With crisp snowy winters and glorious sunny summers, Europe is always worth a visit. At Flight Centre, we’re here to help you find the hottest city breaks around. The only question is, where’s it going to be?
Winter sun in Madrid
There may be a chill in the air, but the sun shines on Madrid‘s impressive architecture all winter long. And after a long day exploring the fine parks and historic palaces, revive yourself with a deliciously rich and warming hot chocolate from one of the irresistible chocolaterias. Try Chocolateria San Gines, located in a canary yellow passageway close to the San Gines church, which has been serving chocolate con churros since 1894, and is guaranteed to warm cold hands and hearts.
It might be toe-tinglingly cold, but February is the best time to visit Iceland. Not just for dramatic otherworldly snowscapes or hot lobster soup at the unpretentious harbourside seafood shack, Saegreifinn – but for the chance to see the aurora borealis dancing in the night sky. For panoramic views, head northwest on a 30-minute drive towards the Reykjanes Peninsula, where there’s also an Olympic-sized geothermal pool, giving you some much needed warmth while you gaze into space.
Marble streets, Baroque buildings and ancient city walls, cobbled together above the shimmering Adriatic Sea, make this Croatian town look like something from a fantasy – one of the reasons it was used as a location for Game of Thrones. In March the winter snow starts to melt, with sunny mornings and longer evenings, and life embraces a lively local rhythm in the last stretch before the high season rolls around. Dine alongside the townsfolk at Proto restaurant; sea bream, oysters or black-ink risotto are popular choices.
The ‘Venice of the North’ boasts myriad canal-lined streets, pretty bridges and historic houses jutting against each other at impossible angles. To celebrate the start of spring, April begins with the Tulip Festival and ends with the Springsnow Festival, when the city’s elms scatter a blanket of white blossom on the streets. Cycle the Elm Route, ending at the Hortus Botanicus, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world.
Under the watchful eye of the ancient Acropolis, once the cultural centre of the ancient world, Athens is again becoming a vibrant hub of music, art and literature. Soak up some of the artsy atmosphere in the buzzing Gazi district, with its abundance of open-air restaurants, packed cafés and live music. Here you’ll also find the Technopolis, a museum and cultural venue located in an old industrial building. It’s played host to the Technopolis Jazz Festival since 2001, attracting musicians from all over the world.
With year-round sunshine and twinkling blue seas, there’s never a bad time to visit Nice, but the French city comes into its own in summertime. Spend your days ambling around the charming Old Town, people-watching the cyclists, skaters and pedestrians on the Promenade des Anglais, or basking on the beach. Come evening, head to the Cours Saleya – by day a riotously colourful flower market – and revive yourself with pastis or a demi-pche, then feast on fresh grilled fish.
Bisected by the river Danube, with Buda on one side and Pest on the other, this is a gloriously pretty city to explore. An old funicular railway runs up Castle Hill to the Old Town where you can explore the city’s history; there is a plethora of thermal baths to relax in – the most famous of which are the elegant outdoor pools of Szechenyi Baths; summer concerts take place on Margit Island; and ‘ruin pubs’ hide in old cinemas and car parks. In July, the Hungarian Grand Prix races into town (21st-23rd).
Since the first pint of Pilsner was pulled in 1842, the Czechs have been known for some of the world’s best brews. But this quirky capital offers much more than quality beer – a maze of cobbled streets, hidden gardens and cute cafés wait to be explored. During August, lights shimmer on the green surface of the Vltava river, so delightful it inspired one of the most beautiful pieces of music of the 19th century, Smetana’s Moldau. If classical is your thing, you’re in the right place. Take in performances of opera and ballet, or classical concerts, all of which the city is famous for.
Overlooked by the volcano Mount Vesuvius, which once destroyed nearby Pompeii, Naples is a raucous city that likes to live life on the edge. Dating back to 2,000 BC, it’s jam-packed with architecture and art – don’t miss the collections of Graeco-Roman artefacts at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. As any local will tell you, this is also Italy’s culinary capital, and said to be the birthplace of modern pizza, in 1889. In September, Naples plays host to Pizza Village, a festival dedicated to the good stuff.
This is a city of two halves, literally. Walk along the remnants of the Berlin Wall – admiring the graffiti – for a poignant reminder of all that history’s thrown at it. And although you must make time to explore the city’s grand museums and parks, including the former Tempelhof Airport, you can’t say you’ve ‘done’ Berlin until you’ve explored its buzzing cafes, secret bars and gritty galleries. If you have the energy, head to the flea market at Mauerpark on Sunday afternoon.
With a UNESCO World Heritagelisted historic heart, perfectly preserved and intertwined with narrow canals, there’s much to love about enchanting Bruges. Belgium is renowned for its beers and you’d be well within your rights to spend a day at famed Le Trappiste to taste your way through some classic Belgium brews. And then there’s the chocolate. Visit The Chocolate Line, Dominique Persoone’s chic shop on Simon Stevinplein – one of the loveliest medieval squares in Bruges – for some exotic coco concoctions.
Christmas in Lisbon
This is a place where Christmas really sparkles. Garlands of lights bedeck the city, and the scent of roasting chestnuts fills the air. Pick up gifts of lace and browse local crafts at the markets, then visit picturesque Chiado and while away the time in antiquarian bookshops and historic cafés. Climb up to the castle in Alfama, listening out for melancholy fado music, and taste seasonal specialty bolo rei – sweet bread stuffed with nuts and raisins.