Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Stella Shon
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Gazing out over the Mediterranean, exploring medieval villages and castles, strolling regal gardens, and practicing your high-school French, German, Italian, or Spanish … these are all things that you probably envision when thinking about your next European vacation.
But perhaps you also see yourself biting into a piping-hot, salty pretzel, savoring a plate full of fresh oysters, seeing firsthand how traditional Italian pizza is made, or sampling Spanish tapas.
Europe has many things, but one of its greatest calls is cuisine. Thanks to its wide variety of cultures and culinary histories among the countries that sit side-by-side, you could spend a trip across the Pond enjoying French croissants, Spanish “pintxos,” and refreshing Italian gelato — theoretically all in the same day!
The continent’s distinct gastronomic scenes aren’t all created equal, and depending on what you like, you may find some to be better than others.
But whether you’re a vegan, a fan of coastal cuisine, want to splurge on opulent dining experiences, are an oenophile, or simply want to load up on all the pasta and pizza you possibly can, there’s a food destination in Europe for you.
Let’s dive into the best food countries, regions, and cities across the European continent!
You can enjoy a food-centric trip to Europe without overspending — but it all depends on where you go. Here are the best spots in Europe if you’re looking to dine on a budget.
Portugal’s second-largest city is often overlooked by travelers heading to Lisbon or the Algarve region. But it shouldn’t be, as Porto’s vibrant food scene is up-and-coming.
The city boasts a number of new restaurants featuring international cuisine alongside family-owned, mom-and-pop restaurants grilling up “Bacalhau à gomes de Sá” (codfish casserole) and “alheira” (spiced sausage). From a quick stop for “francesinha” (a sandwich heaped high with meat drenched in a beer-and-tomato sauce) to plates of freshly-steamed clams, you can easily eat meals here without overspending.
Porto takes the cake for affordable dining, but also affordable drinking, too. Cross the imposing Dom Luís I Bridge to get to the other side of the Douro River and a town called Vila Nova de Gaia. There, you’ll find port wineries lining the river. Tours (which include port wine tastings) at popular wine cellars like Cálem and Taylor’s start at just €7.50 (~$8) per person.
And if you’re really on a budget, head to McDonald’s on Praça da Liberdade in Aliados Square. Yes, you heard that right, go to McDonald’s. This particular location is one of the world’s most beautiful McDonald’s, where you can nosh on affordable chicken nuggets and Big Macs in the presence of crystal chandeliers and stained-glass windows that were once part of the restaurant that occupied the building before the golden arches moved in.
Rome gets all the love when it comes to Italian foodie cities, but anyone hungry for Italian delights on a budget should visit the motherland of affordable food: Naples. Those who love pizza and pasta won’t be disappointed in this Italian hub, which offers an authentic taste of so many different Italian delights.
Let’s start with pizza, which is probably Naples’ most-famous dish. Once you try it, you may realize that what you thought was pizza your whole life, well, doesn’t hold a candle to true “Pizza Napoletana.” The city actually has a sort of “pizza police,” which has a set of rules that must be followed in order for restauranteurs and pizza makers to label their pies as true Neopolitan pizza.
For example, the pizza’s diameter can’t exceed 35 centimeters, and the product requirements are serious — only certified tomatoes, mozzarella, and a special kind of yeast can be used. And when it comes to cooking, the pizza needs to be in the oven for about 90 seconds at 905 degrees. The cost? You might find pizza for under €5 (~$5.50) per pie here in some local joints.
But Naples has so much more to offer than just pizza. Sample the city’s beloved breakfast pastry — a flaky, layered roll of sugary delight called “sfogliatella” and a “Babà Napoletano,” a pastry dessert soaked in rum.
Pair your meals with excellent wines cultivated along the slopes of the nearby Mount Vesuvius, an area called “Lacryma Christi” (Christ’s tears).
