For this list of top city breaks in Europe, we tried to take a varied and interesting approach. Sure, you’ll find a few of the most popular European cities to visit, like London with its broad and leafy lanes or Amsterdam’s picturesque canals.
However, we also threw in some out-of-the-box suggestions for a European city trip too. Think unexpected Islamic architecture. The hidden gems of an ancient city on the sunny Mediterranean. Or unique hotels that turn your city break accommodation into part of the experience. Let’s get into it!
Walk Europe’s Most Historic Islamic Bridge in Mostar
Bosnia and Herzegovina might not the first name on many people’s list when they think beautiful European city breaks. However, this federation’s fifth biggest city might just surprise you!
The Stari Most, an iconic 16th century Ottoman Bridge is the most visited part of Mostar – and for good reason. The panoramic view as you walk across is like a piece of living, breathing history.
Follow that up with a tour of the city’s bustling bazaar market, or a day trip tour to nearby Hum Mountain. Although it is definitely classed as a city, Mostar is quite small. Its main attractions are all within easy walking of the centre, making it an excellent destination for a short city break.
There are several much bigger cities within a hundred miles of Mostar. That means it’s not difficult to get to, despite seeming out of the way. The nearest airport is Sarajevo’s International Airport, which is about an hour drive or train away. Alternatively you could visit from nearby Dubrovnik, just across the border in Croatia. That takes about 3 hours to drive or by train.
Sleep in a Converted Prison in Helsinki
The Finnish capital of Helsinki is a top European city break destination, and why wouldn’t it be? First settled some 3000 years ago, the Finns have since built up a stunning city on the Helsinginniemi, or Cape of Helsinki.
As popular a destination as Helsinki is, we could hardly call this a great idea for a city break if we didn’t spice it up a little. So, why not take advantage of the famous Scandinavian criminal justice system and enjoy your trip from prison?
A prison turned into a hotel, obviously. In 2007 Hotel Katajanokk was converted into its current form from a 19th century jail. It’s now one of the most peaceful hotels in Helsinki. Even with the Icebreakers that occasionally dock up in the city’s port. Which is not far away!
Speaking of, many of Helsinki’s major sights are also close by. Like the imposing Uspenski Cathedral, the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe, and the super-cute and traditional harborside market Kauppatori.
Getting to Helsinki is super easy. As a regional hub city, Helsinki International Airport is busy all year and flights are readily available. From there the city centre is just a very scenic 30-minute train journey away.
Spend a Night in a Legendary Paris Bookshop
Paris, the French capital, is one of the most iconic and visited cities in the world. But there’s so much to this sprawling city, there’s always new things to discover. So, what better way to find something new during your city break than to spend a night in a famous old bookshop?
OK. This might not be for everyone. But, if you apply online and seem passionate about it, you can potentially stay overnight at legendary bookshop Shakespeare and Company. In the heart of the city. For free, and just minutes from Notre Dame!
Less literary (or lucky) types will find an incredible range of accommodation in Paris regardless. From the finest 5-star hotels, to boutique bed and breakfasts or traditional cheap Paris hotels.
Outside of where you choose to stay, the city is as beautiful, crowded and bursting with history as ever. The iconic Eiffel Tower still dominates of course, and those famous Parisian cafes. But there’s also plenty of historic museums and galleries, ranging from the mainstream to the downright bizarre. Shout out the Room of Endangered and Extinct Species!
Getting into central Paris is relatively easy. The city has several major train stations and a Metro, and Charles De Gaulle International Airport is only about 45 minutes from the centre. Plus if you do get bored in the city (unlikely over a short stay but who knows) you can use these transport links to take great day trips out from Paris.
Soak up the Ancient History of Sicily’s Syracuse
Imagine watching local performers stomp around the 5th century amphitheatre of the Teatro Greco in this truly breath-taking Sicilian city. You just might begin to lose yourself in daydreams of the past.
Seriously though – if you’re looking for a historic European city break, they don’t get much older than Syracuse. This place is stacked with fantastic Greek, Roman and Byzantine architecture everywhere you look. It was even the actual birthplace of the famous Archimedes!
Take a spectacular stroll along the promenade trail around the Island of Ortygia, for an afternoon full of views you won’t forget in a hurry! Try taking the route from North to South, ending at Fonte Aretusa or The Fountain of Arethusa.
This is a freshwater spring, just a minute’s walk from the sea. That’s already interesting. But there’s more – Greek myth says that it was formed when the nymph Arethusa burst from the ground after escaping from undersea captivity. Syracuse is full of those kinds of mythical story locations that will hit you right in the feels.
The nearest airport to Syracuse is Catania International Airport. That’s about an hour’s train or drive away. Getting to Syracuse from Sicily’s biggest city, Palermo, can take quite a while so it’s easier to fly the extra distance. You could also catch a train to Syracuse from Rome or other big cities in Italy.
Stay in a Michelin-starred Winery with Themed Rooms in Porto
A classy European city break you say? Well, how about rooms above a Michelin-starred winery and restaurant in Portugal’s gorgeous second city.
Although it is no doubt very expensive, The Yeatman is totally worth splashing out on if you can afford it. Panoramic hilltop views of Porto and the Douro River. The finest of fine dining using fresh local produce. Incredible wine tasting sessions. A free spa. What else could you need?
If you can tear yourself away from that luxury for a while, the rest of Porto awaits. Why not take a walk to the popular Riberia old town area for a few scenic photos in this World Heritage site. Or, hop on the metro and head to a tour Libraria Lello – often called one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops!
