by Janis / 0 comments - Orginally published:15th February 2022

Discover the intriguing history, tasty regional delicacies & soak up the local culture

Whenever I’m asked if I have a favourite city-break destination in Europe, it’s really a difficult question to answer, as each location has something unique to offer. Whether it’s the winding waterways, ancient history, incredible cuisine or just an overwhelming feel of warmth from the locals. I’ll take them all.

Although I do reveal below the stunning and captivating city that will always steal my heart and where we’ve returned to on three occasions.

Gary and I love discovering new places, digging deeper into their local history, indulging in the cultural differences, and exploring the often-curious blend of the old and new architecture.

If you’re weighing up where to visit for your next European city-break, take a peek at my assortment below. Hopefully, your inquisitive nature will tempt you into venturing somewhere a little different.

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Now, if that wasn’t enough, I’ve written three other posts on European cities that Gary and I have visited. I’m sure there will be a city you’ll want to discover on your next European getaway.

In part one, you’ll get a taster of Guimarães in Portugal; in part two, I’ll tempt you with St Petersburg in Russia and part three venture to Valencia, the home of paella.

Our List of Eight Destinations

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Split lies on the shores of the Adriatic Sea in Croatia and offers incredible views across the crystal-clear waters to the picturesque islands beyond.

If it’s ancient history, you are craving Split has it in abundance, from the magnificent Diocletian Palace to the maze of passageways through the cobbled streets of the Old Town.

The golden stone tower of Split cathedral against a deep blue sky in Croatia
Looking up to the tower of the cathedral
A stone path down an alleyway in Split, Croatia, after dark
Lanes after dusk

The Diocletian Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built between the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. The palace is breath-taking, especially the Roman Cathedral of Saint Domnius, which stands proud within Split’s skyline.

The section of the Diocletian Palace that took my breath away me was the sunken Roman Peristyle, which led you to the ancient quarters. Centuries of footsteps have passed through these streets, and it is astounding that so much of the Roman ruins have been preserved. Amazingly it’s also free to visit.

People enjoying a stroll along the Riva in Split after sundown.
Strolling along the Riva

We loved just strolling along the Riva and all around the narrow lanes and stumbling upon beautiful plazas. Take the weight off your feet and sit and admire the Baroque and Renaissance architecture surrounding you.

You’ll also notice within Split the Venetian influences from just across the shores of Italy.

Split is ideal for island hopping as ferries depart from here to visit many of Croatia’s enchanting islands. Although if you fancy a bit of adventure, here is an itinerary for your perfect Croatian road trip.

Where to stay in Split

While we were in Split, our accommodation was at Hotel Corner, a comfortable hotel with very friendly staff.

Located north of the Old Town and about a 10-minute walk from the northern edge of the city walls.

We were on a road trip around Croatia, so the main reason we chose this hotel was for the car parking & there was plenty of it, even for a larger car.

If you've yet to discover the delights of Croatia you're in for a treat. While planning our road trip, I used the DK Eyewitness books.  I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our north to south Croatian road trip, now you can grab the revised copy.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

We’ve visited a few of Croatia’s UNESCO sites; take a look at our post to see what we uncovered.

We’re now off to the Atlantic Ocean to visit the alluring city of Lisbon.

I really wish I had visited Lisbon earlier; I don’t know why it never sprung to my mind when we had explored so many other European capital cities. Since visiting Lisbon, we have toured the country from north to south on an incredible road trip. Check out our Portuguese itinerary; here is part one and part two.

There is so much to see and do in Lisbon you’ll be occupied for days. I always say the way to explore any location is on foot, and Lisbon is no exception, although hopping on one of their historic trams is a must.

A desaturated black and white image of Tram 28 with just the yellow of the shot remaining as it makes its way through the narrow streets of portugals' captial, lisbon
Tram 28, Lisbon
The elegant art deco iron structure of the Elevador de Santa Justa at night in Lisbon, Portugal
Elevador de Santa Justa at night, Lisbon, Portugal

Tram no. 28 will weave you all around the narrow lanes of Alfama; you can jump off at the top and visit the historical sites of this neighbourhood as you stroll back down. In this quarter of Lisbon, you’ll discover Sé Cathedral, Castelo de São Jorge, the Pantheon, Feira da Ladra and a couple of Lisbon’s miradouros.

