European Capitals on Instagram: How Cities Engage with Tourists

Cities have varying presence on social media. They tend to choose social media channels depending on what needs to be communicated and to whom. In general, social media contribute to increased communication with citizens and tourists.

Instagram is a unique platform enabling innovative way of communicating information; it is mobile, visual, and easy to use. As such, Instagram is one of the most user-friendly social media platforms. There are limitless possibilities that Instagram offers to public institutions and private bodies.

Hence, Europolitan Trends examined and analyzed the use of Instagram by European capital cities. The EU Capital Cities on Instagram 2016 study has focused on two institutional segments, their communication patterns and practices on Instagram: one is the promotion of the EU capitals to visitors and prospective tourists, which is usually done by destination management organizations; the other one is communicating information from municipalities to residents.

City hall accounts and the accounts of tourism boards from European capital regions have been identified. Data was collected throughout September – November 2016. It is important to remember that social media landscape is rapidly evolving; thus certain information may be incomplete or inaccurate. However, Europolitan Trends believes to have captured the essence of Instagram use by EU capitals. Should you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please get in touch with our team. 

Convention and Visitors Bureaus

Convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs), also known as destination management organizations (DMOs), or tourism boards are the most important tourism marketing organizations of cities. They are directly responsible for promoting the destination brand through different travel marketing methods. They make visitors, prospective tourists, and residents aware of what their destination offers and why it is unique.

Social media have become the most powerful and the most cost friendly marketing tool that convention and visitors bureaus use. Within the wide range of social media choices, Instagram is one of the most significant platforms for attracting prospective tourists. Instagram is a place where visitors and city dwellers learn about local events or local campaigns, which are happening in their city. Moreover, nowadays wherever travelers go, they often use Instagram to discover hotspots, plan their itineraries, and share their travel moments with their family and friends back home. Instagram is where visitors get inspired about destination long before they decide to visit it.

Destination management organizations in 28 EU capitals use Instagram to varying degree. Approximately 80% of DMOs are represented on Instagram. At the time of writing tourism boards of Sofia (BG), Riga (LV), Luxembourg (LU), Valetta (MT), Budapest (HU) and Bucharest (RO) do not haven an Instagram presence.

Europolitan Trends

State of Play

Instagram Stars 

Vienna Tourist Board, Austria (@viennatouristboard)

Vienna Tourist Board promotes its own hashtag and creates different campaigns. Vienna Tourist Board provides a collaborative content. Overall, Vienna Tourist Board does a good job with the promotion of Vienna on Instagram.

Europolitan Trends How Tourism Boards from European Cities Use Instagram

VisitCopenhagen, Denmark (@visitcopenhagen)

As everything else, Copenhageners know how to do Instagram. VisitCopenhagen is an experienced Instagram user with more than 2,500 posts to date. The content is creative with catchy captions and a mix of own posts and a collaborative user content. VisitCopenhagen chooses good quality photos and tackles attractive topics. It is interesting to note that Copenhagen uses different hashtags that are appropriate for a photo, but doesn’t promote its own hashtag.

Europolitan Trends How Tourism Boards from European Cities Use Instagram

VisitBerlin, Germany (@visit_berlin)

VisitBerlin is another one of those successful Instagram users. Having built-up an impressive audience of almost 90,000 followers and having posted more than 800 stunning photos, VisitBerlin is a perfect example of how to do it. Content is mostly collaborative featuring what is happening in the city.

VisitBrussels, Belgium (@visitbrussels)

Destination management organization of the Brussels capital region uses collaborative content and motivates its followers to contribute through the use of a dedicated hashtag. Content is mostly of good quality. Moreover, VisitBrussels invites Instagram influencers from abroad to visit Brussels for couple of days and to promote Brussels in its target markets. Visit Brussels did an impressive job with its Instagram promotion and the improvement of the image of Brussels after the attacks. Still, VisitBrussels should label its Instagram account as the official account of the tourism organization of Brussels.

VisitHelsinki, Finland (@visithelsinki)

Helsinki is also a nice example of a job well done by the official tourism organization. VisitHelsinki posts nice, interesting, catchy, and mostly collaborative content.

