Europe. Home to 50 sovereign states, covering over 10 million square metres and 6.8% of the Earth’s land area. It’s diverse, contemporary, historical and beautiful.
It’s also an absolute minefield when it comes to choosing which destination to visit. Luckily, there is a whole host of travel bloggers and experts who agreed to help me create this list of some of the best European places to explore.
I hail from the UK – a wonderful destination in its own right, and also the reason why this post is geared towards European short breaks from the UK. But this list can also be a reference point for those living in other places and looking to find somewhere incredible to visit in Europe.
Don’t forget to check out the blogs and social channels of those who have contributed to this post for even more inspiration! Toggle destinations using the list below.
The medieval walled city of Carcassonne is the perfect trip for a European weekend break. Located in the South of France, in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is proud to be one of the best and largest surviving medieval walled cities in Europe. With 3km of fortified walls and enormous slate turrets that dominate the skyline, Carcassonne looks like something out of a fairytale.
Entrance to the walled city is free but restricted to pedestrians – you wouldn’t want a car to ruin this medieval masterpiece anyway. Visitors can wander across the bridge over what was once a moat and through the imposing gates to the city within.
The city is still thriving today. Medieval-style shops line the narrow streets and squares are bustling with tables and umbrellas from nearby restaurants. Carcassonne has since become a tourism hotspot but surprisingly it does still have inhabitants within its walls – less than 50 households to be exact and you may even spot them here and there.
For a real treat, make sure you give yourself time to explore the fortress walls themselves. You can circle the city along the inner walls, stopping occasionally to admire the watchtowers and peer over the battlements at the stunning views. Entrance to the walls is free but depending on the time of year you go you might want to get there early so you can have the sights to yourselves. Winter through to March is usually quiet but in summer it can get very busy and there will be queues.
If you’re planning a European weekend trip, you can stay in the new town of Carcassonne just a short walk or drive from the walled city for the best prices on hotels. Languedoc-Roussillon is also a wonderful part of France. Vineyards and wine tours are in abundance here, and there are plenty of hikes and small villages to explore.
Our own paradise, only two hours by train (or car) from Paris. So easy to rich to spend a splendid European weekend. And once you are there, there is so much to do! Trouville-sur-Mer, in Normandy, (and its neighbour Deauville) is the first beach where the new French bourgeoisie and the Second Empire aristocracy started to have sea bathing. Trouville has kept his timeless fishing village looks with its narrow streets and its colourful parasols on the beach.
If you are a fin gourmet, have a dinner at the recently renovated 1912 Michel stared restaurant. If you are a player, drop by the casino to play blackjack. If you are an adventurer, rent a bike and pedal all the way to Cabourg or hike along the beach to reach the very cute village of Honfleur.
A short break to the most romantic city in the world is a must for any couple. Paris is easily accessible from London’s St Pancreas Station – just a 2.5-hour leisurely journey on the EuroStar.
Stay in the 1st arrondissement at the lovely boutique hotel, Hotel Louvre Montana. Start your morning with a coffee at local hangout Chez Elie Coffee Shop before spending the day marveling at art from around the world at the Louvre. In the evening you could indulge in a romantic dinner for two at Restaurant de La Cordonnerie.
Or personally my favourite thing to do is pack a picnic and enjoy it on the grassed area between Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre Museum. Watch the world go by from your picnic rug, with the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the background and the sun setting over the city of love. No trip to Paris is complete without a boat ride down the River Seine, some pastries from a local bakery and a few hours shopping along Champs Elysées.
Situated on the sunny South coast of Spain, Málaga is an historic Andalusian city boasting high-end shops, a stunning marina, beaches and museums on every street corner. It’s the perfect balance of quaint comfort with the bustle of city life, making it ideal for a short break. It’s relatively easy to see the city on foot, but Google “Consorcio Málaga” and you’ll find bus timetables.
As you explore, be sure to take in the port, La Plaza de la Constitución and La Plaza de la Merced, and the Roman Theatre. Since he was born in the city, the Picasso museum is a must-see attraction, but for something a little different I’d also recommend the Museum of Glass and Crystal, which is a stunning privately-owned collection of pieces from around the world, with guided visits in multiple languages. For views over the city, check out the Castle of Gibralfaro (but be ready for a steep walk!) which is a gorgeous viewpoint to watch the sun go down.
