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Photograph: Iwan Baan

The 18 best city breaks in Europe for 2023

Got time off and want to explore the continent? These are the best city breaks in Europe for food, nightlife, and more

Edited by
Huw Oliver
Contributors
Time Out editors
&
Time Out contributors
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Drudge of daily life getting you down? Need a bit of a breather from it all? Well, there are few things more refreshing than a city break. And when it comes to a few days in a totally new locale, Europe really does spoil you for choice. With sprawling metropolises, enchanting little cities and everything in between, the continent has dozens of options for a whistlestop weekend getaway.

From gastronomic delights and cultural cubby holes to all-hours party hotspots, Europe’s best city breaks tick all the boxes. But with so many options, where should you head? Well, we’ve consulted our local experts in cities across the continent to lend a helping hand. Everywhere from France to Bosnia and Herzegovina is covered, with special events and thrilling experiences around every corner. See you out there!

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The best city breaks in Europe for 2023

A Mediterranean melting pot that’s been bubbling for an astonishing 2,600 years, Marseille’s been drawing an increasing number of visitors in recent years. Though it once had a slightly rough-edged reputation as a town of sailors and gangsters, these days Marseille is better known for jaw-dropping vistas of its calanques, beaches of every shape and size, world-class museums and some of France’s (and Europe’s) most spectacular rooftop bars. It’s an ancient, fascinating and alive city.

Been there? Try... Naples, Italy, another ancient Mediterranean mix-mash.

A city once synonymous with coal-blackened buildings and industrial churn, Sheffield is now more familiar with another colour: green. Recently crowned ‘the greenest city’ in the UK, it boasts 4.5 million trees (more per person than any other city in Europe), 250 public parks and 52 square miles of national park. Combine the lush greenery – and proximity to the Peak District – with a vibrant city rich in culture, food and drink, and you have two kinds of holiday wrapped into one. —Daniel Dylan Wray

Been there? Try... Bilbao, Spain, also basking in a post-industrial glow.

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Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sat in the northwest corner of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bihać is all about the magic of the Una River. Eco-friendly accommodations such as Japodski Otoci and Eko-Selo Natura Art offer adventure and restoration in equal measure, while the bike route from the centre of town to the remains of Sokolac Fortress is ideal for energetic cyclists in search of valley views. After several local initiatives to clean up the surrounding lakes and rivers, now you’ve got a destination embracing all that Bosnia’s most beautiful river has to offer.John Bills

Been there? Try... Prague, Czech Republic, similarly teeming with medieval character.

Milan has shed its industrial image in recent years and created a more sustainable metropolis with a ‘green lung’ surrounding it. Big events like the famous Salone del Mobile furniture fair take over Milan with lively art installations and events open to design pros and the public alike, while the city also plays host to marvellous music festivals like the Milano Summer Festival.Michelle Schoenung

Been there? Try... Manchester, UK, another marvellous post-industrial second city.

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Cosmopolitan but traditional. Sophisticated but edgy. Fun but chill. From the glorious Guggenheim and the bridges that criss-cross the Nirvión river to the refined old town – and not forgetting, of course, a city’s worth of drool-worthy pintxos to sample – Bilbao is a city of contrasts. Over the past few decades, the city has been completely transformed, evolving from the industrial heart of Spain’s Basque region to a fascinating cultural hub.

Been there? Try... Belfast, UK, for regeneration in the shade of a rich industrial past

Arles, France
Photograph: Iwan Baan

6. Arles, France

The breakout star of Arles is LUMA (pictured), a buzzing arts district packed with multimedia exhibitions and art installations. The pinnacle is Frank Gehry’s impressively high tower, made of 11,000 metal panels designed to evoke Vincent van Gogh’s starry night (the painter completed his legendary sunflower series in Arles in the 1880s). Another must-visit is the Carrières des Lumières, an immersive art experience in a quarry where works by artists such as Cézanne and Kandinsky are projected onto the immense limestone walls. —Alex Ledsom

Been there? Try... Avignon, France, for more smaller-city Gallic magic.