Paris Je t’aime, France  (@parisjetaime)

Paris Je t’aime has a great selection of photos, which is understandable, as Paris is considered to be one of the most Instagrammable cities. Paris Je t’aime uses mixed content, where most of the content is user generated through promoted hashtag. Paris being Paris has built an impressive base of more than 200,000 followers. Even though, Paris Je t’aime does not promote the use of its own hashtag on the account’s bio section, Paris Je t’aime imaginatively uses its account description to attract the audience to participate in different calls for action and campaigns.

VisitLondon, United Kingdom (@visitlondonofficial)

VisitLondon is a mixed content account with almost 800 good quality posts to date. The content is informative providing information on events around the city, bargain finds, cool places, chill spaces, and other information that are equally useful for residents and visitors.

Visit Stockholm, Sweden (@visitstockholm)

Visit Stockholm is a compact and appealing account with a mixed content and more than 1800 informative and dazzling photos. Visit Stockholm skillfully informs about the mood and hotspots from around the city.  Besides, Visit Stockholm buzzes with creativity. For example, on Fridays, the user publishes a #followfriday post, where one of the Instagrammers from Stockholm is featured with the collage of four of his/her photos.

Europolitan Trends How Tourism Boards from European Cities Use Instagram

Destination Accounts to Watch

VisitTallinn, Estonia (@visittallinn)

VisitTallinn posted to date almost 900 posts and has a steady following. VisitTallinn uses interesting photos and mostly collaborative content. VisitTallinn is moving in a good direction.

Fall in Love with Warsaw, Poland (@fall_in_love_with_warsaw)

Instagram account of destination management organization of Warsaw is an attractive account with a creative content. Fall in Love with Warsaw uses mostly own photos adding a story to them. With the use of a specific hashtag, Warsaw DMO started encouraging Instagram users to contribute their own photos of Warsaw to a monthly photo contest. The winning photo is shared on the account. However, along with monthly contests, Warsaw should start posting mixed content on its Instagram; this would further increase its following base and create a sense of community and belonging among fellow Varsovians and tourists. Lastly, Instagram handle @fall_in_love_with_warsaw does not match any other social media usernames of the Warsaw tourism board; the handle is too long with four underscores. Note that this could be very confusing for the audience, as well as fiddly.

VisitLjubljana, Slovenia (@visitljubljana)

VisitLjubljana has great content and attention grabbing captions. This user posts mostly shared content. The account has a great outlook; however, VisitLjubljana should increase regularity of its posts. Moreover, VisitLjubljana should change its Instagram logo to a more professional, memorizable and catchy one.

This is The Hague, the Netherlands (@thisisthehague)

This is The Hague posts attention-grabbing stories about people living in the city, as well as about notable persons from The Hague. This creative practice skillfully introduces its audience to what is important in the city. 

Europolitan Trends How Tourism Boards from European Cities Use Instagram

VisitNicosia, Cyprus (@visit_nicosia)

VisitNicosia posts content that focuses on events taking place around the city. Posting more creative photos illustrating unknown, local flare in architecture, natural beauties, and people would attract more followers to the account.

TurismoRoma, Italy (@turismoromaweb)

TurismoRoma has interesting campaigns. For example, TurismoRoma posts old photos of Rome as a #throwbackthursdays post on Thursdays. Similarly, Visit Lisboa, Portugal (@visit_lisboa) uses similar approach with a #tbt hashtag. These are creative approaches; old photos should be shared, as they show destination’s history and how the city has evolved to present.

Visita Madrid, Spain (@visita_madrid)

Visita Madrid posts its content both in Spanish and English. Note that this is a good practice, as the account is able to reach more Instagram users – namely, Spanish is as widely used as English and since it is a local language it should be used to appeal to the prospective visitors, tourists and residents.However, Visita Madrid has many photos with texts on them. This kind of content is often more distracting than informative. Note that captions underneath the photos work well, or alternatively photos with maximum of six-seven  words on the photo itself., Czech Republic ( does not clearly indicate that it is an official account of the tourism board, but rather the official account of the City of Prague. This should be more clearly defined.


