I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years, and I’ve managed to travel through around 30 European cities (and live in Spain for two months and counting) without ever deliberately eating a piece of meat.
I grew up in Santa Cruz, California and went to university in San Francisco, both of which are so full of non-meat eaters that every other street is dotted with overpriced eating establishments with names like “Serenity” that make you feel like you can’t step foot inside if you’ve ever so much as owned a pair of leather boots.
In many other cities around the world, however, not eating meat is much less commonplace, so travelling as a vegetarian can be tricky. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Even meat-crazy countries have their surprises.
Still, some countries are better than others. Here are some of the best countries in Europe for vegetarians (as well as a couple where you might really struggle):
Pizza and pasta may not be the healthiest items on the menu, but when it comes to eating out they’re vegetarian staples in almost any European country.
Italy is no exception to the rule, and every restaurant I ate at in Venice, Florence and Rome also offered a wide array of soups and salads, for those of you who are watching the carb intake. (I’d like to say I’m one of those people, but I may or may not have consumed an entire vegetarian pizza to myself last night).
Italy also has this really wonderful thing called aperitivo, which technically translates to ‘appetizer’ and means a buffet of small plates (pasta salad, olives, cheese, etc.) offered in the evening if you buy a drink. This means you could spend six euro on a cocktail and get six plates of salad and cheese and crackers to go along with it for no extra fee.
See, told you it was wonderful.
The idea of an aperitivo might sound familiar; Spain’s got a very similar thing called tapas. Tapas are basically really cheap snacks (olives, cheese, fried potatoes, etc.) that are meant to be shared. While tapas include a wide variety of foods, including ham and tuna, there are plenty of veggie options: cheese plates, tomato bread, olives and patatas bravas (fried potatoes) are all also common.
Another common vegetarian-friendly Spanish dish is tortilla espanola, an omelette made of potatoes and eggs. You’ll often find it served in a baguette as a sandwich.
Paella, another very common Spanish dish consisting of rice and meat and/or vegetables, is traditionally made with seafood, but can also be cooked with just vegetables.
I know, right? Even I’m surprised that this made it on here and I’m the one writing it.
While the cuisine in Greece is very meat-heavy, every meal is accompanied by Greek salad (with a large chunk of feta cheese on top), bread, and French fries. Every meal is also served ‘family-style,’ meaning that everyone orders multiple dishes and shares them – nice and cozy.
And, like everywhere else, pasta is common.
Additionally, every city you ever go to in Greece is bound to have at least one market selling fruits and vegetables, allowing you to make salads or dine on apples no matter where you are in the country.
On the flip side, here are a couple of countries I’ve been to in Europe that are especially bad for vegetarians:
We kind of already covered this, but it bears repeating: aside from pretzels (and, of course, pizza) most of the food I encountered in Berlin is very meat-heavy. Also, water costs at least twice as much as beer, fun fact. But even in a city with such a meat-centric cuisine, vegetarian eating still isn´t impossible if you’re willing to do some research.
In Berlin I found Yaam, a very cool outdoor beach bar featuring plenty of vegetarian-friendly Jamaican food trucks. An unexpected life saver.
The majority of my meals in Paris consisted of tomato and cheese sandwiches that my friend and I made and brought on picnics to the Eiffel Tower (which is a very good idea, by the way.)
Aside from sandwiches, it’s difficult to find vegetarian food in a country where the cuisine is known for its use of frog legs and snails – although this situation is said to be improving.
Even if vegetarian dishes might be less commonplace in a country you want to visit, I cannot stress enough that this is no reason not to travel there. Vegetarian meals are always possible, and even if you end up eating sandwiches for lunch three days in a row, the travel experience makes it worth it.