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Top 14 European cities which stand out for their beauty

With more than 800 to pick from, whittling down Europe’s most eye-catching cities is no easy task. Beauty may well be in the eyes of the beholder, but these 14 European cities all stand out for their picturesque architecture, history-stitched streets, and ridiculously photogenic settings. From the old classics to a few more off-radar treasures, here is our pick of the prettiest cities in Europe worth adding to your future travel list.

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Barcelona, Spain

This city is one of our favorite European cities with a beach, but Barcelona is so much more than its sandy shores and picturesque waterfront restaurants. Stroll through the city streets to stumble upon Gaudi gems from the Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló to La Pedrera before taking a peek at some lesser-known architectural wonders, such as the unique Modernista Palace of Catalan Music, the world’s largest Art Nouveau site, Sant Pau Recinto Modernista, or the Moorish details of the CaixaForum Barcelona art gallery. Find hidden bars down discreet alleyways – Paradiso, a speakeasy bar with breathtaking cocktails, was recently voted the best bar in the world – or reach for the skies at one of Barcelona’s beautiful rooftop bars.

Where to stay in Barcelona: One of our favorite Hoxton outposts, the Pobelnou Hotel is the definition of quietly cool.

Athens, Greece

It’s no surprise that Greece’s ancient capital made the cut. Athens is the perfect blend of crumbling ruins and modern surprises; from picturesque neighborhoods and Cycladic architecture to ancient citadels and classy bars. There are the obvious places to tick off your prettiest places bucket list (the Parthenon, the Acropolis, and the Roman Agora, for example), but head into the lesser-known neighborhoods to discover the city’s most beautiful spots. Anafiotika is a scenic village with whitewashed houses and cutesy streets, Plaka is an area with tiny shops and locally run galleries and Monastiraki has amazing flea markets with intricately woven carpets and handmade jewellery.

Where to stay in Athens: The Margi is set back from the sandy shores of Athens’ southern suburbs on the Riviera – an easy-going, family-run option.

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Edinburgh, UK

The Scottish capital is a city we will never tire of. Edinburgh is a city of hills, so while clambering up sheer cliffs and staggering around steep streets may feel like an effort, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most epic skyline views you can imagine – think pink cloudy sunsets punctured with iconic monuments and sculptures from the Scott Monument on Princes Street to the gothic New College Library on top of The Mound. Down below, winding cobblestone streets lead to historic churches and generations-old pubs where you can hole up with a pint and a pie, or head to Stockbridge to browse local trinket shops and stroll along the Water of Leith trail.

Where to stay in Edinburgh: Gleneagles Townhouse is Scotland’s most exciting newcomer of late, a younger sister to the original Gleneagles – this one has a spectacular restaurant, delightful rooms, and a terrific rooftop bar.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul has a chequered history. Neolithic artifacts found on archaeological digs suggest the Gateway to Asia has been occupied for more than 2,500 years. The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans have all left their stamp on the world’s only bicontinental city, leaving fascinating imprints still visible today. Sultanahmet is where many of the city’s famous attractions are, from the church-turned-mosque Hagia Sophia to the spectacular Blue Mosque; visit at night to see the religious site illuminated in cyan light. On the Bosphorus Strait, day boats, passenger ferries, and cargo ships chug through the murky waters past some of Turkey’s most opulent hotels, sprawling parks, and myriad minarets – the call to prayer echoing out into the heavens. To see the city in all its glory, go up. Galata Tower is one of the best places to see Constantinople from above, with restored religious monuments and modern city blocks reflecting the sun’s rays side-by-side.

Where to stay in Istanbul: The Four Seasons Hotel at Sultanahmet is now one of Istanbul’s grandest hotels – but the building has a fascinating history. Built in the early 20th century, it was the first jailhouse in the heart of the Ottoman Empire. Cells are now luxurious rooms, and the restaurants are dining destinations in themselves; head to Süreyya Teras Lounge for cocktails against a backdrop of the Hagia Sophia as its dome glistens at golden hour.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon’s been having a moment for some years now. And it’s easy to see why so many fall for this colorful Portuguese city, packed with beautiful old buildings painted in warm ochre and blushing pink, grand façades lined with glossy azulejos and elegant rococo squares draped in blousy bougainvillea. This is Europe’s second oldest capital (after Athens) and history resonates everywhere – from the tapestry of cobbled streets to the ramparts of São Jorge Castle, the most distinct feature on the city skyline. By far the most fun way to explore is by hopping on a canary-yellow tram; if you ride just one, make in number 28, which trundles through some of Lisbon’s most beguiling ancient barrios. You’re never short of views here either – best sucked in at sunset from one of the many lookout points when that famous Lisbon light bounces off terracotta rooftops before sinking behind the seven hills cradling the city.

