by Janis / 0 comments - Orginally published:15th June 2021

Explore a handful of Europe’s most captivating and historically rich cities

Just in case your European travel wish list was fit for bursting. I’m going to scupper your plans and extend your European city-break list even further.

I can assure you if it’s history and culture that you are after. These 8 European cities will tempt you into grabbing yourself a travel guide and start planning that next adventure.

Gary and I have been fortunate that we have explored many charismatic and alluring cities from our years of travelling together. Our ever-evolving list of European mini-break locations is almost endless.

After writing part one of my chosen European cities, there was no doubt that I wanted to share more beautiful locations with you. So, without further ado, here are my next eight captivating cities.

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Our List of 8 European Destinations

We'll be discovering the following;
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The first thing I’m going to say about Rotterdam is that you should not hesitate in visiting. So often, Rotterdam is overlooked by its big brother, Amsterdam, further north, but hey! not anymore.

Rotterdam offers that familiar welcoming Dutch vibe. However, I personally felt that it was slightly calmer, had plenty of charisma and some incredible street art.

Rotterdam was severely damaged during WWII, and the historic old town buildings are slightly limited. But that doesn’t detract from the quirky and eclectic architectural designs that can be found today.

The iconic bright yellow cube houses overlooking patrons filling the harbourside cafes, bars and restaurants in Rotterdam, Holland
Cubes in the harbour, Rotterdam

One of the things I loved about Rotterdam was that they are not afraid of mixing the old with the new. Head down to historic Oude Haven and take a stroll around the canals and waterways. Here you’ll also spot the Witte Huis; this beautiful building was constructed in Art Nouveau style in 1898.

Then in stark contrast are the eye-catching bright yellow Cube Houses, designed by architect Piet Blom in the late 70s. The Kijk-Kubus really are incredible; the 38 houses have been built at a 45-degree angle and must be quite bizarre to live in.

A cyclist riding in front of the modernist Markethall in Rotterdam
Cycing in front of the market, Rotterdam

There is so much more to Rotterdam; a visit to the vibrant Market Hall will almost definitely be on your list. Along with the Erasmus Bridge, the open-air Maritime Museum and a trip up to the Euromast observation tower that stands 185 metres tall.

And that’s not forgetting the ‘Cool District’, with its intriguing street art.

Rotterdam is perfect for a European mini-break; however, why not extend your stay in the Netherlands and venture off on a road trip. Take a look at our 9-day ‘Tulips & Cheese’ road trip itinerary.

Where to stay in Rotterdam

Our accommodation, while we were in Rotterdam, was at the stylish Bilderberg Park Hotel.

The hotel is located very centrally on the edge of the Cool District. Leisurely stroll into the city centre and ideal for a road trip, as they had onsite car parking, which was chargeable.

If you're thinking of heading of to the land of tulips and cheese, then grab this DK Eyewitness guide to help with your planning.
DK The Nethrelands cover
I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

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We’re now off to the Baltic Coast and heading to Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn.

Tallinn's historic Old Town is one of the most stunningly preserved medieval cities in Europe. Incredibly 1.9km of its defensive walls still remain, along with many of its ancient watchtowers. It isn’t surprising that the Historic Centre (Old Town) of Tallinn was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997.

The view of the old town of Tallinn from the Patkuli viewing platform
The Patkuli viewing platform in Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn is reasonably easy to navigate on foot. However, a visit to Toompea Castle is a must, which is a little bit of a climb. Well, at least you feel that you’ve earned the crisp, chilled local beer you have later.

Toompea Castle is a 13th-century fortress that sits high above the city. The beautiful Baroque Palace is now home to Estonia’s parliament. Here you’ll also discover the Lutheran St Mary's Cathedral and the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

Oh yes and take some time to enjoy the incredible views across the city’s terracotta rooftops.

The Raekoja plats - ‘Town Hall square’ to you and me.
The Raekoja plats, Tallinn, Estonia

Hop on the short tram ride from the city centre to visit Kadriorg Park and Palace, the former palace of Peter the Great. It now also houses the Art Museum of Estonia.

In the heart of Tallinn’s Old Town is Raekoja Plats, the picturesque and colourful Town Hall Square with cobblestone paving and plenty of restaurants. This is a delightful place to sit and relax and observe the world pass by, watching visitors and locals alike enjoying the essence of this ancient city.

