Every city in Europe is an incredible food destination if you eat at the right restaurants, but there are some that were above and beyond the rest.
The things that make a great food scene to me are local yet modern coffee shops, food markets, and great restaurants. When looking back at a trip and realizing that every single restaurant I went to was fantastic, that’s how I measure an enticing food scene.
My ability to seek out the best places to eat was one that continuously grew while I was abroad. At the beginning of my three years, I definitely would have been one of those people who would wander into a restaurant based solely on appearance, location, or worse yet, some sort of meal deal, but I quickly learned that the quality of the food does not always match the outside, and those deals are designed to lure in clueless tourists like me. Three courses for €15, what could go wrong?! Oh, everything.
After those first couple trips, I started to become interested in reading reviews on Tripadvisor. I needed a trusted site that would bring me places tourists and locals alike would recommend, but even my loyalty to that faded when Google made it easy to search and see restaurants right on Google Maps, without me having to crosscheck location and details from the clunky Tripadvisor app. So now, I exclusively use Google, along with maybe looking at some Instagrams to see the trendy spots. The ease of being able to see ratings, reviews, location, links to menus/websites/reservations, directions, a phone number and call function, and photos all on the search engine I grew up on is unmatched.
I have been to most of the cities in this post more than once, so I feel like I got a really good sense of the dishes and businesses their food scenes encompass. I would love to write more about eating in Europe, but for right now, check out these spots and be sure to add them to your bucket list if you’re dreaming about a tasty trip.
I could eat out in London for every meal and A) not get sick of it and B) never make it to all the restaurants I want to go to. I went to London a total of 6 times during my three years abroad, and every time, all I wanted to do was a self-guided food tour. It is one of the most international cities in Europe, bringing immigrants from all around the world and their delicious traditions.
Most Brits will say never to go to Camden Market because of the crowds, but if you want good food, which I’m assuming you do because you’re reading this, go to Camden Market!!! Some stands to check out include The Mac Factory with its to die for mac and cheese and Oli Baba’s with its halloumi fries. Chin Chin has the best desserts in the city, with ice cream made instantaneously using liquid nitrogen (there is also a location in Soho). The latest concept for markets is the Boxpark, with several food courts throughout the city—I went in Shoreditch and had yummy shrimp tacos from EDu to satisfy my taco cravings. Also by Shoreditch is the Old Spitalfields Market, and you can’t miss Borough Market under London Bridge. I love how many options there are at all these places, and you can easily order from multiple places to get a taste of everything.
Another thing I try to do whenever I’m in London is visit different coffee shops because the options are literally endless and the coffee always delivers the best caffeine fix. They’re also a great way to immerse yourself in local London life, especially if you’re in a less touristy neighborhood. I’ve sat plenty of times next to students, people at business meetings, and families, and it’s quite a nice atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed Apple Blue in Balham, Half Cup in King’s Cross, and Friends of Ours in Shoreditch.
I feel like British cuisine is severely underrated. My absolute favorite dish is sticky toffee pudding, a warm, buttery, sweet cake (not pudding!) often served with vanilla ice cream. Whenever I’m in London, I love to go for a meat pie, too, probably because they make me nostalgic for Australia. And for people who think “meat pies” sound weird, picture chicken pot pie, but also variations with steak filling or even fish! Americans definitely need to get down with Scotch eggs as well; it’s literally just a soft-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage and then fried to get crispy…we’ve definitely eaten similar greaseballs at Sunday brunch. And there’s no better way to end the week than with a Sunday roast, a pub classic. It reminds me how I always try to use downtime on Sundays to prepare nice meals, and Brits use that downtime to prepare a roast! It’s usually served with veggies, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and cauliflower cheese (no I did not get the wording wrong, that’s really what they call cheesy cauliflower). Check out my ultimate guide to London for more specifics on where to find these dishes, as well as other great restaurants to check out.
And perhaps it was London that got me interested in the craft brewing scene when I visited and toured Camden Town Brewery. There was something cool about being in a bar that was locally run and having a ton of different options on tap to choose from, as well as a beer flight as part of the tour. I became hooked on sampling beers and distinguishing the flavors that make each brew taste slightly different.
Riga, Latvia; Vilnius, Lithuania; Tallinn, Estonia
Grouping the three Baltic capitals together is probably the last thing those countries would want from me, but I do see them as very similar and they also are almost a packaged deal: I recommend doing them all in one trip. And I had three of the best meals of my life in those cities—they are probably all in my top 5!
First, in Riga we were lucky enough to score a table at the highly popular, highly-booked Pētergailis Restorāns right in the heart of the old town. Almost two years later, I can still picture the cheese plate, one of the most photogenic cheese plates I’ve had, and I can still taste the comforting savoriness of the roasted duck with baked apples and vegetable gratin.
