A very simple and easy going guide to the top destinations for city breaks in Europe, including what to do in each city:
The mild Mediterranean climate in Rome is a persuasive draw for visitors from the cool north, but the main draw will always be the pulsating energy of a place which lives life as a form of theatre. There are great neighbourhood trattorias, quirky shops and a buzzing aperitivo scene. The challenge is deciding what not to do: there are so many churches, archaeological sites, piazzas and paintings to see that a lifetime is hardly enough.
For a complete Rome guide, visit here.
Venice never loses its capacity to enchant. Summer brings some of the most daunting crowds, but there’s a reason why they come: the sheer loveliness of an exquisite city that seems miraculously built on water. It’s churches and museums offer antique glories aplenty, but there is also a vibrant contemporary art scene, even away from the Art Biennale. Venice is a unique, magical place 365 days a year. But much of the time you’ll be sharing that magic with thousands of other visitors.
For a complete Venice guide, visit here.
Florence is one of Europe’s great art cities. Giotto’s frescoes, Michelangelo’s David, canvases by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and a host of other greats in the Uffizi Gallery… there’s so much exquisite art and architecture, it’s difficult to know where to start. Florence is also a living city with a vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene, and a lively cultural movida that goes beyond old masters to embrace opera, classical music and contemporary art. Handsome, historic, full of quirky shops and quality crafts, and close to the vine-covered hills of Chianti.
For a complete Florence guide, visit here.
Italy’s fashion and design capital, Milan has an international cosmopolitan outlook, a vibrant food and drink scene and scores of hotels to suit all budgets. Historical edifices sit cheek-by-jowl modern skyscrapers, while a number of the city’s buildings have spectacular interior courtyards that remain largely undiscovered. But what largely draws visitors is the city’s excellent shopping – designer stores line the Quadrilatero D’Oro district, while outlets, high street shops and boutiques are found in all corners of the city.
For a complete Milan guide, visit here.
Madrid has really revamped itself in the past couple of years. The Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums have all got bigger and better, while the centre of the city is smartening up with new boutiques, delis, cafés and gastrobars opening up every week. It’s perfect for a culture-rich long weekend or city break, with great food and a lively atmosphere at night. Madrid may be cold in winter – it is one of Europe’s highest capital cities, after all – but the sky is usually blue and the sunshine strong enough to allow visitors to sit at a pavement café sipping a vermut.
Well a city breaks in Europe list is not a complete one if there Barcelona is not in it. Barcelona is a patchwork of architectural styles displays dark, Gothic façades next to the harlequin buildings of the Modernistas and the skyline-piercing constructions of Jean Nouvel or Herzog and de Meuron, and a day spent admiring them can be topped off with a sundowner on one of the city’s seven beaches before dinner at any number of Michelin-starred gastronomic temples or humble, family-run tapas bars. Barcelona has a relaxed pace, months of endless sunshine, unbeatable food – with the cultural and design clout of almost any city in the cold north.
For a complete Barcelona guide, visit here.
BONUS – Seville, Spain
Compact, rich in history and famous for its flamenco, tapas bars and orange trees, Seville is an ideal city breaks destination, especially in spring before the sun becomes too scorching. Stay in the city’s old town to explore the cobbled streets of the Santa Cruz quarter and the breathtaking Alcázar Palace. Soak up the atmosphere on the banks of the Guadalquivir, and admire the views from the ancient cathedral tower and recently opened Parasol Metropol.