Top European City Breaks
Whenever I’m looking for my next city break, I like to look at the places other people enjoyed and why. Basically, it helps me to decide if that’s the place for me or not. So, I thought I’d share my favourite European cities here. Hopefully, it will also inspire you to try some of them. Of course, it’s not an exhaustive list of everywhere I’ve been in Europe. However, it turned out longer than I expected as I kept thinking “Oh, I must add that place, it was lovely” etc etc. However, it is a list of cities, big and small, in Europe that I really loved visiting. Some of them, I’ve written about in more detail elsewhere in the blog and if so, I’ve included a link to make it easier to find if you want to read more.
Medieval cobbled streets, picturesque waterways, pretty squares and of course, stunning architecture. Added to that, Bruges also has shop after shop of delicious chocolate. So, what’s not to like?
Italy is one of my favourite European countries. We’ve always been really lucky with the weather there which does help of course. However, it’s the fabulous museums and wonderful architecture which makes it such a hit for us. I’ve included Florence, Naples and Turin in my favourites list as they have such amazing museums but I could very easily have added Rome and Venice as well. Italy just has so much to offer.
Florence, or Firenze to be more accurate, is a wonderful city. I don’t think there is anywhere else in the world with quite so many world-class museums, galleries and gardens crammed into such a small area. We bought a Firenze card with access to loads and loads of attractions for 3 days and still we barely scratched the surface.
I’m so enthused about Florence that it has featured a number of times on my blog already. Take a look at some of these articles on making the most of this fabulous city.
I included Naples as one of my favourite European Cities mainly because it was such a surprise. You hear so many negatives about the city and I’m sure that puts a lot of people off. Yes, it’s a bit rundown in places. There’s a lot of graffiti and some parts of it are also a bit grubby. So why put it on a list of favourite cities? Well, because it’s packed full of history and you know how I like my history!
Naples is the gateway to Pompeii and Herculaneum and so for that reason alone, it would make it onto my favourites list. But don’t be tempted to avoid Naples itself. Also, take a look at the Archaeological Museum or wander through the historical centre and you’ll get a different perspective of Naples. So, it’s a city that’s really worth reconsidering. Read my article on visiting Naples’ Historical Centre here.
Another favourite Italian city, Turin was a city I knew very little about before we arrived there by train on our way home from Florence. What a fabulous place. So many Italian cities are full of history that perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. We only had one day and I really need to go back as there is so much more to do. Read all about the top sights in Turin here.
Of course, Berlin is a city at the centre of modern European history and so it’s an incredible city break destination for anyone who loves exploring historical places. Split into four sections during the cold war, you can still see remnants of a divided city. I can remember where I was when the wall came down and being able to visit and see what remains for myself was a real bucket list experience.
In the Saxony area of Germany, Dresden sits on the river Elbe. Previously the home of the Kings of Saxony, Dresden boasts some absolutely stunning architecture. All the more incredible when you consider that the city was pretty much flattened during the Second World War. One of my favourite buildings is the Frauenkirche or Church of our Lady. Right in the centre of Dresden the church was also destroyed but has been painstakingly restored to its original glory. The detail is amazing and the decorations inside are also simply spectacular.
We find ourselves in Cologne quite often because it’s a central railway hub. The main station is right next to the magnificent Gothic cathedral. So if you are changing trains here then do step outside and take a look. Really, Cologne deserves more than just a passing glance though. The historic old town is a lovely place for a wander and if you make it down to the river you’ll also come across Cologne’s very own Chocolate Museum. Here’s a great list of things to do in Cologne.
Two cities in one, Budapest is divided by the River Danube which also provides a wonderful focal point in the centre of the city. Buda and its castle sit on top of the hill overlooking the river. Then Pest stretches out below. We stayed near the castle for the fabulous views but Budapest is easy to get around by metro, bus and tram. Don’t miss a visit to one of Budapest’s famous spas where you can soak in hot thermal waters whatever the weather.
The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague is indeed a fascinating place for a weekend break or longer. I loved exploring this city. It’s a really walkable place but if your feet get tired then hop on one of the trams to get about. So stunning is the city centre that it is listed by UNESCO. Climb the hill to the castle with views across the city and the River Vltava. Then explore some of the cities synagogues and find out more about the history of the Jewish people in Prague. Enjoy the famous Wencelas Square but don’t forget to sample some of that famous Czech beer.
Český Krumlov is picture-postcard beautiful and you really need to see it for yourself to see just how picturesque it actually is. The Vltava river flows through the city which just enhances the effect of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Be prepared for a real wow moment when you first enter the old part of the city. Many people come on day tours from nearby cities but to really see it at its best you need to stay overnight. Indulge yourself at one of the lovely bars and restaurants and then wander the quiet streets after most of the tourists have left.
Another European city on the Danube River, Slovakia’s capital is one of Europe’s lesser-known gems. As you explore the old town you come across little statues dotted throughout the city. It’s just one of the endearing features of this fabulous place. Climb the hill and get a marvellous view across the city and the river or relax in one of the lively cafes and bars.
The Polish city of Warsaw is full of surprises. Take the extensive gardens on the roof of the University Library for a start! It’s things like this that really make me love Warsaw. Where else can you see something like that? If you walk the Royal Route into the old town you’ll also find musical benches dedicated to Chopin’s music and bullet-holes in the historic buildings. Add some top-class museums and some equally excellent food and you’ll see why Warsaw makes it on to my favourites list. Take a look at this list of things to do and see in Warsaw.
The Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna is possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. You can visit the spectacular gardens for free but it’s well worth taking a look inside as the interior is simply amazing. It’s not the only Royal Palace in Vienna either so if you love these historic buildings then you’re going to enjoy it here.
If a scenic location is your idea of heaveen then you’re going to love Innsbruck. Take a look at the mountain backdrop to the city in the photo above. It’s absolutely spectacular. Everywhere you go in the city you can look up and see the mountains towering over you. Take time to explore the lively Old Town with its street cafes and restaurants. Then take a trip on the cable car or Funicular and take advantage of those amazing views.
The birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg is a picture-perfect city on the banks of the Salzach River. Spend time exploring the pedestrian-friendly old town and see the house where Mozart was born. Even its new city dates from the early 19th century.
What can I say about Barcelona? Whatever you’re looking for in a city break, I’m sure that Barcelona can provide it. The wonderful architecture of Gaudi makes the city an art lover’s paradise. His buildings are stunning but there’s plenty more to see in Barcelona. Take a stroll down Las Ramblas and sample the local Catalan wines with your tapas. Relax on the beach or take a walk along the seafront. When you’ve sampled all the city has to offer you can head out to Montserrat Monastery or explore the local vineyards. It’s a truly amazing European city. Check out my guide to the perfect weekend in Barcelona and my tips for day trips from Barcelona to add to your trip.