There is, of course, no end of restaurants, cafes and bars. L’Experiencia, in La Plaza del Obispo, is on the pricier side but has a brilliant atmosphere and lovely staff, and is situated right under the stunning Málaga Cathedral. I have to tell you about El Último Mono coffee bar too, which has a menu of teas, coffees and juices and a generally awesome vibe!
On my second visit, I actually stayed in Rincón de la Victoria, which is a lovely area if you don’t want to stay in the city proper. It’s slightly less geared towards tourists so there aren’t as many hotels, but it’s slightly cheaper and feels more authentic – especially the restaurant La Alegría de la Cala, in Plaza Gloria Fuentes.
I can’t possibly suggest a place to stay, as there are so many, but if you’re happy in a hostel, Residencia Universitaria San José is clean, quiet and comfortable and in a great location. I felt like I had my own Spanish apartment!
Málaga is a super easy place to visit. With just a quick Google search you can generate a list of attractions and everything you need to know about them. As with any city, be aware of yourself and your belongings and check to see whether you need to book ahead, but apart from that, you can fully relax in the chilled ambience of the city.
It wasn’t hard picking a destination for this guide featuring European city breaks from the UK. Despite having visited Seville nearly ten times already, it’s still my favourite city in the world. I first visited this picturesque city in southern Spain’s province of Andalusia 16 years ago. I was in my mid-twenties then – you do the maths – and hadn’t been on many Euro trips yet. Of course, I had been to Amsterdam (my birth town), London (my future home) and Paris, but that was about it.
On that first visit, I felt this special connection that I hadn’t experienced anywhere else. The laid-back vibe and friendly people made me feel at home immediately.
I thought I knew what tapas were beforehand, but nothing beat the food I had there. My go-to spot for tapas is Alameda de Hercules. This huge rectangular square, lined by dozens of bars and restaurants, is my favourite place in Seville.
Besides fantastic – and cheap! – food, there’s also plenty of culture. Recognised as the birthplace of flamenco, Seville is one of the best places to see authentic flamenco. Even the more ‘touristy’ venues offer top-notch performances!
Reflecting the city’s Moorish past, most of the famous landmarks in Seville are built in the so-called Mudéjar-style, a blend of Arabian and Gothic architecture. Iconic Seville Cathedral is a great example of this. Inside this must-visit landmark you’ll find the tomb of Christopher Columbus who set sail for the New World from Seville in 1492.
And conveniently located next to the cathedral, you’ll find another famous Seville attraction: Real Alcázar. I’ve visited the royal palace on almost every trip and still can’t get enough of the intricate decorations and stunning gardens. But also the semi-circular Plaza de España, famous for its colourful mosaics and illustrated tiles, is one of my favourite spots.
Finally, for unique views over the city, I recommend visiting the curious modern wooden structure Metropol Parasol. Visit at sunset for the ultimate experience and enjoy a fresh cerveza at one of the many bars around afterwards.
What’s not to love about Dublin? Irish Stew, Guinness and if you fly with no ones favourite airline, it’ll probably cost you less than a train to London.
Me and my partner came to Dublin for our first long European weekend away and have been coming back year on year ever since. Taking a wander down the cobbled streets of Temple Bar you can find pub after pub with live acoustic music and some of the best homely food you will taste away from your mum’s kitchen.
If that’s not your scene then you could take a stroll around the area around Grafton Street where you can find your new favourite coffee shop, not forgetting to stop by the picturesque Trinity College. Dublin was also home to the famous Easter Rising and you can learn all about the the battle that led to Ireland gaining their independence from Britain from the tour offered at the General Post Office.
Your trip to Dublin wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the world famous St James Brewery factory, home to the famous black stuff. After the tour you’re invited to learn how to pour the perfect pint which you can enjoy from the Observatory Bar, probably while planning your next trip.
While looking for Christmas markets to visit, Tallinn Estonia came to the top of the list. Knowing nothing about the city I decided that since it was only a couple hour flight from the UK, it would be perfect for a long European weekend trip. And it was. The old town of Tallinn is very walkable. A mix of vibrant city and post-Soviet era fixer-upper-in-progress, with just a hint of medieval. Instagrammable buildings are par for the course in Tallinn but prepare for some hills if you want the best views of the city. Narrow, cobbled streets lead to the highest point of the city near the epic looking Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox cathedral.
