It’s a new year and with it, hopefully lots of new travels, inspiration and joy! I was chatting with a few friends of mine several weeks ago and they asked me for some European city break ideas for 2016. That got me thinking of the cities I’d visited in the past year or two and I was soon rattling off a list of cities including tips on what to see and do. To get you started on thinking about where to travel to in 2016, here are the cities I recommended:
European city break ideas
The capital of Latvia was one of the biggest surprises for me in 2015 when I visited for the first time. Riga has a gorgeous historic centre, with atmospheric cobblestone streets, colourful houses, intriguing museums and a lively culinary scene. Just a short walk from the Old Town is the Art Nouveau district with simply stunning architecture. Air Baltic offers frequent flights to Riga from many European capitals so getting there is easy enough. Riga is perfect for a long weekend but if you have more time, I highly recommend venturing out to the countryside and the Baltic coast.
Dublin is a delight, rain or shine. Stroll around the historic Trinity College (the home of the famous Book of Kells), party with the locals in Temple Bar, enjoy a pint at the Guinness Storehouse, gaze at the stately Georgian buildings on Merrion Square or shop on Grafton Street. Save some time to explore the Dublin coast (just a short train/bus ride away) with its picturesque villages, castles and seafood restaurants, or head up to the nearby Wicklow Mountains for stunning mountain scenery.
Bologna is one of my favourite cities in Italy. Its historic centre is a maze of cobblestone streets, lined by gorgeous porticoes (arcades) and punctuated by bustling squares. Head to the top of the Asinelli Tower (one of the city’s famous twin towers) for amazing views of the city, wander the streets and markets, join the locals at aperitivo (‘happy hour’), tuck into a fabulous meal at one of Bologna’s many excellent restaurants or join a cooking class. If you have more time, head out to the nearby historic towns such as Ravenna, Dozza or Modena and its Motor Valley (think Ferrari, Lamborghini and Ducati).
San Sebastián, Spain
San Sebastián is a gorgeous coastal town in the Basque Country in northern Spain. The town is perhaps most famous as a foodie paradise, and rightfully so! Despite its relatively small size, it boasts a big variety of Michelin-starred restaurants and countless pintxos (tapas) bars which will have your mouth watering in an instant! Other fabulous attractions in the town include its beautiful Belle Epoque architecture, the beach fronting Concha Bay, the beach boulevard and Mount Igeldo (with great views of the town and Concha Bay). San Sebastián also has the distinction of being the European Capital of Culture in 2016.
Situated in the Mediterranean Sea, smack in between Sicily and the African continent, Malta is an island of amazing historical and natural attractions. The capital, Valletta, is a beautiful town situated on a peninsula between two stunning harbours. Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is surrounded by imposing walls, is packed with atmospheric streets, grand historic buildings, bustling squares and shops that made me reminisce about my childhood days. Malta is small so it doesn’t take much time to get around the island. Go for a sailing trip (don’t forget a stop at Camino and its Blue Lagoon), visit the many Heritage Sites scattered across the island, watch the fishermen at work in the colourful village of Marsaxlokk or enjoy some beach time!
Sevilla (or Seville) is an incredibly beautiful city in southern Spain. Packed with historic buildings (such as the breathtaking Cathedral, the exquisite Alcazar Palace and the grand Plaza de España), bustling squares, leafy parks and countless cafés, restaurants and terraces, Sevilla is perfect for a city break. Oh, and you have to experience a flamenco performance! There’s so much to see and do that a long weekend isn’t sufficient. Plan a longer stay, take your time exploring the various neighbourhoods and delve into the city’s colourful history.
The capital of Hungary is often referred to as the ‘Paris of the East’ and it’s not hard to see why. With its stately buildings, broad boulevards and beautiful bridges crossing the Danube River, Budapest has some similarities with its French counterpart (though to be honest, the city doesn’t need the comparison to stand out). Gawk at the impressive Parliament Building on the banks of the Danube, take the funicular up to the Royal Palace, soak in the thermal waters of one of the many historic baths, join the fun at Szimpla Bar or have a meal in one of the most beautiful cafés in the world.
Strasbourg is a picture-perfect city in the Alsace region in northeastern France. In 1988, its historic centre, also called Grand Île, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Grand Île is a maze of atmospheric medieval streets and stately squares lined by gorgeous buildings. At one end, the impressive Cathedral (a stunning Gothic structure completed in the 15th century, with its characteristic single tower) commands the attention, whilst at the other end, lovely houses perched over the Ill River in the Petit France neighbourhood are the perfect definition of ‘picturesque’. In between, you’ll find lovely shops, restaurants, museums and terraces.
This cosmopolitan harbour city is one of my favourites in Germany. Hemmed in between the harbour and two lakes, Hamburg boasts stunning architecture, a vibrant nightlife and a classy culinary scene. Join a harbour cruise, stroll around the UNESCO World Heritage Speicherstadt, grab a fish sandwich at the Fischmarkt or climb to the top of St. Michael’s Church for magnificent views. If you’re a fan of toy trains and airplanes, you have to visit Miniatur Wunderland!
Ok, you didn’t think I’d leave out my home town did you? Haha! Amsterdam is always an excellent city break destination. There’s always something going on in the city’s cultural, arts and performing arts scenes. In addition, there are world-class museums, great shopping, a famous nightlife and a dizzying array of cuisines. Spend a few days simply soaking up the unique atmosphere by strolling around the gorgeous canals and exploring the small streets that crisscross the historic centre. Then head into the different neighbourhoods like the Jordaan, De Pijp and Amsterdam Noord (North) to experience the amazing contrasts. Explore the historic towns near Amsterdam and in the spring, you can’t miss the tulip fields.