I'm not one for traditional travel guides, preferring to venture off the beaten track and discover a city on my own terms. I'd much rather stumble upon a tiny restaurant or bar frequented by locals than march around my destination ticking off what a guide book tells me are the 'essentials'.
Living in the UK, I'm extremely lucky to have Europe right on my doorstep (and I wholeheartedly consider myself to be European, 100% opposed to Brexit). For now, at least, I'm able to hop on a cheap flight and discover a myriad of different cities and cultures with relatively little effort. There's so much of Europe that I have yet to discover (I'm pretty sure Lisbon is going to make it onto this list following my upcoming trip), but for now these are the cities that I keep on returning to or are currently tugging on my heartstrings begging me to book return flights. These are the cities that inspire me, excite me and have had me digging deeper to discover what life would be like if I lived there.
I've been in love with Berlin since my first visit back in 2011, so much so that I've whiled away many an hour daydreaming about relocating there. I've always opted to stay in the vicinity of Neukoln/East Kreuzberg/Friedrichshain, spending long and lazy summer days cycling around parks, canals and abandoned airports. It's easy to slip into the Berlin way of life, drinking Club Mate in the park, staying out until the sun comes up, finding lakes in the middle of forests to dive into. I've yet to visit at any other time than the height of summer, so it's easy to romanticise the city as a place where it's eternally hot and humid, further fueling my dream to live there.
My love affair with the Nordic lands began back in 2014 with my first trip to Copenhagen. At a complete contrast to Berlin, I've only ever visited the Danish capital in the run up to Christmas when there's a wonderfully festive atmosphere. I'd love to return in summer to soak up the sights of the surrounding countryside in the sunshine. Highlights of this super stylish city include admiring the architecture (from DIY to modernism), cycling around everywhere and sampling all of the delicious food on offer in the many street markets, cafes and restaurants. Freetown Christiania is one of my favourite areas of the city, the area by the lake filled with the most incredible homes cobbled together predominantly with materials that their owners found nearby. The entire city is designed impeccably, from the cycle lanes to the cafes.
Budapest is an absolute gem; a city filled with both interesting architecture and a pulsating creative scene. Old meets new in a ramshackle collision as DIY ruins bars pop up in the gaps between crumbling buildings, lit by twinkling fairy lights and candles. Street art is vibrant and creative, complementing rather than conflicting with the beautifully ornate buildings of the city. The nightlife is exciting and innovative, creativity taking precedent over simply getting wasted; you want to be coherent enough to admire your surroundings. What more? You've also got the luxury of an array of spas to soak and relax in. That's pretty much everything you need!
I'd return to Iceland in a heartbeat, and although Reykjavik wouldn't be the first stop on my list, it remains one of my favourite European cities. I like my cities small enough to explore by either two feet or two wheels and Iceland's capital definitely ticks that box. It's super compact size makes it the perfect city for casually wandering around, admiring the incredible street art and cute buildings, popping into interesting looking shops and stylish cafes. It's also surrounded by water, within easy access of the wilderness and is overlooked (on a sunny day) by a towering volcano capped with snow. Perfection.
The Dutch capital is one of the most picturesque cities that I've had the pleasure of visiting, from it's winding canals and chocolate-box houses to its vast parks. It's easy to rack up some serious miles on your fitbit wandering around the canals discovering all the amazing shops and cafes that line the streets, but don't overlook the area north of the river. Hop on the free ferry to discover Amsterdam Noord, taking in the DIY architecture (buildings constructed from shipping containers and greenhouses tick all the boxes for me), scattering of street art and incredible water-side locations to get a bite and a pint. I also loved the De Pijp area with its coffee houses (not coffee shops, you don't want to get the two confused in Amsterdam!) housed in old Art Deco cinema buildings and amazing little shops selling one-off vintage designer garments, locally crafted ceramics and abundance of house plants.
All photos my own