Living in London, there’s nothing quite like jumping on a plane and being in a brand new city experiencing a new cuisine and culture within hours! That’s why I’m a big fan of European city breaks and here are my favourites.
1. Rome, Italy
The Eternal City of Rome is somewhere everyone should visit at least once in a life time to be surrounded by ancient ruins some of which are over 2000 years old! There’s nothing quite like that moment when you first see the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Roman Forum and you realise that what you’re looking at one of the most ancient structures in the world. Magnificent sights such as Trevi fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Vatican will have you utterly awestruck and neighbourhoods such as the Trastevere will have you feeling right at home.
And then there’s the food… oh the food… this is the place to gorge on pizza and pasta as well as trying local Roman dishes such Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Jewish style artichokes and Saltimbocca alla Romana. From multi-Michelin starred restaurants to cosy trattorias and even just buying an ice cream from a vendor – I’ve never had a bad dish in Rome. And then there’s the shopping… beautiful designer shops line Via Condotti as well as gorgeous one off boutiques and family owned shops. My word of warning regarding Rome is avoid peak season at all costs as it’s one of the most crowded cities I’ve ever been to – visit out of season and wake up early to see popular sights.
Where to Stay: Hotel Eden Rome by the Dorchester Collection is an utterly flawless property in a beautiful location, boasting panoramic views and a Michelin star restaurant.
2. Athens, Greece
I’m not sure why it took me so long to visit Athens properly but I’m so glad I finally did last year as part of Mr S’s birthday trip. As one of the world’s oldest cities, you’re quite literally surrounded by history in a living breathing museum. Must visits are the Acropolis, the modern Olympic Stadium and a stroll through the historical neighbourhood of Plaka.
History aside visitors will very much enjoy the cosmopolitan nature of Athens from the gorgeous Michelin star restaurants, rooftop bars and luxury hotels.
Where to Stay: I could’t recommend enough Hotel Grande Bretagne by the Luxury Collection – an utterly stunning hotel with elements of history from the city and an incredible panoramic view of the city from the fabulous restaurant, bar and pool.
3. Budapest, Hungary
I absolutely fell in love with Budapest, the Hungarian capital when I visited a year ago. A visit to fairytale Fisherman’s Bastion is an absolute must, as is spotting the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and a Danube cruise. Regrettably we ran out of time for the thermal bathes but it’s top of my list next time! I would also highly recommend doing as we did and visiting at Christmas time for a trip to the gorgeous Christmas markets.
We absolutely loved both the Michelin star dining and the more casual options offered in the city and I’d highly recommend trying one of the cities unique Ruin bars – a phenomenon that started in Budapest in 2001 with dilapidated or condemned buildings being turned into drinking dens and party places. Szimpla Kert is the most famous and it’s absolutely great fun inside, like no bar I’ve ever visited!
Where to Stay: I absolutely loved The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest – the location is fantastic as it’s right opposite the bridge and an easy walk to some of the best restaurants and shops. Choose a room with a view for a sweeping vista across the city and the bridge.
Further Reading: Top 12 Things to Do in Budapest
Five Restaurants for Fine Dining in Budapest
Two Ruin Bars in Budapest
Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Review
4. Paris, France
No European city break list would be complete without Paris and it’s the city on this list that I’ve revisited the most times … why not when it’s such an easy two hour hop on the Eurostar. But I could visit Paris 1000 times and still feel that magic every time I get off the train, especially when I see the Eiffel Tour! Of course a visit to that famous symbol of Paris is a must as is the Arc de Triomphe, Sacré-Cœur and Notre-Dame….
But for me, Paris is as much about fabulous people watching than anything else, like doing a Carrie Bradshaw and grabbing a croissant in a cafe to watch the world go by. Paris is the city in Europe with the most Michelin stars (with Tokyo being the highest in the world) so foodies are utterly spoilt for choice. Having dinner at the Michelin-starred Jules Verne restaurant, actually located in the Eiffel Tower is one of my top dining experiences of all time.
The same goes for luxury hotels, I’ve stayed in several in Paris and I’m always blown away by the beauty of the interiors and the incredible service.
Where to Stay: I’ve stayed in lots of hotels in Paris but my favourite is easily Hôtel Plaza Athénée. With a great location on avenue Montaigne and with that iconic red facade, it’s a Parisian dream! The hotel is also home to a three Michelin star restaurant by Alain Ducasse and the Dior Institut – I mean could you get any more luxurious.
5. Barcelona, Spain
Of all the cities listed here, Barcelona for me is the most relaxed and fun. I think it’s really a city for everyone… young people can enjoy bars and night life, there’s plenty of history, art and culture for the discerning and there’s beaches and amusement parks for the family. I loved exploring the beautiful Gaudi architecture of the city, eating delicious fresh seafood on the beach and just walking through the vibrant Ramblas or Gothic district. My favourite place is Park Güell which is just the most unique park I’ve ever seen and has a gorgeous view over the city.
