquoise waters. The scenery here is simply magical and you could spend hours just looking out over the peaceful waters.

12. Ljubljana, Slovenia

Image credit: Pedro Szekely

Here are a few fun facts you probably didn’t know about Ljubljana: it is the capital of Slovenia and the greenest city in Europe. More impressively, it houses the largest pedestrian city centre in the region which sees plenty of tourists and locals alike on a daily basis.

The city centre which is housed by a riverfront if full of ambient cafes and eateries for the avid foodie to explore. Surrounded by colourful buildings, it is the ideal place to spend a relaxing afternoon.

13. Zakopane, Poland

Image credit: Motoeque

The Polish mountain town of Zakopane is an outdoor wonderland that provides visitors access to snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, alpine forests, mountain lakes, and meadow-filled valleys. And unlike most other European mountain towns, Zakopane probably won’t leave you broke at the end of it all.

It’s a great destination if you’re looking to escape the bustling city life in Krakow and just to get some time with nature. Take the time to go for a scenic hike or simply explore the city centre in the cool mountain air. There’s no rush here, just enjoy the town at your own leisurely pace.

14. Ohrid, Macedonia

Image credit: Jason Rogers

No, the city is not called orchid, look again. Ohrid is a small city in Macedonia which surrounds the edge of Lake Ohrid, arguably one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe. One of the first things you must do is climb to the edge of the city and peer out into the lake, of course!

Once you’re done with that, head back to the city centre and visit the historical churches and enjoy the peace and serenity of the city. Because Ohrid isn’t exactly that big in size, I recommend just spending one or two days here as part of an extended tour of the Balkans.

15. Prague, Czech Republic

Image credit: Pedro Szekely

If you’re looking to visit the most beautiful and romantic cities in Europe, Prague is most definitely going to be on that list. I’m sure you’ve heard from your travel friends before how beautiful the capital of the Czech Republic is and let me tell you, when you see it with your eyes for the first time, it won’t disappoint.

Despite being a crowded city, there are plenty of hidden spots in the city where you can find a reprieve from the bustling crowds. You’ll also love walking around the city and exploring the many charming historical churches and museums. People in the city generally don’t start their day until after 9 a.m., so if you wake up early, you can have the city all to yourselves!

16. Copenhagen, Denmark

Image credit: Thesash2

Another city in Northern Europe that deserves to be on this list is undoubtedly the Danish capital of Copenhagen. Known throughout the world as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, the city certainly doesn’t disappoint with its impressive array of scenic locations.

Check out the Tivoli Gardens, Nyhavn, and The Little Mermaid for a taste of what the city is about. Once you’d done that, enjoy a scenic boat ride along one of the many beautiful canals in the city to complete your trip.

17. Bern, Switzerland

Image credit: Martin_VMorris

To be fair, almost every city or town in Switzerland could have easily made it unto this list but I chose Bern simply because of its unique status. Despite being the political centre of the country, you certainly wouldn’t know that as you walk along the lovely streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As with most other cities in Switzerland, Bern is surrounded by impressive natural scenery and a cafe scene that will keep you coming back for more. One of the best experiences is seeing the city from a river cruise and I highly recommend that you do so.

18. Barcelona, Spain

Image credit: Luc Mercelis

I’ll never forget Barcelona. It was the first city in which I got completely lost as a traveller. Yet, even in the midst of my panic (it was almost 12 a.m. when I lost my way), I couldn’t help but fall deeper in love with the capital of Catalonia.

The city which is known as Antoni Gaudi’s playground is adorned with numerous artistic buildings by the famous architect, including the iconic Sagrada Familia. In addition to impressive architecture, the city will captivate you with its relaxing vibes and rustic cuisine as well!

19. Bergen, Norway

Image credit: Scott1346

Bergen is one of the most scenic cities (and most colourful) in Scandinavia. There, I said it. Surrounded by scenic mountains and fjords, the city is a top destination in Norway and if you’re ever in the city (lucky you), make sure you take the time to go for a lovely stroll in it!

Start by heading to the old wharf for a lovely view of the bay area before hopping on board a funicular towards Floyen for a lovely mountain hike. You’ll also want to visit the iconic Hanseatic Museum before stuffing your face with some authentic Norwegian cuisine (read: fresh seafood!).

20. Heidelberg, Germany

Image credit: Chris Goldberg

Apart from being home to a majestic castle, Heidelberg is also a university town located on the banks of the Neckar River in southwestern Germany. It is a city that is full of verdant greenery and grassy hills, perfect for a lovely, leisurely stroll.

When in Heidelberg, make sure to visit the aforementioned Heidelberg Castle, the iconic old bridge of the city, the scenic Philosophenweg area, and the historical Church of the Holy Spirit. When night falls, you’ll love this city even more as you walk along the river banks in search of delicious German food (and beer!)

Get to steppin’

And there you have it, 20 beautiful cities in Europe to explore on foot. Come on, I know we Malaysians are used to driving everywhere we go, but when in Europe, surrounded by such scenic places and lovely weather, maybe we should start moving our legs for once, eh?  

By Darren

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