7 alternative European city breaks

If there's one thing that Europe has in abundance, it's 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 short city break.

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

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 pick of classic cities and alternative destinations you might not have considered visiting before.

Booking your next city break: did you know that Jet2holidays*, often thought of as the purveyor of fine beach holidays, offers great value city breaks departing from major and regional UK airports? Get booking today!

1. Nice, France

Probably the most classic city break destination is 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 anyone amused for weeks. For a French city break somewhere different, however, there's a lot more to enjoy than you might expect in coastal Nice*, too.

For starters, the weather is much warmer and sunnier than in Paris. Far more than just the glitz and glam it's renowned for, the capital of the French Riviera has a colourful, balcony-clad old town. This maze of winding streets takes in local markets, squares, historic buildings and many a floral garden and park.

Of course, Nice's most beguing attraction is the sweep of beaches along Baie des Anges and its palm-tree lined, car-free Promenade des Anglais, ideal for an evening stroll or afternoon cycle.

Art lovers will want to visit the Matisse Museum, a collection of, among other things, 68 of the artist's paintings, all displayed in a grand villa, which can be topped up with even more works at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.

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Find out more about the weather in Nice, see when we think is the best time to go to Nice and compare the weather in Paris and Nice to help you make your choice.

2. Florence, Italy

Italy's capital Rome* has always held a certain magic. No one can deny the power of entering the Colosseum and sheer magnificence on display at every turn of this living, breathing museum. But a little further north the Tuscan city of Florence* also allures with its artistic legacy and refined flavour.

The Ponte Vecchio, Florence © Paola Gallo - Fotolia.com
The Ponte Vecchio, Florence © Paola Gallo - Fotolia.com

Often considered somewhere to go on a day trip while on a summer holiday, Florence definitely has enough going for it to warrant a dedicated visit. It has a splendid history dating back to the Middle Ages with dramatic sights such as the Duomo, or cathedral, and iconic Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge.

Top tip for visiting Florence: prep for your visit with a little background reading on the once all-powerful Medici family, whose influence from the heart of Florence reached far and wide across Europe.

For a peaceful stroll with an impressive cityscape view, head to Bardini Gardens while, foodies will want to sniff out Mercato Centrale and Mercato Sant'Ambrogio.

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3. Cologne, Germany

Berlin* is known as Germany's capital of cool thanks to its relative affordability that attracts creative types, ensuring thriving art, music and tech scenes. Throw in its fascinating history, ancient and modern, and it's easy to see why it's such a hit with city breakers.

For somewhere different, however, which also boasts a highly active cultural side, the west German city of Cologne* is delightful. On the shores of the Rhine, crisscrossed with numerous imposing bridges and dotted with countless monuments, Cologne also has the most pubs per capita of any German city - cheers! or should that be, Prost!

Other highlights include the medieval old town with boutique shops, museums, art galleries and cafés as well as the Cologne Cable Car, Cologne Chocolate Museum and the Museum of Applied Art for a look at the likes of jewellery, furniture and ceramics through the ages.

Weather in Cologne

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Find out more about the weather in Cologne, see when we think is the best time to go to Cologne and compare the weather in Berlin and Cologne to help you make your choice.

4. Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Ah, Amsterdam*. Surely one of the most exciting and ever-giving cities in Europe. However, if you've been before and fancy experiencing a different type of break in the Netherlands, look no further than Rotterdam* - it's super cool, laid-back, easy-to-navigate on foot or by bike, and home to markets and neighbourhoods worth exploring.

Pretty much flattened during WW2, Europe's largest port city reinvented itself over the following decades resulting in an eclectic mix of architecture and hip arts and cultural scenes. Admire the view from the top of the Euromast Tower before hopping in a water taxi to Hotel New York for lunch in the sun.

Alternatively, make for nearby Foodhallen Rotterdam where craft beers and food stalls await. Walk off any feasting ambling northwards with a pitstop at riverside Prachtig Bar beneath Erasmus Bridge before entering the famous Markthal for fresh cheese and other produce.

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5. Salzburg, Austria

Vienna* might be the birthplace of psychoanalysis and chocolatey 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?

No, that'd be Salzburg*. Home to intricate Baroque architecture, its looming Hohensalzburg Fortress is instantly recognisable, while the delicate Mirabell Palace, built in 1606, promises to delight garden lovers.

View over Salzburg Cathedral, Austria © Edobric - Shutterstock.com
View over Salzburg Cathedral, Austria © Edobric - Shutterstock.com

The Museum of Modern Art hosts well known works while the oh-so-quaint Getreidegasse beats at the heart of the city's old town. Renowned as the birthplace of Mozart, it's no great surprise that the world-famous Salzburg Festival, a celebration of opera, classical music and theatre, takes place each July and August.

On top of this, as a city with more than 10 breweries within easy reach, Salzburg is also known as "Austria's capital of beer", with plenty of beer gardens and pubs for you to indulge in the revered local tipple.

Weather in Salzburg

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6. Krakow, Poland

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

Yet, for something different in Eastern Europe head to Krakow*, whose medieval old town is the jewel in Poland's crown. The much-photographed Main Market Square, Europe's largest, is full of cafés, shops and ornate façades.

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

Spend a morning acquainting yourself with the many historic finds in and around the Wawel Royal Castle, the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the world, on Wawel Hill. It's also a top spot for a picnic with a view.

If you have an extra day to spare, why not make for one of Poland's oldest and most surprising tourist attractions, Wieliczka Salt Mines. Around 14 km southeast of Krakow, it weaves around 300 km of tunnels over nine levels. Take a guided tour to step inside and experience a small corner.

Weather in Krakow

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Find out more about the weather in Krakow, see when we think is the best time to go to Krakow and compare the weather in Prague and Krakow to help you make your choice.

7. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Istanbul, the city where west meets east, perches on the cusp of Europe and Asia. There are endless sights old and new, from the stunning Blue Mosque and ancient Basillica Cistern to the Topkapi Palace, view from Galata Tower and contemporary museum, Istanbul Modern.

The walled-city of Dubrovnik, Croatia © Agata Dorobek - Shutterstock.com
The walled-city of Dubrovnik, Croatia © Agata Dorobek - Shutterstock.com

However, a quick look northwest to Croatia in the Balkans, and the ancient walled city of Dubrovnik* makes for a pleasing alternative. A delicious blend of history, architecture, locally grown wines, boutiques and fine restaurants all served up along a turquoise coast; Dubrovnik simply ticks so many boxes.

Top tip for visiting Dubrovnik: when planning your trip be sure to check the Dubrovnik Port Authority's cruise timetables to make sure you visit when there isn't a surge in cruise passengers.

Don't miss a walk around the walls at sunset and do take the time to hike to the top of Mount Srd (you can always cheat with the cable car) to visit the heartwrenching but very important Homeland War Museum.

Weather in Dubrovnik

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Find out more about the weather in Dubrovnik, see when we think is the best time to go to Dubrovnik and compare the weather in Istanbul and Dubrovnik to help you make your choice.

Ready to book your next city break? Check out the latest deals on adventures to these cities and more with Jet2holidays.

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Tillie Sklair

Tillie Sklair
Article updated on Thursday 2nd April 2020 in: City Culture Europe Travel tips

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