A city break gives you the opportunity to get out and explore the history, culture and art of somewhere new in a short space of time. Find hidden gems, take in the unique architecture and immerse yourself in a new culture. With memories to last a lifetime, be in awe of some of the world’s most iconic monuments and attractions. In no particular order, here are just some of the best city breaks you can take in 2023.
It’s easy to overlook London if you live in the UK, but don’t make that mistake; every time you visit there will be something new or a different exhibition, event or venue for you to attend. With world famous landmarks such as Big Ben (bell ringing or not), Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament and its fantastic array of shops. Not to mention the free museums such as the V&A, the Natural History Museum and art galleries, why wouldn’t you love the English capital?
Travel by tube or bus to navigate around the city at low cost. If you would like to explore some of London’s museums and famous monuments, such as the golden Buckingham Palace, choose to stay in South Kensington. For a sunset over the River Thames stay near Tower Bridge and with nightlife on your doorstep, the stylish boutique hotels and bars in Soho or Shoreditch are perfect. Take a ride on the London Eye or go and see a play in the West End; the possibilities here are endless.
The fashion capital of Italy, with its vibrant food and drink, Milan has a number of historical buildings and hotels to suit anyone’s budget. With jaw-dropping skyscrapers (including some that have been redesigned as vertical forests) and interior courtyards that remain undiscovered by the masses, this beautiful city will leave you wanting more. Splurge on clothes from famous designers that line the Quadrilatero D’Oro district and in the many outlets and high street shops and boutiques.
For hotels next to the peaceful Sempione Park as well as the Scala Opera House and one of the largest cathedrals in the world, the spectacular Duomo di Milano, the Centro Storico area is brimming with hotels to suit all budgets. Make use of the good metro links from Scala to the surrounding neighbourhoods, head to Navigli for vintage markets and a chic nightlife.
It’s obviously one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in the world, but there’s a lot more to Paris than a boat ride up the Seine with your beloved. It’s full of many iconic sights such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as distinguished artwork such as the Mona Lisa. Discover the hidden gem of the Marais Mansion and pristine gardens near to the National Picasso museum. For a peaceful stroll away from the hustle and bustle, walk the 4.7 km scenic route along the floral Promenade Plantee that starts behind the Bastille Opera House.
Relax and soak up the ambiance of the city in one of the many coffee shops or unwind with a glass of wine sourced from the Bordeaux region and a creamy slice of Camembert. One of the best areas to stay in that’s near to all the sights is in the 1st or 4th district where you’ll find The Louvre and the Notre-Dame. If you’d like to wake up to the view of the Eiffel Tower, there’s a number of fantastic hotels in the 7th district. With Paris set to host the 2024 Olympics there’s likely to be a period of exciting rejuvenation and reinvention in the area.
Amsterdam has one of the liveliest atmospheres you will ever be a part of. With its pretty bridges and canals it has a village-style charm to it. Take a walk or more likely a bike ride (cheap to rent for a couple of days) around Vondelpark to view an original Picasso. There are several hotels that overlook the park or choose to stay near the centre overlooking the canal. Sail through the canals on a river boat cruise and find treasures in Waterlooplein Flea Market, Amsterdam’s oldest and largest market with other 300 stalls.
Amsterdam has a huge number of art galleries and some of the top-ranking museums such as Anne Frank Museum and the Rijksmuseum. Spend your time enjoying the gorgeous architecture, interesting nightlife and culture of experimentation.
A city with a history like no other thanks to the Berlin Wall that split the city in half for almost five decades, before falling in 1989. After you’ve visited the wall memorial, explore the Reichstag dome, a splendid snapshot of modern architecture and power built upon an incredible past – there’s still graffiti left from soviet soldiers from 1945.
Take full advantage of Berlin and visit it in the summer when the good weather hits the streets, the river looks stunning and the residents all take full advantage of the lakes across the city. Explore the surrounding neighbourhoods, Pankow offers a mix of 19th-century architecture and the historic district of Weissensee has its own beach. Stay in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg or Neukölln to take in the local atmosphere and abundance of local bars, restaurants and clubs.
Another one of Germany’s exciting cities, visit Hamburg to learn more about its rich maritime heritage. A city where its neighbourhoods have their own unique character; Hamburg is a trendy setting for a mini-break. Close to train links, stay in Neustadt to take the opportunity to explore the city on foot.
Explore the gritty art culture in the hip neighbourhood of Gängeviertel and follow the colourful street art to Flora-Park, which is rich in political history. Seek out culinary excellence, marvel over the WWII monuments and be in awe of the Elbphilharmonie concert hall.
A city break with a beach, what could be more perfect? Gaudi’s city of Barcelona is a great destination for the whole family if they love sun, sea, sightseeing and sport. Check out the Camp Nou and 1992 Olympic stadium. Explore the bizarre curiosities of Park Güell, the café culture of the thriving Las Ramblas and the Salvador Dali museum.
