When people plan to visit a city in France, they might think of: Paris, Marseile, Nice, or Bordeaux. But our first pick on the list is Strasbourg. One of the capitals of Europe, Strasbourg lies at the crossroads of Europe, in the historic region of Alsace. It is situated in the Rhine valley, right next to the German border, on the banks of the Ill river.
What to do
The old town, situated on the Grande Île should be your starting point. It is almost entirely pedestrian and is incredibly unique for a French city, due to its history of strong German influence. Architecturally speaking, the old town can be mistaken with a city from Southern Germany.
Strasbourg is famous for the Cathedral of Our Lady, easily recognizable with its unfinished second spire. It is one of the finest examples of gothic catherdrals in the world. The first sight of the cathedral as you take a sudden turn on one of the narrow cobbled steets in the old town is breath-taking. If you are like us, you will spend hours trying to get that perfect shot of its impressive facade.
As you walk around the Old town, you will discover small cobbled streets packed with half-timbered houses. One particularly beautiful area is Petite France, around the canals of the Ill river.
Strasbourg is also a modern city. Home of EU Parliament and other institutions like the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Council). All of these are found in the European Quarter, a bit to the North of the old town.
All in all, Strasbourg is a wonderful destination for a city break, combining the French charm with the old German architecture. We spent 2 days there during our Interrail tour of Europe back in 2013 and we would love to get back some time in the near future.
Moving to the North-West, we make a quick stop in Belgium. Stuck between the bigger Brussels and the more renown Bruges, Ghent is a city that gives you the best of the two worlds. It might not have the same picturesque sights as Bruges, but it sure is pretty. It is also a huge university center and is much more active during the evenings. Young people gather around the terraces in the old town and on the banks of the canals, especially around the Graslei area.
What to do
The old town of Ghent is quite compact and very walkable. You can spend some time roaming the streets, discovering cute houses with small shops and restaurants. The symbol of the city is the 91m tall belfry located right next to the St. Bavo Cathedral. You can also visit the 10th century Gravensteen castle in the middle of the city, 10 minutes away from the belfry.
The Sint-Michielsburg is also a great spot to take a snapshot before the sun goes down. As the evening comes, make sure you grab a Gentse Tripel or any other strong Belgian beer at one of the open terraces. We spent only a day in Ghent during the same Interrail trip back in 2013, but we would love to get back some time in the future.
For our third pick, we are moving to Poland. Wrocław is usually eclipsed by Krakow, the bigger and more known city in the southern part of the country. However, we found the capital of Silesia to be the perfect spot for getting to know the Polish culture better.
What to do
You can start your visit from the old market square, surrounded by colorful houses. The Old Town Hall is a beautiful example of gothic architecture and the nearby spire of St. Elizabeth's Church offers a great panoramic view of the entire city. A bit further away from the heart of the city, you will find various small islands on the Oder river. On one of them you can visit the Wrocław Cathedral, rebuilt after it was completely destroyed during the Second World War.
One of the main activities while in Wrocław is hunting dwarfs. There are over 300 small figurines spread around the city in some of the most popular places. Even if you are not looking for them, you will surely find some.
We spent an evening and a full day here back in 2016 during a very hot June, as we were touring Poland and the Baltic states. It was enough to see the main spots and enjoy the relaxed vibe of the city.
Almost every city in Italy is like a museum with a mix of ancient, medieval and modern buildings, but we think you should put Verona on your list. It usually goes under the radar as people go to Venice, Florence, Milano or Rome. But trust us, the "city of love" has a lot to offer.
What to do
You can start your visit from Verona Arena, one of the best preserved roman amphitheaters. The 2000 years old building is impressive and regularly hosts concerts and opera performances in front of 15,000 people.
The rest of Verona has its roots in medieval times. Walking around the old town, you will find a lot of churches, palaces as well as small houses built in the specific italian architectural style.
Verona was the imaginary setting for Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliete" and "The Two Gentleman of Verona". And even though it seems Shakespeare never visited their city, the people here take advantage of the added publicity. There's a Juliete house in the city center, which has hordes of visitors throughout the year.
If you are more interested in authentic sites, the church of Sant'Anastasia has one of the most impressive interior designs we've ever seen. And if you are in for some cardio, the 84m tall Torre dei Lamberti awaits you in the central square with unparalleled views of the city.
For the last entry we are back in Western Europe. We've been to the Netherlands twice and visited a lot of cities, big and small. But Utrecht comes high of our list of a number of reasons.
It is located in the central part of the country, making it the perfect base camp while visiting the whole country. It also has a sizeable students population as a big university center. Finally, its city center is almost entirely car free, something you don't see in Amsterdam or in other cities in the area.
What to do
You can start your morning with a stroll along the Oudegracht canal, lined with old houses and shops. All roads in Utrecht lead to Domtoren, or Dom Tower, the symbol of the city. This is the tallest belfry in the Netherlands and used to be part of St. Martin's Cathedral until its nave collapsed in the 17th century. Since then, the church and the tower are separated by the Domplein square.
Utrecht hosts the biggest university in the Netherlands, so you can expect the city to be pretty packed throughout the year and very active during the evenings. It is also one of the most crowded cities in terms of bike traffic. If you want to escape the big city vibe, a lot of small dutch towns (Gouda, Delft, Leiden, etc.) are literally minutes away by train.
We hope this article helped you find some new places to put on your map for 2020 and beyond. What are some of your favorite cities in Europe? What cities do you plan on visiting next? Drop us a message on social media and let us know.