Are you searching for the perfect destination for a Europe city break? With so many great choices available, it can be challenging to decide. Today, we want to explore the best-rated cities and share what makes them unique.
15 Top-Rated Europe City Breaks To Take In 2024
According to a study from Statista, some of the top-rated cities, like Madrid and Vienna, made this list, but so did a few other surprising places. Get ready to explore European cities, from the bustling streets of Istanbul to the charming historic sites of Florence and the ancient ruins of Rome.
1. Istanbul, Turkey: The City of Two Continents
Cosmopolitan Istanbul uniquely sits between Europe and Asia, offering a mix of both worlds. For centuries, it served as a crucial link between the East and West, accumulating rich traditions. Mosques like Hagia Sophia and markets like the Grand Bazaar hint at its rich past. Hagia Sophia Mosque is one of Istanbul’s most popular and iconic historic sites. Gaze the massive dome and the walls adorned by Byzantine mosaics with portraits of bygone emperors and representations of Christ.
The Blue Mosque, also known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is an example of Ottoman architecture with its blue tiles and six minarets. Not far away is the 6th-century underground Basilica Cistern with columns with intricate carvings. The Topkapi Palace was the residence of the Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years. It is now a museum and features exhibits on Ottoman history and culture.
Near the more famous Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets, you will find the Spice Bazaar. It offers colorful spices and foods like Turkish Delight, olives, figs, and dried nuts. The Bosphorus Strait divides the city geographically and brings a breeze and views. Relax at one of the restaurants with a view of the Bosphorus Strait. In Istanbul, a good time to visit is spring from April to May or autumn from September to October for quick getaways. While there, be sure to try the baklava and kebabs.
2. Florence, Italy: The Renaissance Jewel
Florence is one of the top-rated Europe city breaks in the Tuscan Hills. Everywhere you turn, art and architecture from great artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci await. The majestic Duomo dominates the skyline, and Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River is another spot not to miss.
When you visit Florence for a mini break, start your journey at the Loggia dei Lanzi and Piazza della Signoria, an open-air museum with sculptures by renowned artists. Visit the 13th-century Vecchio Palace and take a moment to rest at the Fountain of Neptune, surrounded by cozy cafes.
Explore Piazza del Duomo and the famous Cathedral. You can enter the cathedral for free but need a ticket to go up the dome. Visit the famous Galleria degli Uffizi, home to a vast Renaissance art collection. And for some peaceful moments, stroll through the picturesque Boboli Gardens. Don’t miss the iconic Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore’s striking dome and intricate marble statues. Florence is an art lover’s paradise, with every corner telling a story. Florence is great to visit in late spring, around May, or early autumn in September for a city weekend. The local gelato and Florentine steak are must-tries in the local cuisine.
3. Rome, Italy: The Eternal City
According to many travelers, Rome should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for the best in Europe city breaks. The Colosseum, an ancient arena for gladiators, recounts tales of fighters and battles. Nearby, the Roman Forum tells stories of a once-mighty empire through its ruins. With its massive dome, the Pantheon showcases architectural genius from the past.
Vatican City is an independent enclave within Rome. It is home to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, featuring Michelangelo’s iconic ceiling. The Spanish Steps, connecting Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, offer a picturesque spot for photos. Don’t forget to cast a wish in the Trevi Fountain on your weekend break.
In Rome, you can taste la dolce vita on a short city break with its street life, artisanal gelato, and local cuisine. For this city in Italy, April or October are ideal for mini breaks and sightseeing. The ancient city’s essential dishes are pizza, pasta carbonara, and cacio e pepe (cheese and black pepper).
4. Lisbon, Portugal: The City of Seven Hills
Lisbon is another of the highest-rated city break destinations in Europe. The capital of Portugal, built on seven hills, is full of history, from medieval castles like São Jorge to the iconic tram 28 zipping through historic neighborhoods. The city has several museums and historical sites, including the Lisbon Cathedral and the Jeronimos Monastery. The Belem Tower and the Monument of the Discoveries highlight its maritime past, and Fado music fills the air in traditional taverns.
