Top ten city-breaks in Europe


Being widely known as a man of culture, I am often asked which is the best city in Europe. So I decided to make a list of my top ten, with a photo of each, a reason why it’s in the list, a top tip and a link to some further reading…

View of Venice from the top of the belltower at San Giorgio Maggiore

10. Palermo

Perfect food and weather, beaches nearby, historical and mafia interest and it’s small enough to fall in love with in a weekend. An offer you can’t refuse.

aBitofCulture tip: Have a drink at the bar opposite the Teatro Massimo opera house at chucking out time to people-watch as sharp-suited possible gangster-types leave with their molls.

Read more of my writing on Palermo here

9. Antwerp

Belgium’s second city is its best – a beautiful main square, bars aplenty and a fashion and diamond heritage make this port city on the River Scheldt the 9th best city break in Europe.

aBitofCulture tip: Thinking of making an honest woman of that someone special in your life? As 80% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through town, Antwerp is the unofficial diamond capital of the world. The Diamond District is near Centraal Station if you’re looking for a ring.

Read more of my writing on Antwerp here

8. Lisbon

Delightfully decrepit buildings and trams, and surprisingly few tourists make Lisbon a great choice for a weekend of fun in the sun. And don’t forget those egg custard tarts…

aBitofCulture tip: Don’t forget the other side of the river. Take a ferry across the Tagus to Lisbon’s own version of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue – a lift will take you to the top of it, for great views of the red bridge below.

Read more of my writing on Lisbon here

7. Porto

A controversial choice putting Portugal’s second city above its capital, but Porto just shades it courtesy of its laid-back charm, dirt cheap prices, Port-crawl possibilities and that bridge.

aBitofCulture tip: Climb the 240 steps of the bell tower at Igreja dos Clérigos for stunning views of Porto and across the river to the Port hotbed of Vila Nova da Gaia.

Read more of my writing on Porto here

6. Edinburgh

Stepping out of Waverley Station onto Princes Street with its shops, gardens and castle and then seeing the Royal Mile and characterful pubs, it won’t take you long to understand why this city is so popular with foreign tourists who put it at the top of their UK itineraries.

aBitofCulture tip: Escape the bustle of the city by walking up the extinct volcano, Arthur’s Seat (from where I took the photo above) for peace, fresh air and views.

5. Barcelona

An architecture and football fan’s dream – check out the works of Gaudi and Messi, and soak up the sun on Las Ramblas and the city beach. Guapa!

aBitofCulture tip: Off to the football? It’s at the Camp Nou, not the Nou Camp. And the halftime steak sandwich I had there in 2006 still ranks as the best footie stadium snack I’ve ever had.

4. Tallinn

It’s got a reputation as a stag do hotspot, but go off-season when the snowy weather keeps people away and prices down. A tiny Old Town, but one of the nicest you’ll ever see.

aBitofCulture tip: Like chocolate? Then you’ll love the independent chocolatiers in Tallinn’s Old Town – have a mug of hot chocolate with a plate of hand made beauties from Cafe Josephine.

Read more of my writing on Tallinn here

3. Rome

My love affair with Italy continues, with the peninsula’s capital at number 3. I’ve only visited twice so a return is definitely on the cards soon to experience those thousands of years of history again. With the Coliseum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Vatican, Forum, Pantheon, Stadio Olimpico, Piazza Navona, Campo dei Fiori and Castel Sant’Angelo to name just ten, can there be a city with more to see and do in Europe?

aBitofCulture tip: Feeling thirsty after all that sightseeing? Save your money by swigging from one of the many water fountains dotted around the city.

2. Prague

Another of Europe’s great cities to receive its fair share of stag parties, but the cobbled streets of its photogenic Old Town make a visit to Prague a must. Add Charles Bridge, the castle, the Jewish quarter and the best beer in the world and you can see why this city is always full to the brim with tourists.

aBitofCulture tip: The Czech Republic is famous for its beer, but if you’re not a fan give the St. Wenceslas vineyard a go. It’s perfectly located next to the castle, so you can enjoy a glass of Moravian red and a cake overlooking the River Vltava after a day of culture.