For those who want to continue their Italian culinary adventure, Naples is the gateway to the Amalfi Coast, famous for everything citrus, including lemon gelato, lemon-based sauces that top meat and seafood dishes, and of course, the fan-favorite spirit limoncello.
Sometimes, certain cities or regions get all the fame, but visiting a lesser-known region may offer foodies authentic and traditional gastronomic experiences that are less frenzied with tourists and more affordable.
Here are some of the top cities and regions that have incredible food that you may not have considered for your next foodie getaway.Hot Tip:
Madrid is one of Europe’s most underrated foodie spots — a destination where eating is a true art form.
The Spanish capital has a lot of “rules” for dining, like pushing meal times later than most other countries, enjoying “sobremesa” (leisurely chatter after dinner), and drinking certain drinks at very specific moments during a meal.
Beer, wine spritzers (always “tinto de verano,” never sangria), and vermouth are pre-dinner aperitifs or for afternoon meetups; wine is consumed during a meal; and cocktails (always a liquor mixed with tonic or soda; ordering a margarita means you’re a tourist) are usually enjoyed after dinner.
And when it comes to the food, tapas are a wonderful way to get to know Madrid’s foodie culture. Start with a savory squid sandwich at the entrance of Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, then wander down Cava Baja street, tasting Padrón peppers and ham croquets.
Make your way down to “Barrio de La Latina,” visiting food markets and jumping into bars on the way to sample Manchego cheese, Iberian ham, and chorizo. And don’t forget to taste “tortilla,” a melty omelet made with potatoes, eggs, and onions.
Having a glass of wine with friends on a terrace is the best way to kick back and enjoy the city’s 300+ days of sunshine a year. In spite of the city’s seriousness about food rules, most spots make wine in the city easy to understand and distinctly not pretentious, offering diners a choice of wines based on color and region. First, pick “blanco” (white) or “tinto” (red). Then, you’ll be offered a choice of wines from a couple of regions, like Rioja or Ribera (red), Albariño (drier white), or Verdejo (sweeter white).
Piedmont is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets, the capital of “slow food,” and one of the country’s most progressive culinary destinations. Piedmont is one of the country’s northern regions, a destination that frequently wins awards for having the best food, thanks to its famed Barolo wines, chocolate, and intense focus on high-quality food products.
Speaking of wine, Piedmont has more designated wine appellations (protected areas) than any other Italian region, meaning its wines are of the utmost quality.
The region is also known for its white truffles, cuts of tender beef, Castelmagno cheese, and hazelnuts, among many other products. Many of these, especially hazelnuts, boast an official certification, meaning eating hazelnut gelato and hazelnut chocolate anywhere in the region is practically a spiritual experience.
But the area’s claim to fame really lies in its claim of being the birthplace of “slow food.“ Slow food isn’t a specific dish but rather refers more to a focus on preserving the area’s cultural cuisine, with an emphasis on local, traditional methods of food preparation and cooking.
Make sure to visit some of the smaller towns and villages in the region, such as Bra (where slow food got its start), Barolo (for oenophiles), Alba (visit during the yearly White Truffle Fair), Asti (for oenophiles that love bubbly), as well as the region’s capital, Turin, to eat chocolate.
Ready to spend some money? These European destinations have some of the most opulent, original, and memorable food experiences money can buy, perfect for that once-in-lifetime honeymoon or memorable culinary experience.
The French capital is famous for its cuisine, and while you can find affordable bistros and cafés throughout the city, expect to spend some money when eating out in Paris.
But dining in Paris is a unique experience, providing the opportunity to spend endless hours people-watching and nibbling at delicate pastries, to enjoy a meal at any one of nearly 120 Michelin-starred eateries, and need I mention all the different kinds of French cheeses? Even a trip to the supermarket feels like a gourmet culinary experience in Paris.
But those who really want to understand more about French cuisine can do so with a variety of experiences, such as macaron workshops, master classes at French “boulangeries,” cheese and wine tastings, fondue nights, and even doing a foie gras-focused restaurant tour of the city.
