Top city breaks in Europe: Classic vs Alternative

If there is one thing that Europe has in abundance, it is splendid cities. The continent is punctuated by conurbations steeped in history and character that are close enough to the UK to skip across to on a whim for a great selection of top city breaks in Europe.

Gargoyle of Notre Dame Cathedral watching out over Paris © Dan Breckwoldt -
Gargoyle of Notre Dame Cathedral watching out over Paris © Dan Breckwoldt -

Top city breaks in Europe: classic vs alternative

Almost any list of top 10 city breaks in Europe will include the old favourites, but branching out a little will reap some spectacular rewards. Below is our choice of classic cities and alternative destinations you might not have consiered visiting before.

1. France: Paris vs Bordeaux

Probably the most classic city break destination is my current hometown of Paris. The City of Lights certainly has a lot going for it, romance seems to seep from the streets and the sights, museums and restaurants could keep any visitor amused for weeks. For a French city break somewhere different there is a lot to enjoy in beautiful Bordeaux.

The Cathedral Square in Bordeaux © Yvann K -
The Cathedral Square in Bordeaux © Yvann K -

The weather is warmer and slightly sunnier than Paris and Bordeaux is bursting with lovely squares to wander round and the recent redevelopment of the riverside is fantastic. All through the summer they have nightly free dance lessons on the promenade; that's just the kind of place it is.

Paris is well served by BA and Air France* and is 2 hours 15 minutes on the Eurostar from London. British Airways also flies from London Gatwick to Bordeaux twice a day while easyJet has Bordeaux city breaks from Gatwick, Luton, Liverpool and Bristol.

2. Spain: Madrid vs Bilbao

Moving west to Spain, the capital Madrid is the classic choice and not a bad one either. The art museums of the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen are truly special and there is a vibrant nightlife. Barcelona also has much to offer but the Basque city of Bilbao would be my pick for an alternative Spanish city break destination.

The Guggenheim_Museum, Bilbao © Ardfern - Wikimedia Commons
The Guggenheim_Museum, Bilbao © Ardfern - Wikimedia Commons

Probably best known for its Gehry designed Guggenheim museum, Bilbao is also home to many other museums and some beautiful churches. The many charming neighbourhoods are perfect for sampling delicious Basque cuisine.

Get the lowdown on easyJet holidays to Bilbao, while city breaks to Madrid and Barcelona are available from all leading online travel companies including and Expedia. Also keep an eye on as they regularly run 72 hour sales and seasonal promotions.

3. Italy: Rome vs Florence

Audrey Hepburn explored it in Roman Holiday and Italy's capital Rome has always held a certain magic. No one can deny the power of entering the Colisseum, but I would like to take you north to Florence.

The Ponte Vecchio, Florence © Paola Gallo -
The Ponte Vecchio, Florence © Paola Gallo -

Usually seen as somewhere you might go for a day when on a Tuscan summer holiday, Florence definitely has enough going for it to warrant a dedicated trip. It has a fascinating history dating back to the Middle Ages and reading up a bit on the Medici family, who's power and influence reached far and wide in European history, will really make your trip.

It is possible to fly direct to Florence from Gatwick with Air Italy and Meridiana and from London City with Air France*. Also have a look at the city breaks offered by

4. Germany: Berlin vs Cologne

Nowadays Berlin seems to be the new hip destination and with good reason. It still being a relatively affordable city means that creative types have flocked there in droves and the art and music scenes are thriving.

For somewhere different, also with a very active cultural life, Cologne is just lovely. On the shores of the Rhine with numerous imposing bridges and monuments, Cologne also has the most pubs per capita of any German city? Cheers! or should that be Prost!

With direct flights from London Gatwick, easyJet holidays is your best bet for city breaks to Cologne, although you can also check out offers from Expedia.

5. The Netherlands: Amsterdam vs The Hague

Amsterdam is a great city, if you take away all the salacious things it has become famous for you get plenty of charm, lovely people and who doesn't love a good canal? For an alternative choice in The Netherlands, just a short train ride away from Amsterdam is The Hague, a very international city due to its hosting of the United Nations.

