Europe may be small in size, but it’s no doubt that it’s the most-visited continent in the world. With a total of 44 countries recognized by the U.N., Europe is home to diverse cultures, languages, and people, and it’s no wonder that visitors from all over the world make the trip over at least once in their lifetime. There’s so much that each country has to offer, much different to what us non-Europeans find back at home.
I was 13 years old when I went to Europe for the first time. It was a two-week cruise with my family along the Mediterranean coast. Barcelona was my very-first destination, and I remember having a fun few days in the vibrant, Catalan city before we continued to other cities and countries. Our trip was short, but it served as a great introduction to Europe before we would return a few years later to see more. I would later go back on my own, first to study abroad in Paris and then to work as an English teacher in France for four years. I had the opportunity to travel all over Europe during my time off, visiting 34 of its countries and having plenty of fond memories to look back on.
I’ve been asked a few times about my favorite European countries I’ve visited. That’s a tough question, because I find bits and pieces I like of each place I’ve been to. However, I can generally say that I have my top-five favorites, based on a variety of factors (e.g. atmosphere, food, safety, cost, friendliness, etc.). I would like to share some of my favorites in this post, and to reason why I like these countries so much. *PS I will not include France, just because I lived there for several years, and it would be somewhat biased to put it in this list. I will only discuss countries which I’ve only visited, but never extensively lived in.
Let’s get started!
My Top-Five Favorite Countries in Europe
Romania has become my #1 favorite European country that I’ve visited. In fact, I was surprised that I found myself enjoying it so much. I spent a week traversing cities in Transylvania (Cluj-Napoca, Brasov) before ending in Bucharest. I think what made the trip such a fond one was I had little idea of what to expect, and having the country blow me away in the end.
What made Romania a refreshing visit was learning about its history (a blend of Romantic and communism), along with its awe-inspiring Carpathian Mountains at just about any city I visited– they’re just as gorgeous as the Swiss Alps, if not more! Also discovering the Romanian language was interesting: despite its location among Slavic nations, Romania’s language is Latin-based with the likes of Spanish, French, and Italian. If you know a bit of any Romance language, you’ll actually understand a bit of Romanian!
Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Romania. I found the blend of learning its history and language, charming Old Towns, delicious (and cheap) cuisine, and friendly locals to be incredibly enriching, and it’s a country that I not only encourage people to visit, but also to return to some day for more.
Portugal had originally been a “side trip” from Spain– I had two weeks off from work, and I’d decided to split my vacation between the two countries (with a slight emphasis on Spain). I went to Spain first before flying over to Portugal, where I spent the last few days hopping all over the small country. I began in Lisbon before heading north to Porto.
Seems like an unpopular opinion, but I preferred my time in Lisbon over Porto’s. I think it was because I stayed a bit longer in the former and my time in the latter was rushed, but what made Lisbon memorable was how happy it made me. Long story short, I’d been fighting terrible winter depression, and I happened to arrive in town when weather was sunny. Seeing the sun after months instantly brightened me, and it left me in good spirits to visit the rest of the country. I can say that Portugal, in general, brought my happiness back.
The sunny weather was a big factor in my love for Portugal, but I also had fun exploring the vibrant cities, with colorful and patterned architectures that I hadn’t seen before. I also fell in love with the countless miradouros I saw, and I contribute my love for vantage points to start here. Food was fresh, locals were friendly, and I would love to recapture that week of joy and sun in the future.
I’d gone to other Central European countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia) before I visited Poland. I spent 10 days in the country, going from Warsaw to Gdansk to Krakow, with a few side trips in between. While I had an idea of what to expect to see and do in each city, little did I know that it wouldn’t be anything like I’d experienced compared to its neighboring countries.
Although touristy, Poland felt somewhat less so in comparison to the Czech Republic (Prague) or Hungary (Budapest). However, it had the same, charming flair in its Old Towns, along with its comforting food and affordability. I discovered my love for Polish cuisine, which includes the well-known pierogis and gołąbki (stuffed cabbage rolls), the latter my personal favorite.
I enjoyed my time in Poland, because I got to see and learn a bit of everything about its country. I explored a blend of its tragic, Communist history and the vibrant nightlife it has today. Admittedly, I was one of those tourists who partied hard (Krakow was where I had my first pub crawl), but at the end of the day, I also enjoyed learning about its history and going out of the cities to see its vast landscapes, including the snowy Tatra Mountains. I’m glad that I spent those 10 days only focused on Poland, as it gave me more time to see and know more about it.
4. Bosnia & Herzegovina.
I only had one day in Bosnia & Herzegovina, as I’d booked a day trip from Split on my last full day in town. The tour I went in focused on Mostar, although we also had brief stops at Počitelj and Kravice Waterfall. Despite it being merely one day in the country, I was very impressed with the sights and atmosphere there.
Bosnia & Herzegovina was unique to me namely because of its multi-ethnic background (Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, and Bosniaks– there’s a difference between the last two!) and its tragic past during the Yugoslavia years. What really surprised me were the Islamic influences in the country– Bosnia & Herzegovina has a considerable Muslim population (the Bosniaks) in an otherwise predominantly Orthodox Christian nation. You could say, then, that they are the “white Muslims” of the world.
That’s why it was fascinating to see mosques instead of churches while wandering Mostar’s Old Town; it didn’t feel like I was in Europe anymore. From the ornate bazaars to the numerous minarets displayed all over town, Mostar represents Eastern culture while remaining geographically in the West. Yes, it’s touristy, but I could see why it was a popular destination for travelers: small and compact, incredibly cheap, and beautiful views of the Old Town centered on the Stari Most. My taste of Mostar has since inspired me to see more of Bosnia & Herzegovina, and I’d love to check out Sarajevo next time.
Georgia is a country either you know or don’t know about. Not to be confused with the state of Georgia in the U.S., this small country in the Caucasus Mountains may be unassuming, but it offers a ton of beautiful sights, scenery, and food that I very much enjoyed during my week-long trip there.
I think what made me fall in love with Georgia had to be its food. Not only are the dishes fresh and mouthwatering, but they’re also copious– you’ll never go hungry in the country! From the signature khachapuri to the regional kubdari, Georgian cuisine has just about everything you can imagine in a tasty feast. If anything, my time in Georgia was pretty much a food trip!
At the same time, I got a crash course in its history and culture. Thanks to the local guides, I learned a lot about its rough history under Russian occupation (which unfortunately continues to this day) and its strong desire to preserve the Georgian language. I found the Georgians to be incredibly kind and hospitable, and I got to see the interesting mixture of its infrastructure (dating from its Soviet days) and process of modernizing in the 21st century. As of when I went in 2019, Georgia is still developing and stabilizing itself, and it would be very fascinating to see what it becomes in the next five to 10 years.
That concludes my top-five favorite countries in Europe! I’ve come to realize that the reasons why I like those countries came down to one and/or two reasons: 1) being affordable and 2) being an unexpected surprise. The former is self-explanatory, but the latter is very insightful. I’ve learned that the best trips are the ones you least expect, and going in with little to no expectations will make the experience all the more thrilling. Hard as it may be (especially if you’re a planner like I am), not completely knowing what you’ll see until you get there ends up becoming the fondest memories you’ll have for a long time.
What are your favorite countries in Europe? Let me know!