The Most Immersive European Destinations Ranked in New Study

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Overseas travelers are increasingly pursuing ‘immersive travel’ experiences, and 2023 is set to see the trend amplified even further. No longer content with cookie-cutter vacation options, Americans want to find somewhere they can really live like a local, and soak up the authentic culture and feel of the place they’ve come to explore.

According to a new study commissioned by Iceland’s flagship carrier, Icelandair, some destinations lend themselves more readily to this approach than others. It conducted an analysis of over 30 European cities and scored them based on their immersive qualities, taking into account aspects like local events, activities, tours, public transport, and the number of local restaurants and pubs in town.

It also considered the percentage of the country’s residents who are fluent in English, removing the language barrier so that more American visitors might easily immerse themselves in the social landscape. Based on all these factors, Icelandair came up with a ‘Top 20’ index to help U.S. travelers in search of European destinations where they can enjoy more in-depth experiences.

Here are the three occupants of the top spots on the winner’s podium for 2023.

1. Valetta, Malta

With a small resident population of just 5,964, Valletta, Malta—The smallest capital city in the E.U.—took top spot as Europe’s most immersive destination with an overall score of 442/500.

Malta is an archipelago in the central Mediterranean that sits about 60 miles south of Sicily and 180 miles from the Tunisian coast of North Africa.

Boasting 7,000 years of history and a diverse set of cultural influences, Valletta has had its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation since 1980. The city won out in the research in terms of the number of available tours, attractions, restaurants and bars per 1,000 people.

The skyline of Valletta, Malta, at sunset.(photo via Bareta/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

2. Reykjavik, Iceland

Next in line is the Icelandic capital city of Reykjavik, which receives upwards of two million tourists each year. It’s a popular bucket-list destination for many intent on seeing the ethereal Northern Lights, as well as because of its dramatically diverse landscapes filled with glaciers, volcanoes, lava fields, hot springs and geysers. Reykjavik was number one in the study when it comes to the number of events and activities per 1,000 people, and it’s also where you’ll find the highest proportion of English-speaking locals at an incredible 98 percent.

Reykjavik, Iceland.
Reykjavik, Iceland. (photo courtesy of Collette)

3. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Also boasting a high percentage of English speakers, the modern-meets-Old World city of Amsterdam in The Netherlands is already a popular destination among American travelers, which received 1,564,000 U.S. visitors in 2019 alone. The Dutch capital has a long history as a center of trade and commerce, as well as a seat of the arts and architecture. Its well-preserved historic area is known for its narrow streets and gabled facades flanking an elaborate system of canals, as well as its laid-back lifestyle, which extends to the longstanding legality of cannabis and sex work. Amsterdam ranked fourth-highest for the number of restaurants and bars per 1,000 people, where Dutch beers are particularly sought-after.

Channel in Amsterdam Netherlands houses river Amstel
Canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo via Yasonya / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

In case you’re curious how the rest of the Top 20 panned out, the complete rankings are outlined below.

1. Valletta, Malta

2. Reykjavik, Iceland

3. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

4. Dublin, Ireland

5. London, United Kingdom

6. Oslo, Norway

7. Copenhagen, Denmark

8. Stockholm, Sweden

9. Vienna, Austria

10. Helsinki, Finland

11. Brussels, Belgium

12. Paris, France

13. Zagreb, Croatia

14. Geneva, Switzerland

15. Zurich, Switzerland

16. Prague, Czech Republic

17. Budapest, Hungary

18. Munich, Germany

19. Berlin, Germany

20. Hamburg, Germany

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Source: TravelPulse

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