The 5 Friendliest Countries in Europe for Black Travelers
Traveling while black in Europe over the last seven years, I have experienced far more wow moments and fuzzy feelings than negatives experiences. I won’t to let incidents like being refused service at a tapas bar in Spain and getting stalked by a middle-aged man in Croatia taint the priceless moments I’ve had. Still, black tourists like myself unfortunately have to deal with unpleasant treatment on a continent that touts its progressiveness. But Europe is a vast place with plenty of black-friendly destinations where you can feel right at home. In this post, I’m going to share the 5 friendliest countries in Europe for black travelers. This list is based on my experiences as well as those of other avid black travelers.
Which black travelers I’m I referring to?
I make it a point to acknowledge how your nationality affects your travel experiences as a black person. Having an American or British passport could, for instance, save you from a long interrogation at border patrols. Although I have experienced race-motivated mistreatment, I also know that being an American citizen has been an advantage when navigating Europe. For instance, when I would go to exchange money anywhere in Spain, presenting my American passport would lead to polite conversation and smiles. I also encountered the same hospitality in Greece and Italy, countries that you’ll typically find on lists of the most racist places in Europe. It’s as if my passport is sort of magical wand that instantly puts service people on their best behavior (most of the time.) For the purpose of this article, I am mostly referring to black travelers from the west – African Americans, Black Brits, and the like. Without further ado, here are the best countries for black tourists in Europe, in no particular order.
The best countries in Europe for black tourists
Portugal is hands down the most underrated country in Europe. It doesn’t get as much love as its next door neighbor, Spain, but should not be overlooked! Where do I even begin? Well, let’s go back to my first visit to Portugal. It was 2012, and I was studying abroad in the Spanish Basque Country. My friends decided to take a weekend trip to Lisbon, and I reluctantly tagged along. ‘What happens in Lisbon?’ I thought. In my head, Lisbon was just some random port city. Boy was I wrong! I remember riding the trolley up the steep, colorful streets and thinking ‘wow!’ At night, my friend and I went to a giant street party in the Bairro Alto neighborhood, where we were staying. We ran into two Italian men who asked us to get to their hotel after chatting for an hour. Hell to the no! Watch out for the unscrupulous men hanging around Bairro Alto at night.
When in Lisbon, you must eat the seafood rice and the famous pasteis de nata, egg tarts. Pasteis de Belem has been serving it’s golden egg tarts since 1837. Honestly, I didn’t think they were as good as the Chinese egg tarts I eat in LA, but they were good. Pasteis de Belem also sells meat pies and other pastries that are better than the pasteis de nata. For seafood rice, I’d recommend Estrela da Baixa, a mom and pop location that a local told me about. You can find seafood rice in almost any restaurant, but the quality will vary. Estrela da Baixa will not disappoint.
Pasteis de Belem: R. de Belém 84-92, 1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal
Estrela da Baixa: Rua da Conceição 11, 1100-500 Lisboa, Portugal⠀
My second visit to Portugal was with my sister in 2016, when I was living in Madrid. We took a day trip to Sintra, just 2 hours from Lisbon. Sintra is like a kingdom with a collection of palaces, mansions, villas, and other creations of King Ferdinand II. There, you’ll find the out-of-this-world Pena Palace, which is located at the top of the Sintra mountains. It takes about 45 minutes to drive up there, but the views are insane! From Sintra, we stopped at Cabo de Roca, the southernmost point in Europe.
In addition to Lisbon, my sister and I made a trip up north to Porto. Along the way, we stopped at Aveiro and Fatima. If you’re Catholic, you may have heard about the Miracle at Fatima. Well, it was in Fatima that the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three children. Anyway, back to Porto. This city is famous for two things: wine and a sandwich called Fransecinha. For the famous port wine, try Taylor’s Port winery. It’s a bit tricky to find so you may want to join a wine tasting tour. For Fransecinha, a sandwich with layers of ham, eggs, and melted cheese, I’d head to Cafe Santiago.
Taylor’s Port: Rua do Choupelo 250, 4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal
Cafe Santiago: R. de Passos Manuel 226, 4000-382 Porto, Portugal
My third visit to Lisbon was a solo trip in the summer of 2018. There were expats everywhere. I mean the streets were brimming with them. I guess the secret is out – Lisboa is not only stunning, but it’s also one of the most affordable cities to live in Europe. I’m glad I got to experience it before gentrification. Despite the influx of foreigners, Lisbon still maintains the qualities that make it special: the easy going vibe, warm people, delicious food, colorful architecture, and, of course, those classic trolleys.
The hills are alive in this gorgeous country sandwiched in the middle of Central Europe. What initially drew me to Austria was the fact that The Sound of Music was filmed here. I watched that movie all the time as a kid so I wanted to go see the filming locations. When I visited the city of Salzburg, just two hours east of Munich, I immediately fell in love. Despite the fact that it was still snowing in April, this city was so quaint and charming.
Salzburg is a small city so you can actually see it in 2 days. The must-see places are the Hohensalzburg Fortress, the Mirabelle Palace, and the birthplace of Mozart. Be sure to try Wienerschnitzel, a breaded veal dish. I had it at the restaurant inside Hohensalzburg Fortress, which has breathtaking views of the city.
Beyond Salzburg, you can take a day trip to the picturesque village of Hallstatt. This little village is one of those places that look like somewhere out of a painting. You can also go experience the opera in the capital, Vienna. Some say Vienna’s boring while others rave about it. I personally have no interest in visiting Vienna just because I’m done with European capitals.
