With a long winter behind you and a post-Christmas paycheck or two in the bank, it’s time for a well-earned break. But where should you go? Exciting new destinations are emerging all the time, and the sheer number of options can be bewildering. Below is a selection of top city breaks for 2013, combining the places everyone’s talking about with some little-known options.
Bursting onto the scene as a European Capital of Culture 2013 (the other is Marseille, below), Slovakia’s second city is a rising star. Set to host an astonishing 300 music, art and theatre events throughout the year to reflect its new-found cultural status, this medieval gem offers the perfect balance of antiquity and innovation.
Heidelberg, perched on the banks of the River Neckar, has seduced artists, writers and musicians for centuries, and the chances are it’ll seduce you too. Home to a medieval fortress, handsome half-timbered houses and an ancient university, this enchanting place is the stuff of fairytales. Soak up the laidback vibe in the cafés of the Old Town.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Make for the flourishing metropolis of Addis Ababa before it becomes a staple on every traveller’s wishlist. Here on the dusty, noisy city streets you’ll come across mesmerising cultural traditions, superb cuisine and incredible nightlife venues. A balmy year-round climate and easy access to Ethiopia’s ruggedly beautiful countryside add to its allure.
Exquisite restaurants, chic art galleries and boutique hotels have breathed new life into Palma, once considered nothing more than a jumping-off point to nearby party resorts. The city now screams glamour, and there’s no better way to experience this than with some tapas and a sundowner on a rooftop bar overlooking its splendid architecture.
Finland’s capital city was named World Design Capital 2012, and after five minutes in the place, it’s obvious why. Helsinki lives and breathes design – the Nordic emphasis on clean lines and bold forms is evident in everything from quirky furniture to impressive façades. Visit in summer to enjoy long, light days, and explore on foot.
Londonderry, Northern Ireland
The Northern Irish city of Londonderry, blighted for decades by the Troubles, is in the spotlight as UK City of Culture 2013. Its colourful past and huge arts offering make Derry (as it's called by the locals) one of the most compelling getaways of the moment. While you’re there, walk the only remaining intact city walls in Europe.
Characterised by its cultural diversity, maritime heritage and bustling cafélife, the Mediterranean port of Marseille has an infectious energy. And this is the year to visit – France’s second city is embracing its role as European Capital of Culture with a lively programme of cultural events and the opening of sensational art galleries and museums.
Having spent most of the last century under Soviet rule, the elegant Georgian capital of Tbilisi has undergone a renaissance in recent years. With a burgeoning culinary scene, some of the world’s most exciting wines and an improbable mix of Art Deco architecture and domed churches, this city at the crossroads of Europe and Asia is truly captivating.
For a dose of urban waterside sophistication and much-needed sunshine, head to Antalya on the Turkish Riviera. Ottoman-era homes, authentic cafés and shops selling carpets and jewellery fill the ancient quarter of this resort city, which also happens to be close to some of Europe’s most impressive beaches and spectacular waterfalls.
For a long time shunned in favour of Morocco’s better-known tourist draws, Rabat (pictured at the top of the article) has finally found its feet. This breezy city on the Atlantic coast has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site – little wonder, when you see the Old Town’s majestic 12th-century Hassan Mosque and colourful medina. Get there before everyone else does.
Top image: Tbilisi, Georgia © Shutterstock