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Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Stig Nygaard

31 things to do in Europe at least once in your life

Planning your next trip? These are the very best things to do, places to go and sights to see in Europe

By Time Out editors
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It’s difficult to know where to start when it comes to exploring Europe. Do you head for one of the continent’s cultural capitals – London, Paris or Rome – each steeped in history and flush with museums and galleries, or do you avoid the cities altogether and seek out Europe’s stunning landscapes? Do you aim for a specific cultural experience – a naked lakeside sauna near Stockholm, perhaps, or a game of footie at Milan’s San Siro stadium – or do you just turn up without a plan and see where the continent takes you? Whatever your vibe, we guarantee you’ll find the very best things to do in Europe right here.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in the world

Best things to do in Europe

God's Own Junkyard
God's Own Junkyard
Photograph: God's Own Junkyard

1. Bathe in neon light at a gallery in London

There’s a whole lot of in-your-face art on display at this salvage yard in Walthamstow. If you happen to appreciate a good neon sign, well, you’ll be in heaven at God’s Own Junkyard. Its late owner, artist Chris Bracey, collected them over a period of 37 years, as well as crafting and restoring them. Some are on the super-seedy side, having featured on 1960s strip clubs and peep shows, while others are heartwarmingly nostalgic. The neon wonderland’s ‘Rolling Stones’ café serves cake and hot drinks, or something a bit stronger if you so desire.

Discover 100 more of the best things to do in London

The exterior of Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz theatre in Berlin
The exterior of Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz theatre in Berlin
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / Franziska Lantermann

2. Check out an avant-garde play in Berlin

Germany is the world capital of avant-garde theatre, and the most renowned of its many, many lavishly state-funded theatres is the striking Schaübuhne am Lehniner Platz. A former cinema – built in 1928 in a Bauhaus style – it became home to the radical Schaübuhne ensemble in the late ’70s and has been run since 1999 by influential director Thomas Ostermeier. The Schaübuhne plays host to first-rate leftfield names from Germany and beyond. Performances are mostly in German, but every month a solid smattering are surtitled in English or French.

Discover 15 more of the best things to do in Berlin

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Terraço do Lux Frágil
Terraço do Lux Frágil
©Luisa Ferreira/Lux

3. Get sweaty at Lisbon’s most scenic club

With two dance floors (one lounge-y, one sweaty) and a roof terrace overlooking the river, there’s nowhere more appealing for a night out in Lisbon than Lux Frágil. The décor is on point and the music second to none (house and guest DJs spin everything from hip-hop to ’80s pop). Thursdays are popular with locals keen on leftfield names; on Saturdays the place is mobbed by out-of-towners. Lux’s rich programme also includes live bands and the odd Sunday afternoon event.

Discover 32 more of the best things to do in Lisbon

Vuurtoreneiland
Vuurtoreneiland
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / Defence Line Amsterdam

4. Eat local on an island near Amsterdam

If you’re after a once-in-a-lifetime dinner experience, nothing comes close to Vuurtoreneiland. A special boat takes you to this small, rugged island in the IJmeer with just a lighthouse, an old abandoned fort and a large greenhouse dining room. The ethos here is ‘eating in and of nature’ – a five-course set menu of the freshest regional produce, lovingly prepared and cooked entirely on open flames. The food is incredible, as is the glorious setting (all fauna, stray animals and weeping coastlines).

Discover 22 more of the best things to do in Amsterdam

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Forty Foot
Forty Foot
Photograph: Flickr / Giuseppe Milo

5. Take the plunge at Joyce’s favourite swimming spot

Outdoor swimming spot the Forty Foot draws hardy Dubliners all year round – including for an annual Christmas day swim. Referenced by James Joyce in ‘Ulysses’ – in which Buck Mulligan jumps into the ‘scrotum-tightening sea’ – this place was traditionally a men-only swimming spot, but that changed in the 1970s when women fought back against their exclusion.

