Europe's 10 Oldest Capital Cities

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Old cities in Europe live to this day. Many of them boast millennial history, ancient temples, squares, and medieval residential quarters. History may be surprisingly unpredictable, but historical sites can exist for thousands of years with very little change in appearance.

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Cities appeared initially as territories where trade and handicrafts flourished. In several areas, there were city-states with their own set of laws and rules for inhabitants. Examples of those ancient times we can find in Europe even today.

"Europe was created by history and America by philosophy." – Margaret Thatcher, a British stateswoman.

If you like to wander the cobbled streets and get lost gazing at magnificent medieval buildings or even older ruins, indulge in romance in Europe's ten oldest capitals.

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The 10 Oldest Capital Cities in Europe

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10. Budapest

In the 1st century BC, the Celts founded the first settlement on Budapest territory called Ak-Ink. Under the Romans, it became the center of the province of Lower Pannonia.

Budapest
The 19th-century Széchenyi Chain Bridge, with Neoclassical-style St. Stephen's Basilica in the background (Photo by Justice Ejele from Pexels)


It is not for nothing that this city is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe – many of Budapest's attractions are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. You can find them in the Castle Quarter (Várnegyed), the historical center of Pest, also near Andrássy Avenue and in the Varosliget city park.

Baroque churches, elegant theaters with palaces that have preserved their green bronze domes, the spirit of the empire, ancient fortifications, monuments to Hungarian monarchs, and, of course, the magnificent Parliament building are beautiful at any time of the year or day.

You might also like to read: Palvolgyi Cave, Budapest 

9. Lisbon 

Lisbon, stretching across the wide mouth of the Tagus River, is the southernmost capital of Europe. The average distance from its center to the Atlantic Ocean is 15 km (9 mi). 

Lisbon
The Bica funicular on Calçada da Bica Pequena


The city has a history spanning over 20 centuries. Archaeological discoveries near the castle of São Jorge prove that Phoenicians settled here in 1200 BC. It received the first city rights in the 12th century and became Portugal's capital in 1255 due to its central location.

Lisbon is not only Alfama with live performances of fado or Belém with Jerónimos Monastery, but it is also a place of picturesque streets with great views and steep stairs hiding behind the corner.

8. Skopje 

Inhabited Kosovo and southern Serbia territories six thousand years ago, the Dardani, a Paleo-Balkan tribe, extended the Kingdom of Dardania to Bylazora (today's Veles, North Macedonia) and declared Scopje their capital in the 2nd century BC. 

Skopje
Macedonia Square (Photo by Tamas Marton from Pexels)


Lying in the valley of the mountain river Vardar, Skopje – the capital of North Macedonia – has two main parts. Most of the attractions you can find in the narrow streets of the Old Town. It is a big oriental bazaar with trading stalls, hookah bars, colorful coffee shops, artisan workshops, and Turkish baths. The New Town, rebuilt after the 1963 earthquake, is rich in good restaurants and hotels.

7. Ljubljana

Humans have inhabited the Ljubljana Marshes for thousands of years. The site with remains of prehistoric dwellings built on poles in the second millennium BC has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011. 

Ljubljana Castle
Ljubljana Castle


In the first century AD, in today's Ljubljana, there was the Roman city of Emona. In the 5th century, the settlement was empty, and only after seven centuries people began to settle here again. At the end of the 19th century, an earthquake severely damaged Ljubljana. After it, the city received a new, modern look.

Ljubljana is one of the smallest and greenest European capitals. Tiny but very cute, it deserves a visit and leaves a great impression. You can tour Ljubljana all year round. Still, April, May, September, and October are the best time to visit the city.

You might also like to read: Ljubljana Travel Guide

6. Belgrade

Belgrade is the capital of Serbia, one of the oldest cities in Europe. In the 3rd century BC, the Celtic tribe established a settlement of Singidunum in the area. After the Roman Empire's division into eastern and western parts in the 1st century AD, Singidunum became part of Byzantium (eastern).

Belgrade
Cathedral of St. Sava at night (Photo by Andreas Lehner | CC BY)


Set on the banks of two rivers, Sava and Danube, which surround it on three sides, Belgrade in the heart of the Balkans stands proudly at the crossroads of two worlds – East and West – belonging to neither one nor the other and combining the unique features of both.

There are places in the city that must be seen and felt. Many of them are declared cultural values. The historical dominance of this European metropolis is its old fortress, which stands on a 125-meter (410 ft) hill. Built-in Byzantine style with a characteristic Serbian distinction: 4 turrets around the central dome, the city's architectural masterpiece is the Cathedral of St. Sava, the largest church in the Balkans. You can take your best photographs in Skadarlija, an artists and musicians' quarter reminiscent of the Parisian Montmartre.

5. Paris 

In the 3rd century BC, the Celtic tribe known as the Parisi founded the settlement Lutetia on the island of Cité, surrounded by the waters of the Seine River. Here Paris was born and, at the beginning of the 16th century, it finally became the French capital.