In this area I also found a cool, almost hidden museum that I recommend you visit. The Museum of Estonian Drinks Culture tells the story of an old Estonian winery affected by the war and Soviet occupation. Speaking of the Soviets, there’s an interesting KGB museum in Tallinn for any history buffs complete with old cells.
The city has a heavy Russian influence while also maintaining its own cultural identity. Tallinn is growing more popular and was busy during December’s amazing Christmas market. But I was still surprised at how varied the food in Tallinn. As a vegetarian visiting Eastern Europe I was a little worried, but there are so many good options. And Tallinn has one of the highest number of vegan restaurants I’ve seen in such a small place. If you’re not quite convinced start with the phenomenal vegan chocolate shop Karu talu šokolaad. Trust me. Tallinn has so much to do, I wish I had more time there. It’s also convenient for extending your trip to other places: 3 hours from Riga, Latvia and only a 2 hour ferry from Helsinki, Finland.
The capital of both Belgium and the European Union, Brussels is a multicultural city that is perfect for a weekend break from the UK. With plenty of cheap flights servicing both Brussels International Airport and nearby Brussels South Charleroi Airport, you can be in the city in just 90 minutes from Manchester, or just over an hour from London.
Once in the city, your first stop has to be the incredible La Grand-Place, one of the most incredible city squares I have ever seen. With buildings dating back to the 15th Century and events taking place throughout the year, we passed through the square several times per day during our weekend in Brussels and there was always something exciting happening. In the narrow and winding streets leading off La Grand-Place, there are plenty of bars and restaurants to try. The 2000 beers at Delirium café can certainly keep you busy, or opt for the 6 flight beer taster at our favourite bar Au Brasseur, just on the corner of La Grand-Place.
Other favourite things to do are to visit the impressive Atomium, constructed for the 1958 World Fair in Brussels, as well as the neighbouring Mini-Europe. You can also take in one of the brewery tours in the city, and if this is something you are interested in I would definitely recommend choosing Cantillon Brewery, the country’s only remaining traditional lambic brewery. Otherwise, just wander through the streets and beautiful neighbourhoods, making sure to try the famous fries, waffles and beer of this impressive city.
Nowhere in Europe has an atmosphere quite like Berlin’s. You can almost feel the cultural energy pulsing through the city. From its rich, often turbulent history, to its modern reputation as a haven for party-goers and just for being sehr cool, Berlin is the perfect place for a city break on the continent.
Every time I’m in Berlin, I always start my trip by heading to the iconic Brandenburg Gate. This is a place of almost unfathomable historical importance. From the rise of Nazism to the fall of the Wall, this patch of land has seen it all, and the Gate itself is probably Berlin’s most iconic landmark.
Once you’ve snapped the obligatory selfie, you’re in a great place to explore more of the highlights of the ‘Mitte’ district. Parliament buildings, world class museums, memorials, shops and food – much of what you’ll find in a “Top 10” guide can be found within walking distance.
However, if you’re wanting a flavour of the real Berlin, then it’s time to hop on the U-Bahn and venture further afield. On a sunny day, Berlin’s many parks come to life with a local buzz. The karaoke and flea markets at Mauerpark are a weekend highlight, whilst Tempelhofer Feld gives you the chance to stretch your legs on an old airfield – complete with runway!
Once evening sets in, treat yourself to a currywurst (Curry 61 is reliably excellent) or Döner Kebab (Mustafa’s is legendary). Either of these two iconic Berlin meals can be sampled on most streets, and will set you up for the night to come. Whether it’s a casual beer in one of Berlin’s many excellent pubs, or venturing out to sample the (in)famous clubs, you won’t be short of things to do to celebrate your Berlin weekend in style!
Florence is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, and is the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region. For those living in Europe, Florence is an ideal location for a city break, but with so much to do here, you could easily spend five days to a week in this gorgeous European city.
I first visited Florence when I was on a three week interrail trip across Europe, and it was also my first time visiting Italy. We travelled to Milan, Venice, Verona, Rome and Florence, and out of all of them, Florence was my favourite. We only got to spend 24 hours in Florence which is nowhere near enough time so I knew I had to go back. I visited again a couple of years later with my nan, and it’s somewhere I know I’ll continue to visit for the rest of my life.
