by Janis on 19th October 2021 / 0 comments

Explore ancient history, enjoy delicious food & indulge in the rich culture

There’s such a sense of excitement when I start researching new and fascinating places to visit. I’m a bit old school and throw open a map and travel guides to seek out historic sites and landmarks.

With Europe’s incredibly rich and diverse history, there are so many cities in Europe to visit on a mini-break. The choices are almost endless, and the wide range of cultural differences make the decisions all the more enthusing.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next city-break, take a look at my selection below, some may be familiar, and others may ignite the curiosity inside you.

Now, if that wasn’t enough, I’ve written two 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 weekend getaway.

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In part one, you’ll get a taster of Guimarães in Portugal, and in part two, I’ll tempt you with St Petersburg in Russia.

So, let’s get packing our suitcases and start creating memories to last a lifetime.

Our List of Eight Destinations

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Vienna is a city that just oozes charm and sophistication. All throughout its picturesque streets is astonishing architecture and stylish boutiques just waiting for you to explore.

There’s so much to discover in Austria’s capital city, making Vienna perfect for a mini-break. The magnificent St. Stephen’s Cathedral is in the historic centre with its distinctive multi-coloured tile roof and the striking Vienna State Opera house.

The view of the Schönbrunn Palace and its gardens from Neptune’s Fountain on the hill.
The Schönbrunn Palace

Just a short hop from the Opera is Kunsthistorisches Museum, an unmissable art museum housing some incredible pieces of art from famous painters. Near is the 13th-century Hofburg, a former imperial palace, and the Hofburg is also home to the famous Spanish Riding School.

Slightly further out of the city centre is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Schönbrunn Palace. Schönbrunn Palace was once the residence of Habsburg emperors; the history of the Rococo palace extends over 300 years.

We can recommend jumping on the hop-on-hop-off Big Bus tour to visit Schönbrunn. Then you can also use the same ticket to head off and explore Vienna’s wine-growing region of Grinzing. The local wine is served in small Viennese taverns known as Heuriger.

Inside the elegant Café Central in Vienna with it's high vaulted ceiling and decorative lighting. In front of us is a pastry counter serving the elegant patisseries these cafés are renown for.
Inside the elegant Café Central
The view from the back of a horse-drawn carriage, at night, in front of Saint Peter's Church in the centre of Vienna
Out on our evening horse-drawn carriage

Now I will own up to say that venturing off on a Fiaker Tour isn’t really the type of thing I usually do; however, I’m so pleased we did. A Faiker tour is a trip in a horse-drawn carriage around Vienna city. When the sun begins to set, and you gracefully trot past the beautiful Viennese architecture, it is magical.

Last but by no means least, indulging in a slice of Sachertorte at one of Vienna’s elegant and stylish cafés. Oh boy, it was so delicious.

Where to stay in Vienna

The accommodation for our 3-night mini-break in Vienna was at the Boutique Hotel am Stephansplatz.

It was in a fabulous location in the centre of Vienna with stunning views of St Stephen's Cathedral.

If you've yet to discover the beautiful architecture and the delicious cakes in Vienna, 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.

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

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We’re now off to the Istrian peninsula on the shores of the Adriatic Sea to explore the ancient city of Rovinj in Croatia.

The charming, colourful city of Rovinj still has an incredible grasp on its Venetian past, which can be witnessed around many corners of this extraordinary city.

The view from the harbour, across the water to the Croatian coastal town of Rovinj on the Istrian peninsula
The quayside

The history of Rovinj dates back to the 6th-century and was once an island encircled by city walls. Due to the population increasing during the 18th-century, Rovinj crept closer and closer to the shores and became part of mainland Croatia.

When you stroll up through the winding narrow pedestrian lanes of Rovinj Old Town towards the hilltop church of St. Euphemia, you feel like you have stepped back into another period in time. It’s worth the climb for the breathtaking views across the Adriatic Sea.

The shiny cobble-stone streets that I find so synonymous with Croatia are lined with stunning architecture. The rustic façades, slatted wooden window shutters and washing lines fluttering high above truly give an authentic charisma to Rovinj.

