10 European city breaks you deserve to take this winter

Posted by
Abi Jackson
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While of course we all dream of making like the A-list and jetting off to Barbados for January, for most of us, budget and time restrictions just don’t allow it.

A European city break could well be within our grasp though - just a weekend, perhaps, and without the long-haul-flight price tag. Okay, you might not get a tan but you’ll feel far more cultured than Simon Cowell on a jet ski, says Katharine Busby:

1. Berlin

Arty and cool, Berlin quickly draws you in and you can’t help but feel a bit of its hipness is bound to rub off on you (well, you hope). There are endless great clothing shops and many fantastic vintage stores - Garments Vintage is as chic as any designer boutique; none of the second-hand musky smell here - as well as plenty of galleries to spend an afternoon in.

Stay here: Ideally located for a short break (it’s near everything you’re likely to want), the uber-hip Michelberger has the best hotel website we’ve ever seen. 

Drink here: Sip on cocktails at the unpretentious Melody Nelson bar, away from the tourist masses. 

Eat here: Lokal is a small, vibrant restaurant serving modern German food.  

Try this: The Berliner Unterwelten (the society for exploration and documentation of subterranean architecture, obviously) offers tours you won’t find anywhere else in the city - because they’re underground. Perfect for rainy days, you can even take a tour of a bomb shelter.

2. Amsterdam

The Dutch capital has so much more to offer than its stoner cafes, so don’t be put off by clichéd associations. There are numerous galleries, as well as the fantastic canals, and unusual attractions including a cheese museum. Mmm, cheese.

Stay here: Canal House is a chic affair, and close to the fashionable Nine Streets for fabulous shopping and eating.

Drink here: Hiding In Plain Sight – bookings are required at this friendly cocktail bar but it’s worth making the effort for.

Eat here: Serving delicacies such as Asian oysters with wasabi, and offering a taste of a vast selection of Dutch sausages, industrial-designed Envy is one to head for after a long day (of cheese).

Try this: Get there before January 17 and you can’t fail to be enchanted by the Festival Of Light, an exhibition of illuminated installations using the canal water’s reflections to create a truly beautiful experience.

3. Barcelona

Packed with museums, art, phenomenal architecture and great food, Barcelona is always a popular choice - it gets hectic in summer when the beach holds an appeal too. Go in winter, and you’ll have the same delicious food and great atmosphere; just don’t bother packing your sun cream.

Stay here: The Five Rooms (it has 12 rooms, in case you’re wondering) is a boutique hotel right in the city centre, with a fresh style and a home-from-home feel. 

Drink here: If you like your cocktails classic, Negroni Cocktail Bar is for you. Like everything in Spain, it’s up late (3am on Fridays and Saturdays) so take it slowly with the drinks. 

Eat here: If you’re in Barcelona, it would be rude to not have tapas. The bustling Quimet & Quimet is often so popular you’ll find yourself eating at the bar, like the locals do. 

Try this: Make your way to the Joan Miro museum and look on in awe at the Spanish artist’s incredible works.

4. Paris

The French capital has seen a dip in visitors since last month's atrocities but that doesn’t stop it being one of the most brilliant, endlessly pretty cities in the world and it will always be a great bet for a weekend break. Don’t forget to stay up late and see the Eiffel Tower twinkle at midnight.

Stay here: Hotel Bourg Tibourg is located in the heart of the very fashionable Marais area, full of bars, cafes and quirky little shops.

Drink here: It may have a funny name, but Sherry Butt bar has enough amazing drinks on offer that you’ll find anything hilarious by the end of the evening anyway.

Eat here: Just because you’re in Paris doesn’t mean you have to eat steak-frites. Dersou offers delicious pan-Asian food and cocktail-matches (yes, cocktail, not wine) each course. 

Try this: Burn off the croissant calories by walking the 4.5km Promenade Plantee – taking you from Place de la Bastille to Bois de Vincennes, on a viaduct and over footbridges. 

5. Copenhagen

The centre of the Danish capital is all cutesy harbour views and olde-worlde cobbled streets, teamed with some sleek modern architecture. It’s a relatively small city so it’s ideal for a short break and is best explored by foot or bike.

Stay here: Bertrams Guldsmeden hotel isn’t showy or flash, but welcoming and homely sometimes has more appeal.

Drink here: Open until 2am every night, the popular Lidkoeb bar offers a wide selection of cocktails, as well as having an entire floor dedicated to whisky drinking.

Eat here: Pony’s cosy setting and short but carefully compiled menu keep bringing back those in the know.

Try this: Get your cultural fix by seeing a performance at the formidable Copenhagen Opera House. Tickets can be pricey but there are usually standing tickets from around £10 if you’re on a tight budget. 