Where to stay in Tallinn

The accommodation for our mini-break in Tallinn was at the elegant Hotel Telegraaf, Autograph Collection.

The hotel is located in the historic Old Town and is just a short stroll to the charming town square, Raekoja Plats.

We booked Hotel Telegraaf as a treat for my birthday; the peaceful hotel had wonderful spa facilities. They include a sauna, a hot tub, a steam bath, and beauty treatments.

If you've yet to discover the incredible history, Medieval wall and fascinating architecture in Tallinn, you're in for a treat.
DK Tallinn cover
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.

Ahh, yes, the beautiful Côte d'Azur, well, Nice to be exact.

Our favourite time of year to visit the south of France is autumn. The visitors are fewer, the Mediterranean Sea has warmed up from the summer sun, and the ambient temperatures are around the mid-20s, what could be better.

Overlooking Nice from Castle Hill with the sparkling azure waters of the French Riviera on the left and the orange tiled roofs of the old town to the right.
A view over the coast of in Nice on the French Riviera

What I especially love about Nice is the Old Town and its laid-back infectious charm. The crisscrossing narrow lanes lined with pastel-coloured architecture, balconies crammed with flowerpots and washing lines dangling high from above. Ohh, and of course, the bustling, vibrant town squares.

Don’t forget to visit Fenocchio’s ice-cream parlour in Place Rossetti and indulge in one of their extraordinary tantalising flavours; you won’t regret it.

Then after head to the vibrant fruit and vegetable market along the Cours Saleya.

However, it goes without saying that a promenade is in order along the French Riviera. Stroll bedside the azure blue coastline and soak up the view across far-reaching bays, then amble around the harbour to choose your dream superyacht.

A street scene of a café next to the fruit & vegetable market with people sitting at a bunch of tables under bright red canopies.
A café in Nice, France
Nice is perfect for a weekend away in the south of France. Although, if you’re yearning for a more intimate and exclusive bay along the Côte d'Azur, have a browse at our article on Villefranche-sur-Mer; you’ll love it.

Where to stay near Nice

When we visited Nice, we were on a road trip around Provence and the Côte d'Azur. We stayed at the luxury Welcome Hotel just around the bay from Nice, at Villefranche-sur-Mer.

The location of Welcome Hotel is incredible as it is right on the harbour front, the views are to die for.

Great selection of food for breakfast and lovely surroundings to enjoy it in.

Parking in Villefranche-sur-Mer is not the easiest; this hotel offers valet parking.

If you love Provence as much as we do, you'll want to start planning your visit now.
DK Provence Cover
I so enjoy using the DK Eyewitness books, as they are 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 Provencal road trip, now you can grab the revised copy.

More French delights

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

The ‘Land of Fire and Ice’ that phrase fits Iceland so perfectly.

We’ve visited Iceland on a couple of occasions, most recently in 2018 when we ventured off on a road trip around Iceland’s Ring Road for 12 days. However, our love of Iceland began when we visited Reykjavik for a mini-break in 2007.

A conceptualstainless steel sculpture of a Viking boat on the water's edge in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Reykjavik's  Sun Voyager at dusk

We suggest basing yourselves in Reykjavik for a few days, as you’ll want to explore not only the vibrant city but also tour the Golden Circle. We hired a car to independently visit the Golden Circle, that way, we could jump out when and wherever we wanted.

Touring the Golden Circle is a must when visiting Reykjavik, whether you hop on an organised tour or pick up a Rental Car from Keflavik airport. The breathtaking sights of Gullfoss Waterfall, the erupting Geysir and the incredible volcanic crater of Kerið.

The stunning Gullfoss waterfall captured in mid-March with ice still remaining around the edges. A must-see on Iceland's Golden Circle.
The must-see Gullfoss, a short drive from Reykjavik, Iceland

During your time in Reykjavik, stroll along Laugavegur, the main street that runs through Reykjavik city. Along here, you’ll experience the hustle and bustle of the town day and night. Plenty of shops, cafés, bars, and restaurants. Ensure you continue to the top of the street as you’ll want to visit Hallgrímskirkja (the church on the hill).

