Is 2019 the year you might finally plan that return trip (or first visit) to Europe? Though it can be difficult to choose the best cities in Europe to visit, I’ve chosen several worth traveling to this year, based on affordability, special events, what’s new or trending—and the fairy-tale charm that makes these places enchanting no matter when you decide to go. Read on to discover the best European cities to visit in 2019.
The second largest city in Bulgaria, Plovdiv has been named one of two European Capitals of Culture for 2019. The city will celebrate with concerts, theatrical performances, exhibitions, and more throughout the year. Among the highlights is World Fest 2019, a July music festival that will combine and showcase Bulgarian folklore with Latin jazz and classical music.
While you’re in town, explore the artsy neighborhood of Kapana. “Back in the 17th century, it used to be the busiest trade area in town with various craftsmen and artists offering their goods to the public. Nowadays, the neighborhood has preserved its original artistic spirit, and its numerous cobblestone streets make it a gorgeous setting for a leisurely stroll, a fun place to grab coffee or a bite to eat, and the perfect spot for an Instagram session,” says Staffo Dobrev, budget travel expert at Wanderu.com, a bus and train travel site. Just outside of the city, you’ll find Bulgaria’s wine country.
Where to stay: A boutique hotel in the city’s old town, Hotel Evmolpia offers stylish guestrooms as well as free breakfast, parking, and Wi-Fi.
The second European Capital of Culture for 2019, Matera is celebrating with its own roster of special events, plus the Matera Passport, which allows you to experience all of the celebrations for just 19 euros. But there’s so much more to this city, one of the oldest in the world.
“Beyond celebrating its status through these events, Matera has to be one of the most affordable and interesting cities to visit in Europe,” says Jeff Miller at travel blog Our Passion for Travel. “Matera has a unique vibe all to itself. This is due to its location, perched on a hill and surrounded by cave dwellings.” The location’s beauty has also made it a hit with filmmakers, including Mel Gibson, whose Passion of the Christ was filmed in Matera.
Where to stay: Matera is known for its cave hotels (and homes). Consider overnighting at La Dimora di Metello, which offers modern guestrooms and amenities inside an ancient dwelling.
June 6 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, one of the most significant battles of World War II. Visit the city of Caen, a central hub from which to explore the region and home to the Memorial de Caen, a tribute to D-Day and World War II, as well as the Cold War. Other highlights include Chateau de Caen; the Abbaye aux Dames, built in the 11th century; and a charming city center, where you can tuck into tiny cafes and sip on cider—a local delicacy in Normandy.
While sizable crowds are expected for the commemoratory events across Normandy (scheduled to take place throughout the summer), tourists can experience the history with ease via France vacation packages offered by smarTours (which include three nights in Caen).
Where to stay: Located in the historic city center of Caen, Le Clos Saint Martin is a restored mansion with beautifully furnished guest rooms and complimentary breakfast.
If you’re looking for the hot new thing, Hamburg is one of the best European cities to visit this year. “The revitalization efforts of the waterfront have completely transformed the city,” says Jordan Beck Wagner of travel blog Wayfaring With Wagner. The renaissance includes HafenCity, which comprises new residential complexes, restaurants, and cafes right along the Elbe River, where you can also take a boat ride. Close by, you’ll find the Elbphilharmonie, a state-of-the-art concert hall that just opened in 2017. (Speaking of music, did you know the Beatles actually got their start in Hamburg?)
Another fun fact: “There are more bridges in Hamburg than Venice and Amsterdam combined—that’s how much water we have in the city,” says Wagner.
Where to stay: Opened in 2018, Tortue Hamburg offers modern guestrooms and suites, some with kitchenettes.
The dollar is strong in London, making it a surprisingly affordable place to visit in 2019. London’s many free-admission museums add to the affordability factor, with special offerings such as the Christian Dior fashion exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum (extended through August) making them even more appealing this year. From May 24 to October 13, Buckingham Palace will display the largest display of Leonardo da Vinci’s works in more than a century.
Want to tour the city with a guide? Evan Evans has launched several new small-group tours of London this year focusing on themes such as espionage and the Underground. Another reason to put London on your travel short list? The Great Scotland Yard Hotel—formerly the city’s police headquarters where criminals such as Jack the Ripper were interrogated—will open in late 2019.
Where to stay: The Tower features incomparable views of the famous Tower Bridge, plus a central location near several Tube and rail stations.
Named a Capital of Culture in 2018, Valletta has quickly risen as a trending destination, with something for every traveler—7,000 years of history, stunning beaches, watersports adventures (think sea kayaking and paragliding), a delicious—and cheap—food scene, and great nightlife. Hotel prices are reasonable, too.
Time your visit to experience the Malta International Fireworks Festival on April 27; Malta Fashion Week, running May 22 to 29; or the Malta International Arts Festival from June 29 to July 13.
Where to stay: The Excelsior Grand Hotel is a full-service, harbor-front resort with a pool, spa, and on-site restaurant.
City or beach? In Aberdeen, you don’t have to choose. Located on the northeastern coast of Scotland, this city is a spot where you can catch waves and visit a Victorian-era castle in the same day.
Other highlights include the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail, a fantastic lineup of whisky distilleries, and Instagram-worthy parks and gardens. Another reason to visit Aberdeen in 2019? The U.S. dollar is strong against the British pound, the local currency.
Where to stay: The Citi Hotel has reopened following renovations that include 42 basic, yet modern accommodations. It is located in the center of town and offers cheap nightly rates (plus the option to stay at its adjacent hostel).
“Long a favorite destination of backpackers looking for a cheap bed and lively nightlife, Budapest has come into its own over the past decade,” says Katie Matthews, editor of WheretoStayinBudapest.com. “These days, it attracts tourists of all stripes, but particularly those looking for a lively European city with an impressive cultural offering.”
Budapest is also home to several UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrassy Avenue, and offers a dining scene that’s both impressive and affordable.
Where to stay: Brody House offers whimsical, boho-style guestrooms, some of which were former artist studios and now feature the former owners’ artwork.
Oslo has been named the European Green Capital of 2019. “In 2019 and beyond, Oslo will act as an ambassador for sustainable urban development, sharing and promoting best practices that have been tried and tested in the Norwegian city to inspire others to make meaningful environmental changes,” says David Nikel at Life in Norway.
The city’s clean and efficient public transit system, use of electric cars (electric cars outnumber standard fuel cars here), gorgeous parks, and dense surrounding forest make Oslo an outdoor lover’s paradise.
Where to stay: The PS:Hotell is an eco-focused hotel with free perks that include breakfast and Wi-Fi.
For more ideas, see Top Travel Destinations for 2019.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide
- Packing for Europe: 8 Items You Should Leave at Home
- The 14 Best Shoes to Wear in Europe
Amanda Norcross is the senior editor of Family Vacation Critic. Her travel expertise has appeared on NBC News, The New York Times, TODAY.com, The Travel Channel, WhattoPack.com, and more. Follow her at @amandafromafar for more travel tips and inspiration.