As Portugal’s second city, and a much-visited one as well, Porto can get quite busy during peak months. International flights land regularly at Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, or just Porto Airport, which is about 10 to 15 minutes from the city by metro, bus or car.
For a more detailed guide to a quick two day stop in this lovely city, check out our 48 Hours in Porto Itinerary.
Stay in a Good Hotel (Literally) in London’s Royal Victoria Dock
London has always been a good spot for a European city break. Globally iconic landmarks. A massive cultural legacy of music and art, and expansive public parks. Just a few things this city can offer!
Stand out with a great idea for your city break, by staying in the Good Hotel. This luxury floating hotel has been touring all over Europe, and for the first half of 2023 it will be in London’s Victoria Docks.
The hotel is a fair stretch from the historic centre of London. On the other hand, the city has excellent public transport and the area has great views of the imposing Canary Wharf financial district.
More importantly though, it truly is a good hotel. They’re self-sustainable and always employ disadvantaged local people on board. Pukka, as the locals sometimes say.
Outside of the good vibes of your hotel, the sprawling city of London has legendary pub nightlife and historic architecture everywhere you look. Plus, famous shopping districts, museums, galleries and beautiful parks.
Getting to London is easy too. You can fly in to one of three major airports that are only an hour away at max. Or you can take the Eurostar train from France.
Stay on a Canal Boat in Amsterdam
A classic European city break, but that’s because it’s hard to get a lot better. Although certain parts get busy with tourists in the Dutch capital, there are plenty of quiet canals for you to sleep away the night gently rocked by the water. And then wake up to a gorgeous canal view with your morning coffee.
Try visiting in Winter, when a frozen Vondelpark makes for a beautiful early afternoon walk. Amsterdam is absolutely gorgeous at all times of year, but something about wrapping up warm to see your frosted breath as you cross beautiful canal bridges… lovely!
And then afterwards, head for an indulgent hot chocolate in one of the city’s many cosy cafes. And make sure to try some of the famous Dutch pastries or desserts while your there. We recommend a stroopwafel. Bonus local tip: put your wafel over your hot drink while it cools, so it partially melts for even more gooey goodness.
Amsterdam Schiphol airport is about half an hour away from the city centre by train, with services running at most hours.
Sink In Oodles of Culture (and a Few Drinks) in The Hague
If the ever-beautiful but busy streets of central Amsterdam aren’t for you, there’s a quieter alternative not far away. Welcome, to your city break in the street cafes and museums of the Netherland’s Judicial capital.
The Hague is known as the international city of justice and law. Mostly because the International Court of Justice and The International Criminal Court are both based here. The Dutch government bases it’s Supreme Court here too.
But The Hague (aka Den Haag) is far from a stiff, working city. The bars of the Binnenhof area are open til the late hours on the weekends and packed with revellers. Elsewhere the Grote Markt square is filled with an ad hoc arrangement of tables and chairs for it’s many customers throughout the summer.
The Hague is also known for its modern art scene and long art history. The 1641-built Mauritshuis houses an incredible collection of paintings from Dutch masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer. Plus, there’s a whole museum for the works of the enigmatic MC Escher.
The nearest airport to the Hague is Rotterdam-Hague Airport. Which is actually a lot closer to Rotterdam, at about an hour by train from the Hague.
Get on with the Craic and Tour a Castle in Dublin
If a good evening out with music and poetry sounds like part of a proper city break to you, you could do worse than Ireland’s capital city Dublin.
There are nearly 1000 pubs in this special city. Basically all of them will serve two of the world’s most famous alcoholic drinks, Jameson’s whiskey and the stout beer Guinness – which were both invented here. As well as hundreds of other brews!
The Temple Bar area is a famous party hub. Live bands play at pubs almost every night of the week. You’ll see a lot of drinking on weekend nights, although the Irish are legendarily friendly so totally join in if you’re a party person. Or get on with the craic, as the locals say!
Dublin is famous for more than just pubs though. Namely, writing, poetry and its history full of conquests. Check out Dublin Castle, first built in 1204, or the 1200-year-old Book of Kells in the Trinity College Library, for some awe-inspiring history.
Getting to Dublin is easy enough, with its major international airport and good train links. All the main attractions are fairly walkable if you’re staying around the city centre area on your break. Having said that, there are loads of fantastic places to visit on day trips in the wider area too.
Make Your City Break an Artistic Experience in Munich
For an artsy city break holiday, the German city of Munich is a top shout. This multicultural city features some of Europe’s finest palaces and incredible art collections for you to explore.
The Munich Residenz is Europe’s largest inner-city palace with incredible painted ceilings. Meanwhile, Alte Pinakothek Museum is one of the oldest museums in the world, and hosts artworks by Bosch, Rembrandt, Reubens, Botticelli, Da Vinci and many, many more.
To up the artistic cred of your trip even further, try staying at Himmel und Himmel. This hotel/art gallery/communal living space could well be one of the hippest hotels on the continent. Featuring unique local art in each room too.
Munich is a massive city in the heart of Europe. So, it’s extremely well connected by air, train and autobahn roads. Munich airport, the ninth busiest in Europe, is 45 minutes by train or an hour by car to the city centre.
As you can probably see, Europe is an incredibly diverse continent with a huge variety of city break options. From smaller historic cities on calm, ancient islands, to bustling metropolises with imposing architecture and crazy nightlife – there’s options for anyone. Hopefully one of them resonates with you, for your next great city break idea!