The best thing about Europe? It offers so much variety in such a relatively compact space. Even in the space of a weekend break, you can enjoy big city thrills, a blissful afternoon on the sands, and a drive into the countryside.
So what are the hottest places to visit in Europe right now? Here are our favorite five.
Spain’s green and pleasant northern coast harbors many fine holiday destinations: not least the spirited city of Bilbao. But for our money, San Sebastian hits that sweet spot – glorious beaches (three, at least!), the finest food, and a year round calendar of world-class culture. All easily enjoyed on a weekend city break. This city by the sea has a definite spring in its step – a sophisticated Basque heartland where French style meets Spanish sass: creating a culture clash that’s very intoxicating. Try the streets of the old city for the best pintxos Bars (San Sebastian has evolved into quite a food Mecca over the last 20 years) – try Bar Bartolo (Fermin Calbeton 38) for seriously good Basque cuisine. San Sebastian doesn’t do half-measures when it comes to nightlife. The city positively pulses til dawn in the summer. The area around Calle Reyes Catolicos is a pretty, pedestrianised street lined with tempting terrace bars. For culture, head to the striking, beachfront cube of the Kursaal: the setting for concerts and shows all year long.
Sweden’s second city has a distinctive Parisian feel to it: that’ll be in part because of its wide, elegant boulevards, and its Art Nouveau flourishes. But it’s more to do with its definite boho edge, and the willingness it shows for encouraging creativity, in all its guises. It’s a compact city, so weekend breaks to Gothenburg mean you can soak up the highlights and relax too (maybe in the charming Waterlily Pond, (Renström park), a hidden city retreat. Visit Roda Sten, an industrious artist-run space – part gallery, part social club. For streetlife, head to the area around Tredje Långgatan, with its narrow lanes lined with restaurants, bars, craft shops and cafes. Don’t miss Auktionsverket, an old auction house given a new lease of life as a home to pop-up restaurants, a wine bar, bakery and gallery. For a small city, Gothenburg’s nightlife packs quite a punch. Pustervik (Järntorgsgatan 12) is a concert hall, dance venue, bar and culture centre in one!
To a large extent, Ibiza Town is Ibiza – certainly as far as major sights are concerned. Ibiza Town’s old quarter is a delightful warren of squeezed-tight streets, crowned by the island’s graceful Cathedral, with its illuminated clock tower. At night, the heavy floodlit walls of this UNESCO World Heritage site shine like a beacon for miles around. The Old Town (D’Alt Vila) is one of the most stunning medieval walled cities in the Mediterranean and the crowning glory of the island. The area is a labyrinth of narrow winding lanes packed with wonderful bars, restaurants and shops, which are open until the early hours. Grab dinner at La Oliva (Carrer la Santa Creu) before a few drinks at Veto, an intimate pre-club bar (Av. 8 d’Agost, 7-11). And when it comes to clubbing, you’re spoiled for choice on the White Island. But, if you’re here for just the weekend it has to be Pacha (Av. 8 d’Agost) – still the hedonistic shrine to electronic dance music it’s always been. Next morning, head to the La Marina quarter for the best shopping on the island, or sleep it off on the beach, or dive into the island’s blissfully peaceful interior.
A weekend in Nice is a real tonic for the senses. The blue waters of the Baie des Anges set against the white hotels of the Promenade des Anglais and the green hills beyond are classic French Riviera. Nice simply dazzles. The beach below the promenade is pebbly, though. No buckets and spades here. Window-shopping along the narrow alleyways provides a glimpse of Nice’s traditions. Spice and herb stalls; yellow and blue Provencal pottery; brasseries offering fresh Socca – nearly, but not quite, a pizza. Uphill a little, there are art galleries, antique shops, washing hung from windows, cats on street corners. Eat here in the evening or at midday – try the classic Provencal fare of Le bistrot d’Antoine (27 Rue de la Préfecture) – and browse the markets of the central square, Place Massena. At night, a stroll along the Promenade, punctuated by rest stops at alluring beach bars such as Blue Beach (Prom. des Anglais, 06000) offers people-watching with a frisson of Cote d’Azur elegance.
A weekend break in Brussels showcases dual personality of this likeable capital. It has the poise and elegance of any well-heeled French city. But, lurking not far beneath the surface lies the unpredictable, bohemian, kooky sensibilities of Amsterdam’s most lo-fi neighborhoods. It’s a quirk that runs through the city’s cuisine too – a brigade of inventive new chefs mix up the very best of French and Dutch cultures at sleek venues such as La Quincaillerie (Rue du Page 45) – an Art Deco shrine to French classics with a Belgian twist. Brussels is a great place to shop. The glitzy arcades of Grand’Place and specialise in exquisite jewelry (Antwerp being a European diamond-selling centre), and tempting chocolatiers, while fashion boutiques abound in hip St Gery & Ste-Catherine – young graduates of the Antwerp Academy set up the astoundingly successful Stijl label here. Brussels is a surprisingly dedicated party town too – fuel up at A La Mort Subite -the “Sudden Death” brewery (Rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7) before dancing all night at Mirano (Chaussée de Louvain 38).
Learn more about our first Radisson RED Brussels Hotel opening April 2016