When you visit Florence there are a wealth of things you can do. Starting with one of its most iconic sights, you have to visit the Duomo. Its a grand cathedral with a terracotta-tiled dome, with an accompanying bell tower. As well as going inside the cathedral you can climb up the Duomo to the viewing platform for the most sensational views across the terracotta roof filled city. It is the most amazing view, but getting up here can be tricky if you have any issues climbing stairs for an extended period of time as there is no lift! My top tip for this experience would be to book your tickets online in advance as the ticket queues on the door are hours long in peak season.
Florence is also an artistic hub with the Galleria dell’Accademia displaying Michelangelo’s “David’ sculpture, and the Uffizi Gallery exhibiting famous works of Botticelli and da Vinci. I’d highly recommend visiting both galleries, and getting the audio guide in the Uffizi Gallery to fully understand the works of art on display.
This city has a vibe to it. It’s cool, calm, beautiful, and nothing quite beats sitting on a quiet street sipping on an Aperol spritz or Italian coffee and watching the people go by on scooters and Vespa’s. If you get the chance to experience this feeling, you absolutely have to.
Venice is alive with history and romance and as I wandered through the cobbled streets, I could feel the culture of this floating city beneath my feet. The home to canals, gondolas and of course, gelato I was really impressed with its charm and energy. And the added bonus of being only a 2-hour flight from the UK means that Venice is a great place for a weekend break.
Venice is the only place in the world that is completely pedestrianised meaning that you will make your way around the city on foot or by water. From water taxis and buses to gondolas they all give you a unique experience that you won’t be able to have anywhere else.
I headed to St Mark’s Basilica, to check out the 8000 sq. metres of mosaic that line its interior and then wandered around the square enjoying the centuries old Venetian/Roman architecture. The square containing the Basilica, Bell Tower and Doges Palace is busy at all times but walk 10 minutes away from it and you can actually find yourself in deserted streets – we did, and it was fantastic.
Of course, my visit wouldn’t have been complete without feasting on cicchetti. The traditional food of Venice – similar to tapas – is served in small portions to share with friends and accompanied by the local house wine, for a true taste of Venice. Dishes cost around €1 each so won’t break your budget!
If you have time, make sure to take a trip across to Murano to witness intricate glass making and then on to Burano to enjoy the multi-coloured town and its numerous photo opportunities.
I ended my visit to Venice knowing that one day I would be back, maybe during the springtime when the masked festival is in full swing and I can experience this world-renowned event like a true Venetian.
Budapest is well established as a top option for budget-friendly travel in Europe, for good reason. The airfare and accommodation is cheap, and there’s plenty to see and do once you get there. All in, I spent £700 for two of us for 5 days, and had some left over.
Getting around to all of the different areas of the city is simple and easy. There’s a subway system that is cheap and efficient (1650 HUF for 24hrs (£4 approx.)), although I found it is mostly walkable.
In regards to things to do, I’d say the Children’s Railway is a top option. I was shown around for the day by a local, and they used the railway to take me on a hike to Elizabeth Lookout, which offers some great views of the city. As well as this, there are the Parliament buildings, the Opera House (if you’ve seen Spy, this is where the casino scene was shot), and the Red Ruin bar. I also spent the day at Budapest Zoo which was fun. There’s the spas and clubs, which Budapest is known for. Heroes Square and House of Terror are great if you’re into history, too.
If you’re into your food and drink, there are some truly excellent bars and restaurants here, and most are cheaper than back home. I particularly enjoyed La Pampas and Bellozzo. The best meal I had though? A garlic and cheese langos bought from a little roadside hut. Dirt cheap, super tasty, and something I still dream about 4 years later.
Having visited multiple cities, Budapest easily makes the top 3 for me. It’s fun, cheap, friendly, easily accessible, and welcoming. The food is good, the vibes are positive, and the views are great. If you’re thinking about going, do it. You won’t regret it.
Pro tip: Budapest is a great LGBT city and Alterego is a really fun bar/club for the community.
In 2017 I was lucky enough to go on a trip to Stockholm as part of my university studies evaluating different tourism attractions.
