Top 9 Schengen Countries To Visit This 201815 min read
Did you know that you only need one visa to visit 26 countries in the European Union? It’s called a Schengen Visa.
Back in 1995, the European Union established a policy in which you only need one visa to visit European countries in the Schengen area. The Schengen area is a zone in Europe where nations share common travel and movement rights.
The Schengen countries are:
- Czech Republic
With a Schengen visa, you can travel to any of these countries for a maximum period of 90 days. If you’re ready to plan that grand European tour, download an application form, purchase travel insurance, and decide on a route.
Need some help deciding which countries to visit? Check out our list of Schengen countries—and attractions—to visit for some inspiration.
1. Zagreb, Croatia
Nickname: Bijeli Zagreb Grad (“White City of Zagreb”), Little Vienna
The Lonely Planet recently rated Zagreb as one of the best places to visit in Europe describing as “at once cosmopolitan and edgy, with its heady mix of Brutalist architecture and sun-splashed Austro-Hungarian squares brimming with coffee drinkers.”
Here are a few places you can go to in your time in Zagreb:
- Zagreb Cathedral
- Zagreb City Museum
- Trg Ban Jelačić. The main square. Modeled in the Austro-Hungarian style, the square and the buildings around it are a prime example of why this is “Little Vienna.”
- Dolac Market . The city’s main market. It opened in 1926 and has been open almost every day since then.
- Zagreb Eye . The first business skyscraper in Croatia. This 16-story, 230-foot building has an observation deck on the top floor with a 360-degree view of the city.
Best time to go: The period of May to September
Trivia: The city got its name from the Croatian word “zagrab” which means “to scoop” or “to dig”. A folk legend credits the area being named “Zangreb” to a miracle from Blessed Agustin Kažotić, who dug a miraculous well to bring relief from a drought.
2. Madrid, Spain
Nickname: El Foro, The Forum
The Spanish capital is one of Europe’s most fascinating tourist cities. As the political and economic center of Spain, Madrid is a truly modern city that hasn’t forgotten to pay homage to its cultural past.
The citizens of Madrid have taken great care to preserve the look and feel of their historic neighborhoods and streets. Madrid’s vibrant cultural scene offers something for anyone and everyone who enjoys art, culture, and good food.
Here are a few places you should definitely try and see during your time in Madrid:
- Palacio Real de Madrid . The official residence of the Spanish Royal Family. It’s only used for state ceremonies though, they really live in the Palace of Zarzuela. Portions of the Palacio Real are open to the public.
- Plaza de Cibeles. A square build in the neo-classical style. The Cibeles Fountain and the Cybele Palace, symbolic monuments of Madrid, are found here.
- Plaza Mayor . The central plaza of the city. Café’s and restaurants line the square which is dominated by a state of Philip III in the center.
- Gran Via. An upscale shopping street that has the most nightlife in Europe. The buildings along the street are showcases of early 20th-century architectural styles.
- Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. A bullring inaugurated in 1931 with a seating capacity of 23,798. Bullfighting season is on March till October, but on the offseason it’s also a concert venue, tennis court, and outdoor theater.
Best time to go: April to October. The major festival of Madrid, the San Isidro Festival is in May.
Trivia: Legend has it that the original name of Madrid was “Ursaria” which is Latin for “land of bears”. It was called this because there were a lot of bears found in the nearby forests. The forests were also home to strawberry trees. Today, Madrid’s coat of arms still includes an image of a bear and strawberry tree.
3. Paris, France
Nicknames: The City of Light, the City of Love
Paris is one of the world’s most iconic cities and a rich art and architectural hub. While the icon of Paris is the Eiffel Tower in the famed Champ de Mars, there is much to see and discover in this city, both as a solo traveler or part of a couple.
Here are a few obvious sights you need to see in Paris, and a few “lesser known” spots that are definitely worth your time:
- The Eiffel Tower
- Louvre Museum
- Notre-Dame de Paris
- Sacré-Cœur Basilica . A domed white church located at the Montmartre, the cities highest point.
- Musée d’Orsay . A former railway station on the banks of the Seine that has been transformed into a museum. Hold the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world.
- Place de la Concorde. The largest square in Paris. Formerly infamous as the site of royal executions during the French Revolution. Now the site of the Luxor Obelisk and the twin fountains known as the Fontaines de la Concorde.
Best time to go: June to August or September to October
Trivia: The earliest inhabitants of the area we now call “Paris” were a Celtic tribe known as the Parisii. The name of the modern city of Paris was derived from the name of this ancient tribe.
One of Paris’s most common nicknames is La Ville Lumière or The City of Light. This isn’t just because of how pretty the skyline looks lighted up, though, it’s because Paris was the first European city to have gas street lighting. In the 1860s, Paris had 56,000 gas lamps lighting its street earning the city its illuminating nickname.