If you want to be in and amongst the excitement, there are plenty of hotels near to the bustling Las Ramblas. For a quieter location, stay in the picturesque Gothic Quarter. La Barceloneta beach is a short walk from the centre and lined with bars, entertainers and soft sand perfect for sitting with a sangria. If you decide to stay for longer, take a day trip into the Pyrenees Mountains for hiking trails with unbelievable views.
Considered one of Europe’s most interesting cities, Prague’s bars and Staropramen are sensational, housed in buildings that are centuries old but still maintain their grandeur. There’s the usual glitzy clothing shops that you’d expect in a capital, but these can be found in premises of restored Baroque architecture by beautiful cobbled lanes.
The Mala Strana district offers a laid-back atmosphere, while the Vinohrady area, slightly out of the centre, is doused in European cool, with trendy bars and independent restaurants. Visit the majestic cathedral that overlooks the entire city, see the famous Babylonian clock tower, the statues at Charles Bridge or sit back and drink and eat to your heart’s content in one of the many lively bars and restaurants.
The Danish capital is ranked as one of the happiest cities in the world, with winding cobbled streets, modernist civic buildings and harbour-side vistas. This city has over 1,000 years of royal history and therefore some gorgeous castles for visiting. It offers a mixture of European and Islamic art collections, a thriving fashion scene and great museums.
Copenhagen is relatively small so, getting around is easy to do on foot, by bike or via the tram. With its fantastic shopping street, Strøget, staying near here will ensure you don’t miss a beat. Tivoli Gardens amusement park will keep youngsters happy (watch out for the splendid Christmas market). Take a walk on one of the stunning beaches and say hello to the Little Mermaid statue on the way.
Visit Dublin for its Georgian architecture, vigorous pub culture, spacious parks, attractive seaside location, and breathtaking museums and galleries. Come here to eat well too; Dublin has 12 Michelin starred restaurants. And if you’re after a drop of the black stuff you won’t be disappointed when you enjoy a pint of stout at the Guinness Factory (they make lager as well now, of course).
In the heart of it all, notorious Temple Bar is where your nightlife hails as its lively pubs streams onto every street. Dublin has a cosmopolitan outlook and embraces diversity and multiculturalism, so you’ll certainly hear lots of different languages on your travels.
With a history and heritage that has shaped Europe more than any other city in the world, the Italian capital’s monuments, art and architecture detail its legacy from the last 3,000 years or so. With good transport links, stay in the Roma Termini area near to the main railway station. There is so much for you to see and explore including the Colosseum, the ornate Vatican City and the temples.
Wander around the enchanting Quartiere Coppede district in the north of the city to see the charming architecture. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is also a must see, although you might want to bring your binoculars! The cobbled lanes and hidden corners touched by the constant aroma of coffee coming out the cafés just adds to the beautiful experience that is Rome.
Jam-packed with medieval tenements, narrow ‘wynds’ of the Old Town contrasting with the stunning elegance of the Georgian New Town, there is no question that Edinburgh is one of the most enthralling cities in the world, and not just at festival time. Edinburgh Castle is visited by 1.7m people a year and overlooks the city with a certain majesty, and not many other venues boast a Royal Mile – a thoroughfare of streets running from the castle to Holyrood Palace.
It’s also a great place to channel your inner thrill seeker. Take a trip to the Snowsports Centre, the UK’s largest artificial ski slope, to have a go at snowboarding, skiing and snowblading with an incredible view of the surrounding hills and the city. Alternatively, take part in rock climbing, abseiling, kayaking or mountain biking around the city.
The Swedish capital’s grace is reflected in the 14 islands that are linked by bridges, and ferries, with its bobbing quayside boats and Royal Palace that give it that irresistible charm. With so much beauty to soak up, there are plenty of options when it comes to choosing where to stay. For romance, choose the elegant Gamla Stan and for exploring the sights, the Norrmalm district has good transport links. The Södermalm area is where you can experience excellent nightlife.
The brilliantly-preserved Vasa ship, dating back around four centuries, will give you a unique view of military combat on the high seas in Scandinavia in the 17th Century. If you’re an ABBA fan, then this is the place for you as the city has its very own ABBA Museum that follows the group’s history into fame. Just as a warning though, you will have ‘Dancing Queen’ stuck in your head long after your trip.
Lisbon is a Latin fairy-tale of wooden trams, and iron funiculars that rumble their way among the seven steep hills over the city, that look over the Rio Tejo. With the seaside on its doorstep there’s plenty of fresh seafood for you to enjoy. See the city in all its elegance from the quieter, Jardim do Torel to view the sea of terracotta rooftops throughout the seven hills.
The Lisbon waterfront harks back to its time as a maritime superpower but in the 21st Century the streets transform into one of Europe’s loudest and lively nights out. To be amongst it all, stay in Baixa and Rossio. The Chiado district is considered to be artistic with beautifully elegant Belle-Èpoque shop fronts, theatres and Art Nouveau cafès.
Summer brings some of the biggest crowds to Venice, via flight and cruise ship, and for good reason – it’s one of the few cities in the world with no cars and built entirely on water. Its churches and museum buildings are several centuries old hosting a burgeoning contemporary art scene. A visit to the island of Murano and its glass factories is a must.
