So you’ve done London, Paris and Rome; Barcelona, Amsterdam and Dublin too. You’re looking for a cool European city break and wondering where to go next? Here are my top picks for some less obvious European city breaks, including some of my favourite cities in Europe and one city I can’t wait to get to!
One for. . .seafood lovers, maritime buffs and urban cool seekers.
Marseille has an urban, gritty cool that will appeal to lovers of port cities. I’m a big fan of its multicultural vibe and maritime history.
Try down by the Marina for some classic south of France cool and amazing seafood, then venture further into the city for some culture, history and atmosphere. Marseilles had a long held reputation for being more than a little unseemly but being European City of Culture in 2013 inspired a big clean up and a huge architectural makeover; there’s no need to be more cautious here than you would in any other European city. There’s some great museums to visit, innovative new architecture to marvel at and some fantastic French and Moroccan restaurants!
Make sure you . . .
Eat everything, from simple buttery croissants for breakfast to feasts of grilled octopus for dinner.
Visit the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations and enjoy its stunning architecture.
San Sebastian, Spain
One for. . .sun worshippers, surfers, history buffs and culture seekers.
San Sebastian is quite possibly my favourite EVER city break destination. It has the best of everything- great surfing, stunning beaches and the chilled out Basque personality gives it a cool city vibe. The city has a charming old town, more Michelin starred restaurants per square meter than any other European city and is surrounded by beautifully lush green mountains perfect for hiking and exploring!
Make sure you. . .
Stay in the charming Old Town, with its beautiful narrow laneways and the highest concentrations of bars in the world!
Do a pinxtos tour! Pinxtos are the Basque version of tapas and San Sebastian is the best spot to try them!
Hike to the top of Mount Urgull for breathtaking views over the bay.
One for. . .hipsters, minimalists, design nerds and Borgen fans.
Yes, it is expensive. There’s no getting around it. But Copenhagen is infinitely cool and worth a splurge if you can stretch. And I do mean stretch. An unremarkable lunch (no booze) costs between 35-50 euro.
But Copenhagen is all your Scandi dreams come to life. It’s got great design, great atmosphere, friendly locals and chilled out bars. Plus, it’s THE best food scene in mainland Europe. It’s a compact city that is smaller than one might expect; the vibe is a less drunk Dublin.
Skip the little mermaid tourist trap, but do opt for a canal boat tour; it’s a great way of orienting yourself around the city and also allows you to sniff out some of the cooler, local neighbourhoods.
Make sure you. .
Stock up on H&M basics before you go. Literally ALL Copenhagen residents are well dressed but in a very understated, classic Scandi way. Lots of boyfriend jeans and classic Ts.
To save some money, skip the over priced hotels and opt for an AirBnB instead.
Take a daytrip to Sweden. Malmo is only a 30 minute train across the sea.
One for . . .foodies, hipsters, culture lovers, musicians and sociable folk.
The New York Times recently called Galway ‘welcoming and walkable’, declaring it may be ‘Ireland’s most charming city,’ and it’s hard to argue. This seaside town is certainly Ireland’s prettiest city, with a great nightlife and surely an unfair restaurant to resident ratio. Literally perched on the Atlantic Ocean, the wind is truly cutting in winter but visit in summer and you’ll find sun warming the cobblestones, locals drinking en masse down by the Spanish Arch and a festival seemingly every single weekend.
Top spots? Ard Bia at Nimmos or Kai for brunch; design shop/cafe CoffeeWerk+Press for a caffeine stop and the achingly cool Tribeton for dinner. Galway is a tourist town and hotels are priced accordingly; check out AirBnB for affordable alternatives.
Make sure you. . . .
walk ‘the prom’ from Spanish Arch all the way out to Salthill. Kick the wall before you turn back. Obviously.
Sample some locally brewed Galway Hooker. Named after a traditional fishing boat. Not that you thought otherwise of course. Their Pale Ale is my favourite.
If it’s sunny, go ‘sparchin’ – drinking at the Spanish Arch.
Athens is currently quite high on my must visit list and hopefully I’ll get to this summer! Don’t be put off by its recent financial woes, Athens is a vibrant city with a huge street art scene, wonderful weather, great accommodation options and welcoming people.
I absolutely love the idea of This is my Athens which allows visitors to meet up with locals and hang out. That’s it. No money, no tour guides, just people who love their city showing visitors the best local spots.
For more on why you should visit the Greek capital, see this piece by travel bible, CN Traveler.
Want more European city breaks? Look out for my upcoming guides to Madrid, Berlin and Lisbon x