Travel

The Best of Europe: Top Cities for Food

The Best of Europe: Top Cities for Food
Jennifer Walker
By: Jennifer Walker
Reading time: 14 min

Despite being such a small continent, Europe is a melting pot of cultures each coming with their own culinary traditions and delicacies. While not all European food is created equal, and some is considered better than other, it’s easy to plan the perfect city break in Europe in some of the top cities for food!


Before you book that flight, if you’re a traveling foodie on a mission to find the best of Europe when it comes to cuisine, check out our list on the best cities for foodies!



Naples: Home of Pizza

Cities for food - Naples


When you think of Italian cuisine, chances are pizza comes to mind. So if you want to bite into a slice in the homeland of the margarita pizza, you can’t beat Naples. The traditional Neapolitan pizza should come on a thin, crispy dough that’s also slightly chewy, topped with tomatoes, basil and fresh, buffalo mozzarella, and above all it should be cooked to perfection in a proper pizza oven. You’re spoiled for choice for places to try authentic pizza in Naples.


Pizza dal President draws in the crowds as an institution in pizza making, but L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, which opened in 1870, is dubbed as the Sacred Temple of Pizza. You’ll find pizza making here has been passed down through the generations with a recipe that’s so simple, but yet perfect. Don’t even think about ordering anything other than the traditional Margherita. However, if you want to try the classic Margherita in its birthplace, then head over to Pizzeria Brandi, one of Naples’s oldest pizza joints opened in 1780, which is supposedly the place where this classic pizza was born in 1889.


But there is still plenty to enjoy if you’re in the Naples area. Try some local Limoncello, a lemon infused liqueur from the region which makes the ideal digestif after a plate of Neapolitan pizza cooked to perfection.



Barcelona: Catalan Delights

Cities for food - Barcelona


Barcelona is popular not only for its eccentric Gaudí buildings but also for its food. From fresh ingredients in the Boqueria Market to Ferrán Adria’s molecular gastronomy legacy, Catalunya offers a wide gastronomic range of local delights, from fresh fish, artisanal cheese to charcuterie cuts.


If you’re a foodie, you may want to start with a visit to the city’s markets, and while the Boqueria is one of the most beautiful, you may want to try some of the smaller places, like Mercat Sant Antoni or Mercat la Concepció. Another unique experience that exploded from Catalunya is the molecular gastronomy trend from the Adrià brothers. While the world famous El Bullí closed down a few years back, you can still get a taste for those famous spherified olives at Albert Adrià’s 41° or Tickets, a theatrical tapas experience with a difference by Ferran and Albert Adrià.


But Catalunya’s cuisine is nothing to be sniffed at. Start your meal off with some local vermouth, a herby fortified wine similar to Martini, or Cava, the local sparkling wine, before diving into a cornucopia of cured meats and fried fish. Forget the paella, try fideuà, a dish made with short noodles. 


Being a cosmopolitan seaside city like Barcelona, you can find all kinds of delicious variations of local dishes, from starting the day with pa amb tomaquet, tomatoes and olive oil on toast, to more experimental concoctions, Barcelona is a playground for avid foodies and one of the best European cities for food.



Copenhagen: The Hub of Nordic Cuisine

Cities for food - Copenhagen


In the past, Nordic Cuisine was rarely mentioned in the same sentence as fine dining, but in recent years, thanks to Noma, Copenhagen has become a destination for culinary pilgrims looking for a different way to dine. In Denmark, the focus on local ingredients, where a simple mushroom becomes the star rather than a side dish. In fact, this new Scandinavian style of dining has landed Noma with the title of being the Best Restaurant in the World, beating its more established competitors in France, Spain and Italy.


Copenhagen really stood out on the culinary scene when a decade ago Danish chefs brought out the best in their local ingredients. Everything came locally sourced and freshly foraged, and it shows no sign of subsiding anytime soon. While Noma is moving to a new location in Copenhagen and is closed for a few months, there is no lack of Michelin Star restaurants that follow hot in the footsteps of their pioneer, which have turned Copenhagen into one of the trendiest cities for food at the moment. However, as you may expect, a bit of planning is required if you want to dine Scandinavian style. It’s advisable to book weeks in advance before your visit to Copenhagen's best, so preparation is key if you want to enjoy the best city break in Copenhagen.


If you can’t get to Noma, there are plenty of places to satisfy even the most discerning palate, from Studio and Geranium to Restaurant Krebsegaarden and Amass, you’re spoiled for choice.



