The city break; often the ideal, low-cost alternative to a full blown summer holiday is great for experiencing new cultures, cuisines and customs. But all too often we’re treading the same paths of the big names and the obvious capital cities; meaning we’re missing out on some of the lesser-known urban jewels of Europe.
To remedy this, we’ve got some great suggestions for your next, here are some of our best unusual city breaks:
1. Bologna, Italy
Forget the tourist-soaked streets of Milan and Rome, head over to Bologna this summer and wander through the winding streets filled with medieval architecture and trendy boutiques. Here you’ll find some of the best and most authentic Italian food you’ll ever taste, all served to you by the wonderfully friendly local Bolognese people.
Plus, if you’re on a budget from 4pm you can go out for ‘Aperitivo’ at practically any bar in the city. During this time you’ll be served a whole range of tasty, light bites for free – as long as you buy a drink.
Tip: Don’t go looking for ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’ – in Bologna it’s called Ragu and is traditionally served with tagliatelle pasta, not spaghetti.
Best time to go: Spring or Autumn when the weather is warm but not too hot.
2. Riga, Latvia
The true beauty of the Baltics, Riga offers the perfect alternative city break come rain or shine. Packed with centuries old Gothic churches, medieval buildings and Art Nouveau everywhere you turn, there’s plenty of sights to see and history to explore.
If museums and churches aren’t really your bag, Riga is full of incredible bars and restaurants, where you can grab a local beer for the equivalent of around £2 and a full roast dinner for £6. As if that wasn’t enough to get you buying your plane tickets, there are beautiful Baltic beaches with ice blue waters only a short bus ride from the city centre.
Tip: For a truly unique dining experience, head to Rozengrals medieval restaurant. Housed in a wine vault built back in the 11th century, this restaurant serves food prepared according to real medieval recipes using authentic techniques.
3. Leipzig, Germany
Berlin may still be the most popular German city break, but if you venture 100 miles southwest you’ll find the all-too-often overlooked city of Leipzig. This creative city, with its history steeped in the mills of industry, offers a rich, cultural and arty experience.
Leipzig Central Station is worth a visit all on its own and then there’s the Spinnerei Galerien; once an old cotton mill, it’s now a gigantic, contemporary art space and studio complex with lots to see. Plus, the city is filled with a fantastic selection of pubs, bars, restaurants and a nightlife scene with all the vibrancy of Berlin’s but with a much cheaper price tag.
Tip: If you’re heading over in October keep any eye out for DOK, one of the world’s oldest documentary film festivals held in Leipzig every year.
Best time to go: May – October, when the weather is at its best. Winters here get mighty cold.
4. Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Amsterdam may have stolen all the glory when it comes to the Netherlands, but if you give Rotterdam a go you’ll find an equally stunning city packed with iconic architecture and unmissable events.
Delve into the contemporary arts scene at the city’s exhibition spaces such as Tent and Showroom Mama or explore the city’s unique architectural attractions, including the New Market Hall (Markthal) and the Cube Houses (these need to be seen to be believed). Or, if you’re just looking for a good night out there’s a great underground nightclub scene and a selection of bars, restaurants and cuisines to rival Amsterdam’s.
Tip: Check out the North Sea Jazz Festival if you’re visiting in summer – it’s one of the highlights of the city’s cultural calendar and always promises a star-studded line-up.
Best time to go: Spring and summer provide the best weather in Rotterdam, leaving you free to really appreciate everything about this wonderful city.
5. Gothenburg, Sweden
Another fantastic city in the shadow of the country’s capital, Gothenburg is far too lively and exciting to be ignored any longer. Wandering up and down the quaint cobbled streets of Haga and bobbing in and out of the indie cafes and boutique shops will keep you occupied for hours. And in the evenings you can sample the delicious selection of cuisines at the city’s many restaurants (seafood is a delicacy here) and visit its many vibrant drinking spots.
If you’re a beer lover you can head to Ölhallen 7:an, the ever popular Swedish beer hall or if you’re a really big kid you can spend the entire day at Liseberg; Scandinavia’s largest amusement park.
Tip: You can enjoy Gothenburg just as much from the water; take a guided kayak tour along the city’s moat and canals and take in the beauty from every angle.
Best time to go: Summer is by far the best time to visit Sweden as it stays nice and light until 10pm every night.
Wherever you decide to go on your next city break this year, unusual or not, remember you can raise a donation for your cause when you book travel through easyfundraising.