For the ultimate splurge, consider dinner at Guy Savoy, one of the most expensive Michelin-starred establishments in the world, where set menus start at €640 (~$690) — without wine. And don’t miss a trip to Maison Ladurée for a box of their famous macarons. A box of 8 will set you back €29 (~$31).
Besides these quintessentially French experiences, Paris is home to the “Petite Asie,” the Asian Quarter. Here, diners with more internationally-inclined palates can enjoy the cuisines of Laos, Vietnam, Mongolia, and more.
And if you’re itching to visit Paris but on a budget, fondue restaurants in the Latin Quarter are often easier on the wallet, and getting falafel in Le Marais is another affordable must.
“Pintxos” are the Basque version of tapas — small plates of food that are “pinched” with a stick. And while you can find them all over the Basque Country, San Sebastian is one of the best places to find them, with a pintxos bar scene that makes it easy to go from spot to spot to taste as many different kinds as possible.
San Sebastian may just be Spain’s top city for food, with more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any other place — several of them have placed in the World’s Best 50 Restaurants list over the years.
Of course, you can try traditional pintxos like “La Gilda,” a pepper, olive, and anchovy skewer, or “txistorra,” a type of Basque sausage. However, fancier spots like the avant-garde Mugaritz, helmed by Chef Andoni Luis Anduriz and ranked 21st on 2022’s World’s Best 50 Best Restaurants list, will challenge everything you thought you knew about food with its mind-blowing offerings such as a sake-soaked edible handkerchief as a dessert.
Many of the other high-end restaurants in the area offer more traditional menus with creative twists, such as Akelarre, where you can taste codfish flowers, Iberian pork belly, and Barberie duck.
The city of Copenhagen deems its food scene one of the most innovative in the world, and we’re inclined to agree, especially thanks to the so-called “New Nordic Wave.” New Nordic cuisine emerged in the early 2000s, a food movement that focuses on incorporating seasonal, natural, and local foods with more traditional, classic dishes for an entirely new take on Nordic cuisine.
Sound familiar? You may have heard of this movement by way of Noma, a 3-Michelin-starred restaurant incorporating this philosophy. It serves up delights like reindeer, grilled lotus root, swordfish belly, and fresh yuba.
However, innovative cuisine such as this comes at a price, so be ready to fork over more than $800 for dinner with wine pairings. Noma’s Copenhagen location is only open through the end of 2024; then it’ll turn into a food lab, opening pop-up locations and doing events around the world — meaning you may be able to experience New Nordic cuisine a bit closer to home in the future.
Although Copenhagen’s food scene isn’t necessarily for the budget-minded, you don’t have to spend $800 to get a tasty meal. The city, a historic fishing destination, is also popular for its seafood. Taste herring, fried with butter or in curry, or “fiskefrikadeller,” fish cakes made with cod, dill, parsley, and lemon. You’ll also want to try an open-faced sandwich, a “smørrebrød,” topped with fresh salmon as well as a famous Danish hot dog from any one of the city’s numerous stands.
Just because you might spend a bit more on dining in Copenhagen doesn’t mean it’s all high-brow. The city’s craft beer scene is thriving, and you may recognize beers like Carlsberg and Mikkeller from seeing them around Europe and the U.S. Consider visiting some of the Danish capital’s top breweries like Slowburn, Flying Couch, and Bicycle Brewing to taste hoppy IPAs, stouts, and fruit-infused beers.
While you shouldn’t expect the street food scene in Europe to feel like that in Bangkok or Hanoi, some destinations are better than others when it comes to picking up food on the go.
Looking for a city where you can grab something quick and get back to touring? Budapest is the place to do it. The city has a seasonal food-stall area called “Karavan,” where you can find a trendy collection of food trucks as well as a beer garden space for diners to hang out, drink, and eat.
