Three Years Ago, I Moved From NYC To Germany; Here Are The 10 European Places I've Loved Most So Far

·9 min read

Hey there! My name is Michelle, and almost three years ago I moved from the USA to Germany.

A girl by the beach.
Michelle No / BuzzFeed

Living in Berlin has given me the chance to travel all over Europe and beyond, thanks to relatively affordable flights and my central location. I've explored several popular cities and fan favorites, as well as some underrated destinations that totally surprised me.


So after almost three years filled with lots of travel all around the continent, these are the 10 cities I loved the most (and you might want to add some to your bucket list).

1.Hamburg, Germany

The port city of Hamburg

After visiting this exquisite port city with its steaming, billowing ships and cosmopolitan aura fit for a Shakespearean play, I simply couldn't understand why more people don't talk about Hamburg. The city is home to contemporary architectural landmarks like the Elbphilharmonie, with its wave-like design and curving mega-long escalator. It also boasts some totally unique museums like Miniatur Wunderland and Dialogue in the Dark — an exhibition about what it's like to live in complete darkness and quite possibly the most interesting exhibition I have ever experienced. When you're done sightseeing, dine on one of the local specialties like fish roll or Aalsuppe (eel soup).

One local told me that Hamburg could be the most interesting city in the world, but its locals would never tell you that. I might have to agree. Even amongst Germans, Hamburg is known for the unassuming friendliness of the people who live there.

Maxim Schulz

2.Paris, France

An empty street in Paris

Paris is certainly not underrated. And if you're anything like me, you might have brushed it off as a tourist trap not worthy of your time. But after a few days there, this beloved city proved me wrong.

I dedicated my days to visiting all the most popular sites, including the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe, among others. In the evenings, I went out to dinner with friends, usually at a sidewalk table and almost always with a bottle of wine. The world-renowned architectural sights were wonderful, but it's the amazing vibes that have really stuck with me: the sound of street music reverberating along the streets, the dimly lit restaurants exuding a totally natural charm, and all the conversations I had with friends in this undeniably romantic city.

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3.Berchtesgadener Land, Austria

A glacial lake surrounded by cliffs

When you hear about the Alps, what comes to mind? Italy? France? Personally, I'll always think of the German and Austrian Alps of Berchtesgaden. I see steep green hills kept pristine by the constant munching of local cows and goats, the tinkling of cow bells in the background of your afternoon walks, and picnics of cheese, dense bread packed with seeds, and meats. That was life in a nutshell on the Austrian side of Berchtesgaden Alps.

On the German side, there are trees wild with overgrowth, rushing streams, and the Watzmann Mountain, with a base camp that soars over 6,000 feet high. I think of the ice-cold Spezi (a cola and orange soda drink) I enjoyed as soon as I reached the peak after three hours of hiking on an incline. Even more satisfying than that soda, though, was the elaborate sauna that welcomed me at the foot of Berchtesgaden, where I relaxed my sore muscles in extra-hot, sweat-inducing rooms.

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4.Rome, Italy

A quiet neighborhood in Rome with colorful buildings and mopeds

Rome is no secret gem, but if you wander just a little beyond the city center and the main tourist sites, it's easy to discover your own slice of Rome, one completely tailored to your own interests. Love vintage shopping? Check out some of the best secondhand clothing stores in the Monti neighborhood. Want to grab a beer with the locals? Head to Pigneto. Want a glimpse of an alternate reality where Italy's fascist regime didn't fall? Stroll through the neighborhood EUR, where neoclassical design and austere white buildings reign high above pedestrians.

Rome is one of those cities you could visit a dozen times and still discover new pockets of culture. And on the off chance you're not completely bedazzled, there's always the food. Rome never disappoints when it comes to good eats. Just avoid traveling here during the last two weeks of August, when locals flee the city and most restaurants take a summer break.

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5.Saxon Switzerland, Germany

Rock formations surrounded by forest

Whether you're an amateur hiker or an experienced one, there's no better place to get outdoors than the hilly national park known as Sächsische Schweiz, or Saxon Switzerland. Here, a core circular zone made up of several marked paths makes it easy to trail hop or string multiple trails together to create one long hike. Each path gives you a different taste of German forest scenery: There are lush moss-covered paths and hills dotted with boulders, equipped with ladders to help you descend deeper and deeper into the forest. The setting makes you feel as if you've walked straight into a German fairy tale.