The Hague is spacious, boasts two beaches and plenty of greenery. Take a look at the city breaks and hotel offers from Expedia and Opodo whether you fly via Amsterdam or Rotterdam, while Eurostar Breaks to The Hague are available from

6. Austria: Vienna vs Salzburg

Vienna might be the birthplace of psychoanalysis and sachertorte, but does it have a cable car to take you up to a fortress with views of the entire city and the opportunity to go to a Sound of Music dinner show?

View over Salzburg Cathedral, Austria © Edobric -
View over Salzburg Cathedral, Austria © Edobric -

No, Salzburg does and a whole lot more besides. Birthplace of Mozart and set in the stunning Tyrolean Mountains, Salzburg also hosts a world class music festival, but has twice lost out on holding the Winter Olympics. Maybe the IOC hasn't been to the dinner show.

Flybe, and easyJet all fly direct to Salzburg from the UK. For weekends away to Salzburg and Vienna visit the city break specialists and ebookers.

7. Eastern Europe: Prague vs Krakow

There is much more to Prague, in the Czech Republic, than the go-to destination for stag parties. With a unique mixture of old and new architecture and an interesting history it is a classic destination for a reason.

Main square in the centre of Krakow, Poland © Pko - Wikimedia Commons
Main square in the centre of Krakow, Poland © Pko - Wikimedia Commons

For something different in Eastern Europe head to Krakow, Poland, where there are plenty of cultural and religious sights to keep you occupied and famously friendly and accommodating people to ensure an unforgettable visit.

Low cost airlines dominate flights to Krakow with Ryanair, easyJet and Jet2 all flying there. City breaks are available from Jet2holidays.

8. Ireland: Dublin vs Cork

In Dublin's fair city, where the girls are so pretty still rings true, and a weekend there, complete with a visit to the Guinness Museum, will never disappoint but the Republic of Ireland has a lot more on offer.

Cork City, Ireland © Andrei Nekrassov -
Cork City, Ireland © Andrei Nekrassov -

Take Cork, for example, a gem on the south coast that has everything you would expect from a traditional Irish city with a modern heart. Its charming markets and active literary community make it an exciting and vibrant mini break destination.

Flights to Cork are available from Ryanair and Jet2 (from Newcastle only). City breaks are available from Jet2holidays and Opodo.

9. The Balkans and Beyond: Istanbul vs Dubrovnik

The city where west meets east, Istanbul, perching on the cusp of Europe and Asia, is a spectacular place to experience. There is the Blue Mosque and the Whirling Dervishes, but also a thoroughly contemporary city with an increasingly luxurious scene.

The walled-city of Dubrovnik, Croatia © Agata Dorobek -
The walled-city of Dubrovnik, Croatia © Agata Dorobek -

For an alternative Balkan break look no further than Dubrovnik in Croatia, an incredibly beautiful medieval walled city with an inherent romance that has been remarked upon for generations. Dubrovnik is about 3 hours away from the UK and is well served by TUI, Jet2holidays, BA and easyJet.

10. Greece: Athens vs Rhodes

Finally we come to Greece, where the capital city Athens, is the classic choice and a must for any antiquity buffs. The city of Rhodes, on the island of the same name, is also steeped in ancient history.

Entrance to Rhodes Harbour where the statue of Colossus once stood © Robert Dziewulski -
Entrance to Rhodes Harbour where the statue of Colossus once stood © Robert Dziewulski -

It is warm for much of the year in Rhodes and bursting with ruins and coastline, a perfect unusual European city break. Short breaks to Rhodes are available from a number of tour operators including TUI, First Choice and On the Beach.

Where are your top city breaks in Europe? Tell us your tips for weekends away. Have we missed your favourite short-break destination? Let us know below and join the conversation.

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Tillie Sklair

Tillie Sklair
Posted on Wednesday 3rd October 2012 in: City Culture Europe Travel tips

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