6. Hamburg

Hamburg might not have the same high profile as other European cities but, being a major port, it has a striking appearance and is full of unexpected treasures, including a plethora of contemporary art galleries (try the Vera Munro gallery for a serene morning).

Stay here: The contemporary East hotel is full of glamour and boasts its own restaurant and bar.

Drink here: Kleins Phi opened just this summer to the cheers of Hamburg hipsters (do hipsters cheer?). 

Eat here: Exposed brick and industrial-look fittings are the order of the day at the buzzing Bullerei restaurant.

Try this: An exhibition in the dark, led by blind people, and teaching us a little about life without sight? It may sound a bit unusual but the highly successful Dialog Im Dunkeln keeps drawing visitors. 

7. Venice

Eerie and stunning, Venice is glorious in winter, when the nights draw in and the lights on the canals give the city a haunting glow. There are so many incredible artworks - most notably by some of the most famous Renaissance painters in history - all over the city that you may need more than just a couple of days to really explore. 

Stay here: In a beautiful 14th-century building but with Art Deco stylings the Ca’ Pisani hotel has just 29 rooms and its own wine bar.

Drink here: It’s not a hidden corner no one’s heard of but if it’s views you’re after the Skyline Bar is really the only choice.

Eat here: The menu at La Zucca is perfect for well-executed comfort food on cold Venetian evenings.

Try this: Plan a trip between January 23rd and  9th February and you can book tickets for the fabulously spooky and beautifully costumed Venice Carnevale. Tickets can be expensive but there’s plenty to enjoy in the streets too.

8. Bath

Fancy getting away but without a flight? Bath shows off its beauty at all times of year, but the Abbey and surrounding buildings look particularly stunning lit up on a winter’s evening. If crowds aren’t your thing stick to visiting in January/February – the Christmas markets mean the streets are heaving in December. 

Stay here: Spend what you saved in flights and stay at the recently opened Gainsborough Bath Spa (their website is still under construction, but you can get the idea from TripAdvisor), which houses Britain’s only private hot-spring-fed spa.

Drink here: If you’re staying in Britain, it’s only right you drink in a pub, isn’t it? The Salamander is friendly and central.

Eat here: Like many city centres in the UK, Bath is overrun with big chain restaurants. But the cavernous and independent YakYeti Yak is always packed, serving delicious Nepalese food. 

Try this: Of course the city centre Thermae Spa is Bath’s big draw but if you fancy something a little different head for the culture and gorgeous gardens (even on a cold day) of the American Museum.

9. Budapest

It may be super-chilly, but with spires and domes and a castle on its riverbank, Budapest can’t help but show off its beauty. While a river trip down the icy Danube might be off the to-do list in winter, there are plenty of indoor attractions to keep you entertained.

It may be super-chilly, but with spires and domes and a castle on its riverbank, Budapest can’t help but show off its beauty. While a river trip down the icy Danube might be off the to-do list in winter, there are plenty of indoor attractions to keep you entertained.

Stay here: The 10-room Brody House is all bohemian styling and on-trend touches. It even has its own members’ bar. Fancy! (Access to the club’s evenings is included in your room rate.) 

Drink here: Rather than a cold cocktail, in the middle of a Hungarian winter, mulled wine is a much better choice. Cosy up at Café Alibi and warm up with their rich red interpretation of the classic drink. 

Eat here: Borbirosag has a relaxed, chic style and a menu full of well-priced warming dishes, as well as an extensive wine list. 

Try this: Just from its façade, the House Of Hungarian Art Nouveau is intriguing and appealing. Once inside, it’s a treasure trove of Hungarian artefacts, including furniture, paintings and ceramics.

10. Innsbruck 

Innsbruck, twice the host city of the Winter Olympics, is the kind of wintery city you draw as a child, with beautiful buildings capped with snow, and the backdrop of truly impressive mountain scenery. Famous for the skiing, it’s also a charming city to spend a winter weekend. 

Stay here: The elegant Penz Hotel boasts a sophisticated vibe and a rooftop bar with incredible views.

Drink here: More fabulous views from the modern and sleek Bar 360. Believe us, there are plenty of views worth enjoying in this city.

Eat here: It’s cold, it’s snowy, you’ve spent the day in chunky jumpers and two pairs of gloves. Fancy a salad? Of course not. Burgers in cool surroundings are the order of the day at Ludwig.

Try this: If you manage to sort a trip during December then a visit to the traditional Christmas market is essential. At any other time, take in some serious opulence on a tour of the Hofburg Palace.


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Abi Jackson

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