Discover 23 more of the best things to do in Dublin

Botanical Garden bar in the Baltic Triangle
Botanical Garden bar in the Baltic Triangle
Photograph: Alys Mordecai

6. Discover a thriving warehouse district in Liverpool

Start-ups, street food and stunning arts venues: you’ll find it all in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle. Occupying an industrial area that was heavily bombed during the Second World War, the Baltic’s historic warehouses now overflow with music venues, arts spaces and independent boutiques. Don’t miss the Baltic Market, a street food haven inside the striking Cains Brewery building.

Discover 16 more of the best things to do in Liverpool

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Szimpla Kert - Budapest - Hungary
Szimpla Kert - Budapest - Hungary
Photograph: Szollosi Matyas

7. Soak up the vibes at a ruin bar in Budapest

Take a huge, dilapidated building with an open courtyard and a labyrinth of rooms, adorn it with eclectic furniture, edgy artwork and mind-bending communist memorabilia, and you’ve got the Budapest’s most famous (and most atmospheric) ‘ruin bar’. Szimpla Kert set the nightlife standard when it opened in the Jewish Quarter in 2001 – spawning several copy-cat bar experiences that have come to define a Budapest night out. The original is still considered the best: be sure to order a shot of traditional liqueur Unicum when you’re there.

Discover 20 more of the best things to do in Budapest

Edinburgh Cameo
Edinburgh Cameo
Angus McDiarmid

8. Watch horror films all night long in Edinburgh

Said to be one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite cinemas, the Cameo has been operating under one name or another for more than 100 years. Recently refurbished with some of the comfiest cinema seats in town, it’s the ideal place to catch a well-curated season (usually focused on a specific director’s work) or movie marathon (the All Night Horror Madness sessions are legendary). Even if you don’t fancy watching a film, the venue’s bar is an easygoing place to sip a pint and eavesdrop on some serious cinephile chatter.

Discover 19 more of the best things to do in Edinburgh

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A reconstructed square in the DomRömer Quarter in Frankfurt
A reconstructed square in the DomRömer Quarter in Frankfurt
Photograph: Simsalabimbam / Wikimedia Commons

9. Go back in time to pre-war Germany in Frankfurt

Many European cities have spent decades carefully reconstructing historic buildings destroyed during the First and Second World Wars, but only Frankfurt has bothered to recreate an entire district as it was at the turn of the last century. The DomRömer Quarter is Frankfurt's ‘new’ old town, spread across 7,000 square metres between Cathedral Square and the medieval Römer building that was more than 90 percent destroyed during the wars. The development only opened in May 2018 and includes 20 new buildings and 15 replicas, including the Stadthaus community and conference centre.

Discover 13 more of the best things to do in Frankfurt

Mercat dels Encants
Mercat dels Encants
Foto: Wikimedia Commons / Thomas Ledl

10. Browse one of Europe’s oldest flea markets in Barcelona

Once you’ve taken the necessary time to appreciate Fermín Vázquez’s undulating reflective roof, get down to the business of shopping at the Mercat dels Encants, one of Europe’s oldest flea markets. A seemingly endless number of vendors populate its meandering walkways, and we recommend you take your time exploring what’s on offer. You’ll find everything from esoteric knick-knacks to more functional sewing machines and bicycles. Planning to spend the afternoon here? There are plenty of decent food options, too.

Discover 35 more of the best things to do in Barcelona

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Reffen
Reffen
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Stig Nygaard

11. Eat your way around Copenhagen’s buzziest quarter

On the northern outskirts of the harbour, post-industrial Refshaleøen is a Copenhagen’s buzziest neighbourhood. Culture vultures shouldn’t miss the large-scale installations at the Copenhagen Contemporary art gallery, while design devotees will enjoy rummaging amid the mid-century furniture at the B&W flea market. Bring an appetite, though. From doughnuts at Lille Bakery to fried chicken at brewpub Broaden and Build, foodies will be spoilt for choice. Thronging street food market Reffen offers budget-friendly options, while La Banchina is Copenhagen’s trendiest spot for sundowners (tip: bring a swimsuit).

