15 must-visit foodie hotspots in Europe
1. Prague, Czech Republic
Set aside your preconceptions. There’s more to Czech cuisine than smoked sausages, dumplings and lager. Over the last five years the city’s been re-establishing itself as a culinary destination – there are bargains to be had too. Bar-restaurant Parliament prides itself on its seasonal ingredients and well-kept Staropramen beer. A blowout lunch here, drinks included, weighs in at an astonishingly good value £5-£10 per head.
2. Alaçatı, Turkey
The town of Alaçatı, on the Aegean coast, has transformed itself from sleepy fishing village to chic destination, with food as the main draw. The culinary scene is a tantalising mix of traditional Aegean and modern Turkish, finished with foraged wild herbs and Michelin-level execution. Dine al fresco at Asma Yaprağı, a family-run restaurant with a magical courtyard where tables are dotted beneath fig trees, jasmine vines and a tangle of fairy lights. Dishes served here are made with strictly seasonal offerings. Fruit and and vegetables are picked fresh from the garden, and milk and fresh goat’s cheese come from the next-door neighbour.
3. Venice, Italy
It’s one of the world’s most beautiful cities, with a food tradition that carries the influences of 1,000 years of far-flung maritime trade, but avoiding the rip-off tourist restaurants can be a challenge. Your best bet of lunching like a local is to find a bàcaro. These typical bars are best known for their well-priced regional wines and cicchetti, bite-sized Venetian nibbles similar to Spanish tapas. Cantino del Vino già Schiavi (Ponte San Trovaso, Dorsoduro) is standing room only. Locals sip Aperol spritz and devour plate after plate of mouthwatering slabs of crusty bread piled high with toppings.
4. Berlin, Germany
For a carb-fuelled visit to the German capital, look no further than Spätzle & Knödel. It’s a great place to chow down on traditional types of knödel – chewy bread dumplings served with meaty sauces. It’s also worth trying the Swabian käsespätzle – soft egg noodle dumplings topped with a heart-stopping portion of cheese and onions (only for very hungry eaters, mind). Add a kaiserschmarrn (a pancake that’s rolled, then cut up and served with damson compote) for dessert and you really will have tried the complete German carb experience.
5. Istanbul, Turkey
Bridging Europe and Asia, this Turkish city is one of the most exciting and cosmopolitan on earth – and it’s a wonderland for food lovers. There’s everything from fancy skyscraper restaurants (with fancy prices to match) to street food vendors. For smart dining, head to Mikla, on the 14th floor of the Marmara Pera hotel. Owner Mehmet Gürs is part Finnish, and the intriguing menu is ‘Scandinvian by way of Istanbul’. On the street, you can try more traditional dishes such as pizza-like pide and lahmacun; simit, a bread ring topped with sesame seeds; every kind of kebab under the sun; and kokereç, crispy, grilled lamb’s intestines wrapped around sweetbreads – don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.
6. Bruges, Belgium
Bruges has one of the best-preserved medieval town centres in Europe and world-class museums. When you tire of all that culture, revel in the knowledge that the city’s main specialities are beer and chocolate. The city also has one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe. For a blow-out to remember, take a taxi out of town and visit three-Michelin star restaurant Hertog Jan. Self-taught chef Gert de Mangeleer grows his own vegetables and herbs and turns out beautifully crafted dishes.
7. Parma, Italy
The pretty, affluent small city in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy is home to a population of 200,000 serious food-lovers. Cobblestone streets lace Parma’s centro storico (old town), opening out on to petite piazzas graced by ancient churches and family-run trattorias serving scrumptious fare. Parma ham and parmigiano reggiano (parmesan cheese) both originate here. To sample the tastiest of each – particularly as locals claim the best stuff never leaves the region – head to Sorelle Pichhi, a highly popular eatery, open since the 1930s.
