Take time out to enjoy some of the best city breaks in Europe in 2023
You’ve worked hard and earned yourself a break. Need a bit of time out to recharge the batteries?
Few getaways are more accessible and invigorating than taking a city break. And with Europe right on the UK’s doorstep, we are spoilt for choice. It’s a short flight, train journey or ferry-and-drive to get to some amazing cities for a few days of rest or excitement.
What is nice about city breaks is that there’s something for everyone at any time, midweek or weekend. Chill out with history, luxury, culture, shopping, food, beaches, nightlife, sightseeing, adventure and the arts. You can rush to fit everything into a couple of days or take it more leisurely and leave something for your next visit.
But where to go? Each destination offers something unique. With so many options we have short-listed a few.
Best city breaks in Europe in 2023
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Explore the beauty and charm of this historic and artistic city by day and night. Amsterdam is small enough to explore on foot or a rented bicycle, and public transport is also everywhere and efficient. It is a lively and exciting place to just wander around to take in the sights, or to dive into the interesting nightlife and edgy local culture.
Amsterdam is never boring. Spend the days exploring the village-like maze of beautiful canal streets lined with lavish and artistic gabled buildings. Visit the many museums including Anne Frank’s House, the Van Gogh Museum, the Moco Museum for contemporary and modern art and the wonderful neo-Gothic Rijksmuseum with its collection including seminal works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Vermeer. Or go for the more unusual, including museums dedicated to Cat Art, Street Art, Bags and Purses, Eroticism, Diamonds, Tulips, or Ripley’s Believe It or Not items. There are too many to mention or to visit in one city break.
Take a trip along the canals. Admire the lovely gabled buildings along Herengracht (find the stretch between Vijzelstraat and Leidsestraat) or people-watch from the many street-side cafes or visit one of the many welcoming craft breweries. And at least one evening take a walk through the (in)famous Red-Light district and have a drink or exotic snack at a late-night bruin café.
Amsterdam is just a short flight from the UK or a more leisurely journey on a direct Eurostar train. Enjoy!
If you’re up for a combined city break and beach break, then Barcelona is the city for you.
This beautiful seaside city is perfect to spend the morning getting your cultural fix in the many museums and galleries before relaxing on the beach all afternoon. Sun, sea and sangria! Then, in the evening there’s time to catch up on more culture and enjoy the street performers on Las Ramblas before sitting down to some tapas and paella, local wine or a cold beer. Head off into the vibrant nightlife after that, if you still have some energy.
Barcelona has a unique mix of architectural styles to marvel at. The pioneering Gaudi’s surreal designs dominate the skyline. The eccentric Sagrada Familia cathedral is a must-visit for everyone on their first trip to the city. Do walk around to see the amazing Parc Guell as well as the more traditional buildings in the enchanting Gothic Quarter.
Enjoy the artistry in the Picasso Museum, the Salvador Dali Museum or the Joan Miro Foundation, before switching to visit more sporty venues like Camp Nou and the 1992 Olympics Stadium.
Looking for a lively and trendy getaway? Then look no further than Berlin. Berlin is glitzy, gritty, cultural, laidback, and cultural – all at the same time.
It is full of stylish shops, vibrant markets and cool cafes. Walk or sail up the Spree, and visit the wide-open green spaces and the massive botanical garden. People-watch and take in the local atmosphere while enjoying a currywurst and beer.
History is everywhere. Visit the remnants of the Wall and the Wall Memorial, explore the Norman Foster-designed Reichstag dome, and view the graffiti left by Soviet soldiers from 1945. See Hitler’s Bunker and Checkpoint Charlie, appreciate how the city was split in two by a wall and ideology and how it become united and thriving again.
But Berlin has the deserved reputation as the best party town around. If you prefer some of the world’s most extravagant, wild, live-for-the-moment, 24/7 nightclubs and parties then step right in!
Buda, separated by the Danube from Pest, together form Hungary’s thriving and cosmopolitan capital, Budapest.
Buda is a pretty ‘old’ town (a world heritage site) crammed with medieval streets, a castle, markets, and many neoclassical, art nouveau and baroque buildings that date back hundreds of years. Pest has the buzz of today with a more modern feel, fun bars and cafes and lively nightlife.
There’s lots of natural beauty in and around Budapest as well. Take a cruise along the iconic river Danube that bisects the city to visit natural hot springs for a perfect soak.
