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5 of Europe’s Best Food Cities & Delicious Destinations

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Updated: 29th February 2024

Planning a food-themed trip in Europe is one of the continent’s greatest joys. From Copenhagen’s world-renowned Nordic cuisine to Turkey’s transcontinental flavours, Europe’s best foodie destinations are as diverse as the continent’s many cultures.

Choosing where to chow down on your travels, though, is a challenge. Some of the most beloved food cities in Europe, such as Paris and Barcelona, are long-standing classics. Yet, Europe’s up-and-coming culinary destinations can be as surprising as they are affordable.

With the first Portugal-dedicated MICHELIN Guide being published this February, Copenhagen’s game-changing Noma set to close its doors later this year, and Lithuania’s unsung cuisine commanding a spotlight at Vilnius’ recently established Pink Soup Fest, 2024 could be the year to consider a lesser-visited foodie region for your European gastronomic getaway.

Whether you want to indulge in a Georgian feast and thousands of years of viticulture or take a French food tour far from Paris, these are some of Europe’s best food cities and regions to build your next delicious trip around.

Portugal's quality of Atlantic seafood makes the country one of Europe's best food destinations
Portugal’s quality of Atlantic seafood makes the country one of Europe’s best food destinations

Porto, Portugal

I’ve been calling Portugal home for six years and holidaying here for decades. Seeing the transformation in the country’s food scene has been incredible. I couldn’t have been more proud to attend this year’s first-ever Portugal-only MICHELIN Gala Dinner and see so many young chefs celebrated for their innovation. Yet, while some dining rooms have gotten fancier and many chefs more creative, I love that Portuguese cuisine has remained mainly traditional, with the quality of ingredients always taking pride of place. And while the Algarve’s Mediterranean diet is delicious, and Lisbon boasts plenty of tourist-focused dining rooms, I would argue that Porto is the country’s epicurean capital. This northern city more than holds its own against Europe’s more established food cities.

Portugal’s Chef of the Year 2023, the ingenious and young Vasco Coelho Santos, has a handful of top-notch restaurants here. The Atlantic bounty ensures a steady stream of first-class seafood. And with The Douro snaking inland from the city, a perfect glass of Port or a premium bottle of wine is always at hand. Plus, Porto’s prices are pretty wallet-friendly, whether you’re eating traditional tripe at a low-key tasca or splurging on a seat at a chef’s table.

Porto's Vasco Coelho Santos was crowned Portugal Chef of the Year 2023

Standout dishes, dining rooms and food experiences in Porto

Deciding what and where to eat in Porto is all part of the fun. Want something traditional? Order a francesinha, a croque-monsieur-inspired sandwich stacked with cheese, smoked sausage, and meat in a slightly spiced beer sauce – A Regaleira serves the original. Or devour bacalhau à gomes de sá, Porto’s take on Portugal’s beloved salted cod fish. Alternatively, follow in the footsteps of Anthony Bourdain and try tripas à moda do porto – a bean and tripe stew hailing from less affluent times – at A Cozinha do Martinho. If you’d like to indulge, I can’t recommend Chef Rui Paula’s ocean-view Casa do Boa Cho Nova or Vasco Coelho Santos’ Euskalduna Studio enough for fish-heavy, Michelin-starred tasting menus. 

Over a weekend in Porto, you can easily flit between the Port lodges of Gaia across the river, stroll the sights and atmospheric restaurants along the Ribeira, snack and shop at Bolhão Market, and even fit in a train or boat trip to the Douro’s vineyards. If you want a more intimate experience with one of Portugal’s best chefs, contact The Art of Tasting Portugal, where the lovely Patricia and her team will help you see the city through the eyes (and palate) of a local chef. 

In Lyon, sausages of all kinds are one the start of a gourmands getaway
In Lyon, sausages of all kinds are one the start of a gourmands getaway

Lyon, France 

Lyon is one of France’s best cities for planning a gastronomic getaway. In fact, many would say it’s not just the country’s best city for cuisine but the “Food Capital of the World”. Yes, forget Paris’s fast-paced brasseries, pretty boulangeries and intimate bistros and set your foodie sights on Lyon’s bouchons, the typical restaurants of France’s third-largest city. But why is Lyon considered one of Europe’s best food cities? Well, Lyonnaise cuisine has evolved over many centuries, from Romans introducing wine and perfecting their pork products to Italian influence arriving and upping the game in the 16th century.

However, the city’s surrounding terroir has always been a constant. With the Alps on its doorstep, the Mediterranean to the south, and the fertile farmlands ideal for rearing livestock to the north, it’s well placed at Europe’s culinary crossroads – it’s a city where both butter and olive oil are common rather than competition. Add all of these excellent regional flavours, the nearby wine appellations, Lyon’s atmospheric dining rooms and a gorgeous Old Town with plenty of al fresco terraces together, and you’ve got one of Europe’s best destinations to eat and then eat some more. 