I loved everything I ate in Vilnius, from the cake pop and raclette at the Christmas market to the lazy cake from Coffee1, but the standout meal was from Mykolo 4, where I had a four-course prix fixe dinner consisting of paté, pumpkin soup, beef cheek (a protein I fell in love with in Eastern Europe), and apple pie for dessert, which honestly put all American apple pies to shame. It’s pretty uncommon that I find every single dish I try at a restaurant near perfect, but these were all near perfect. Oh and Vilnius also has a cat café, so that’s a HUGE selling point for me.
My last Baltic Capital was Tallinn, which I went to in a separate trip from the other two. It was also my favorite, but that could be because I’m still dreaming about the frozen blue cheese cake from Väike Rataskaevu. This isn’t the type of dessert most people would be drawn to, but when you’re a cheese lover, you don’t question it. I never thought of cheesecake being made with blue cheese, but now I don’t want it any other way. It was almost like a really out-of-the-box cheese plate. On top of that, the meal came with a sweet rye brown bread that I think I could finish at least a few loaves of. If you’ve ever been to Iceland, it tasted the same as Icelandic rye bread. Worth mentioning outside the old town is the Balti Jaam market, which is an old railway station converted into a food hall. I had fluffy, stuffed bao buns there from Baojaam that were a nice way to mix it up from typical Eastern European food. Lastly, rhubarb wine is an Estonian specialty because they can’t grow grapes in their climate, so I highly recommend trying a glass when you’re in Tallinn!
Any city where I can order duck three nights in a row at three different restaurants is bound to be one of my favorites. And this one also has a cat café! I went to Budapest twice—once with a friend and once with my sister—and I basically followed the same exact itinerary with even mostly the same restaurants. Night one, both times, I started out with the roast duck with egg noodles and caramelized cabbage from Barack & Szilva. The tender duck with the slighty chewy texture of the egg noodles, sweetness of the cabbage, and warmth of the paprika sauce (paprika is the Hungarian national spice) spoke to my soul. Comfort food doesn’t get any better than this. I eat a ton of pasta, but I love the surprise of eating noodles in a dish like this.
One of the dishes you must try when in Hungary is a lángos, a big fatty bomb of fried dough topped with sour cream and shredded cheese. You may not be able to walk the rest of the day after eating it, but it’s totally worth it! You can pick it up as street food all over the city.
Another aspect of Budapest’s culture that I love is the coffee shops. They’re everywhere and there are so many good ones to choose from, you won’t even be thinking about Starbucks. My Little Melbourne is my favorite because the name reminds me of the Australian coffee I would always drink while studying abroad in Sydney, and this spot in Budapest definitely matches Australia in terms of quality.
Finally, the ice cream shop I ate at basically every day I was there is Gelarto Rosa. Not only do they make the gelato in the shape of a flower on the cone, but they also have a variety of flavors that you often don’t get in Europe.
I am ending with my favorite European capital. I didn’t know much about Portuguese food when I first arrived in the country, but through several trips, I fell in love with everything pertaining to the culture.
Lisbon was the first place I tried octopus when my mom ordered it at Mercearia do Século, and I loved it so much, I went back during my second trip to the city to order it myself. This is hands-down one of the best restaurants I’ve been to. It is owned and run by the nicest Portuguese woman and only has a few tables available, so be sure to book ahead. The menu is handwritten so you know she is coming up with the dishes as she gets the fresh ingredients. If you want to feel like you’re in a local’s home, this is the place to go. And if you’re highly interested in quality cheese like I am, order the sheep’s milk cheese with red pepper jam appetizer.
Lisbon is another city with a respectable coffee culture. Fábrica Coffee Roasters had that strong cappuccino I need for a day of sightseeing, and Dear Breakfast has amazing breakfast options to fuel all the hill-climbing you’ll be doing.
All over the city you will see pastéis de nata, or egg custard tarts—even in Starbucks! Pastéis de Bélem is popular with the tourists, but you really can’t go wrong wherever you buy them from. And if the term “egg custard” freaks you out, think creme brulee, because the taste is very similar, and you can top it off with a dash of cinnamon for a kick.
The Time Out Market is certainly full of tourists, but there are so many different options for trying local food. My favorite stand was A Croqueteria with classic croquettes and more interesting flavors like cuttlefish ink and goat cheese. And for dessert, Santini is serving up deliciously creamy gelato with a wide selection of flavors.
- Athens, Greece
- Krakow, Poland
- Nice, France
- Split, Croatia