Long, lazy beach holidays or restful rural escapes can be relaxing and restorative. But sometimes the hustle and bustle of a short city break can seem a little more appealing – not to mention fitting in more easily with our busy lives.
The beauty of escaping to a city is that there’s something for everyone – and whether you’re interested in history, culture, food, or the arts, you can tailor your trip to your passions. Plus, when it comes to city breaks, you can often find some great last-minute travel deals, which can be ideal for spontaneous sightseers on a budget.
You can create a rigid itinerary to make sure you have time for all the must-visit attractions, or you can wander around leisurely; people-watching and stopping for refreshments whenever you feel like it.
However you like to enjoy a metropolitan break, here are 16 exciting cities from around the world to visit.
1. Paris, France
Known for being one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world, Paris is also the easiest city to travel to if you’re coming from the UK – you don’t even have to board a plane!
From the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre and Notre Dame, the city is packed with remarkable architecture, and the museums are filled with historic masterpieces.
Paris is also famous for its gastronomy, and if you’re a foodie, you’ll enjoy visiting all the patisseries, boulangeries, and fromageries – as well as wandering through the lively food markets. Fashionistas will also be in their element because this city is synonymous with style.
Plus, beyond the grand palaces and elegant boulevards, Paris is grittier than you might think, and its diverse neighbourhoods are fascinating to explore.
2. Barcelona, Spain
If you’d like to spend some time on the sand during your city break, a trip to Barcelona is worth considering.
This captivating seaside city allows you to spend your mornings in museums and galleries, and your afternoons on the beach. With endless culture, unrivalled architecture, and a world-class food and drink scene, there’s truly something for everyone here.
Barcelona is a mishmash of architectural styles – from Gothic façades to modernist buildings – but it’s Antoni Gaudí’s architecture that the city’s most famous for. After visiting sites like the Sagrada Familia, you can check out galleries like the Picasso Museum before wandering through the shadowy alleys of the Gothic Quarter.
Then, in the evening, you can enjoy tapas and paella, washed down with local wine or a cold Estrella Damm, which is brewed here.
3. Lisbon, Portugal
Just like Barcelona, Lisbon is a city that has it all: history, culture, great weather, tasty food, a laid-back ambience, and easy access to the beach.
Known as the ‘city of seven hills’, Lisbon’s spectacular setting means you can admire picture-perfect views of narrow alleys, red roofs, and white-domed cathedrals as they unfold before the glittering blue sea.
During the day, you can stroll through the sun-kissed streets, picking up souvenirs and admiring the tiles, or hop aboard the century-old wooden tram to explore.
Lisbon’s coastal setting means there’s plenty of fresh seafood on offer. And at night, the sleepy streets of Bairro Alto come alive as locals and visitors head to the many busy bars – from upscale wine lounges to low-key dives.
4. Budapest, Hungary
Packed with more baroque, neoclassical, eclectic, and art nouveau buildings than you can ever hope to see in one trip, Hungary’s historic capital is an architectural treasure trove.
Although there’s plenty of natural beauty here too. Take a walk along the iconic River Danube that bisects the city, or head to the leafy hills to find natural hot springs, which are perfect for a soak after a day of exploring.
Budapest is filled with history – from the grand buildings that were built during the city’s ‘golden age’ (the late 19th century) to the remaining bullet and shrapnel holes from WWII. Though, this is also a modern and innovative city with a thriving food scene.
Hungarian food is far more complex than you may think, and Budapest is the place to discover its delights – along with the country’s excellent wines.
5. Rome, Italy
If you’re fascinated by history and culture, there are few cities that rival Rome. The Italian capital’s history stretches back 3,000 years – and as you stroll through these ancient streets, the weight of the city’s compelling past is palpable.
The only problem you’ll have while visiting the Eternal City will be deciding which attractions to visit – there are so many churches, ruins, museums, and galleries that you’ll never have enough time to see them all.
Of course, this is also a city that’s made for people who are passionate about food and drink. You can spend mornings sipping espresso; enjoy Roman-style, thin-crust pizza for lunch; tuck into pasta in a local trattoria for dinner; and finish off with some delicious gelato as you enjoy an evening stroll.
And that’s without even mentioning the wine that Italy is so famous for…
6. Berlin, Germany
At times glamorous, at others gritty, Berlin is a city that’s endlessly fascinating.