Other sites within Lisbon not to be missed are Elavador de Santa Justa, Carmo Convent, and Largo do Carmo and its magnificent praças dotted all around this colourful city.

The 16th century Torre de Belém, a stone tower built in the Manueline style just outside Lisbon set on the shores of the River Tagus
Torre de Belém, Lisbon
Just along the shores of the River Tagus is the region of Belém, where you’ll find the Monument to the Discoveries and the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Torre de Belém and Jerónimos Monastery. Before you leave Belém, ensure you try the tasty, sweet treats of Pastel de Nata from Pasties de Belém.

Where to stay in Lisbon

For our mini-break in Lisbon, we chose to stay in an apartment. Lisbon Rentals Chiado was fantastic; it is located in the heart of Lisbon on the edge of Chiado and Bairro Alto. The accommodation was quite large and ideal for two people. It was spotless and very well equipped.

I love nothing more than planning a trip and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books. This Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide was invaluable to us.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our Lisbon mini-break, now you can grab the revised copy.

Ahh, yes, our next stop is to the beautiful region of Normandy in France, the city of Caen, to be exact. This historic city of full of surprises, as it is in the Abbey of Saint-Étienne de Caen, where William the Conqueror is laid to rest.

Now that I’ve mentioned the Abbaye aux Hommes, I must mention the Abbaye aux Dames (the Women’s Abbey). William the Conqueror had both of the abbeys built to appease the pope, as William had married his own cousin Mathilda of Flanders.

A view from the nave end of the Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen from the park in front of the town hall.
Abbaye aux Hommes

Within Caen, you can also explore Château de Caen, where you’re free to roam the castle grounds and around its ramparts. The Château de Caen was built by the Duke of Normandy in 1060 and has wonderful views across the city.

Just a short stroll, and you’ll find the elegant 18th-century square around Saint Saveur. This is a great place to sit back, relax and watch the world pass by.

Looking towards the walls of the Château de Caen under a bright blue sky with alternating French & Normandy flags fluttering in the evening breeze.
The fortifications of the Château de Caen

Another pleasant area of Caen to visit is the marina full of colourful yachts bobbing up and down with their masts jangling. Here you’ll find some delightful restaurants too.

We toured Normandy on a road trip to take in the Normandy D-Day landing beaches, the quaint countryside villages along the Route du Cidre and Giverny, Monet’s beautiful home with its famous lily pond garden.

Where to stay in Caen

Our accommodation for the four nights in Caen was at the Hotel Restaurant Le Dauphin et Le Spa du Prieuré.

The Hotel Restaurant Le Dauphin et Le Spa du Prieuré in Caen is reasonably central and just a short stroll across to the charming Place Saint-Sauveur.

If you are driving, this hotel has free onsite parking, although the spaces are limited.

We love visiting France and each region so different from one another. I find the DK Eyewitness Guides really helpful in planning a trip and so often find interesting little snippets of info.

Take a peek at this revised Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide and see what you can discover.

Yes, you’ve found our favourite European city-break location. Seville is a magnificent city with such a welcoming vibe, and the architecture here is absolutely stunning. Our ideal time to visit is spring or autumn as the skies are blue and the sun is not as intense in the summer months.

Don’t be surprised if you get lost in the ancient streets of Seville; it is very easy to do, and you’ll have fun discovering new places and quaint little plazas.

The tower of the cathedral of Seville.
The Giralda (Bell Tower) of the Cathedral
A musician plays a Spanish guitar, in a narrow cobbled lane, in front of a group of people sitting outside a restaurant at night in the Barrio Santa Cruz area of Seville.
The quiet back lanes of Barrio Santa Cruz

I just adore Moorish architecture, and Seville has it in abundance. My top places to visit in Seville are the two UNESCO Sites of the Alcázar of Seville and the stunning Gothic Cathedral, which houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus and my favourite of all, Plaza de España.

