Few cities are more quintessentially European than Amsterdam. From the moment you exit Amsterdam Centraal Station and board a tram riding south toward Dam Square, Amsterdam's charm is delightfully overwhelming. Order some hand-cut french fries or shop at the legendary De Bijenkorf department store, then make your way to one of Amsterdam's iconic canals.
Travel like a true citizen of Amsterdam and rent a bike (Vondelpark is cyclist-friendly). From the colorful stalls of the tulip-filled Bloemenmarkt to the art- and culture-filled storehouses along the Museumplein (At a minimum, visit the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum), it'll quickly be obvious to you why so many of the best European cruises dock in Amsterdam.
Have longer than a few hours? Take advantage of the Netherlands' small size (and great trains) and enjoy a day excursion. Head to charming Delft or to the tulip fields of Keukenhof or to Zaanse Schans, where the windmills rising above the water are the very picture of what it means to visit Holland.
It might be tempting to skip over Athens, particularly if you've never been to Greece or are eager to get to islands like Mykonos and Santorini. However, whether you've got a few hours or a few days to sit back and take it easy, get to know the Greek capital and cradle of Western civilization as best you can. Climb up to the Acropolis and enjoy a stunning panorama of the city but get back down to the markets of eclectic Monastiraki Street before dinner, if you can.
Athens offers a wide range of culinary experiences. Savor street snacks like gyros made with piping hot pork and cool tzatziki yogurt sauce or duck into award-winning restaurants for full-service takes on Greek classics like moussaka eggplant casserole, green salads with tangy feta and bitter kalamata olives, or flaky baklava pastries served with sweet local honey and filled with rich, delicious nuts.
After exploring the Parthenon, Theatre of Dionysus and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, head to Syntagma Square, which is the seat of the modern Greek government. It's not difficult to see why so many name Athens among the most beautiful European cruise destinations.
Barcelona's cool coastal vibe gels perfectly with the centuries of art and culture it has fostered. Spend your morning catching rays of Barceloneta Beach, then ascend up to Park Güell, one of the best-known works of visionary artist Antoni Gaudí, in time for sunset. Gaudi's other most-famous work (the Sagrada Familia cathedral, which has been under construction for more than a century) is part of what makes Barcelona among the best places to visit in Europe.
You can also trace the creative works of Joan Miro, including his red, yellow and blue mosaic along the iconic Las Ramblas pedestrian boulevard, the towering "Woman and Bird" statue and the Fundacio Joan Miro museum in Parc de Montjuic.
In addition, Barcelona is a foodie paradise. The best place to go if you've only got a few hours is La Boqueria market, where Catalan-style tapas are only the beginning of the delights you'll find. In the mood for fresh seafood? Head back to Barceloneta and drop into one of the countless eateries in the neighborhood's narrow, colorful streets.
Many of the best European cruises also stop in Copenhagen, albeit not at the iconic Nyhavn Harbor. Once you finish at the harbor, you have many potential directions in which you can walk. Seek thrills at Tivoli Gardens, one of Europe's oldest amusement parks, or you can make your way toward the statue of the Little Mermaid (the pre-Disney one).
Copenhagen is also a history buff's dream, not to mention paradise for an architecture lover. Take a tour of Amalienborg, the 18th-century rococo-style palace where the Danish queen resides in the winter. Or travel back in time 100 years before that at Rosenborg Castle, where a 17th-century Danish Renaissance spire towers over its expertly manicured garden. Christiansborg Palace is also worth a stop.
You can also enjoy a decidedly modern urban experience in Copenhagen's city center. Take a stroll down Strøget, a pedestrian street with stylish boutiques, cute cafes and eateries, where you can sample local specialties like Aebleflæsk (cured and salted pork belly). Or visit free-loving Christiania, a colorful self-described "Freetown," where a decidedly alternative society flourishes.
Ireland sits far enough away from the European mainland that it's easy to forget how iconically European its capital Dublin is. Yet whether you look down onto the city, pint in hand, from the observation deck of the Guinness Brewery or recall the characters of James Joyce novels as you traipse through Dublin's storied streets, there's never any question of which continent you're standing on.
It's not just that Dublin is one of the most beautiful European cruise destinations, although the city's cruise port definitely expands its potential audience. If it's a rainy day, visit the picturesque Trinity College library, whose seemingly endless stacks more than live up to their modern-day social media hype, and take to the lush lawn of St. Stephen's Green.
At sunrise or sunset, head down to the River Liffey, a tranquil waterway with icons nearby, including the 18th-century Custom House and the Ha'Penny Bridge, the most popular place to cross the water. Finally, no trip to Dublin is complete without a drink inside the iconic Temple Bar, though you should be aware that crowds inside this picture-perfect spot can be massive, so the earlier you can say "cheers," the better.
