4 food-forward European cities to visit in 2023

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Over recent years, food and drink have increasingly become not just an additional priority for those planning travels abroad, but the sole driving purpose behind a trip. Encompassing everything from locally brewed beers to seasonal ingredients and regional specialties, a fantastic meal not only gives the taste buds a treat but provides a deeper insight into local culture and history. And from tours to tastings, Michelin stars to traditional bars, European cities offer a huge array of culinary experiences — all readily accessible to travellers from the UK. Here are four of the most tempting destinations and their defining delicacies to sample once there. 

1. Milan  

Home to one of Italy’s most exciting food scenes, Milan has undergone something of a dining revolution in recent years. For many years, Italy’s fashion capital had a relatively underwhelming food scene, one known largely for its dated, white tablecloth restaurants and fair share of tourist traps. However, after the city hosted the World Expo in 2015, everything changed. Now, alongside traditional Milanese trattorias, you’ll find natural wine bars, Michelin-starred restaurants, high-end pastry shops and fast-casual dining concepts led by creative young chefs focused on fresh local ingredients. For full immersion, explore the city’s markets on a food-focused walking tour, before heading into the kitchen for a cookery class with a local chef. 

What to drink: Milan is both the capital of the aperitivo and the birthplace of the negroni sbagliato, said to have been invented here in the 1970s. Before heading out for dinner, pull up a stool at the historic Bar Basso or the stylish Veloce Milano and request one as an elegant pre-dinner drink. 

2. Seville

Tapas plays a central role in the lives of Spanish residents up and down the country, and in the Andalusian capital, it’s an integral part of the local culture and history. A concept dating back as far as the 13th century, tapas dishes were originally simple savoury snacks served alongside evening drinks. The concept has become increasingly sophisticated over time and offers a wonderful way to try a variety of local dishes. Head out on an evening tapeo (tapas bar crawl) or enjoy some highly creative small plates from award-winning chef Eneko Atxa at Eneko Basque Sevilla. Or, dive into Seville’s thriving flamenco scene and book a table at a tablao, where flamenco performances are often accompanied by rich tapas menus

What to eat: Jamón ibérico de bellota. You’ll often see legs of this acorn-fed, free-range, cured Ibérico ham waiting to be carved at tapas bars.

3. Venice

There’s never been a better time for responsible travellers to spend a few days exploring the outstanding culinary offerings of Venice, as a new tourist tax for day trippers and a ban on the docking of large cruise ships aim to improve the city’s well-documented overtourism problem. Key to the Venetian cuisine are cicchetti, small, tapas-style plates such as crostini (small slices of toasted bread served with various toppings), tramezzini (small triangular sandwiches) or polpette (meat croquettes) enjoyed at a small — often standing room only — traditional wine bar. The lively and sophisticated Zoja Wine Bar & Terrace, at the central Radisson Collection Hotel, Palazzo Nani Venice, offers small plates alongside a wide range of local wines. It sits in the city’s Jewish Quarter, an area well known for its waterfront cicchetti bars. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to wash down your cicchetti with a craft beer, Il Santo Bevitore has a range of local brews on tap.

What to eat: Seafood is a key feature of Venetian cuisine: be sure to try bigoli in salsa (long, thick spaghetti-like pasta in an anchovy sauce), or nero di seppia (risotto cooked with cuttlefish ink).

4. Vilnius

Lithuania has a long and fascinating culinary history, its food influences ranging from the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires to Italy, Germany and France. During its 60 years of Soviet occupation, Lithuanian food culture was as good as erased, but over the past few years a new generation of talented young chefs has begun reclaiming their country’s culinary identity, enhancing traditional Lithuanian recipes with modern trends and techniques. The addition of a number of bustling market halls and emergence of a vibrant craft beer scene — built on Lithuania’s traditional farmhouse microbrewing tradition — means there’s never been a more exciting time for food lovers to visit Vilnius. For a true taste of the city, head to the Old Town, where the cosy Senoji Trobelė restaurant is celebrating its 20th year of operation in 2023. Book a table to enjoy hearty local specialties such as kepta duona (fresh fried bread) and sample a wide range of authentic Lithuanian meads. 

What to eat: Lithuania’s national dish is German-inspired potato dumplings, called cepelinai (named after the Zeppelin airship, thanks to their shape); they’re stuffed with mushrooms, meat or dry curd cheese.

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