8. Seville, Spain
Seville is the proud heartland of bullfighting, flamenco, Spanish guitar-making – and tapas. Start your tapas tour at the city’s oldest bar, El Rinconcillo. Dating back to the 1670s, the ornately tiled bar, with whole hams hanging from the ceiling, was once a convent. Enjoy a plate of bacalao a la roteña (salt cod in a tomatoey sauce) and a glass of bone-dry fino sherry. Next, outsmart the tourists in the old Jewish quarter, Santa Cruz, by heading straight to Bar Las Teresas. Order the garlicky spinach and chickpea dish spiced with cumin, which pays homage to Seville’s Moorish past.
9. Rioja, Spain
Spain’s most famous wine region has more than its rolling vineyards to offer food-loving visitors. The Dinastía Vivanco winery is one of the most impressive places to visit in the region and also houses the Museum of the Culture of Wine and an excellent restaurant overlooking the sweeping vineyards and swaying lavender.
10. Copenhagen, Denmark
Mention Denmark to a foodie and chances are they’ll think of Noma. Little wonder. Chef René Redzepi‘s foraging-mad restaurant was rated the world’s best, three years running. The place is booked up eons in advance and the 20-course menu doesn’t come cheap. Luckily, there’s plenty of wallet-friendly wow factor around. Equally exquisite at a more manageable price is the Nørrebro neighbourhood’s Relæ, where chef Christian Puglisi, who trained at El Bulli and Noma, creates some really innovative dishes.
11. Nice, France
This seafront city’s best-known local dish is salade niçoise, a medley of tuna, eggs, olives, tomatoes, anchovies and more (the definitive components generate much debate). But there’s plenty of street food to munch your way through, too. Head to La Socca d’Or to try salade niçoise in a sandwich, known as pan bagnat, as well as savory socca, a crisp pancake made from chickpea flour. Or grab a pizza-like slice of onion and anchovy pissaldière from top-notch bakery Boulangerie Lagache, then wander along the picturesque port’s nearby quays.
12. Athens, Greece
Aside from the ancient ruins, Athens has another enduring attraction – delectable home-style eats. Head to the Gazi neighborhood for a taste of current Athenian food culture. It’s an artistic, multicultural area where you can find excellent eateries such as Oinomageirio, with innovative yet authentic cuisine. Then there’s Culinary Backstreets, a tour group that offers foodie walks downtown. With them you’ll sample the likes of pork souvlaki (kebabs), loukoumades (doughnuts) and homemade tsikoudia (Cretan brandy).
13. Vienna, Austria
The city is perhaps best know for cultivating the talents of famous composers, artists and intellectuals. Whether meeting to create or debate, local talent has thrived in Vienna’s kaffeehaus (coffeehouse) culture for centuries. The gorgeous Café Central, a favourite of Russian Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, dishes up weekly changing two-course menus, with dishes such as smoked fish soup with breadcrumb dumplings, or potato and pumpkin pie with swiss chard stew.
14. Limassol, Cyprus
Cyprus’s biggest and most cosmopolitan city sprawls along the south coast of the island. The centre has been newly energised by a glitzy marina development aimed at the super-yacht set. It’s a little over the top but the Old Town has an air of prosperity about it. It’s here that you’ll find Ta Piatakia (Little Plates), the restaurant owned by popular Cypriot TV chef, Roddy Domalis. The eatery is famed for its innovative, big-flavoured mezze dishes. Each plate is prepared in minutes, then dispatched in seconds to groans of appreciation.
15. Jerez, Spain
With its Moorish palaces, flamenco, stallions, fine ham and sherry, the city of Jerez in Andulucía is perhaps the most quintessentially Spanish of them all. Start with a tour of the González Byass bodega, home of Tío Pepe and crucible to all that is dangerously drinkable. Next, visit The Montesierra ham company. It’s a temple to the Iberian Pata Negra pig, which, for many, produces the Rolls-Royce of hams. After learning about the curing process, head to the restaurant to try morcilla, the Spanish version of black pudding; chorizo; and jamón (ham) with a soft, pearly fat that melts on the tongue.