“Friendly” European Places

Back in October 2020, Condé Nast Traveller published a list of the ten “friendliest” cities in Europe. I missed it at the time. However, I noticed it yesterday when the magazine mentioned it on Twitter:

I thought it was intriguing.

[Market Square, Potton, December 2019. Photo by me.]

Potton is a town, not a city. So obviously my little Bedfordshire town does not qualify. 😉

Any such reader poll is purely subjective, of course. Its list includes some cities you might expect, such as Dublin, Ireland. And maybe some you might not.

Dublin, though, for example, I thought twenty years ago WAS super-friendly. That does not mean it is not “friendly” now. However, in the last decade as it has grown by leaps and bounds into far more of a large capital city much like a smaller version of London, in my humble opinion it is not quite as “friendly” as it was.

[Lisbon, Portugal, April 2017. Photo by me.]

Lisbon, Portugal is also on the list. That is understandable. The Portuguese almost happily forgive the fact that we try to speak our few words of Portuguese as if it was Spanish. LOL!

To some cities I find “friendly” in various ways that were not on the magazine’s readers’ list.

Don’t laugh, but I have found Belfast, Northern Ireland quite a friendly place. It is a city, but feels about the size of a large English town. Maybe it was the American accent. (We sort of come down on “both” sides, I guess.) But I don’t think I encountered any local there on a late 2016 visit that I would have considered unfriendly. (Aside from at the Remembrance Sunday parade. Any political parade is apt to be tense there.)

Syracuse in Sicily, Italy – particularly its old town center island, Ortygia – I find friendly too. Although in that case maybe it was the fact that until I opened my mouth they may have thought I was one of “them?” In a sense, I was: One of my great-grandmothers moved from there to New York (at age nineteen) in the early 1900s. LOL!

Another that might surprise you is Brussels. It is the capital of Belgium, NATO headquarters, and home to the European Union. Yet on its back streets are history and small restaurants where you can forget everything and people chat away to you as if you too are a “local.” The cosmopolitan nature of it is such that everyone speaks a little of something and you can have fun rambling on even in bad French.

[Bookstore. Geneva, Switzerland, February 2018.]

Geneva, Switzerland is similar in some ways to Brussels as an “international” place. On the lake are shops and restaurants that are also so expensive they will bring tears to your eyes when you see the prices. For genuine friendliness, and some measure of affordability, you need to venture up to the old town. It has not just friendly people, but you are in a way transported back 300 years – and you may get a meal without needing a second mortgage.

[A famous Rome landmark. Photo by me, 2013.]

I think Rome, Italy is actually a surprisingly friendly place. Given the crush of tourists and pilgrims in the predictable places, you might not think so. But if you walk a few streets away from the pricey squares and sights you find another world.

[Tourists at the Eiffel Tower. Photo by me, July 1996.]

I have been all over Paris, France (I probably know it better than any big city in Europe after London), but I have not been there recently enough, I think, to comment on its current state. (I have heard things, though – both positive and negative, which is always going to be the case.) If there is one place that does not have a reputation as friendly, it is Paris. (Even French non-Parisians consider Paris unfriendly. As we New Yorkers have an unfriendly reputation, Parisians are, you might say, the New Yorkers of France.) My experience there was, again, if you got away from the tourist spots and the single-digit inner arrondissements (districts) and ventured into the likes of the mostly residential 15th, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Crushes of (we) visitors tends anywhere to get locals a bit annoyed. Yet my gut feeling tells me that at least for a short time as visitors return post-pandemic, everywhere will be FRIENDLIER. Because EVERYONE will be happy to see tourists again in person.

Even our friends in Paris. 😉

Hope you’re having a good weekend. 🙂