Updated June 12, 2023
Published May 2, 2019
Prefer 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 is the answer.
Whether you’re after culture galore, beautiful scenery or buzzing bars and restaurants, you’ll be spoiled for choice in Europe’s best cities – even if you’ve already visited the big hitters of Paris, Rome and London.
Here we suggest our best European city break destinations for a blast of sun, and some if you prefer to spend summer in the shade.
Barcelona is one of the best cities to visit in the summer thanks to a series of sandy beaches that stretch north of the marina. You can make the most of the sun on little Barceloneta Beach, close to the city centre, or by cycling along the seafront to quieter Llevant Beach.
Should you want to cool off without a dip in the sea, 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, the Cathedral and the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona.
Lunchtime is best spent sampling traditional tapas. Patatas bravas (fried potatoes topped with a spicy sauce), pan con tomate (bread with tomato, olive oil, and garlic) and la bomba (a beef and potato croquette topped with aioli and bravas sauce) are all on the menu.
Looking for even more beach on your summer city break? Lisbon delivers. Sandy, golden beaches dot the coastline from Algés to Cascais, and you can be sunbathing on one of the city’s most popular stretches – Praia de Carcavelos – in around 30 minutes by train.
Fuelling your days in Lisbon is easy, too. From its iconic pastéis de Belém to the world’s first Time Out Market, this is a foodie city through and through. Fill up on fresh seafood at affordable riverside restaurants, try the city’s signature bifana pork sandwich and wash it all down with a wonderfully cheap bottle of local brew, Bock.
For culture – and some respite from the sun – hit up the city’s museums. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga and Museu Calouste Gulbenkian are an art lover’s dream, while the Museu do Fado, in the pretty Alfama district, dives into the city’s moving traditional music. Return to Alfama as night falls to hear it in action.
Beautiful Dubrovnik is one city that gets the star treatment it deserves. And, although it’s busy in the peak summer months, this city that looks out over the Adriatic is a stunning place to be for a sun-soaked weekend city break in Europe.
Get your bearings and take in the views from the city walls then cool off with a drink and a swim from Café Bar Buza, 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. Summer is also festival season: look out for events taking place across the city as part of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival in July and August.
Brimming with architectural beauty and basking in the warm Mediterranean sun, Malta’s capital is a favourite for a short break in Europe this summer.
The city itself is a historical marvel, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety due to its huge number of important sites – it’s a great introduction to the country’s rich history. The resort town of Sliema, with its rocky beaches that ease into the sparkling Med, is also just a short ferry away.
The main attractions in Valletta may well be the streets themselves thanks to its iconic colourful balconies, but there are plenty of other things to see and do here too. Pay a visit to St John's Co-Cathedral, stop by St George’s Square, and enjoy panoramic views of the Grand Harbour from the Barrakka Gardens.
Home to a thriving al fresco dining scene and what has to be one of Europe’s loveliest produce markets, Mercado Central, you’ll eat well in Valencia. In its old quarter, restaurants and cafes spill out onto its charming streets, an irresistible setting for fuelling your day with tapas or coffee.
Valencia has plenty of outdoor spaces ideal for exploring, too. Hire a bike or e-scooter and zip through the Turia Gardens, a former riverbed turned public park that also houses the futuristic cultural centre known as the City of Arts and Sciences. Or, head out to the city’s beaches – Playa de la Malvarrosa is about 5km (3 miles) from the southern end of the Turia Gardens.
As far as European cities go, Valencia is still fairly free from the masses, making it a great choice for a quieter weekend city break. It’s also the ideal spot to learn to cook paella – it’s the birthplace of the famous dish, after all!
Soak up some rays while exploring the Old Town square or venture to the picturesque Letná Park to enjoy a pint in its sunny beer garden, before taking in the view of Prague from the Petrin Lookout Tower.
Alternatively, head indoors for a break from the sun and discover the city’s quirky museums. Be amazed by the optical illusions of the Museum of Senses, check out the strange Gallery of Steel Figures or learn about medieval science at the vial-filled Museum of Alchemists.
During the summer, the Scottish capital is buzzing with tourists enjoying its famous showpiece, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which takes place in August.
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. 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. Visit Edinburgh Castle to find out why it's the most visited tourist attraction in Scotland and enjoy the drama of the Royal Mile, which 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.
Stockholm’s pleasant low 20s temperatures between June and August make it a perfect choice for a short break in Europe this summer. Built on 14 islands, Sweden’s capital has a huge range of attractions for visitors, with museums ranging from the ABBA Museum to Skansen, the oldest open-air museum in the world, and the Vasa museum with Stockholm’s very own version of the Mary Rose.
Outdoor attractions include the Royal National City Park and 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 Gröna Lund amusement park, with its white-knuckle rides, funfair games, restaurants and live shows overlooking the harbour.
If you’re a seafood fan, look out for crayfish on the menu as summer is the season of the crustacean. 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 that make up the Stockholm archipelago.
While the weather can be unreliable at any time of year, Dublin's legendary nightlife and culture 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 European city break, you won’t be disappointed either – choose a boat, literary or walking tour of the city to get your fill.
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'll learn everything from how the black stuff is made to the art of pulling the perfect pint, and then can enjoy a glass of Guinness with a view in the Gravity Bar.
Plus, there’s plenty to do if the sun does shine. Visit 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).
A country with 'ice' in its name might seem like a chilly choice for a summer city break, but 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 123,000) but there’s no shortage of things to keep you busy on a short break. Highlights include the iconic Hallgrimskirkja church, the National Museum and the Old Harbour area.
Arguably though, the real fun lies in day trips outside the city where the island’s wild, volcanic landscapes come to life. Top things to do in Iceland include bathing in the waters of the Blue Lagoon, exploring the wonders of the Golden Circle (a circuit that shows off some of the country’s most impressive geothermal attractions) or whale watching off the coast. The summer months attract a vast array of marine life, from orcas to humpback whales.