Where to stay in Rovinj

Our accommodation for the two nights we were in Rovinj was at ‘Contrada del Nonno Apartments’ (previously named Apartments Martina City Centre).

The apartment was very spacious, and the location was extremely central and just a short stroll to the harbour and Old Town.

One of the main reasons we chose this apartment was for private parking, which was fantastic. We have a larger car, and once in the gate, there is plenty of room to manoeuvre.

The cafe at a 'V' insection in the cobbled lanes of the old town of Rovinj, Croatia
The Cobble Lanes

Take a stroll around the harbourside, and you’ll get a true understanding of how every little inch of space on the island was utilised for dwellings.

The tall narrow homes stand shoulder to shoulder with their elbows out, vying for that last tiny room spot.

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.

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.

DK Croatia Cover

Ahh, yes, our next stop is to the charismatic city of Porto in northern Portugal. Porto is a delightful city to visit for a long weekend; it has a lovely balance of rustic lived-in qualities to an enjoyable level of tourism.

One of the main reasons I love Porto is that there is so much to see and experience just ambling around the bustling city streets. The colourful, eye-catching architecture is continually drawing your eyes through the winding lanes. Teetering wrought-iron balconies overflowing with conversation above and beautiful azulejo tiling adorned throughout the city.

A couple of Rabelo boats from the Sandeman port house on the Douro River, opposite the Ribeira in Porto, Portugal
Rabelo boats with city in the background

Needless to say, if you’re visiting the historic UNESCO city of Porto, then a stroll along the Douro River and over the Dom Luís I Bridge is a must. The incredible views from the top of the iconic bridge over the city’s terracotta rooftops are magnificent.

Also, a visit to Porto wouldn’t be complete without a tipple or two of local Port. Head to one of the Port cellars along the Gaia side of the Douro River and choose your favourite Port producer. We took an incredibly informative tour with Sandeman, highly recommend. In this region of Porto, there is some amazing street art too.

Between two rows of wooden port barrels, stacked on their sides four barrels high, in the dimly lit cellar of the Sandeman Port house in Porto, Portugal.
The cellars of the Sandeman Port House

If you’re feeling hungry, keep a lookout for the local sandwich a Francesinha; well, I say sandwich that’s a bit of an understatement.

The Francesinha is native to Porto; inside is ham, smoked sausage, regular sausage, steak, cheese, then a tomato & beer sauce. If you’re feeling hungry, you can also add an egg.

Why not add an extra day to your stay in Porto and hop on a full-day tour through the spectacular Douro Valley? You’ll get to experience the rolling vineyards firsthand and also enjoy lunch and a river cruise.

Where to stay in Porto

Our accommodation for the three nights in Porto was in an apartment.

Our chosen apartment is no longer available; however, I found Condes de Azevedo Palace Apartments.  This accommodation is very centrally located and has onsite parking.

If you've yet to visit the charming and colourful city of Porto, then 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 to discover more.

DK Porto guide cover
We loved our visit to Valencia in eastern Spain; it had a different vibe to Barcelona. And even though it attracted a visitor or two, you still felt like you were mixing with the locals. Valencia is perfect for a mini-break.
Looking across the water to the futuristic Hemisfèric In the City of Arts and Science. It is said that reflected image is meant to represent the human eye.
The Hemisfèric in the City of Arts and Sciences

Valencia is located on the sunny shores of the Mediterranean Sea; however, its historic old town is slightly inland. Meandering through Valencia is Turia Gardens. The Turia River once flowed through the city, but the river was diverted due to severe flooding in the 1960s. The riverbed has now become a wonderful park where friends and families socialise.

At one end of Turia Gardens is the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences. This is a fantastic place to visit day and night as the innovative architecture comes alive when the sunsets.

Valencia is the spiritual home of paella; it also houses the ‘Holy Grail’ chalice in its magnificent 13th-century cathedral. Valencia Cathedral is built in the style of Valencian Gothic. What I loved about that was its octagonal dome, and it wasn’t too imposing.

The Plaza de la Virgen in Valencia with the Neptune fountain taking centre stage with the city’s historic cathedral in the background.
The Plaza de la Virgen

If you enjoy visiting bustling food markets, then you’ll love the Art Nouveau Central Market. And not just for the fresh produce on display but also for the stunning architecture.

