The Most Beautiful Place in Every European Country
We’re bringing the best of Europe to you.
Summer is fast approaching, and if it were any other year, 6.7 million Americans would be dog-earring their Rick Steves’ guides, practicing their Dutch, and getting psyched for their summer vacation to Europe. But 2020 is… different.
There are signs that things might start picking up across the pond: Many European countries began scaling back their lockdown measures this month, and Greece says it will reopen to tourists come July. And as early as June, American, Delta, and United Airlines plan to resume some of their transatlantic service to major European hubs.
Still, Europe’s ban on foreign travel has been extended to June 15, and much of the US remains partially or fully shut-down. In our new normal, it’s hard to imagine us picnicking along the Seine or sipping gin & tonics in Barcelona anytime soon.
To that end, we’re bringing the best of Europe to you. There’s a grand total of 48 countries across this ultra-diverse continent, from Iceland in the north to Cyprus in the south, and even out to the Ural Mountains in Russia. Here are the most beautiful places to see in each; add ‘em to your bucket list for 2021.
Is Albania at the top of your beach vacation wishlist this summer? Didn’t think so. Maybe that’s because you haven’t seen the beach at Ksamil, the jewel of the Albanian Riviera, with dazzling white sand, turquoise water, and three idyllic islands in the bay. Don’t forget your snorkel.
Lagos de Tristaina
These high-mountain lakes are your reward for taking on the Estanys de Tristaina hiking trail, a 3-mile route next to the French border in the north of this bite-sized principality. Free-grazing horses hang out up here, presumably for the killer combination of fresh water and awesome views. Take a picnic, and something to wear for your well-earned dip.
This 1,000-year-old monastery has endured a history almost as dramatic as its clifftop setting, with imperial invaders taking turns ransacking it and even the odd earthquake shaking things up. Legend has it that the name comes from the time an apprentice fell from the tower and called out for God to give him wings -- “Ta tev” in Armenian. Probably best not to check if that trick still works.
In our professional opinion, there’s nothing more beautiful than inhaling obscene amounts of cheese and schnapps whilst hiking through the Alps on the “Cheese Road.” But Alpbach’s been voted Austria’s most beautiful village by... all of the people in all of Austria, and who are we to argue? The area's lush green fields were a filming location for The Sound of Music and in the winter, the hills are even more alive as snow-caked ski runs.
This 16th-century castle was built in Gothic Belarussian style, before Baroque and Renaissance touches were added on by a later owner -- so really it’s a wonder it has turned out so pretty. Inside, it’s a treasure trove of history, from the castle’s aristocratic origins to its conversion to a Jewish ghetto during World War II.
The Flemish city of Bruges isn't exactly in need of discovery: Its immaculately preserved medieval architecture and winding canals are so pristine, so fairytale-like, that its tourist-magnetism was a running joke in the cult classic film that bears its name. Still, exploring the city -- from its winding alleys to its ancient basement pubs and centerpiece-- it's impossible not to accidentally quote that movie every time you turn a corner. Fuckin' Bruges indeed.
MORE: Want a seedier take on Belgium? Check out Shitty Guide.
The River Pliva plunges into the River Vrbas right in center of Jajce, a pretty hillside town two-and-a-half hours from Sarajevo. The 60-foot wall of water is spectacular year-round, but come on the first weekend in August and you get the added thrill of seeing people far less sane than you compete in the annual jumping contest.
Seven Rila Lakes
Ask any Bulgarian, and they’ll tell you the Seven Rila Lakes is not to be missed. These seven glacial pools are rugged and majestic, sitting 8,200 feet above sea level in the country’s remote northwest. A day’s trek around this meandering region, and you'll understand the meaning of living free.
Krka National Park
Honestly, the most beautiful spot in Croatia might be Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is basically Fern Gully on drugs. Google it, we’ll wait. Walkways and hiking trails will transport you over and around this majestic forest reserve and its cascading turquoise waterfalls -- but you cannot swim there. Enter Krka National Park, the less-crowded, lesser-known alternative nearby. The water is just a turquoise and you can actually get in it. It’s about 85% as beautiful as Plitviče, and when adjusted for the swimming handicap comes out to 200% as beautiful. That’s basic maths.
