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Now that Europe is reopening, here are some of our favorite cities

April 27, 2021
12 min read
Cibeles Fountain In Downtown Madrid, Spain
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The news that the European Union will reopen to vaccinated Americans at some point this summer has all of us at TPG excited about the possibility of revisiting some of our favorite cities in Europe.

Thinking about planning a trip to Europe as soon as possible, but looking for a little inspiration? Here are the cities we love so much, we'd visit time and time again.

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Madrid, Spain

Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid at Christmas time. (Photo by Marco Cristofori/Robertharding/Getty Images)

TPG's founder and CEO, Brian Kelly, says one of his favorite cities in Europe is Madrid.

"[Madrid has an] amazing food scene, nightlife and [it's] cheap compared to many other capitals," he explained. "[It's a] great base to explore other parts of Spain as well. Westin Palace is a solid option in an awesome location."

Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw, June 2016. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

"One massively underrated [city] is Warsaw, Poland," says Steven Sibley, president of travel at Red Ventures (TPG's parent company). He visited a few years back on a family spring break trip and remembers the "striking contrast" of seeing Warsaw after visiting Prague, where everything is still standing from World War II.

Related: A review of the Warsaw Raffles Europejski

The city, Sibley says, has a "cool, chill vibe."

"We loved the food there ... [and] really enjoyed strolling through the parks and walking around the city. [We] did a guided tour which was cool [and] showed us the old palaces and gardens."

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Istanbul, Turkey

Sleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Shaoyang Zhou/EyeEm/Getty Images)

TPG's executive vice president, Nathan Richardson, recalls "the magic of the bustling Bosphorus," and raves about the city's "history, the prayer calls that are like bells ringing ... the nightlife [and] the markets full of age-old traditional crafts and the hammams."

Check out the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art and consider booking a room at Ciragan Palace Kempinski or the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus, both of which Richardson loves.

Related: Why Istanbul should be your next family vacation

The Abruzzo region of Italy

For Christopher DiScipio, TPG's director of partnerships and syndication, the Abruzzo region of Italy is home to three of his favorite cities in Europe: Sulmona, L'Aquila and Santo Stefano di Sessanio.

"It's a beautiful, mountainous region ... [with] some of the most beautiful national parks in the country. And it's very, very inexpensive to stay and visit," he says. DiScipio also said it's not very popular with tourists (read: no crowds).

Related: These Italian towns will pay you to live there

Be sure to order the arrosticini, or a chickpea dish in a little town called Navelli that has "one of the best restaurants I have ever been to in my life, Antica Taverna Di Navelli," DiScipio added.

DiScipio also recommends visiting the town of Montepulciano for its vineyards (the "stick wine" is from this town, he says) and the many medieval towns in region.

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels, Belgium March 2015. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Benét J. Wilson, senior credit cards editor at TPG, lived in Brussels for three years and says not only is it a good launch spot for travel around Europe, but that it has its own charms.

Must-see attractions include the Grand Palace, the Atomium and the Manneken Pis. Wilson also says Brussels is packed with beautiful parks and gardens, including Florist's, Josaphat and the gorgeous Bois de la Cambre.

"The city is also home to great walkable neighborhoods: the European Quarter (home to Leopold Park), the Canal industrial district and Avenue Louise, known for shopping and dining."

In Brussels, there are pomme frites stands everywhere — "Say yes when they offer them with mayonnaise," Wilson suggests. In addition to the mussels and chocolate, Wilson says travelers must try waterzooi (a Flemish chicken stew) and, of course, the waffles.

"Take day trips to Bruges (the Venice of Belgium and home to Belgian lace); Ostend, a resort town on the North Sea known for mussels; and Antwerp (the diamond processing capital of the world)."

Related: What to do and see in Brussels

Belgrade, Serbia

Sunset over Belgrade and ships in the harbor. (Photo mareandmare/Getty Images)

"I love Belgrade (and nearby Novi Sad)," says senior writer Katie Genter. "Belgrade Fortress is beautifully located where the Danube and Sava rivers converge and is beautiful to walk through. It has great parks and I felt safe and comfortable visiting alone, which I can't say about some parts of Europe."

Related: Hyatt Regency Belgrade hotel review

"The culture is science-focused, so you have scientists depicted on much of the currency and can go to the Nikola Tesla Museum. The food is diverse, from ćevapi to burek to perhaps the best pasta I've ever had. Plus, you can stay for extremely cheap at Airbnbs or redeem relatively few points with popular hotel loyalty programs."

Barcelona, Spain

Bacelona Arc de Triomf. (Photo by Prasit Photo/Getty Images)

For director of video Tom Grahsler, this is the first year since 2006 he hasn't visited Barcelona. "While I'm happy it will be open to tourists again, I feel bad for my Catalan friends who have had the city to themselves for the past year and will now have to share again." Grahsler recommends visiting in the fall or early spring to avoid the crush of summer crowds.

Related: Mistakes tourists make in Barcelona

Grahsler said, "The pace of life is why I love Barcelona so much. Long lunches and late dinners means no one is particularly concerned about punctuality. That means there's more time for spontaneous interactions and true connection."

