Find out more about Cathy Toogood
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.
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.
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 (off Carrer d’Olot; 902 200 302), 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 (Carrer de Mallorca, 401), the Cathedral (Pla de la Seu; +34 933.428.262) and the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (Plaça dels Àngels, 1; closed Tuesdays).
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 is a great choice this summer if you’re looking for a value-for-money destination. It’s consistently features near the top of the Post Office’s City Costs Barometer, which looks at the cost of drinks, meals, sightseeing and accommodation, and we found that it was the cheapest city for a five-star city break, too. 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 (Szentháromság tér 2, 1014), 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 (Andrássy út 60, ; +36 1 374 2600) 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 (9-16) on the Island of Freedom, so the city is likely to be busy.
With Game of Thrones back on our screens, beautiful Dubrovnik (King’s Landing) is once again getting the star treatment it deserves. But the city is much more than a pretty face, as Dubrovnik regularly does well in the Post Office’s 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 (Crijevićeva ul. 9, 20000; +385 98 361 934), 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 Historical Museum (Pred Dvorom 1; +385 20 321 422) and the Maritime Museum (Ul. kneza Damjana Jude 2, 20000; +385 21 427 937).
If you enjoy the performing arts, look out for events taking place across the city as part of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival in August.
After a successful stint as European Capital of Culture in 2013, millions have been invested in France’s oldest city to clean up its image and encourage more tourists to consider Marseille as a short break destination.
The lively Old Port area is a great introduction to Marseille’s famous hustle, while the narrow alleys of Le Panier quarter shows off the city’s arty side, its history and, perhaps most importantly, its cafe culture.
The main attraction in Marseille may well be its atmosphere, but there are plenty of other things to see and do here too. Pay a visit to the ornate Cathédrale de la Major (Place de la Major, 13002; +33 4 91 90 52 87), relive the Count of Monte Cristo at Château d’If (Embarcadère Frioul If, 1 Quai de la Fraternité, 13001; +33 6 03 06 25 26) or stroll through the corridors of Marseille’s oldest museum, Musée des Beaux-Arts (7 Rue Edouard Stephan, 13004; +33 4 91 14 59 30).
If you fancy escaping the heat with a dip, Prado Beach provides the perfect respite. Alternatively, catch the ferry over to the Frioul Archipelago and discover your own secluded bay.
For a city break that offers a healthy dose of the great outdoors, you can’t go wrong with Green Capital of Europe, Ljubljana, this summer.
Slovenia’s largest city is home to a thriving alfresco dining scene and during the summer months the Open Kitchen food market takes place every Friday at the Central Market square (Pogačarjev trg, 1502). Alternatively, the banks of the Ljubljanica River are lined with open air cafes, while many of the Old Town’s restaurants spill out onto its charming cobbled streets.
As you’d expect from its green credentials, Ljubljana has plenty of outdoor spaces perfect for hiking and exploring on foot. Ljubljana Castle (Grajska planota 1, 1000; +386 1 306 42 30), which stands atop a hill in the city’s centre, boasts dramatic views and there are a number of walking routes to the top, while Tivoli Park is perfect for a picnic on a sunny day.
As far as European capitals go, Ljubljana is still fairly free from the masses, making it a peaceful place to escape for the weekend. And, being only a 45-minute drive away from Bled, you’re well placed for a day trip to the famous fairy-tale-like lake.
Iceland’s capital is enjoying a boom in tourism and it is one of the top 10 most popular city destinations on TravelSupermarket this year based on searches.
And while a country with “ice” in its name might seem like a chilly choice for a summer break, Reykjavik’s weather over the summer months can be clear and sunny with an average temperature around 13C – perfect for exploring this intriguing part of the world.
The city itself is small compared to many European capitals (Reykjavik has a population of around 120,000) but there’s no shortage of things to keep you busy on a short break. Highlights include the iconic Hallgrimskirkja church (Hallgrímstorg 101), the National Museum (Suðurgata 41, 101; 530-2200) and the Old Harbour area.
Arguably though, the real fun lies in day trips outside the city where Iceland’s wild, volcanic landscapes come to life. Bathe in the waters of the Blue Lagoon (around 50 minutes away from Reykjavik by car), take in the wonders of the Golden Circle (a circuit that shows off some of the country’s most impressive geothermal attractions) or go whale watching off the coast (the summer months attract a vast array of marine life, from orcas to humpback whales).
During the summer, the Scottish capital is buzzing with tourists enjoying performances as part of its famous showpiece, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which takes place in August (4-28).
A celebration of theatre, comedy and the arts, the Fringe sees the whole city transform into a thriving stage, with entertainment seemingly around every corner – it’s quite possibly one of the most exciting times to visit the city.
Of course, Edinburgh gets very busy during the festival (the population apparently doubles) so if you’re after a more traditional city break, it’s wise to avoid August.
Festivals aside, the city’s combination of history, architecture and culture is the reason why so many head to Edinburgh for a UK city break. Edinburgh Castle (Castlehill, EH1 2NG; 0131 225 9846), the most visited tourist attraction in Scotland, is perhaps the city’s showpiece, while the drama of the Royal Mile shows off Edinburgh’s Old Town perfectly.
Meanwhile, the buzz of the Grassmarket is the ideal setting for a night out and the hike up to Arthur’s Seat reveals dramatic panoramas of the city and the surrounding area.
While the weather can be unreliable at any time of year, the nightlife and culture on offer in Dublin 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 (St James’s Gate, Dublin 8; +353 1 408 4800) 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 (Glasnevin, Dublin 9; +353 1 804 0300) 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).
Last year’s European Capital of Culture Wroclaw is a real treat for those who love a pretty city. And with summer temperatures in the mid-20s, you’re almost guaranteed a bit of sunshine to enjoy it in.
The city’s Old Town, with its colourful houses and Gothic town hall, acts as the picturesque epicentre of Wroclaw. Here you’ll find the social hub of the city, the Rynek (Market Square), plenty of open-air cafes and restaurants, “Hansel and Gretel” townhouses and the impressive Gothic St Elizabeth’s Church.
Meanwhile, Ostrów Tumski, Wroclaw’s architectural masterpiece, is a cluster of brilliant religious buildings found in the centre of town. And, as Poland is outside of the Eurozone, the pound is generally strong against the zloty, making Wroclaw a great value destination as well as a top city in its own right.
Stockholm is another city where you’re likely to enjoy pleasant temperatures in the low 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 (Djurgårdsslätten 49-51, 115 21; +46 8 442 80 00), the oldest open-air museum in the world, and the nearby Vasa museum (Galärvarvsvägen 14; +46 8519 548 00) with Stockholm’s very own (and superior) version of the Mary Rose, to the ABBA Museum (Djurgårdsvägen 68, 115 21; +46 8 121 328 60).
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 (Slottsbacken 1, Old Town; +46 8 402 60 00), the official residence of the Swedish monarch. Top it off with an evening at Grona Lund amusement park (Lilla Allmänna Gränd 9, 115 21; +46 (0)10-708 91 00), with its white-knuckle rides, fun fair games, restaurants and live shows overlooking the harbour.
And 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.
Please note: This is an updated version of a previously-published article.
Which city in our list appeals most to you, and do you have any tips for visiting our chosen 10?