Jul 29, 2014

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Top 10 European cities to visit this summer

If you’re the type of holidaymaker who prefers the faster pace of city life to endless days spent on the beach, or perhaps you have only a few days to get away this summer, a city break could be the ideal option. And with the bank holiday approaching at the end of August, why not be inspired by one of our ideas and get ready to jet off for a fun weekend away.

Whether you’re after culture galore, beautiful scenery or buzzing bars and restaurants, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to European city breaks – even if you’ve already visited the big-hitters of Paris, Rome and London.

Here we suggest five city break options for a blast of sun and five if a more temperate environment suits you.

Five sizzling city breaks

Barcelona

Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain.

Barcelona is a lovely city to explore in the warm summer months. You can make the most of the sun by strolling around outdoor attractions such as Gaudi’s Park Guell, hiring a bike to zip along the seafront or sipping a drink in a pavement café.

Should you want to cool off, however, there’s plenty of shade in the medieval streets of the Gothic Quarter. You can also shelter from the sun at the numerous indoor attractions such as the Sagrada Familia church, the Cathedral and the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona.

And don’t forget that Barcelona has a beach, too, so you can have a relaxing afternoon or morning lounging on the sands to complement your sightseeing.

One drawback of visiting at this time of year, however, is that many locals leave the city during the summer months, meaning some restaurants and bars will be closed.

Budapest

Parliament building - Budapest

Budapest is a great choice this summer if you’re looking for a value-for-money destination. It’s come out top in the Post Office’s City Costs Barometer for two years running as the cheapest of 25 popular city break destinations for items such as drinks, meals, sightseeing and accommodation. But don’t think that this means you’ll be short changed when it comes to sights and things to do.

You can soak up some rays while exploring Heroes’ Square and ambling around City Park or venture to the picturesque Castle District to pop in and out of museums and admire the impressive Matthias Church, before taking in the view of Budapest’s second half – Pest – over the Danube.

Alternatively, head indoors for a break from the sun and learn all about the fascinating history of the city in the House of Terror Museum before soaking away the stresses of the world in one of Budapest’s many thermal spas.

If you’re after nightlife, you’ll love Budapest in the summer, when drinkers move to outside tables and outdoor clubs are full of partygoers. However, be aware that the Sziget music festival is taking place in mid-August (11-18) on the Island of Freedom, so the city is likely to be busy.

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik Old Town

Dubrovnik also fared well in the Post Office’s most recent City Costs Barometer, beating many well-known major league cities on prices. And although it’s busy in the peak summer months, the city that looks out over the Adriatic is a stunning place to be when the sun is shining.

Get your bearings and take in the views from the city walls then cool off with a drink and a swim from the Café Bar Buza, perched on the rocks overlooking the water, or simply head to the beach for a dip in the sea. You could also visit one of the nearby islands on a day or overnight trip.

If you want to avoid the sun for a few hours, you’ll find shade in the car-free old town, as well as a choice of indoor attractions such as the Cultural History Museum and the Maritime Museum. If you enjoy the performing arts, look out for events taking place across the city as part of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival until August 25.

Palma

Palma

While you may think of Majorca as a longer beach holiday destination, the thriving city of Palma should be up there on your must-visit city break list.

With a flight time of around two-and-a-half hours from the UK, great bars, restaurants and cafes, and some seriously classy places to stay, there’s enough going on in this Spanish city to keep even the fussiest of visitors coming back for more. If you want some down time, just head to the beach.

By day, wander around the city’s marina and dip in and out of high-end shops in the sun before having lunch in a buzzing tapas bar. Then do some sightseeing, taking in the Gothic cathedral or making the short trip to Bellver Castle. By night, you can have dinner al fresco before making the most of the thriving bar scene.

If you’re on an extended stay or fancy seeing more of the island, you could hop on to the train to the village of Soller or hire a car to explore Majorca’s other cities and resorts such as picturesque Deia.

Lisbon

Lisbon

Another city that did well in the Post Office’s City Costs Barometer this year was Lisbon, coming fifth overall for the second year running. So if you’re after value for money coupled with sunshine and sights, consider the Portuguese capital.

You’ll fall in love with the old-world charm of Lisbon whether you hop on the century-old wooden tram or look out over the city from the Moorish castle of St George. But Lisbon has a wilder side, too, as you’ll discover if you slip into the summer bar and club scene.

If partying sounds too much like hard work, however, you could spend some time relaxing on the beaches in the nearby towns of Cascais and Estoril.

Be aware that many Lisbonites go away in August so the city will be quieter and some bars and restaurant will be closed.

Five options with cooler weather

Bergen
Bergen

© Bergen Tourist Board / Willy Haraldsen – visitBergen.com

In summer, the temperatures in this World Heritage Norwegian City won’t be sweltering – they’re likely to be around 16C-18C – but they’ll be pleasant for wandering around the sights.