Where to stay in Lisbon: For grandeur and glamour, The Lumiares is the place to book. Think panoramic city views and Portuguese elegance encased in a 17th-century palace.

Granada, Spain

Set along the dramatic foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada refuses to be overshadowed by its bigger-hitting Spanish neighbors. Awash with Andalucian charm, it’s been shaped by centuries of Moorish rule, leaving behind both an extraordinary cultural legacy and one of Europe’s most seductive monuments. Of course, it’s the mighty Alhambra palace that epitomizes its beauty; an exotic hilltop tangle of citadels, colonnaded courtyards, jasmine-scented gardens, and tinkling fountains. But don’t overlook the rest of this captivating city, filled with half-forgotten churches, galleried cloisters and the striking old Arab quarter, where traces of ancient bathhouses, former city gates, and vine-draped whitewashed buildings with Moorish detailing hark back to its very chequered past.

Where to stay in Granada: A faux-Moorish palace with fabulous views – the Alhambra Palace is a stellar option when exploring the pretty city of Granada.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

With its shiny limestone streets and hotch-potch of medieval, renaissance, and grand baroque architecture, lost-in-time Dubrovnik – one of Europe’s best-preserved walled cities – has a cinematic beauty to it. From the ramparts of the UNESCO-protected, terracotta-hued Old Town, views peek down to pine-studded pebbly beaches (a honeypot for sun-seeking locals) and boats bobbing in the harbor – making this the perfect city break with a slice of sea too. It’s easy enough to check off the main sites in a weekend, so linger for a few more days to island hop around the sleepy nearby Elafiti Islands or explore Lokrum, a pretty islet and nature reserve within kayaking distance of the shore. Both spots are mercifully removed from the madding cruise ship crowds – which, in high summer, can sometimes become a bit of a blot on the Old Town’s beauty.

Where to stay in Dubrovnik: Villa Dubrovnik is set directly into a cliff, where all rooms have balconies and fabulous views – plus there is a private beach at the bottom of the cliff.

Bergen, Norway

Norway isn’t short of beautiful scenery, but Bergen, ringed by snow-capped peaks, glassy fjords, and wild islets, parcels up a little bit of everything that makes the country so beguiling. Despite being Norway’s second-largest city, it has a toy-town charm, crammed with colorful gabled houses stretching out along the historic wharf, steep, narrow streets, and white-painted wooden buildings hugging the misty hillside. For the best views, ride the funicular up to the top of Fløyen, one of the city’s seven mountains – it’s the jumping-off point for hikes through pretty pine forests and around icy lakes. Getting rained on is a given (Bergen has been crowned one of Europe’s wettest cities), but there’s a wealth of art galleries, museums, and a world-famous fish market to duck into if you ever need to run for cover.

Where to stay in Bergen: This 19th-century building used to be Bergen’s stock exchange, and now Bergen Børs Hotel is a stylish hotel perfect for exploring the city.

Tallinn, Estonia

It’s hard to ignore the high-rises gobbling up the distant horizon as you fly into Tallinn – yet this under-the-radar Baltic gem is the absolute antithesis of the grey former Soviet city you might expect. The real jewel of the pocket-sized Estonian capital is the absurdly photogenic Old City, where pastel-pink houses wrap around the main square, grand gothic spires and crenelated castle turrets stud the romantic skyline and hidden alleyways open up onto medieval courtyards with extraordinary, still-intact Hanseatic merchants’ houses. Up on Toompea Hill – the focal point – the Disney-esque castle provides a striking contrast to the black gilded domes of the Russian-Orthodox cathedral. If you can, visit in winter when a thick layer of snow crunches underfoot and the city takes on a whole new atmosphere.

Where to stay in Tallinn: The cozy Schlössle Hotel is tucked away in Tallinn’s Unesco World Heritage-listed Old Town, complete with rustic wooden beams and blazing fires.

