Europe’s biggest capital cities are all mesmerizing in their own right but depending on what type of person you are, one of the big five—Berlin, London, Madrid, Paris and Rome—will call to you more than the others.
We can’t return to these cultural meccas just yet, so instead, let us whet your appetite with our odes to their food and how it weaves into the cultures that make them each so rich and unique.
When Berlin’s former mayor, Klaus Wowereit, called the city “poor but sexy,” it became the unofficial tagline for the German capital. Known for its complex history, the city has long been a champion for underground and alternative cultures. You won’t find big chains thriving here, instead, you’ll stumble across unique bars, restaurants and cafes that have been inspired by Berlin’s desire to stand out from the crowd.
While not known as a culinary hotspot like Paris or Rome, Berlin still excels at quick bites that don’t hurt the wallet. The ever-popular döner (said to be invented in Berlin by a Turkish immigrant after the Second World War) is an open-faced sandwich filled to the brim with freshly-sliced lamb meat and crisp veggies all smothered in a garlicky yogurt sauce. Found in standalone kiosks throughout the city, this filling and handy sandwich satisfies Berliners young and old, whether as a thrifty lunch staple or a much-needed after-hours bite.
Discover Berlin through a born-and-bred local’s eyes with our city guide.
The United Kingdom’s capital is always bustling. Having shaken off its reputation as a culinary black hole many years ago, eating well is now part of the city’s work hard, play hard ethos. From visiting a new Hackney food market to being the first to try out the latest food trend, the question “where to eat next” is ever present on every Londoner’s lips. The energy is palpable and even the most relaxed tourist will find themselves lining up to try the latest fad.
And yet, traditions remain in London, with plenty of locals loving nothing more than a trip down to the pub. Pubs are a mainstay of English culture and have kept Londoners sated for centuries. Expect comfy, well-worn chairs, welcoming fires and refreshing tipples—all an extension of peoples’ homes. To a hectic Londoner, spending a lazy Sunday with friends over a roast dinner—think roast beef or chicken with vegetables and gravy—is considered the best way to unwind from the rat race.
Discover more trendy places to eat with our East London city guide.
Not as touristy as Barcelona, the Spanish capital is loved for its friendly locals and vibrant nightlife. Although most Madrileños enjoy the plentiful sun-soaked days in one of the picturesque parks or on a light-drench restaurant terrace, it’s when the sun sets that Madrid really comes alive. Bars and restaurants in barrios such as Chueca spill out onto the streets, creating a lively and raucous atmosphere. To keep patrons from not getting too tipsy most bars serve bocadillo de calamares, a sandwich filled with deep-fried calamari. This specialty is adored by locals, as it keeps them level-headed and able to socialize well into the night.
Madrid is a melting pot of Spanish food cultures. However, tapas is, unsurprisingly, very popular and suits the social nature of the city. Here, taking time to relax and really enjoy life is the official MO. In Spanish, the word sobremesa means the time spent at the table after eating—leaving straight after a meal is just not done in Madrid. Locals savor the art of hanging out, chatting and drinking, long after plates have been emptied and tidied away.
Find out more about Madrid’s welcoming spirit with our Daytrippers series.
Parisians have a somewhat undeserved reputation for being aloof but one thing’s for certain: they know how to enjoy the finer things in life. The French capital prides itself on its influence on art, fashion and culture. It’s easy to get lost in the city’s grandeur—seeing the 16th Arrondissement’s palatial Art Nouveau buildings for the first time is awe inspiring. And like its beauty, you can’t escape Paris’ love affair with food. From street food to haute cuisine, the French are culinary masters. Bistros dot tree-lined streets, offering iconic dishes such as French onion soup and steak tartare. For a true Parisian classic, look no further than the croque monsieur, an artsy ham and cheese sandwich—the French version has freshly baked, toasty bread, ham and plenty of gruyère cheese. First appearing on bistro menus in 1910, the croque monsieur was designed as a quick bite for the men of Paris but nowadays it’s for any Parisian on the go.
Treat yourself to a fabulous trip to Paris, with tips from our city guide.
Italy’s capital is a lavish mishmash of ancient history and modern conveniences. The city’s rich historic buildings are visible to all and make the notion of la passeggiata—a casual, evening stroll—ever tempting. These popular meanders are the perfect time to enjoy the many small bites and snacks that make up the city’s culinary tradition. Supplì, a deep-fried croquette of risotto rice, tomato sauce and mozzarella, is of particular note. Dating back to the 1700s, it’s said they got their name from French troops who were surprised by their stringy, mozzarella heart. Still served in “friggitoria” (fried food shops) throughout the city, their crispy exterior and gooey middle satisfy hungry locals and tourists alike.
Food and entertaining are at the heart and soul of Italian culture so follow local custom and take your friends to an unassuming family-run trattoria, in neighborhoods such as Testaccio, and enjoy Rome’s humble but delicious spaghetti carbonara, fresh pasta coated in a heavenly mix of egg, pecorino cheese and bacon. Bellissimo!
Get ready for a real Roman holiday with our city guide, full of insider knowledge.