4. Vienna, Austria
Nicknames: The Imperial City, the City Of Music, The City Of Dreams
Vienna’s charming Baroque architecture gives the city its distinctive look and feel. It is the capital of Austria and the country’s political, economic, and political center.
While there are a lot of charming sights in Vienna, we’ve listed just a few that everybody raves about for you to check out:
- Ringstraße . A 19th-century grand square lined with monuments and parks.
- Stephen’s Cathedral . A Gothic cathedral that marks the center of Vienna. It has an ornately patterned roof covered by colorful glazed tiles. The tiles form a mosaic of a double-headed eagle and the coat of arms of the city.
- The Naschmarket. This market has existed in the city since the 16th century. It has more than 100 food stalls where you can get a taste of Vienna’s favorite food.
- Mozarthaus Vienna . Where the composer Mozart lived from 1784 to 1787. His only surviving residence in the city, it is now a museum dedicated to his life.
- Hofburg Imperial Palace . This 13th-century palace was the seat of power of the Hapsburg dynasty. It’s now the official residence and office of the Austrian president. It also houses several museums featuring exhibits on the history and traditions of the imperial court.
Best times to go: April to May, September to October
Trivia: Vienna is called the Imperial City because it has been both the seat of the Holy Roman Empire and the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Vienna is called the City of Dreams as a homage to Sigmund Freud, who developed psychoanalysis, the study of the unconscious mind. Freud set up his clinical practice in Vienna back in 1886.
Many famed composers lived and worked in Vienna, including Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Richard Straus, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Hayden, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
5. Brussels, Belgium
Nickname: The Capital of Europe
Brussels is the capital of Belgium. It is also the home of the headquarters of the European Union. The cities carefully preserved gothic and baroque-style plazas and cobblestone streets make this city quite attractive to tourists. It is also known for its beer, chocolate, Belgian lace, and a strange little fountain called the Manneken Pis.
What you should try to see:
- Manneken Pis. A small bronze fountain with a sculpture of a small boy urinating. The statue pertains to a legend about Duke Godfrey III of Louvain who was still an infant when he became Count of Brussels and was placed in a basket in a tree where he urinated on enemy troops.
- The Grand Place . The central market square of the city. Considered one of Europe’s most beautiful town squares, it’s surrounded by Baroque-style guild houses, the Town Hall, and the Bread House, a neo-gothic building where bakers used to sell bread. The Bread house is now the City Museum.
- The Royal Palace of Brussels . Official palace of the King and Queen of Belgium. Several parts of the palace are open to tourists.
- Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. A museum founded specifically to showcase works of dead and living Belgian artists.
Best time to go: Between March and May or September and October
6. Milan, Italy
Nickname: The Fashion Capital
Known as the center of the western part of the Roman Empire, Milan’s storied history are evident in its marble churches and palaces. The city may be steeped in history, but that doesn’t stop it from also being an epicenter of contemporary art, architecture, and, of course, fashion. Milan is home to the headquarters of many top fashion brands like Versace, Armani, Dolce and Gabbana and Prada.
Here are just a few of the interesting sights that await you on your visit to Milan:
- Santa Maria Delle Grazie . A Dominican church and convent. The place to see Leonardo da Vinci’s famous “The Last Supper” mural.
- Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II . A 19th-century shopping arcade with a glass roof. Stroll through and admire the architecture and browse the shops. Stop to eat at cafes serving authentic Milanese cuisine.
- Via Monte Napoleone. A street that goes through the fashion district. It’s along this upscale shopping street that you can find boutiques of many major fashion brands.
- Teatro Alla Scala . One of the leading opera and ballet theaters in the world. You can try and catch a performance of just visit the Museo Teatrale Alla Scala, which houses exhibits on the theater’s history.
- Colonne di San Lorenzo . Ancient Roman ruins. Most likely the site of a former temple or bath house. Found in front of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, one of the oldest churches in the city and also worth a visit.
- Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci . Italy’s largest science and technology museum. Dedicated to the Italian scientists and painter Leonardo da Vinci who has a whole section devoted to him. Houses the Leonardo Machines, models created from his drawings—including a flying machine.
Best time to go: April to May, September to October. The Milan Fashion Week happens twice a year, if you want to catch it, go on February/March or September/October.
Trivia: There have been people living in the area of Milan since 600 BC. Milan is said to have been founded by two Celtic tribes, the Bituriges and Aedui. These tribes had the ram and the boar as emblems respectively and the current city symbol, a wool-bearing boar pays homage to the original tribes.
7. Prague, Czech Republic
Nicknames: The City of a Hundred Spires, The Golden City
Deemed as one of the most scenic cities in Europe – even during the Middle Ages, Prague is a real-life fairytale metropolis. Bisected by the Vltava river, the city is known for its Gothic churches and baroque buildings.
Here is a list of just a few of the best sights this city has to offer:
- Charles Bridge. This 14th-century stone bridge spans the Vltava river and connects one side of the city with the other. It is lined with 30 statues of Catholic saints.