The Plaza de España has a beautiful mixture of styles, including Art Deco; however, the area I loved was the tiled Provincial Alcoves. Here you can sit and chat and admire each of Spain’s spectacular regions.

The view from the public gallery on the first floor across the Plaza de España so you can see the canal, public square with a fountain, and the bell tower at the end.
Plaza de España

For a little taste of the modern side of Seville, head to Metropol Parasol or Sevilla Mushrooms. This vast wooden structure was built in 2011 and constructed over five floors. Catch a lift to the rooftop and soak up the 360-degree panoramic view across Seville’s skyline.

The tiny lanes and streets around Seville’s old town are captivating. Barrio Santa Cruz has so many intriguing twists and turns you’ll spend hours of fun searching out your favourite tapas bar and ensure to grab yourself a glass of sherry.

Where to stay in Seville

While staying in Seville, the accommodation we chose was in the Sevilla Central Suites Apartamentos Puerta Jerez. This apartment was fantastic; it was pretty large, clean, tidy and in an extremely central location and also had a communal washing machine & dryer.

The apartment has its own parking facilities, so very handy if you are on a road trip.

The staff were extremely helpful and friendly and went out of their way to inform us of what to see and do and where to visit in the more offbeat areas.

We love Seville, and it's a great base to explore Andalucía, I love nothing more than planning a trip and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books. I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our southern Spanish road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.

More Spanish delights

If you’re touring Spain and love history, take a peek at the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that we’ve visited. There are some incredible places to see in ‘part 1’ and ‘part 2’, and like us, why not make it into a road trip too.

We’re now off to Belgium and its bustling capital city Brussels.

After arriving in Brussels, we immediately headed to the Grand-Place or Grote Markt, as it is also known. I’d seen it many times in photographs so I couldn’t wait to see it face to face, and the magnificent square certainly didn’t disappoint.

The illuminated Hotel de Ville in the Grand Place at dusk, Brussels, Belgium
Hôtel de Ville de Bruxelles
The incredible façade of the Town Hall is stunning and peers down upon the cobbled pedestrian square below. There are so many impressive buildings here, and it’s a perfect place to sit and admire your surroundings and partake in some people watching.

There are some quirky things dotted around Brussels and some extremely captivating street art. Although the one attraction that visitors flock to is Manneken Pis, a 17th-century bronze statue of a boy.

However, what is unusual about the statue is the garb that this little lad wears. Several times a week, Manneken Pis is dressed up in a different costume; we catch him being Count Dracula.

The Manneken Pis statue in Brussels dressed as a vampire with a fanged mask and a red-lined deep blue cape
Manneken Pis
Under the glazed roof, the red covered seats outside a cafe within the 19th-century Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Also, to be found in Brussels is one of Europe’s oldest covered arcades, which is the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries built in 1847. Stroll through the centre and of this elegant shopping mall as you’re in for a treat.

Where to stay in Brussels

During our mini-break to Brussels, we stayed in Brussels Marriott Hotel Grand Place. It’s in a very central location and within easy walking distance to many of Brussels’s sights. The Grand Place is just a 5-minute stroll away, and the train station is 10-minutes.

The accommodation was very clean and tidy the staff were friendly and had a large breakfast buffet.

I love nothing more than planning a trip and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books.  I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our Brussels mini-break, now you can grab the revised copy.

Aachen in western Germany is located at an unusual spot in Europe, as it’s just near the point at which three countries meet. At the border triangle in Dreiländereck, you can stroll between Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The ancient city of Aachen has some incredible history; it was once a thriving spa town. Today you can still touch and smell the sulphur from the hot springs from the two fountains in the Elisenbrunnen.

The view of the Dom at dusk from the rear steps of the Rathaus. The square between the two building is home of the cities main Christmas market.
Aachen Cathedral at dusk

The charming city of Aachen also has ruins from Roman times and became the Imperial residence of Emperor Charlemagne (Charles the Great). One of the most stunning cathedrals I have ever seen is in Aachen and where the Shrine of Charlemagne lies and where many subsequent German Kings and Queens have been crowned.

Aachen Dom is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the first monument in Germany to be given this status in 1978.