Lecce, Italy

Lecce, Italy. (Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)

"Lecce, Italy [is] an absolutely stunning city in Puglia known as ‘Florence of the South’ — it’s got all of the beautiful Baroque buildings and history but without the massive crowds of Florence," says global news editor Emily McNutt.

"Take some time to explore the city and its many quiet roads and sample delicious food, but also rent a car and explore the surrounding villages of Puglia — Ostuni, Monopoli, Matera, Gallipoli and the trulli huts in Alberbello."

Related: 5 of Italy's hidden gems

McNutt says a trip to Lecce is perfect for social distancing and close to the sea in one of Italy's dreamiest of regions.

Hamburg, Germany

Hamberg's Old Town. (Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

"I’m a big fan of the usual suspects, like Paris and Prague," says editor-at-large Zach Honig. But he also loves Hamburg, Germany.

"It’s home to a major Airbus assembly line, so it’s a popular [destination] for plane spotters. But it’s also a really fun city to visit, especially in the fall during apple picking season. It's an amazing place to rent a bike and ride for the day ... you can [cycle] past Airbus into some smaller towns and really get a taste for the city and small-town German life, too.

Best of all, Honig says, Hamburg is home to one of the most reasonably priced Park Hyatt hotels he's ever encountered — "a win all around."

Related: Park Hyatt Hamburg hotel review

Paris, France

Paris 2015. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

"As much popularity as it has with the masses, it remains a favorite of mine," says credit cards editor Juan Ruiz. "So much so, that I've visited more often (about five times more) than any other European city."

Ruiz says it's a historic, sophisticated and stylish city that's all about culture, art, fashion and food.

Related: 8 mistakes people make on their first trip to Paris

Florence, Italy

Florence. (Photo by Suttipong Sutiratanachai/Getty Images)

"I freely admit, people are right about the crowds," says TPG senior director of engineering, Mitchell Stoutin. "It’s not a peaceful, serene or relaxing place to stroll through. But do you want to see Michelangelo’s David, or don’t you? Do you want to stand under the dome of a cathedral that took hundreds of years to build, whose planners lacked the technology to complete the dome, but started the project as a matter of faith?"

Stoutin says the Uffizi and Accademia are two of the greatest collections on the planet, and that the "crowds are a function of how concentrated Florence’s treasures really are.

"I remember seeing a graphic a few years back showing that the whole city could fit inside the area of an unnamed highway interchange in metro Atlanta. (Which speaks volumes about America, Italy and 500 years of technological distance.) Crowded or not, Florence is an intellectual and aesthetic feast."

Related: 6 reasons to visit Florence

Colmar, France

"Colmar ... usually doesn’t make a list of the best European cities, but this hidden gem between Strasbourg and Basel, Switzerland, is worth considering for your next trip — especially if you’re looking for some yuletide joy this holiday season," says senior editor Nick Ewen.

"The small town is a great jumping-off point for wine-tasting in the Alsace region, and Freiburg, Germany, is just a short drive away. However, you’ll want to leave plenty of time to explore Colmar itself. The town boasts cobblestone streets and gorgeous architecture along with La Petite Venise, a beautiful canal flanked by delicious eateries."

Related: TPG guide to France

Ewen also says Colmar is a "foodie’s dream with multiple Michelin-starred restaurants and dozens of other spots to enjoy the fusion of French, German and Italian cuisine" that you can pair with a "refreshing (but not overly sweet) glass of Riesling or Gewürztraminer from a local winery."

The old town, Ewen says, really "comes alive during the holiday season, with multiple Christmas markets selling wonderful crafts and mouth-watering food. And who doesn't love a steaming mug of mulled wine on a chilly December night?"

Vienna, Austria

Vienna September 2017. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

"One of the most underrated cities in Europe from my point of view is Vienna," according to senior news editor Clint Henderson. "It's got all the grandeur of Paris without the crowds. As my colleague Mitchell Stoutin pointed out to me, it was the first city to develop a real coffee house culture. It was a haven for intellectuals of all kinds at one time. Of course, it has a complicated history with colonialism and fascism, but that's true of many European capitals."

Henderson's favorite things to see and do in Vienna include "the plethora of incredible museums and palaces." Two of the best, he says, are the Leopold Museum and the Belvedere Palace. "Both have several works [by] Gustav Klimt."

"It's a spectacular city. If you want to really treat yourself, stay at the incredible Park Hyatt Vienna [which is] built inside a former bank in the city's old quarter overlooking Am Hof square. It's one of my favorite hotels in the world."

Related: Planning a family trip to Vienna

Ljubljana, Slovenia

One of senior editor Nick Ewen's other favorite European cities is Ljubljana, Slovenia. "Despite being the nation’s capital and largest city, the center of Ljubljana nevertheless feels like a quaint village — complete with a hillside castle, narrow walking streets and the winding Ljubljanica River."He also loved the dining scene, and says many restaurants have "eclectic menus influenced by Italian, Slavic and German cuisines.""Most importantly, the city offers an ideal base for exploring the Slovenian countryside — especially Lake Bled, just a 45-minute drive from the main square of Ljubljana. We were incredibly fortunate to visit Bled after a late-November snow, and the resulting experience was simply magical."Related: 10 things nobody tells you about Slovenia

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.