On one of my first days in Saxon Switzerland, I was so captivated by the scenery that I lost sight of the path and realized my phone had only 5% battery. As darkness fell and the forest turned ominous, I raced to exit the woods. When I found my way back, I looked back at the forest, and I swear it had closed itself up, flipping a proverbial "closed" sign. The complete wildness of Saxon Switzerland gave me a new reverence for untouched nature... And it was a great reminder to carry a back-up battery on every hike.

My personal advice: Combine a trip to Saxon Switzerland with a weekend in neighboring Dresden, home to many grand palaces, cathedrals, and all the Rococo architecture that survived the bombing of World War II.

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6.Valletta, Malta

A peninsula jutting into the ocean

If you need a break from the busy, urban destinations that fill the pages of most travel books, head on over to Malta. This small island is the 10th smallest country in the world, so you can get a good sense of the entire nation in a single long weekend.

Start by touring around Valletta Harbor before heading over to the waterfront promenades of Senglea and Cospicua. For a dash of adventure, take a ferry to the tiny island of Gozo.

I didn't do a ton of sightseeing in Malta, but thanks to the lack of suffocating crowds I was happy to simply enjoy the seaside and float to whatever landmark or historical site happened to be nearby.

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7.Valencia, Spain

A street with palm trees on a sunny day

I spent one of my favorite Christmases yet with a friend's family in Valencia just a few months before the pandemic began. I knew nothing about Valencia going into this trip, except for the fact that the city is home to so many orange trees; they line the streets.

Though I only spent four days in Valencia, my memories are so vivid, which is probably because the architecture and the food there are unlike anywhere else. There's the City of Arts and Sciences, a futuristic architectural wonder so unique and grand that you could understandably center a whole trip around it. In fact, you might recognize it as Delos company headquarters in the HBO series Westworld.

My favorite thing about Valencia was Turia Park, a 4.3-mile-long park that felt circus-like in its many attractions, which includes a Giant Gulliver you can climb on, bridges, swan boats for rent, and a mix of pine and palm trees to remind you that you're on vacation. It also made the best scenery for my morning jogs.

As for the food, I devoured plenty of Valencia's world-famous paella (made with rabbit and snails), jamón serrano (cured country ham), and mussels galore.

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8.The Highlands, Scotland

Lush mountains reaching into the clouds

The Scottish Highlands aren't the easiest getaway, per se. You have to rent a car and drive the few hours from Edinburgh, the weather isn't always compliant (as is the case in most of the UK), most of the sights are fairly spread apart from one another, and it requires a certain level of fitness to explore the landscape.

That said, if you're looking for coastal scenery that could have emerged straight out of The Lord of the Rings, narrow valleys that lead to lush peaks, and unspoiled mountains, the Highlands deserve a place on your must-visit list. I experienced some bumps in the road (like the challenge of driving on the left side of the street for the first time), but there were so many highlights: I absolutely loved visiting the Isle of Skye, where a friend and I hiked across fairy pools and brilliantly green and blue waterfalls.

We also attempted hiking Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK, but stopped at the sign of heavy rain. The hours of walking was worth it, though, if only for the pictures. You'll want to bring a high-quality camera or iPhone because the scenery here truly looks mythical.

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9.Bern, Switzerland

An old town and a bridge over a river

IMO, Bern (the capital of Switzerland) is one of the most underrated cities south of Paris. Known for its high quality of life and for its reputation as one of the most relaxed cities in Europe, Bern gives off the sense of calm you might get from a beach vacation. You can feel your blood pressure drop as soon as you take a stroll into the medieval city center or gaze out at the surrounding mountains. If you visit during the summer (as you should), you can swim in the crystal-clear Aare river that winds around the city. For a full day in the sun, hike the 5-ish-mile Bremgarten loop on wooded trails.

For me, Bern was less about epic landmarks and grand meals, and more about exploring the cobblestone streets, gazing at rose gardens, and admiring the slow pace of life here. It was just the kind of relaxing yet captivating holiday I'm always craving.

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10.Amalfi Coast, Italy

Colorful buildings stacked on a hillside overlooking the ocean

The Amalfi Coast is quite possibly the sexiest place in Italy. And while this coastal area in the Campania region is indeed the resort destination of many super-elite travelers, you don't need a giant budget to enjoy your time here. Views are free, after all, and that's exactly what Amalfi does best.

It's all jagged cliffs plunging into crystal waters surrounded by colorful homes that appear to be just on the verge of falling. One of my most vivid memories from my trip to the Amalfi Coast was watching an American tourist hilariously inspect a tiny Speedo to purchase. I remember noticing him, and then looking up and beyond toward the water, where yachts, birds, and relaxed vacationers seemed blissfully in sync with the waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

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What are your absolute favorite European cities? Tell me in the comments below!

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