Known for being one of Europe’s creative and cultural hubs, the German capital has carved out a reputation for being one of the world’s trendiest cities. Whether you want to visit bohemian bars, cool cafés, stylish shops, or vibrant markets, there are many ways to learn why this city has become such a cultural trendsetter.
History is everywhere here, and delving into Berlin’s turbulent past can help you gain a deeper understanding of why it’s so special. This is a city that’s survived Nazis and bombing, staged a revolution, and been split in half and joined together again.
In spite of Berlin’s reputation as a party city, it has a laid-back charm and a wealth of green spaces, so exploring here is always a joy.
7. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is a city of surprises. In terms of beauty and romance, it rivals Paris, and yet it doesn’t enjoy anywhere close to the same status as the French capital.
It wasn’t long ago that this city emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, and since then visitors have come here in droves – some to marvel at the architecture and art, and others to sip some of the best beer in Europe.
The medieval Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and wandering through the maze of cobbled streets and hidden courtyards is a great way to discover the beauty and history of the city. From the glowing Gothic church altars to the magnificent collection of paintings in the Veletržní Palác, there’s lots to see here for art enthusiasts.
Then, in the evening, you can refuel with warming Czech food and refreshing local lagers.
8. Stockholm, Sweden
If you’re interested in a Scandinavian city break, Stockholm is the obvious choice. Locals call the city ‘beauty on water’, and it won’t take you long to see why.
Located on the coast, Stockholm is spread across 14 islands, and you’re never far from the pretty quayside with its gently bobbing boats. Most of the islands are connected by bridges and the city is compact, so exploring is always a pleasure.
The heart of the city is the old town, Gamla Stan, which is straight out of a fairytale – from the Royal Palace to the narrow cobblestone streets. Then, aside from boasting one of Europe’s best-kept historic centres, Stockholm also has world-class museums and galleries where you can learn all about the country’s Viking history.
And we can’t forget the food, which is fresh, seasonal, and totally delicious!
9. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik is one of those cities that never fails to awe. Located at the foot of a rugged mountain and in front of the azure Adriatic Sea, this city boasts sleek limestone streets, beautiful baroque buildings, and mighty medieval fortifications.
The city walls hint at Dubrovnik’s past, first as the capital of the maritime Republic of Ragusa, then as the home of one of the world’s largest merchant naval fleets. The old town has also been entirely pedestrianised, so you can explore the grand palazzi and elaborate Baroque churches at your own pace.
If you fancy leaving the city limits, you can take the cable car up to Mount Srđ to enjoy beautiful views. Alternatively, hop on a boat to visit some of the stunning, semi-wild islands nearby, like Koločep, Lopud, and Šipan, where you can relax on pristine beaches.
10. New York City, USA
If you have a bit more time to spare and don’t mind a longer flight, you might like to consider a New York City break.
One of the world’s most iconic cities, NYC has a bit of everything – from soaring skyscrapers to unrivalled arts and more food options than you can imagine! Whether you’ve always wanted to visit the Empire State Building or ride in a yellow cab, the Big Apple has something for everyone.
Due to its compact size and bustling streets, Manhattan is perfect for wandering. You can stroll past bright Buddhist temples and tuck into dim sum in Chinatown, relax in cute coffee shops in Nolita, and sample culinary delights in historic Jewish delis.
Or, if that’s not enough, you can shop til you drop, browse museums and galleries, and watch world-class shows. And we haven’t even mentioned Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, or Staten Island!
11. Reykjavik, Iceland
If you want to enjoy lots of outdoor adventure during your city break, Reykjavik is an excellent choice. The world’s most northerly capital merges old Viking history with a cosmopolitan, creative culture.
The buildings here are colourful, the art and music are vibrant, and the growing food scene is truly unique. This is a small city that packs a seriously big punch.
No matter where you are in Reykjavik, the sea and mountains are always visible, and the city is surrounded by some of the most dramatic scenery in the world. From snow-capped peaks to bubbling geysers, and rumbling volcanoes to the mesmerising Northern Lights, adventure abounds.
Iceland has also been ranked the safest country in the world in the Global Peace Index every year since the report started, and was rated the third happiest country in the world this year. So, you can relax and enjoy their high standard of living while you’re here.
12. Vienna, Austria
Vienna is the type of city that you’ll fall deeper in love with the longer you stay. Known for its extraordinary music scene, coffee-house culture, and magnificent architecture, its laid-back ambience belies its refined reputation.
