25 Oldest Cities in Europe
For travelers seeking history, Europe is a must-visit. The continent's culture dates back to at least 20,000 BC, and in the centuries since, it's innovated during the Bronze Age, seen the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, and flourished during the Renaissance and Age of Discovery.
Every city in Europe has fascinating stories to tell and historic artifacts to show off. But which cities are the most history-steeped of all?
Prepare to step back in time as we review what experts agree are the oldest cities in Europe, how they got their start and what they offer now.
25. Palermo, Italy
When the Ancient Phoenicians — who appear on this list again and again — sailed around the Mediterranean Sea to trade and conquer new territories, they created a number of Europe's oldest cities. They set up homes in Palermo on the island of Sicily in 734 BC, but cave drawings indicate there was life here even before their arrival, as early as 8000 BC.
The capital of Sicily — and one of the most conquered cities in the world — is now mostly filled with attractions that date back to medieval times, with Rome's influence more evident than the Phoenicians'. You can visit an 11th-century and 12th-century cathedral, as well as a palace from the 9th century, if you venture to Palermo today.
24. Reggio Calabria, Italy
The Ancient Greeks also spent a lot of time along the coastline of Italy, and one of their stops was Reggio Calabria on the southern end of the Italian peninsula, just opposite of the island of Sicily.
Although there are records of the Greeks here in 720 BC, evidence of residents in the area dates back to 1500 BC. You can find proof of this early life, and learn about the influence of the Greeks, at the city's archaeological museum, Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia.
Reggio Calabria Today
More "current" history is on display in the Aragonese Castle, which was constructed in 5th century BC and remained important during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The castle is a must-see for visitors arriving by cruise ship, along with the waterfront monument dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele III, the King of Italy from 1900 to 1946.
23. Rome, Italy
We bet you already guessed that the ancient city of Rome would be on the list of Europe's oldest cities. Ever since 1000 BC, the historic Roman center of Palatine Hill has been home to residents, and the founding of the city is told through one of the world's most famous myths (that of twins Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf).
Rome's history is on full display almost everywhere you turn; the Roman Forum and Colosseum — two of the city's largest, best-preserved and most historic ruins — are particularly alluring.
22. Messina, Italy
When the Greeks set upon now-mainland Italy to create Reggio Calabria in 8th century BC, they also added a stop just across the Strait of Sicily, naming it Zancle for its crescent shape. Later renamed Messina, it remains the oldest continuously inhabited city on Sicily and one of its largest ports.
The city's Greek history has shaped what it is today; Messina maintains a large population of Greeks who still speak their native tongue. For tourists, this also means it's easy to find fabulous and authentic Greek restaurants.
21. Cagliari, Italy
The oldest of the Italian cities on our list can be found in Sardinia. Established as Krly by the Phoenicians and later known as Caralis (Roman times) and Callaris (Middle Ages), Cagliari goes as far back as 8th century BC. The port city on the Italian island was crucial to its conquerors, and today remains one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean Sea.
Visitors to this colorful waterfront city often arrive by cruise ship and enjoy exploring centuries-old cathedrals and history-rich museums. Make sure to stop by the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which was founded in 1800 and features artifacts dating as far back as the neolithic period.
20. Mdina, Malta
The first city outside of Italy to appear on our list is located just south of Sicily on the island-nation of Malta.
The Phoenicians also had a stamp in Mdina, creating the now-fortified city in 8th century BC. They originally called the city Maleth, and it was later renamed Melite by the Romans, who built its stone walls. It got its current name from the Arabic word "medina," literally meaning "the city."
Fewer than 300 people today reside within this city where Malta's nobility once lived. But history-loving tourists visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site in droves. In addition to an abundance of historic attractions, you'll also find a beautiful blue lagoon here for snorkeling.
19. Malaga, Spain
Malaga was originally founded as Malaka by the Phoenicians, who needed ports and trading areas along the coast of Spain as well.
The city dates back to 8th century BC, and monuments and archaeological remains are at every turn, highlighting the influences of Phoenician — and eventually Roman, Arabic and Christian — conquerors.
As the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, art-lovers are as drawn to this coastal city as history fans are. The Museo Picasso Malaga provides a comprehensive look at the painter's body of work, including his forays into cubism and theatrical design.
