In April, Europe can be rainy, sunny, cold, warm, miserable, glorious, and everything in between. Often all in the same day. But do not let that put you off from a European city trip, because everywhere is bursting into flower, and European cities are equipped to deal with all weather conditions. So, dress in layers, and enjoy spring and all the joy the season brings with it. In April, many European cities are covered in blossoms and busy celebrating all sorts of festivals.
Throughout this list, you will find a mix of cities you have heard of before, such as Paris, and others you might not have ever thought of visiting before. Each city hosts a special event or activity in April, making a trip worthwhile. Come rain or shine.
1. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona is always worth a visit, but be there on April 23, and you will be able to witness the loveliest festival ever: St. Jordi. This annual festival is like a cross between St. Valentine’s and National Book Day. The idea is that on this day, celebrating Saint Jordi or Saint George, men present women with a rose, while women give a book to the man in their life. The city fills with stalls selling roses and books from sunrise, and every corner is filled with color, as most of the stalls are also decked out in the Catalan flag. It is a fun and lovely festival, but not a bank holiday, so life goes on like normal, it is just enhanced for the day.
Pro Tip: The already-bursting-full inner-city avenue of Las Ramblas becomes even more crowded as it fills with stalls. Hang on to your possessions and go with the flow.
2. Paris, France
Most visitors to Paris do not know that for a short period of time each year during cherry blossom season, the city practically explodes into pink blossoms. Just when you thought Paris couldn’t get any prettier, think again. Entire parks are dedicated to these pretty trees, elevating the simple Parisian lunch of a baguette and some cheese on a park bench to new heights. Seek out the normally insignificant-looking Square Marie Trintignant in the Marais, the cafe gardens of the Petit Palais, and the modern but fantastic Martin Luther King Park in the Batignolles area. And don’t miss the single, but ancient, cherry tree in the Jardin des Plantes and the photogenic cherry tree outside of the lovely bookstore Shakespeare and Co.
Pro Tip: Take the RER B from St Michel to Sceaux and explore the cherry orchard in the gardens of the Chateau de Sceaux. It is truly spectacular.
3. Amsterdam, Netherlands
April is the time to go to the Netherlands to enjoy their most famous export, the humble tulip. No more than 25 miles outside of Amsterdam, you will find Keukenhof, the tulip capital, with tulips growing in neat rows as far as the eye can see, separated by color, making for a breathtaking spectacle. During the Tulip Festival, Amsterdam is taken over by tulips, with them on display in 85 locations across the city, from museums, parks, alongside canals, and simply everywhere. Add to that the Cherry Blossom Festival, which overlaps in time, and you are in for a floral treat.
Pro Tip: Keukenhof opens only to a limited number of visitors each day to ensure the gardens don’t get completely overrun, so book your ticket well in advance.
4. Madrid, Spain
Madrid is perfect for visiting in April, with the temperatures just right for exploring the city on foot and the crowds still manageable. And then there is Easter. The Spanish are very good at throwing a great parade, and between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, there are around 20 processions in the city. There are also traditional Easter dishes to try, such as torrijas, a kind of French toast, and croquetas de bacalao, cod croquettes.
Pro Tip: It is also cherry blossom season here, and the historic Parque Quinta de los Molinos is a great place to walk underneath the pretty blossoms.
5. Brocken, Germany
I am cheating a little here, as the Brocken is the tallest mountain in the Harz Mountains in Germany, and not a city, but bear with me. Walpurgisnacht, Eve of Saint Walpurgis, is a very special celebration taking place every April 30. On and around the mountain, including the towns nearby, such as Braunlage, Thale, and Sankt Andreasberg, people go a little crazy, not unlike Halloween. Walpurgisnacht is an ancient pagan celebration welcoming spring and chasing away winter. The festivities were merged with Christians praying to Saint Walpurgis, who was believed to protect them from the witches that, as legend has it, lived on the Brocken Mountain and flew around on their broomsticks. The festivities include bonfires, people dressing up as devils and witches, plenty of food and art stalls, and many street performers. It lasts all night and the next day and is great fun and unique to the region.
Pro Tip: You will find many pretty little witches on broomsticks artfully carved from wood in the local shops, making for very cute souvenirs.
6. Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK
April 21 is Shakespeare’s birthday and, as history believes, his date of death, which is somewhat sad. But where better to celebrate the great bard than in Stratford-upon-Avon, his place of birth? The town tends to put on special performances and shows to celebrate, so book early to get into the theater if you are a fan. If the weather turns against you while exploring, you can always pop into one of Stratford’s lovely old pubs, such as The Garrick Inn.
Pro Tip: If the weather is fine, book yourself a riverboat trip. The Avon is very scenic, and it is a lovely way to see the town.
7. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is a stunning city, and you get quite literally two cities for the price of one: Buda and Pest, separated by the mighty Danube. April is not only great because the crowds have not turned up yet, but it is also the month for the Spring Festival. This is not a festival to welcome spring and chase away winter in the pagan sense, but this festival welcomes spring with music and culture. From opera and jazz to theater and ballet, the Spring Festival has around 200 different events taking place in the 3-week annual festival. In addition, the festival always attracts street performers and all sorts of other ad hoc events, so expect to be delighted at every street corner in Budapest.
Pro Tip: It does not matter whether it rains or shines, a visit to the ancient thermal baths is a must when in Budapest. If you visit the beautiful Gellert Baths, why not follow it up with dinner at the unusual Pagony restaurant next to it, where diners are seated in the (drained) children’s pools?
8. Parma, Italy
Visitors often overlook Parma in northern Italy, yet we all know its most famous produce: parmesan cheese. This ancient city, dating to the Bronze Age, is studded with beautiful architecture, such as the Baptistery, an octagonal pink-hued tower dating to the 1100s. It is a delight to wander through the old center in spring and have an espresso on the cafe terraces. But what I really want to suggest is coming over for a cooking class or 10. This is not necessarily limited to April, but this month is still low season, with the weather not too oppressive to slave over a hot stove. Parma has been named a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy and is the home of not only parmesan but also prosciutto. Both ingredients are readily available worldwide, so you can continue making the dishes at home without having to despair over not finding the components for your recipes.
9. Zürich, Switzerland
Zürich is a good all-year-round destination, but in spring, when the snow melts and the parks and green spaces around Lake Zurich spring to life, it is really quite lovely. And in April you get the chance to witness a special festival happening on the third Monday each April: the Sechsellauten. The ringing of the Grossmunster Church’s bells at 6 p.m. has taken place since the 16th century and officially marks the beginning of spring. A gigantic figure of a snowman called Boogg is burned to great cheer, marking the end of the snowy season, even if the mountains on the horizons are still very much snow-capped. There are parades, music, and many festivities, and overall, it is a unique and very Zurich-specific event you won’t get to participate in anywhere else.
Pro Tip: One of my all-time favorite German-Swiss dishes is rosti, a grated potato pancake served with various toppings and side dishes, or simply plain. April is still chilly enough to really enjoy this hearty dish, so pop over to the traditional restaurant Zeughauskeller for a treat.
10. Leuven, Belgium
Belgium is famous for its fries, its chocolate, and perhaps most of all, its beer. So where better to attend a beer festival than in Belgium? Leuven is the capital of the province Flemish Brabant, and it’s a historic city worth visiting if only for its beautiful old architecture. But Leuven is also known for its breweries, and once a year, during the Zythos Beer Festival, they all come together and showcase their best brews. During the weekend festival, several hundred stalls are open for tastings. You buy your small glass, take it from stall to stall, have a taste, and move on. At the end, you get to keep the glass as a souvenir. Fifteen miles from Brussels, the 20-minute train ride makes for a perfect day trip from the capital city.
Pro Tip: Leuven’s most famous beer is probably Stella Artois, and while you’re there, you might as well look inside the brewery itself on a guided tour.
11. Venice, Italy
You might have missed Carnivale this year, but Venice is always a good idea, especially in spring. And in April, there is another reason to pop to the canal city: The Venice Biennale, one of the world’s most important art festivals. Opening in late April and continuing until late November, more than 200 artists from around the globe showcase their work at the Biennale. There are often additional exhibitions throughout the city at stunning locations such as Gallerie dell’Accademia.
Pro Tip: Even a watery city like Venice has its spring blossoms, and during April, many walled gardens showcase wisteria blooms creeping over the walls. They are especially spectacular in the Royal Gardens.