Lyon's Old Town is pretty and delicious, making it one of Europe's best food cities
Lyon’s Old Town is pretty and delicious, making it one of Europe’s best food cities

Must-try dishes, restaurants and food tours in Lyon

Pork is plentiful in Lyonnaise cuisine, and charcuterie comes in hundreds of forms. Boudin Noir blood sausages, coarse-stuffed andouillette served with mustard, and the crimson-coloured Rosette de Lyon, a cured saucisson, are just a few favourites. Heartier meals, such as meat-stuffed quenelle dumplings bathing in a creamy sauce or coq au vin, a rich, red-wine-soaked chicken dish feature on nearly every menu. When you need a rest from meat, a poached-egg-topped salade lyonnaise is a light lunch break.

For a Michelin-starred tasting, you can’t go wrong at the legendary, late Paul Bocuse’s restaurant or ingenious Guy Lassausaie’s contemporary dining room. More affordable daily lunch menus are easily found on a stroll around the river-flanked Presqu’île arrondissement. Still, Lyon is even better if you extend your visit to include a nearby wine region, such as Beaujolais or Burgandy. Book one of these incredible culinary travel packages through east-central France, and not only will you sample Lyon’s delights, but you’ll also tour vineyards bottling oaked Chardonnays and young Gamays, which pair perfectly with your epicurean adventure.

Pintxos are just one famous sample of what makes Spain's Basque Country one of the best food destinations in Europe
Pintxos are just one famous sample of what makes Spain’s Basque Country one of the best food destinations in Europe

Basque Country, Spain

San Sebastián, or Donostia locally, is arguably Spain’s best city to visit for a foodie trip in Europe. For centuries, it has been a utopia for pintxos (the region’s first-class finger foods), secretive gastronomic societies, and chefs looking to lead their class at the world-renowned Basque Culinary Centre. Yet this beautiful, beach-facing city in Spain’s north is only the appetiser – the Basque Country’s degustation also includes crisp, lightly sparkling txakoli wines, ruby red Riojas, and traditional dishes that lean on the fertile land as much as the sparkling sea.

Pull all of this together, and you’ve got one of Europe’s best foodie destinations. Spend a couple of days in San Sebastián enjoying bar crawls around the Parte Vieja (Old Town), where it’s all about bar tops laden high with delicious pintxos rather than boozing. Then, head inland to the gorgeous Medieval town of Laguardia. This is where the Basque Country and the famous Rioja Alavesa wine region meet, and a warren of underground tunnels hold all the wine secrets – Bodega El Fabulista is indeed fabulous. Lastly, loop back towards the coast, where the port city of Bilbao offers some of the best-value provincial dishes.

A wine cellar in Laguardia
Treat yourself to a tasting in an authentic Rioja wine cellar

The best dishes and culinary experiences in the Basque Country

While San Sebastián is often regarded as Europe’s best food city, you’ll find excellent dishes all across the Basque Country. Away from the perfectly-formed pintxos – Calle 31 de Agosto is the place to start your bar crawl – provincial plates such as marmitako (tuna stew), bacalao al pil pil (a slightly spicy and salted cod dish), and txipirones en su tinta (baby squids cooked in ink) provide a more filling meal. End the night with burnt Basque cheesecake, perhaps from La Viña, and you’ll be in foodie heaven. None of this needs to cost a fortune, but if you fancy a Michelin-starred splurge, Etxanobe Atelier in Bilbao or Elena Arzak’s self-titled, three-starred restaurant in San Sebastián are a worthy investment. 

If you’d prefer to let someone else handle all the arrangements, I highly recommend Intrepid’s Northern Spain Food Tour, which I took a few years back. From Barcelona to Santiago de Compostela, it was a mouthwatering journey, with much of our time spent devouring everything the Basque Country has to offer. The bonus of taking a tour like this is you will get access to a txoko, one of San Sebastián’s intimate, low-key, invited-only communal kitchens where you can enjoy a true taste of neighbourhood hospitality and Basque cuisine.

Italy is renowned as Europe's best food destination, with each region retaining local specialities
Italy is renowned as Europe’s best food destination, with each region retaining local specialities

Florence, Italy

Write a list of the best food cities in Europe, and there will be plenty of Italian options vying for the top spot. And while Emilia Romagna is perhaps my favourite Italian region for food, Florence might be the most all-rounded city to take a bite out of Italian cuisine. Yes, pizza and pasta are staples on any trip to this culinary-blessed country, but Tuscan cuisine goes beyond the headliners. All of the region’s flavours and acclaimed wines have had plenty of time to be perfected in one of the country’s most visited UNESCO-listed cities.

