With thousands of years of diverse history and culture packed into such a tiny geographical space, it’s no surprise that the European continent remains a popular destination for both those who live within its borders, and travellers from further afield. While there’s plenty of great natural highlights spread across the region, the best city breaks in Europe are sought after holidays for a good reason, as the blend of great food, fantastic architecture, and incredible cultural highlights is simply too good to ignore. And that’s not even mentioning the thriving nightlife…
Whether you’re a native European looking to explore what’s on your doorstep, or coming from a far flung destination and want to dive into the very best of what Europe has to offer, check out our list of the best city breaks in Europe to find your next destination!
1. See the sea in Gdansk – Poland
With its quaint, historic centre, affordable yet high-end hospitality options, and a beach just a stone’s throw away from all this culture, Gdansk is one of Poland’s hidden gems, and offers just as much as more internationally known destinations in the country like Krakow. Although the beach is technically in nearby Sopot, the cities are connected in numerous ways, and a cab is relatively cheap. Check out the World War Two Museum, which is among one of the best in Europe thanks to this region’s diverse cultural roots.
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2. Check out Christmas by the canals of Amsterdam – The Netherlands
Thanks to its brilliant international connections, few cities are better for a short break than Amsterdam. While it’s gorgeous at any time of year, during the festive period the city glows, and if you’re lucky some of the canals might just freeze over and provide additional seating for the cosy cafes and bars that line the water. Without a doubt one of the best city breaks in Europe thanks to must-visit spots like the Anne Frank Museum.
3. Dance in the New Year in Berlin – Germany
Berlin is world famous for its party scene, and what better time of year to explore that thriving mix of cool 24-hour clubs and cheesy pop venues than the New Year? The German capital is a great weekend break even if you prefer a quieter night in, thanks to its top notch cultural attractions, brilliant international culinary scene, and plethora of cool little bars and cafes. Even just lounging around at the reclaimed Tempelhof Airport is a wonderful afternoon out.
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4. Budapest for culture and a festival – Hungary
The Hungarian capital is known for its beautiful architecture, cobbled streets, and baths, but there’s also a more rambunctious side, which makes it one of the nightlife capitals of Europe. The famous ruin bars in the old Jewish Quarter are well worth visiting, but if you can time your trip to coincide with Sziget Festival, it’s well worth it. The event takes place on an island in the middle of the Danube, and is rightfully considered one of Europe’s best festivals. Why not combine one of the best city breaks in Europe with world famous acts?
5. Find some good craic in Galway during St. Patrick’s Day – Ireland
While many tourists flock to Dublin for the most famous Irish holiday, we think that they’d be better served heading to the southwestern city of Galway. The atmosphere of the central Eyre Square and the surrounding areas vibrates with life, and the residents definitely know how to make sure you have a good time. A great European city break during any season, but especially this time of year.
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6. Let the beer flow in Munich at Oktoberfest – Germany
Munich is one of the premiere city break destinations in the world thanks to its abundance of art galleries, long history, and gorgeous architecture. But during the world famous Oktoberfest the city takes on a less serious character, becoming a nonstop party. Attractions are open as normal, though, so you can get the best of both worlds.
7. Dive into the flames of Fallas in Valencia – Spain
Spring on Spain’s coasts are always stunning, but as March bursts into April in Valencia the residents are in full party mode celebrating Fallas. The region-wide festivities mean music, food, and fireworks throughout the day, but if you want some peace and quiet you can usually still find it in the famous Turia Park, where there’s museums among the greenery. However, we suggest grabbing a beer and a paella along the way!
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8. Enjoy endless Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh – Scotland
If you want to ring in the New Year with a party but also want to soak in some traditions, then Hogmanay in this compact city is probably the best city break in Europe for you. Although Edinburgh itself is full of wonderful views, cute cafes, and traditional pubs, it’s also a great spot to anchor down for day trips to nearby Glasgow and the Cairngorms.
9. Celebrate love in the boulevards of Barcelona – Spain
Barcelona is a city that doesn’t care what other people think of it, and is endlessly cool because of that fact. From the Art Nouveau architecture scattered all over the city to its seamless blend of high-end and hipster cool, it’s an open-minded city, which is why heading to their pride parade is one of the best ideas for a city break in Europe. Even if you miss the big party, the city has so much going for it that it’s worth a visit no matter the time of year, but as Spain is one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly countries in the world, a visit during Pride will be one to remember.