Beyond this, the Hungarian capital has a number of spots around the city where you can get “goulash,” “kolbasz” (sausage), Hungarian cheese curd noodles, “uborkasaláta” (cucumber salad), and potato pancakes on the go, among many other regional delights.
Much of the city’s street food can be found in the Terézváros neighborhood, otherwise known as District 6, which is home to food stalls, tiny restaurants, cafés, and bars. While some areas of the district have a grittier feel, it also features some beautiful architecture, art galleries, and museums worth visiting.
And if you need a taste of home, you can always pick up a bagel or slice of pizza to-go. Finally, don’t miss the chance to experience one of Budapest’s famous “ruin bars,” affordable watering holes located in formerly abandoned buildings.
Although Istanbul’s status as a European city is debated, know that the city spans 2 continents: Europe and Asia. The city’s European and Asian sides are separated by the Bosphorus Strait.
It’s the ideal destination for travelers wanting to experience something a little different, as flavors, textures, and traditional dishes have their roots in Ottoman, Asian, European, and Balkan cultures.
The city is rife with affordable and delicious street food and drink. Start with a glass of freshly-squeezed pomegranate or orange juice, then follow it up with roasted chestnuts or corn as a snack.
When it’s time to really dig into street food, you’ll want to head to Istiklal Street, one of the best and busiest spots for eating. For breakfast, sample “simit,” a traditional-style bread roll, or “borek,” a savory Turkish pastry stuffed with cheese or meat.
For lunch or dinner, sample “lahmacun,” a Turkish pizza. It’s usually cheese-free, featuring a crispy base topped with meat and veggies. And, of course, one of the most famous Turkish dishes is “döner kebab,” a pita wrap with roasted lamb, beef, or chicken sliced from a rotating spit. Finish off the meal with “halka tatlisi,” essentially the Turkish version of a churro.
Don’t leave Istanbul without trying numerous cups of strong and aromatic Turkish coffee, made from finely ground beans without filtering. It may also be brewed in a “cezve,” a traditional copper pot.
Feeling adventurous? Head toward the ferry stations, which is where the locals tend to pick up street food before hopping on the ferry to cross the strait.
If your dream European vacation includes indulging in delicious food while enjoying sea views, warm sunshine, and coastal beauty, there are plenty of European foodie and beach hotspots for you. Here are some of the best destinations in Europe to enjoy food, sand, and sunshine.
Your toughest decision when visiting Greece will be exactly where to go, as the country features more than 200 inhabited islands and some of the best local fare in all of Europe — think feta cheese, olives, honey, spices, and fresh seafood.
Studies have shown that Greeks live a whopping 8 to 10 years longer than Americans. It’s plausible to think that much of this is due to the country’s cuisine, which places an emphasis on sustainable and seasonal food production, traditional cooking and cultivation methods, and the Mediterranean diet. In 2021, Lonely Planet named Greece the most sustainable food destination in the world, and the islands are some of the best places to discover local Greek dishes.
When it comes to the islands, Crete is Greece’s largest, ideal for leisurely seaside lunches and cheese tastings. One of the most popular places to dine overlooking the sea is in Chania, a charming town home to cafes, fancy restaurants, and local Greek taverns. Or, head to Corfu, where you can taste “sofrito,” fried veal with lots of garlic and olive oil. For those on a romantic honeymoon to Santorini, make sure to taste the island’s famous tomatoes, “fava” (a yellow split-pea puree), and wine made from Assyrtiko grapes, which are local to the island.
And if you want to live as long as the Greeks, head to Ikaria (home to residents that live 10 years longer than Americans, on average) to taste Ikarian honey, known for its anti-inflammatory properties.Hot Tip:
Learn about all the best ways to get to Greece with points and miles.