Those sights include the pretty wooden houses in Bergen’s old winding streets, the harbouside with its museums and historic buildings and the lively outdoor fish market. If you want to venture further afield, you could hop on to the city’s funicular railway for a trip to Mount Floyen to go hiking or simply to admire the view of the city, sea and fjords below.

Bergen is known as the Gateway to the Fjords, so it would be a shame not to go on a day trip to experience them, too. Many of these tours run from May to October only, so summer is a good time to see these natural wonders.

Dublin

Dublin

For an adventure slightly closer to home, consider Dublin this summer. While the weather can be unreliable at any time of year, the nightlife and culture on offer in the Irish capital should more than compensate.

If you’re after a taste of the “craic”, you’ll find bucketloads of this famous Irish conviviality in the city’s numerous bars and pubs. For a quieter, more cultured break, you won’t be disappointed either if you choose a boat, literary or walking tour of the city.

And, whether you’re a fan of the city’s famous beer or not, a trip to the Guinness Storehouse is fun for any first-timer to the city. You can learn everything from how the black drink is made to how to pull the perfect pint, and then enjoy a glass of Guinness with a view in the Gravity Bar.

Plus, there’s plenty to do if the sun does shine with outdoor spaces such as the National Botanic Gardens or the numerous parks and squares where you can spot statues of big-names including Oscar Wilde (Merrion Square) and James Joyce (St Stephen’s Green).

Warsaw

Warsaw

While Krakow may typically gain more attention from tourists, Poland’s capital, Warsaw, is worth consideration as a city break destination this summer. Not only does the city offer excellent value for money (it’s bagged third spot in the Post Office’s City Costs Barometer for the second year running), but the weather is likely to be sunny without being too overbearing with temperatures in the early 20s.

And there are plenty of attractions to stroll around in the sun, such as the pedestrianised old town – which was recreated after being virtually destroyed in World War II – the Łazienki Królewskie Park-Palace Complex and the Multimedia Fountain Park where you’ll be able to watch daily water shows.

If you’re a classical music fan, take a tour of the city inspired by the composer Chopin, who lived and studied music here, or spend a few hours looking around the museum devoted to him. If you’re a sports fan, you could watch a match at the National Stadium, built in 2012 for that year’s Euro Championships.

Stockholm

Stockholm

Stockholm is another city where you’re likely to enjoy pleasant temperatures in the early 20s this summer – warm enough for an open-air drink but not too stifling to explore. If you’re a seafood fan, look out for crayfish on the menu as it’s the season of the crustacean in the summer months.

Sweden’s capital city, built on 14 islands, has a huge range of attractions for visitors, with museums ranging from Skansen, the oldest open-air museum in the world, and the nearby Vasa museum with Stockholm’s very own (and superior) version of the Mary Rose, to the ABBA Museum. Outdoor attractions include the Royal National City Park and walks around the preserved medieval centre Gamla Stan, plus there are grand buildings to admire such as The Royal Palace, the official residence of the Swedish monarch. Top it off with an evening at Grona Lund amusement park, with its white knuckle rides, fun fair games, restaurants and live shows overlooking the harbour.

It would be a shame to visit Stockholm without taking to the water for a swim, on a boat tour or to explore the more than 30,000 islands and islets making up the Stockholm archipelago.

Riga

Riga

The capital of Latvia, Riga, also did well in the Post Office’s city costs research, coming sixth in the list of cities – a basket of 12 popular tourist items came in at half the price of those in London and less than one-third of those in New York. So, if you want to try somewhere new while keeping your costs down, read on.

In August and September, a range of events will be taking place as part of the city’s status as European Capital of Culture 2014. Pick from the Street Art and Music Festival (August 6-9) or The Future, a design exhibition running throughout August. Then there are the two weeks of the extended Dance Goes into Town performance, starting on September 1, with impromptu dance events all over the city.

However, even if your visit doesn’t coincide with one of these summer highlights, you’ll still find plenty to do. It’s a pleasure simply to admire the impressive art nouveau buildings in Riga’s historical centre, for example, while travellers of all ages should try to attend an organ concert in Riga’s Dome Cathedral to marvel at its giant organ (although be aware the organ is currently being restored so may be surrounded by scaffolding).

Other attractions that should be on your must-visit list include Riga Castle, the Latvian National Art Museum and, if you love shopping and people-watching, the Central Market.

Which city in our list appeals most to you, and do you have any tips for visiting our chosen 10?

  1. Some interesting places to visit. We enjoyed Barcelona while on a cruise last summer. Lot’s of history and interesting sites to see. Thanks for sharing your suggestions and photos!

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