Budapest has a thriving food scene, with many exciting and varied local dishes paired with some of Hungary’s excellent wines.
There’s more than you can see in a single city break, you’ll be booking your next one on the way out.
Dubrovnik is one of Europe’s most charming old-walled cities and well worth the visit whatever your age. It’s located at the foot of a rugged mountain and juts out into the azure Adriatic. Beautiful baroque buildings with terracotta roofs line narrow limestone streets, all contained within the medieval fortifications and city walls that protected the town from marauders in days gone by.
Walk along the city walls to take in the views, then descend to the old town which has been completely pedestrianised. Wander around the grand palazzi and ornate Baroque churches before enjoying a meal in one of the many fabulous cafes.
Venture beyond the city limits with the cable car taking you up to Mount Srđ to enjoy majestic views. Alternatively, take a boat to visit some of the local islands for walks in the forest or to relax on their pristine sandy beaches.
In the 15th century, Lisbon was the major departure port for the great explorers that discovered the world we know today. Now it is your turn to explore this underrated gem.
Lisbon’s waterfront and pretty streets display many clues about its long history, from 2000-year-old Roman ruins, Moorish traditions, the great maritime history, the legacy of the great earthquake of 1755, the Rua Augusta Arch on Commerce Square through to the hustle and bustle of a thriving and modern city.
Lisbon’s spectacular setting as the ‘city of seven hills’ lends itself to picture-perfect views of narrow alleys, red roofs, and white-domed cathedrals against a backdrop of the river Tejo and the blue sea. Explore the city using the yellow wooden trams and iron funiculars.
Hop onto the number 28 tram to explore the cobbled streets of the city’s oldest neighbourhood, Alfama. Visit the fashionable bars and restaurants of downtown Bairro Alto and Principe Real that come alive at night.
Restaurants and cafes cater for all tastes, with plenty of fresh seafood at the core. There’s something for everyone, from upmarket wine lounges to traditional bars and cafes frequented by the locals.
Lisbon has it all: history, architecture, culture, great weather, excellent food, laidback people, and access to lovely beaches.
One of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world, there’s a lot more to Paris than boat rides up the Seine with your loved one or soaking up the ambience of the city in one of the many coffee shops.
Paris is full of so many attractions, including the iconic Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Versailles, the Mona Lisa in the Louvre and the Notre Dame Cathedral (due for re-opening in April 2024) just for starters. Stroll along the Seine or observe the artists at their easels in Bohemian Montmartre. Shop at the vintage stores on the left bank or visit the designer boutiques for something chic along the Champs Elysees.
Brought the kids along? You can’t go wrong at Disneyland Paris!
Best of all for the foodies is all the wonderful patisseries, charcuteries, boulangeries, and fromageries for stocking up– plus of course the wonderful range of casual to world-class restaurants for every taste, appetite and budget.
Paris is one of the easiest European cities to get to from the UK – just hop onto a plane, train or automobile!
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is full of surprises. It is as beautiful and romantic as its rival Paris, making it one of the best city breaks in Europe. It offers visitors a full-on city break itinerary from dawn til dawn. Stop when you run out of energy!
Since the country emerged from behind the Iron Curtain visitors have been going there in droves, and the experience has only got better every year. Visit to take in the architecture, admire the art, and sip what is arguably the best beer in Europe.
Discover the beautiful architecture and history of the city while strolling through the maze of medieval cobbled streets of the old town. Visit the Charles Bridge and the town square before taking in the astronomical clock, Jewish Quarter, castle and gardens.
Art lovers will appreciate the Gothic church altars and amazing collection of paintings in the Veletržní Palác.
Visit in December to enjoy the bustle and warmth of Prague’s beautiful Christmas markets.
Reykjavik is ideal if you prefer a lot of outdoor adventure during your city break.
It does not matter where you are in the city, the mountains and the sea are always within striking distance and the views are spectacular. There are snow-capped mountains, bubbling geysers, awesome volcanoes and the unforgettable Northern Lights to admire.
As the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik provides an eclectic mix of old Viking history blended into a thriving cosmopolitan and culturally rich community. The colourful buildings contrast with the stark landscape, and the people are friendly and helpful.