Alongside its cultural offerings, Lisbon offers excellent places to eat, such as the LX Factory and Time Out Market Lisboa. In terms of neighborhoods, Belém, Alfama, Bairro Alto, Alcântara, and Parque das Nações each boast their unique vibe for a weekend holiday. In Lisbon, spring and early autumn are perfect for weekend breaks. Don’t miss out on the delicious custard tarts, also known as pastéis de nata, which are truly iconic.
5. Porto, Portugal: The Riverside Gem
Porto rises from the Douro River, with its hillsides offering views of the water below. Its Ribeira District is charming, with cobbled pathways leading travelers to the impressive Dom Luís I Bridge. The Clérigos Tower stands tall, rewarding those who climb it with panoramic city views. Don’t miss the iconic churches with the blue-tiled facades, such as the Chapel of Souls and Igreja do Carmo.
Wine enthusiasts should visit the riverbanks of Porto, where wine cellars welcome guests for tasting sessions. In addition to its rich history and wine culture, Porto also offers a coastal atmosphere. The sandy beaches of Foz do Douro are a popular destination for those who love the sun and sea. Visit Porto during spring or early autumn for a weekend getaway. Indulge in the unique Francesinha sandwiches while there.
6. Seville, Spain: The Andalusian Heart
In Spain’s Andalusia region, Seville is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The Catedral de Sevilla, a 15th-century marvel, is Europe’s largest Gothic structure. Not far is La Giralda, a historic tower with origins in the 12th-century Almohad Dynasty, providing breathtaking views for those who climb up its 35 ramps and 17 steps.
The Alcazar’s mudéjar design is a testament to Muslim and Christian artistry, originating as a 10th-century fort. Wandering the streets of Barrio Santa Cruz reveals a past as Seville’s Jewish quarter. The Plaza de España, built for the 1929 exposition, stands out with its mix of Spanish architectural styles. The modern wooden structure, Setas de Sevilla, contrasts with the city’s historical feel.
A trip to Seville wouldn’t be complete without a flamenco performance and local tapas, like Jamón Ibérico, for an authentic Spanish experience. Seville is best enjoyed during the mild spring months to avoid the scorching summer heat. Salmorejo, a cold tomato soup, and serranito, a local warm sandwich, should be on your list of foods to try.
7. Ljubljana, Slovenia: The Green Capital
Ljubljana is another top-rated choice for a city trip in Europe. The main attraction of the capital of Slovenia is the Ljubljana Castle. From there, travelers can enjoy panoramic views. Down below, the Ljubljanica River flows through the city with its bridges, including the Dragon Bridge. Tivoli Park is a green haven within the city limits for those who enjoy outdoor spaces. The Central Market is bustling with activity as locals and tourists taste fresh produce and Slovenian specialties. Slovenia’s most important museums include the National Gallery and Museum of Modern Art, which showcase historical and contemporary art.
This underrated European city also has remarkable landmarks like the Triple Bridge, designed by renowned architect Jože Plečnik. When visiting Ljubljana, explore the must-see attractions like the National Gallery, City Museum, and Ljubljana’s Cathedral. The evenings are lively with street performances and local cuisine. Ljubljana is at its best in late spring and early summer. Taste the traditional potica, a rolled pastry with walnut filling, when you visit. Ljubljana is one of the top-rated European destinations for a short break with its atmosphere and cultural gems.
8. San Sebastian, Spain: The Basque Beauty
San Sebastian is a city that offers a vibrant charm worth exploring. One of the highlights of this city is its savory treats. You can find the finest pintxos in the lively Parte Vieja, the charming Old Town. Throughout the day, you can enjoy traditional pintxos, which consist of bread topped with various ingredients.
Aside from its culinary scene, the city is known for its beaches. One beach you shouldn’t miss is La Concha Beach, famous for its crescent shape and crystal-clear waters. To dive deeper into the Basque city’s history and culture, visit the San Telmo Museum. If you’re up for adventure and breathtaking views, hike up Mount Urgull or take the funicular to Monte Igueldo, which also has an amusement park. You can enjoy panoramic views of the city and the bay from these points.