We really enjoyed discovering Valencia, and the street art is impressive, too, from vast murals on the side of buildings to the garage doors adorned with vibrant characters.

Oh yes, don’t forget to enjoy the local tipple of Agua de Valencia. This sunshine drink is similar to a Bucks Fizz; however, it also comes with a splash of vodka and gin.

Where we stayed in Valencia

The accommodation we chose while staying in Valencia was in the apartment Mon Suites Catedral. It was incredibly central, clean, and peaceful.

Having the apartment gave us many options; however, I loved just stepping out of the door in the morning and finding a traditional café for breakfast filled with Spanish locals.

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.

There are so many incredible places to discover in Spain and I love planning a mini-break. I often use the DK Eyewitness books, I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into searching for more.

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

We’re now visiting the historic and elegant city of Florence in Italy.

Florence is unequivocally the city to visit for an unforgettable long weekend away for all you romantics out there. The exquisite architecture is breathtaking; the gelato is to die for, and don’t get me started on their delicious homemade pasta.

The column of Saint Zanobi in front of the Duomo in Florence, Italy
The Duomo

The piazza to start your Florence adventure is undoubtedly the Piazza del Duomo. Where the awe-inspiring Il Duomo di Firenze is located. With its green and pink façade stretching far into the Italian skies, the cathedral is a sight to behold. Its magnificent iconic dome dominating the Florence skyline; it can be viewed from Giardino di Boboli (gardens).

My personal favourite sight in Florence is the medieval Ponte Vecchio which spans the River Arno. This bridge is incredible; its central stone walkway is lined with tiny shops, which almost appear to cling to the sides of the bridge. It is virtually inconceivable that a bridge of this kind has survived through all the centuries of turbulent times.

A view of Ponte Vecchio, Florence
The Ponte Vecchio
It’s such a pleasure strolling the historic lanes of Florence and unsurprising that the city has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982.

Nearby Ponte Vecchio is the renowned Uffizi Gallery established in 1581.

The gallery is home to some beautiful pieces of art including Michelangelo’s Renaissance marble sculpture, ‘David’.

Where to stay in Florence

We stayed in the beautiful Hotel degli Orafi, next to the River Arno, with stunning views of the Vasari Corridor and the Ponte Vecchio.

We highly recommend adding an additional day to your Florence city break. As you can then hop on a train and visit the historic city of Pisa and its striking 12th-century leaning tower.

Word of advice

Uffizi Gallery is very popular so arrive early, or buy your tickets online for a timed entrance ticket.

If you're lured by beautiful Renaissance architecture and the incredible Ponte Vecchio, I urge you to visit Florence. 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 a voyage of discovering.

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

DK Florence Cover

Rouen in Normandy is another magnificent city to visit if you love history and perfect if you want to discover Normandy on a road trip or a mini-break.

The striking Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen commands the centre of the city and has witnessed its fair share of natural and man-made disasters over the years. Our Lady of Rouen was consecrated in 1063 by William the Conqueror. Inside the cathedral is a tomb for Richard the Lionheart.

Looking up at the twin stone towers either side of the entrance to Rouen Cathedral, one of the most impressive in all Normandy,
Cathedral of Notre Dame

If you visit Rouen between June and September, ensure you stay for the evening. A free lightshow portraying the history of Rouen and Normandy is projected across the vast façade of the cathedral.

The French heroine, Joan of Arc, also known as The Maid of Orléans, was unfortunately captured in Rouen. She was burnt at the stake in 1431 at the tender age of 19. A plaque can be visited at the site of the pyre.

Weaving your way amongst the ancient streets of Rouen, passing by picturesque timber-framed buildings, you’ll spot the Gros-Horloge. This 14th-century astronomical clock has one of the oldest clock mechanisms in France.

Where we stayed in Rouen

Our accommodation for the three nights in Rouen was at the Mercure Rouen Centre Champ de Mars.

The hotel’s location is about a 10 to 15-minute walk to the heart of the old town, an ideal place for discovering Rouen as its surrounding towns & villages.

