Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore capital gains, income, and total returns in various property markets in Europe. In a comparative study the nature of returns for different commercial and residential properties is investigated. Hereby, total returns, income returns, and capital growth are distinguished. The paper further presents an analysis of the risk-return relationship of the different markets and investigates the interactions between property markets, other local financial markets, and macroeconomic variables. Design/methodology/approach: Focusing on the risk-return relationship of the different asset classes and countries, the Sharpe ratio is used as a risk-adjusted performance measure to investigate the European markets. Using a simple linear regression model, a comparison of the European commercial property markets with respect to their returns and risk are provided. Finally, a capital asset pricing model (CAPM) and factor models based on arbitrage pricing theory (APT) are used in an effort to further explain the spreads and risk premiums for individual property markets. Findings: The large differences between the markets regarding spreads, risk premiums, and risk-return relationships are found. Overall, the Dutch market can be regarded as giving the highest compensation for the risk taken by the investors in the last decade, while the German market performed the worst and was the only market with negative capital growth rates for the considered period. Applying the CAPM, It has also been found total returns in commercial property markets are not significantly related to the performance of stock market indices. On the other hand, factor models using macroeconomic variables are able to explain a higher fraction of property total return spreads over the risk-free rate in the considered countries. But depending on the country, different macroeconomic variables were estimated to be significant such that there is no single factor model available that could be applied to all European markets. Overall, these findings indicate that classic financial models drawing on existing datasets are unable to satisfactorily explain the performance of property as an asset class. On the other hand, the fact that property office markets yield relatively high returns that exhibit rather low correlations with stock market returns, makes them a very suitable candidate for portfolio diversification. Originality/value: The paper investigates the risk-return relationship in various European property markets. The large differences between the markets observed also partly explain the diversity of literature results on this relationship across single countries by, e.g. Goetzmann, Englund, or Bourassa et al. By using classic financial models like the CAPM or APT a contribution to the literature is made by explaining the factors that actually determine property returns over the risk free rate in different countries.