Andrew Medichin  /  AP
The ancient Colosseum is lit up.
By Editor

Cruise Critic's new European "Hot List" offers our own, opinionated take of the best of the best of Europe's 10 most fabulous ports.

1. Rome
Best Small Pleasure: Eating and drinking at one of the city's famous piazzas, like Piazza Navona or Campo dei Fiori; particularly delicious are the pastas (particularly pasta carbonara), pizzas and gelatos. Wash 'em down with a glass of the house wine -- white or red the Italian wines always tasted delicious.

Biggest Surprise: Stumbling across some of Rome's most famous monuments -- by accident; meandering along winding, narrow, streets when, suddenly, there's the Pantheon! Or the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps!...the neighborhood of Trastevere, with its funky boutiques and numerous sidewalk cafes.

Touristy But Fabulous: A pilgrimage to St. Peter's Basilica and  Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.

2. Barcelona
Best Small Pleasure: A plate of tapas...strolling along the beach in the fishing village of afternoon siesta.

Biggest Surprise: That Barcelona's most famous cathedral -- La Sagrada Familia, designed by native son Antoni Gaudi -- is still unfinished more than 75 years after his death; it's still well-worth visiting. Most fascinating was wandering around a cathedral-in-progress (as construction workers ply their trade around you) and also climbing the 365-winding, turret-esque stairs of the bell towers for a marvelous view.

Touristy But Fabulous: Wandering along Las Ramblas, Barcelona's famed pedestrian boulevard and sipping wine at one of its numerous cafes; make sure to also visit Las Ramblas' Boqueria, Barcelona's fabulous food market...Museu Picasso, not just for its collection of the artist's work but also the 15th century palace that houses them.

3. Venice
Best Small Pleasure: Tucking into a cheap -- but delicious -- plate of pasta with a local wine at one of the city's numerous trattorias (tip: generally the further away from San Marco Square, the less touristy they are).

Biggest Surprise: Riding the vaporreto -- a water version of a city bus -- around the city...exploring the nearby island of Guidecca (where the "real" locals live).

Touristy But Fabulous: San Marco Square is...awesome! During the height-of-summer, try to visit early, before it gets too crowded (and wear a hat in case one of the ubiquitous pigeons, well, you know)...riding in a gondola, at sunset, with a tenor belting out Italian opera.

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4. Paris
Best Small Pleasure: Watching the world go by from a vantage point at one of Paris' innumerable sidewalk cafes.

Biggest Surprise: As big as Paris can seem, it's really just a collection of neighborhoods; with limited time to explore, pick a neighborhood and poke around its nooks, crannies, cathedrals, shops, parks, and museums...taking a Turkish bath at the Mammam in  La Grande Mosquee, then finish off with a mint tea in the Moorish cafe next door.

Touristy But Fabulous: Riding to the top of Eiffel Tower, Napoleon's self-homage...the Grand Louvre for a glimpse at the Mona Lisa (and everything else in the world's biggest art museum)...haute chic shopping on the Avenue Montaigne (Chanel, Dior, Ungaro), Faubourg St-Honore (Gucci, Chloe, Hermes), and the Left Bank (Giorgio Armani, Yves St-Laurent and Louis Vuitton).

5. Brugge
Best Small Pleasure: Supping at a sidewalk cafe on Belgium's classic moules' frites, washed down with a local beer.

Biggest Surprise: The canals! You can take a boat ride that winds in and out of some fairly off-the-beaten-track (and quite beautiful) parts of Brugge.
Touristy But Fabulous: Hanging out in any of the town's numerous squares -- people-watching, eating and drinking, and shopping.

6. St. Petersburg
Best Small Pleasure: Dining on "chicken Kiev" at the Grand Hotel's sidewalk cafe just off vibrant Nevsky Prospekt...strolling through the park opposite St. Isaac's Cathedral.

Biggest Surprise: St. Isaac's Cathedral, a splendid mid-19th century Orthodox church with highlights that include mosaic murals, granite pillars and marble floors; its immense gold dome can be seen for miles around...St. Petersburg's canals (you can take a boat ride a la Venice).

Touristy But Fabulous: The summer palaces -- especially Pavlovsk and Pushkin.

7. Oslo
Best Small Pleasure: The murals in City Hall that depict scenes from life in Norway along with scenes highlighting resistance activities against the Germans there during World War II.

Biggest Surprise: Oslo's got the perfect blend of art and culture, history, and lush scenery (green parks, gorgeous bays and harbors).

Touristy But Fabulous: A short boat ride amidst the fjords (even locals occasionally deign to get onboard).

8. London
Best Small Pleasure: Lunching at "gastro" pubs like Chelsea's Cooper's Arms and Foxtrot Oscar.

Biggest Surprise: Gorgeous Kensington Park -- head for the lake (you can rent lounge chairs) and don't forget to check out the Princess Diana memorials (flowers, letters) tucked into the wrought iron gate of Kensington Palace.

Touristy But Fabulous: Riding around on the double decker buses (on the top deck!)...riding the London Eye, the city's millennial Ferris wheel...afternoon cream tea but not necessarily at the famed Ritz; more elegant experiences can be found at olde-British hotels like Brown's.

9. Copenhagen
Best Small Pleasure: Kayaking through Copenhagen's canals...lunch at a sidewalk cafe at Nyhavn beside the canal.

Biggest Surprise: Climbing the seemingly endless spiraling staircase of the historic Round Tower; you can see why Russian Czar Peter the Great actually rode his horse to the top in 1716.

