Europe is one of my favorite travel destinations because you can literally hop on a train and find yourself in a new country within a few hours. I also love that there’s so much history in Europe, many cities are walkable, and overall, European cities have more character than the cities in the U.S. So, as a result of my love for this continent, I’ve done quite a bit of exploring – especially in many of its major cities – which is why with all the data points I now have, I think the below are the 10 most overrated European destinations. I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit these cities – I’m just saying to set your expectations accordingly when you do visit.
1. Paris – I can see the allure of the city of lights but Paris isn’t as romantic as it’s portrayed in movies. There’s trash on the streets, the metros smell, the people aren’t particularly friendly (note: they aren’t unfriendly. I think the Parisians just like to keep to themselves), and for a country renown for its perfumes, the locals don’t seem to take to applying deodorant which can be a downer if you’re visiting in the hot summer months. Speaking of visiting, Paris is crowded in the summer and the winter (at least during the holidays), which means that for a tourist, you need to be prepared to spend an exorbitant amount of time standing in line if you want to hit up the major attractions.
2. Rome – Oh Rome… where do I start with you? You’ve got so much history that you’re still basking in the limelight of yesterday. But because every single tourist in Italy can’t leave home without visiting Rome, the city is a crowded hodgepodge of tourists elbowing each other for photo ops in front of your Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and of course, that Colosseum. As a visitor, I never know if your metro will strike. You’re also the only city in Italy with restaurants that will add a 15% gratuity to your bills just because you can get away with it. I visit Rome hoping for some eternal city enlightenment but I always leave feeling somewhat gypped.
3. Budapest – This city has been on so many “must see” lists lately and after visiting Budapest last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you’re going to go to Budapest, go when you haven’t seen much of Europe yet. Then you’ll be enthralled by the architecture, the Danube that separates Buda and Pest, and the “charm” of the city’s many neighborhoods and pedestrian streets. If, however, you’ve already seen a fair amount of Europe, Budapest comes off as another European city by the water that’s inconveniently waaaaayyyyy too big to navigate on foot. Oh, and the Szechenyi baths that’s rated as the #1 attraction in Budapest by Rick Steves? That was probably the most overrated thing about the city.
4. Mykonos – This Greek “party island” is a pretty place to visit. It’s got windmills, beaches, meandering white-washed pathways lined with boutiques, and even decent Greek food. But, if you visit Mykonos after you’ve been to Santorini, forget about it. Santorini is on another level. Also, if you’re not a big party type or if you have access to nice beaches back at home, then Mykonos doesn’t have a whole lot going for it (the beaches there operate like beach clubs and you have to rent a lounge chair – on a crowded strip of sand). I will, however, say that Mykonos had the best damn cheesecake I’ve ever had in my life. Come to think of it, I’d go back to that island just for the cheesecake.
5. Munich – Yes, there’s the Hofbrauhaus and the BMW Museum, but for such a popular city in Germany, there’s not a ton of things for visitors there that they couldn’t get from any other city. I guess Munich makes for a good launching point to Bavaria but in terms of the amount of time you really need to see the city, it’s maybe just a day (or less), unless you’re super into BMWs. If you’re itching to go to a German city, I’d recommend Berlin over Munich any day.
6. Zurich – This is another pretty little city by a river. But once you’ve walked through the city (which would take you about half a day), you’ve seen it all. And what you’ve seen is not a whole lot. There are restaurants, trees, churches, and some fancy shopping areas… and a bunch of stuff you can’t afford because the Swiss Franc is a lot stronger than our dollar. Even the people in Zurich don’t make for much interesting people watching. The Swiss tend to be reserved and quiet (no kidding, at the Zurich airport, you could probably hear a pin drop!).
7. Geneva – While I continue to talk about Swiss cities, let’s add Geneva to the list. Besides being the city for the Geneva Convention, the city is kind of just… a big city that’s somewhat plain and sterile for visitors. This is the one city on this list I’d say you should skip altogether.
8. Milan – The thought of Milan conjures up images of high fashion Italy – all your Dolce Gabbanas, Pradas, and Versaces. But unless you get a kick out of seeing this stereotypical fashion powerhouse side of Italy or you’re in Italy just to shop, there’s not much of a reason to visit Milan – especially when you consider that there are at least a dozen other cities in Italy that are ten times as scenic, alluring, or charming as this one (and that even includes Rome).
9. Pisa – What’s a trip to Italy without seeing the Leaning Tower, right? Unfortunately, the city of Pisa is not only in the middle of nowhere (it’s an hour train ride from Florence), there’s nothing to see in the city besides the one swatch of land that has the Leaning Tower. And because tourists will still go there, that one swatch of land is lined with tacky souvenir stands while every other tourist tries to take a photo of themselves “holding up” the tower. When you’re watching everyone take that standard photo, you’ll realize how ridiculous everyone looks but then you’ll realize you’ve come all this way and no one knows who you are so you kind of have to take that same photo…
10. Helsinki – I love Scandinavia but of all the major Scandinavian cities, Helsinki has to be one of the most “ordinary”. It looks like any other Scandinavian city – it has a park, it’s next to water, it has a downtown with restaurants, it has pleasant citizens who all look middle class… I mean, Oslo and Stockholm at least have their Nobel Prize buildings and Copenhagen has an interesting and buzzing waterfront/wharf. As a result, Helsinki pales in comparison to these other cities. Oh, and if you want to include Iceland’s Reykjavik in the list of Scandinavian cities, don’t even get me started on Iceland – my love for Iceland is what inspired me to start this blog.
That was my personal list. What European cities did you find overrated?