Insider Tips for Your Next European Vacation
Do you know the one pub you're better off avoiding in Dublin? What about how to score cheap tickets to see Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” in Milan? Or what about the top boulangerie in Paris for a buttery croissant?
We asked a crew of local experts to provide insider tips on 20 fabulous European cities, and their advice answered these questions and so many more. Read on to learn how to experience Europe like a local.
London is a center of power and an arts and culture hub. It’s where some of the greatest thinkers and creatives throughout the course of history — Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, John Keats — were born, where Shakespeare staged his iconic plays, and where the world’s most important royal family has lived for generations.
It has so much history and so much going on that it can be hard to know where to begin. We’re here to help.
Insider London Tips
Local expert and tour guide Nick Hennegan spills his secrets:
- Check out the Ceremony of the Keys (pictured), a historic military ritual involving the Beefeaters, at the Tower of London. There’s usually a waiting list, and you won’t see the Crown Jewels, but you will be part of a 1,000-year-old ceremony.
- Try the London Literary Pub Crawl in Soho and Fitzrovia. It’s run by a current crop of real London writers, and they will share stories of London’s past that you won’t hear elsewhere.
- Find a Sam Smith’s Pub. Although they don’t serve proprietary brands, they offer a good value for the money.
With an extraordinary 1,803 monuments, 173 museums and 450 parks, it’s hard to imagine running out of options in Paris. Tourists tend to check off the big-ticket items — the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Moulin Rouge — but there’s so much more to see in this city full of romantic intrigue, culinary innovation and artistic repute, if you just know where to look.
Insider Paris Tips
David B. with ToursbyLocals is here to help you enjoy Paris like a Parisian:
- Spend some time exploring the north side of Montmartre, the Rue Custine and the Rue du Poteau. These spots reveal the real Paris! (Plus, they're less crowded than tourist spots like the Champs-Élysées.)
- For the best croissants in the world, look no further than Sain bakery.
- Enjoy a sunny afternoon at Buttes-Chaumont (pictured), a wonderful park east of the city where tourists never venture, but should. Spanning 61 acres, it offers fantastic views from several hills, including of the Montmartre district, and is a favorite among bird-watchers.
In this city that’s been continuously inhabited for 3,000 years, and that was once the hub of the Roman Empire, history reigns. Add in some of Italy’s best cuisine and an embarrassment of artistic riches, and you can see why Rome is among the most popular destinations in Europe.
Insider Rome Tips
Jan Corinne Stackhouse of Private Rome Tour Guide says every stone in Rome has a story to tell, and wants to help you discover them:
- If you are interested in the art and culture of Rome, and you want to avoid long lines, visit the city during the months of mid-November to mid-December and mid-January to two weeks before Easter. The museums are empty at this time, and it is a less stressful experience overall.
- Rome has a lot more than just the Coliseum and Vatican City. Try to visit any of the city’s 400 off-the-beaten-path churches, featuring early medieval mosaics created during the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Standouts include the Basilica of Santo Stefano Rotondo (pictured).
- In Rome, professional tour guides are licensed and must wear their official licenses when working. If you don't plan tours ahead of time, you may be overwhelmed by dozens of illegal tour guides hustling you while you wait in line to enter the key attractions — namely, the Coliseum, the Roman Forum and the Vatican Museums.
Founded by the Vikings in the 9th century, Dublin (back then it was called Dubh Linn) has a history that’s taken some dark turns — it’s been marred by plague, rebellion and war. But over the centuries, it’s also become one of the most culturally rich cities in Europe, featuring spectacular castles and cathedrals, historic finds like the Book of Kells, and vintage pubs that serve Guinness and a good time.
Today, Dublin is all about not only history, but music, great food and the friendliest locals you’ll ever meet.
Insider Dublin Tips
Dave Kavanagh of Rogue Tours is one of those friendly locals. He suggests the following:
- Avoid Temple Bar. This area of the city is very expensive and crowded with tourists. Instead, go to traditional Irish bars such as O'Donoghues on Merrion Row or the Cobblestone in Smithfield.
- Get out of the city and visit Howth, a beautiful fishing village about a half-hour's drive north of Dublin (pictured). While there, go for a hike up to Howth Head and see the lovely Dublin Bay and city of Dublin from a distance.
- Go on a Rural Pub Tour. You get picked up in Dublin and travel through the countryside to visit some of Ireland's rural country pubs. Not a lot of people know about this tour, but it's well worth it.
Amsterdam is a much more dynamic place than its reputation for canals, cannabis and clogs suggests. Home to 180 nationalities, it’s one of the most diverse destinations in Europe. It also touts an emphasis on sustainable living and isn't afraid to embrace its quirky side.
And yes, the canals are gorgeous.
