It’s hard avoiding the classic, traditional route through Europe. Tourist cities draw you in through impressive landmarks and recognizable features. But the best parts of traveling are the undefinable moments created by a combination of atmosphere, diversity, and originality. Creative underground scenes and artsy, hidden neighborhoods can inspire these moments – which is why some of the alternative places are often the best. Everybody knows Berlin, but what are some of the other coolest cities in Europe?
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Leipzig, Germany is one of Europe’s coolest cities
Hosting a passionate, creative scene, an unending nightlife, and a dominant, young population, Leipzig is becoming known as the New Berlin. It has the grungy, hipster feel of the capital, without the busier streets. Home to struggling artists and alternative lifestyles, it celebrates all things bohemian, free and, most of all, creative.
Like Berlin, Leipzig mixes the past and present within the city. In Leipzig, perhaps this is more directly intertwined in its architecture. Historical and modern is merged – sturdy stone buildings stand proudly next to bright, glass ones. Away from the main square, the streets get grungier – more graffiti, more artsy, edgier. Things feel less overhyped, and you can wander freely to enjoy the chill but buzzing atmosphere. In general, Leipzig is the like an accumulation of Berlin’s backstreet, hipster neighborhoods, without the big significant nation buildings in between.
However, Leipzig has much to offer beyond its comparisons to Berlin. It grew organically, from its independent routes, into the hipster paradise it has now become. Its popularity has soared in the last decade as it offers innovative potential and opportunities to young artists. The district of Plagwitz is especially famous for its multitude of regenerated derelict buildings, now accommodating workshops and galleries. But for all the buzz, it still feels pretty slow. The focus is on open, free life, taking it easy and making some art in the old avant-garde style – making it one of the most creative, coolest cities in Europe.
The capital city of Iceland, Reykjavik draws the outdoorsy crowds. Those that are taking a van around the epic scenery of the country, sleeping on a mattress in the back, beneath the stars and the northern lights, will probably start their journey here. True, it is a perfect place for the nature hippies and outdoor adventurers. But Reykjavik has much more to offer than merely being a rest stop before exploring the rest of Iceland.
One memorable, striking feature of this city is its colorfulness. Artistic graffiti lines the walls and buildings of the city which are gray and slightly gloomy. But they are illuminated by symbolic paintings and meaningful Icelandic poetry. There is a colorful happiness radiating from the work of the creative population, one you expect from people living somewhere so dramatically beautiful. Indeed, the people are the heart of the city – so unique in their isolation from surrounding cultures.
Small and quirky, the city has a definite air of independence. There is a lack of European commercialization – idyllic, hipster second-hand book and record shops line the streets. As for nightlife, Reykjavik is becoming especially renowned for partying. Clubs like Dolly have become famed for their thick crowds, electronic beats and early hours. Totally worth it, but be warned, these nights get pricey. Grab some famously lethal Brennivin to pre-drink beforehand and avoid the hefty bar prices. So before you go on to explore the nature of Iceland, be sure to experience the culture of Reykjavik – undoubtedly one of the most understated coolest cities in Europe.
Poland is known for its influential punk culture, and the spirit is still going strong in Wroclaw. A general air of social resistance remains alive in the alternative, artsy scene of the city. Wroclaw was once known as a fortress of solidarity against communist rule. Political rights and movements are still a top priority. More than just a creative, modern hub, the scenes of Wroclaw hold serious political undertones.
Here, you find communes celebrating free and open lifestyles – every wall covered in art and every room playing music. Post-industrial buildings have become places of art exhibitions and film studios. The city embraces local culture – celebrating food markets and local breweries. The bars and clubs join in with the rising European House and Drum and Bass music scene, yet the parties combine with political awareness – old parody newspaper cartoons line the walls of underground bars. In many of Europe’s edgy, coolest cities, their roots stem from political resistance. Wroclaw is a prime example – making it one of the most social, and coolest, cities in Europe.
The seaside town of Falmouth might not be a city, but it is one of the most unexpectedly edgy places to be found in Europe. It is thriving with art students from the local university, making it a creative hub, hidden along the coast of Cornwall. Its roots are traditional and conservative. The town’s history is based on the fishing industry and surrounded by the peace and quiet of sea and countryside. But the young student population have turned these quiet streets into a hipster haven.
You won’t find any clubs in Falmouth. But that’s not to say there isn’t a lively underground nightlife. The feel is more hippie, folksy, bohemian rather than urban hipster. Old man fisherman pubs have become humming student centers – real ale selections have expanded, stocked up on Licor 43, and second-hand books now line the walls. But the real night scene is in the house parties – wild and exclusive.
For how positively edgy Falmouth is – I once saw a hipster, during a house party Spoken Word session, reciting a poem about how much he hates hipsters – this is possibly the most hipster you can get. And, what makes Falmouth, perhaps questionable, one of the coolest cities (or seaside towns) in Europe.
Brno, Czech Republic
Another student city, the potential of Brno is known to those who have lived there – and rave about how great it is. Rising from its reputation of a quiet, reserved city is a booming energy of clubs, cafes, and alternative style. In embracing the weird and wonderful, there is an eerie edginess to the place. Where crocodiles hang from archways and monasteries display mummified bodies, it’s all a bit bizarre, and all a bit trendy. Many of Europe’s coolest cities become tainted by an air of affectation. But Brno is honest and raw. With no pretentiousness or posturing, you can directly experience the heart of this place.
There is a reason Berlin is so hyped. It is where all young people want to party, all DJs want to perform, and all artists want to create. It’s classic, timeless and the original of the coolest cities in Europe. Full of Birkenstocks and Fritz-Kola, uniquely buzzing neighborhoods and an indefinable artsy essence, the experience of Berlin is addictive and immersive. All these cities have their own things to offer. But if you are just trying to take the best of Berlin to another city, you can’t. Berlin is the only Berlin – and nothing beats it.
Disagree? Leave a comment to let us know your opinions on the coolest cities in Europe.