Most travel guides around the internet are meant to provide you with a list of highlights to make sure you catch in a given place. They’re certainly useful, and generally they’re put together based on consensus opinions about the most beautiful sights, the most enjoyable attractions, the most iconic landmarks, etc. However, plenty of people also want to travel for purposes that go beyond packing as much as possible into a few days. Students take gap years, young couples explore new places, some people travel between jobs, and some who work remotely are simply free to set up camp in different cities at different times! In these and many other instances you might be looking into which cities are best not for a weekend of sightseeing but for an extended stay.
The truth is that this mostly comes down to personal comfort and opinion. The best cities for an extended stay are going to be those you find the most interesting, or those you feel most at home in. Nevertheless, we have a few recommendations, specifically around the European continent.
Paris is known as one of the world’s best sightseeing hubs, and there’s definitely something to be said for breezing through on a weekend and simply seeing as much as you can. Still though, the best thing about Paris is, for lack of a better phrase, falling in love with it. It’s known as a deeply romantic city, not just because it can draw couples together and people like to kiss in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, but also because it is itself romantic. This is something you can get a feel for on a quick visit, but it takes a little more time to fully understand.
Additionally, you need more time in Paris to properly appreciated its potentially unrivaled culinary scene. This is why one list specifically of cities that are ideal for gap years cited “Paris for the food,” saying it’s the only place to go if you want to turn your gap year into a foodie pilgrimage. Just imagine having enough time in Paris to develop a favorite spot for a baguette, or a top wine or dessert destination.
We can say just about everything we just said for Paris with regard to London. It’s full of sights, and fun to see all at once, but even better to get to know over time. Also, while it still doesn’t quite have the reputation of Paris with regard to specific food items, its culinary scene is among the very best in Europe. Additionally however London is full of entertainment and attractions that might not make the top-10 lists but are still well worth experiencing if you spend more time there.
Consider the theatre scene, for instance, which is legendary and consists of dozens of prominent venues. Or think about the pubs of the city that are famous around the world, or the numerous club football teams that call the capital their home. London even has a somewhat unheralded casino scene. We’ve previously written up Las Vegas as a place to experience before it goes away, because casino culture is at least somewhat on the decline, but London too allows for a lot of fun in this regard. This is all just to say you’re certain not to get bored during a long stay in London, even once you’ve seen all the main sights.
Dublin can be likened to London in some ways. For instance, if any city in Europe rivals London’s pub scene, it’s likely Dublin. The theatre scene isn’t half bad either, and it has its own rich history on the casino and gambling front (with a few active casinos still left in Dublin). In other words, there are a lot of ways to spend a casual afternoon or evening out in Dublin, and they don’t get old even in a matter of months.
Another thing that stands out about Dublin is that it has a lot of great hangout spots. That may sound vague, but it’s a city that’s known as a hub for thinkers, literary types, writers, etc., and some of the public places reflect this reputation. That makes it a fun city to get to know if you like to get out and read, write, do work, or simply hang out in public. There are good public libraries, cafés with plush seating, and simple but beautiful parks and gardens all waiting to be enjoyed.
Helsinki is frequently mentioned in all kinds of positive categories regarding cities in Europe: the happiest places, the most pleasant places to live, etc. Thus, it ought to be appealing for most anyone who’s looking for a lengthier European getaway. If so many travel writers and locals rank it so highly it must be doing something right!
It’s really a city that combines a lot of different things that you might expect to see in other places around the world, which makes it very fun to explore over time. For instance, the Old Market Hall and surrounding square might be fresh out of an East Coast American city like Boston or Philadelphia; the Espa park area looks like a miniature version of famous city parks in New York and London; some of the grand cathedrals look like they were plucked out of Vienna or Budapest; and there are pretty outdoor areas on the outskirts that don’t look like part of a big city at all!
Eindhoven, The Netherlands
It’s the least well-known city on this list, and the smallest, but we have to include Eindhoven given that it was recently ranked as the best city in Europe for expats (narrowly edging out Tallinn, Estonia and Leipzig Germany). Actually, the same ranking gave Eindhoven the top spot last year and called it the Netherlands’ best-kept secret, meaning apparently the secret hasn’t gotten out yet.
In addition to a generally pleasant atmosphere and high quality of life, one of the interesting notes about Eindhoven is that it has a great location for broader exploration of the area. It’s in relatively close proximity to Amsterdam, Brussels, and Dusseldorf, which is actually something well worth considering if you’re looking for a long stay abroad. You may not want to stay put the whole time (even in a city ranked as the best on the continent for just this purpose), so big cities nearby is a major positive.