Directly opposite the Cathedral is Aachen Rathaus. The town hall has experienced some turbulent times over the past centuries. It now stands pride of place in Aachen’s Marktplatz.
The Christmas tree in front of the Rathaus of Aachen at dusk
Rathaus at night

While in Aachen, you must sample the local gingerbread, Aachener Printen, delicious. Also, keep your eye out for the delightful bronze statues dotted around the city.

If you get the opportunity, visit while Aachen’s Christmas markets are in full swing.

Where to stay in Aachen

We stayed at the Novotel Aachen City, and from our experience of the hotel we give it;
It is only a short walk (10mins) from the hotel to the Old Town.  The underground car park was perfect, and not bad at €14 per day.

I love nothing more than planning a trip and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books.  I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our Germany road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.

We’ve actually visited Rome on two occasions; the first was in 1999. A mixed experience and perhaps the decision to visit Rome in the heat of the summer wasn’t my best choice. However, when we returned in the spring of 2015, it was a whole different wonderful experience.
Inside the Colosseum, in Rome, at the arena level overlooking the exposed underfloor area.
The Colosseum

I truly believe that everyone should try and visit Rome once in their lifetime. It is such a magnificent city with history so deep-rooted that the sights of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon will leave you breathless.

I don’t think you can quite apprehend the size and scale of Rome’s iconic Colosseum until you step inside and appreciate this impressive wonder that has survived since 70-80 AD.

Another region of Rome that you must visit is the city within a city, and that’s the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica. Of course, not forgetting Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ within the Sistine chapel.
The oblong Piazza Navona in Rome, with its three fountains
Piazza Navona

Rome is such a remarkable city. There is so much to see and experience in Rome. How could you resist climbing the Spanish Steps or throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain?

Although one of my favourite pastimes in Rome is sitting in one of its elegant piazza’s and indulging in a delectable gelato.

Where to stay in Rome

As a little bit of indulgence, we stayed at the luxury hotel Albergo del Senato in the beating heart of Rome. Throw open your balcony windows to the magnificent view of the Pantheon.

It is extremely central and within walking distance of Rome’s magnificent sights and its charming piazzas.

If you've yet to discover the incredible history and architecture in Rome, you're in for a treat. I found this DK Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide invaluable, they're extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more of those tranquil courtyards.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our Rome adventure, now you can grab the revised copy.

We’ve reached our final destination in this post and arrived in the charming city of Utrecht in the Netherlands, perfect for a relaxing mini-break. Utrecht is only around a 25-minute train journey from Amsterdam, so easily accessible.
Two silhouetted figures talking under a multi-coloured light installation as part of the Trajectum Lumen project in Utrecht, Netherlands
Illuminated Utrecht
An illuminated saintly ring mounted above a gable as part of the Trajectum Lumen project in Utrecht, Netherlands
St Willibrord’s Church

The bustling Old Town has plenty of character, especially around its meandering waterways and is great fun to explore on foot. You never know which eye-catching piece of urban art you’ll stumble upon next amongst its cobbled lanes.

Strolling through the historic streets, you’ll come across Utrecht’s Dom Tower and Cathedral. The striking tower was built in 1321 and is Holland’s tallest tower standing at 112 metres. The unusual aspect of the Cathedral and tower is that they are no longer connected. Due to storm damage in 1674, they now stand opposite each other and were never re-joined.

When the evening light begins to fade, head off on a self-guided tour of Trajectum Lumen. This intriguing, illuminated trail lights up Utrecht 365 days of the year and is free.
The houses along the tree-lined Oudegracht canal running through central Utrecht
The Oudegracht Canal

The Trajectum Lumen art trail is around a 1 ½ hour stroll; it appears every evening from when the streetlights are lit until midnight. Just head off with your map on a journey of discovery and follow the trail on the ground. You’ll be amazed at what you will find.

If you fancy discovering more of the Netherlands under your own steam, take a look at our Tulips and Cheese road trip itinerary.

Where to stay in Utrecht

Our accommodation, while we were in Utrecht, was at the NH Centre Utrecht Hotel; it is in a fairly central location and just a short stroll to the Dom and the heart of the town.

Parking is available at a secure offsite location.

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