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The 12 Worst Cities in Europe
1 Jun. 2017
The 12 Worst Cities in Europe

Who’s Bad?

I love Europe, but there are some caveats.  I’ve been robbed there while traveling, had countless frustrations in nearly every country there, and politically struggle with some European positions.  But I keep coming back, and always look forward to my next trip there, even if I’ve been to the destination before.  The positives associated with travel, especially to Europe, keep me coming back for more.

Preferences for various cities in Europe is influenced by different factors; architecture and ambiance are big factors for me, but even places that lack those, like Belfast for example, still are very worthwhile.  The women are beautiful all over Europe, but I’m not a big fan of Warsaw and the women there are pretty fantastic.

For this post, I’m focusing on mid sized to major cities, or those over 200,000 people.  I’ve written other posts about Europe’s best and worst that you can find on my blog, but here I’m keeping it simple and focused.  Also defining Europe is a challenge and largely subjective.  Is Moldova part of Europe?  Is it just the EU countries?  What about Russia?  Here I’ve included Russia and nearly everything West of it and North of Turkey.  So with all the great things that Europe has to offer, in well over a year of travel across Europe, here are what I think are the 10 worst cities.

The Worst Cities in Europe

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Iron statue on main street in Lodz, Poland

Lodz, Poland – the letters looks like Loadz, but is actually pronounced Wooj, and that’s just the start of the fiasco.  The city has around 720,000 people in it, and is the worst city in Poland.  In the general region that Lodz is in there are a couple other cities, Szczecin and Bydgoszcz, which are also pretty ugly – but then others like Poznan and Krakow which are some jewels in Europe.  Lodz itself is an industrial, communist relic, with little character and inspiration.  Dull buildings, boring architecture, and few if any sites that stand out to draw visitors to it.  There’s lots of rebuilding and construction there right now, but only so much can be done.  If Polish people find out you’re visiting Lodz, they will almost ask ‘why’ – that in itself should tell you something.  Warsaw is no dream either, but Lodz is a definite skip in your next travel to that part of Europe.  Please visit Poland though, it’s still cheap, filled with wonderful people, pretty countrysides, good food and drink, and has some great cities (Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdansk, and Krakow) and sites (Auschwitz, Wieliczka Salt Mine).

Bratislava, Slovakia – no, no, no!  Bratislava is a smallish capital former communist city that isn’t worthy, IMO, of a stop during your trip to Europe.  This is especially true in the region and competition that surrounds it like Prague, Krakow, and Budapest.  If you need water on your way to Prague or Budapest, well then hop off the train.  If not, keep on movin’ on laddie!  It’s the only capital or city that I can remember in Europe where an interstate basically just chops off the city right in downtown.  The city planners must have gotten tired and just said enough when they planned that road routing.  There is a small Old Town with run down buildings in desperate need of repair and old men outside playing chess, all interesting to see and experience.  But leave it off your list.  Check out Budapest, Prague, and Krakow if you’e in the area instead.

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Bratislava, Slovakia

Brussels, Belgium – some call it the armpit of Europe.  I equate it to the Erie, Pennsylvania of Europe.  As a positive, it has Grand Place which is one of the most wonderful central squares in all of Europe.  Manneken Pis, or a little 2 foot high statue of a peeing boy that’s dressed up each day in different clothes, is there and somehow became a tourist draw.  But outside of those two areas of interest (and perhaps the main cathedral in town), it’s a quagmire of old industrial and forgettable architecture.  I walked around for hours and a few days in Brussels, and in spots the city has an unsafe feel to it as well.  If you’re visiting Europe and have a limited amount of time, either skip this city altogether or budget 2 hours for it.  Just find your way to the center and then get out.  You’ll be thankful that you did!

Berlin, Germany – some people love Berlin; some people also love Brittany Spears.  Personally I pass on the city and Brittany Spears.  The historical significance of the city can’t be underestimated.  There’s no question that Berlin has a wealth of history to learn about, some wonderful old buildings and sites, but more than any other city in Europe it has an architectual Jekyll and Hyde thing happening.  If you love a mix of very new and old buildings, often right next to one another, then this is your city.  If seeing a building that looks hundreds of years old next to a glass building that looks like it opened last week, well then it’s probably not a top draw for you or your camera.  As a tourist destination, it’s not a top 10 city in Europe to visit.  Probably not even top 20 for that matter.  But living there or being there for extended periods would be different, as the people, culture and nightlife in the city grow on you.  I don’t dislike Berlin, it’s just not one of Europe’s great cities.

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Berlin, Germany

Norilsk, Russia – I don’t think Norilsk is the only one of Russia’s cities that could go on this list.  Just Google the city and search some images.  If those pictures don’t visualize urban depression, I’m not sure what does.  The city was built by Gulag prisoners in 1935, which set off some alarm bells to begin with, and the news doesn’t get much better after that.  Besides being visually unappealing, the city has major issues like pollution and environmental degradation that is having serious health ramifications to the people in the area.  The city is also located in Siberia, which means abysmal winters.  The population ranges from 175k to 200k so it’s one of the smaller cities on this list.  I highly doubt anyone reading this had the city on their list of “must sees” in Europe, but just note, Russia has some putrid cities.

Glasgow, Scotland – when I think about Glasgow I think big, rough, and tumble.  Glasgow is larger than people think, more dodgy, and much more ugly than most can imagine too.  The UK has some interesting places, but Glasgow and Manchester are cars in desperate need of not only an oil change, but an engine rehaul.  Unfortunately they don’t make those parts for the cars anymore.  I saw a fight in one of Glasgow’s alley ways there while walking in the middle of the afternoon, which wouldn’t mean that much normally, but take a look at where most MMA fighters in the UK are from – and Glasgow is bound to be tops on the list.  The center square is quite nice, with lots of food options and seating to relax, but it’s on the bottom rung of cities in Europe.