The arts scene is vibrant, and the restaurants and live music communities come alive at night. Most venues are open until 1:00 am and on Friday and Saturday nights the partying carries on until 5:00 am – sleeping is optional. There is much to see and do, from stand-up comedy to theatre, jazz, drag shows, cabaret, and musicals.
Visit between late August and early May to make the most of seeing the stunning Northern Lights. Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see them. Make sure they are on your bucket list. It’s possible to see the lights from downtown Reykjavik, but it’s much better from nearby Seltjarnarnes, on the seaside just outside Reykjavik. That’s where streetlights do not spoil the view.
The world’s most northern capital is an excellent base for day trips and adventure excursions. Rent a 4×4 to explore the island or go on some of the many organised trips to the hot springs, Blue Lagoon, whale watching and puffin spotting. Visit the Golden Circle to see Geysir and Gullfoss waterfalls, explore the Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls or tour the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
This small city certainly punches above its weight, there’s so much to do in Reykjavik that you’ll come back again and again.
Rome has something for everyone – history, culture, museums, food, wine, art, music, nightlife, parks, shopping, and gelato.
Few cities can rival Rome if you are interested in history, art and culture. Its history stretches back 3,000 years, and it is difficult to escape finding something from any of the ages between then and now. There’s the Colosseum and Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Capitoline Hill (one of the seven hills Rome was built on), the Vatican and its magnificent Sistine Chapel to get started.
Walk around Piazza Venezia, and Piazza Navone, climb the Spanish Steps and visit the Trevi Fountain, Villa Borghese and Borghese Gallery. Wander through the Jewish quarter, and dine al fresco at some of the many sidewalk cafes – there is so much fantastic Italian food (and wine) to be had. And don’t forget to have more gelato!
Get lost in the many cobbled streets with hundreds of small and exclusive shops. Indulge in the elegant shops in the vicinity of the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain.
There are too many sites to see and things to do in Rome for one city break. The two biggest problems are deciding which attractions to visit this time, and when to return for another visit.
It’s hard to find a better place to start exploring Scandinavia than Stockholm. Stockholm is pure ‘beauty on water’, a small city spread across 14 islands linked by connecting bridges and ferries. It is simple and easy to explore on foot or the convenient public transport.
First, explore the historic centre of the city in the old town of Gamla Stan. It is right out of a fairy tale with a royal palace and narrow cobblestone streets lined with colourful buildings from the 17th & 18th centuries and lovely eateries serving modern Scandinavia food. The beautiful and famous Stortorget Square is worth a visit, as are Stockholm Cathedral, the Nobel Prize Museum and the Royal Palace. Have fun squeezing down Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, the narrowest street in town!
There’s plenty to do for the culturally and historically minded. A must-see is the Vasa, a huge and amazingly well-preserved military ship dating back to the 1600s. It was discovered almost fully intact and is a unique insight into the past. The ship is the centrepiece of a whole museum than was built around it.
Visit Stockholm Palace with more than 600 rooms over 11 floors, the royal apartments and three separate museums. Relax in Kungsträdgården, where the royal gardens once were. It is a lovely public park ideal for people-watching, outdoor eating and concerts. Try some ice skating in the winter.
More contemporary is the ABBA museum. It’s cheerful and upbeat and the songs will stay with you the rest of the day. Or visit one of the world’s largest and most significant photography museums, Fotografiska on the island of Södermalm. It offers contemporary exhibitions of works by different national and international artists, lectures, workshops and classes for photographers of all levels. And then there’s the Modern Art Museum not far from the Vasa, with works by Picasso, Dalí, Matisse, and others. You’re spoilt for choice.
Stockholm is also a culinary delight, with plenty of fresh, local, seasonal, and delicious food! Venture into the Östermalm district to find Stockholm’s delightful food market. Saluhall offers everything you could explore from simple fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, coffee and tea to more exotic fresh, smoked and pickled fish.
Visit Stockholm once and you’ll want to return often.
A few thoughts…
A city break can be a short two-day stay to sample something different or it can be stretched to four days to take in some more of the local atmosphere. It can be to a large city to get lost in or a smaller one for connecting with the locals. Go for the history or go for the culture. There’s adventure or nightlife, food or chilling on the beach. Enjoy the sights or simply experience nature.
Each city and city break is unique.
Do take inspiration from this list of European city breaks – it is only the tip of the iceberg!