5 Alternative City Breaks in Europe
If you’re fed up of the usual jaunt through the bustling streets of Paris’ Latin Quarter, or simply can’t handle another weekend exploring the much-trodden climes of Spanish Barcelona, then be sure to check out this list of the continent’s more off-the-beaten-track metropolises. They range from curious cityscapes in the heart of the Eastern Bloc, to sun-kissed urban centers on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
While recent political upheaval in the Ukraine has kept many would-be visitors away from its borders altogether, others are discovering the beauty of its westernmost major city in earnest. Lviv—which was once an important regional capital under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth—is famed for its exquisite Gothic architecture and impressive churches, all of which are encased in a pretty old town that bears a coveted UNESCO title. But it’s not all history in Lviv either, because the huge student population and shockingly low prices also make for a great nightlife scene; with oodles of hidden vodka bars and Euro-pop super clubs throbbing until the early hours.
Romania’s de facto arts and culture capital is an oft-ignored stop-off on the tourist trail through the eastern states. But, for lovers of everything contemporary and cutting-edge, it’s a great place to explore the cream of the country’s avant-garde scene, boasting the prestigious Plan B and Bazis Galleries and a branch of the National Art Museum besides. There’s also oodles of local heritage on offer, headed up by a fantastic regional history museum, while the town’s location in the heart of mysterious Transylvania makes it a great base for anyone eager to case out the castles of Dracula, or the medieval towns of Sibiu and Brasov. Nature lovers will also love the chance to get outdoors and explore the Carpathian Mountain Range.
While most of the booming summer crowds continue to head to the Algarve and bustling Lisbon in the south, the UNESCO-attested streets of Portugal’s second city tick over to the sounds of drifting barges on the Douro River and the hubbub of the unforgettable Mercado do Bolhao at its centre. Most first-time visitors here start by losing themselves between the tight-knit streets of Porto’s Ribeira district, spying out subterranean wine cellars and earthy bakeries touting stacked Francesinha breads. Others will head to the pristine beaches of the greater Gaia region, or the rolling hills of the Geres National Park just to the west.
Unquestionably one of Europe’s most magnificent medieval cities, Estonia’s capital is a fairy-tale patchwork of soaring Gothic spires and crumbling 13th century walls, all peppered with earthy Baltic brew houses, regional restaurants and bubbling beer bars (which are often packed with money-touting Fins from across the sea on the weekends). Don’t leave without seeking out the bulbous domes of the great Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, or the iconic siege towers that still stand on the ridges of Toompea Hill.
If you are travelling to any of these destinations, or somewhere else in Europe make sure you have a roaming solution in place so you don’t have to worry about international roaming charges.