Stockholm is home to the iconic band ABBA, and the ABBA museum has to be at the top of my recommendations list! This interactive experience displays the story of ABBA in a unique way. Memorabilia such as original costumes are on display, but the best part is you get to become the 5th member of the band. Some of my best memories were made during an ABBA singalong in a recording studio, and even virtually joining the band on stage!
Another spot I loved is an iconic area called the Gamla Stan, better known as Stockholm’s Old Town. Home to 18th century buildings, Stockholm’s oldest town square Stortorget displays the recognisable colourful buildings. It’s definitely a good spot for those Instagram snaps.
One attraction that surprised me was Skansen – the open air museum. This attraction combines a showcase of present day celebrations alongside Swedish traditions. What I loved was the added bonus of a zoo featuring Nordic wildlife and exotic animals, which definitely gave the attraction an added wow factor.
Other must see locations to visit are:
- The Vasa museum
- The Royal Palace
- Stockholm canals
- Grona Lund
So be sure to visit Stockholm if you love taking in local culture and partaking in interactive museums.
If you love admiring beautiful architecture, exploring historical buildings, and indulging on local cuisine, then Vienna is the ideal location for you. The city feels like a blend of other popular, cultural cities in Europe all coming together to create a perfect haven to spend a long weekend. It offers stunning architecture you would expect to find in Rome combined with the relaxed vibe of Amsterdam and the elegance of Venice. You can easily explore the best the city has to offer in one long weekend break.
There are plenty of choice for hotels but a more affordable option would be to opt for an AirBnB. We stayed in Patrik and Una Apartment and couldn’t recommend it enough. They were friendly, helpful hosts and the apartment was stylish, clean and just a short tram ride from central square. For just £156, we got the entire apartment for 3 nights, which had all the amenities we could need.
From exploring museums and art galleries, wandering the major shopping areas, and relaxing in the park, we can guarantee you won’t go short of things to see and do. The majority of historical attractions are located the Museum Quarter, Museumsplatz, one of the largest cultural complex’s in the world. You will find renowned museums such as The Leopold Museum and The Natural History Museum. It’s a great spot for a stroll on a summer’s day and you can easily spend a couple of days exploring this area alone. A visit to Hofburg Imperial Palace and The Austrian National Library are not to be missed while in the city and both are within walking distance from Museumsplatz.
Vienna’s Central Square, Stephansplatz, is where you will find plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants surrounding St Stephen’s Cathedral. The square is filled with local tour operators in cultural dress selling tickets to one of the world’s leading opera houses, Vienna State Opera or Wiener Staatsoper. Although it’s a hotspot for tourists, there is a nice mix of locals too. While shopping, why not grab lunch at the Sky Café Bistro. It’s centrally located on the top floor of Vienna’s lifestyle department store, Steffl, which is just a four minute walk from St Stephen’s Cathedral. In the evening, we highly recommend grabbing a bite to eat at Veggiezzrestaurant followed by a cocktail with city views at The Ritz Carlton’s Rooftop Bar, Atmosphere.
And finally, a European short breaks contribution from myself! I tried to choose a country which hadn’t been chosen already, and Croatia seemed like the perfect fit.
We visited Split a few years back and spent a week in the town and exploring the surrounding islands and national parks, but a weekend in Split alone would make the perfect short break.
A large town on the Dalmatian Coast, it is home to the very impressive and beautiful Diocletian’s Palace erected by the Roman emperor in the 4th Century, and hundreds of remains.
During our time in Split, there was a huge food festival on Park Josipa Jurja Strossmayera, so we spent a few evenings there. Split is a beautiful place to simply walk around and explore – there’s a beautiful building on almost every corner.
During one of our days in Split, we also walked to Hajduk Split FC’s stadium and took a really interesting tour – I’d definitely recommend visiting. It’s also home to a massive music festival during the summer, so it’s cool to see how the stadium is used for different events.
A walk up to Marjan Hill will offer you panoramic views of the city. You’ll find an opening to the Marjan Hill stone steps close to the tourist information centre. Head up these, grab a drink in the bar at the top, and admire the view.
To explore all that Europe truly has to offer would take a lifetime, and then some. However, I hope this guide to European breaks from the UK has at least given you some inspiration, or added significantly to your ever-growing bucket list.