If you are driving, this hotel has a chargeable underground carpark with direct access to the hotel. We had no problem parking here for the 3 nights, and ideal if you have a larger vehicle.

Rouens famous Gros-Horloge. An ornate, gold-trimmed, clock mounted above an arch in one of the old town's thoroughfares next to a stone belfry.
The Gros-Horloge & Belfry
For some delicious local cuisine, stroll along Rue Eau de Robec; there are some delightful restaurants along here, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

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.

DK Normandy Cover

If a visit to Bavaria in southern Germany is what you’re yearning for, then why not head off to Regensburg for your next mini-break.

Nestled along the Danube River is the UNESCO Old Town of Regensburg. It is full of vibrant and eye-catching architecture, winding cobbled-stone streets and guess what? It even has a 17th-century Historische Wurstküche (sausage kitchen); what more could you want?

Looking towards the Regensburg Cathedral from the base of the old bridge.
Regensburg Cathedral from the River Danube

To enjoy the iconic view of Regensburg’s skyline, head across the 16 arches of the 12th-century stone bridge which spans the river. From here, you also get the opportunity to explore the colourful island of Stadtamhof in the middle of the Danube River.

There are so many delightful squares to discover in Regensburg; keep a lookout for the Old Town Hall and Ratskeller in Rathausplatz. Then there’s the medieval square of Haidplatz containing the Justice Fountain. The Jewish quarter around Neupfarrplatz and within Bismarkplatz are stunning neo-classical buildings at either end.

Where to stay in Regensburg

During our visit to Regensburg, we stayed at the Eurostars Park Hotel Maximilian.

It was perfect for us, not only was it a short walk to the old town but it also had an underground car park, which was suitable for the larger car.

The bedroom was clean and very comfortable.

Looking across the open square of Haidplatz with a fountain in the centre, and colourful building s on either side.
Haidplatz looking west
Regensburg has some striking places of worship; however, the building that amazed me the most was Saint Emmeram’s Abbey. The opulence was taken to another level; no expense was spared on gold and marble.

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.

DK Germany Cover

We’ve reached our final destination in this post, and we’ve arrived in the charming city of Ghent in Belgium, which just cries out for a city break.

Firstly, I’d like to add that although I have spelt Ghent including an ‘h’, the city is actually in the Flanders region of Belgium; therefore, the residents are predominantly Flemish speakers, so you could also spell it ‘Gent’. But hey, who’s quibbling.

I just love a city with meandering canals and waterways, wending its way by medieval architecture and bustling cafés. Any opportunity I get, I’ll hop on a boat ride. Ghent was no different; you gain a different perspective of the city from the canals.

A view of the Graslei, a row of historic Flemish buildings along the Leie waterway the runs through Ghent, Belgium
A view of Graslei, Ghent

Although the area of Ghent we loved strolling along was Graslei, meaning Grass Quay, and Korenlei translated to Wheat Quay. These two quays sit opposite each other and are located along the banks of the Lys River.

Once bustling medieval ports, these lovely pedestrian areas are now popular with visitors and locals alike. The ancient ports had witnessed boats docking here since the 11th-century when Ghent was known for wheat trading. The beautiful stepped gabled façades of the Guild Houses have been beautifully restored and maintained.

To discover the historical darker side of Ghent, visit Gravensteen Castle, the ‘Castle of the Counts’. Within these emotive walls is a unique collection of torture equipment. Exploring the 12th-century moated castle, you can wander the ramparts and visit the count’s residence and stables.

A small tourist boat passes in front of the stone Castle of the Counts in Ghent, Belgium
The Castle of the Counts

Now I appreciate that you cannot leave without sampling their delicious chocolate and enjoying a Belgian beer when you visit Belgium.

However, we have a bit of a craving for BBQ ribs, and while we were staying in Ghent, we discovered the restaurant ‘Amadeus’. A must for rib lovers.

Where to stay in Ghent

We stayed in the stylish hotel during our visit to Ghent at the centrally located Hotel Harmony.

The elegant hotel had beautiful décor, luxurious rooms and even a heated swimming pool. Considering it was in the heart of the city, Hotel Harmony also had access to private parking.

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