Europe’s top 10 food cities

The best food cities in Europe

Food, glorious food. One of the best things in life has to be tucking into an iconic dish in the very place where it was invented. Sauerkraut in Germany, tapas in Spain, and pizza and oodles upon oodles of fresh pasta in Italy. And if we’re going to discuss Europe’s top 10 food cities, we need to talk about the 2013 “best restaurants in the world” list, where Europe grabs eight of the top 10 places, including spots 1 to 4.

If you love food, you’ll love Europe, but it’s difficult to know where to start – and frankly, where to stop. So, make the most of a flexible Eurail Pass and zoom around the continent, chomping as you go.

1. Lyon, France

Food cities in Europe: Street cafe in Lyon, France

Street cafe in Lyon, France

The buzzing city of Lyon has more than its lion’s share (badoom-bash!) of great eateries. In a country famous for both its love of eating food and its flair for creating it, to emerge as one of the best places to eat is no easy feat. Keep an eye out for sliced salami rosettes served with crisp green cornichon pickles. Lyon is also handy for connecting into Switzerland if you’d prefer a sweeter chocolate taste.

2. Vienna, Austria

Food cities in Europe: Sachertorte in Vienna, Austria

Sachertorte in Vienna, Austria

When it comes to chocolate cake, however, there’s no better place than Vienna, and no better incarnation than Sachertorte. Rich, deep and dark, this is the chocolate cake that makes all the others look like amateurs. Find the best among the city’s smoky coffee houses, for years Vienna’s meeting points for artists and intellectuals.

3. Girona, Spain

Food cities in Europe: Can Roca Cellar in Girona, Spain

Can Roca Cellar in Girona, Spain

Often overshadowed by its big neighbor Barcelona, the colorful medieval city of Girona hit worldwide fame in 2013 when El Celler de Can Roca notched the top place on the San Pellegrino restaurant list. Run by three local boys, its food attempts to stimulate all five senses. If you can’t stretch to the full tasting menu (it lasts some five hours), you can still grab a taste of the Roca charm in their sumptuous ice cream parlour in the center of town.

4. San Sebastian, Spain

Food cities in Europe: Tapas in San Sebastian, Spain

Tapas in San Sebastian, Spain

Dining out in San Sebastian is like hitting all the best parties in town. I’ve tasted a lot of tapas in Spain, but none that measure up to the servings of this seaside city. It’s the range of flavors and artistry that make this place special. Hot and cold, spicy and sour, rustic and sophisticated, all line up on the counter of a single bar. Choose a couple of pieces in each place and then move on the next. Just wear comfy shoes as you’ll likely be standing all night.

5. Copenhagen, Denmark

Food cities in Europe: Streets of Copenhagen, Denmark

Streets of Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen’s Noma held onto the number one spot on the San Pellegrino list for multiple years, beaming as a beacon of Nordic food. The eatery recently slipped down to position number two, but that’s no reason to stay away. A generation of bright young chefs have grown up in Copenhagen. Although the prices are high, so is the quality right across town.  Copenhagen also makes a great gateway stop for exploring Scandinavia by train.

6. Krakow, Poland

Food cities in Europe: Rynek Glowny in Krakow, Poland

Rynek Glowny in Krakow, Poland

Krakow is an energetic, beautiful place with plenty of hearty cuisine. Dine overlooking Rynek Glowny, the largest square in Europe, and feast on pierogi (dumplings), sausage, crusty bread, and sour cream. It’s the perfect preparation for the night ahead in a place that’s earned quite a reputation as a party town. That party gets started with Bison vodka – straight vodka with a blade of grass.

7. Istanbul, Turkey

Food cities in Europe: Spices in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Spices in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

The geographical bridge between Europe and Asia, Istanbul binds together the flavours of two continents into one enticing citywide menu. Discover the true craftsmanship behind the much maligned kebab, and marvel at the spice pyramids lined up in the Grand Bazaar. Indulge your sweet tooth with honey-soaked baklava and chopped pistachios, and then catch a ferry into Asia to roam around the open-air fruit and veg markets. Istanbul’s a fascinating city and it’s the natural recharge point between mainland Turkey and eastern Europe.

8. Milan, Italy

Food cities in Europe: Naviglio Grande canal in Milan, Italy

Naviglio Grande canal in Milan, Italy

Ah, sometimes I feel as though every spot on a top ten food list should come from Italy. But then that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the world. While almost every kitchen in this country excels at turning the humble tomato into a veritable work of art, Milan won my stomach over with Caffe Mercanti’s aperitivo tradition. Think iced campari served with savoury nibbles or cream-topped pastries in one of the most fashionable places on earth. Deee-licious.

9. Nice, France

Food cities in Europe: Salade Niçoise in Nice, France

Salade Niçoise in Nice, France

Capture all the flavors of Provence in the open-air markets of Nice. Positioned as a key city on the French Riviera, Nice also makes a convenient stopping point if you’re traveling by train between France and Italy. Try a dense black olive tapenade with a procession of soft and creamy cheeses. Taste some of the freshest seafood served with ripe tomato, zucchini and eggplant. And of course, don’t forget the local classic: Salade Nicoise.

10. Trieste, Italy

Food cities in Europe: Restaurants in Trieste, Italy

Restaurants in Trieste, Italy

The food in Trieste is superb, of course, but it’s the history around the food that earns it a place on this list. Now part of Italy, Trieste until World War I belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And while maps can be changed quite easily, it appears that kitchens cannot.

Thus, you’ll find pizza and pasta alongside sauerkraut and sliced sausage, all with a stunning view across the Adriatic. Connect between Italy and Slovenia, and earn a break by sipping coffee and creamy chocolate in the place where James Joyce wrote Ulysses.

That’s what I love about foodie travel in Europe. Indulgence can be called intellectual research.


If you liked reading about the food cities in Europe:
5 unexpectedly great foodie cities in Europe
2 weeks in Europe: The Foodie Tour (Eurail.com)
Top 10 wine regions in Europe by train

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