"Game of Thrones" might be over, but you can still take a Westeros-themed tour of the walled Old City if you want to see where your favorite scenes were filmed. Alternatively, ascend the walls independently to look down onto the terracotta roofs and cobbled streets of the coastal citadel. Afterward, sit down at an al fresco table at any of the dozens of restaurants, which spotlight a whole world of cuisine, not just Croatian favorites like crni rizot or black risotto.
Make sure you get outside of the city walls, too. The easiest way to do this is to exit through the Old Port and head to Banje Beach. Or you can ride the Dubrovnik Cable Car to Mt. Srd, which is a great place for a panorama.
Regardless of how long you spend here, it's no surprise that Dubrovnik is among the best places to visit in Europe. If you have longer to spend, consider hopping on a multi-day sailing trip that travels through Croatia's jewel-like islands or heading north to Split and inland to Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Start in Praça do Comércio, whose stately rows of arches bear a sunny yellow color that's iconically Portugal. From here, walk or take an Americano streetcar up steep and winding Rua Augusta, which winds through trendy Baixa Chiado on its way up to Alfama and the Santa Luzia viewpoint.
Another way to explore Lisbon, whether you arrive here via one of the best European cruises or on your own accord, is to head west along the River Tagus. Follow up a visit to 15th-century Jeronimos Monastery in Belem with a bite into a sweet and creamy Pastel de Nata egg tart or cross the 25 de Abril Bridge (Lisbon's answer to the Golden Gate) and enjoy a panorama from Cristo Rei, which evokes Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
You can also take a day excursion or two from Lisbon. Marvel at the colorful Pena Palace and mysterious Quinta da Regaleira castle in spellbinding Sintra. Or head instead to Cascais, whose whitewashed city center contrasts perfectly with the cobalt-colored North Atlantic, its stateliness with rugged scenery like Boca do Inferno, a towering sea arch.
If you're on the hunt for the most beautiful European cruise destinations, look no farther than the city of Nice, the hub of the French Riviera. Sun yourself on the rocky shores and along the crystalline, turquoise waters of the Promenade des Anglais or traipse through the Cours Saleya flower market in the Old Town, whether to purchase a bouquet of sunflowers cut fresh in nearby Provence or sit down for some of the best pizza you'll have outside of Italy.
You can also walk just outside Nice's immediate center in one of many directions to enjoy adventure and revel in beauty. Ascend the Castle of Nice, which overlooks Port Lympia and also provides a great view down on the city's main beach. Or walk eastward to Villefranche-sur-Mer, whose Rothschild Villa is the epitome of mid-20th-century decadence.
Speaking of the Côte d'Azur writ large, Nice is a great place to hub yourself if you plan to spend a few days there. Head to nearby Cannes (even if you can't attend the film festival) or to luxurious Saint-Tropez. Or ride the train to Eze, which offers sweeping views of the Mediterranean, or to Monaco, where you can try your luck at Monte Carlo Casino.
When you dock in Riga, the capital of Lativa, you might feel confused as to exactly where you are. Step into Old Town Riga, where structures like St. Peter's Church and the Riga Cathedral tower into the sky, and you might feel like you've accidentally arrived in Stockholm. Farther east along the Daugava River, meanwhile, structures like the Art Deco Riga Central Market and the Soviet-era Latvian Academy of Sciences evoke the 20th century.
Art Deco is more ubiquitous in Riga than the bustling stalls of the Central Market. Walk northward from the Old Town toward Elizabetes Street, where you'll find no fewer than three dozen examples of intricate 1920s and 1930s architecture, including the Riga Art Nouveau Museum, an interactive recreation of life a century ago that is, on its own, among the best places to visit in Europe.
You can also use your time in Riga for more hedonistic purposes, especially if you only have a few hours. Eat lunch or dinner at any of the dozens of open-air restaurants in the heart of the Old Town, including those that serve traditional Latvian dishes like herring with potatoes and karbonade breaded pork chops. Or feed your brain inside the National Library of Latvia, an award-winning and consummately modern structure that opened in 2014.
There are few destinations in Europe, let alone the world, more unique than the "floating city" of Venice. Whether you walk across the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal or hire a gondolier to take you on a twisting, turning, private ride through smaller waterways, it's difficult not to fall in love with Italy's most romantic city. Stroll into St. Mark's Square as night falls — if, of course, you don't wander into a delicious eatery on your way.
Several islands in the Venetian Lagoon between the center of Venice and the Italian mainland are well worth visiting. Hop into a vaporetto water taxi and get off at Burano, which is full of colorful homes. Or choose Murano, which is famous for its delicate, hand-blown glass. You can see it being made during your visit.