Paris
View of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower


In addition to usual travelers and tourists belonging to the 'see Paris and die' category, lovers also like to come here: for a kiss at Eiffel Tower, walk holding hands around Montmartre or the Seine Banks, and relax in Luxembourg Gardens.

Paris is the world's most touristic city, and it certainly deserves your visit again and again. Almost every tourist includes Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Louvre, and the legendary Champs-Élysées in the program of visiting.

We can also not imagine the French capital without its charming cafes and restaurants located literally at every step! Each of them has its unique atmosphere.

You might also like to read: Paris Travel Guide

4. Sofia 

Sofia, Bulgaria's capital, is known for its various mineral and thermal springs since ancient times. Surrounded by mountains, it lies in the west of the country.

Sofia
Monument to the Tsar Liberator, with St. Aleksandar Nevski Cathedral in the background at night (Photo by Janne Räkköläinen | CC BY-SA


The first settlers who arrived here in the 4th century BC were Thracians, who built a religious center with several shrines. During its thousands-year-old history, Sofia was the capital of the Roman province, later the residence of Emperor Constantine I, survived the invasion of barbarian tribes, lived under Ottoman rule, flourished, destroyed, and revived.

We can call Sofia a 'timeless city' because its coat of arms has the inscription "it grows but does not age.". The city center contains many artifacts and archaeological sites from the Roman era.

3. Nicosia 

Founded in the 7th century BC as an ancient Greek city-state named Ledra, it lost its significance and turned into a small village in the Hellenistic period (4th–1st century BC). Known under the Byzantine name Lefkosia in the 10th century, the city has been Cyprus island's capital since then. It got its current name Nicosia in the 13th century.

Selimiye Mosque
The 13th14th-century Selimiye Mosque is considered a Gothic masterpiece (Photo by Barnaby_S | CC BY-NC-ND)


Nicosia is the only capital on the globe divided into two parts by the Green Line as its northern part belongs to the Turks. So, once in Nicosia, you will be able to get acquainted with two countries and different cultures: when Orthodox Christians start fasting on one part of the city, Muslims celebrate Ramadan on the other.

Represented the thousands-year history by a kaleidoscope of monuments, museums, old houses, and narrow streets, the Cyprus capital is rich in colorful taverns, cafes, and workshops.

2. Rome 

Rome is called the Eternal City. It has already passed the milestone of 10 thousand years but has remained just as beautiful and unique. Since 1871 Rome has been the Italian capital. 

Rome
The 1st-century Colosseum 


The concentration of attractions in Rome is so great that you may be overwhelmed by impressions in just a couple of hours and find it difficult to accept new ones. A walk along the famous Via del Fori Imperiali to the Colosseum will fascinate even those not interested in history and art. In Rome, you will find medieval quarters, picturesque squares, lively markets, and of course, the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica.

Although the city center is 24 km (15 mi) from the Tyrrhenian Sea, the urban area extends west to the coast.

You might also like to read: Useful Links for Visiting Italy

1. Athens

Athens is the capital of sunny Greece and the cradle of European civilization. Named after the Greek goddess of wisdom and war, it flourishes since the 12th century BC.

Athens
View of the Acropolis of Athens (Photo by Giuseppe Milo | CC BY)


Athens, where Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Euripides once lived, is best famous for Acropolis – one of the world's most spectacular ancient ruins with striking artifacts from Ancient Greece. It stands at an altitude of 150 m (49 ft) and is visible from anywhere in the city.

The Greek capital is fascinating for its cultural heritage, history, art, and charm of ancient monuments. Those who dream of hot, shining sun, warm sea, beautiful beach, and a cup of aromatic Greek coffee will also find an excellent opportunity for these pleasures.

You might also like to read: Useful Links for Visiting Greece

The World's Oldest Capital Cities

For the oldest capital cities in other parts of the world, read:


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11 comments

  1. I've always found the history and architecture of Europe to be so fascinating. I'd love to create an entire trip surrouding these cities.

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  2. As a history buff, I always love walking down the cobbled streets, and check out medieval buildings and ancient ruins. I really wanted to visit all these places.

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  3. This post makes me realize how mych I have not seen yet. I have only been to Rome. I would love to visit each of these places!

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  4. I knew about Rome and Athens but had not read about other cities. These are the true gems of Europe, would love to visit them someday.

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  5. Well researched article. I am actually surprised by the presence of a couple of names. Nicosia and Ljubljana.

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  6. The one thing that I love more than anything else about Europe is the history. I can't wait to visit in person.

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  7. Oohhh....I didn't know Skopje is this old! So nice to see a bit of it here!

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  8. These are beautiful cities from Europe.I really love to see their old buildings because of beautiful architecture...
    - Amila

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  9. Wow I would love to see all these historical places! Truly beautiful and facinating. Thanks for sharing this!

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  10. Those are all wonderful selection of places to check out and explore. Quite an informative post as well and thanks for the share.

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  11. I've been to a few of these, but will definitely add the rest to my travel list. Always looking for cities with rich histories to visit. Thank you for sharing

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