Tallinn: The Baltic Wildcard

Cities for food - Tallin


If you can’t make it to Copenhagen or you’re looking for an alternative dining scene that’s friendlier on your wallet, then Tallinn is your city. While visitors come to the Estonian capital for its fairytale turrets and winding cobbled streets that lead up to views of the Baltic Sea, Tallinn has a surprising gastronomic scene. Similar to Denmark, Estonia has embraced its local flora and fauna to create mouthwatering dishes that are fresh and new to the tastebuds. Being so far north and spending half of the year in the dark, Estonia’s cuisine has become innovative over the years, with staples such as black bread, pickled fish and vegetables and various forms of juniper syrups making it into the average household.


But restaurants such as Platz and Leib Resto ja Aed showcase the best Estonia has, with dishes incorporating locally sourced meat and fish, foraged ingredients from Estonia’s forests, juniper accented dishes and local berries such as sea buckthorn, which can be washed down with local Estonian craft beer. Dining in Tallinn is a unique experience and one which can be pleasantly surprising. 



Paris: The Home of Modern Gastronomy

Paris - Cities for food


France is the home of haute cuisine and Paris lies at its epicenter. The French capital comes with a pedigree of the world’s greatest chefs from Alain Ducasse to Alain Passard. Dining in Paris ranges from decadent Michelin starred abodes to picking through the best produce at the city’s colorful street markets. You can eat like a king under chandeliers or while having a picnic in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Paris offers culinary pleasures for all budgets and desired. More than just the home of modern gastronomy and the founding father of haute cuisine, Paris is a cosmopolitan hub and one of the best cities for foodies in Europe.


Whether it’s the patisserie on the street corner or a decadent macaron from Pierre Hermé, you cannot visit Paris without trying some of its world famous pastries. Not to mention checking out some of the best bistros, like Allard, or Michelin-starred restaurants, such as L’Abeille. Paris is all about pleasure and dining with the senses. So get out and explore mouthwatering Paris, by immersing yourself in its dining culture, peruse its market halls and lively street markets and have a picnic on the Seine on your next springtime visit to Paris.



San Sebastian: The City Every Foodie Should Visit

San Sebastian - Cities for food


There is a multitude of reasons why San Sebastian should be on your list for a foodie pilgrimage. This resort town tucked into the Bay of Biscay lies in the heart of Spain’s Basque Country. It has more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world save for Tokyo and also has two restaurants that made it into the list of the World’s top 20 restaurants, Murgaritz and Arzak, and also two more in the World's Top 50 Restaurants in the World. If you want to book, make sure you do it far in advance as they fill up, especially as the Asador Etxebarri and Azurmendi, which are only open during the day for lunch.


But if you can’t get a booking, then you may want to hit the pintxo bars, a traditional form of local tapas where you can sample the best in local and seasonal bites and it won’t break the bank for a couple of euros for each one. And of course, every foodie should pay a visit to the La Brexta market to get a sense for the best Basque ingredients, like local Idiazabal cheeses to other seasonal produce on offer. It’s a culinary experience for the senses!



Lyon: A City for Gourmands 

Lyon - Cities for food


Lyon might not have the glitz and grandeur of Paris, but it’s the place where French cuisine became elevated into the highest form where the culinary arts are concerned and makes it onto all the lists as one of the top cities for food. Lyon has Paul Bocuse to thank, and today it’s still a gastronomic hub catering to all budgets with a strong focus on local produce and traditions. You can enjoy French cuisine the classic way in its more traditional restaurants known as bouchons. The cuisine here is rustic but excellent and should be sampled with a great glass of French wine.


Lyon is the city where the best food-makers and chefs go. It’s the city where Paul Bocuse learned to cook Lyonnaise specialities like pig’s bladder and lies in a melting pot of French cuisine, close to the Alpine foothills and the country’s best wine regions, such as Macon, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Cote Rotie, and more. Food is a priority in Lyon and it shows in the city’s bistros and brasseries.



Bologna: The Fat One

Bologna - Cities for food


When Italians dub you as being one of the best cities for food, then you know you’re on the right track. Nicknamed La Grassa, which means the Fat One, Bologna is home to some of Italy’s most famous dishes. Just like Naples gave the world pizza, Bologna is famous for the spaghetti bolognese. And it’s not just the iconic pasta dish you should try, you’ll also want to try Bologna’s famous meat cuts, like baloney or mortadella. Being sandwiched between the Italian mountains to the north and the more agricultural parts of the south, Bologna gets the best of Italy served at its restaurants, with produce such as parmesan cheese or parma ham, you can be sure to be in for a culinary treat on your next visit to Italy.