Vienna’s imperial grandeur will impress architecture fans – from the vast Hofburg Palace complex to the Schloss Belvedere. The museums are excellent too, especially the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the innovative MuseumsQuartier.
The Viennese are also known for loving the finer things in life, and food is no exception. You can enjoy decadent cakes in fancy restaurants or stop for a schnitzel in a cosy café.
13. Marrakech, Morocco
For something a little more exotic, head to Marrakech, where the sights, sounds, and smells will pleasantly overwhelm your senses. This enchanting city has attracted artists and celebrities for decades, and its maze-like streets and beautiful buildings are just as alluring today.
Steeped in artistry, you can’t turn a corner without wanting to take a photo of the intricately painted ceilings and vibrant tilework. There’s enough dazzling design here that you could likely spend your whole break admiring it without getting bored – but of course, there’s lots more to do.
The cobblestone lanes of the ancient medina are full of trinkets and treasures – from colourful carpets to intricate lamps and fragrant spices. And in the vast Djemaa El Fna, you can tuck into tagines or barbecued meat while being entertained by dancers and musicians.
14. Amsterdam, Holland
Small enough to explore on foot, Amsterdam is beautiful, charming, artistic, and exciting. Combining its glittering past with its present-day edginess, this is a city that’s pervaded with creativity and culture.
From exceptional art, architecture, and design to world-famous nightlife, Amsterdam is many things – but it’s never boring. Exploring this canal-crossed city is always a treat.
You can be admiring gabled buildings, elegant bridges, and gardens filled with rainbow-hued tulips one minute, and in the next moment find yourself in a gritty neighbourhood packed with craft breweries. Amsterdam also boasts some of the world’s best museums, including the world’s largest Van Gogh collection.
The Red Light district needs no explanation, but for a more laid-back evening, head to a bruin café for a drink.
15. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Combining ancient traditions with futuristic innovations, Dubai is like nowhere else. It’s a city where cultures clash, islands are shaped like palm trees, and luxury is par for the course. Dubai’s food, fashion, and culture are also extraordinarily diverse – it’s a melting pot in the middle of the desert.
Known for its rampant consumerism, there are more fancy hotels, fine restaurants, and shopping malls than you can imagine, but the higgledy-piggledy maze of the old city centre shows you another side to this city. The juxtaposition of traditional Arabian houses with soaring skyscrapers is part of what makes Dubai so unique.
If you’re looking for sun, sea, and sand, you’ll definitely find that here. Due to Dubai’s desert location, there are endless expanses of sand to explore. So if you’re looking for adventure, you’ll find that too. Just hop on an ATV and go zooming across the dunes, join a desert safari, or give sand-skiing a go.
16. Istanbul, Turkey
If you’re hoping to experience the best of both Europe and Asia, head to Istanbul; the magical place where the East meets the West.
Istanbul’s history is fascinating. Once ruled by the Greeks, Romans, and Venetians, it was the Ottomans and Byzantines that really shaped the city. The ornate mosques, frescoed churches, and mosaic palaces seen today are a testament to that rich past.
Aside from its history and gorgeous setting, Istanbul has an atmosphere like no other city. The locals are warm and welcoming, and their way of life merges tradition with modernity.
During the day, you can treat yourself to a Turkish bath before relaxing in a coffeehouse, then tuck into the city’s unique food; enjoy a tasty meze, succulent kebabs, and fresh seafood. Then wash it all down with a raki.
We hope that you enjoyed this list of city breaks from around the world – though these destinations are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to travel!
If you’re fascinated with history, you might want to head to Rome or Budapest, or if you’re into the arts, Vienna or Amsterdam might be more up your street. Foodies will be in their element in Paris and New York, while architecture fans will love exploring Barcelona and Prague.
For something more exotic, Istanbul and Marrakech are only a short flight away, and if you’d like to enjoy time outdoors, Rekyjavic and Dubrovnik give you plenty of options.
Wherever you decide to go, the beauty of a city break is that you don’t need to make firm plans or draw up fixed itineraries if you don’t want to. Instead, you can go with the flow.
Whether you want to spend your time visiting museums and galleries, eating as much local cuisine as you can, or simply strolling the streets watching life go by, there’s a city break for everyone.
If you like the sound of a city break but would rather stay closer to home, check out our article; 16 of the best UK city breaks.
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Are you tempted by any of these trips? Or do you have your own ideas for where to go for the best city break? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.