Of course, eating is one of the best things to do in Italy no matter where you are, but like every region, Tuscan cuisine has developed on its own terms. The first clue is in the name. From the Etruscans, the region’s ancient civilization, to contemporary, modern-day chefs, many have played a part in writing Florence’s menu. Simple, fresh ingredients are plentiful. Bread is uncomplicated and unsalted thanks to a 16th-century tax. Olive Oil is on a whole other level. And meat dishes, such as thick-cut steaks and wild game, are as commonplace as cantucci, Tuscany’s typical almond cookies often called biscotti.

Florence's architecture pairs perfectly with Tuscan provincial flavours
Florence’s architecture pairs perfectly with Tuscan provincial flavours

Tuscan dishes, top restaurants and foodie walks in Florence

What makes Florence such a fantastic food destination in Europe is the diversity of restaurants. Given its prominence as a tourism hotspot, you’ll find plenty of popular and pricey eateries around the historic centre, especially near the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio. But across the river in local, laid-back Oltrarno, you can gorge on more affordable trattorie. Wherever you are, don’t miss the chance to sample the region’s signature pasta dishes, such as thick, ribbon-like pappardelle – often served al cinghiale, aka with a wild boat ragù – or stuffed tortelli. Tuscany’s unsalted bread is also commonplace with garlic and oil-topped fettunta (think a Tuscan bruschetta) and pappa al pomodoro, a thick bread and tomato soup found on most menus. Want some high-quality meat? Bistecca alla Fiorentina is always the answer.

Pair any of these with one of Tuscany’s standout wines – red is more typical here, Chianti being the most internationally recognised label – and you’ll have a foodie weekend fit for royalty. If you want to upgrade your insights, consider taking this foodie tour in Florence to meet the local farmers, bakers, and chefs as you discover Tuscan flavours in all their forms. And if you’re seeking a special spot to celebrate in one of Italy’s most romantic cities, you won’t have to look far. Settle into a courtyard table at Michelin-starred Enoteca Pinchiorri, and you’ll be well placed for both a proposal and a provincial feast.

Khinkalis, Georgia’s excellent mince-stuffed soupy dumplings, are one  of Europe's best dishes
Khinkali, Georgia’s excellent mince-stuffed soupy dumplings, are one of Europe’s best dishes

Georgia (yes, the whole country)

When it comes to discussing the best food in Europe, Georgian cuisine is often tragically overlooked. Yet this country has gifted the world some of the oldest and best wines you’ll find, dishes with so much creamy cheese they should be criminal, and perhaps the most perfect dumplings you’ll ever try. This is one of my favourite foodie destinations in Europe to feast, something that’s so ingrained into the culture that supras – seemingly never-ending, table-piled-high feasts – are an integral part of society.

Not that this is anything new. Winemaking in Georgia goes back some 8000 years. After enjoying your first glass of qvevri – the traditional method of production in clay vessels – aged red wine from Saperavi or little-known white Rkatsiteli, you’ll see what all the fuss is about. The table is equally historical, and Georgian cuisine has been influenced by ancient grilling practices (mtsvadi), neighbouring nations, Mediterranean travellers, and Old Silk Road seasonings. Still, there’s even more to discover beyond the national dishes, as each region proudly retains its local specialities.

My friend Nicky and I couldn't get enough of Restaurant Amra's Abkhazian wines and dishes
My friend Nicky and I couldn’t get enough of Restaurant Amra’s Abkhazian wines and dishes

What and where to eat and drink in Georgia

Georgia doesn’t have a Michelin Guide – it honestly doesn’t need one. Instead, take yourself on a self-guided food tour around Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital and one of Europe’s most underrated cities, and you’ll find endless affordable restaurants to try dishes from every region. The Abanotubani district is where most of the touristy restaurants are, but it’s well worth exploring further. Two of my favourite spots are Chashnagiri, a local chain where you can try many different dishes affordably, and Amra, which specialises in dishes and wines from the Abkhazia region.

Whatever you do, don’t miss khinkali, Georgia’s excellent mince-stuffed dumplings, which have their own eating method to sip the soup inside. Khachapuri, a boat-like bread stuffed with cheese and an egg, is utterly indulgent. Badrijani, eggplant and walnut paste rolls are divine. And chkmeruli, a slow-cooked garlic-sauced chicken dish, is one of my favourites. Honestly, just thinking about these dishes makes me salivate. It’s easy enough to go it alone and eat your way through Tbilisi and Georgia. But, if you fancy a food tour or want to visit a wine region, reach out to my old housemates Tom & Megan, who run Eat This Food Tours, and they’ll happily guide you through Georgia’s gastronomy.

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