Discover 16 more of the best things to do in Copenhagen

Photograph: Robin Mitchell
Photograph: Robin Mitchell
Photograph: Robin Mitchell

12. See some ‘kinetic sculpture theatre’ in Glasgow

Glasgow’s Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre involves sculptures made of reclaimed scrap, synchronised music, coloured lighting and hundreds of carved grotesques living out stories that are sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, all set against the inevitable and relentless cycle of life and death. Don’t be put off by the prospect of Russian tragedy told through the medium of electro-powered wooden figures. There is something charming, simple, direct and utterly hypnotic about these shows.

Discover 22 more of the best things to do in Glasgow

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Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı
Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı
Photograph: Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı

13. Get a full body scrub at a hammam in Istanbul

The work of renowned Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı was built between 1578 and 1583 to serve the levends (marine forces in the Ottoman navy) and was re-opened to the public in 2012 after a major restoration. The hammam ritual is an unmissable experience for anyone visiting Istanbul and there’s no better place to do it than inside this architectural masterpiece dating back half a millennium. Note that the hammam is open to women in the morning and men in the afternoon.

Discover 38 more of the best things to do in Istanbul

Brindleyplace
Brindleyplace
Rob Greig

14. Roam Birmingham’s historic canal quarter

The oft-quoted ‘more canals than Venice’ claim is a bit iffy – Birmingham is soooo much bigger that it’s a daft comparison – but that doesn’t mean you should miss out on a walk around the canal quarter. It’s a real Cinderella part of town, having been hugely redeveloped and crammed full with restaurants and bars. Use the historic, recently re-opened Roundhouse building as a base from which to explore by boat, bike or foot.

Discover 20 more of the best things to do in Birmingham

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Sala Equis
Sala Equis
© LuciaM

15. Grab a beer at a former porn cinema in Madrid

This 700-square-metre former X-rated cinema has been converted into a cocktail bar – though they’ve kept the projector for one-off screenings. Sala Equis’s rich cultural programme takes in film, music and theatre events across three spaces: the terrace by the entrance, the main Sala Plaza bar space and a 55-seater cinema. The vibe is particularly fun on Saturday nights.

Discover 54 more of the best things to do in Madrid

Fontanelle Cemetery
Fontanelle Cemetery
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / Dominik Matus

16. Explore an eerie underground cemetery in Naples

Beneath the heat and bustle of Naples’s streets is an old quarry that became a burial site in the 17th century when a plague wiped out 250,000 of the city’s residents. Though the Fontanelle cemetery’s piles of bones are undeniably unnerving, the local tradition of caring for a lost soul’s skull lends the place a very spiritual feel. Watch for the odd Italian nonna on her way to tend to her designated skeleton in the hope of releasing its soul to heaven in return for a wish.

Discover 19 more of the best things to do in Naples

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Kettle’s Yard
Kettle’s Yard
Photograph: Geograph / David Hallam-Jones

17. Cosy up at a snug art gallery in Cambridge

Kettle’s Yard is the most homely art gallery you’ll ever come across (probably because it actually used to be someone’s home). Thanks to Jim Ede’s job as a curator at the Tate gallery, he and his wife Helen filled their home with artworks by famous names like Barbara Hepworth and Joan Mirò. Then, in an act of extreme generosity, the Edes gave it all to Cambridge University. You can now visit it and see the art lovingly arranged around the house.

Discover 11 more of the best things to do in Cambridge 

Nilufar Gallery
Nilufar Gallery
Photograph: Nilufar Gallery

18. Admire cutting-edge design in Milan

Milan’s design scene is hard to beat – head to the Nilufar Depot and you’ll soon discover why. Nina Yashar is one of the city’s top dealers, having made a name for herself collecting and selling 20th-century Italian furniture. She’s run her gallery on Via della Spiga since 1979, but it was only recently, in 2015, that she opened this massive warehouse showcasing a collection of vintage and contemporary design pieces she’s assembled over the years.

