My Prosecco-fuelled challenge over Christmas was to find the ‘different’ European destinations to visit in 2016.
London, Rome, Paris, Barcelona and other similarly beautiful and popular cities are strictly forbidden. Get your hand luggage, no excuses, what about one of the following? It’s the perfect resolution.
You’ll have heard of all the following cities, but they offer as much of a city-break experience as one of the usual suspects and it’s nice not to conform!
Close to home and with no particular bias, I give you Liverpool. Outside of London, nowhere in the UK has as many Grade II listed buildings, museums or galleries. The famous waterfront is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are two cathedrals, it’s home to the Beatles, two football teams and is being used to film the next Harry Potter film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Across the Irish Sea and on the west coast of Ireland, is Galway. The third largest city in the Republic of Ireland, the ‘Craic’ is as prevalent here as it is in the country’s capital! From Oyster to Arts Festivals, the city is known for its relaxed sense of fun and warmth. It is also considered the ‘Cultural Heart of Ireland’ with its dance, music and culture.
Delving into Europe, we will still start in Cologne. The spectacular Gothic cathedral dominates its skyline, but it’s the water that drenches day-to-day life in Cologne. Situated on the River Rhine, the Romans were the first to settle benefitting from its location, whilst in the current day it is the Eau de Cologne and Kölsch where water is of importance. The local beer, Kölsch is plentiful at the famous Cologne Festival every February.
In my eyes, Salzburg is famous for two reasons. Mozart was born there and it’s the setting for the ‘Sound of Music’. What more can you want from a city break? Salzburg is a strolling city. The medieval and baroque architecture is a photographers dream and the pedestrianised Aldstadt is ideal for coffee drinking, shopping and Julie Andrews spotting. The ‘Doe, a deer…’ steps in the Mirabell Gardens are a must, together with a walk to the 11th-century, Hohensalzburg Fortress.
Slightly off piste, and not too far from the Sierra Nevada, is Granada. Just over an hour from Malaga, Granada boasts the spectacular Alhambra. Originally built as a fortress in the 9th-century, the Moors made it into a palace in the 14th. A relatively small city it offers the narrow Medieval Moorish streets, the authentic ‘free’ tapas experience and inspiration that attracted writers and artists from across the world, Hemingway included.
Staying on the Iberian Peninsula is the city of Porto. The common theme of food and drink is in evidence in Porto, unsurprisingly considering its Port wine and abundance of fantastic restaurants. The Palace da Bolsa, merchants’ houses, narrow and hilly streets and Douro River ooze hustle, bustle and history. Like all the best cities, the river is the focus, but the vineyards flanking the Douro play a very important role in Porto’s daily life.
From the Atlantic coast, to the Mediterranean is Genoa. The birthplace of Christopher Columbus, history has literally painted the cityscape. This sea-faring city was a commercial powerhouse in the 12th and 13th centuries and it was the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ exploits that truly embraced the port a further time. Via Garibaldi demonstrates the stature of the city and its past glories. The tratorrias are sublime with rich use of the region’s wonderful produce. Is there better food than in Italy?
Just two remaining in my top 9 for 2016! You can tell me your number 10.
The capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina is Sarajevo. Relatively recent history had not been kind to Sarajevo, following the Bosnian War. However, since 1996 the city has been completely restored and offers a fascinating array of architecture and culture. Sarajevo has been called the ‘Jerusalem of Europe’ owing to its religious and cultural diversity, with Islam, Judaism, Orthodoxy and Catholicism under one roof, so to speak.
The last is the toughest to spell, or even say after too much Prosecco. Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia and is also the Green Capital of Europe for 2016. The leafy riverbanks, open spaces and traffic free city-centre make Ljubljana a very cool, calm and relaxed place to live. The large student population adds to the party atmosphere, so the cathedral, castle and other historical sites may not be high on the list of priorities.
There are no real surprises, but I’d be interested to know how many you have visited. I can claim seven of the nine, with the final two definitely on a ‘to do’ somewhere or other. Low-cost flights are plentiful and unmatched experiences only a short flight away. All the cities cater for all budgets, so get it in the diary and book.
Happy and safe travels in 2016.