Find your way around without the crowds as places in Europe are slowly starting to welcome visitors again
Read through our selection of European cities great for walking. Traveling in Europe is slowly opening up so now might be the right moment to put on comfortable shoes and get exploring.
Sitting on the shore of the Baltic Sea and hidden away within the crescent of the Gulf of Gdansk, this medieval city in northern Poland is a bit of an overlooked territory for most travelers.
It’s worth knowing a bit of its past to really appreciate its present. In Gdansk’s millennium-long history, the city bounced back and forth between being under both German and Polish rule. In 1939, it became one of the first victims of the Second World War when fighting broke out just outside of the city. It’s no wonder that after the war the originally Germanic-looking city rebuilt its appearance and nowadays the architecture resembles that of the Netherlands or even France.
Served by Gdansk Lech Walesa Airport, which also connects other nearby towns in the so-called Tricity metropolitan area, it is just a short ride to the city center of Gdansk. That itself isn’t large but overflows with the charisma of its past.
Dlugi Targ is the main thoroughfare in the city, a sort of a substitute for the main square, with lots of street vendors, cafes and milk bars, and the iconic Town Hall with a beautiful view of Gdansk. It naturally spills into Dluga street and together they form the main pedestrian street in the city until in the west it’s cut off by the Golden Gate and in the east by the Green Gate.
Behind the Green Gate lies the waterfront, and crossing the bridge you can explore both sides of the river. You’ll undoubtedly spot Brama Żuraw, a centuries-old crane used for loading and unloading ships during the times of Gdansk as a trading port.
Strolling back into town, you shouldn’t miss Mariacka, one of the most charming streets in all of Gdansk, full of original buildings with large steps, amber and antiques vendors, and views of St. Mary’s Basilica and St. Mary’s Gate.
This medieval Croatian city is definitely among the gems of the Mediterranean. In the last few years, Dubrovnik has enjoyed more attention than ever before due to the fact that the popular HBO series Game of Thrones was partially filmed here.
The Walls of Dubrovnik — with their 1,940 meters, 6 fortresses, and a height of up to 25 meters — are undoubtedly the most prominent feature of the place and with every turn, they offer amazing views of the Adriatic Sea and the city’s rooftop after rooftop. Throughout their long existence, they’ve never been breached solidifying their position as one of the great fortification systems of the Middle Ages.
Go down the east stairs and walk along the marina towards The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, also known simply as Dubrovnik Cathedral. It’s worth a visit to get a feel of the history of the city and the different influences knitted over the years. The area above the altar features a painting that dates back to the mid-15th century and is attributed to the Italian Renaissance artist Titian.
You can easily get lost in the cobweb of small limestone streets polished by thousands of visitors that have previously roamed the town. If you set out in the morning, you’ll probably have a chance to check out the open-air market right in the city center, with stalls offering local fresh produce and other local products like dried lavender and grappa.
One street that will hardly escape your attention is Stradun. At first, it used to be a channel dividing the small island of Dubrovnik from the mainland. Later on, it was filled with soil and for the last 50 years now, it’s served as the main pedestrian promenade of the town.
All the walking around, on the high walls and the cozy streets, will probably leave you wanting an energy refill. Without much effort, you can delight in Dubrovnik’s passing crowds and sunsets from a comfortable chair at one of the many cafes and restaurants scattered around.
Almost at the foothills of the French Alps lies Lyon — the second-largest urban area in France, a center of haute cuisine and gastronomy, and a Unesco-registered World Heritage Site. Yet, somehow, Lyon often gets overlooked when making a bucket list of destinations.
The center of the city is easy to conquer by foot and there’s a lot to see. Place Bellecour with the statue of King Louis XIV is a good starting point and in case you get lost within Lyon’s sights, it shouldn’t be hard to navigate to. It’s one of the largest open squares in Europe and the largest pedestrian one.
The square is nestled between the rivers Saône and Rhône in the Ainay district. Walking on the side of either of them might give you a central European feeling, a slight Prague-esque ambiance with open riverfronts, countless bridges, and look-alike buildings.
Overlooking the city from the West is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, dedicated to the Virgin Mary who supposedly saved Lyon from bubonic plague in the 1600s. Every year in December during the Festival of Lights (or the Fête des Lumières), the entire city lights up with a passel of candles to remember her good deed. The 19th-century basilica arose on a hilltop once occupied by a Roman forum and in its proximity lies a Roman amphitheater and a museum with artwork and various artifacts from ancient Rome.
Cathedrals and Roman archeological sites are just one of many must-sees of Lyon. The Croix-Rousse district boasts the largest fresco in all of Europe — Le Mur des Canuts — which depicts the lives of Lyon’s silk workers. There are other not-to-be-missed murals in the city, such as La Fresque des Lyonnais with famous faces of Lyon, and Bibliothèque de la Cité with the works of writers from Lyon and the surrounding region.