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10. Move from the mediaeval to the modern with the London Explorer – England
There’s nothing quite like London. A perfect mix of ancient history and modern diversity turn the streets of this city into a melting pot where you can find crowded markets selling rare spices, billionaire hangout spots, and pubs older than most countries all within a five minute walk. The London Explorer trip shows you the best of this vast, inimitable city, from its massive skyscrapers to its ancient towers that once held royal prisoners.
11. High culture and cheap eats in Milan – Italy
Although it doesn’t always get the same amount of love as other Italian cities, Milan remains a special place bursting with things to see and do. You can marvel at the famous Duomo, or take advantage of cheap, delicious Italian buffets at the open air cafes by the canals. If you’re a culture vulture, you can even spend your entire trip wandering through the countless museums and galleries that would be the crowning cultural achievement of most other cities. This Northern Italian city isn’t just the gateway to Lake Cuomo, but easily one of the best city breaks in Europe.
12. Drinking, dancing, and divine dining in the Danish capital of Copenhagen – Denmark
Copenhagen practically bursts with things to see and do, offering something for all kinds of travellers. You can take a ride on a rollercoaster that was built prior to the First World War, sink your teeth into some heavenly baked goods at one of the brilliant cafes, and go bar hopping with locals in the Bodegas that dot the centre. Copenhagen is also known for being home to some of the best restaurants in the world, so if you’re a foodie then this is a non-negotiable trip.
13. Soak up the culture in Lille – France
When it comes to France, Paris can often suck up all the oxygen from the country’s other highlights, but as anybody who’s been fortunate to go to Lille will know, the nation famous for cheese, wine, and beheadings offers so much more than its capital. A gastronomic wonderland complete with gorgeous architecture, it’s one of the underrated yet best city breaks in Europe. The Palais des Beaux Arts is astounding both inside and out.
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14. Discover ancient history in Athens – Greece
Helenic culture influences us in so many ways that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint, and remnants of that mighty empire are dotted all over the Greek capital of Athens, making it one of the best city breaks in Europe for history lovers. Outside of its illustrious past, Athens has an energetic present, with countless great bars, cafes, and restaurants to try, as well as great year-round weather.
15. Gulp down wine in Tbilisi – Georgia
Georgia might not be considered a wine making country by the general public, but their boozy concoctions have long been a favourite of those in the know. Even if you’re not a drinker, the capital Tbilisi is a hidden gem. A cobblestoned historic centre replete with ancient buildings contrast with Art Nouveau buildings, and the hospitality on offer will make you feel like you’re visiting long lost family.
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16. Party in Porto – Portugal
Portugal’s second largest city is as cool and affordable as the capital Lisbon, while also offering more in the way of grand green spaces, and much fewer tourists to battle with. From its beautifully painted main train station to the gorgeous street art that colours the streets, there’s something for everyone, and that’s not even mentioning the incredible food and drink scene. Sign up for a tour of a port distillery and you won’t regret it.
17. Grab a slice of Napoli – Italy
Although it certainly has a bit of a wild side, Napoli is often unfairly maligned as a destination, but we think it’s one of the best city breaks in Europe – especially if you’re a food lover. Pizza is an obvious must, but you have to try a panuzzo, which is a kind of blend between a pizza and a sandwich. Outside of the mouthwatering concoctions there’s nearby beaches, beautiful architecture in the centre, and even underground walking tours for those who want to get into the guys of this city’s history.
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18. Transport yourself into the fairytale land of Tallinn – Estonia
Estonia lies on the edge of Europe, but its capital Tallinn feels like it belongs in an ancient fairy tale. With its majestic architecture, low cost of living, and delightful population, this small city is as fun as it is friendly, and even if you’re here for longer than a weekend city break you won’t find the time to do everything. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is breathtaking.
19. Drink in Prague’s precious highlights – Czech Republic
Cobbled streets, wild nights out, and greenery to escape from it all: Prague has everything you could want in a destination and more, which is why it’s one of the best city breaks in Europe. You can explore Kafka’s house, check out the castle, or paddle down the river with a beer or three, but no matter what you do you’re sure to have a memorable trip in this unforgettable city.
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20. Take the time to get to know Turku – Finland
Turku might be one of the smallest cities on this list, but it is by no means not worthy of being here. Sometimes known as the ‘Paris of Finland’ thanks to its brilliant culinary scene, Turku is worth so much more than being compared to another city, even if it is one of the most famous ones in the world. Full of museums and the important Turku Castle, the city is also the official Christmas city of Finland, so during the festive season it’s full of even more cool things to do.