Alternative European City Breaks

By on October 1, 2014

By Anna Campbell –

Those thinking of taking a long weekend away in Europe are likely to toy with the idea of visiting a well-known destination popularised by the thousands of other tourists doing the exact same thing.

Although traditional European city breaks destinations such as Paris have proven to be popular they may not offer the relaxing retreat that was hoped for. After all, isn’t the point of a holiday to escape the endless queuing and overpriced drinks that we have in UK cities?

natural sunscreen with zinc oxide

To help travellers dodge the crowds and take advantage of an authentic holiday experience, we have compiled a guide of alternatives to the top five cities usually favoured by tourists.

Plump for Avignon over Paris

Pairs is known as the city of love but is also that of congestion thanks to the hordes of tourists that it attracts looking for a romantic short city break. However this means that prices are pushed up and patience is driven down as visitors face fighting for a place in a queue for each landmark.

An alternative place to Paris is Avignon – this town in the south-east of France was once inhabited by the Pope and is still home to one of the oldest Gothic buildings in Europe, the Palais des Papes. (Feature Image: Artur Staszewski)

Aside from grand medieval architecture, visitors can marvel at artwork by Picasso and Van Gogh in the Angladon Museum and try their hand at wine tasting at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This small village is renowned as one of the best wine-producing areas within Cotes-du-Rhône, and the Avignon Wine Tour takes visitors to several different wineries across the area where tastings take place against a backdrop of rolling hills and classical music.

Opt for Utrecht, not Amsterdam

Amsterdam is renowned as a destination for those looking to revel in the red light district and partake in the local “coffee shop” culture. For those looking for a Dutch experience that is a little less obvious, Utrecht could be an ideal alternative.

Utrecht is found in the heart of the country and canals carve their way throughout the city with its car-free centre, offering visitors the chance to discover an authentic slice of Dutch life.

picture of haring

Image: Bryce Edwards

The city is perfect for those looking to try traditional cuisine as café’s sell local delicacies such as “haring” – raw herring with onions and pickles. Utrecht is also home to countless cultural treats such as museums and galleries as well as breath-taking botanical gardens, all of which visitors can buy tickets for in advance at a cheaper rate. Fitter tourists can also climb the 465 steps up the Dom Tower, the highest church tower in the country and the original centre of the city.

Bored with Berlin? Try Munich

Berlin is home to some incredible landmarks and is a location that many ache to experience, however unfortunately this means that the city can become overpopulated with tourists.

For those looking for something a little different but as equally interesting as Berlin, Munich is a vibrant alternative. German tradition and new technology meet in the city, making the Bavarian capital ideal for those looking to absorb authentic culture or modern art.

Arguably the biggest attraction in Munich is Oktoberfest; the world’s largest funfair. Although Oktoberfest is primarily a beer festival it also celebrates traditional culture – visitors can expect to see lederhosen-clad revellers relishing local food and dancing to Bavarian bands. Oktoberfest lasts for 16 days from the end of September to the first weekend in October.

men drinking beer

Image: 46137

There are more serene attractions in Munich too, as it is home to one of world’s largest urban parks. The Englischer Garten (which translates as English Garden) is even bigger than Central Park in New York City, it sports lush greens and also a 7,000-seater beer garden, one of the biggest in the entire city.

Although Munich is home to the most expensive retail space in Germany (found on Kaufingerstraße), it doesn’t have to cost visitors an arm and a leg to get there.

Book Bilbao instead of Barcelona

Barcelona has long been a hot spot for those looking for those looking for a trip that combines the Spanish sun with vibrant culture. Instead of joining the masses in a mass exodus to the same old city, tourists could instead look at booking flights to Bilbao.

Bilbao was once an unassuming industrial area but thanks to the innovation and drive of Mayor Iñaki Azkuna, this coastal city has now been transformed into a hub for the arts and culture.

This turnaround is thought to be greatly due to the Guggenheim museum – since its construction in 1997, the museum is thought to have contributed £2 billion to the Basque province’s GDP. The museum hosts a permanent collection as well as changing exhibitions to attract visitors with different tastes. 2014’s star exhibition is a Yoko Ono retrospective.

Guggenheim museum

Image: Lauren Manning

However Bilbao isn’t solely for culture vultures. As the city is within the picturesque Basque region, there is plenty of stunning coastline and countryside to explore outside of the city. About 40 minutes away from Bilbao is the famous Rioja wine region throughout which visitors can take walking tours and enjoy wine tasting sessions.

Trade Rome for Turin

Rome has always been a popular tourist destination and the election of Pope Francis in 2013 increased the already inflated tourism figures by almost 20%, meaning that queue lengths and prices are also being driven up. For a more authentic Italian experience without being overcharged, head to Turin instead.

Turin is a haven for history buffs as the original capital of modern-day Italy and home to one of the world’s greatest mysteries, the purported shroud of Jesus Christ. Artistic influences from Paris and Vienna are visible in the classic architecture lining the city’s boulevards.

Porta Palatina

Image: Jedibfa

The city is fantastic for foodies. Those looking for an authentic taste of Italy can frequent the daily morning market at Porta Palatina (the ancient city gate) to indulge in the local cheeses, meats and truffles on offer. Turin is also responsible for introducing saleable hard chocolate to the world and the city celebrates their chocolate prowess each year with the Cioccolatò festival, which usually takes place from the end of November into the beginning of December.

Turin was the birthplace for some of the world’s greatest high-performance car manufacturers, including Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo. Petrol-head holidaymakers can see an impressive range of past models at the Museo dell’Automobile – entry is €8 per full-paying adult.


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Alternative European City Breaks