  • In EU capital cities 22 DMOs have Instagram accounts for the promotion of their destination and for interaction with tourists, prospective visitors, and residents. This is a puzzling observation, as one would expect to see all tourism boards on Instagram. It is important to bear in mind that Instagram presence is vital for the promotion of destinations and ultimately for increasing the number of visitors.
  • DMOs of Athens, Zagreb, Nicosia, Prague, Vilnius, Bratislava, Ljubljana and The Hague are not posting regularly on their Instagram accounts. For example, at the time of writing, Vilnius posted its latest photo 14 weeks before. Posting regularly is a good practice, which is as important as posting good quality content, and having a good story. Having a non-active Instagram account is not better than not having an Instagram account.
  • Some accounts do not state whether they are the official accounts of cities’ destination management organizations. VisitBrussels, VisitTallinn, and Visit Lisboa should provide this information in order to differentiate from fraudulent accounts out there; it is important for the audience to clearly and undoubtedly identify official city accounts.
  • Most tourism boards from EU capital cities created their Instagram usernames with a word ‘visit’ followed by the city name. This is a good practice, as it allows audience to easily find a tourism board account of a destination. On the other hand, four cities use a username that has a ‘tourism’ within it, while two use ‘this is (city name)’ approach, which is also creative. Look at the naming patterns in the table below.
  • Tourism boards of EU capital cities tend to use English, as the main communication language of their Instagram accounts. Visita Madrid uses both Spanish and English to communicate to its audience. Both approaches are excellent because they allow visitors to understand the content and to interact. However, note that TurismoRoma instagrams mostly in its local language and thus, it fails to communicate to a large portion of its prospective audience.
  • Lastly, the most popular destinations and big metropolis have a clear advantage in attracting a large number of dedicated followers on Instagram. Thus, the number of followers should not be the main success factor of the Instagram account.

Good Practice Guidelines

  • Be consistent and have a common and recognizable brand. If possible have the username, which is the same on all social media channels.
  • Your account should be in English, as the purpose of your account is to promote your destination.
  • Do not just use your regular logo as your Instagram profile picture. Have a specially crafted colorful and eye-catching logo tailor- made for Instagram. Consequently, you would attract unintentional audience, who saw your account and clicked on it. Whatever your profile picture is, it needs to be embedded in people’s minds. The coat of arms of your city would also work well if it is stylized for Instagram.
  • Post as often as you can. The more you post, the better engagement you would gain. This in turn translates into increased visibility of your destination, and ultimately, more visitors.
  • It is imperative to post interesting photos/visual content, accompanied with thought-provoking and informative captions. This way your Instagram brings value to your audience. Instagram account should not just be the collection of unrelated and impersonal photos.
  • Create and promote a hashtag. The hashtag would help your community to explore content from other Instagram users, while you build your user generated content. If possible your hashtag should match your username and be simple and short.
  • Hashtags should always be a piece of your social media marketing. Use specific hashtags for different campaigns. Your Instagram marketing efforts should be focused around specific hashtags. However, use your general hashtag for your Instagram contests if you still need to build additional growth.
  • Encourage collaboration and publish user- generated content. One of the biggest benefits that Instagram provides is the opportunity to build content that shows the destination through the perception of its residents and tourists; these are perceived as honest views of the destination in contrast to traditional marketing approaches.
  • Hand-over your Instagram account to local photographers, influential Instagrammers, artists, politicians and other stakeholders. This would showcase your city in a different light, through insider’s view of things to see and do in their own surrounding.
  • It is always more valuable to have one hyper- active account that would attract a large following, rather than couple of accounts that compete among themselves with identical content. Thus, communicate with your counterpart offices and draft a common Instagram strategy.
  • Have accurate profile description on Instagram indicating that the profile is official.
  • Get your profile ‘verified’ by Instagram

For the full study on EU Capital Cities on Instagram 2016, which contains detailed analyses and the Good Practice Guidelines please contact us and we will send you a free electronic copy. 

Europolitan Trends EU Cities on Instagram


Author: Karolina

Karolina is a blogger for Europolitan Trends, sharing stories about cities & regions, local businesses, and inspiring urban details. She is a public affairs professional, always ready to travel and explore.