Insider Amsterdam Tips
Born and raised in Amsterdam, local guide Sarah Douglas describes her city as "open-minded with something for everyone to enjoy." Here’s how to get the most out of your trip:
- When walking Amsterdam, watch out for cyclists. As a beginner, avoid cycling in the city's center, as it is very busy.
- Visit the Noordermarkt farmer's market (pictured), open on Mondays and Saturdays, and give herring, a popular Dutch street food, a try.
- Go to NDSM, a former ship dockyard that is now a street art and creative hub. And dine at the former pirate-radio station called REM Eiland.
Every year, millions of tourists hailing from every corner of the world flock to Florence to witness the artistic genius of Michelangelo and other renowned artists, to stroll charmed cobblestone streets, and to taste some of the best gelato in Italy (and that's saying something).
Insider Florence Tips
Agata Chrzanowska of Guide Me Florence says this thriving Renaissance city has more to offer than many tourists know:
- There are many ice-cream places in town, but Gelateria Della Passera and Riva Reno are favorites. Also, be careful to avoid the "mountains" of ice cream seen in some shops, as these are full of additives. Natural ice cream is soft and served from a jar.
Comprised of 118 small islands, UNESCO describes the city of Venice as a "unique artistic achievement." Its medieval piazzas, sparkling canals and iconic gondoliers have enchanted tourists since the 18th century.
Insider Venice Tips
While there are plenty of overcrowded destinations to explore (think St. Mark's Square), native Venetian Davide Calenda knows how to discover another side to Venice:
- Try to interact with local people. If you approach Venetians with curiosity, they'll be happy to help you. Most of the tourists are in Venice for the monumental heritage, forgetting sometimes about the people who live there.
- Save some time to go to Torcello island (pictured). It's the oldest Venetian lagoon settlement, the so-called "Venice before Venice."
- Look for restaurants without pictures of food displayed at the entrance, avoid places with more than two languages on the menu and stay away from waiters inviting you inside. Instead, explore restaurants with non-English menus, where you're more likely to find locals and the food they love.
Not only is Athens home to the iconic Acropolis and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, but it's also where Western Civilization began and Democracy was born. As historic cities go, it simply can’t be beat.
Insider Athens Tips
Local guide Onoufrios Dovletis describes modern-day Athens as a simple and modest city but one that "commands respect at least to those who know." Here’s what he knows from extensive experience:
- Spend at least two whole days in Athens, then take a few days to visit the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, the Ancient Theater in Epidaurus and the Temple of Poseidon in Sounio.
- Enjoy the nightlife in lively neighborhoods like Psirri, Gazi and Pireas. And try the local food and drinks. (Enough with the brownies, espressos, pizzas and burgers, you're in Greece!)
Berlin has been at the center of some of the most pivotal events in history, including World War II and the Cold War. This riveting past — combined with a world-class modern arts and culture scene — make the city irresistible.
Insider Berlin Tips
"Berlin may not be beautiful, but if you love history there is no better place." Here’s how to connect with Berlin’s past and present, according to tour guide and local expert, Simon J. Asquith:
- First things first: Avoid Checkpoint Charlie. There are not many places in the world that quite sum up “tourist trap” like this former Berlin border crossing that today features a small museum and tacky touches like an American soldier impersonator who takes photos with visitors. This attraction is a waste of your hard-earned money.
- If you love modern art and history, one of the city’s hidden gems is the Sammlung Boros Museum (pictured). It displays a modern-art collection in a World War II-era, above-ground air-raid shelter.
- If you wish to visit the German Parliament building, The Reichstag, be sure to book at least two weeks in advance. While you can get last-minute slots on the day of by waiting in line, this is a waste of time. Save yourself the monotony of queuing and book online through the official website instead. Best of all, it’s free!
Lisbon, a charming coastal city dotted with pastel-colored houses and awash in intricately patterned mosaics, is the capital of Portugal, one of the safest countries in the world.
What more could you want out of a European visit?
Insider Lisbon Tips
According to Paulo Henrique C. with ToursbyLocals:
- Although tram 28 is a popular tourist route, it's very crowded. Use tram 25 instead. Better yet, experience Lisbon on foot. Merely walking the cobblestoned streets can be a fascinating experience.
- The cozy local market Campo de Ourique (pictured) is not yet overrun by tourists. It's your best bet for a fantastic lunch or dinner, sans the crowds.
- Overall, Lisbon is safe, but beware of pickpockets.
With a calendar that never rests — events range from the world-famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe to the Jazz and Blues Festival — Edinburgh is the place to go if you’re looking for cultural immersion and excitement. And with its medieval buildings, cobbled streets and riverside setting, it’s a beauty to boot.