Tbilisi: Caucasian Cuisine 

Tbilisi - Cities for food


Fine dining might not be big in the Georgian capital, but nothing beats a Georgian supra, a typical local feast. Try some khachapuri, a kind of hollowed out bread filled with cheese and sometimes topped with an egg and slivers of butter, or khinkali, spicy meat or mushroom filled dumplings where you have to suck the soupy juice out of before eating the dumpling. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! You also can get shashlik, a skewered kebab-style meat that has been marinated before barbequing and often served with a tomato or plum sauce accented with cilantro. Other typical Georgian specials include eggplants rolled up in a walnut paste, lobio, a kidney bean stew accented with spices, plum and cilantro. There is so much to choose from, you could easily spend a city break in Tbilisi just eating, and not to mention drinking.


Georgia is the oldest wine-producing region in the world, and there are plenty of good Georgian wines made from indigenous grapes out on the market that are worth trying. And to wash all that Georgian food down, finish off with a shot of chacha, a dangerous fruit brandy made from grape seeds. Just take care when doing any toasting with local Georgians, as this may pose a danger to your liver, and your dignity.



Amsterdam: New Wave of Dutch Cuisine

Amsterdam - Food cities


More than windmills, canals, tulips, museums, its Red Light District and infamous coffee shops, Amsterdam has become a culinary hub offering foodies a delight of places to try after its dining renaissance in the past decade. Amsterdam boasts excellent chefs like Rogier van Dam and Ron Blaauw who have concocted a new reinterpretation of Dutch cooking, from the fusion of Ron Gastrobar Oriental and Michelin-starred Lastage’s more seasonal and local focus on recipes closer to home. But beyond the glitz and glamor of Amsterdam’s new found bistro culture and Michelin starred restaurants, it also shines when it comes to its street food and canalside dishes. Try some bitterballen, breaded balls of ragout and of course the Dutch-style fries that come with mayonnaise, peanut sauce and raw onions.


And if you love cheese, then wander the labyrinthine streets alongside the canals to one of the cheese markets or even check out the Cheese Museum to learn all about wonderful Dutch cheeses. Amsterdam is full of places for any cheese lover to check out, so you’ll be spoiled for choice.



Sofia: Best of the Balkans 

Sofia - Food cities


While many may not associate Bulgaria for great food, especially if anyone visited a few decades ago, but today Bulgaria has evolved to prize itself on fresh and delicious seasonal food carefully cooked. While you wouldn’t travel to Sofia for haute cuisine, you may want to explore the fresh tastes of Bulgarian salads, made with succulent tomatoes and crunchy cucumbers, often scattered with a tangy local white cheese. Bulgaria is also going through a renaissance of winemaking, so try some of the wines from Thrace. You’ll find a mix of local Bulgarian restaurants with folk art on the wall and special dishes curated from the country’s monasteries mixed up with hipster bistros offering the best in the emerging culinary scene. For a more modest foodie experience that’s less about Michelin stars and more about local produce, try Sofia for a city break!



Brussels: The Home of Waffles, Trappist Beer and Chocolate

Brussels - Food cities


Brussels is a city that poses a nightmare for anyone on a diet. Whether it’s the freshly made waffles, the decadent Belgian cocktails or those world famous beers, Brussels is the place to come to when you want to eat well and not worry about putting on the pounds. Local specials can include moules, mussels and cones of fries topped with mayonnaise you can eat on the go while admiring wonderful art nouveau architecture.


The best thing about Brussels is its mix of elegant French dishes and comforting Flemish food. And if you love to celebrate food, so does Brussels, as you’ll find numerous food festivals and events from those dedicated to beer and seafood to chocolate. Not to mention Bruxellois are passionate about food, so you’ll often find someone to give you tips to the best chocolaterie or has a strong opinion on their beer or their favorite chefs and producers. Just explore Brussels and get to know the city and its people through its food.



Ljubljana: A Melting Pot of Tastes

Ljubljana - food cities


Like Sofia, Ljubljana is another newbie on the culinary scene. A new capital city in a newly formed country, Slovenia might be a small country but has a lot to offer food lovers. With fish dishes from the Adriatic coast to heartier meat dishes towards the Hungarian border, Slovenia offers a wide variety of dishes. Being both Alpine and Mediterranean in parts, you’ll find all kinds of produce from olive oil and wine to pumpkin seed oil to rich meaty soups. Being the capital, everything converges in Ljubljana where you can still taste the Adriatic and dishes more influenced by the former Austro-Hungarian Empire or the neighboring Balkan countries.


Slovenia also offers some great wines made from local grapes, a growing craft beer scene and gelato that could even rival Italy. There are many farm to table restaurants in Ljubljana’s cobbled backstreets around the castle, not to mention a mouthwatering food market besides the river. It’s easy for any foodie to eat his or her way through spectacular local produce.


Jennifer Walker

Created by: Jennifer Walker

Jennifer is a Budapest-based writer with bylines in Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, The Guardian, The Independent, among others. You can read her work and get in touch at jenniferdeborahwalker.com

Read more