Oh, don’t miss the colourful street art dotted around the city and the beautiful Sun Voyager sculpture down by the bay.

Where to stay in Reykjavik

While we were in Reykjavik, our accommodation was at the very comfortable and modern Skuggi Hotel by Keahotels.

The hotel is located just a short stroll from the city centre and the bay. The hotel is ideal for a road trip, as they had onsite car parking, which was chargeable.

If you're tempted to tour the Land of Fire and Ice and would love to discover the whole country, then take a look at this  DK Eyewitness book.
DK Iceland Cover
This Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide is invaluable, I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into searching for more.  You can now grab the revised copy.

Icelandic Road Trip?

Start planning your own Icelandic adventure and discover the breathtaking landscape under your own steam. Have a browse through our Icelandic Ring Road itinerary to start creating a holiday of a lifetime.

If you are considering a trip to Ypres in Belgium, then I’m sure you’re aware of its overwhelming history during World War I.

Ypres was devasted during the First World War and came back fighting like a phoenix from the ashes. The beautiful Medieval Cloth Hall in the centre of Ypres is stunning. It was originally built in the 13th-century, the Cloth Hall that stands today is an exact replica.

The illuminated gothic Cloth Hall in Ypres under the blue skies of dusk
The Cloth Hall in Ypres at dusk

The Cloth Hall is now home to the ‘In Flanders Fields Museum’, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It was incredibly moving and so informative and educational.

Ypres makes a perfect location to base yourselves to tour the region visiting the poignant war cemeteries and surrounding battlefields. Just outside of Ypres in Passendale is Tyne Cot, which is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world.

Ensure you remain in Ypres of an evening to attend the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. Every evening at 8pm, the moving tribute takes place where wreaths are laid, and the Last Post is played on two silver bugles.

Looking through the Menin Gate in the Belgium town of Ypres on a bright sunny day under deep blue skies
The Menin Gate, Ypres

The extremely touching ceremony commenced on 11th November 1929 and has sounded at the Menin Gate Memorial every night since. The only exception was during the four years of the German occupation of Ypres from 20th May 1940 to 6th September 1944.

During this period, the ceremony was held daily in England at Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey.

Where to stay in Ypres

While we were in Ypres for two nights, our accommodation was at the very comfortable Novotel Ieper Centrum.

The hotel is located just a short stroll from the city centre, Cloth Hall and the Menin Gate. This friendly hotel is perfect for touring the surrounding battlefields and war cemeteries and is ideal for a road trip, as they had onsite car parking.

If your heading off on into Belgium then why not grab a copy of this DK Eyewitness book.
I love planning road trips and these guides are so helpful. I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more of the back roads.  We used a previous version of this book to plan our wanderings, now you can grab the revised copy.

We’re off to Prague now in Central Europe, and wow, the history here is astounding. The Historic Centre of Prague was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

Discover Prague Castle, built in the 9th-century, which sits high above the city. Prague Castle has many architectural styles and many buildings within it. Including St. Vitus Cathedral, palaces, gardens, halls, towers, and museums, including the National Gallery.

A view of the House at the Minute from the lane that leads from old town square in Prague
The House at the Minute, Prague

When you head to the Vltava River, ensure you cross at Charles Bridge, this 14th-century stone bridge has 16 arches. The bridge is lined with 30 statues added during the late 17th and early 18th centuries,

There are lots to see in the Old Town, especially around the Old Town Square. The architecture here is stunning; keep a lookout for the medieval Astronomical Clock mounted on the Old Town Hall. The intricate clock was first installed in 1410 and has been lovingly maintained over the centuries.

In the square is also the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn, the Baroque St. Nicholas Church and many other striking and colourful buildings.

The Jan Hus Memorial in front of the Church of Our Lady before Týn in the old town square in Prague, Czech Republic
The Jan Hus Memorial in the old town square in Prague
Nearby the Town Square is the Old Jewish Cemetery; it’s a very touching place to visit. Due to lack of space over the centuries, multiple layers have been added to old graves. They are considerably higher than the surrounding streets.

Where to stay in Prague

The accommodation for our mini-break in Prague was at the stylish Hotel Josef.

The hotel is modern and centrally located near the delightful Old Town Square, Prague Astronomical Clock, and the beautiful Charles Bridge.