Want to head outdoors instead? The city's Costa del Sol beach includes fabulous golf courses and an amusement park.
18. Seville, Spain
What originally began as the Greek portion of the Iberian Peninsula during 1000 BC grew to include the city now known as Seville, which dates back to 800s BC. The Romans eventually established the city as Hispalis, which then was conquered by the Muslims, who renamed it Ishbiliyya in 712.
To this day, you can see the Moorish influence on the city, as well as remnants from its Castilian Spanish past. Considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Seville touts an old-meets-new mix of medieval attractions, mosques and churches, set alongside contemporary architecture and museums.
17. Vani, Georgia
One of the oldest towns in Europe has probably never crossed your radar: Vani, Georgia. This interior city today has fewer than 5,000 residents, but in the 8th to 7th centuries, it was a center of power under the Colchis (another ancient Greek group!).
There isn't a lot to see and do in Vani in modern times, though it does have a nice archaeological museum detailing its history between the 8th and 1st centuries BCE.
16. Mytilene, Greece
Not surprisingly, Greece makes many appearances on this list. First to make the cut is the port city of Mytilene (or Mytilini), which was founded in 11th century BC. It was originally separated from the island of Lesbos by a channel, but Roman conquerors eventually connected the two with bridges.
As with any waterfront town on a Greek island, Mytilene is dotted with waterfront restaurants and sites, including the Castle of Mytilene, constructed in the 6th century. Mingle with locals at Sappho Square, featuring a statue of its namesake, the ancient Greek lyricist Sappho.
15. Mtskheta, Georgia
Nestled along the Black Sea, another of Europe's oldest cities can be found in Eastern Europe's Georgia. The capital of the country's kingdom of Iberia from 3rd century BC to 5th century AD, Mtskheta was the site of Georgia's Christian movement and was declared a "holy city" by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2014.
The city is filled with UNESCO-honored religious monuments and sites, including the 11th-century, Eastern Orthodox Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (pictured here) and the 6th-century mountaintop monastery Jvari.
14. Zadar, Croatia
The oldest continuously inhabited city in Croatia, Zadar is a coastal town founded by an ancient tribe in 1000 BC and settled by the Corinthians in 750 BC. At one point, the city served as Dalmatia's Byzantine capital; later, Venice and Hungary battled over it for centuries, heavily influencing its culture.
Today, the city is a World Heritage Site of UNESCO. In addition to luring visitors to explore its history, the city has benefited from renewed interest in Croatia's seaside towns thanks to the popularity of "Game of Thrones," which was partially filmed in the country.
13. Nicosia, Cyprus
Nicosia, located on the idyllic island of Cyprus, was founded by the Greeks as Ledra in 1050 BC, but there is archaeological evidence of people living there since 2500 BC. As Ledra, the city was ruled by kings before it nearly became a ghost town and was renamed.
The city is now the largest on the island and serves as its capital. While you can (and should) visit historic mosques and museums when you visit, Nicosia is best-known for its shopping. Either way, it shouldn't be missed.
12. Chios, Greece
The island city of Chios is closer to Turkey than it is to mainland Greece, which explains why its past — which dates back to 1100 BC — includes both Greek and Turkish conquests and battles. Locally, the city is referred to as "Chora" (which simply means "town") to distinguish it from the island of the same name that it's situated on.
The city suffered a massive earthquake in 1881 that destroyed many of its older buildings. Fortunately, the medieval Castle of Chios survived. Explore it today when not enjoying the area's beautiful beaches.
11. Patras, Greece
Patras, the third-largest city in Greece, also serves as the regional western capital of the country. Dating back to 1100, it was integral during the Roman era, serving as a Gateway to the West.
Visitors can take part in one of the largest carnivals in Europe by visiting in February for Patras Carnival. Dating back 180 years, the colorful event features locals who dress up in themed disguises, as well as a parade and treasure hunt.
10. Cadiz, Spain
Originally founded during the Phoenician era as Gadir or Agadir, Cadiz traces back to 1104 BC, when it began serving as a port for ships along the southern tip of Spain. Throughout its history, Cadiz has served as an important port, which it still remains today.
Old Town features remnants of a defensive wall at the circa-1600s San Sebastian Castle. Visitors can also see a baroque cathedral and a lookout tower from the 1700s.