Food wise, there’s no shortage of great places and Barcelona is another city with an abundance of Michelin star restaurants but also great quality casual places.
Where to Stay: I’ve stayed in Barcelona three times now but I’m yet to find the perfect hotel for me. Hotel Arts Barcelona came pretty close with some great restaurants, a beautiful beach location and a rooftop pool, however I found the hotel overall a little too big a impersonal.
Further Reading: Hotel Arts Barcelona Review
Beachfront Dining in Barcelona
Tickets Restaurant Review
Top Ten Things to Do in Barcelona
24 Hours in Barcelona
6. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
If someone were to ask me the ideal city break from the UK, I would definitely say Amsterdam. The flight is super short, the city is gorgeous and so easy to walk around, there’s loads to do, plus it’s great value for money. Literally winning at every point. Oh and basically everyone speaks English.
There’s some great cultural spots and museums, beautiful flower markets, stunning architecture plus lots of great restaurants, bars and a cool nightlife. There’s cheese everywhere… there’s even a cheese museum…
Where to Stay: I’m absolutely obsessed with the gorgeous design of Hotel Pulitzer Amsterdam and this gorgeous hotel also has a great location in the heart of Amsterdam right by the canal.
7. Vienna, Austria
Vienna is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and with good reason! The city is made up of the most beautiful imperial architecture, there are over a hundred museums and galleries, and an abundance of beautiful parks. Vienna is known for being the music capital of the world and has been the home to many great musicians and composers and houses the Vienna State Opera. The city is also home to one of the greatest coffee cultures so visiting one the famous coffee houses for Viennese confectionary is an unmissable experience – as is trying local wine at a heurige.
Where to Stay: I wholeheartedly recommend Hotel Imperial Vienna by the Luxury Collection. A beautiful property first built as a palace for the Prince of Württemberg and his wife. The decor is so utterly regal… this is a hotel so splendid that even the Queen of England has stayed. The hotel also has a great location on the famous Ringstraβe near Musikverein Vienna (Viennese Music Association).
8. Florence, Italy
Regular readers will know of my love for Italy and I couldn’t help sneaking in another Italian city … I could also include Venice and Milan in my list of favourite cities but I don’t want be too biased. Florence is probably my favourite out of all on this list partly cos it’s got that wonderful small town feel but with so much to see and do. It’s much calmer than Rome and very easy to walk around and enjoy the easy pace of life. As the birthplace of the Renaissance there’s plenty to see and do in terms of art, history and architecture and there’s beauty in every street that you’ll see. Walk up and you’ll find some gorgeous viewpoints to enjoy an Aperol Spritz while languidly enjoying the Tuscan sun.
Once again, you’re in Italy so eating to your heart’s content is a must and I’d also suggest a day trip out of the city to enjoy Chianti in local vineyards.
Where to Stay: Four Seasons Hotel Firenze is the perfect place to stay if you want to be in the heart of the city. The hotel itself is like a museum dating back to the 15th century, the building was previously an opulent palace known as Palazzo della Gherardesca and was the private home of several Florentine nobles, including a pope. Adjacent to the palazzo is Il Conventino, a 16th Century building and former convent, which now houses additional guest bedrooms. There is still lots of the original fittings and tiles around the hotel as well as an absolutely gorgeous landscaped garden outside. Even if you don’t stay, I recommend dinner at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant Il Palagio.
9. Berlin, Germany
Though Berlin isn’t as pretty as some of the cities on this list, it makes up for that in ‘cool factor’, the restaurants and bars are stylish and eclectic and there’s a a great nightlife. With a rather chequered past, there’s also so much history to be appreciated from the Holocaust memorial to the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie and a whole island of museum. Throughout the city you can appreciate street art, alternative design stores and trendy hotels.
Where to Stay: Regent Berlin is a beautiful, traditional hotel right in the centre of the city.
10. Reykjavik, Iceland
I only had one night in Reykjavik but I was quite taken by the city – which is one the smallest capital cities I’ve ever visited. It was my first opportunity to (almost) see the midnight sun as it was still light at 11pm, in fact we were wondering around with ice creams at like 10.30pm which was slightly odd. After landing at the airport, you can stop over at the Blue Lagoon before heading into the city to experience the views, museums and high quality food. We didn’t experience it ourselves but apparently there’s a rather excellent night life in Reykjavik.
Where to Stay: 101 Hotel Reykjavik is a cute boutique hotel in the city centre – we also loved the breakfast there!
Further Reading: 101 Hotel Review
The Luxury Experience at the Blue Lagoon
Deplar Farm Review
Those are my favourite city breaks. What are your?
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