Insider Edinburgh Tips
Tour guide Gareth Davies attests that Edinburgh is "a city that really rewards repeat visits." Here’s how to get the most out of the city, whether it’s your first time or you’ve enjoyed many visits before:
- Explore Edinburgh's New Town and get away from the well-worn tracks of the Royal Mile to see a different side of the city. Walk through the picturesque Dean Village (pictured), and find great local cafes, restaurants and shops in areas like Stockbridge.
- Wear the right shoes. Edinburgh is full of steps and hills and cobbles. So while everywhere in the city center is walkable, it can be tough on your feet if you don't dress for the occasion with comfortable flats.
- Climb Calton Hill. The lowest of the three volcanic peaks in the city center is a gentle 10-minute walk from Princes Street and rewards you with amazing panoramic views over the Old Town. The best time to visit is in the early evening as the sun is beginning to set, especially if you're after some Instagram-worthy moments.
Before Milan became the fashion hub of Italy, it was called Mediolanum and served as the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 286 to 305 BC. Today, the sprawling cosmopolitan city is home to chic bistros, coffee houses and one-of-a-kind artisan shops.
Among many European cities that blend modern panache with historic pedigree, Milan is among the best.
Insider Milan Tips
Mirella Maestri and Valeria Andreoli of Bella Milano Tours describe Milan as a city that “is at the same time international and Italian, a unique mix of modernity and tradition.” Here’s how they think you should capitalize on all it has to offer:
- Get the best view of Duomo square and the majestic Gothic Milan Cathedral from the second floor of Museo del Novecento (pictured).
- Score cheap tickets to Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” directly at the ticket office, in Piazza S. Maria Delle Grazie, by arriving before 8 a.m. In the early morning there are always tickets available due to cancellations.
By day, this fascinating multicultural city caters to lovers of art with its world-class museum collection featuring the works of home-grown legends like Picasso, Dalí and Miró. By night, it caters to those seeking sweet escape with its assortment of lively bars and clubs that don’t pick up until the early morning hours. Any time of day, it’s a culinary wonderland. So really, you can’t go wrong.
Insider Madrid Tips
Javier García Colomo of Cool Tour Spain told “Far & Wide,” "It's really easy to meet people from all over the world. There are always things to do related to art and culture." Where to begin? Here’s his advice:
- Explore the underground tunnels of La Tabacalera, a former 19th-century tobacco factory that hosts the best street art and graffiti in Madrid.
- Picnic at Parque de las Siete Tetas, a park of seven hills located in the suburbs. You'll enjoy fantastic panoramic views of Madrid’s downtown districts from here.
- Taste the best wine and Spanish food in the city at Mercado La Cebada, an old-fashioned food market. Pro tip: Ask for Antonio's La Malanga. Keep the secret!
Copenhagen, Denmark's capital, has survived multiple sieges, fires, devastating floods and even the bubonic plague. But today you won't detect a trace of these long-ago horrors. Instead, you'll find a modern, eco-conscious city bursting with color and waterways so clean, you can swim in them.
Insider Copenhagen Tips
Mike Sommerville of Bike Copenhagen with Mike shares what he loves about the charming city he calls home:
- Discover the city from a bicycle. With over 250 miles of bike lanes, Copenhagen is a cycler's dream.
- Learn about Denmark's history by viewing the Queen's tapestries at Christiansborg Castle.
- Indulge in the food scene. Nordic cuisine is fresh and free of chemicals. Have Smørrebrød for lunch, a traditional Scandinavian open-faced sandwich (pictured).
Try to imagine a world without Barcelona. We know, it's painful, especially if you're fond of constant sunshine, bustling beaches, whimsical architecture and fresh, inventive tapas. Luckily, Barcelona isn't going anywhere, which means you still have plenty of time to plan your escape.
Insider Barcelona Tips
Before you visit, Sam Zucker of Zucker and Spice has a few important recommendations:
- In general, don't eat on La Ramblas street, but also avoid any restaurants that have to pay someone to stand outside and convince customers to come inside. Good restaurants don't need promoters. Also, if a restaurant sells paella, sangria and pizza, it's a sign that it's a tourist trap and should be avoided. Lastly, avoid restaurants with photos of the food on display.
- Try to eat at high-quality tapas bars and restaurants like Bar del Pla, Bodega Quimet, Suculent and Mont Bar, to name a few. Most importantly, research before your trip to find restaurants you want to visit and make reservations if possible, or just show up and expect a wait. If Michelin-star restaurants are your thing, know that the best ones in the city have waiting lists that are months long, so book your table ASAP!
