I love a good walking tour. And I absolutely adore history. Which is why I love walking through Europe’s great cities, where thousands of years of heritage are buried deep below the streets. All too often, though, the best history is hidden out of reach, the best stories remain in the past and the most fascinating relics are just out of sight.
But if you’re armed with a good map, an audio tour and a love history, you can easily retrace the past in heritage-laden European cities like Amsterdam, Budapest, Malaga, or Rome. Whether it’s a fragment of the Berlin Wall or a haunted street in Edinburgh, I love uncovering the hidden secrets that fill a city’s past with colour and character.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to put together a list of the top seven cities in Europe where you can enjoy a self-guided walking tour without too much prep or planning. Many of these itineraries were inspired by my experience with Around, who provide self-guided walking tours that cover many cities across Europe and the world. So, from Amsterdam to Tbilisi, lace up your walking boots, and get ready to dig deep into the past.
Table of Contents
The great Dutch city of Amsterdam began life as a humble fishing village sometime in the 13th century. It’s since evolved into a hedonistic metropolis, known for its intricate canal system and infamous red light district.
Start at Amsterdam Centraal Station, an architectural marvel in itself, and move on to Dam Square, where the Royal Palace stands as a testament to the city’s Golden Age. Nearby, the tranquil Begijnhof offers a glimpse into medieval Amsterdam, while a short walk leads to the Anne Frank House on Prinsengracht, a poignant reminder of the city’s wartime history.
Explore the Jordaan District, with its narrow lanes echoing centuries-old stories., the Nine Streets area is brimming with unique boutiques and cafes, conclude your walk at the Rijksmuseum in Museumplein, a treasure trove of Dutch art.
You’ll cover about 5-6 kilometres on a stroll through Amsterdam’s history, as you uncover everything from medieval history to red light district bars, making this one of the most interesting destinations for a self-guided walking tour.
I’ve taken many a walking tour in Berlin, from communist-themed walks in East Berlin to World War II history walks. It’s one of the best places in Europe to delve into the past, and much of the Berlin can be seen on your own steam, or with the help of a good audioguide.
Berlin offers a unique perspective on Europe’s turbulent past, and any historical walking tour in the German capital is not just about seeing landmarks; it’s a journey through the chapters of history that shaped the 20th century, from imperial grandeur to Cold War tensions.
Start at the iconic Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of both Germany’s division and reunification. From there, walk to the Reichstag, the German parliament, witnessing the blend of historical and modern architecture. Nearby, the Holocaust Memorial solemnly commemorates the victims of the Holocaust.
Stroll along the remnants of the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery, where art transforms a symbol of division into one of freedom. Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War, offers a stark reminder of the city’s divided past.
The Gendarmenmarkt, one of the most stunning squares in Berlin, showcases architectural beauty with the Konzerthaus and twin cathedrals. Conclude your tour at Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site, housing five museums that encapsulate Berlin’s rich cultural and historical heritage.
Read more: The Best Abandoned Places To Visit in Europe
With its strategic, and scenic setting along the Danube, Budapest has a history stretching back centuries. Traversing Budapest on foot reveals a complex past, marked by Roman settlements, Ottoman rule, and Austro-Hungarian opulence, all the way to its contemporary character, after decades of communist rule.
I’d recommend starting at Buda Castle, which looms over the city from Castle Hill. This historical palace offers insights into Hungary’s royal history, while Fisherman’s Bastion, a fairytale-like terrace, provides some of the best views of the Danube and Pest side of the city.
Cross the iconic Chain Bridge to the Pest side of the city. Here, you can stroll along Andrássy Avenue, a grand boulevard leading to Heroes’ Square, which is lined with neo-renaissance mansions and embassies, culminating in the impressive Millennium Monument (take a dip in the Széchenyi Thermal Baths if you’ve got time).
Nearby, the poignant House of Terror Museum chronicles the fascist and communist regimes in Hungary, offering a deep dive into the country’s 20th-century history. Conclude your walk through history with a visit to the stunning Hungarian Parliament Building, a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture and a testament to Budapest’s architectural grandeur.