Aphrodite's Rock (Petra tou Romiou)
Greek mythology says this boulder marks the spot where the Goddess of Love was born amid wild, churning water. Which makes sense, as the waves are rough and swimming is ill-advised (although local legend has it that anyone who does will be blessed with eternal beauty -- assuming, of course, that they survive).
Prague tends to take a lot of credit for the Czechia's beauty, but there’s something equally as magnetic -- and delightfully underrated -- about Moravia. These emerald landscapes and vineyards seem to stretch on forever. Maybe it’s the wine goggles, but settling down here doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
For years, Denmark’s artistic and bohemian crowd have been coming to Skagen for inspiration. The scenery is amazing, crystal blue waters layered with colorful fishing boats and the most surreal sunsets. At the tip of Skagen you can find Råbjerg Mile, northern Europe’s largest wandering sand dunes. Although where they're wandering, nobody knows. Badum-ching!
Estonia’s capital is one of few destinations in the world that seamlessly blends medieval and modern, with glass skyscrapers and ancient turrets both locked in the same gaze. Tallinn’s one of Europe’s best-preserved walled cities, and 21st-century history definitely adds another interesting veneer to its rickety cobblestone streets. And it’s cheap, to boot.
Finnish Lakeland (Järvi-Suomi)
Thousands of years ago, continental glaciers shifted to create one of Europe’s most striking natural masterpieces: Järvi-Suomi, or the Finnish Lakeland. It’s the continent’s largest lake district, an incredible labyrinth of thousands of ponds, rivers, islands, and streams.
Giverny is the real-life setting for some of Claude Monet’s most famous works. Today, the birthplace of French impressionism is every bit as stunning as it was in watercolor: a fairytale garden of rose arches, weeping willows, and water lilies tucked into Normandy’s countryside.
This village of 200 people is 7,190 feet above sea level, making it the highest settlement in Europe (unless you include Amsterdam HA HA HA). It’s a tiny, tumbledown kind of place, but well worth the trip for the wall-to-wall views of the mighty Caucasus Mountains and the chance to hike or horse-ride to the Shkhara glacier.
Even if you find dirndl and lederhosen to be a questionable fashion statement, there’s no denying that the Bavarian Alps are surefire beauty. Also, the beer! But just for good measure, let’s throw a fairytale 19th-century hilltop castle into the picture.
You could basically play Greek Isle roulette and find a correct answer for Greece's most jaw-dropping locale: from hedonistic Mykonos to crowded Santorini, everything's a blur of great food and crystal waters. But Rhodes packs in everything that made the area the preferred vacation spot of the gods -- well-preserved ruins, chill resorts, pristine beaches hugged by craggy waters -- with a reduced chance of running into Lindsey Lohan. That gives it the edge.
Lake Balaton is nothing but gorgeous turquoise for as far as the eye can see. Hungary’s most famous blue-green body of water is also the largest and shallowest in all of Europe (that’s right, probably the most relaxing swim of your entire life). It would all seem rather Mediterranean if it weren’t for all those cute Hungarian farmhouses wrapped in thick woodland groves.
Iceland's Ring Road is near mythical at every bend, from isolated craters whose waters look like melted turquoise to glaciers and waterfalls. But there's just something eerily beautiful about Reynisfjara, a black-sand beach whose shoreline is scattered with twisted, spiked rock spires whose colorlessness gives the feeling that you've walked into a photo negative. It sits in extreme contrast to the lush green hills in the distance, and the basalt columns and vertiginous cliffs surrounding the beach just add to its otherworldliness.
Cliffs of Moher
As seen in Harry Potter, the Princess Bride, and some Maroon 5 video (does it really matter which one?), the Cliffs of Moher are one of the world’s must-see attractions -- and with good reason. From atop these platforms of vertical limestone, you can see for miles on a clear day. The rush of the wind and the salty sea air make this the kind of spot that everybody should throw on their bucket list before they "Runaway." Fine, there, we told you the song.
