The Most European Cities Across the U.S.
It’s no secret that the modern Americas and their cities have been heavily shaped by European influence; once Columbus and crew started coming in waves, empires like Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, and France began to build New World settlements in their Old World images — and their imprint remains.
It’s obvious in places like Montreal or Quebec or Buenos Aires. After all, Canadians and Argentines speak the European languages of French and Spanish.
But what about cities in the United States, an English-speaking country hyperfocused on its own independent identity separate from Europe? English has become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget it came from Europe. Take a closer look, and you’ll find that Europe is all over the U.S.
While plenty of American cities (like Columbus or Nashville or Oklahoma City or Boise) ooze distinct Americana, just as many exude European charm. From architecture to pace of life, from landscape to language, many American cities make you feel like you’re in Europe. Some are big, some are small, some are old, and some are new. Here, some of the most European cities in the country.
When you walk along the narrow cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill, passing gas-lit lanterns and Federal-style rowhouses, you sometimes have to remind yourself Boston is no longer an English colony. Head over to the North End, and you’ll have to remind yourself you’re not on the streets of Italy. Looking for a taste of Ireland? Rumor has it Boston is home to an Irish pub or two.
The capital of the United States was designed primarily by a Frenchman, Pierre Charles L’Enfant. He set out to build a Paris-like city with grand, tree-lined boulevards and plentiful gardens and monuments. Today’s Washington maintains L’Enfant’s influence, and not just in the magnificent National Mall or spectacular domes and obelisks. Wide streets, a low skyline, ubiquitous green space, and walkable streets lend a Old World feel, and floods of European diplomatic workers bring their cultures with them.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is an absolute mishmash of world cultures; if Boston and Honolulu had a baby who looked like Barcelona, its name would be San Francisco. The temperate climate, occasional palm trees, hills and distant mountains, and seaside location give the city a very Mediterranean and vaguely Greek feel, which juxtaposes magically with the Victorian architecture and and Spanish culture.
St. Augustine, Florida
The oldest city in the United States is not Boston or New York or even Williamsburg or Jamestown. The distinction belongs to heavily Spanish St. Augustine, Florida. It was here, apparently, that Ponce de Leon searched for the Fountain of Youth, but he left behind a beautiful settlement that today preserves a massive wealth of Spanish Renaissance architecture (just take a look at Flagler College for a taste). Be sure to visit Castillo de San Marcos and the colonial Spanish quarter for a very Euro visit.
Another old city? Philadelphia. So old, in fact, that it’s home to the country’s oldest continually inhabited street, Elfreth’s Alley. There’s more than just British colonial history, though: magnificent City Hall is a French Second Empire masterpiece, the Philadelphia Museum of Art resembles a Greek temple, a grand university calls the city home, and a heavy Italian presence has given us a little something called the Philly cheesesteak.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Settled by the French, turned over the the Spaniards, then passing back through French hands before landing in America’s lap, New Orleans might be the most outwardly European city in the States. The architecture, food, music, language—even its pace of life—reflect the immense French and Spanish influence on New Orleans. Buildings as varied as the Old Ursuline Convent and the iron-railed Pontalba Buildings give the Big Easy a unique look, while beignets and risque nightlife call to mind Paris or Amsterdam.
New Ulm, Minnesota
In a state known for its high concentration of Scandinavian-American’s, Minnesota’s New Ulm is home to a population more than 50% German-American. The city’s brewery, founded by a German immigrant, is one of the country’s oldest, and it hosts celebrations of German culture complete with German-style beer. In New Ulm you’ll also find a glockenspiel, the beautiful Hermann Monument, and even a genuine Turner Hall.
Santa Barbara, California
They call it the “American Riviera,” as its beaches resemble and rival those of coastal France, but to see Santa Barbara is to see colonial Spain. Anchored by Old Mission Santa Barbara, the city’s white stucco and red-tiled rooftops might make “Western St. Augustine” an even better nickname. Breathtaking, Mediterranean-esque landscapes and charming pedestrian malls like the Paseo Nuevo make the European feel undeniable.
Vermont’s capital manages to be distinctly New England, surprisingly funky, vaguely western, and subtly European all at once. Though the buildings of State and Main Streets bring to mind dusty saloons Denver saloons, Montpelier’s name is a nod to early America’s strong friendship with France; and indeed, the smallest state capital in the United States does feel a bit like a French countryside village with its farmers markets, quaint shops, smattering of traditional European architecture, and green hills. Great, locally sourced restaurants and a literary crowd only add to the French feel.
This one feels a bit cheap since it was redesigned in the 1960s to look German, but it’s tough to argue with one million annual tourists who all agree: This Washington town is a dead ringer for a Bavarian mountain village. And to be fair, German-Americans did settle the place, and it’s not just a theme park or movie set: in addition to Oktoberfest celebrations and nutcracker museums, Leavenworth enjoys a location in the Cascades that feels truly Alpine.
Not far from Santa Barbara is the small city of Solvang, and it. Is. Danish. After initially being settled by the Spanish, the area was flooded with Danish-Americans at the turn of the twentieth century. Looking to start a Danish colony away from the rest of America, they built a Lutheran church and kept going from there. Today, the half-timber architecture, windmills, odes to Hans Christian Andersen, and visits from Danish royals and authorities make it California’s little Denmark.
Tarpon Springs, Florida
If it looks like Greece, feels like Greece, and tastes like Greece, then it must be...Florida? That’s certainly the case in Tarpon Springs, the U.S. city with the highest concentration of Greek-Americans. Greeks first swarmed the area to lend their expertise in the booming sponge-harvesting trade; today the Greek Orthodox Church in Tarpon Springs heavily influences the local culture, and Greek restaurants line the sponge docks.