Europe, a continent steeped in history, has always been a melting pot of culinary traditions. From the sophisticated flavors of French cuisine to the hearty staples of German fare, its diverse palate has been a gastronome's paradise. But recently, a new wave of culinary destinations has emerged, catching the attention of food enthusiasts worldwide.
Driven by innovative chefs, local produce, and age-old traditions merging with modern techniques, these 15 destinations are redefining the European food scene. For those with an insatiable appetite for unique gastronomic experiences, here are the 15 hottest foodie destinations in Europe to savor right now.
1. Bologna, Italy
Bologna, nestled in Italy's northern Emilia Romagna region, recently clinched the top spot in our Readers' Choice Awards as the world's premier food destination. Often overshadowed by Italy's more frequented cities, Bologna remains a delightful secret, earning its nickname “La Grossa,” or “the fat one.”
This region is celebrated as the birthplace of delicacies like parmesan, parma ham, bolognese, mortadella balsamic vinegar, lasagne, and tortellini in broth. For a taste of authentic local dishes, head to Trattoria Bertozzi for their signature gramigne alla salsiccia (sausage pasta) or savor the ricotta-filled tortellini served with San Marzano tomatoes at All'Osteria Bottega.
2. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona, the vibrant capital of Catalonia, offers a culinary experience distinct from the rest of Spain. While renowned for its gastronomic delights, it's essential to recognize that Catalan cuisine stands apart from traditional Spanish fare. Must-tries include the Catalan cream and regional sausages such as fuet, butifarra, and calçotadas.
For a morning treat, nothing beats the beloved pan amb tomaquet. And for those with a penchant for wine, a selection from Priorat is highly recommended. Truly, Barcelona is a haven for food enthusiasts.
3. Alacati, Turkey
From its origins as a tranquil fishing village, Alaçatı on the Aegean coast has metamorphosed into a trendy hotspot, drawing visitors primarily because of its culinary allure. Here, the food scene effortlessly marries traditional Aegean flavors with contemporary Turkish nuances, enhanced by wild herbs and top-notch culinary techniques. One can't miss the charm of Asma Yaprağı, a family-operated eatery.
This enchanting spot boasts an outdoor dining experience under the canopy of fig trees and jasmine, all illuminated by twinkling fairy lights. Their menu emphasizes seasonality, featuring fresh produce directly from their garden and dairy products sourced from their immediate neighbor.
It's impossible to discuss Europe's top culinary spots without a nod to France. Be it savoring fine wines and cheeses in Bordeaux or indulging in Parisian confections, France consistently stands out as a gastronomic treasure trove. Venture to Strasbourg to experience the Alsace specialty, Tarte Flambee. Resembling a pizza, this delectable dish comes fresh from a traditional brick oven, boasting warm cheese, succulent caramelized onions, and crispy lard on a thin crust.
With such an expansive culinary landscape, France inevitably beckons you to indulge, so prepare to give in to its delightful temptations.
5. Sardinia, Italy
Sardinia, a jewel of Italy in the Mediterranean, has a character all its own from that of the rest of Italy. Its cuisine reflects the area's natural beauty and rustic charm. Framento, a pizza shop in Cagliari, is famous for its fermented pizzas topped with smoked salmon and cauliflower. On the other hand, the suckling pig dish at the island's famous Su Gologone Hotel is legendary.
The cuisine of Sardinia reflects the island's varied topography, which runs from rugged mountains and thick woods to sandy beaches. While seafood is plentiful along the coast, those who like mutton meals should travel inland.
6. Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul, which is located on the continents of Europe and Asia, is a popular tourist destination due to the fascinating cultural mix it provides. The city offers a wide variety of dining options, from chic rooftop bistros to lively street carts. Mikla, perched atop the Marmara Pera Hotel, is a fine dining establishment. Restaurant owner Mehmet Gürs, who was born in Finland, creates an unusual fusion of Nordic and Istanbuli cuisine.
The pide and lahmacun pizza-like pastries, the simit sesame-seeded bread ring, the various kebabs, and the daring kokereç, fried lamb's intestines enclosing sweetbreads, are just some of the local specialties one can find while strolling the streets.
7. Seville, Spain
Seville is rich in traditions ranging from bullfighting and flamenco to the art of making Spanish guitars and, of course, tapas. Begin your culinary adventure with El Rinconcillo, the city's most historic bar. Originally a convent, it was built in the 1670s and has tiled walls with hams swinging from the ceiling.
Savor the delectable bacalao a la rotea, a salt fish dish in a tangy tomato sauce, with a glass of crisp fino sherry. By stopping at Bar Las Teresas, you can avoid the regular tourist traps around the ancient Jewish district of Santa Cruz. Dive into a dish that echoes Seville's Moorish past with flavors of garlic, spinach, chickpeas, and a hint of cumin.
