With so many travellers heading for the most popular destinations time and time again, many other great cites get missed. Besides, the busy main European capitals and tourist heavy areas don’t always give the most realistic impression of the country’s everyday life. A much more authentic or interesting experience can sometimes be found if you explore just a little further afield. Here (in no particular order) are our collective favourite Top 10 best cities in Europe for travel snobs…
1. Porto, Portugal
Although one of the cheapest cities in western Europe, Porto is nothing like as popular with visitors as Lisbon or of course the Algarve. Once shabby, the hilly river-side city is now most definitely chic; with pastel coloured buildings, a pretty harbour and wide boulevards. Its cut-price culture is also a big draw, with traditional Portuguese cuisine and locally produced beer being amongst the biggest bargains. Make sure you include a trip to the nearby Douro Valley, Portugal’s wine region. As well as being a beautiful world heritage site, it’s one of the few places in the world where grapes are still trodden by foot.
2. Dresden, Germany
Berlin isn’t the only cool city in Germany. The more compact Dresden runs a very close second. Dresden – just like Berlin – is a city whose cheap rents and open-minded culture has attracted artists by the bucket load. The older part of the city features iconic baroque architecture and world class museums and in the newer side you will find colouful avant-garde buildings, a constantly evolving cultural scene and some of the best nightlife in Germany.
3. Salamanca, Spain
This is a lively student city that many tourists seem to pass by. Salamanca although, is undoubtedly beautiful with a medieval charm, a mix of Plateresque and Renaissance styles and one of the grandest squares in Spain. The city was for four centuries the seat of one of the world’s most prestigious universities and now the still thriving student population gives Salamanca a youthful, happy vibe. Choose from one of the many great bars, cafés and restaurants on offer to sample some of the city’s ‘joie de vivre’ for yourself.
4. Verona, Italy
The mythical home of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet makes an ultra-romantic city break all year round. Often thought to be one of the best cities in Europe to visit, Verona is exceptionally beautiful and much more peaceful than Rome. A comfortable blend of the old and new; historical architecture, amphitheaters, and traditional opera sit side by side with contemporary designer boutiques and modernist Michelin-starred eateries. Highlights include ‘Juliet’s house’ which features the sweet – but sadly fake – famous balcony.
5. Marseille, France
Not always thought of as one of the best cities in Europe, Marseille has since ditched its seedy reputation and high-crime rate in favour of a new era of sophistication. In fact France’s second-largest city has done so well in turning around its fortunes that the city is to be named European Capital of Culture in 2013 – seeing off fellow French rivals Bordeaux, Lyon and Toulouse. The city has a lot to offer the visitor, including a Mediterranean climate (perfect for exploring the rocky coastline) a fusion of different cultures, lively street markets and Algerian souk-like bazaars. Also visit the island chateau fortress made famous by the novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”, which is located just off the coast of Marseille.
6. Aarhus, Denmark
Trendy, arty and youthful, Denmark’s second city easily competes with Copenhagen as a great destination for an European city break. The once forgotten about Aarhus is now enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to its thriving cultural and art scene and lively student population. Stand-out areas include the historic Latin Quarter and the busy waterfront Vadestedet where you’ll be spoilt for choice for great bars, restaurants and cafés. Oh and don’t even think about leaving without sampling the live music scene – many top Danish acts originate from here.
7. Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn is not exactly what you’d call an undiscovered secret but the increasingly popular Estonian capital is a real treat. Pretty medieval old town? Check. Winding cobbled streets complete with great shops and bars? Check. Impossibly beautiful and friendly locals? Check. Just make sure you avoid the summer months when you’ll be unable to move for large ‘stag’ groups on the hunt for cheap beer.
8. Utrecht, Netherlands
Amsterdam has its famous coffee shops and legendary nightlife but Utrecht is perfect for those looking for a more subtle taste of Dutch life. The oldest city in the Netherlands, Utrecht has a lot to offer including an attractive medieval quarter, great shops and large number of festival events – the city hosts the country’s annual Jazz and Film Festival amongst many others. Architecture and history fans will also appreciate nearby Kasteel de Haar (one of the most beautiful castles in Europe) and the Rhijnauwen Fort which can be reached via a 145 km long cycling route.
9. Bath, England
Bath enjoys its fair share of visitors – it’s hardly uncharted tourist territory – but its southwest location means it’s not on everyone’s list for a European city break. The small town is known for its Roman Spa past, Georgian buildings and UNESCO heritage site status. Sophisticated but with a faintly bohemian air, Bath is justifiably proud of its beautiful architecture and great range of independent restaurants – many of which have several awards to their name.
10. Warsaw, Poland
While many are seduced by the old world charm of Krakow, Poland’s fast-developing capital is sometimes overlooked. Though devastated by the Second World War, the present-day Warsaw has a distinctly progressive vibe. The immaculately preserved old town offers aesthetic appeal and the Jewish ghetto and Pawiak Prison is an important and poignant visitor site that shouldn’t be missed. Warsaw also does the cultural thing very well and you won’t have to search far for music events, theatre productions or art-house cinemas. For those looking to step up a gear, Warsaw’s nightlife is unrivaled in Poland.