Yes, you're certain to encounter more Eat, Pray, Love-packing travelers here than most places in Italy, but there's a damn good reason: The five kaleidoscopic villages of Cinque Terre are about as dreamy as you can get in a country that counts Rome, Venice, and Tuscany among its treasures. Seeing this in person is worth the price of your social feed becoming a cliche.
MORE: Dive deeper to the paradises that await just beyond Cinque Terre
Springs, lakes, and frozen-in-time wooden villages are dotted across the landscape beneath these 9,000-foot peaks, which offer some of the best hiking and biking in the Balkans. Keep your eyes out for wild horses, rare Balkan lynxes, and Europe’s only freshwater turtles.
Venta Rapid (Ventas Rumba)
OK, so this waterfall probably won’t fit in your iPhone camera frame. Venta Rapid is a playful combination of broad (360 feet wide) and stubby (all of 6 feet high). Its sheer cascade falling over green moss and rocks is peaceful and a lot of fun to splash around in.
Wild forest, sand dunes, and the ocean hypnotically unite at Curonian Spit. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts a lagoon with Europe’s highest sand dunes and Drunkard’s Forest, which is covered in tree trunks that are mysteriously curled, twisted, and always asking for money to hit the liquor store.
Chemin de la Corniche
Hailed as Europe’s most beautiful balcony, a stroll down Chemin de la Corniche never gets old. The promenade offers amazing views of the river canyon and Luxembourg’s ancient fortress Wenceslas Wall. In the winter, when the trees and houses are tipped with ice, Chemin de la Corniche looks even more like it came out of a storybook.
St. Jovan Kaneo
If the locals in the fishing village down below needed any encouragement to go to church, they got it in spades when St. Jovan Kaneo was built. It’s got 13th-century frescoes and stone carvings aplenty, but this place is all about its setting: perched on a cliff above the glassy Lake Ohrid.
This giant rock arch on the island of Gozo is home to some of Malta’s best rock pooling, snorkeling, and diving. Its most famous spot is the rock formation called the Azure Window, like a limestone picture frame for the Mediterranean Sea and sky.
If you didn’t know already, Moldova is big on wine. The Cricova estate is the most prestigious, entertaining and intoxicating the likes of Yuri Gagarin, John Kerry, and Vladimir Putin in its maze of underground cellars. Up above, gazillions of vines stretch across rolling hills near the capital city, Chisinau.
There’s not a whole lot of Monaco to choose from, and most of it is made from concrete and glass. “The Rock” stands out as the prettiest part of this micro-country, with a royal palace and quaint old town that feels a million miles from the apartment blocks and superyachts down below.
There’s only one main street in Perast, but it has a whopping 16 churches and 17 Italianate palazzos. Take a boat out to the islands of St. George and Our Lady of the Rock, or spend the day paddling in the Bay of Kotor (you know, the one you’ve salivated over in every cruise ship brochure since 2008).
This psychedelic flower field is only open from March to May every year, and it’s seriously a blooming spectacle. Keukenhof is one of the world’s largest flower gardens, with over 7 MILLION tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and so on packed onto a mere 80 acres.
We know, you’ve seen that photo a thousand times on your Instagram feed, but that’s doesn’t make it any less of a jaw-dropper. “The Troll’s Tongue” juts out into open air some 2,000 feet above Ringedalsvatnet lake, giving you the perfect opportunity to raise your arms and lord it up over the landscape.
Poland’s winter capital, Zakopane, is one of those rare places that truly comes alive after the snow falls. It’s rather secluded, with rustic log cabins set against glistening summits and alpine meadows. If you’re thinking about a cozy ski getaway in the middle of nowhere, consider your decision made.
