City breaks are the best way to explore the history, culture and art of somewhere in a short space of time. They leave us with great memories, snippets of local life and a chance to see some of the world’s most iconic attractions and architecture. There are so many amazing cities to discover; here are 20 of the best city breaks for your time away.
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 shops alongside free museums such as the V&A and Natural History Museum and art galleries, why wouldn’t you love the English capital? Take a ride on the London Eye or go see a play in the West End – Hamilton is on its way at the end of 2017; 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. You can’t go to Milan without a big shopping budget because you will end up wanting to spend big money on clothes at the designer stores that line the Quadrilatero D’Oro district and the many outlets and high street shops and boutiques.
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. Relax and soak up the ambience of the city in one of the many coffee shops or relax with a glass of wine and a slice of Camembert. If it holds the Olympics in 2024 there’s likely to be a period of exciting rejuvenation and reinvention.
Small enough to cycle or walk almost anywhere you want, 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 some of the top-ranking museums such as Anne Frank Museum or Rijksmuseum, or just 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 like Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg or Neukölln and take in the local atmosphere and abundance of local bars, restaurants and clubs.
A city-break with a beach, what could be more perfect? Gaudi’s city 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, the bizarre curiosities of Park Güell, the café culture of the thriving Las Ramblas and the Salvador Dali museum, and maybe a day trip to the Pyrenees.
La Barceloneta beach is a short walk from the centre and lined with bars, entertainers and soft sand perfect for sitting with a sangria.
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. 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 unusual boutiques 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 – while 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, 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 in Temple Bar or at the Guinness Factory (they make lager as well now, of course). 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. There is so much for you to see and explore including the Colosseum, the ornate Vatican City and the temples. 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, have a go at snowboarding, skiing and snowblading with an incredible view of the surrounding hills and the city or 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.
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. And 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 afterwards.
Lisbon is a Latin fairytale 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. 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. 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 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. 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 relax, while a visit to the island of Murano and its glass factories is a must.
Europe’s greatest artistic city 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, a visit to the city’s Mercato Centrale 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 with new boutiques, cafés, delis and gastro bars 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. To get more out of the city spend some time enjoying the Prado or check out the Botanic Garden next to Buen Retiro park.
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, and perhaps 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, admire the Northern Lights or go and join the locals in a hot pool, and 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. There’s also the little matter of the Fifa World Cup in 2018, and the 68,000-seater Krestovsky Stadium will host one of the semi-finals.
Regarded as one of Europe’s hottest new minibreak 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 – and coffee-house living rooms and restaurants serving mouthwatering 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 – and there’s a different vibe to both. The thermal baths, described as taking a bath in a cathedral, make the experience unique and will wash out all your worries and stress in one glorious of heat. For something a little different, check out the Japanese garden and solitude of Margaret Island in the centre of the Danube.