With an abundance of cheap flights criss-crossing the Continent, checking out what Europe has to offer has never been easier. From loutish stag groups, to couples in search of romance, airlines such as Ryanair, Easyjet and Whizzair have made a trip to Prague or Riga about as exotic as a wet weekend in Scarborough. With new routes opening up due to the EU’s rapidly increasing freedom of movement, new cities, otherwise forgotten to the bigger boys have been opened up. Here we pick out some alternative city breaks that will have you forgetting about Paris and Prague and thinking outside the box to make the most of that long weekend.
Not exactly a secret but with attractive architecture, an abundance of inviting cafés and people as welcoming as it’s many bars, Zagreb should top any alternative list of must-see destinations. Quickly becoming a regular stag-do destination, doing the British reputation about as much good as military intervention, Zagreb is large enough to give you a few days worth of sightseeing yet small enough to be easily navigated on foot. With broad, tree-lined boulevards it is a pleasure to get lost in and with friendly locals armed with nothing but smiles it is hard to resist this Balkan pearl. With Easyjet flying daily at consistently affordable prices Zagreb is a real alternative to similar cities of its size, without the tourist hordes and Steve’s stag t-shirts.
Quick, the secret is almost out. With more Michelin stars per population than any other city on the planet it is safe to assume that this is a city which knows its cooking onions. However, with no viable direct flight option the easiest and most convenient alternative is to fly with Easyjet to Bilbao, 50kms west of San Sebastian itself. From there it is an easy walk outside to the coach that whisks you in comfort to San Sebastián, for just €14. With small bars and restaurants packed into dimly lit, cobbled streets, the old town is the atmospheric and cultural heart of the city. It is also home to the best bar snacks in the world, the ubiquitous Pinxtos. These delicious finger foods are arrayed in beautiful technicolor for locals and tourists alike to wander from bar to bar eating and drinking the night away. Surrounded by stunningly green countryside, rolling waves and a two incredible beaches San Sebastián is waiting to be adored. Be sure to head out into the surrounding countryside to one of the fantastic cideria’s to taste some fantastic locally brewed cider. Not to be missed.
Ghent Located snugly in between its more famous cousins, Bruges and Brussels, Ghent is a glorious town it’s own right. With a huge university population the city has an edge that Bruges lacks whilst maintaining the canal side cafe culture and medieval architecture. Like most of the towns and cities in Belgium it is unbelievably easy to get to. From St Pancras jump on the Eurostar to Brussels and take the connection onwards to Ghent, arriving in around three hours. Less time than getting from London to Newcastle.
Let’s face it, The Netherlands fourth largest city is largely unheard unless you are reliably informed, arguably due to it’s lack of airport. Even so, this beautifully compact university city offers a tantalising alternative to the predictability of Amsterdam. Small enough to traverse in a day, it is packed full of inviting cafes that will have you stopping every few minutes to gorge on amazing coffee and cake whilst whiling the day wandering aimlessly around large parks and narrow streets. Utrecht is a university town, it is home no less than 28,000 students, giving the city a vitality and pace that is nothing short of addictive. Architecturally it is a marvel, encompassing beautifully palatial nineteenth century canal-side property alongside modern wonders such as a house made entirely out of stainless steel. Geographically, Utrecht is centrally located and is a doddle to get to. Fly to Amsterdam Schiphol then take the €7 train direct to Utrecht Central (twice an hour).
The Czech Republic’s second city is almost a tantalising glimpse of what Prague was like before the tourist invasion meant prices skyrocketed. Maintaining the same feel; the chocolate box houses with red tile roofs, gothic churches and handsome squares, it also has an air of difference which is hard to place your finger on. While Prague and the west of the country quaff their famous pilsners the East are much more likely to be slurping on a vino or two with Monrovia, the surrounding region, home to some of Central Europe’s best vineyards. With Ryanair flying daily from Stansted, The Czech Republic’s underrated second city has never been so accessible. As second cities go, Birmingham this ain’t.