São Miguel, the Azores
We stared a long, long time at these beaches in Portugal. But at the end of the day, it’s gotta be the Azores, a set of nine volcanic islands that look like Hawaii, Scotland, and New Zealand all rolled into one. The largest and dreamiest of the bunch is São Miguel, with dramatic lakes shrouded in fog, relaxing hot springs, hidden waterfalls, and colorful, Hydrangea-lined roadways. Plus beaches.
The Danube River stretches from Germany to the Black Sea, and the stretch that runs through Romania is particularly superb. Reed marshes and swampland accents the clear blue waters, and there are even secluded beaches to discover.
It seems like time stopped in Suzdal in 1864, the year the Russian government decided not to route the Trans-Siberian Railway through the town. Today, the storybook Kremlin with its starry blue onion domes remains just as it always was, with a river meandering by and choristers shuffling to services across the courtyard.
Of the three mountain-top medieval towers in San Marino, Guaita is the oldest, largest, and most photogenic. It has stood proud over the microstate since the 11th century, and not once -- not once! -- has it been conquered.
Gorge by name, gorgeous by nature. The Uvac river curls lazily back and forth through this sheer-sided canyon, where dozens of mysterious caves have eroded out of the limestone cliffs. The best way to explore them is on a guided boat tour -- just remember to look up occasionally to spot the 10-foot wingspan of griffon vultures swooping overhead.
High Tatras Mountains
The tallest range of the Carpathian Mountains, the views from the High Tatras Mountains are astounding. Here you’ll find top ski resorts tucked into an alpine wonderland, and some of the most gasp-worthy trails that Europe has to offer.
Despite the foreboding name, this is Slovenia’s most popular holiday resort town and is found between the highest peaks of the Julian Alps and the Karavanke. Lake Bled’s known for its transparent azure waters and Vintgar Gorge, a 5,249-foot wooden walkway (built 1893) that daringly crisscrosses over the Radovna River.
In Spain’s laidback, slow-rolling south, a chain of hilltop villages known as Pueblos Blancos, or “White Villages,” are easily spotted by their simple whitewashed houses, ancient Moorish architecture, labyrinthine streets and sheer cliff faces. The most spectacular is Ronda, with sweeping views of the Tajo canyon from dizzying heights (that bridge in the photo crosses about a 500-foot ravine).
One road trip through Sweden’s marine national park, and you’ll fall head over heels with Kosterhavet’s idyllic scenery. Life just moves slowly here too, like the gentle breeze on the water rocking the docked fishing boats. This is the kind of place you can count on for an adventure, but you know, the chill kind.
Switzerland is full of fantasy landscapes come true, and they don’t come dreamier than Zermatt. Cozy chalets are nestled beneath sculpted ski runs and sweet-scented pine forests, with the almighty Matterhorn presiding over the entire valley.
Unless you’ve got connections at NASA or a few billion in the bank, this is your best shot at landing on another planet. It’s close enough, anyway, with a surreal landscape of honey-colored rocks and ancient caves. Hot air ballooning is the thing to do.
Isle of Skye
Bath is arguably the crown jewel of old-school English beauty, and Wales packs enough picturesque vistas to justify naming a village llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. But for pure, epic scope, Scotland's Isle of Skye is king. The perpetually wet island rises from rough seas, a bright-green land of fairy pools and misty mountains, arduous hikes, and warm pubs. We hear the whisky's pretty good too. It's the only place in Europe that could feasibly hold its own against New Zealand in terms of pure sweep -- yet it packs all the wonder into a package half the size of Rhode Island.
The Tunnel of Love
Nature has had its way with this disused railway line, and couples everywhere should be thankful for it. Nowadays, the trees arch right over the tracks, creating a magical sun-dappled tunnel. And tempting though it is, don’t be that guy blasting Springsteen out of a Bluetooth speaker -- unless you get kicks out of ruining someone else’s engagement.
It’s the world’s smallest country, so we can be specific: the most beautiful place in the Vatican City is about 25 paces into the Sistine Chapel, looking up at the ceiling in wonder and wishing you’d paid more attention in art class.
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