October 28, 2022
Europe’s top cities are exciting places to visit. Interesting restaurants, thought-provoking cultural attractions, fascinating history, cool places to stay, happening nightlife…on a city break in Europe, they’re all yours to discover.
And, whether you’re planning a weekend away or want to get under the skin of a new city on an extended break, there’s a wide range of European city breaks to choose between.
Can’t decide where to go next? Our round-up of the best city breaks in Europe will inspire you.
Not many places can rival Rome for historic prowess. The Eternal City has it all: iconic ruins such as the Colosseum and the well-preserved Pantheon; big-name landmarks such as the baroque Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps; and richly decorated churches to explore. And then there’s its arts scene, which takes you from the Renaissance (via frescoes by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel) to the modern in the MAXXI museum.
But the joy of a trip to Rome isn’t in rushing around trying to see all the big sights. It’s also in tasting local specialties in a trattoria, sipping an aperitivo and people watching in a buzzy bar, taking leisurely strolls with a gelato in hand, and trawling its hip shops for mementos.
Instantly recognisable, Amsterdam’s network of canals are a pleasure to stroll beside. Take your time admiring the city’s gabled buildings and bobbing canal boats, stopping for the occasional coffee or mooch in a homeware shop. Alternatively, get around like a local by hiring a bike or see the city from another angle from a boat.
Must-see attractions on a weekend city break here include the sobering Anne Frank House, where the teenage diarist went into hiding; the imposing Rijksmuseum with its work by Dutch Masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer; and the Van Gogh Museum.
Food and drink wise, the city’s ‘coffeeshops’ share the limelight with fine-dining restaurants, trendy burger joints and hip cafes.
Known for its thermal baths, ruin bars and historic buildings, Hungary’s capital Budapest is a top choice for an indulgent European city break. To start a trip, look out over the city and Danube River from Buda Castle then cross the water to go on a guided tour of the magnificent domed Parliament Building.
Later, treat yourself to coffee and cake in one of the city’s spectacular historic coffee shops before slipping into the steamy waters at a thermal bathhouse – first-timers could try one of the largest spa thermal bath complexes in Europe, the Széchenyi Baths. The House of Terror Museum is also well worth a visit to learn about Hungary’s fascist and communist regimes.
Barcelona effortlessly combines the best elements of a European short break. There are beaches to laze on, fantastic architecture, excellent food and drink, and blue skies aplenty. And the good-looking Spanish city will constantly have you reaching for your camera to capture its Gothic cathedral, Modernista buildings and Gaudi’s masterpieces such as Sagrada Família and colourful Park Guell.
Refuel after sightseeing over tapas then hit up a gallery such as The MACBA Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona or the Picasso Museum. Football fan? Head to the home of Barcelona FC, Camp Nou, for a stadium tour.
No list of the best city breaks in Europe would be complete without France’s capital, Paris. Known as the City of Love, you’ll get serious brownie points if you whisk your other half here for a weekend crammed with fine dining, views from the top of the Eiffel Tower and strolls hand-in-hand along the banks of the River Seine.
But you don’t have to be all loved up to fall for this French charmer. Grand buildings and landmarks such as Arc de Triomphe, world-famous art galleries and stylish cafes where you can sip coffee – or something stronger – are head turners for solo travellers, groups of friends and families alike. Plus, from the UK, it’s a short flight or Eurostar journey away.
Dublin is a city where you’ll have a good time, whether in a cosy pub with a pint, watching live music or chatting to friendly locals in a bar. Before making the most of its famed nightlife, learn more about Ireland’s capital and hear stories about its residents by peeking inside 14 Henrietta Street, a Georgian Townhouse that became a tenement dwelling.
If you’re a bookworm, you’ll love passing the time in Dublin’s bookshops and libraries, with Trinity College’s Old Library a highlight. To learn more about the city’s literary connections (Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats and Seamus Heaney all spent time here), take a literary walking tour of the city or a Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. Other must-sees include the National Museum of Ireland, Kilmainham Gaol, the National Gallery of Ireland and the Guinness Storehouse.
Venice is a true one-off European short break destination. The city on water is home to elaborately decorated churches, buzzing squares, famous art galleries and bars where you can enjoy cicchetti (Italian-style tapas) and wine.
For a treat, book a gondola ride to navigate the city’s canals, but if you’re on a budget, there’s the equally novel public vaporetto (water bus) service or water taxis.
And while the big sights in Venice are likely to be busy – think the likes of the Rialto Bridge and St Mark's Square – if you allow yourself a little time to get lost in its cobbled back streets, you’ll see another side to the city with quieter cafes, museums and shops.
The handsome city of Krakow in the south of Poland is the perfect place for weekends away, combining culture with indulgent food and drink. Start in the Old Town’s central square, Rynek Główny, which is the largest medieval town square in Europe, and have a coffee or beer admiring its central medieval Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), Town Hall Tower and St. Mary’s Basilica.
Another beautiful building to visit is Wawel Royal Castle, which is now a museum with exhibitions including the Crown Treasury and Armoury and the Lost Wawel. The former concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau is a harrowing but essential place to visit too, just over an hour’s drive away.
You’ll fall in love with Portugal’s capital on a city break in 2022. Known as the City of Seven Hills, get your bearings by taking one of Lisbon’s famous yellow wooden trams up to a miradouro (viewpoint) to see the city and River Tagus sprawling below.
Known for its food, dishes to try in Lisbon include salted cod (bacalhau), chicken piri-piri and, of course, pasteis de nata – custard tarts. A great place to try dishes from some of the city’s best-known chefs is the enormous Time Out Market.