Read more of my writing on Prague here and here

1. Venice

Some might say it’s too busy/smelly/pricey. Ignore these fools and see La Serenissima while it’s still with us. There’s nowhere like it on earth – no roads or cars, just canals and bridges split into six districts (known as sestiere) and a handful of outlying islands. With works of beauty on every corner, I was in shock at how perfect the place is and could quite happily live there.

aBitofCulture tip: So many people miss out by only seeing Venice on a daytrip, or staying the night elsewhere on the mainland. Stay the night in central Venice, and have the most gorgeous city on earth almost to yourself as midnight approaches (and the lack of cars and scooters will guarantee you a brilliant night’s sleep).

Read more of my writing on Venice here, here and here

Notable absentees? Paris – never been. Krakow – wasn’t that fussed. Amsterdam and Berlin – can’t remember them!

Just missed out? Copenhagen, Florence, Budapest, Bruges…actually it’s pretty hard to narrow it down to ten. I did want to include a few more hipster choices like Vilnius or Trier but I couldn’t leave some of the big boys out.

Do you agree? Have I left out your favourite? Let me know if I’ve made a howler in the comments box below.

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Categories: Baltic states, Belgium and Netherlands, Czech Republic and Slovakia, France and Spain, Italy, Portugal, UK and IrelandTags: , , , , , , , , , ,

59 comments

  1. Great top ten, great tips Richard. We are so lucky here in Europe aren’t we….?

  2. Got to agree with you re Lisbon and Prague, even Antwerp despite foul weather when I was there. Also Tallinn and Barca (I did stadium too). For me Vilnius and Krakow are well worth a visit. Keep up the great work!

  3. Nice work Richard. I would try and find a top 10 place for Riga and for Budapest.

  4. Nice list and Lisbon would always be very high in my list BUT where is Vienna? Magnificent architecture, wonderful cafe society and such a musical heritage (Vienna Phil etc)

    • Cheers! Confession time – I haven’t been to Austria but will try to get to Vienna a.s.a.p.

      • You must make Vienna priority, magnificant city but also surrounded by vinyards (30 min tram ride) and then hop on a train along the Danube to one of the many beautiful little towns and villages alongside the river. AND you must go to the opera even if you dont like opera……….it is such an experience (but give Wagner a miss unless you can manage up to 5 hour performances!).

  5. Oslo is very good, if a bit pricey, in the summer reminded my of Sydney with a bit of Brighton thrown in plus the fantastic ship museum, Vigeland Park with it’s mad sculpture and the Munch Museum as if you hadn’t had enough crazyness for one day. I’d have to include Budapest, Prague, Tallinn, Bruges, Moscow, Lisbon, Copenhagen, Edinburgh (natch) and I’m afraid Paris. Mind you London has an awful lot going for it too

  6. I’m so glad Porto made it in here! Your right it is dirt cheap and a lot to offer it! Just did a blog on the top 10 things to do on a budget there! 🙂 Have a look if your interested.

  7. Not a Paris fan I see!
    This made me realise how much of Europe i have yet to explore! I better hurry 🙂

  8. I would add Vienna, Riga and Munich for consideration. Indeed I think Riga is a hidden gem – the old town is one of the most beautiful old towns I’ve ever visit.

  9. Great choices, I’ve managed six out of ten (Porto, Edinburgh, Barcelona, Rome, Prague and Venice) and the other four are on my list. I’d have to add a vote for Paris, and suggest Sorrento as another good Italian city break.

    • I got put off Paris a bit when I saw a documentary about Japanese tourists who go into a state of shock and need the government to repatriate them when Paris doesn’t live up to expectations. This syndrome happens to about 500 people a year and has its own name now!

  10. I’ve only managed three on your list unfortunately! (Edinburgh, Tallinn and Venice), but Porto is very high up on my wish list. If you like Tallinn, I would definitely recommend Riga or Vilnius – similar in terms of well-preserved old towns, but they have a bit more going on!

