Where to Stay in Europe for First Timers in 2024

blue domed whitewashed churches sit on a rugged coastline over the caldera of Santorini where to stay in Europe for first timers looking for beaches
Santorini, Greece

It’s normal to be overwhelmed with planning where to stay in Europe for the first time. No worries! I’ve got you covered. 

I’ve visited Europe on several occasions starting in 2012 and now call Portugal my part time home, so I have a ton of insider knowledge and expertise to share with you.

Whether you’re drawn to the cobblestone charm of ancient capitals, the serene beauty of coastal retreats, or the vibrant streets of modern metropolises, Europe has something to enchant every traveller. 

This guide is your roadmap to some of the continent’s most iconic destinations, tailored for those looking to dive into the heart of Europe for the first time. From Lisbon’s sun-drenched avenues and the historic lanes of Prague to the serene islands of Greece, I’ll walk you through where to stay, what to do, and how to make the most of your first European trip. 

Now, let’s explore the best places to visit in Europe for first time visitors. 

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Best Places to Visit in Europe for First Time Visitors

a large white stone arch stands between yellow buildings in Lisbon Portugal the best place to stay in Europe for budget travellers
Rua Augusta Arch in downtown Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon greets first-time visitors with its radiant light, terracotta roofs, and a laid-back vibe that’s infectious. 

Stroll through the historic Alfama district, one of the best places to stay in Lisbon, where Fado music spills from quaint taverns, and the scent of grilled sardines fills the air. Don’t miss the chance to ride Tram 28 for a rolling tour of the city’s most picturesque streets. For a taste of modern Lisbon, head to the LX Factory, brimming with art, boutique shops, and eateries.

Make your way to Belém to try the famous pastéis de nata at Pastéis de Belém, and while there, explore the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower. To truly feel like a local, end your day watching the sunset from a miradouro (viewpoint) with a glass of vinho verde in hand. Trust me, the views over the Tagus River will make your heart skip a beat. 

Lisbon’s warmth isn’t just in its weather but in its welcoming people and vibrant streets. This city is where to stay in Portugal for people who like a mix of old-world and modern cultures.

What’s also great about Lisbon’s central location, is day trips to destinations like the sun-drenched towns of the Algarve Coast, the surf-haven of Portugal’s Silver Coast and the historic alleyways of Porto’s best neighbourhoods in the north are all possible within a day’s time.

historic grey stone buildings with red roofs sit above an expansive river on a clear blue day in Prague where to stay in Europe for first time visitors and couples
Prague Castle sits above the Vltava River

Prague is a fairy tale come alive, with its stunning Gothic architecture, the majestic Prague Castle, and the historic Charles Bridge. First-time visitors often find themselves mesmerized by the city’s ability to blend its rich history with a lively contemporary culture. 

Spend your mornings wandering the Old Town Square, just steps from your Prague boutique hotel, watching the Astronomical Clock strike the hour, followed by an afternoon exploring the Lesser Town, filled with hidden gardens and charming cafés.

For a unique experience, visit the Lennon Wall and leave your mark on this ever-evolving monument to peace and love. If you’re a beer enthusiast, Prague is your paradise; Czech beer is not only delicious but also surprisingly affordable. 

overlooking red tile roofed buildings with green hill and blue sky in the distance in Prague one of the most romantic places to stay in Europe first time
Overlooking Malá Strana neighbourhood in Prague

Evening river cruises offer a magical perspective of the city’s illuminated skyline – a must-do for an unforgettable first impression. Prague’s enchantment lies in its ability to transport you through time, making every moment feel like a piece of history.

For where to stay in Prague for first time visitors, I’d recommend basing yourself in Old Town for best proximity to the city’s top attractions.

a three story classical palace building stands behind a manicured garden with low lying flowers in Vienna Austria one of the best places to visit in Europe for First time visitors looking for history
Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria

Vienna, a city where imperial history meets cutting-edge culture, is a must-visit for first-timers in Europe. Wander through the opulent halls of Schönbrunn Palace, and let the majestic architecture of the Hofburg take you back in time. 

Art lovers will thrive here, with the Belvedere and the MuseumsQuartier offering everything from classical masterpieces to contemporary works.

Indulge in Vienna’s famous coffee house culture by spending a leisurely afternoon in Café Central, where the likes of Trotsky and Freud once debated, perfectly located in one of Vienna’s best neighbourhoods for first time visitors – The Innere Stadt. 

For music enthusiasts, catching a performance at the State Opera House is a quintessential Vienna experience. 

