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A foodie’s guide to top European destinations


To experience a country and its culture through its food is to reach the soul of its people. For many of us, it’s one of the main reasons we travel; we seek the restaurants where the locals eat and sample regional specialities. We taste the home-grown wine and buy delicacies to bring home.

Culinary tourism is more popular than ever and goes far beyond having a meal in a restaurant. There are now countless ways to enjoy food as a shared experience that brings us closer to the authentic heart of the country we’re in. Read on for our selection of top foodie destinations across Europe to inspire your next trip, as well as some wonderful ways of enjoying them. Don’t read this hungry!

Take a cooking class

A cooking class is a great way to immerse yourself in a country’s cuisine and learn how to prepare an authentic local dish. Classes are usually in small groups with the emphasis on getting hands-on and having fun – and, of course, eating whatever you prepare.

Where better to begin than in Europe’s gastronomic capital, Italy – a country that seamlessly blends culinary passion with centuries of tradition, often showcasing the freshest and simplest ingredients. Bologna, nestled in Northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, epitomises the country’s food culture. To say that its residents are passionate about food is inadequate, when it can seem like every other building within a mile of Piazza Maggiore is a restaurant, delicatessen or cheese emporium, or perhaps even a shop selling artisan chocolates, exquisite biscotti, or gelato. Bologna takes pasta very seriously, so roll up your sleeves and learn the art of making fresh pasta, and create tagliatelle paired with the renowned Bolognese sauce.

Pasta-making classes in Bologna, Italy

If Bologna had a French cousin, it would be Lyon. The city shares a comparable reputation, with renowned chefs and numerous Michelin-starred restaurants making it a foodie mecca. Lyon’s bouchons – traditional eateries offering hearty Lyonnais cuisine – feature rich ingredients like butter, cream and wine. Join a local guide to shop for ingredients at the market, then create your own Lyonnais menu. For dessert, head for Paris, the patisserie capital of Europe and learn the secrets of crafting perfect croissants, tarts, or delicious macarons.

Speaking of sweet treats, when visiting Portugal, it’s obligatory to eat as many pastéis de nata as you can each day. These custard tarts are small, delicate and light as air, with pastry somewhere between puff and filo and a softer filling than an English custard tart or a French flan. Finesse your technique at a tart-making workshop in Lisbon or Porto – extra points if your tarts make it back to your hotel.

Portuguese pastéis de nata

Explore the local markets

Europe’s food markets are lively, gastronomic emporiums of deliciousness and a colourful feast for the eyes. The markets are usually where the locals shop, and any self-respecting foodie should always follow the native trail. Shopping at the market for local delicacies not only supports the local economy but also is the best way to work up an appetite for lunch.

The largest in Europe is the Riga Central Market in Latvia, home to over 3,000 vendors occupying five World War II Zeppelin aircraft hangars, each devoted to a different category of produce. Sample some of the huge selection of pickles and sauerkraut, take away some herb-crusted Latvian cheeses, or grab lunch at one of the stalls selling pelmeni dumplings with a dollop of sour cream.

Fruit and vegetable stall at La Boqueria Market in Barcelona, Spain

Located just off La Rambla, Barcelona’s iconic La Boqueria Market is one of the most famous markets in Spain, known for its impressive metallic-glass structure and diversity and quality of products. This bustling market has over 300 stalls where the city’s chefs arrive early in the day to buy fresh produce, meat and seafood. You’ll find a wide array of Catalan specialities, such as jamón ibérico, a premium cured ham made from Iberian pigs, or regional cheeses like Garrotxa or mató, a fresh cheese often served with honey.

Back in Portugal, head for Lisbon’s Time Out Market in the old Mercado da Ribeira building, which has over two dozen restaurants and street food stalls selling local and international dishes. This culinary hub is one of the most popular informal dining spots in the city and a great place to dine tapas-style. Try a Portuguese classic such as a francesinha, a hearty sandwich with layers of cured meats, sausage and steak, covered with melted cheese and a spicy tomato sauce. Visiting Madeira, instead? The island’s subtropical climate and fertile soil keeps its restaurants supplied with the freshest ingredients, most of which you can see at the wonderful Mercado dos Lavradores in Funchal.