In the almost 2000 years since its foundation, the city of Aachen has emerged as an important element of European history. It grew from a small Roman settlement into a medieval residence of Emperor Charlemagne and a place to see the coronation of scores of German kings and queens.
It was Charlemagne, the king of the Franks and Lombards and the Emperor of the Romans, who erected his imperial palace in the city. Only a small part of it still stands today — the Granus Tower which is the oldest building in Aachen.
The Emperor found his final resting place in the city in 814, in Aachen Cathedral whose construction began by his order around 796 and used to be the highest domed construction north of the Alps. Even today it dominates the cityscape of Aachen as one of the oldest cathedrals in Europe.
Aachen is also known as Bad Aachen and has been a popular spa destination since Roman times. It features over 30 sulfurous hot springs and spa gardens known for health benefits. From the Cathedral it’s just a short walk across the cobbled streets to Elisenbrunnen, a classical architecture complex with fountains and thermal water in the very center of Aachen.
Aachen is more than a historic imperial town, it’s also a student city with a youthful yet academic atmosphere. It’s not heavy on the clubbing scene (for that you might want to catch a connection to nearby Cologne) but here you’ll find plenty of pubs and cafes, such as on the main student street Pontstrasse, with an alternative environment and affordable prices.
If you’re looking for something small to bring home from your visit, Aachener Printen could be a good choice. The taste is similar to that of gingerbread yet distinct and because of its protected mark, all of its manufacturers can only be found in or near Aachen. It will definitely make for a unique reminder.
The capital of Tuscany has a reputation of one of the most culturally rich cities in the world. It was once a Roman city and grew in significance during the Middle Ages. In medieval times, it saw the birth of the Renaissance and became home to renowned persons such as Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Donatello.
To say the least, this place will keep you occupied for a few days. Being split into two by the Arno River, the Ponte Vecchio bridge is probably one of the most famous sights in Florence. This 14th-century structure was originally occupied by butchers, farmers, and other vendors with shops built into the sides of the bridge. It’s the only bridge in Florence that didn’t get destroyed in World War II and to this day serves as a place of commerce.
Stepping into the main historic part of the city, the relaxed flow of people in the narrow streets will carry you to the Palazzo Vecchio, or the main administrative building in town. It’s known as the old palace, as the denomination new palace was snatched by the Palazzo Pitti built later on the other side of the Arno River. As with nearly every building in Italy, the Palazzo Vecchio is overflowing with frescos and other great artwork, such as Dante’s death mask.
It wouldn’t be Florence without seeing the famous statue of David and, luckily, the Galleria dell’Accademia where you can find this huge single-block creation is a pleasant distance from the very heart of the city. On the way there you’ll quite likely stumble upon many real Italian gelato stalls.
The very center of the town isn’t brimming with greenery, and spots, where you can rest your feet and watch the life around, are a bit of a rare find. When you catch sight of a cafe with amazing Italian coffee or pizza, take your opportunity to relax. After all, Florence isn’t a big city and even though there’s a lot to see, it’s tempting to simply appreciate the moment.
Similarly to Florence in Italy, Thessaloniki is described as Greece’s cultural capital. It’s renowned for its lively atmosphere, festivals, and nightlife and several years ago it became the European Youth Capital.
The city is located on the coast of the Thermaic Gulf in the Aegean Sea and it’s an ideal destination for those who like to mix up their city explorations with a bit of cooling off at the beach. You’ll find decent beaches outside of the city, such as Peraia and Neoi Epivates, but Halkidiki a little further south is the more popular option among locals and tourists.
Thessaloniki’s waterfront isn’t only a nice walk, it’ll also give you a chance to see some of the famous city sights along the way. From the city’s approximately 150 statues and busts, the 1973 statue of Alexander the Great is probably the most well-known. From there you’ll almost be able to see the White Tower, which replaced an old Byzantine fortification, and now it serves as a museum and monument.
Walk further up along the promenade until you reach the picturesque Aristotelous Square, which is also the main city square, and then turn inwards to explore the innards of the city. Thessaloniki is like an open-air museum and you’ll find Unesco Heritage Sites scattered around — you shouldn’t leave out the Roman Agora and the nearby Arch of Galerius and Roman Rotunda.
Thanks to its rich past and influences from neighboring regions, the city’s gastronomy is a varied mix of cuisines and a true food paradise. You’ll stumble upon street food places offering the flaky pie called bougatsa, a slightly sweet bread ring with sesame seeds called koulouri, or the more widely known gyros. Is there really a better way to get to know a culture than through its food?
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