Don’t leave without trying a slice of Sachertorte, the city’s beloved chocolate cake. Vienna’s blend of historical grandeur and vibrant cultural scene makes it a perfect starting point for anyone looking to immerse themselves in European elegance and sophistication.

If you are trying to decide on the best designer hotel in Vienna to base your stay, I loved my week spent at The Guesthouse Vienna.

a domed church with two towers lies behind a building lined street on a blue sky day in Budapest where to stay in Europe for first time visitors on a budget
St. Stephen’s Basilica in the Pest neighbourhood of Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, with its stunning Danube River panorama, is chockful of activities for first-time visitors to Europe. The city is divided into Buda and Pest by the river, each side boasting its own unique charm. I recommend staying in the more vibrant Pest neighbourhood in Budapest for your first time visit due to its central location.

Explore the historic Castle District in Buda for breathtaking views from Fisherman’s Bastion and the grandeur of the Buda Castle. Over in Pest, the vibrant energy of the city unfolds with bustling markets, stunning Art Nouveau architecture, and the iconic Parliament building.

Dive into Budapest’s famous thermal baths for a relaxing soak; Széchenyi and Gellért Baths are both exquisite choices. For a taste of local life, visit the Great Market Hall where you can sample traditional Hungarian dishes like goulash and lángos. 

Evening brings the city to life in a different light, with riverside walks and ruin bars in the Jewish Quarter offering a unique nightlife experience. I stay in a trendy hotel in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter on every occasion in this vibrant European capital. 

overlooking the district of Galata with the Galata tower piercing the skyline over the ocean with a ferry at dusk in Istanbul Turkey
Galata neighbourhood with Galata Tower in Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is where East meets West, a city straddling two continents and layered with millennia of history. For first-timers, the sensory overload is part of the charm—from the fragrant spices of the Grand Bazaar to the majestic domes and minarets of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. 

The Bosphorus Strait offers a natural divide between Europe and Asia, with ferries providing scenic tours.

For your first visit, stay in the best neighbourhood in Istanbul for tourists – Sultanahmet. Home to the city’s most famous attractions.

Don’t miss the chance to experience a traditional Turkish bath at one of the city’s historic hammam or simply stay in one of Istanbul’s best spa hotels; a perfect way to immerse yourself in the local culture. 

For foodies, sampling a simit (a Turkish bagel) by the waterfront or indulging in a full Turkish breakfast is a must. One of my best memories from my journey’s through Turkey was the traditional breakfast served at Hotel Miniature, a boutique hotel in Istanbul near the Grand Bazaar.

Istanbul’s rich tapestry of history is evident in its architecture, cuisine, and daily life, making it an exhilarating introduction to both Europe and Asia for first-time visitors.

white washed Greek buildings adorn a dark rugged coastline over a blue sea on a clear day in Santorini Cycladic Islands in Greece best place to stay for beaches in Europe
Oia, Santorini in the Cycladic Islands, Greece

The Cycladic Islands are a dreamy destination for first-time visitors to Europe that makes a 10 day trip to Greece incredibly memorable. These islands offer postcard-perfect vistas of white-washed buildings against the deep blue Aegean Sea.

Islands like Santorini and Mykonos are famous for their sunsets, beaches, and vibrant nightlife.

In Santorini, hike from Fira to Oia along the caldera to witness one of the world’s most spectacular sunsets or simply stay at one of the best hotels in Santorini with views over the caldera

Mykonos is your go-to for beach parties and high-end shopping.

For a taste of authentic Cycladic life, explore the lesser-known islands like Naxos, Paros and Milos for untouched villages, expansive beaches, and authentic Greek island culture. 

Don’t forget to indulge in the local cuisine; fresh seafood and Greek salads are a must, accompanied by a glass of ouzo or local wine. 

The Cycladic Islands are not just a destination; they’re a celebration of life, culture, and natural beauty, promising an unforgettable first trip to Europe.

a white boat floats in a wide canal with historic buildings on the left and a domed church in the distance in Venice Italy Europe first time
The Grand Canal in Venice, Italy

Venice is a marvel of engineering and art, a city that seems to float on water, offering a truly unique experience for first-time visitors to Europe. 

Glide through its canals on a gondola (or simply stay at a hotel in Venice with canal view), wander aimlessly through its labyrinth of narrow alleys (calli), and find yourself stepping into picturesque squares (campi) that feel like open-air living rooms. 

The grandeur of Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace speaks volumes of Venice’s rich history as a powerful maritime republic.