San Sebastian is great to visit in late spring and early summer. A must-try is the renowned pintxos in this coastal city, finger food on a piece of bread held in place with a toothpick.
9. Prague, Czech Republic: The Golden City
On your weekend city break to Prague, take a scenic tour on Tram 42 through the most important landmarks and visit Prague Castle, where you can climb the 287 steps in the tower and enjoy the views. Enjoy the city’s music scene in the evening by bar-hopping along the lively Rašínovo Embankment and visiting the Retro Museum. Try street food at Manifesto Market or experience the city’s beer culture.
Explore the trendy neighborhoods and discover Prague’s thriving design scene and modern art for a dose of culture. Remember to visit historical landmarks such as the Astronomical Clock, the Jewish Quarter, and Charles Bridge. Explore the various museums and galleries, like the Museum of Czech Cubism and Kunsthalle Praha.
Prague is great for visitors, mainly in the spring and early fall. The city is also great for a weekend break when the Christmas market is on. Sample trdelník (spit cake) and vepřo knedlo zelo (roasted pork with dumplings) to taste the city.
10. Barcelona, Spain: The Catalan Crown
Barcelona offers a diverse range of neighborhoods to discover, including the historic Gothic Quarter with charming alleyways and hidden plazas. To glimpse Gaudí’s architecture, head to Park Güell and Sagrada Familia, two of his masterpieces. Art enthusiasts can visit the Museu Picasso, which showcases the artist’s influence from his time in Barcelona.
Take advantage of the opportunity to visit renowned food markets like La Boqueria, where you can find a wide selection of fresh produce and traditional tapas. Barcelona’s city beaches are also a must-visit on a weekend break, with a 5km stretch of coastline and nine unique beaches to soak up the sunshine and relax at the seaside.
Of course, make sure to experience the spirit of FC Barcelona at Camp Nou, whether by attending a football match or exploring the stadium and museum. To end your day, Barcelona’s famous nightlife offers a variety of options, from rooftop terraces to beachside xiringuitos and lively squares. Barcelona is beautiful in spring or early autumn to have a short break without the summer crowds. Paella and crema catalana are two local dishes visitors should try.
11. Salzburg, Austria: Mozart’s Home
Salzburg, known as the City of Mozart for its rich musical heritage, is home to cultural and historical treasures waiting to be discovered. However, Salzburg offers more than just the Mozart museums and the Sound of Music tour.
Take the chance to explore the ancient Stift Nonnberg, one of the oldest working abbeys in German-speaking countries. St. Rupert founded the abbey in 712-715 AD. Start your day by listening to the enchanting chants of nuns in the abbey’s rib-vaulted church with Romanesque frescoes. For a breathtaking experience, hike to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, perched on a clifftop and offers panoramic views of Salzburg and the majestic Alpine ranges.
While on a weekend break in this city, visit Untersberg, a mountain on the German border just a short drive from Salzburg, offering scenic hiking trails and vistas. Indulge in the flavors of traditional Austrian cuisine at historic taverns like Bärenwirt for its famous Backhendl (Austrian fried chicken). Don’t forget to treat yourself to a Mozartkugel at Café Fürst, a bite-sized sweet with marzipan and pistachio covered in nougat and dark chocolate.
Finally, dive into the magical world of the Salzburger Marionettentheater, where skillful puppeteers bring productions like The Sound of Music and The Nutcracker to life. Salzburg’s months between May and September offer the most pleasant weather. Sachertorte and schnitzel are must-try Austrian dishes.
12. Edinburgh, Scotland: The Highland Capital
As we dig deeper into exploring Europe’s city breaks, let’s take a closer look at the charming city of Edinburgh. Edinburgh Castle is perched atop Castle Rock. The castle has a history dating back centuries and houses significant Scottish artifacts like the Honors of Scotland and The Stone of Destiny. You can explore the vast castle grounds and enjoy guided tours.
