9 of the coolest city breaks that you won’t have considered before

Updated 28 January 2022 | by Sophie Spiers
9 of the coolest city breaks that you won’t have considered before

So you've done the usual city breaks; Rome, Paris, and Amsterdam ticked off the list, Lisbon was last year, and Reykjavik the year before. Budapest was great and everyone knows someone who has spent a weekend in Prague.

So here are the destinations if you want an unusual city break in Europe.

1. Sanremo

A coastal resort in northwest Italy.

What to see: the harbour, busy with superyachts; the pretty Russian Orthodox church; the nearby former “ghost town” and now artists’ colony of Bussana Vecchia; the grandiose villas, once home to royalty and aristocracy; the Moorish-style Villa Nobel from where the Nobel prize originated; the incredible gardens of the Villa Ormond; the labyrinthine alleys and little squares of La Pigna old town.

What to do: shop for upmarket jewellery and clothing; play golf; go on a boat trip; gamble the evening away in the famous art nouveau casino; look at Roman artefacts in the city museum; eat fantastic fresh seafood looking out over the Mediterranean, or enjoy pizza in a cobbled old town plaza.

Sanremo, Italy

2. Ljubljana

The capital of Slovenia and last year’s Green Capital of Europe.

What to see: the Ljubljanica River – keep your eyes peeled for otters – and the art nouveau Dragon Bridge, the Triple Bridge and the Butchers’ Bridge; the Cathedral with its Baroque interior; the pink Franciscan church; Ljubljana Castle; the Baroque- and Habsburg-influenced architecture throughout the city.

What to do: eat žlikrofi (a dish similar to ravioli) in one of the many riverside cafes; hike through the expansive Tivoli Park; learn about the country’s history in the National Museum of Slovenia; take a tour around the alleyways of the car-free old town, admiring its unique architecture and many monuments; try Slovenian specialities at the open-air food market on Fridays in the spring and summer.

Ljubliana, Slovenia

3. Bristol

A vibrant city in the southwest of England.

What to see: Clifton Suspension Bridge, spanning the Avon Gorge; Millenium Square and the harbourside; Bristol Zoo Gardens; Cabot Tower, in the stunning parkland of Brandon Hill; the views from The Downs.

What to do: go on a Banksy Street Art tour; go below deck on the historic SS Great Britain; take a ferry boat or Avon River cruise to see the sights from the water; view the city from the sky with a hot-air balloon ride; drink half a pint of Exhibition cider at the famous Coronation Tap.

Bristol, a vibrant city in the southwest of England

4. Jyväskylä

The largest city on the Finnish Lakeland.

What to see: any (or all) of the 53 beaches or 328 lakes within the city; the UNESCO world heritage sites of Petäjävesi Old Church and Oravivuori triangulation tower; the views from the Vesilinna observation tower; Kuokkala bridge, beautifully illuminated at night-time.

What to do: play volleyball, swim or sunbathe at Tuomiojärvi Public Beach; visit the museum of the world-famous architect Alvar Aalto; go shopping in the car-free city centre; spend a summer evening on a sauna raft; take a cruise across one of the many lakes; in winter, go ice-skating or join a snowmobile safari.

Jyväskylä, the largest city on the Finnish Lakeland.

5. Moscow

The capital city of Russia.

What to see: the imposing Red Square; the Kremlin; Saint Basil’s Cathedral; the views from the gates of Gorky Park; the Bolshoi Theatre, Lenin’s Mausoleum.

What to do: indulge in a banya (sauna) at the Rzhevskie baths; take a sightseeing tour of some of the 600 iconic churches and cathedrals; take in a show at one of the four opera houses; immerse yourself in the largest collection of Russian fine art at the Tretyakov Gallery.

Moscow, the capital city of Russia

6. Kiev

The capital city of Ukraine.

What to see: the 11th-century Pechersk Lavra monastery; the necropolis and museum in Saint Sophia’s Cathedral; the Golden Gate; the Hydropark; a plethora of ornate religious buildings; the impressive Motherland Statue.

What to do: visit the curious and captivating Museum of Microminiatures; join a walking tour of Kiev’s mural art; sample caviar, wild boar and vodka at the esteemed central food market Besarabsky Rynok; marvel at modern art at the Pinchuk Art Centre; take a boat tour on the River Dnieper.

Kiev, Ukraine

7. Brasov

A city in the Transylvania region of Romania.

What to see: the city’s medieval walls; the large, gothic Black Church; the Old Town Hall Square with its ornate Baroque constructions; the incredibly narrow Rope Street; the lofty Southern Carpathian Mountains overlooking the city.

What to do: take a historical walking tour through the city’s medieval district; hike (or take the cable car) up Mount Tampa; admire the work of Romanian artists at the Art Museum; visit Dracula’s castle in nearby Bran; walk around the city’s fortifications to see the ancient bastions.

Brasov, a city in the Transylvania region of Romania.

8. Corinth

A city on the Greek Peloponnese.

What to see: ancient ruins; the 90-metre cliffs of the Corinth canal; the fortified hilltop at Acrocorinth; pretty fishing boats in the port; the statue of Pegasus surrounded by fountains.

What to do: bungee jump off the edge of the canal cliffs; visit Ancient Corinth to see ruins of temples, a forum, baths, and a basilica as well as the Temple of Apollo; see ancient artefacts in the Archaeological Museum; stroll along or sunbathe at the extensive Kalamia beach, and enjoy fresh seafood in one of the many tavernas here.

Corinth, a city on the Greek Peloponnese

9. Zaragoza

City in the Aragon region of Spain.

What to see: the Baroque Nuestra Señora del Pilar Basilica; an 11th-century Moorish palace the Aljafería; the central square Plaza del Pilar; sunset on the River Ebro.

What to do: go inside the La Seo Cathedral, the interior of which is vastly superior to the exterior; take a walk in Parque Grande and discover fountains, terraces and botanic gardens; visit the Goya Museum; marvel at the fish in the largest river aquarium in Europe.

Zaragoza, city in the Aragon region of Spain.

Want to find some accommodation for your next unique or alternative city break? Start looking now!