Before earning recognition from the Michelin Guide in 2020, savvy travelers had already marked Slovenia as a gastronomic gem. The acclaimed Hisa Franko, celebrated on Chef's Table, had consistently made its mark on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list. Yet, whispers surrounded the nation's traditional culinary arts and innovative wineries. In 2020, six Slovenian restaurants garnered a Michelin star, with notable mentions including the famed Hiša Franko and Dam in Nova Gorica, a haven for seafood enthusiasts.
By 2021, Slovenia was distinguished as the European Region of Gastronomy, celebrated for its sustainable culinary practices and farm-fresh ingredients. With fifty-two grape varieties, Slovenia takes pride in producing the highly esteemed Dolium Muscat Ottonel orange wine. Once a discreet European nook, it is now rightfully taking the culinary spotlight.
9. Vienna, Austria
Vienna is renowned for nurturing illustrious composers, artists, and thinkers. Central to this legacy is the city's iconic coffeehouse tradition, which has fostered creativity and dialogue for ages. The exquisite Café Central, once frequented by the likes of the Russian revolution Leon Trotsky, boasts dynamic weekly menus.
Patrons can expect culinary delights such as a flavorful smoked fish soup accompanied by breadcrumb dumplings or a delectable potato and pumpkin pie paired with a Swiss chard stew.
10. Jerez, Spain
With its rich history of flamenco, legendary stallions, and distinct gastronomic specialties, Jerez, located in Andalucia, epitomizes Spanish culture. Begin your journey in the historic González Byass bodega, where the renowned To Pepe sherry was born. Then, at The Montesierra ham business, immerse yourself in the world of the famed Iberian Pata Negra pig, which is widely regarded as the peak of ham craft.
After learning about the curing process, savor the flavors of morcilla, Spain's counterpart to black pudding; rich chorizo; and the delightful jamón, whose delicate fat provides a melt-in-your-mouth feeling.
11. Copenhagen, Denmark
For those just dipping their toes into the culinary world, Denmark's inclusion might raise eyebrows given its less globalized cuisine. However, Copenhagen secured its spot on our top 15 European food destinations, boasting the highest count of Michelin Stars in Scandinavia.
With a total of 17 stars spread across 15 eateries, the city is a gastronomic haven, ensuring every food enthusiast finds a delightful spot to relish exceptional dishes.
12. Basque Country, Spain
The Basque Country, nestled between Spain and France, boasts a distinct culinary identity rooted deeply in ancestral expertise. San Sebastián, its coastal gem, shines with 18 Michelin stars, rivaling global culinary hubs like Kyoto and Paris in star density. Among its renowned eateries is Mugaritz, located in the serene hillsides, celebrated for transforming traditional Basque ingredients into avant-garde dishes, such as a ragout featuring milk-fed lamb's brain.
Not far away, Asador Etxebarri, with chef Victor Arguinzoniz mastering open-grill techniques, secured third place on the 2019 50 Best Restaurants list. The iconic Arzak, led by Elena Arzak, has maintained three Michelin stars since 1989. Throughout the Basque region, the culinary spectrum ranges from casual pintxos (Basque-style tapas) in quaint San Sebastián bars to upscale dining experiences as night falls.
13. Sifnos, Greece
For over a century, Sifnos has held the reputation of being Greece's culinary gem. The island's very own Nicholas Tselementes, who began sharing Greek culinary delights in 1910, became such a prominent figure that his surname is now equated with cookbooks in Greek. Today, establishments like Cheronissos Fish Taverna offer diners freshly caught seafood, such as impeccably grilled lobster, with views of the crystal-clear Aegean Sea.
The scenic Platis Gialos beach boasts a series of laid-back eateries, drawing both locals and travelers. Wander into the island's charming alleyways, and you'll find taverns serving traditional dishes, from chickpea-based concoctions— a common ingredient in Sifnos—to succulent slow-cooked goat.
14. Limassol, Cyprus
Cyprus's largest and most dynamic city stretches along the island's southern shore. The city's core is pulsing with fresh energy due to a luxurious port catering to the luxury yacht crowd. While it may appear lavish, the Old Town emanates a newfound wealth. “Ta Piatakia,” or “Little Plates,” is nestled here, the creation of renowned Cypriot TV chef Roddy Domalis.
This restaurant is well-known for its inventive and powerfully flavored mezze dishes. Each delicacy is prepared quickly and served to the satisfaction of the customers.
15. Prague, Czech Republic
Redefine your expectations of Czech cuisine; it's not just about smoked sausages, dumplings, and lager. Recently, the city has been reviving its reputation as a foodie haven, and the prices are surprisingly affordable. Take the bar-restaurant Parliament, for instance. They boast fresh seasonal ingredients and meticulously maintained Staropramen beer. You can enjoy an extravagant lunch there, including drinks, for an impressively budget-friendly £5-£10 per person. Over the past half-decade, this culinary transformation has been quite evident.
European Culinary Scene is Vibrant
Europe's culinary scene is a vibrant mosaic of flavors, traditions, and innovation. These 15 top foodie destinations highlight the continent's rich gastronomic diversity. From Bologna's classics to Copenhagen's modern twists, every food lover will surely find a slice of culinary paradise in Europe. Dive in and savor the journey!
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I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.