Hungary is the coolest place in Eastern Europe by a mile. The Czech Republic may be slightly prettier, but the people struck me as cold and humorless. Maybe it was because I went in February, but it was nearly impossible to find anyone in a cheerful mood. In Hungary, on the other hand, the people were more open and welcoming.
I decided to visit Hungary after befriending a woman from Budapest while living in Madrid. Initially, I was skeptical about going solo. Up to that point, the only other place I had visited in Eastern Europe was the Czech Republic, and I had gone with a friend. Given the frosty reception we received, I was worried that Hungary might be similar. Wrong! Budapest turned out to be a blast, and I found the Hungarians to be approachable. I ended up making a ton of friends and having a really enjoyable weekend.
When in Budapest, you definitely have to visit the bath houses! You’ve probably seen a ton of photos of the famous Schenzenyi Baths on Instagram. Budapest has more bathhouses than any other European city so there are tons of other options. Also check out Gellert Baths and Rudas Baths. There’s a ton to do in Budapest so I would recommend at least 3-5 days to experience the city.
Szechenyi Thermal Bath: Budapest, Állatkerti krt. 9-11, 1146 Hungary
Gellert Thermal Bath: Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4, 1118 Hungary
Rudas Thermal Bath: Budapest, Döbrentei tér 9, 1013 Hungary
When it comes to food, you need to try a famous desert called Langosh. It is D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S! The receptionist at my hostel recommended a little shop called Retró Lángos Büfé and I thought it was great. You may also want to try Hungarian Goulash. In the center of the city, there’s a long street called Vaci Utca, which is lined with restaurants. I would go far down the street to find the cheaper and less touristy restaurants.
Retró Lángos Büfé: Budapest, Podmaniczky Frigyes tér 4, 1054 Hungary
Lots of restaurants: Budapest, Vaci Utca, 1056 Hungary
Ah Denmark. I guess Denmark is special to me because it’s the first country I ever visited outside the US and Nigeria. I first visited in the spring of 2011, when it was blistering cold. Still, I was charmed by the gingerbread-like houses and grand castles. Scandinavia, which consists of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland, is known for its very high standard of living and happy people. This is where you can get 400 days of paid maternity leave. No wonder why they’re happy.
Copenhagen, the capital, is where you’ll find a lot of the unique attractions. Case in point: there is a community called Freetown Christiania that declared independence from the Danish government. The area is home to about 1,000 people and is famous for being an enclave for alternative lifestyles (as well as drugs.) Christiania is a popular tourist destination nowadays. When I visited, I found it sketch and was a felt uncomfortable. Would I recommend visiting Christiania? If you’re curious, sure. But there isn’t much to write home about to be honest.
There are less sketch ways to spend your time in Copenhagen. If you visit during the summer, you should go to Tivoli Gardens, which is the second largest amusement park in Europe. The place is just gorgeous, with a large garden and a palace. You’ll also run into performances by some marching bands. I didn’t actually go on any rides, but they looked tame. Nothing close to Six Flags or even Disneyland.
In Copenhagen, there’s a famous statue of the Little Mermaid, whose creator was from Denmark. Lastly, you have to stop by the iconic Nyhavn canal to snap some photos. Surrounded by boats and colorful houses, the Nyhavn is the picture you always see in postcards.
I’ve developed a dislike for England for a couple of reasons:
- I am consistently harassed by the border agents at London airports. It has happened three times so far.
- There is a strong superiority complex and condescending attitude towards Americans among the English
- They say when a man tires of London, he tires of life. Really? I know London isn’t England and I’ve actually preferred my visits to the smaller cities and towns. But, please, even Londoners will tell you it’s becoming a cesspool
- I would talk about the depressing weather, but they have no control over that so I’ll give them a break.
Given my not-so-pleasant experiences in England, Scotland was a breath of fresh air. I visited for the first time in the summer of 2018 and was so impressed. The people were actually nice. Gasp. They are also fiercely proud of their country and history, which is always nice to see. I took a tour of the Scottish Highlands, and my tour guide showed up in the a kilt sans underwear. How do I know? He said so. Apparently, it is tradition for men who wear kilts to go commando. Oh, Scotland! Fellow blogger Gloria was also experienced the Scottish sense of humor.
Most of my time in Scotland was spent in Edinburgh, where you’ll find a ton of things to do. First is the Royal Mile, the main street in Edinburgh. It’s where you’ll find a lot of iconic buildings, shops, street performances, and more. Edinburgh Castle, which sits on a hill in the Old Town, is located along the Royal Mile. Getting from the Old Town to the New Town just requires crossing some tunnel-like pathways and walking down the stairs. While in the New Town, visit Grassmarket for traditional Scottish food and vintage shopping. If you love gardens like me, you won’t want to miss Princes Street Gardens. Absolutely stunning!
I went to Edinburgh in August when the Fringe Festival was going on so there was even more to do. The Fringe Festival is an annual arts festival that happens every August. Comedians, singers, poets, dancers, and all types of artists put on shows around the city for about three weeks. August is a good time to visit because of the festival and the favorable weather. By favorable, I mean there’s rain instead of snow. Scottish weather is probably worse than English weather, but the hospitality of the people and the beautiful highlands make up for it.
There you have it – the five friendliest European countries for black travelers. Have you visited any of these countries? What other friendly countries would you add to the list?