You’ll also want to tick off some of the city’s big hitters on a visit so head to Belem to look around the 16th-century Jeronimos Monastery or the Alfama district to admire the city’s Moorish Castelo de São Jorge. You’ll find the city’s 12th-century cathedral nearby too.
City breaks in Prague are packed with culture, beautiful architecture, excellent food and, of course, world-famous beer. Start your trip in the city’s Old Town, looking out for its Astronomical Clock, the stone Charles Bridge and the twin-spired Church of Our Lady Before Týn.
Refuel in the Old Town Square with coffee and cake before heading to the most popular attraction in the city, Prague Castle – the largest ancient castle in the world. After you’ve seen the big sights, choose whether to slip into one of Prague’s many art galleries, explore its maze of lanes or sit back and relax over an ice-cold drink in a traditional pub or microbrewery.
But you don’t need to love art to be enchanted by this Tuscan treasure. The city’s good looks, medieval churches and gourmet food are utterly irresistible, and its instantly recognisable skyline with the iconic Duomo is as breathtaking as the pictures. A good place to watch the sun set while gazing out over the terracotta rooftops is Piazzale Michelangelo. You’ll get a fantastic view from Giotto's bell tower too, in Piazza del Duomo.
A city break in Madrid will put a spring in your step whether you spend your time in its galleries, dancing the night away with locals, feasting on fine food or shopping in its trendy boutiques.
Its “Golden Triangle of Art” – the Prado, Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum – should be the first stop for art enthusiasts, and you could easily spend a weekend in these institutions alone. But it would be a shame not to spend some time outside basking under Madrid’s blue skies, relaxing in El Retiro park or eating tapas al fresco.
Copenhagen offers a winning combination of being both fun and cool. You could be shopping in its chic Danish interior stores one moment and then squealing with glee in the Tivoli Gardens amusement park the next.
The city takes its food seriously too, with everything from big names such as noma to cafes that take making the perfect smørrebrød (open sandwich) seriously. On a visit, snap photos of the colourful Nyhavn area, the Little Mermaid sculpture and Tivoli Gardens, and see a different side to the city by bike or on a boat tour of its canals.
If you’re dreaming of escaping to a good-looking city full of energy on your next European weekend away, look no further than Seville in southern Spain. Its striking architecture is reason enough to visit, with stand-out buildings including Seville Cathedral, the 14th-century Alcazar Palace and the modern Setas de Sevilla, an enormous wooden structure with a viewing platform.
Allow some time to sample some of the city’s world-famous tapas in a traditional bar or two, before watching a flamenco show until the small hours.
Athens is a city steeped in history with its icon, the Acropolis, headlining its skyline. But it’s not a city stuck in the past and on a city break in Athens you’ll be able to party until late in a hip bar, admire street art and wander around its buzzing neighbourhoods on the hunt for your next spot to eat or drink.
Sports fans will want to visit the Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympics were held, while if you’d like to discover more about the city’s history, buy a ticket for the National Archaeological Museum. If time allows, you may want to escape the city’s heat with a trip to a nearby beach on the so-called Athens Riviera.
Croatia’s southern stunner, Dubrovnik, allows you to combine history with dips in the sea, and drinks in cool bars with walks featuring knock-out views. Stroll on the city walls in its UNESCO-listed Old Town, looking down over the city’s terracotta rooftops and the twinkling Adriatic before exploring the pedestrianised streets below.
After a day of sightseeing, sip a cool drink in a buzzy bar – Buza Bar, which is accessed through a hole in the wall, and Cave Bar More are good options. If you’d like to escape the city crowds, take a boat to the nearby island of Lokrum or hike up Mount Srd, a hill behind the Old Town with expansive views of the city and beyond (there’s a cable car too).
Visit Portugal’s second city for its port wine and leave raving about its exceptional food, riverside cafes and laidback atmosphere. Before hitting the port lodges, put your trainers on to explore Porto’s cobbled hilly streets, snapping shots of the views, tiled buildings and colourful street art.
After a tasting session, escape to the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal botanical gardens to clear your head or see more of the city by rabelo (a traditional Portuguese cargo boat) on a tour on the River Douro.
Known for its annual Edinburgh International Festival and Harry Potter connections, the Scottish capital is an exciting choice for a weekend city break closer to home. Edinburgh Castle is the top attraction on many visitors’ lists, where the oldest crown jewels in Britain (the Honours of Scotland) are held.
Another interesting attraction is The Real Mary King's Close, a warren of underground streets where you’ll be told stories about Edinburgh’s dark past by a tour guide in costume. There are galleries and museums for all tastes and ages in Edinburgh too, from the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art and the National Museum of Scotland to Camera Obscura and World of Illusions.
Still a fairly under-the-radar European city break destination, a trip to Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, will be full of good food, wine and handsome buildings. The city’s medieval castle looms over the city and it’s worth visiting for the view it affords alone – on a clear day, you’ll see all the way to mountains.
Equally beautiful are the buildings and structures in the city itself by the 20th-century architect, Jože Plečnik. These include the central white stone Triple Bridge, the colonnaded Central Market and the National and University Library. And a big plus point for city breaks in Ljubljana is that much of its centre is car free so you can amble around with the occasional pit-stop for a delicious slab of cake or drink al fresco.
For such a small city, Reykjavik packs a mighty punch. There aren’t many places where you can flit between art galleries and museums teaching you about Icelandic history one day then go on a whale watching cruise the next. Or where you can wallow in geothermal pools and swim outdoors before emerging refreshed for a night of fine food and live music.
Allow some time on your break to relax and birdwatch by Lake Tjörnin and to climb to the top of the rocket-shaped Hallgrímskirkja church to admire the city from above.