Five of the best European city breaks

Tuesday 4 September 2012

A visit to a European city makes for the perfect short getaway. Over a couple of days you can explore a new destination, soak up the local culture and indulge in new food and drink. With so many destinations just a short trip away, we pick five of the best.

The Colloseum in RomeThe Colloseum in Rome

Epic in size, epic in history, Italy’s capital is bursting at the seams with sights – and scooters! You’ll feel the vibrant pulse of the city when you arrive outside the mighty walls of the ancient Colosseum, Vespas beeping manically in the background.

But you don’t have to travel far to swap the city’s soundtrack for something more subdued, for right in the heart of Rome is a city within a city – the Vatican. Most of this tiny sovereign state is out of bounds, but the museums are a must: few places contain such a literal wealth of art.

Of course Italy is renowned for its cuisine, so be prepared to put on a few pounds after indulging in platefuls of pasta, creamy cappuccinos and the obligatory gelato or two… And when you stroll back to your hotel after your final night’s feast, don’t forget to visit Neptune and toss a coin into his fountain to ensure your return to Rome.


There’s something about Barcelona that inspires creativity, which is why many artists come here to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’, drawing inspiration from the likes of Gaudi, Picasso and Miro. The artists still have a huge influence on the city’s galleries, museums, parks and buildings – most obviously the fantastical structures created by Gaudi, such as the Sagrada Familia.

But aside from simply admiring the artistic talents of Catalan’s capital and hunting down the standard tourist haunts, there are some more unusual attractions worth seeking out too, like the museum that celebrates the achievements of Barcelona FC, and the Spanish Village built for the 1929 World Fair and now home to a variety of craft workshops, restaurants and bars.


Looking wistfully out towards the Atlantic from the mouth of the Tagus River, 33 figures stand as tribute to the achievements of Portugal’s Age of Discovery. The group of explorers, scientists, royalty and missionaries are led by Henry the Navigator, the man responsible for Portugal’s imperial expansion into Africa and the Far East. But a maritime heritage is just part of Lisbon’s attraction.

The pleasure of exploring this small, understated capital is often in the unexpected: striking-up conversations while travelling along the tree-lined streets by tram; following the sound of the country’s traditional blues-style music known as fado into one of the backstreet bars; or happening upon a bustling flea market after pausing for a Sunday morning espresso.


Just the name of Turkey’s largest city is enough to evoke images of slender minarets piercing the horizon and shaded bazaars with carpet sellers and cafes serving hot, sweet apple tea.

But while there is a traditional side to Istanbul, it can take a little time to find it. That’s because this immense city which straddles the Bosphorus and bridges two continents has grown so much in recent years. Ever since the former Constantinople lost its status as capital in the 1920s, it’s expanded at a rapid rate. The result is a vibrant city with a lively arts scene and a wealth of world-class museums (indeed, it was European City of Culture in 2010).

Get the most from your city break by combining old with new. Start off with the Ottoman palace of Topkapi, the gold-adorned church of Hagia Sophia and the Roman Hippodrome, then work your way through the centuries to the Museum of Modern Art, where you’ll end up firmly back in the 21st century.


In many respects, little has changed since Jane Austen’s time when the author would while away her time in Bath shopping, ‘taking the waters’, perambulating about town and enjoying the theatre. Today, Bath offers all these pleasures and a whole host more!

When the sun’s shining, make a beeline for Parade Gardens from where you can admire the unusual construction of Pulteney Bridge reflected in the River Avon, and perhaps take a rowing boat upstream before heading towards the city’s most recognisable landmark, the curvaceous Royal Crescent.

British weather being as it is, you’ll want something to do if it rains. Fortunately, as well as the superb shops there are many museums and galleries. Gainsborough – himself once a resident of Bath – is among the artists whose work is displayed at the Victoria Art Galley, or for ancient art you could admire the magnificent interior of Bath Abbey. There is easily enough to keep you entertained for a couple of hours at the Roman Baths, after which you could follow Miss Austen’s example and ‘take the water’ in the acclaimed Thermae Bath Spa.

Short breaks to Bath with Macdonald Hotels & Resorts


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Five of the best European city breaks

A visit to a European city makes for the perfect short getaway. Over a couple of days you can explore a new destination, soak up the local culture and indulge in new food and drink. With so many destinations just a short trip away, we pick five of the best.

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