  11. Is very hard to prepare a top ten list. Of course people could disagreewith any city missing. I liked your – of course I would have mentioned other destinations, but this is your blog 🙂 Just one thing about prague tip. Good Moravian wine is only white one, red is really low quality level and if you stay in bohemia, beer is the best option to drink, even for abstinents 🙂

  12. Great top ten! It is hard to make a selection, but I would have added Stockholm, Dublin and Munich 🙂 Cheers

  13. Thanks for appreciating Porto, my town. Some of the other cities are also very special, and I find interessant how you escaped from classical places such as London or Paris. In the case of Italy, maybe I’d rather put Florence instead of Rome…but it’s a personal taste. Interesting article and good work!

  14. Am I the only person from the UK who has visited Barcelona and hated it? The noise, the crowds on Las Ramblas (not to mention the pickpockets and thieves) and this idea of going out for a meal at 10.00pm at night………..sorry, not for me. Give me Lisbon any time!

    • I can see how some would hate it, but my first visit was in February when the crowds (and pickpockets) stayed away, so I had the main sights all to myself! Lisbon makes a great break though, I agree.

  15. Great list! I’ll have to add a few of these to my travel plans!

  16. Love the list! I’ll have to make another European vacation to visit a few of the places you have mentioned. Personally, my favorite is still Salzburg, Austria. It’s truly a gem. (I’ll actually be posting an article on my experiences there within the next couple of days)

  17. As an American, it’s impossible for us to have the same access to these places as it is for Europeans. You guys really are lucky to be able to see these places practically within a day’s driving distance.

    It’s not on your list, but I’m a big fan of Ghent. It’s got fantastic medieval architecture, it’s a working city and not a “tourist trap” … plus if you’re into jazz (I am) it has several jazz clubs, including the one I visited there: Hot Club de Gand.

    I just got back from 7 days in the Netherlands and 2 days in Belgium… I am writing about it at length. Please feel free to drop by and check out more of the posts.

    Thanks!
    Carol

  18. I’ve so many of these to visit yet! My list would have to include London and Paris though. That might be predictable but I could never tire of either of them.

  19. Great blog. I look forward to reading more. Thanks for following my blog.

  20. Not sure how I came upon this, Richard, but it was a nifty bit of self promotion 🙂 🙂
    You know I’m going to have to take you to task over Krakow, don’t you? Wasn’t it miserable and wet when you were there?
    I think you only spent a day in Amsterdam, so I gather you wouldn’t go back? I do feel it’s one I should have seen. I have to agree with Venice as number one- there really isn’t anywhere like it, despite the hype (unless you count Amsterdam, of course 🙂 )
    I would love to see Rome and Florence but probably with the emphasis on Florence. Prague? I’ve heard lots of overpriced and overcrowded comments but I’ve not been. I had the impression Budapest might have the edge these days. Have you been there? I seem to remember a great SS guide, or I could be confusing it with Prague.
    Three cheers for Porto- now THAT was a love affair, for me.
    You could maybe do something similar on non-city breaks? I loved your take on Lake Bled.
    I’ll quit rabbiting and go now. 🙂

    • Krakow – rubbish weather when I went plus got stung with an £80 taxi so not too keen on the place, sorry!

      Amsterdam – I’ve been 4 times, like it but it would be in the 15th-20th bracket. Why don’t you go, it’s easy from Newcastle on DFDS or cheap to fly to.

      Budapest – I went there on a stag do (clue: my blog banner photo!), liked it but can’t remember much! Prague’s got the wow factor for me, yes it’s busy but for a reason. I’d go back every weekend if I could.

      Where do you sit in the Porto v Lisbon fight?

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  22. I’ve done 6 of your top ten cities, so some good tips here for the ones I have missed. Paris remains my favourite city, but London, Lisbon, Rome and Prague are up there too, with a special category all of its own for Venice, that most beautiful place made of dreams!

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