France’s culinary contributions alone are too numerous to even begin to list... Champagne, Escoffier... NOPE! Not doing it. We’ll be here all day. And one could play the same game with art. And fashion. And philosophy. France has so enriched the planet that there won’t be any cheap jokes here about a certain propensity for post-Napoleonic military failures. As for the French people, their reputation for being occasionally... politeness-challenged, while generally overstated, is not wholly fabricated, either. Part of this stems from the fact that France has it good. REALLY good. And it knows it. France is basically that guy who was a complete LEGEND in high school and is still doing rather well to this day, but you still get the sense he’s kind of coasting on past achievements. In this case high school was sometime around 1805.
9. The United Kingdom
The parent from which America legally separated, just like the nerdy girl from Modern Family and Macaulay Culkin. Truth be told, the UK brings a lot to the table (the rich pub culture, the free museums, the music stolen from and then imported back to America), but if Scotland’s run at independence had succeeded, it would have ranked even higher (just to spite dad!). But as it stands now the UK still HAS Scotland, so, quite a package when you break it all down. Oh, sorry Wales, didn’t see you down there! You’re...probably OK?
This entry won’t be wholly unbiased since both authors claim Irish heritage, not surprising since Ireland’s two chief exports are Americans who are disproportionately excited about their ties to Ireland and... slightly uncomfortable wool sweaters? But come on, the Irish pub has been adopted worldwide as a symbol for “this is a place full of friendly people who want to drink with you.” And Ireland has TONS of them! Guinness is the most massively popular beer that has fully retained its cred among beer nerds and people trying to quietly diet. Its countryside remains staggeringly beautiful even when it’s raining. Which is kind of often, but you’ll literally never find yourself more than 15 steps from a pub, so it’s all good, really.
Raise your hand if you saw the whole “Denmark is the new hotbed of global cuisine” thing coming? Liar. Has a single restaurant ever done more to elevate a country’s worldwide profile? Prior to Noma's emergence, South Park’s description of the Danish as the Canadians of Europe felt pretty apt. But you know what? That’s high praise. Canada generally has its shit together, and so does Denmark. If you have mixed feelings about Copenhagen because of a bad chewing tobacco experience in your younger days, get over it and go there (“there” being Denmark’s capital and not to the corner store that illegally sold you chewing tobacco). There’s also a wealth of stunning geological features that will not be discussed in detail here because we can’t figure out how to make that “o” with the diagonal slash running through it.
Look, we all know the first half of the 20th century was kind of a rough time for everyone, but modern Germany has coalesced into a hell of a place (like, the good kind). Any culture so thoroughly devoted to beer and sausage has much to offer -- everyone should experience actual Oktoberfest at least once, as it’s far superior to when your local bar offers $4 Hofbrau drafts, blasts some Hasselhoff, and calls it an “Oktoberfest party.” Everyone should also go to Berlin, which for obvious historical reasons is truly unlike any other city on the planet. Everyone should also appreciate the fact that they keep things remarkably clean, generally speak better English than you do, and manage their money responsibly enough to keep some of your other favorite countries financially viable.
Even five or six years ago, Croatia was still relatively light on the tourist train, but that has all changed as everyone discovered its crazily handsome coastlines, outstanding wine regions, and national soccer jerseys that look like pizza parlor tablecloths. Also a great destination if you’ve always wanted to meet the tallest current professional tennis player on tour.
Amazing beers from 180 breweries. All kinds of waffles. Fries in fancy paper. An infuriatingly good national soccer team. Jean-Claude Van Damme. Harmonica player Jean “Toots” Thielemans. Belgium is stacked in so many categories, you almost forget that it’s basically a nation cobbled together from three disparate factions that don’t actually like each other all that much but just coexist like tolerant, but aloof Craigslist roommates.
You could be a broke-ass college student irresponsibly bouncing around Europe and STILL eat gloriously in Italy on pizza and gelato alone. This is not to diminish the sophisticated heights Italian cuisine can reach, but only to say that the Italians have mastered a democratic deliciousness that puts other-worldly eating experiences constantly within the reach of the everyman. Few countries can boast so many singularly exceptional cities -- Milan’s sophistication, Naples’ chaotic charm, Florence’s enduring beauty, Rome’s... everything, and Venice’s generally disappointing, overpriced gondola rides. And that doesn’t even cover the less-metropolitan charms of places like Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast, and the Tuscan countryside (if you can avoid all the 30-something women who are a few years late on the whole Eat Pray Love thing). And THAT doesn’t even cover a bunch of other fantastic places we neglected to mention. Like Sicily. Oh God. We forgot Sicily. SICILY IS AMAZING PLEASE DON’T HURT US.
2. The Netherlands
There’s much more to the Netherlands than being so stoned that you don’t care that you’ve just eaten an entire 16oz jar of mayonnaise with your fries. Your country has to be pretty sweet if you’re the world’s leading supplier of flowers and decorative trees, but it also doesn’t hurt that it's got by far the largest port in Europe in Rotterdam, an elected parliament since 1848, historically tolerant and progressive laws (first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage), the International Court of Justice, and what many middle schoolers would envision as the perfect amount of bike lanes. Also favorable to middle schoolers: they LOVE putting chocolate sprinkles on bread here.
When you’re simultaneously known for being at the forefront of modernist cuisine AND centuries of crafting the world’s greatest ham, you have a fairly intimidating culinary resume. What Americans started proudly calling “artisanal small plates” sometime around 2002, the Spanish just call “eating” -- except, you know, in Spanish. They are fiercely devoted to both napping and staying out irresponsibly late (which may have something to do with the recent financial crisis? We are not economists!). Still, Spain has a stunning and topographically varied landscape, two world-class cities, and its citizens only seem mildly amused rather than irritated when you mispronounce “Barcelona.” You’ve done great things, Spain. May we have some ham?
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Kevin Alexander is Thrillist's Executive Editor, and wo-- (silently puts down computer as bog wolf approaches). Quietly follow him to the high ground @KAlexander03.
Deputy Editor Matt Lynch once found out his Irish relatives were originally from France, explaining his fervent enthusiasm for beer and cheese. Invite him on your next vacation @MLynchChi.