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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More French delights
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.
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.
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.
Icelandic Road Trip?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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