Whether you’re a seasoned traveller or someone who’s been longing to see a little more of the world, planning a city break is always a good idea. It’s the fastest way to get a feel for a country’s language, culture and cuisine, and it’s always straightforward to get there by plane – often with a direct flight to the city itself.
So, if you’re itching for adventure and would love nothing more than spending a few days exploring the streets of a foreign location, here are ten city breaks you need to book, pronto…
One of the few major cities in Europe to boast a beach, Barcelona is a fantastic city destination if you’d like a little bit of everything. Sunshine, shopping and nightlife is fused with sandy shores, history and architecture, so it should be top on your bucket list of city breaks, if it’s variety that you’re after.
Start with a visit to the Sagrada Familia (expect to see scaffolding while work is completed – it’s taken more than 130 years so far!), and get to know more about Gaudi, Barcelona’s beloved architect. You’ll enjoy warm afternoons in Las Ramblas seeing entertainers, shops and cafes, and be sure follow it to the picture-perfect harbour for dinner by the sea. And if you want some of the best nightlife in Spain? Make your way to the Gothic Quarter after dark, remembering to pack your dancing shoes.
For a city break that’s all about fairy tale charm, look no further than Bruges in Belgium. This is a UNESCO World Heritage city and it’s been an international metropolis for hundreds of years. Stand on the pathway beside the canal as the sun is beginning to set, and watch the city’s exquisite architecture alight with a golden glow. You’ll get a strong sense of the city’s medieval heritage (especially if you climb to the top of the Belfort – the 366-step climb is worth the effort if the weather is good), and the old fish market (Vismarkt) will set you among the hustle and bustle of the city at street level. Whatever you do, make time for the Groeningemuseum – the Flemish paintings are a delight for art lovers.
If you’re yet to venture to the Baltic, why not make your first visit a trip to Helsinki? This Finnish capital is another seaside city, and it’s an interesting combination of islands, green parks and cosmopolitan living.
The Ateneum is the perfect place to get a quick lesson on the nation’s art, and history lovers will enjoy the Suerasaaren Ulkomueso museum, with its collection of historic wooden buildings shipped in from all over Finland. Those with a taste for quirk will love Steam Hellsinki. Here, you can drink cocktails beneath a giant Zeppelin, while admiring the mechanical cogs and industrial features in this eye-catching location. It’s also a fantastic city break destination if you’re partial to snapping a photo for Instagram: the symmetry of Helsinki’s architecture is bound to perk up your profile…
New York City
If there’s one city on earth you need to get around to seeing, it’s New York. This iconic metropolis will send butterflies through your stomach when you glimpse it from the window of the plane. Towering skyscrapers, the Empire State Building and the stretch of Central Park laid out below will make you feel like anything is possible.
There’s a huge amount to keep you entertained here, from a trip to see the Statue of Liberty to an afternoon at the Bronx Zoo. But even just wandering the streets of New York City is an experience in itself: hop on and off the subway, hail a yellow cab, and eat your way around the city in its most-loved diners and restaurants.
Truly, there’s no place on earth as romantic as Paris. Sure, you could jet off to Tuscan olive groves, or spend a week sunning yourself in Santorini, but Paris is known as the City of Love for a reason. A city break to Paris will see you immersed in café culture (strong dark coffee and pastries – what could be better?) fused with fashion, class and sophistication.
Sip wine on the streets of Montmartre, walk beneath chestnut groves in Jardin du Luxembourg, and listen to couples conversing in the language of love, with a Parisian twang. Of course, you have to see the Eiffel Tower, but save it for after dusk while it’s illuminated against the night sky. Pay a visit to Bouillon Racine, (this heritage-listed art noveau restaurant has been serving food among mirrored walls and flower motifs for more than 100 years). Then walk off dinner with a stroll along the River Seine.
One of Europe’s prettiest cities. Prague is the ‘City of a Hundred Spires’. The Czech capital city is compact (perfect for getting around on foot), and is divided by a pretty river criss-crossed with stone bridges. But it’s not just nice to look at – it’s full of swanky corporate offices, busy trams and numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, (more than 30 of them, in fact), so expect a fusion of old and new. If you consider yourself a bit of a foodie, reserve a table at Alcron or La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise, and if you’re a culture vulture, you’ll enjoy an evening of classic music at any of Prague’s theatres. If history and architecture is more your thing, now is the time to go: the clock face in the Old Town Square has been undergoing repair since it was bombed in 1945, and it’s due to be revealed before July 2018.
There’s no place on earth quite like Reykjavik. This Icelandic capital has steadily seen an increase in visitors, with plenty of people wanting to check it off their bucket list after hearing about its extraordinary scenery, intriguing architecture and enticing thermal springs. The city is the perfect place to base yourself if you fancy exploring the surrounding volcanoes, glaciers and other natural wonders that Iceland has to offer intrepid visitors. Tours regularly leave from the capital if you’re interested in seeing more of the country but there’s lots to do if you want to stay in in the city. Sip coffee in the cafes lining the Old Harbour, familiarise yourself with the Einar Jónsson Museum, and pay a visit to the Hallgrímskirkja: we promise you’ll never have seen a place of worship quite like this.
The Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum… Rome is an exquisite city if it’s history and architecture that most excites you about travel. Wake early to watch the sun rising on the Arch of Constantine, and make sure you’re at the Trevi Fountain after sunset for a little bit of magic. As well as ancient architecture, Rome offers world class art galleries and museums, and it’s also one of the most exciting destinations in the world for high-end shopping and sophistication. But most enticing of all is the cuisine on offer in this Italian city: plates piled high with pasta, slices of mouth-watering pizza and wine, enjoyed al fresco in cosmopolitan bars, will have you considering booking a one-way ticket.
Edgy, forward-thinking and eager to welcome visitors of every sort, Stockholm will give you a taste of what it’s like to live in a city where innovation and inclusivity is the aim of the game. It’s a tech start-up hotspot that’s second only to Silicon Valley, so the vibe is youthful, modern and smart, and that’s something you’ll pick up on while you’re visiting. Join the locals for free workouts in the park, explore the Royal Palace, and wander around the world’s first open-air museum in Skansen. The cafes, restaurants and shops are seriously stylish in Stockholm (after all, this Swedish capital is renowned for its eye and influence for all things interior design), and the food scene is every bit as cutting-edge as you’d expect for a city as cosmopolitan as Stockholm.
Back to Italy for this one – fair Verona (the stage for William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) is a charming city that’s often overlooked in favour of Italy’s more famous destinations such as Venice and Florence. Its 1st century amphitheatre stands in the centre of the city, a venue that hosts the summer opera festival, and there are multiple bridges and other beautiful buildings that will satisfy amateur architects. Make your way around Verona’s historic sites (the Museo di Castelvecchio and the Cathedral are both highly recommended), or join a walking tour to see parts of the city you might otherwise miss.
Which of these ten top city breaks would you like to experience first? Or do you simply want to do them all?