9 May is Europe Day, an event celebrating peace and unity in Europe after the horrors of the second world war.
While you may initially think of the more famous cities when you imagine a European city break – such as Paris, Berlin, or Rome – there are plenty of lesser-known cities on the continent that offer a fantastic escape.
So, from quaint cities nestled in the Alps, to picturesque coastal cities, here are 10 of the best European city breaks you can enjoy this Europe Day.
1. Annecy, France
If you’re pining for picturesque views, Annecy in south-east France could be the perfect city break for you this Europe Day. The Alpine city sits at the top of the gorgeous Lac d’Annecy, one of the largest lakes in France, and the cleanest lake in Europe.
Annecy truly has it all; after you’ve finished taking in the sights of the old town, which has been dubbed the “Venice of the Alps”, you could try your hand at some scuba diving, wakeboarding, or even rent a yacht to sail on the breathtaking lake.
2. Bilbao, Spain
Golden beaches and delicious cuisine are likely the first things that come to mind when you think of Spain, and Bilbao is undoubtedly no exception.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of the world-famous Guggenheim contemporary art museum, which is located in the Basque city, though there’s plenty more to do than just modern art. In fact, the city has a Fine Arts Museum, an Archaeological Museum, a Maritime Museum, and even a Bullfighting Museum!
As for food, Bilbao won’t leave you disappointed; in the Basque region, tapas is instead called “pintxos”, usually small pieces of bread topped with different delicious ingredients.
3. Bratislava, Slovakia
Bratislava is a city of history; the capital of Slovakia has many different imposing and gorgeous medieval structures to explore. Bratislava’s old town, for instance, is a sight to behold – it is the historic heart of the old city, and offers cobblestoned alleyways, vibrant nightlife, and exquisite eateries.
When you’ve taken in the sights of the old town, you can’t miss Bratislava Castle, which is perched on a high forested hill on the northern bank of the Danube overlooking the old town.
And, while you may initially think of Vienna, Prague, or Berlin when you think of beer, Bratislava is often glossed over in this instance, when in actual fact, the city takes beer very seriously.
4. Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is a city lost in time. Much of the city has remained the same since the medieval era, meaning there are plenty of impressive old buildings to visit.
For example, the Church of Our Lady is a 13th century church that houses Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child, a marble sculpture stolen from the city twice: first by French revolutionaries, then by Germans in the second world war.
After visiting the impressive church, you can meander down the scenic pathways and canals that snake through the city. It may be worth hiring a boat tour to take in the sights of the city, as you’ll be able to appreciate how low the bridges have been built as you stoop when you pass underneath them.
5. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Nicknamed “the Pearl of the Adriatic”, the gorgeous walled city of Dubrovnik is a sight to behold. This should come as no surprise, either, as the breathtaking maritime town has plenty to see and do.
You may recognise Dubrovnik from the HBO series Game of Thrones, which used the city to represent King’s Landing in the world-famous TV programme. So, there may be no better way to live out your Game of Thrones fantasies than by walking the city walls, which span the length of the city and give you the perfect opportunity to take in most of the sights it has to offer.
And, if you’re a fan of seafood, then Dubrovnik could be the perfect location for you. For instance, a must-try Dalmatian speciality is black cuttlefish risotto, fried squid and octopus salad.
6. Porto, Portugal
After being one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, Portugal has recently been attracting more than 20 million visitors every year, and for good reason. If you’ve always dreamed of visiting Portugal, but want to experience something different from the Algarve or Lisbon, then Porto could be what you’re looking for.
The “City of Bridges” was once the beating heart of Portugal’s industrial revolution, though thankfully, this hasn’t affected the city’s beauty. For instance, the city’s historic centre is located behind a 14th-century Romanesque wall, and is even a UNESCO World Heritage site.
After visiting the old town, it may be worth ambling downhill to the Ribeira, which offers fantastic eateries with a picturesque view across to Gaia and the double-decker metal arch of the imposing Dom Luis I Bridge above.
7. Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Rotterdam was the victim of significant damage in the second world war. As such, the city now combines spectacular skyscrapers and must-see modern architecture alongside quaint Dutch houses.
The vibrant city has it all – after strolling through the bustling shopping areas, you could visit the Het Nieuwe Instituut, The Netherlands’ national museum for design and culture, or the Mama, an eye-opening gallery with exhibitions, performances and more.
Better yet, Rotterdam is only a four-hour train ride from London, which could make it the perfect city break if you don’t want to travel too far afield.
8. Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg’s dramatic mountain views and bottomless charm make it a must-see location in Austria. If you’re a fan of classical music, you certainly can’t miss Mozart’s birthplace – you can tour the house he was born in, which is full of treasures from the famous composer’s life.
After this, it may be worth visiting the Hohensalzburg Fortress, which sits on top of the Festungberg hill and offers breathtaking views of the mountains and surrounding forests.
And, of course, you can’t go to Austria without sampling some apple strudel, so you should visit one of the city’s many cosy coffee houses to relax in after a long day of exploring.
9. Liege, Belgium
Liege, perhaps the most important city in the Walloon region of Belgium economically, is the perfect place for a quick city break this Europe Day.
The city is full of historic landmarks and picture-postcard views. For example, the Palace of the Prince-Bishops, or the market square with its Perron centrepiece can’t be missed.
If you still have some energy after exploring the vibrant city, it may be worth climbing the legendary Montagne de Bueren, a flight of 374 stone steps starting at the iconic Féronstrée district and ending at the Citadel.
There exists a proverb that best encapsulates the attitude of the city: “faites comme à Liège, laissez pleuvoir”, or “do like they do in Liege, let it rain”. You’ll soon forget your troubles and get on with life after a visit to Liege.
10. Ljubljana, Slovenia
While Ljubljana in Slovenia may be a lesser-known city break compared to some of the other magnificent cities on the continent, it is still a destination worth visiting. The vibrant city is full of rich history, and has some breathtaking architecture.
As such, the city is perfect for long walks – after meandering through the quaint streets, it may be worth visiting the magnificent Ljubljana Castle, which overlooks the city on top of Castle Hill. Then, you can’t miss the city’s Open Kitchen Market, as it offers some of the best foods from around Slovenia, and some exciting wines and beers from around the world.
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