Neither of us are particularly “city people” but every so often there’s a metropolis that makes us stop and explore. Driving and parking our motorhome in most cities is usually very difficult so we try to avoid driving into city centres as much as possible, which is why we travel with two foldable electric bikes. We tend to find somewhere on the outskirts of the city to park the motorhome then cycle in. It avoids all the trouble of manouvering a 7.5m vehicle through city traffic, avoids congestion charges, having to find a large enough secure space to park in and you get to see so much more this way!
With this in mind the features we appreciate in a city are: accessability (especially for cycling), safety, great architecture, cleanliness (pollution and litter bother both of us- so much so that we have our own vanlife litter picking campaign called Parkup Pickup) and things to see (especially if they’re free!)
After travelling through Europe for a year, our top 5 favourite cities so far are:
We went to Munich for Oktoberfest, which is enough of an event in it’s own right and was on our ‘must do’ list as soon as we started planning our travels. After a few days of enjoying the festival, we decided to check out Munich itself, with the help of our first Secret City Trail. We caught the metro into the city with our bikes and spent the day on a scavenger hunt. The trail takes you around the city visiting churches, statues and discovering secret corners of the city with the help of a virtual local guide. As we played, we learned more about the culture of the area, the stories behind the renaissance buildings that line the streets and the modern metropolis that has grown around it. I won’t give too much away (I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you!) but suffice to say, the city is well worth visiting (with or without the Secret City Trail). Look out for the freshly made pretzels sold in the main square too!
We’re both massive history geeks and there aren’t many historic cities like Valetta. The island has a long history with the Knights Templar with many notable sites scattered around the island but most prominantly in Valetta itself. It’s position between Europe and Africa and the constantly changing relationship with Italy has left it’s mark in the architecture and culture. Almost everywhere you look there’s a connection to the past (including the open air theatre, which stands on the ruins of the previously destroyed Royal Opera House in the heart of Valetta). The Upper Barrakka gardens overlook the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities and if you’re spending any time in Malta, we recommend watching the sun set from there at least once. You won’t regret it! If you happen to be in Malta around Christmas, like we were, you’ll be treated to the beautiful Christmas market & festival which includes fairground rides, an ice skating rink and local food & craft stalls. We really enjoyed visiting Malta altogether but Valetta was a definite highlight for us.
Vienna is (unsurprisingly) a city bursting with art. Under every bridge you’ll find intricate floor to ceiling graffiti murals & if classic art is more to your taste, on every corner there’s a sculpture or a statue. We parked outside the city and cycled in (again), although this time we caught a tiny vehicle ferry across the Danube and cycled up the Kirschenhain, a garden built on a sliver of land in the middle of the river. It was a very strange feeling cycling through what felt like the countryside, knowing that a busy city was less than a kilometer away on either side of us. The track takes you directly into the city, so if you’re travelling in from outside, it’s worth taking the tiny ferry over. Again, we explored Vienna using a Secret City Trail & we really enjoyed this one. There are numerous museums, a beautiful city park & lots of places to eat whilst you watch the world go by in Vienna. We dare you not to have the Ultravox song in your head the whole time you’re in Vienna!
I had always loved Amsterdam, visiting a few times with my friends before this year of travel. Philippa was never interested, the whole use of the ‘legalised drugs and sex industry’ as a marketing ploy totally put her off going. We first visited together at the beginning of our travels in September 2019. After a great few days exploring the city, including the NEMO science museum (one of our favourite paid activities of the year) our trip was ruined due to a rude & offensive canal boat tour guide who personified everything that Philippa was worried about encountering in Amsterdam. A whole year later and we returned to Amsterdam to meet up with friends from Jersey. We saw a completely different side to the city: exploring fantastic attractions such as the Wondr Experience (which also made the list of our favourite activities), Xtra Cold Ice Bar and Body Worlds, eating out at delicious places such as the Avocado Show and spending much needed time with our friend from Jersey. Two of our favourite things about Amsterdam is that we can cycle ANYWHERE and we feel really safe wherever we are in the city. The public transport is also excellent; the ferry bus from north Amsterdam into Central we used twice, for free! It just goes to show that our first impressions of places aren’t always correct & it can really depend on who you’re with and what you do.
My favourite city to date is Valencia. We found a place to park outside and caught the metro in with our bikes, and I’m glad we did. Valencia is the city of arts and science, filled with amazing buildings, gardens, art and culture. The entire space is very cyclist friendly, which is always a bonus for us as we don’t need to worry too much about traffic as we explore. The central metro station is a stones throw from the Turia Gardens, which run along the old river bed. The river has been diverted around the city, leaving the area as a place for locals to relax, play sport and enjoy life. At one end of the river you’ll find a large park and the old town, at the other end you’ll find the City of Arts & Science. The old town is filled with renaissance architecture and historic figures, whilst the City of Arts & Science is a futuristic exhibition space which wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie. Valencia is an incredible place, and a genuine must-visit for anyone looking for a city break. Very rarely do we find places that offer everything, and in my opinion Valencia is one of those places.
The Danish capital was a late entry as we only visited it in July, but ultimately it was Philippa’s favourite city overall. We parked at Amager Strandpark and cycled into the city centre, following the cycle path that winds past the beaches & along the coast. Copenhagen is fantastic for cycling, with more than 60% of locals cycling every day. The track takes you up and over the bridges crossing the river, past the famous colourful houses of Nyhavn, through the gardens at Kastellet and along the quay. After a while you’ll get to the infamous Little Mermaid (personally, I prefer the Genetically Altered Little Mermaid, a statue just a little further along the path), before you arrive in the centre of the city. If you’re looking for something a little different, check out Freetown Christiania – an Anarchist commune in the heart of Copenhagen. The rules are a little different there, so make sure you pay attention to them if you go!
So there you have it, our 6 favourite european cities so far. What’s your favourite european city? Do you disagree with any of our picks? Let us know and we’ll try to fit your favourites into our plans as we travel!