While the number is debatable due to transcontinental countries (Turkey and Georgia for instance) and microstates (i.e. Vatican City), I’ve been to seven European capitals. This may not seem like a large number and yet when you live on a continent that is not Europe and airfare to the said continent is incredibly expensive, I’m quite proud of this feat.
What I love most about the European capitals is the fact that they are located in fun and happening cities unlike in the United States. In my home state of Pennsylvania there are two major cities-Pittsburgh, where I currently live and Philadelphia, where I grew up. Ironically enough these two cities are located at opposite ends of the state (which I want to add is quite large). If you’re asking yourself, “well, what’s in the middle of these two cities” the politically incorrect answer would be “a whole lot of nothing.” Literally. Well, okay. The state capital is located there but in case you’re drawing a blank as to what the name of it is, don’t worry. Harrisburg, unlike London or Paris, is not a major metropolis. There are no world class theaters or upscale shopping or fine dining venues there. The population of my home state’s capital city is just shy of 50,000. Not to nay say the nation’s capital of Washington D.C., a city which I always enjoy when visiting. However, DC is the capital of a country that is infinitely large, and so it doesn’t necessarily imbue local pride the way a state capital does. But Pennsylvania is not the only state in which the capital could be described as small, scarce of people (compared to a state’s other cities), and uninspiring-New York (Albany), California (Sacramento), Illinois (Springfield). But lest you think I was trying to offer a lesson in American geography I assure you I wasn’t. I just love that in Europe the place where governmental decisions for the country are made is also the place where you want to visit for all of the first rate tourist pursuits.
If you asked me to choose which of the seven European capital cities I’ve visited has been my favorite I couldn’t. To me, each and every one has offered its own unique charms which obviously are deeply connected to the country itself. Here are my highlights of the seven European capital cities I’ve visited:
London, England-As Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” This is a quote I agree with entirely. I’ve visited London two times. On the second visit I was fortunate enough to stay for two weeks, and London is possibly one of my favorite cities. It’s one of the few international cities I could actually envision myself living for the rest of my life. I don’t love it just for its many similarities to a city like New York, I love it for the incredible history it has, the melting pot society you see on its streets no matter where you are.
Paris, France-When it comes to Paris, I think that sometimes Hollywood and literature build it up so much that it can leave first time visitors slightly disappointed. But you must remember that it is still a major city after all, complete with unclean streets, graffiti and other problems that can plague any metropolitan area. Yet, if you don’t visit with absurd expectations, it’s a marvelous place. The windows of bakeries showing its first class wares-crisp looking baguettes and other breads, the endless array of cheese to select from, the wines you need a sommelier to educate you on. Paris is a city I’ve only visited for short pockets of time (less than a week) but I hope one day to stay for ideally a month and could truly examine all of its nooks and crannies.
Madrid, Spain-If there was ever a city that should be labeled a grand dame, Madrid would be it. Unlike funky and hip Barcelona, which likes to do its own thing due to its Catalan roots and even its colonial offspring in the “New World,” Madrid is a page in a history book, an upper class society lady, regal and stoic as reflected in its architecture and in the faces of Madrilenos (residents of Madrid). While my first visit to the capital was anything but memorable, my second visit there was idyllic. It’s home to multiple world renowned museums, a royal palace and one of the most popular squares in the whole world.
Dublin, Ireland-Although often disregarded when compared to the rest of the country, Dublin was a smaller city that charmed me all the same. Unlike places like London or Paris where the scope of them feels and looks daunting, Dublin just felt like a small city that one could conquer if they needed to. It was a city ideal for walkers and was replete with history, both ancient and more modern.
Rome, Italy-While I saw a vast number of sights when in Rome, it’s a city I would definitely like to have as a do-over. Different company, trying different (better) restaurants, planning better (I can’t tell you the number of places I didn’t get to tour due to their being closed on a Monday). To me Rome in ways is like Paris, a city that it’s hard not to have expectations about. But for a city with Roman emperors, gladiators, the rise of Christianity, the food, drink-it would be hard not to enjoy it.
Brussels, Belgium-Waffles, fries, and chocolate make Brussels a city that could be said to have it all. I definitely found Brussels to be a city high on ambiance even if some feel it lacks in major sights. From a political and world affairs standpoint it may just be one of the most fascinating places to visit, as it is the headquarters of both NATO and the European Union. In addition, Belgium has not one, not two, but three official languages, Dutch, French and German. The velocity with which the people of Brussels could switch between the languages in addition to the unofficial fourth language, English, was just astounding yet inspiring at the same time.
Lisbon, Portugal-It was like a Spanish city yet it wasn’t one. Lisbon did its own thing which is why I loved it so much. Like Dublin, it’s definitely one of the smaller European capital cities and unlike some of the more well known ones, it shows its age with its crumbling buildings but to me this only adds to its allure. And although painted tiles are also very big in Spain, nowhere had I ever seen the use of tiles incorporated into everyday street life-on the roads, on buildings, at bus stops as in Lisbon.