Europe is so crammed full of fascinating, vibrant cities that narrowing down the options to an actual decision for a weekend away can be surprisingly tricky. Thankfully, we’ve got a guide to the best European city breaks to help you choose where to go.
Best for nightlife: Berlin
Berlin hasn’t earned itself the status of Europe’s coolest city for nothing – the city’s nightlife is among the best on offer, and is particularly legendary for its relaxed, “everything goes” attitude. Whether you’re after a slick cocktail bar, a world-class techno club or an over-the-top dance party, you’ll be spoilt for choice here. Best of all, the U- and S-Bahn run nonstop on Friday and Saturday nights, meaning that making the most of the city’s all-night club scene is easy.
Best for art: Florence
Wandering the streets of Florence can, at times, make you feel like you’ve stepped into a painting, especially when you stumble across the Duomo itself. It is no exaggeration to say that there is nowhere in the continent that quite matches this city for art lovers – follow the development of the Renaissance in the Uffuzi and the Bargello, marvel at Michelangelo in the Bibloteca Laurenziana and the Accademia, and soak up the serene beauty of the city’s churches, not least Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella.
Best for relaxing: Budapest
Stately Budapest provides an impressive backdrop for some of Europe’s loveliest spas, and the great news is that they’re surprisingly affordable. There’s arguably no better way to finish a morning of sightseeing than by wallowing in thermal waters – head to the Art Nouveau Gellért baths for a particularly grand experience, while the Rudas baths are especially atmospheric, as you can float serenely in the pool beneath a Turkish dome.
Best for culture: London
London has enough culture to occupy you for months – if not years. Best of all, especially in a city renowned for its expense, many of the capital’s big hitters – not least the National Gallery, the Tate Modern and the British Museum – are free to visit, which leaves more pounds for other cultural pursuits. Theatre is really the thing not to miss; from Shakespearean tragedies at the Globe to sell-out musicals in the West End, and little-known plays on the Fringe, the city has everything covered.
Best for history: Rome
In a continent where history can at times seem over-abundant, the city that once formed the heart of the Roman Empire is particularly packed with fascinating relics of the past. There are centuries upon centuries of history to discover here – from the Colosseum and the Forum to the Vatican and the Spanish Steps – and yet the Eternal City somehow remains very much a living, modern place to be explored and enjoyed in its own right.
Best for romance: Paris
It feels like the oldest cliché in the book, but there’s no escaping from the fact that Paris is unabashedly romantic. The city is at its most sublime when discovered on foot; meander through tucked-away passages, along grand boulevards and besides the leisurely Seine, stopping for a glass of wine (or two) in an intimate bar and a meal in a candlelit restaurant, and you won’t fail to fall under its spell.
Best for food: Copenhagen
Compact Copenhagen has in recent years emerged as one of Europe’s premier foodie destinations – thanks in no small part to the world-famous Noma – which has earned it the reputation of Scandinavia’s most sophisticated city. Even if you’re not after Michelin-starred dining (the city is currently home to an impressive 18 Michelin-starred restaurants), it’s not hard to eat well here – Danish food has seen a welcome revitalisation, and you can enjoy everything from the freshest local seafood to delicious smørrebrød (open sandwiches) and delicious, buttery cinnamon pastries.
Best for beaches: Barcelona
There are too few places in Europe that can offer the mix of impressive cultural sights, fabulous nightlife and lovely beaches, which makes Barcelona all the more special. There’s something for everyone here – even a nudist beach if that’s what floats your boat – from busy Barceloneta to quieter Icària, not to mention cool waterfront bars and mouthwatering seafood restaurants that will keep you coming back for that seductive combination of sun and sea.
Best on a budget: Kraków
Eastern Europe is undoubtedly the region to head to for a budget city break, but even here Kraków stands out as particularly good value. The only big Polish city to have escaped the devastation of World War II, Krakow boasts a stately beauty not always found elsewhere in the country. With an abundance of hostels, plentiful street food and – perhaps best of all – cheap beer, it makes a great budget choice.
Best for beer: Prague
In the country that invented Pilsner and outdoes all other nations for the amount of beer consumed annually, it’s hardly surprising that Prague remains a big draw for beer drinkers. These days, countless craft breweries have sprung up so there’s even more options on offer than the traditional lager; unsurprisingly, the best way to make the most of the city’s offerings is on a pub crawl through the historic centre.