Bath, UK

History-rich Bath sits right at the top of our list of the most beautiful cities on home turf. This quietly charming Somerset town shot to fame in Roman times for its mineral-rich thermal waters, later becoming a stomping ground for well-to-do Georgians who flaunted their wealth by building the elegant streets and curvaceous crescents from buttery Bath stone. Today, it’s a picturesque bubble of cozy tearooms, artisan markets, and independent boutiques, anchored around the magnificent seventh-century Abbey and gorgeous Pulteney Bridge, Bath’s answer to Venice’s Rialto or Florence’s Ponte Vecchio. If you’re seeking fresh country air, Royal Victoria Park is an oasis of botanical gardens, wild meadows, and gurgling streams, while the pretty Cotswolds gently but gloriously unfurl along the fringes of the city.

Where to stay in Bath: Explore the city, then retreat just outside the hustle and bustle where The Pig Near Bath offers pretty bedrooms, a spa, and a wildflower orchard, all wrapped up in a former family country house.

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Bruges, Belgium

Brimming with olde-worlde hotels, quirky bars, shops peddling chocolate and lace, and art galleries lined with Old Masters, the beautifully preserved historic center of Bruges is the real star of this canal-laced city best admired from a boat. Time seems to stand still as you float past medieval façades and romantic stone bridges, soaking up the extraordinary gothic architecture and gingerbread-like houses jutting out over the water. It’s a delightful place to wander on foot too, nosing around ancient churches, navigating maze-like cobbled streets, and attempting the 366 steps to the top of the belfry – the city centerpiece and prime spot to take in the incredible views. For a change of scenery, hop on a bicycle and head out of town towards Damme, a lovely medieval canalside village and the perfect place to while away a go-slow afternoon.

Where to stay in Bruges: Book a room at The Pand for a masterclass in the art of cozy, charming European hotels.

Paris, France

No list would be complete without Paris, the poster child for beautiful European hubs. There’s a reason why such fuss is made of the city of love and lights, an intoxicating mix of grand boulevards and secret cobbled passageways; arresting architecture and peerlessly elegant gardens; world-class museums and gilded history – and of course, a clutch of the most instantly recognisable monuments in the world. There’s too much to tick off in one visit, yet one of the joys of the city is its patchwork of arrondissements, each neighborhood its own little pocket of charm, character, and beauty, from artsy Saint-Germain to hipster Belleville and deliciously bohemian Montmartre. Getting lost in Paris is part of the fun – as is stopping to soak it all in from a wicker-chair-lined pavement café, one of this place’s greatest institutions bar none.

Where to stay in Paris: A stay at Cheval Blanc Paris is a guaranteed win, with works by global artists dotted around inside and 72 sleek rooms to choose from.

Venice, Italy

There’s no other city quite like Venice. Little changed over the centuries, it’s a whirlwind of history, architecture, culture, and art. There are plenty of big-ticket sites to soak up: the Grand Canal, surely the world’s greatest thoroughfare; glimmering St Mark’s Basilica; the Gallerie dell’Accademia with all its visual drama. But by far the best way to get under the skin of the place is by wandering from piazza to palazzo, crisscrossing over pretty bridges lined with candy-striped gondola moorings, ducking down alleys, peeking into backstreet churches and stumbling upon hidden cicchetti bars. At times, Venice risks being mired by its own beauty, so when the crowds get too much, flit over to one of the islands on the quieter side of the lagoon, such as Burano, a colorful kaleidoscope of quaint fishermen’s houses and a more authentic side of the city.

Where to stay in Venice: Cipriani, A Belmond hotel, is home to tennis courts, a kitchen garden, a vineyard, and a spa within the orange blossom-scented Casanova gardens – all within walking distance of Venice’s most spectacular spots.

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Valletta, Malta

Resplendent with its twisty turny ancient streets, worn ornate façades on butterscotch buildings, and original 16th-century bastion walls, the tiny sepia-tinged, sun-drenched Maltese capital is one of Europe’s most underrated delights, sitting plum at the crossroads of the Mediterranean. But it’s not all antiquated. Since being crowned a European Capital of Culture in 2018, Valletta’s been buffed and preened to perfection, paving the way for a crop of new restaurants and funky boutique hotels delicately shoehorned into handsome medieval buildings anchored around the sparkling Grand Harbour. Best of all, it’s just a hop, skip, and jump from the rest of this minuscule island’s treasures, so after a full-on morning of sightseeing, it’s an easy retreat to the blue lagoons and golden beaches for the afternoon.

Where to stay in Valetta: 66 Saint Paul’s has a dinky rooftop pool and wonderful views over the city.

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