Malta boasts over 3,000 hours of sunshine each year, and you can enjoy the island’s beaches, hiking trails, and the historic capital city of Valletta year-round. The island’s gastronomic offerings are a direct reflection of its location, sandwiched between Sicily and North Africa. Over the years, Malta’s cuisine has seen influences from both the Mediterranean and the Arab world, now offering signature dishes that meld food traditions from its neighbors.
The island’s dry, sunshine-heavy climate means it has products like blood oranges, wild honey, tomatoes, and olive oil, which are often infused into its most popular foods.
Start with the national dish, “pastizz,” a tasty pastry stuffed with ricotta cheese and curried peas. “Bigalla” is also a popular plate, a bean dish made with olive oil, herbs, and spices. Fans of the Sicilian cannoli should try the “kannoli tal-irkotta,” a Maltese version of the tasty dessert. Locals also love fresh bread and often pair it with olive oil, just as the Italians do.
Visitors to Malta shouldn’t forget about the smaller, nearby island of Gozo, the perfect place to lounge on the beach and eat sustainable, seasonal Gozitan cuisine, including local cheese; “ftira,” which is similar to pizza and made with unleavened bread; and fresh fish topped with capers.
Many places in Europe base their cuisine heavily on pork or meat products. But as time goes on, it’s getting easier to find plant-based food options around the continent, even in locales that traditionally eat a lot of meat or pork. Here’s the best food city in Europe for vegans and vegetarians.Hot Tip:
If you’re a vegan traveler, you may want to consider flying Emirates. The airline has recently added some vegan options to its in-flight food offerings.
Berlin is a large, modern city with many options for vegans and vegetarians. The Happy Cow website and app show that Berlin has more than 1,100 eateries that cater to vegans and vegetarians, compared to just 222 in Dublin, 544 in Amsterdam, and 528 in Barcelona.
Known as the vegan capital of Europe, travelers can stay in vegan hotels, drink at vegan bars, eat at vegan restaurants, and shop for goods and groceries at vegan stores. Every June, Berlin hosts the Vegan Summer Festival, where you can shop, dine, and enjoy entertainment, including workshops, cooking classes, music, and more.
Some of this city’s plant-based culture can be traced back throughout history. The Chernobyl disaster in the 1980s opened up many discussions about radiation in produce and dairy, which led shoppers to be more conscious about what they were putting in their bodies and search for more organic options.
This made people think more about diet in general, which resulted in the elimination of certain food and food groups from their diets.
Food sustainability is also popular in Berlin, as many locals and visitors also seek out zero-waste restaurants and seasonal food options as part of a larger trend of living in a more sustainable way. Berlin also offers plenty of gluten-free and halal food as well.
Whether you’re a vegan traveler, want to dine well and lounge on the beach, or are simply looking for an affordable way to indulge in Europe’s foodie culture, there’s a European destination for you. From Madrid’s affordable tapas to splurging on fancy French cuisine and eating street food in Budapest, planning a vacation around food, especially in Europe, is an easy and delicious way to immerse yourself in local culture and have fun at the same time.
Although this answer is debatable, many consider the food capital of Europe to be Paris. With delicious food, historical food traditions, many local products, and endless options for wine, people can usually find whatever type of restaurant or food they’re looking for in Paris. It’s especially good for fine dining or anyone looking to splurge on meals.
Budapest, Hungary has some of the continent’s best street food, with a special area dedicated to street food called Karavan, as well as other districts around the city which offer quick bites, Hungarian dishes, and international specialties. There’s plenty to choose from in Budapest when it comes to street food.
The Mediterranean countries, such as Spain, Italy, France, and Greece, are known for having some of the best food in Europe. From fresh seafood to locally grown products like olives and honey, as well as wine and cheese, the Mediterranean has not just the tastiest food in Europe, but some of the healthiest, as locals tend to live longer in these countries.
The most popular food in Europe is pizza. If you want to try the best pizza in the world, go straight to the source: Naples, Italy. However, pizza is also delicious throughout many different areas in Italy and around Europe, too.
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