- Old Town Square . This 10th-century square is lined by many preserved Gothic buildings. The Old Town Hall, where the medieval astronomical clock the Prague Orloj still keeps time is especially impressive. It’s also the site of Prague’s Christmas and Easter Markets.
- Prague Castle . This 9th-century castle complex was the seat of the kings of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperors. Now it is the seat of the president of Czech Republic. The gothic St. Vitus Cathedral is also located here.
- Petřín Lookout Tower . Prague’s version of the Eiffel Tower was built in 1891. This 63.5-meter-tall structure was used as an observation and transmission tower. It’s now open for the public to take in the view,
- Dancing House . Officially known as the Nationale-Nederlanden building, this unusual building was designed by Croatian Czech architect Vlado Milunic. The building, designed in the deconstructivist architectural style was completed in 1996 on a vacant riverfront plot.
Best time to go: March to May, September to October
Prague probably came from an old Slavic word “prah” that means ford or rapid. This could be a reference to the city being a crossing point for the Vltava.
Prague became using the nickname “City of A Hundred Spires” back in the 19th century, when mathematician Bernard Bolzano declared that was how many spires he counted. Nowadays, according to the Prague Information Service, the count is probably more at 500.
8. Budapest, Hungary
Nicknames: Pearl of the Danube
Budapest is the capital of Hungary. Bisected by the Danube river, it is rich in history dating back to the Old Stone Age. It is filled with museums and cultural institutions where you can while away an idyllic afternoon and restaurants, bars, and cafés where you can have drinks, food, and conversation.
Here are a few things that you should try to see while you are in Budapest:
- Buda Castle . This massive Baroque palace used to be the residence of the Hungarian Kings. It is now open to the public to explore and home to a cultural center, three museums and a national library.
- Hungarian Parliament Building . This building, built in the Gothic Revival style, is the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary. It is also open for tourists to explore. Of particular note is the Holy Crown of Hungary, the coronation crown of the Hungarian Kings, which is displayed in the center hall.
- Stephen’s Basilica . Consecrated in 1905, this Catholic Church is dedicated to Saint Stephen who was not just a saint, but also the first king of Hungary. His right hand is supposed to be housed in the church’s reliquary.
- Szechenyi Thermal Bath . These ornate thermal baths were built in 1913. IT’s the largest medicinal bath in Europe, with water supplied by two thermal springs. The bath is built in the Neo-Baroque style and has indoor and outdoor pools where locals and tourists alike can soak.
- Danube Promenade . Located along the eastern banks of the Danube, it is a great place to stroll or people watch from a traditional coffeehouse.
Best times to visit: March to May, September to November
Budapest is actually a combination of two cities: Buda, the ancient Hungarian capital located on the west bank of the Danube and Pest, located in the eastern part of the Danube. The two cities, plus the city of Obuda, united back in 1873.
9. Lisbon, Portugal
Nicknames: City of Seven Hills
Lisbon is a charming and serene haven in the western Iberian Peninsula on the coast of the Atlantic. It is the capital of Portugal and the oldest city in Western Europe. The city has preserved much of its historical architecture and a stroll through its streets will take you past buildings build in the Gothic, Romanesque, Manueline, and Postmodern style.
Here are just a few of the sights that await you on your trip to Lisbon:
- Belem Tower . This fortified tower was built in 1515 on an island at the mouth of the Tagus river as part of the city’s defenses. It is an example of the Portuguese style of architecture known as Manueline.
- Sao Jorge Castle . This 11th-century Moorish castle stands on a hilltop overlooking Lisbon’s historic center. You can go in and look at the ruins left by the 1755 earthquake and an archaeological museum.
- National Azuelejo Museum . Dedicated to azulejo, the Portuguese art of creating painted, tin-glazed ceramic tiles. The museum collection includes ceramic tiles from the second half of the 15th century till today.
- Lisbon Cathedral . The oldest church in Lisbon. Construction began in 1147 but the building has been renovated several times, most notably to fix the damage caused by the 1755 earthquake. It is now a charming mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical architectural styles.
Best time to go: March to May, September to October
Trivia: The city name is said to be as old as the city itself, with some claiming it was derived from the Phoenician term “Alis-Ubo,” or “safe harbor.” Some Roman authors also claim that Lisbon was founded, and named after Odysseus, as he journeyed home from the Trojan Wars.
Lisbon gets its nickname from the fact that it’s located on seven hills: Graca, Castelo, Monte, Santa Catarina, S. Pedro de Alcantara, Penha de Franca, and Estrela.
If you decide to travel to any of these countries or apply for a Schengen Visa, note that you need to have travel insurance when you apply for one.
Travel insurance plans like Charter Ping An’s SmartTraveller provide holders with assistance in almost any emergency situation, in the Schengen area and more.
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