If you have more than 2 days in Venice, and for a quieter experience, venture to the lesser-known islands like Burano, known for its lace-making and brightly coloured houses, or Murano, famous for its glass-blowing tradition. 

Early morning or late evening are the best times to experience the magic of Venice’s canals and architecture without the crowds. Don’t miss the chance to taste authentic Venetian cicchetti (small snacks) in a traditional bacaro. 

I recommend booking yourself a cozy traditional boutique hotel in Venice’s San Marco to be within walking distance of all the historical island’s main attractions.

Venice’s enchanting atmosphere, historical depth, and artistic legacy make it a captivating introduction to the wonders of Europe.

Panoramic of historic Rome's skyline at dusk with greenery in the foreground
The Eternal City of Rome, Italy

Rome is a living museum, a feast for the senses, where ancient history and modern life collide in the heart of Italy. 

I recommend first time visitors spend at least 4 days in Rome to really get a grasp of this capital’s expansive, rich and deep history. 

First-time visitors are often awe-struck by the sheer scale and beauty of the Colosseum, the mysteries of the Roman Forum, and the splendour of the Vatican City. Walking the streets of Rome, you’ll stumble upon history at every turn, from majestic fountains to intimate piazzas filled with the aroma of Italian cuisine.

intricate white marble statues over a fountain in historic Rome where to stay for the first time in Europe
Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy

Make sure to toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, ensuring your return to Rome. Skip the line at the Vatican Museums by booking a tour in advance, and don’t miss the chance to marvel at the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. 

When it comes to dining, venture beyond the tourist spots to find authentic Roman trattorias where you can savour classics like carbonara or cacio e pepe. Rome’s blend of ancient history, vibrant street life, and culinary delights makes it an essential stop for anyone discovering Europe for the first time.

Overlooking the marina and old town of Dubrovnik with grey stone and red roofed buildings on a bright blue sea
Old Town Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” offers first-time visitors to Europe a stunning blend of medieval architecture and crystal-clear sea. Enclosed by imposing stone walls, the Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site that feels like stepping back in time.

Wander the Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main thoroughfare, and explore the city’s ancient churches, baroque buildings, and the Sponza Palace.

three story stone building with arched portico at the base in Dubrovnik Croatia Europe first time visit
Sponza Palace in Old Town Dubrovnik

Take the cable car up to Mount Srđ for breathtaking views of the city and the Adriatic Sea. For a unique experience, walk the city walls in the late afternoon to enjoy the sunset casting golden hues over the rooftops. 

Fans of “Game of Thrones” will enjoy visiting famous filming locations throughout the city. Despite its popularity, Dubrovnik retains its charm, offering secluded beaches, cozy restaurants, and a warm welcome to travellers seeking the beauty and history of the Croatian coast.

Birds eye view of a multi spired church and square blocks of Barcelona best place to stay in Europe for nightlife
Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain by Logan Armstrong

Barcelona showcases a vibrant array of art, architecture, and the Mediterranean lifestyle, making it a captivating destination for first-time visitors to Europe. The city is famed for the whimsical creations of Antoni Gaudí, most notably the Sagrada Família and Park Güell, which offer a glimpse into his genius. 

The Gothic Quarter beckons with its narrow medieval streets, bustling with cafes and bars that spill onto the cobblestones.

two organically shaped brown buildings stand out in a park on a sunny day in Barcelona, Spain, Europe first time trip
Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain by Daniel Corneschi

Don’t miss the chance to experience the magic of a Barcelona evening by exploring the myriad of tapas bars in the El Born district. For an authentic local experience, catch a live flamenco performance in the Poble Espanyol. 

A stroll along the Barceloneta beach at sunset offers a perfect end to a day of exploration. Barcelona’s blend of artistic heritage, innovative gastronomy, and laid-back coastal vibe makes it an essential European experience, embodying the spirit of both tradition and modernity.

brown, red and orange coloured rowhouses line a canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands Europe first trip
Amsterdam, Netherlands by Javier M.

Amsterdam is a city of charming contradictions, celebrated for its historical canals, vibrant cultural scene, and progressive spirit. First-time visitors are enchanted by the picturesque canal houses, the world-class museums like the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House, and the city’s commitment to cycling as a way of life.

Rent a bike to truly experience Amsterdam like a local, navigating through the city’s extensive network of bike paths. For a different perspective, take a canal cruise to see the city from its iconic waterways. 