Hotel Josef all has an onsite fitness centre.

If you've yet to discover the incredible history and architecture in Prague, you're in for a treat.
I found this DK Eyewitness 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.

Why not?

Start creating your own Czechia adventure and discover the beautiful city of Prague for yourself. Search for your flights in one easy place with Over 400 airlines are scanned for your favoured routes and chosen dates.

If you are yearning for a mini-break with a touch of Russian culture, add Saint Petersburg to your travel wish list.

St Petersburg is a city overflowing with an extraordinary history, vibrant palaces, and an air of alluring mysticism.

A view of the iconic Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, on the banks of the Griboedov Canal in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The ornate five domes of different colours & styles dominate the skyline.
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, Saint Petersburg

I’d been longing to visit St Petersburg for years. It felt like a destination a world apart from the UK; I could just imagine smoky bars and clandestine meetings going on behind closed doors. Although it’s certainly a city with a difference and be prepared to walk a lot, comfy shoes are essential.

There are so many places to visit; however, your first stop should be Palace Square, it is breathtaking. Surrounded by colourful architecture, you’ll see the Winter Palace/State Hermitage Museum, the Alexander Column and the General Staff Building.

A short hop along the Neva River, and you’ll discover The Admiralty and St Isaacs’s Cathedral with its magnificent, gilded dome. From here, start strolling St Petersburg canals and find Mariinsky Theatre, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral, the Art Nouveau Singer House and Nevsky Avenue.

The sweeping span of the Hermitage Lecture Centre, with the Triumphal arch in the centre, on one side of Palace Square in Saint Petersburg, Russia
The Hermitage Lecture Centre in the Palace Square, Saint Petersburg

The building that I was truly looking forward to seeing along the Griboyedov Canal was the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. With its incredibly intricate façade and the striking onion-shaped domes upon it.

St Petersburg unquestionably lived up to my expectations and was an incredibly fascinating city to explore. UNESCO added the Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg to its World Heritage list in 1990.

Where to stay in St Petersburg

The accommodation for our 4-night mini-break in St Petersburg was at the classy and modern hotel, SO/ Saint Petersburg.

The hotel is near St Isaac’s Cathedral, Admiralty Arch and just a 10-minute stroll to enchanting Palace Square. Where you will find the State Hermitage Museum, the Alexander Column and the General Staff Building.

If you've yet to discover the incredible history and architecture in St. Petersburg, you're in for a treat.
DK St Petersburg cover
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 St. Petersburg adventure, now you can grab the revised copy.

We’ve reached our final destination in this post, and it’s the city of Copenhagen in the picturesque country of Denmark.

Denmark’s capital city of Copenhagen sits in a wonderful location on the coastal islands of Zealand and Amager.

Boats in front of the multi-coloured buildings and home to so many bars & restaurants in Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark
Summer on Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark

It was such a delight visiting Copenhagen, scenic strolls along the waterside with views of Copenhagen Opera House and the Royal Danish Playhouse, oh, and not forgetting the Little Mermaid. Discovering the charming historic architecture dotted around the cityscape and tranquil gardens to relax and enjoy.

For a little more hustle and bustle of city life around, Copenhagen head to the lively district around Nyhavn. Lining the Nyhavn Canal are colourful townhouses dating from the 17th-century, attractive museum ships and plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafés.

A rigged sailing ship in front of The Royal Danish Theatre, home to Copenhagen's Opera House
The Royal Danish Theatre & Copenhagen Opera House, Demark

Along with the historical sites of Christiansborg Palace, Frederik's Church, The National Museum and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, there’s the family fun amusement park of Tivoli Gardens.

Tivoli Gardens was built in 1843 and is the second oldest amusement park in the world. It has rides for all ages, a pirate ship in the Lake, and once the sun goes, down the beautiful lanterns are lit through the gardens. What more could you want?

Where to stay in Copenhagen

The centrally positioned Phoenix Copenhagen is the perfect hotel for a luxury mini-break.

The elegant, historic hotel is in a peaceful location and just a short stroll from Nyhavn and Amalienborg Palace.

The Phoenix Copenhagen has an in-house restaurant, brasserie and café bar.

If you've yet to discover Copenhagen, 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.

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