Another must-visit attraction is the National Museum of Scotland. It’s a great place to learn more about Scotland’s rich history and culture with free entry. You can also explore art, science, and technology in different trails. Go to Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park, an ancient volcano with steep trails that reward you with panoramic views.
If you want interactive fun, catch Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. Here, you can explore five floors of intriguing curiosities, including a Camera Obscura from 1853. Lastly, visit Calton Hill and the National Monument in the city center to enjoy the views. The city is great for visiting during Edinburgh’s summer months, particularly in August. Haggis, a pudding with sheep’s heart, lungs, and liver, and shortbread, a traditional cookie, are must-try local delicacies.
13. Madrid, Spain: The Sunlit Metropolis
Continuing our exploration of Europe’s city breaks, let’s now explore the lively city of Madrid. The city offers various gastronomic stops, such as the famous churros with chocolate at San Ginés and delicious tapas. Art lovers will be delighted by the must-visit museums like the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Museo Reina Sofia, which showcases masterpieces by Picasso like the famous Guernica.
Be sure to visit the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral, steeped in history and architectural grandeur. If you’re seeking outdoor adventures, take advantage of the opportunity to explore the beautiful Retiro Park with its rose garden and the rowing boats in the lake or visit the Palacio de Cristal and the Temple of Debod.
Madrid is best explored in the cooler months of spring and fall, as it can get too hot in the summer for a city break. Churros with chocolate and cocido madrileño, a chickpea stew, are local food highlights in this European capital if you want to indulge your inner foodie.
14. Bordeaux, France: The Wine Capital
Bordeaux is a beautiful city in France known for its world-class wineries, history, and cultural scene. Explore the city’s rich wine heritage with a visit to La Cité du Vin, an impressive wine museum. Enjoy a wine tasting at Château les Carmes Haut-Brion and its modern winery designed by Philippe Starck. Discover renowned wineries in the Bordeaux region and participate in wine tours, tastings, and festivals like Bordeaux Fête le Vin in June.
Explore the captivating modern art installations at CAPC—Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux and digital art at Bassins de Lumières, a WWII submarine base. Enjoy outdoor activities such as exploring the urban ecosystem of Darwin and taking walks in Jardin Public and Parc Bordelais. Don’t miss the opportunity to try local delicacies at the biggest market of Bordeaux, Marché des Capucins, and indulge in a meal at one of Bordeaux’s Michelin-starred restaurants, like La Grand’Vigne. Rue Sainte-Catherine is a must-visit for shopping enthusiasts, being Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping street.
Take the historical sights of Bordeaux city center, Porte Cailhau, Grosse Cloche, Saint-André Cathedral, and Place des Quinconces. And make sure to plan day trips to the countryside. The village of Saint-Émilion is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Arcachon with Dune of Pilat is Europe’s tallest dune. Travel to Bordeaux in late spring or early autumn to enjoy its vineyards. Duck confit, a French preparation, and canelés are local delicacies you won’t want to miss.
15. Vienna, Austria: The Imperial City
If you’re planning a weekend away in Vienna, don’t miss out on must-visit attractions, such as Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Habsburgs, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the tallest church in Austria. Admire the Viennese Art Nouveau style of the Majolikahaus building, with colorful floral tiles. Travelers experience the city’s vibrant culture by relaxing in a traditional coffee house and enjoying people-watching.
Enjoy a performance at the renowned Vienna State Opera on your city break. Take a dip in the Krapfenwaldlbad Swimming Pool, a beautiful swimming pool with great views. Belvedere Museum, MuseumsQuartier, and Hofburg Palace are sites worth visiting for culture lovers. Take in the panoramic views from St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Palmenhaus, two iconic landmarks. Finally, try Wiener Schnitzel and Sachertorte, the beloved Viennese dishes, even on a short break.
Authors Note: Jo Koni (Georgia Konidari)
Georgia Konidari is a nationally syndicated writer and the creator of World Wild Schooling, a digital platform dedicated to travel. She is on a mission to explore the globe and share her experiences with fellow travelers. She has been featured on MSN, the Associated Press Wire and more. You can follow Georgia on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.