By Amira Hashish
Europe is brimming with city breaks that you may just not have thought about. Sure, there are the big players that will always pull in the crowds. Who doesn’t love a trip to Rome or an escape to Paris? But there are so many under the radar options that may just take you by surprise. From Scandinavia’s coolest spots to the Sicilian city that blends architectural beauty, these are the easy-reach destinations that should be on your next mini adventure list…
Denmark’s second city is small but mighty. Ideal for a cosy weekend break, the sights and attractions are all within walking distance. A stroll around the Latin Quarter is a great starting point. To see Scandi makers in action, head over to the Godsbanen centre where local artisans open up their studios. One of the most-photographed spots is the colourful cobbled street of Møllestien whilst Aarhus City Hall has a clock tower designed by Arne Jacobsen. A little further afield is the ground-breaking building and collection at Moesgaard Museum.
The city is centred around the harbour which houses the Dokk 1 Cultural Centre alongside statement buildings such as the Iceberg at the new Aarhus Ø district. You can also swim at the harbour baths, designed by Bjarke Ingels, or take a green kayak out for free, as long as you bring back some rubbish from your trip. The shopping is as Scandi cool as you would hope with the likes of Ganni, Stine Goya and Rains pitching up with beautiful boutiques. Aarhus has become something of a foodie hotspot too, from many Michelin-starred options including Gastrome to a street food market for casually delicious bites. For an after dinner cocktail head to St Paul’s Apothek. Oh…and it’s pronounced “Or-hoose”.
Getting there: Aarhus is close to both Aarhus Airport and Billund Airport. You can take the train to Aarhus from Copenhagen or drive in just over three hours. It is also possible to get the ferry to Aarhus from Zealand.
Lisbon gets all the love (and rightly so) but it is worth making time for Porto too. Bringing an altogether different vibe, it is the perfect size for a weekend and super walkable. If you arrive via São Bento train station you will be struck by the 20,000 painted tiles by artist Jorge Colaço which are an attraction in their own right. The city’s port-wine cellars are dotted around the south side of the Douro River and are a must for a tasting session. Head back over the Dom Luís I Bridge to explore the pretty streets of the UNESCO World Heritage Ribeira old town. Pitch up at a riverside bar or restaurant for a laid-back dinner.
Getting there: Porto has its own airport with direct flights from London. Alternatively, train your way around Portugal and arrive at São Bento.
I am calling it; Gothenburg is Sweden’s coolest city. Sure, Stockholm is a joy but its edgier younger sibling is a condensed version of so many of the capital’s finest bits. There are Scandi homeware stores in abundance alongside an impressive food and drink scene, making for an effortlessly chic escape. Not to mention its eco credentials. The port city keeps getting crowned the most sustainable city in the world with half of its public transport network running off renewable energy. For a culture fix, the Kondstmuseum awaits while Liseberg Amusement Park is a fun attraction. Hotel Pigalle is the city’s sexiest bolthole with an excellent rooftop bar.
Getting there: Less than two hours by plane from London, flights are frequent and surprisingly low-priced.
The bustling city of Naples is so often misunderstood. The gateway to the Amalfi Coast is grittier than its coastal gems but it has an altogether different charm. Famous for its pizza, it is packed with fabulous trattorias alongside cool cocktail or espresso bars. Piazza del Plebiscito is a good starting point for exploring this layered city. The intersection between the enclosed spaces of the old city and the marina, it is also home to the Basilica of San Francesco di Paola. The circular neoclassical church is a sight worth seeing. On the opposite side of the square, the Royal Palace leads towards the sea and is linked to another pearl of Bourbon architecture: the San Carlo Theatre – the oldest opera house in Europe. A stroll along Via Toledo, brimming with fashion boutiques and makers workshops, is a must. I would recommend staying in the nearby Chiaia area which feels more refined than some of the other neighbourhoods but is just as sumptuous. Alternatively, SuperOtium is an art-driven hotel with beautiful, innovative design in the more touristic area next to the National Archaeological Museum. Fancy seeing the works of Italian masters alongside breathtaking views across the city and bay? Take the tram to Capodimonte Palace and Museum.
Getting there: Just over two hours from London to Naples International Airport, which is close to the city.
The multicultural counterpart to the Cote d’Azur is quickly garnering a buzz. Pretty pastel-coloured streets house swanky shops and cafes, whilst the Musée des Beaux-Arts draws in the art lovers. Those in the know pick up their groceries at the seafood market at the Norman Foster-designed Vieux-Port. Venture to the hilltop Basilica for the views or take a hike at the Calanques National Park on the Mediterranean coastlines. Tuba Club is the place to pitch up for a night. A former scuba diving school, it is now the city’s most coveted boutique hotel, perched on a cliff. With Nice in one direction and Provence to the other, you will be in good company.
Getting there: Marseille Provence Airport is less than a two-hour flight from London.
The blend of Baroque, Greek, Roman and Medieval architecture that winds throughout this Sicilian city is something to behold. Stay in the historical centre of Ortigia to immerse yourself in its grandeur. It gets super hot in the summer but fear not, there is a small beach called Spiaggia di Cala Rossa which is just a few steps away from the winding shopping streets. Fancy an insider tip? Piazza Santa Lucia (St. Lucy’s Square), between the Basilica and the charming Borgata neighborhood, takes place every Sunday morning and is packed with wonderful vintage finds but you will need to get there early. Not forgetting the food (it’s hard to have a bad meal here) with Davè being a must visit for standout dishes served in a charming al fresco setting. Verga Courtyard is the place to rock up for cocktail in a beautiful setting.
Getting there: Fly into Catania airport then hop on one of the frequent buses which are about an hour’s drive away. Alternatively, Syracuse has its own train station if you tie this in with a wider Sicilian adventure.
We know we love the Greek islands but the country’s capital is often overlooked. More fool us. This vibrant city is perfect for an off-season visit, with warm temperatures even extending into Autumn. Against the backdrop of the Acropolis, the creative scene is thriving with pop-up galleries and innovative restaurants to be explored alongside design-driven small hotels. Stretches of golden sand line the beaches and the seafood is as delicious as you would hope.
Getting there: Direct flights from London take just over three hours.
Valencia is the birthplace of paella, which should be reason alone to visit. There are many more draws to this buzzy but not too overcrowded city though. Cutting-edge architecture sits alongside the Gothic meets Baroque cathedral. A lovely stroll can take you from the Old Town, where you will be greeted by huge stone gates, to the hipper Ruzafa neighbourhood with its colourful buildings. The City of Arts and Sciences houses sparkling white buildings with a science museum and opera house. To take in nature, the nine-kilometer stretch of Turia Gardens are home to striking palm trees, boating lakes, manicured gardens and bicycle routes. There are beaches too and the sun shines throughout the year. What’s not to love?
Getting there: Around two and a half hours flying time from London.