- If you want a real relaxing beach day, avoid the city beach. If you have the ability to go north to the Costa Brava (pictured) for a day trip, it's well worth it. Villages like Calella de Palafrugell and beaches like Sa Tuna are some of my favorites, or you could go all the way to Cadaqués, which is a doable day trip if you leave the city early enough.
The city that’s been called the “World’s Biggest Small Town” is at once a modern, bustling metropolis and a laid-back charmer filled with friendly locals. Stroll the streets, admiring glittering streams that ribbon through the city, gabled buildings, famous museums and high-design cafes serving innovative fare.
You’ll feel a sense of escape and right at home at the same time.
Insider Stockholm Tips
When “Far & Wide” asked Petter Sundin of Stockholm Running Tours what sets Stockholm apart from the rest, he told us it’s all about the water: “Everywhere you go, you are always close to water!” There’s plenty more to do too, and that includes eating beer and artichoke ice cream:
- Hammarbybacken is an 80-meter-high ski slope in the south part of Stockholm. The view from the top is amazing, and walking (or running) up it is a great workout.
- Gärdet (pictured) is the closest thing to New York City’s Central Park that you’ll find in Stockholm. It’s basically an enormous lawn surrounded by the city on one side, museums on another and the royal Djurgården (forest area) on the other. It’s perfect for a picnic or just strolling around.
- The Swedish Museum of Natural History, located in the north part of Stockholm, is the best of many great museums. Admission is free, and after your visit, you can walk to the Nordic Fauna ice-cream shop for a taste of artichoke or beer ice cream.
Along the Bosphorus Strait where the continents of Europe and Asia meet, you'll find the ancient city of Istanbul. It's known for its spectacular historic architecture, including the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, and flavorful, distinctive cuisine.
Insider Istanbul Tips
Local guide Ebru Gokteke with Context Travel, who calls Istanbul home, says:
- Taste Istanbul's street food, stuffed mussels, fried mussels and lamb bowls. And don't skip out on the delicious tarator sauces for the fried mussels.
- Get an Istanbulkart discount card to use public transportation and a museum pass to visit the historical sites. Both make seeing the city's top attractions cheaper and easier.
- When you try Turkish coffee (pictured), keep in mind that you can't add sugar once it's served. It's not unfiltered, which means you have to decide if you want it sweet or not before it's prepared.
Dubbed the “City of Music,” Vienna has been home to geniuses including Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and Schubert. It’s the birthplace of the famed Viennese coffee houses, recognized by UNESCO in 2011. And it features so many fairy-tales castles, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped straight into a storybook.
So basically no matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find it in Austria’s vibrant capital.
Insider Vienna Tips
As we learned from local guide Marieta Teich, just when you think you’ve experienced all of Vienna, you quickly realize there’s so much more to explore:
- Hike in Vienna Woods (pictured), easily accessible by public transportation, to catch the best panoramic views of the city and the Danube river.
- To experience local life, explore Yppenmarkt, Baumgartnerhöhe and Meidling, all easy-to-reach neighborhoods via public transport.
- Taste Viennese wine at a Heuriger (typical wine tavern) in the vineyards of Neustift, a few hours outside Vienna.
Prague, Czech Republic
Though it was bombed during World War II, Prague suffered relatively minimal war-time damage. Much of its original Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque style architecture remains intact, making it a true jewel among European cities.
Insider Prague Tips
As Blanka M. Lukes of Prague Private Guides tells visitors, Prague "is like Disneyland, only for real." Start here for a trip to remember:
- Take advantage of the city's excellent public transportation system. It's convenient and super cheap. (A 90-minute ride costs the equivalent of less than $1.50!)
- Don't miss the Municipal House, also called the Obecni Dum (pictured). It’s a beautiful Art Nouveau building with several concert halls, restaurants and a fancy coffee shop.
- For traditional Czech cuisine at a decent price, try Konírna and Plzenska restaurants.
The city of Antalya, also known as the Turkish Riviera, is located along the Gulf of Antalya in southwest Turkey. Every year, its pristine beaches, boats bobbing along the blue sea, and assortment of nearby ruins attract millions of tourists seeking rest, relaxation and ancient history.
Insider Antalya Tips
"Do not stay all the time in the all-inclusive hotels," advises Huseyin Sonmezay of Tour Guide Antalya. Instead, take advantage of all there is to do:
- Antalya is famous for its nearby Roman and pre-Roman ruins. To see the most memorable examples, plan on making time to explore the easily accessible cities of Perge, Side, Sagalassos and Phaselis.
- Must-visit nature sites include the Düden waterfalls (pictured), Karain cave and the Spaghetti cave, or Zeytinta.
- In addition to kebabs, visitors have to try piyaz, a mixed cold salad of boiled beans, olive oil, sesame-seed sauce, boiled egg, tomato, onion, parsley and rock salt.