Discover 21 more of the best things to do in Milan

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Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Photograph: Shutterstock

19. Explore a world-beating art collection by Venice’s Grand Canal

From the Grand Canal, the single-storey Peggy Guggenheim Collection looks like an unfinished palace – which is exactly what it is. Guggenheim purchased the incomplete building in 1949 and proceeded to fill its rooms with her vast collection of 20th-century surrealism, abstract expressionism, avant-garde sculpture, cubism and more. Make sure to check out the museum’s sculpture garden, filled as it is with blooming shrubs and flowers.

Discover 19 more of the best things to do in Venice

Marché des Enfants Rouges in the Marais in Paris
Marché des Enfants Rouges in the Marais in Paris
Photograph: Connie Ma / Wikimedia Commons

20. Stuff your face at a storied Paris market

The historic Marché des Enfants Rouges takes its name from the Red Children orphanage which was built in the 16th century and closed down just before the revolution. It’s now one of the Marais’s most iconic buildings. Saturdays are when the market is at its liveliest, but you’ll have a hard time choosing between the different stalls: Moroccan, Italian, Lebanese, or a refined blowout at the Enfants du Marché. Try it all if you can. 

Discover 100 more of the best things to do in Paris

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Pitt Rivers Museum
Pitt Rivers Museum
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / Geni

21. Ogle some terrifying shrunken heads in Oxford

The Pitt Rivers is Oxford’s world-famous museum of archaeology and ethnography, probably best known for its collection of very, very tiny shrunken heads. It’s not often people genuinely get excited about a museum. The heads are part of it, but there a half-a-million-and-counting other exhibits here, too. Entry is free.

Discover 12 more of the best things to do in Oxford

Giardino Bardini
Giardino Bardini
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / Txllxt TxllxT

22. Pair wine with views high above Florence

If you’re looking for some green space but want to skip the crowds, there are more gardens to wander through than just the jam-packed Boboli. Your first stop should be the Bardini. Walk through the olive grove or, if you’re lucky, visit during April when the magnificent purple wisteria arch is in bloom. At the top of the baroque staircase, you’ll find a beautiful little bar serving serving up glasses of wine (and snacks) to go with your views.

Discover 19 more of the best things to do in Florence

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Fundação Serralves
Fundação Serralves
Fundação Serralves

23. Visit a sprawling contemporary art park in Porto

Any visitor to Porto simply must check out the sprawling Fundação Serralves museum and park. The photo-worthy Álvaro Siza Vieira-designed museum building is worth the trip alone, and so too is the Art Deco Casa de Serralves, which houses the art foundation’s HQ. The park, meanwhile, is filled with beautiful greenery and striking outdoor sculpture. The museum hosts some of the finest contemporary art exhibitions in the world, and the permanent collection isn’t bad, either.

Discover 30 more of the best things to do in Porto

The Shambles York
The Shambles York
Photograph: Magdanatka-_-/Shutterstock.com

24. Wander down a medieval thoroughfare in York

This narrow, winding, quaint street in York’s historic quarter draws visitors in droves. The Shambles – an Old English word for slaughterhouse, fyi – is the perfect example of just how well-preserved York is. Many buildings in this street date back to the 14th century and still have butchers’ hooks out front. At first glance, you might wonder which idiot erected these wonky, top-heavy timber-framed buildings, but the overhang actually had a practical purpose: to protect the ‘wattle and daub’ walls below and stop the butchers’ meat from going off in the sunshine. Genius.

Discover 12 more of the best things to do in York

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Trädgården
Trädgården
Photograph: Trädgården

25. Party at a riverside techno night in Stockholm

No trip to Stockholm between May and September is complete without a visit to the city’s outdoor party spaces. Rooftop bars Slakthuset, in a former slaughterhouse, and Tak, on a revamped square in brutalist Norrmalm, are the most talked-about locations right now. But the epicentre of summer nightlife on Södermalm is Trädgården, a massive courtyard dance area with burger shacks, table tennis and a jigsaw of bars bedecked with fairy lights. During colder periods, the venue scales down to a two-floor techno and electro club called Under Bron (Under the Bridge), which has a more underground feel.

