|Photo by Freeimages.com/Constantin Hudici|
The Daily Telegraph, December 22, 2015
Planning a short break? Here are 10 great suggestions for the top destinations in Europe for a city break.
Venice never loses its capacity to enchant. Summer brings some of the most daunting crowds, but there's a reason why they come: the sheer loveliness of an exquisite city that seems miraculously built on water. Venice's churches and museums offer antique glories aplenty, but there is also a vibrant contemporary art scene, even away from the Art Biennale. Venice is a unique, magical place 365 days a year. But much of the time you'll be sharing that magic with thousands of other visitors.
Paris is one of the world's most beautiful cities (with its golden stone facades and famous monuments), and a vibrant, densely packed collection of villages. Behind the grandiose palaces and boulevards, you can discover intimate courtyards and gardens; behind historic façades are craft workshops and eminent research institutions. Perhaps the true clue to Paris ’s appeal is that despite being one of the most visited cities in the world it is also intensely lived-in. With its flats, playgrounds, food markets and cafés, there is no empty heart in the centre; and you, too, can play at being a Parisian.
Rome 's mild Mediterranean climate is a persuasive draw for visitors from the cool north, but the main draw will always be the pulsating energy of a place which lives life as a form of theatre. There are great neighbourhood trattorias, quirky shops and a buzzing aperitivo scene. The challenge is deciding what not to do: there are so many churches, archaeological sites, piazzas and paintings to see that a lifetime is hardly enough.
Amsterdam has the buzz of a metropolis, with few big-city drawbacks. It’s small enough to walk or cycle almost anywhere you want, yet is rarely dull. Dinky gabled buildings, pretty bridges and quiet canals give it village-like charm, yet you’ll also find top-ranking art museums and one of the best orchestras in the world. Most of all, Amsterdam combines its glittering past with a wry, rough, rebellious contemporary edginess. Popular songs have it that spring’s the time to come tulip-plucking, but really any season in Amsterdam has its allure.
Florence is one of Europe’s great art cities. Giotto’s frescoes, Michelangelo’s David, canvases by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and a host of other greats in the Uffizi Gallery… there’s so much exquisite art and architecture, it’s difficult to know where to start. Florence is also a living city with a vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene, and a lively cultural movida that goes beyond old masters to embrace opera, classical music and contemporary art. Handsome, historic, full of quirky shops and quality crafts, and close to the vine-covered hills of Chianti.
Barcelona is a patchwork of architectural styles displays dark, Gothic façades next to the harlequin buildings of the Modernistas and the skyline-piercing constructions of Jean Nouvel or Herzog and de Meuron, and a day spent admiring them can be topped off with a sundowner on one of the city’s seven beaches before dinner at any number of Michelin-starred gastronomic temples or humble, family-run tapas bars. Barcelona has a relaxed pace, months of endless sunshine, unbeatable food – with the cultural and design clout of almost any city in the cold north.
In summer, the city’s residents take full advantage of the decent weather to hit the streets, rivers and lakes and partake in endless events across the city. Since the fall of its world-renowned Wall, Berlin has busied itself with becoming one of the most stimulating creative and cultural centres in Europe. These days it's a city of many faces, known equally as a hedonistic hub, a magnet for history buffs and, increasingly, as a destination for families thanks to a wealth of green spaces that includes the sprawling Tiergarten, the Sunday flea market at Mauerpark and the Volkspark Friedrichshain.
Dubrovnik is one of the world’s most magnificent walled cities. Now a Unesco world heritage site and Croatia’s most up-market destination, it was once the capital of the wealthy sea-faring Republic of Ragusa (1358-1808). Today, visitors come to Dubrovnik for leisure, not to trade. The main draw is the charming pedestrian-only old town, packed with aristocratic palazzi and elegant Baroque churches, contained within sturdy medieval fortifications. Add to this the beaches, pristine sea, informal eateries serving top-notch seafood, chic five-star hotels and adventure sports facilities, and your holiday is made.
Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities. Superbly situated either side of the blue ribbon of the Bosphorus Strait separating Europe from Asia it is, unlike any other city in the world, split between two continents. The old quarter, with its oriental-fantasy skyline of domes and minarets, and its narrow cobbled streets lined with quaint old wooden houses, lies on a tapering peninsula pointing gravely across the straits to Asia. To the south, the blue waters of the Sea of Marmara glitter invitingly. North, across the graceful curve of the Golden Horn, flicker the bright lights of the pulsating entertainment quarter of Beyoğlu.
People pour in from across the world to visit, work or live in London . Colossal infrastructure projects such as Crossrail, King’s Cross-St Pancras and the Embassy Quarter and Battersea Power Station projects south of the river, are transforming the skyline. The range of restaurants, bars, theatres, sports, pop-ups, performance art and large-scale events is astounding. Right here, right now, London is somewhere you have to be.
For the best hotels in more than 130 destinations worldwide, go to telegraph.co.uk/hotels
This article was first published on December 31, 2014 and updated in full on May 12, 2015
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