A city of 400 bridges, wander through the islands, taking in the spectacular 360 degree views that the Church of San Giorgio’s bell tower provides. Of course it’s mandatory to climb aboard a gondola and be transported around the city while you doing nothing other than sitting back and relaxing.
Europe’s greatest artistic city Florence boasts canvases by the likes of Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and other great artists in the Uffizi Gallery. Apart from the art and architecture, exquisite restaurants, and nightlife make time to embrace the opera while checking out the quirky little shops and quality crafts.
Leave yourself time for a stroll around the Oltrarno quarter that has artisan’s workshops and great hotels. A visit to the city’s Mercato Centrale is a must and certainly do not miss out on the wine bars! It will be one of the most civilised city breaks you have ever had.
Spain’s blue skies and summer sunshine mean that it will never be short of visitors, and Madrid is at the forefront of that movement. Having revamped itself in the past few years, the city is beginning to look a lot smarter. New boutiques, cafés, delis and gastro bars are opening every week boasting a lot more than tapas and rioja; it’s got the only Mexican restaurant (Punto MX) in the whole of Europe with a Michelin star, for example.
Discover hidden rooftop bars near to the Plaza de Cibeles and the vibrant Calle de la Montera. To get more out of the city, stay central to spend some time enjoying the Prado or check out the Botanic Garden next to Buen Retiro park.
A courageous art scene, medieval old town and several idyllic beaches nearby, explore the charming city of Porto in Portugal. See the unique blend of Romanesque and Mediterranean architecture with its monumental spiral tower, the terracotta rooftops and the cathedral in the heart of Porto’s centre. You’ll find most hotels in the Miragaia area towards Fontainhas, overlooking the Douro River.
A city that seems to be ahead of its on-trend neighbours. Experience its understated, yet cosmopolitan rooftop bars, its experimental cuisine and charismatic nightlife. Enjoy a glass of Port, its main export, and indulge in the city’s unique lifestyle.
It’s home to only about 300,000 inhabitants, but the atmosphere of Reykjavik is more distinct than many of the bigger European capitals. If you like fishing and eating the catch, then this would be the best place for you. Perhaps try something a little more unusual; shark and puffin can commonly be found on menus. The sea and mountains dominate the landscape; enjoy a show at the Harpa Concert and join the locals in a hot pool.
The best time to see the Northern Lights in the area is from September to April, where the dark skies are illuminated with this stunning natural phenomenon. Stay by the famous Old Harbour to wake up to the wonderful Kolaportið market at your doorstep. Browse the many stalls selling toys, clothes, antiques and delicious food. If you have a little time, renting a 4×4 and buzzing around the island will leave an indelible impression of nature.
Pound for pound, the old Russian capital has seen more revolution, war and political intrigue over the last couple of hundred years than any other in Europe, but it’s still a modern, up-and-coming cultural hub. Its history is everywhere, and you won’t be short of things to see from the Aurora Warship and the statue of its founder Tsar Peter the Great, to reminders of the 900-day Nazi siege.
Stay in its historical centre to visit most historical monuments on foot. Not the first city that comes to mind when you think of canals, but St. Petersburg is sprawling with them, which are connected by 340 bridges. Stroll alongside the water’s edge, taking in the Italian-style buildings and the neoclassical palaces, adding to the elegant setting.
Regarded as one of Europe’s hottest new mini break locations, the home of Mozart will charm you from the minute you waltz in. Part of Vienna’s appeal is that it’s perfect for fast-track travel or slow-paced sightseeing. The Viennese appreciate all the finer things in life; art and culture, music.
One of the best areas to explore this is in the Hofburg area, close to the museums, or in the traditional Viennese, Stephansdom to live like a local. You can expect coffee-house living rooms and restaurants serving mouth watering cakes and hearty portions of Wiener Schnitzel and spicy goulash.
If you have time, the short hop from Vienna to Budapest is worth consideration, although the Hungarian capital will entice in its own right. It’s technically two cities of Buda and Pest, split by the beautiful Danube River – and there’s a different vibe to both. The thermal baths, described as taking a bath in a cathedral, makes the experience unique and will wash out all your worries and stress. The Széchenyi Medicinal Baths with its warming outdoor pools are perfect in the wintertime.
For something a little different, check out the Japanese garden and solitude of Margaret Island in the centre of the Danube. The ruin bars are what the city is arguably famous for. With their artistic flare and intoxicating rhythm, tour them all to soak up this interesting city after dark.
On the glamorous French Mediterranean coastline, the small independent city-state of Monaco is perfect for a mini-break. Home to the notorious Grand Prix, visit to roll with the rich and famous in this elegant city. See the luxurious yachts by the harbour, try your luck in the casinos and marvel at the picture-perfect palaces.
For reasonably priced accommodation, stay in the Beausoleil area, which is within walking distance from Monte Carlo. As well as exploring all this, Nice is just a hop away – so close you can combine both cosmopolitan Monaco with the 19th-century seaside retreat. Both are great city break choices when the sun is shining.