Fruit and vegetables at Mercado dos Lavradores in Funchal, Portugal

Embark on city food tours

A local food tour offers a unique lens through which to view a city’s identity while you savour its cuisine, one bite at a time. A local guide can open up the heart and soul of a place, revealing hidden gems and iconic neighbourhood eateries, and regale you with local history, stories and anecdotes while they shepherd you to your next mouthful.

Gateway to the autonomous Basque Country, San Sebastián was made for a food tour. The backbone of the local food culture is based around pintxos – bite-sized snacks served across dozens of pintxos bars in the Old Town. Let a local guide lead you to the best spots and give you the low-down on local wines to pair them with, including Txakoli, a naturally sparkling wine from the region.

Greece’s capital, Athens, boasts a vibrant culinary scene blending tradition and modernity, with restaurants offering contemporary interpretations of classic Greek dishes and international fusion cuisine in fashionable neighbourhoods. Stroll around the Akadimia area and the historic neighbourhood of Plaka, a lively district with an intellectual and artistic ambiance that influences its food and cultural scene.

Quiet side street cafe in Athens, Greece

Italy deserves another mention for its vibrant city Naples. It’s famous for inventing pizza, made here with the lightest, thinnest bases you’ll ever eat, and has a thriving street food scene. The most popular dishes include frittatina, pasta topped with béchamel sauce, peas, ham and grated cheese, and cuoppo, a paper cone filled with fried delicacies like seafood, vegetables and arancini. Join a food tour and you’re almost guaranteed to taste half a dozen of these or more – which is, of course, the whole point. Why not combine Naples with another city, to discover regional variations in one epic tour: less than 500 miles away, Sicily offers a distinctly different culinary experience marked by fresh seafood and lighter pasta dishes, such as pasta alla Norma made with aubergines and salted ricotta. Take a food and wine tour and pair dishes with local volcanic wines, like the bold Nero d’Avola and the crisp Grillo, showcasing the island’s unique terroir.

In Southeastern Europe, Turkey‘s food is a fusion of Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Mediterranean and Balkan influences, reflecting its position at a geographical and cultural crossroads between other countries. Think grilled meats with bold flavours, honeyed baklava, delicious tahini rolls, and fresh sesame-covered bagels. Istanbul is where food is most exciting and also where you’ll be spoiled for choice, as you explore the city’s diverse communities and heritage through its gastronomic scene. Taste your way across traditional kebabs from stalls where all the locals are queueing, and restaurants serving pan-fried goat’s cheese drizzled with chilli honey, or oven-roast lamb shanks with samphire. Then, as part of a walking tour, deep-dive into some of the city’s many markets (for foodies, we’d recommend Kadikoy Market) where dizzying arrays of traditional spices and herbs, sweet treats, fresh produce, cheeses and coffee will tickle all of your senses – don’t leave without stocking up on a bag or two of Turkish delights (locally known as lokum).

Sweet treats on display at a market in Istanbul, Turkey

Dine with the locals

Gathering around the dinner table with friends and sharing good food and conversation is one of life’s pleasures. This is the idea behind a supper club, bringing people together around tables across the world, where the only difference is these are friends you haven’t met yet. Generally hosted by home cooks rather than professional chefs, supper clubs combine a cosy dinner party vibe with the culinary excellence of a restaurant. It’s a unique way to enjoy a delicious meal with lively conversation, and dive into a country’s culture by connecting with the locals.

Athenians are known for their love of good food and social dining, so join locals in the Greek capital for a six-course dinner on a terrace with a view of the Acropolis. Enjoy an evening in Hungary‘s Budapest and relax while a grandmother cooks traditional dumplings and strudel (rétes). In Lithuania‘s capital, Vilnius, you can enjoy a four-course traditional dinner with a contemporary twist in the home of a restaurant owner; and meanwhile, in the Netherlands, you could go Dutch at a pro chef’s home in Amsterdam.

Traditional Hungarian strudel

Make it happen

Our local experts are waiting to arrange your gastronomic trip around Europe, so follow the links above and get in touch with them today.

  1. Italy
  2. France
  3. Portugal
  4. Latvia
  5. Greece
  6. Turkey
  7. Hungary
  8. Lithuania
  9. Netherlands

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