Cologne, Germany – first the positive; the Cologne Cathedral is one of the most amazing churches/cathedrals in the world.  It’s just amazing…and HUGE!  The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site too, and for good reason.  Like the Sagrada Família (cathedral) in Barcelona, you can look at and marvel at the structure for hours and wonder how it was ever built to such grandness.  A great bonus for tourists is that the cathedral is a few steps away from the train station, so visiting it and then continuing onto another destination is easy.  And that is exactly my recommendation!  In the summer, people gather in masses on the grassy slopes down by the river, absorb the sun, and just enjoy life.  It’s a relaxing place to grab some food or drink, sit down on the hillside above the river, and just take in life.  But as a city of over 1 million people Cologne has little to offer most tourists that are just visiting Europe for a few to several weeks.  There is just too much else in Europe to see.  Check out and enjoy the Cathedral, and depending on the time of year, wonder down to the river and absorb that experience.  But don’t spend more than a day in Cologne.  If you do, it will be one of those city visits that you wish you had done differently after your trip.

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Cologne, Germany

Oslo, Norway – Probably a big surprise for many reading this post.  Scandinavia has a lot going for it, but Oslo isn’t one of them.  It’s a surprise city, meaning that on your drive or train ride into the city you see the inlet and warf area, hills and forest surrounding the city and think “wow, this place must be amazing”.  Then you walk around the middle of the city and think “when can I get out of here”.  Certainly there are some sights to see like the Viking Ship MuseumVigelandsparken (large park with nude statues in odd poses), and The National Museum.  I got crapped on twice within a few minutes of each other by some pigeons in a park, which added to a pretty bad day in Oslo.  But that air raid doesn’t factor into my failing grade for the city.  Walk around the center of the city in the late evening and you might wonder what happened to all the talk about near perfect life in Scandinavia.  Also keep in mind that Oslo is really expensive.  By expensive I’m talking Top 5 most expensive cities in the world each and every year the stats are calculated.  I’ve visited Oslo twice, have friends and ancestral lineage there, and still can’t bring myself to rating it as a top place to visit in Europe.  Bergen is much smaller but nicer.  And other smaller towns around Norway in the fjords and outlying areas are very picturesque.  Hit those and pass through Oslo, or scoot over to Copenhagen or Stockholm for more camera cool photos, nightlife, and better vibes.

Marseille, France – just hearing the city’s name spoken sounds cool.  Knowing the city is on France’s southern coast seems even cooler.  Nearly everything about Marseille says “Yes!” until you actually get there and tour it.  Marseille is a big city, and one that is definitely near the bottom of best places in Europe.  Certainly there are nice sites to see in the city, like Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde an the Old Town and Harbor areas, but in general, Marseille is on a short list of spots to miss in Europe.  If you speak Arabic you’re bound to feel just as comfortable here as if you speak French.  At a hostel, a Palestinian guy that I had dinner with my first night taught me basic phrases in Arabic in case I got robbed.  I love France, but I doubt I’ll ever return to Marseille.

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Marseille, France looks amazing.  It’s not.

Frankfurt, Germany – If you live in nearly any major city in the world, chances are you have seen skyscrapers before.  Frankfurt is more of that.  It’s called Europe’s “most international city” and with good reason – it resembles so many other cities that you’ve probably already seen.  There is a mini-red light district with brothel style prostitution not far from the train station that most people don’t know about or are unable to find.  I tried to find it too (because my buddy who was in the military told me about it – not for pay to play) but couldn’t locate it.  There’s also lots of shopping in the main walkway away from the train station.  I much prefer Frankfurt am Main (pronounced “mine”), a suburb with much more old world charm and character, with traditional German buildings and houses.  Many people fly into Frankfurt on discounted air tickets, but as a piece of advice, don’t stay long.

Cork, Ireland – where most travelers in Southern Ireland to depart from to eventually visit and kiss the Blarney Stone, it’s a polluted and largely uninspiring city.  Kissing the Blarney Stone is something that is entirely skippable to put it mildly.  Certainly Cork is not a city without some charm in and around it; a university town with a vibrant nightlife, small stores, natural surroundings, and colorful traditional Irish homes.  But it’s not worth more than a day’s visit, unless you have large amounts of time.  The river running through the city center is closer to black in color than some sort of blue.  Dublin, Belfast, the Cliffs of Moher, and some of the world’s best great golf courses are much bigger visitor draws than Cork.

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Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest, Romania – similar a 37 year old Ford truck that looks like it could break down at any moment, Bucharest isn’t going to win any beauty contests.  The city touts lots of wide, communist “inspired” streets, grayed out buildings, and some dodgy areas that you need to watch out for.  Certainly there are some nice aspects about the city – Cismigiu Gardens is pretty and the renovated Old Town has charm, and the country is still very inexpensive.  Most travelers though won’t get to this area simply because of its distance from the other major cities in Europe.  Romania is very interesting and has some cool sites, scenic drives and nice people, but Bucharest is definitely not a must see in Eastern Europe.

 

(Dis) Honorable Mentions:  Helsinki, Finland;  Dublin, Ireland;  Tallinn, Estonia;  Gothenburg, Sweden

Any other must miss cities that you’ve visited in Europe that you wouldn’t recommend?  No place is perfect, but there are clearly best and worst cities in every country.  Happy Travels!

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