Touristy But Nice: Tivoli Gardens is a must-see; there are rides and amusements and restaurants galore -- if your ship overnights in Copenhagen, go after dark with the park is lit with twinkling lights and is quite magical...take a guided tour of Copenhagen, via the canals, by boat.

10. Stockholm
Best Small Pleasure: Strolling along downtown's waterfront promenade.

Biggest Surprise: The Swedish Archipelago. At sunset, as ships sail from the port of Stockholm to the open ocean, they pass through (takes a couple of hours) a gorgeous, glittering string of small islands, green, lush, and largely undeveloped aside from occasional brightly painted wood homes. This view alone is worth booking a balcony cabin.

Touristy But Fabulous: A city tour from a boat...Gamla Stan, Stockholm's walled, medieval-era old town; head for Vasterlanggatan, the main drag, and explore from there.

Cruise Critic, which launched in 1995, is a comprehensive cruise vacation planning guide providing objective cruise ship reviews, cruise line profiles, destination content on 125+ worldwide ports, cruise bargains, tips, industry news, and cruise message boards.

Photos: A European tour

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  1. Venice, Italy

    Gondolas line the bank near Venice's grand canal with the San Giorgio Maggiore church in the background. (Peter Deilmann Cruises via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Rome, Italy

    The Colosseum is one of the best-known attractions in all of Italy, and is the largest elliptical amphitheater built in the Roman empire. (Tiziana Fabi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. London, England

    The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben clock tower, located along the River Thames, are seen at dusk from Westminster Bridge. (George Rose / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Berlin, Germany

    Tourists take pictures of themselves at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The memorial, designed by U.S. architect Peter Eisenman and inaugurated in May 2005, is made up of more than 2,700 concrete steles that form a curved landscape in the heart of Germany's capital. (Barbara Sax / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Granada, Spain

    The Alhambra palace in Granada, although one of 21 finalists, missed out on being named one of the new seven wonders of the world. (Jose Luis Roca / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Paris, France

    This bird's-eye view of Paris at dusk, with the Eiffel Tower and L'Hotel des Invalides prominent, show why the capital's nickname is the "City of Light." (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Lindos, Greece

    The ancient town of Lindos is famous for its Acropolis, which stands on a 380-foot-high hill overlooking Lindos and the Aegean Sea and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Eyeswideopen / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Dublin, Ireland

    People walk past The Temple Bar, which should not be confused with its neighborhood, also called Temple Bar, in central Dublin. Ireland's capital has been voted one of the top 25 cities of the world to live in. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Lisbon, Portugal

    Belém Tower was built in the early 16th century as a ceremonial gateway to the city, and to serve as a defense at the mouth of the Tagus River. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Sebastiano Scattolin / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Barcelona, Spain

    Columns and arches of the Sagrada Familia rise high in this Roman Catholic church, which has been under construction since 1882 and remains incomplete. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Florence, Italy

    A woman looks over Florence from the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction on the city's cathedral church began in 1296 and finished in 1462. (Guido Cozzi / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. County Mayo, Ireland

    Ashford Castle, which dates back to the 13th century and sits on 350 acres of manicured gardens and land, now ranks among the finest hotels in Ireland. About a two-hour drive from Dublin, the castle has played host to myriad high-profile events, including actor Pierce Brosnan's wedding. (Tourism Ireland via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kaag, Netherlands

    A cyclist pedals along rows of tulips near the village of Kaag, outside of Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Dutch often use cycling to get around, and Amsterdam is considered one of the most bike-friendly large cities in the world. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Amsterdam, Netherlands

    A tourist smokes at a coffeeshop "de Dampkring," or "Atmosphere," where a part of the "Ocean's Twelve" movie was filmed, in the center of Amsterdam, Netherlands. The city is famous for its nightlife, cultural activities and red-light district. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Stockholm, Sweden

    Boats line up on the shoreline in Stockholm, the capital and largest city in Sweden. The city is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges. (Olivier Morin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Krakow, Poland

    The Church of St. Mary of the Assumption in Krakow, Poland, is one of the most well-known tourist spots in the city and noted for its gothic, medieval architecture. However, most people come to Krakow because of its proximity to Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi's concentration camps, which is now a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. (Jon Hicks / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Nice, France

    Hundreds of people enjoy sunbathing on the beach in Nice on the French Riviera. (Valery Hache / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Brussels, Belgium

    The Grand Place in the heart of Old Town in Brussels, Belguim, is marked by many 17th-century buildings and flower markets. (Jean-Pierre Lescourret / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Greek islands

    Oia, on the island of Santorini, Greece, is on a clifftop village filled with white structures and gorgeous sunsets. Santorini offers seaside tavernas, cliffside paths, black volcanic rocks and of course, sunshine and the Aegean Sea. (Saundra Virtanen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Pamplona, Spain

    Revelers hold up their red scarves during the start of the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain. The annual festival is best known for its daily running of the bulls. (Susana Vera / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Prague, Czech Republic

    The buildings in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, are constructed in many architectural styles from Romanesque to gothic to art nouveau and modern. (Michal Cizek / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Reykjavik, Iceland

    Tourists stand in the Blue Lagoon outside Reykjavik, Iceland. The Blue Lagoon's waters come from natural hot water springs flowing through rocks of lava. Many also believe the mineral-rich waters may have health benefits. (Olivier Morin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. St. Petersburg, Russia

    The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul is seen on the bank of the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Dmitry Lovetsky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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