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5 Breathtaking European Cities to Visit

I went to Europe for the first time over the summer. Here are some of the most beautiful European countries to check out: France, Spain & Portugal!

Oh, Europe! I love you more than you know.

Didn’t it feel like everyone you know went to Europe this Summer? And why wouldn’t you? The food is fantastic, the people are lovely, and there’s a vast array of land to explore.

bow of a cruise

Back in June, Windstar Cruises invited my bestie Sarah and I on a James Beard Culinary Cruise along the coast of western Europe. Here were all the ports we visited:

  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Porto, Portugal
  • El Ferrol, Spain
  • Gijon, Spain
  • Bordeaux, France
  • La Rochelle, France
  • St. Malo, France
  • Dublin, Ireland

Seriously guys, how can one say no to such a once in a lifetime experience? Food & travel all in one is a dream come true for this girl. FYI: This trip marked my first time in Europe, a place I’ve always admired from afar. I’m already eager to return, breathe in the salty sea air and eat all the gelato, fresh baguettes and enjoy the sparkle that Europe brings to the foreigner’s eye.

Europe Collage

Today, I’m going to share some of my favorite places Windstar took us plus pics from along the way. We had limited time at each port, but tried to make the most out of our adventures by mixing cruise excursions + exploring on our own.

GUYS this is gonna be epic. You ready?!

city in europe

1. Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and we couldn’t have picked a better place to start our European adventures. The city is brimming with culture, colorful buildings, sea salt-thick air and smiling faces.

green door

One of my favorite things about the city were the small cobblestone streets lined with humongous pastel colored doors, lights and skinny sidewalks. The streets welcomed you with their intricate details and corner store shops.

timeout market in lisboa

If you happen to find yourself in Lisbon, I highly recommend checking out the Time Out Market, an original food concept that creates food and cultural experience based on curation from Time Out. There’s everything from tequila bars and sushi to local food dishes like salted cod and chickpea salads. Pretty cool, huh?

people sitting at a cafe

Time out market is very much like a food hall. See all the food choices? I literally walked around for 20 minutes because I couldn’t decide.

brunch platter

Finally I got salted cod, a chickpea salad, fried mushrooms with quail eggs and some sort of wonton. Apparently these choices were very Portuguese, and I must say, 100% delicious.

gelato in the air

After din, Sarah and I stopped for gelato. Sarah insists pistachio is the best (see below), but I can never pass up a TRUE vanilla bean.

sarah eating gelato

Another thing I loved about Lisbon is that the city felt completely walkable. In fact, we strutted our full bellies around for more than 4 hours discovering food, furniture stores and the beautiful purple blossomed trees lining each street.

I’d return in a heartbeat.

walking in a city in portugal

Next up…

patio in portugal

2. Porto, Portugal

Each day, we’d wake up and order room service. It was kind of our morning ritual — enjoy the view outside our room, chat about our plans for the day, and wait for the ship to dock.

The best part about all of this? Giant comfy robes from Windstar and delicious breakfast platters that included champagne and often, the little cups of peanut butter we requested. Seriously, I’m 99% sure we ate an entire jar.

breakfast table

After fueling up for the day, we’d begin our journey. Our second stop was in Porto, Portugal — a spectacular city full of old and new world architecture, street food, art and beautiful historical buildings.

european city

Oh and tile! Some of the buildings were decked out in colorful and often patterned tile. Like um, hello? Can I live here?

european church

If you find yourself in Porto, I highly recommend checking out the following:

Clerigos Tower: One of the most beautiful and historical churches with a nearly 76 meter tall tower and 240 steps + six flights of stairs to the top. Bring your walking shoes. The inside of the tower is absolutely beautiful and is not to be missed. When you make your way up to the top, you get a view of the entire city. Amazing!

Rua Santa Catarina. An amazing street for shopping in the non-traditional way. Plus if you’re into fancy coffee shops, then you need to stop by the Majestic Cafe and grab a coffee; it’s where J.K. Rowling wrote some of the Harry Potter books!

monique outside of a gelato shop

Cremosi: Perfect for an Insta! This gelato shop is frankly one of the best I’ve ever had. We got the following: coconut, fudge brownie and raspberry ripple. Every bite was as irresistible and well deserved after walking around the city.

pink building

harbor in a european city

3. Gijon, Spain

Gijon is nestled on the north coast of Spain and was a gorgeous site. My time wasn’t focused in the heart of the city, but rather less than a half hour into the green lush hills of Spain!

old european church

monique on steps

barrels of wine

In the hills of Gijon, we embarked on a marvelous cider tour that was part of the Windstar cruise excursion offering. We toured the cider house where they brewed the cider, then afterwards sampled the cider and stuffed our faces silly with bread, then Spanish meats and cheeses. It was basically the most beautiful cheese platter/table you’ve ever seen in your life.

And let’s not forget the wine. Beautiful, rich Spanish wine.

long table of food and wine

Also, this incredible rice pudding for dessert…

I knew they called this a food cruise for a really good reason.mini rice puddings

castle in europe

4. Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux was another one of my favorite spots in France. Everything from the beautiful chateaus to the rich food, makes me want to go back.

We spent most of the day exploring the city, searching for macaroons and lunching away. Later that night, we enjoyed a trip to a beautiful chateau.

monique in front of a yellow stone house

macarons in the air

Just a few things I loved in Bordeaux:

Wedding boutiques! They were everywhere and the dresses took my breath away. I don’t know about you, but I always have fun looking at dresses.

M le MacaronYou must try these macarons! Favorite was the lavender.

The park. There’s beautiful parks all over the city filled with carousels, gardens and benches for you to sit and enjoy the view.

stone steps with greenery

5. St. Malo, France

St. Malo is located in Northwestern, France and is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever been to. It’s where the Tour de France starts and home of the island commune of Mont St. Michel.

castle in europe

We spent the day at Mont St. Michel touring the commune, eating gelato and exploring on our way back…

holding a cone of gelato in the air

sarah in a european city

After Mont St. Michel, we spotted these horses on our walk and couldn’t help but take a few photos.

two horses in a field

brown horse

I’ll miss France more than you know.

overlooking greenery

The reasons to take a cruise with Windstar Cruises are beyond obvious in this post. Exploring Europe was a once in a lifetime experience and I couldn’t be more appreciative to the Windstar family.

Here are just a few more photos, because I can’t help myself..

croissant and eggs benedict on a plate

bikes overlooking a lake

monique and sarah

holding cookies in the air over the ocean

oysters on a plate

monique and sarah with mimosas

You can follow my travel adventures and food on Instagram — you can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat (username: ambitiouskitch). 

I hope you guys enjoyed my European Adventure. Thank you to Windstar Cruises for allowing me to come aboard and sponsoring this post. You guys are the best!

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