Are All European Cities the Same?

Well, in short, no. But that’s fairly obvious. However, before dismissing this question entirely, it’s worth giving it some serious consideration. Firstly because, in some respects, the answer is yes. All European cities have an old town, a centre, a variety of interesting districts all known for different things (food, music, universities), often there’s a Jewish quarter, there’ll be large parks, most often a river running through, and various castles or churches as the main landmarks. They’re heavily populated by cyclists, and the main tourist centre will have dedicated shops for selling overpriced souvenirs to visitors from overseas. There are some exceptions of course, but right now I can’t think of any. But surely that’s the same for the rest of the world right?

Wrong. Japanese cities have their own set of rules, as do those in China. Australia’s cities are most often situated on the coast, with beaches being the main attraction, as with the East Coast of America. Africa varies hugely from country to country, so no, what I describe above is a hugely European phenomenon.

However, if anything our interrail trip across Europe demonstrated the huge individuality of cultures and landscapes, even when a country’s land mass was smaller than some US states. Some of these individualities even crossed borders, and the culture was instead linked to the physical landscape, like the Alps, or the Mediterranean sea. If anything, Europe must be the most diverse land mass in the world for the number of nationalities, cultures, personalities and languages squashed into one smallish space. The fact, too, that the continent is bound in its own collective identity, to allow you travel between borders seamlessly and watch as aspects change before your eyes is really quite astounding.

My advice for anyone travelling across Europe really boils down to three things. Firstly, take your time. While, yes, you can travel from Paris to Istanbul in just 35 hours, don’t. You’ll miss everything. So many people jet through Europe, hoping to cross off as many places on their list as they can. If anything, the quiet moments where you can observe the local way of life, feel the sun on your skin and just sit back and listen are the most enjoyable. If this means seeing fewer places then that’s how it must be, you can always go back again. Take your time.

Secondly, if you have managed to take off an extended amount of time and are hoping to cover a large amount of Europe, then make sure you’ve included a real variety of countries. I often hear people complain that Eastern Europe is quite samey. The many countries that make up this small area have many subtle differences, but if you look hard enough, you will find what is unique to them. If you want to see a real contrast, instead plan to travel between say, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Spain.

Finally, the key for me in Europe, and just about anywhere, is to try the food! While you may be able to get pizza and pasta pretty much anywhere in the world now, try authentic Neapolitan pizza in Napoli and Cacio e Pepe pasta in Rome. These delicacies give you an insight into the people of the country, and even the specific region wherever you are - pierogi in Poland, chimney cake in Hungary. It gives you a distinct experience in a place, reinforcing your memories of each European city, its people and its culture.