The Canals of Amsterdam by Adrien Olichon

Don’t forget to explore the bustling Albert Cuyp Market, where you can sample Dutch delicacies such as stroopwafels and herring. 

One of my favourite pastimes in Amsterdam is simply grabbing a canal-side table at a trendy little coffee shop  (this city has such good coffee!) and people-watching as the sun moves over the charming streets.

a intricate steel structure protrudes from a building lined street in Paris on a partly cloudy day which is one of the best places to visit Europe first time
Eiffel Tower, Paris, France by Juan Ordonez

Paris, the City of Light, captivates first-time visitors with its unparalleled blend of art, history, and gastronomy. From the iconic Eiffel Tower to the majestic Notre-Dame Cathedral and the scenic Seine River, Paris is a city that lives up to its romantic reputation. 

Strolling through the Louvre, you’ll encounter centuries of artistic achievement, while a walk along the Champs-Élysées offers a taste of Parisian chic.

Venture beyond the tourist trails to discover the charm of Paris’s neighbourhoods, like the artistic Montmartre or the trendy Le Marais (this is where I stay every time I visit). Indulge in a pastry from a local boulangerie, and enjoy a leisurely picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens. 

Paris Streets by Clément Dellandrea

If you have more than 3 days in Paris, I’d recommend a day trip out to the Versailles Palace to be enchanted by its glamorous halls and picturesque garden.s

And for a truly local experience, explore the city’s vibrant markets, such as the Marché des Enfants Rouges. Paris’s rich cultural tapestry, from its historic landmarks to its cozy cafes, ensures a magical first visit that promises to leave you yearning for more.

Overlooking the River Thames in London with two towered bridge where to stay in Europe for first time travellers looking for english speaking country
London, England

London is a dynamic metropolis that offers first-time visitors a seamless blend of historic significance and contemporary vibrance. It’s a great option for first timers to Europe who don’t want to deal with any type of language barrier.

Home to iconic landmarks like the Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and the British Museum, London’s rich heritage is palpable at every turn. Yet, it’s the city’s modern energy, from the bustling markets of Camden to the artistic streets of Shoreditch, that truly defines its character.

Don’t miss the chance to see London from above on the London Eye, offering breathtaking views of the city’s skyline. For theatre lovers, catching a show in the West End is a must. 

Explore the culinary diversity at Borough Market, where you can taste foods from around the globe. London’s efficient public transport system makes it easy to navigate, ensuring you can soak up as much of this vast city’s culture, history, and innovation as possible during your visit.

red painted storefront with a sign that read The Temple Bar with greenery and brown brick siding in Dublin, Ireland
The Temple Bar in downtown Dublin, Ireland by Leonhard Niederwimmer

Dublin, with its storied history, vibrant literary scene, and warm hospitality, offers a welcoming introduction to Europe for first-time visitors. Walking the streets of Dublin is like leafing through the pages of a richly detailed novel, with landmarks like Trinity College, the Book of Kells, and the Guinness Storehouse telling tales of the city’s past and present.

Make time to explore the historic Temple Bar area, not just for its lively pubs and nightlife but also for its art galleries and vintage shops. 

A visit to a traditional Irish pub for a pint of Guinness (yes, it tastes much better in Ireland!) and live folk music is essential for experiencing Dublin’s soul. For those interested in literature, the Dublin Writers Museum celebrates the city’s legendary authors. 

The Library at Trinity College in Dublin by Dave Herring

Dublin’s charm lies in its ability to blend its historical roots with youthful energy, making every visitor feel like they’ve found a home away from home.

If you want to explore more of this country, I recommend grabbing a car rental and spending 7-10 days doing a lap of the island with stops in places like Galway (my favourite!), the Dingle Peninsula, The Kylemore Abbey and Belfast (in Northern Ireland).

Berlin, Germany by Florian Wehde

Berlin stands as a city of contrasts, where historical gravitas meets an unbridled creative spirit. First-time visitors to Europe will find Berlin’s story in the remnants of the Berlin Wall, the grandeur of the Brandenburg Gate, and the solemnity of the Holocaust Memorial. 

Yet, it’s Berlin’s dynamic art scene, vibrant nightlife, and diverse culinary landscape that illustrate the city’s resilience and contemporary culture.

Dive into Berlin’s rich history with a visit to the East Side Gallery, where art transforms the remnants of the Berlin Wall into a message of hope and freedom. 