Discover 19 more of the best things to do in Stockholm

© swm.de
© swm.de

26. Kick back at an Art Nouveau sauna in Munich

A painstakingly restored Art Nouveau dome soars majestically over one of Europe’s most beautiful swimming pools at Müllersches Volksbad, a bathing temple with an open-air courtyard that opened on Munich’s Isar river in 1901. As well as a 100-foot-long pool heated to 27C, you’ll find a slightly warmer smaller pool and some Roman steam baths. The true German experience lies in the Finnish sauna, where the Aufguss kicks off on the hour. In this slightly sadistic, merciless ritual – not for the faint at heart – an Aufgussmeister pours water on hot rocks and beats the heat your way with a towel.

Discover 11 more of the best things to do in Munich

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Appia Antica
Appia Antica
Photograph: Courtesy Flickr/cc/HinTIaL

27. Walk (or bike) along an ancient road in Rome

Step back in time, literally, as you walk (or bike) along one of the oldest roads in the Roman empire: the Appia Antica. This ancient road connected Rome to Brindisi and remains one of the most picturesque areas in the city. The surrounding park is also full of cultural heritage sites, including catacombs and mausoleums that contain the remains of notable figures such as popes, martyrs and nobility.

Discover 21 more of the best things to do in Rome

YES
YES
Photograph: Shutterstock

28. Catch an up-and-coming band in Manchester

We really can’t stress enough how major Manchester’s music scene is. Given the city’s open-mindedness, bands of all genres have made it and continue to make it here, so no visit would be complete without a trip to at least one live gig. We’d recommend catching an up-and-comer at one of the city’s many brilliant small venues. Dance to some locally grown talent at the sweaty, subterranean Soup Kitchen, or knock back some rooftop cocktails before seeing a top band at Manchester’s hottest new music venue, YES.

Discover 22 more of the best things to do in Manchester

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The outdoor space at Kasarna Karlin in Prague
The outdoor space at Kasarna Karlin in Prague
Photograph: Dorota Velek

29. Eat, drink and dance in a former army barracks in Prague

The eccentric minds behind this multi-purpose arts complex took one look at these former army barracks and imagined an eclectic cultural landscape combining art, theatre, cinema, sports and food and drink. Years later, that’s reality. In summer the courtyard hosts an outdoor cinema and beach volleyball court; in winter you can enjoy hot drinks and whizz round an ice skating rink. Kasárna Karlín’s surrounding buildings include a café in a former swimming pool, and garages that now house bars and concert spaces, while local art lines the walls all over.

Discover 28 more of the best things to do in Prague

Croatian Museum of Naive Art
Croatian Museum of Naive Art
Photograph: Matt Field / Time Out

30. Get trippy at a psychedelic art museum in Zagreb

Housed on the second floor of the 18th-century Raffay Palace, the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art in Zagreb offers a solid introduction to the subject, mostly the work of self-taught peasant painters from villages in the east of the country. Expect fantastically bizarre rural scenes and intricately dotted landscapes that verge on the psychedelic.

Discover 70 more of the best things to do in Zagreb

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Cine Paris, Athens
Cine Paris, Athens
Cine Paris

31. Watch films in the shadow of the Acropolis in Athens

Athenians know it’s summer in the city when the outdoor cinemas begin to open up. The legendary Cine Paris, which has been going since the ’20s, is best known for its striking Acropolis views. Come here for a proper night out the way Greeks do it. Cine Paris is one of around 90 outdoor film venues in Athens where patrons can watch old Greek and foreign classics, plus the latest Hollywood releases.

Discover 10 more of the best things to do in Athens

After more solid recommendations?

The Lume
Photograph: Phillip Williams

The 40 most exciting things to do in the world in 2020

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From massive new museums to breathtakingly intimate music festivals via one-of-a-kind exhibitions and immersive artworks, this is your guide to the 40 very best experiences of their kind taking place anywhere in the coming 12 months.

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