Read more: Crazy Things to Do in Budapest
Edinburgh, with a dramatic skyline dominated by the iconic Edinburgh Castle, offers a fascinating blend of ancient legends, royal intrigue, and enlightenment ideas, all set against the backdrop of stunning architecture and cobblestoned streets.
Start your tour at Edinburgh Castle, perched atop an extinct volcanic rock and offering a glimpse into Scotland’s turbulent past. Descend along the Royal Mile, the historic heart of Edinburgh, stretching from the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. This street is lined with medieval tenements and significant historical sites, including St. Giles’ Cathedral and the Scottish Parliament.
Take a detour to Greyfriars Kirkyard, a historic graveyard known for its connections to the city’s past, including the famous Greyfriars Bobby story. Explore the Grassmarket area, once a medieval marketplace and execution site, now bustling with cafes and shops, and conclude your trip with a walk to Calton Hill, which offers yet another stunning viewpoint of the city and is home to several iconic monuments like the National Monument and Nelson’s Monument.
Rome is best described as a living museum, and it presents heritage-loving tourists with the opportunity for historical walking tours like no other. As the heart of the ancient Roman Empire and a crucible of Renaissance and Baroque art, Rome offers a journey through time, where every corner and cobblestone tells a story of epic proportions.
Begin your exploration at the Colosseum, the iconic symbol of ancient Roman might and engineering prowess. From here, walk to the Roman Forum, the nucleus of ancient Roman life, filled with ruins that whisper tales of a bygone era. Stroll to the Pantheon, a marvel of ancient architecture, its dome a testament to the ingenuity of Roman builders. Nearby, toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, a Baroque masterpiece, ensuring your return to this eternal city.
Head towards Piazza Navona, an elegant square lined with exquisite examples of Baroque architecture, including Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, and then wander through the historic streets leading to the Vatican City. And once you’ve walked all you can walk, you’ll have earned that Roman-style pizza!
Read more: The Dark Depths of the Catacombs of Rome
Málaga is a city where ancient history and Andalusian charm blend seamlessly, and walking tours are the best way to see this Mediterranean beauty. A millennia-old port city, with its Phoenician roots, Roman history, and Moorish influences, a walk through Malaga reveals a fascinating story of merging civilizations.
Start at the Alcazaba, a palatial fortress that dates back to the 11th century, offering a glimpse into Málaga’s Moorish past and panoramic views of the city and sea. From here, stroll to the Roman Theatre, an ancient relic lying at the foot of the Alcazaba, showcasing Málaga’s Roman heritage. Next, head towards the Picasso Museum, housed in the beautiful Buenavista Palace. Málaga is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, and this museum holds an extensive collection of his works, highlighting the city’s artistic legacy.
Walk to the Cathedral of Málaga, known locally as ‘La Manquita’, meaning ‘one-armed woman’, for its unfinished second tower, and conclude your tour at Muelle Uno, a modern waterfront promenade in the Port of Málaga where you can sit back with a cold cerveza and watch the world go by.
Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia, and with its picturesque setting along the Kura River and dramatic valley landscape, it’s been a cultural crossroads for centuries.
Begin your tour at the Narikala Fortress, an ancient fortification providing panoramic views of the city. From here, descend to the Old Town, a charming area with narrow streets, colourful houses and sulphur bathhouses reflecting Tbilisi’s long-standing tradition of public baths.
Explore the Anchiskhati Basilica and Sioni Cathedral, two of the oldest surviving churches in Tbilisi, stroll along Rustaveli Avenue, a main thoroughfare lined with grand buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and visit the Freedom Square, a key location in Tbilisi’s modern history, symbolising the city’s journey towards independence and democracy.
Conclude your tour at the modern Peace Bridge, a pedestrian bridge over the Kura River, representing the city’s continuous growth and connection between its historic past and modern aspirations. After your self-guided walking tour through Tbilisi’s history, enjoy a big portion of Khinkali and a few glasses of Georgian wine.
Read more: Top Things To Do In Tbilisi!
There you have it, the seven best cities in Europe for a self-guided walking tour through history! Which cities will you be visiting next?