Brandenberg Gate in Berlin by Reiseuhu

Don’t miss exploring the city’s diverse neighbourhoods, like Kreuzberg for its street art and Prenzlauer Berg for its cafes and boutiques. Berlin is also renowned for its techno clubs, offering an unparalleled nightlife experience. Whether you’re drawn to its historical depth or its modern pulse, Berlin offers a profound and unforgettable journey into the heart of Europe.

Where to Stay in Europe for First Time FAQ

What are the best budget-friendly cities to stay in Europe for first-time visitors?

Lisbon, Portugal, offers an affordable yet rich experience with its blend of cultural heritage, vibrant streets, and stunning views. Enjoy delicious seafood, explore historic neighbourhoods like Alfama, and soak up the sun at nearby beaches without breaking the bank.

Where should first-time visitors stay in Europe during the summer?

For a quintessential summer experience, the Cycladic Islands, Greece, are unbeatable. Islands like Santorini and Mykonos offer stunning sunsets, beautiful beaches, and vibrant nightlife, while their unique architecture and panoramic views provide a perfect backdrop for a memorable summer vacation.

What are the safest areas to stay in for solo travellers visiting Europe for the first time?

For solo travellers seeking safety and a welcoming atmosphere, Vienna, Austria, is an excellent choice. Its well-organized public transport, clean and safe streets, and friendly locals make navigating the city a breeze. Plus, Vienna’s rich culture and history provide plenty to explore during your solo adventure.

Are there any hidden gem locations in Europe that are ideal for first-time visitors?

Dubrovnik, Croatia, is a hidden gem for first-time visitors, offering a unique blend of medieval architecture, stunning Adriatic Sea views, and tranquil beaches. Its compact size allows for easy exploration, and the city’s rich history is displayed in its well-preserved walls and ancient buildings.

What is the best time of year to visit Europe, considering the weather and accommodation prices?

For those planning a European trip, spring (April to June) and fall (September to October) offer the best of both worlds: mild weather and fewer tourists. Destinations like Rome, Italy, shine during these months, allowing for a more relaxed exploration of its ancient wonders and vibrant street life.

Where are the best places to stay in Europe for couples looking for a romantic getaway?

Prague, Czech Republic, with its fairy tale architecture and atmospheric cobblestone streets, is ideal for couples seeking romance. The city’s historic bridges, quiet gardens, and cozy cafes offer perfect settings for intimate moments, while the Vltava River provides a picturesque backdrop for a romantic evening walk.

What are the most family-friendly destinations in Europe for first-time visitors?

For families visiting Europe for the first time, Amsterdam, Netherlands, offers a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere with plenty of kid-friendly activities. The city’s numerous parks, interactive museums like the NEMO Science Museum, and the ease of getting around by bike make it a stress-free and enjoyable destination for all ages.

Where should I stay in Europe if I’m looking for the best beaches?

The Greek Islands, particularly those in the Cyclades, are perfect for travellers seeking stunning beaches. Islands like Milos, Naxos and Paros offer beautiful sandy shores and crystal-clear waters but also provide a glimpse into Greek culture and hospitality, making for an unforgettable beach vacation.

Which European cities are best for experiencing vibrant nightlife for first-time visitors?

Barcelona, Spain, is a vibrant city known for its dynamic nightlife. From the lively bars and clubs in the Gothic Quarter to the beachfront parties in Barceloneta, there’s a diverse range of options for those looking to experience Europe’s famous nightlife scene, all set against the backdrop of Gaudí’s architectural wonders.

Where can I find the best culinary experiences in Europe for food lovers?

For food lovers, Paris, France, is an unrivalled culinary destination. From traditional bistros serving classic French cuisine to bustling food markets like Marché des Enfants Rouges, Paris offers a gastronomic journey through the flavours of France. Don’t miss the chance to indulge in pastries, cheeses, and wines that embody the essence of French culinary artistry.

Places to Stay in Europe for First Time Visitors Final Thoughts

So, there you have it, my recommendations for the best places to stay in Europe for your first time visit. 

From the romantic canals of Venice to the vibrant streets of Berlin, and the serene beaches of the Cycladic Islands, there’s a piece of Europe that speaks to every traveller. Whether you’ve been drawn to the historical allure of Rome, the culinary delights of Paris, or the architectural wonders of Barcelona, these destinations offer a starting point for a lifetime of exploration. 

Pack your bags, embrace the adventure, and make your first European trip one that paves the way for many more (because it will!). Europe’s charm lies not just in its landmarks, but in the stories you’ll gather, the people you’ll meet, and the experiences that will shape your travel tales for years to come.

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