9. Lisbon, Portugal
The oldest Western European city is Europe's second-oldest capital city: Lisbon, which dates back to 1200 BC. The current castle ruins of Portugal's capital may only date back to 2nd century BC, but archaeological findings have found Phoenician artifacts that point to the port city as a stopping ground for ships trading with the natives of the Iberian Peninsula.
Today, this city of more than 500,000 people is one of the most popular destinations in the world, luring travelers who want to escape the crowds of more-visited places like Paris and Barcelona.
Attractions that highlight the past include Castelo de S. Jorge, constructed by the Moors in the mid-11th century.
8. Chalcis, Greece
Occupied by residents since 1200 BC and known as Negroponte during the Middle Ages, Chalcis is the main village of the Greek island of Euboea.
The city's Greco-Jewish past makes it one of the oldest continuous Jewish communities in Europe. Also of note from its past: Ships set off from Chalcis during the Trojan War.
Chalcis' beaches are popular for island-hopping tourists, who in between sunbathing can trace some of the city's history at the Archaeological Museum.
7. Trikala, Greece
Originally founded as Trikke, Greece's Trikala was built along the Lithaios River in northern Greece before 1300 BC. Although the city got its start more "recently," a nearby cave found remnants of men dating back to 49,000 BC!
Attractions include a 16th-century Ottoman mosque, a 6th-century Byzantine castle and a less-historic but charmingly quirky Christmas-themed amusement park, the Mill of the Elves.
6. Larnaca, Cyprus
The island of Cyprus, located between Greece and Turkey, was such a central location between the Middle East and Europe that nations have fought over the land for centuries. Even Alexander the Great seized it during the early 300s BC.
Dating back to 1400 BC as a colony of Greece, Citium was a port village on the southern coast of the island. Built over its ruins is the current city of Larnaca, which remains an important commercial port.
Not only does Larnaca feature a palm-lined promenade along Finikoudes Beach, but it borders a gorgeous salt lake. The island's great-in-any-season weather ensures there's no bad time to visit.
5. Thebes, Greece
Greece continues its dominance on the oldest-cities list with the Mycenaean city of Thebes, which dates back to 1600 to 1250 BC.
The ancient remains here are so vast and varied — spanning the Bronze Age, Byzantine and Ottoman eras — that they rival those found in Athens.
Come face to face with history by visiting the exemplary Archaeological Museum or by exploring the ruins of Cadmea, the city's ancient citadel.
4. Chania, Crete
Located on the western side of the island of Crete, Chania was settled in 1700 to 1500 BC as Kydonia, and touts a history that encompasses the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
These days, Chania is divided into its old and new sections. Visitors looking for a taste of the past can see remnants of the old city wall and stroll through historic, winding, alley-like streets near the seaport.
3. Athens, Greece
Considering how often Greece appears on this list, it should come as no surprise that one of the oldest cities in Europe is the country's capital.
Mycenaean Greece's ancient cultural and economic powerhouse has a history that captivates. This past is evident in its excellent collection of ruins, including the Acropolis of Athens, constructed in 4th century BC. (The Acropolis was the heart of Athens and means "the highest point in the city.")
The city is much older than these remains reveal, however, with evidence of man dating back to 11th and 7 millennia BC.
Today, of course, most visit Athens to see the Acropolis Museum and Parthenon. These are well worth seeking out, but also make time to visit the Plaka, which is filled with intimate restaurants and shops near the hillside attractions.
2. Argos, Greece
Greece's oldest city is the Mycenaean city of Argos, which has gone down in history for its battles with its rival Sparta during the Peloponnese Wars. Artifacts found in the area peg the city's beginnings to more than 7,000 years ago.
The main attraction for visitors is the Bourtzi Castle, built during the Renaissance, but there are also remnants of ancient Greek pyramids and modern-day vineyards to explore.
1. Plovdiv, Bulgaria
The oldest city in Europe has been continuously inhabited since around the 6th millennium BC.
Originally a Thracian settlement, the city was conquered in 4th century BC by Philip II of Macedon — the father of Alexander the Great. The city was, for a time, called Philippopolis in his honor.
Located in southern Bulgaria, the city now known as Plovdiv is today the country's second-largest, housing 350,000 residents. Visitors can explore Old Town, as well as an ancient Roman amphitheater and theater.