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Brno, Czech Republic
Photograph: MoLarjung / Shutterstock.com

7. Brno, Czech Republic

Although sandwiched between Prague and Vienna, self-confident Brno is no middle child. Once a powerhouse dubbed the ‘Moravian Manchester’, the laidback Czech second city has repositioned itself as a post-industrial science and tech hub. But you’ll find plenty of clues to Brno’s layered past at a clutch of offbeat underground attractions, including the mysterious brick cisterns at Žlutý Kopec, communist-era nuclear bunker 10-Z, and the ‘Denis’ bomb shelter under the cathedral. The food and drink scene is reinventing itself too, from contemporary international at Element to Výčep na Stojáka, a modern take on a trad pub.David Creighton

Been there? Try... Manchester, UK, Moravian Manchester’s OG.

The nightlife scene here is funner and wilder and friendlier than anywhere else in the UK. Now it’s time for everyone else to discover it too. The venues of the Baltic Triangle pack out year-round, but you may want to head down in August for something bigger like Creamfields or International Beatle Week. Also check out DaDaFest International, one of the world’s leading festivals of work by disabled, deaf and neurodiverse artists – a welcome reminder of what an inclusive place this really is. —Rob Martin

Been there? Try... Barcelona, Spain, partygoing and art-going in spades.

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Kaunas, Lithuania
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9. Kaunas, Lithuania

Back in the 1930s, few places felt as happening as Kaunas. In the interwar period, with Vilnius occupied by the Polish, this smaller, central city was named the temporary capital of Lithuania. Embassies opened all over the shop. Artists flocked here in droves. The city became the unofficial home of modernist architecture. But then it was forgotten, left to wither during the Soviet era and surpassed again by Vilnius. Still basking in the afterglow of being European Capital of Culture in 2022, the city has tonnes of delights from its hundreds of modernist masterpieces to the M.K. Čiurlionis Museum of Art (dedicated to the musician and symbolist painter) and the frankly bizarre Devils’ Museum.Huw Oliver

Been there? Try... Warsaw, Poland, similarly old and new, green and historic.

The Norwegian capital is growing fast – but the most exciting part of town is the historic Bjørvika district. The revitalisation of this harbourside area is well underway, with the brand-new Munch Museum and National Museum both opening in recent years. Add to that the buzzing food court, VIA Village, with its nine street-food hatches located just a few minutes from the Aker Brygge area, the Deichman Bjørvika Library and the world-famous Opera House that now has its own urban beach, Operastranda, and you’ve got a heck of a city. —Rodrigo Braz Vieira 

Been there? Try... Helsinki, Finland, another northern European powerhouse.

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Brisk with sea air, brimming with Hanseatic pride and open to the world not only in terms of centuries of maritime trade, but also in its vivid mix of nationalities, identities and political inclinations, Germany’s second city is a force to be reckoned with. From the Elbphilharmonie to the Reeperbahn, Hamburg is a harbour city with cultural wealth in spades.

Been there? Try... Amsterdam, Netherlands, a similar combo of historic elegance and industrial might.

Want a raucous weekend of pubs and live music? Hunting for history and culture? Hankering for greenery and beautiful architecture? Dublin has it all. The Irish capital brings together characterful pubs, top-tier arts venues and museums, vast parks and much more in one special city. With all that on offer, it’s no wonder that, from James Joyce and Oscar Wilde to Samuel Beckett, Dublin has produced so many artistic geniuses.

Been there? Try... Krakow, Poland, for more streets crammed with stories.

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If you’re keen on exploring the Highlands, Inverness is the ideal base to kick off your trip. Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle and Culloden Battlefield are all nearby, but the capital of the Highlands also has plenty going on itself. The Eden Court theatre always draws some of the UK’s top comics. The Gathering Place, meanwhile, is a new public artwork created by artists Sans Façon and architects KHBT. Right on the banks of the River Ness, the curved, Clasach-stone pier offers a place for quiet contemplation.Arusa Qureshi

Been there? Try... Rotterdam, Netherlands, for more dazzling public art.

Trikala, Greece
Photograph: Georgios Kritsotakis / Shutterstock.com

14. Trikala, Greece

Birthplace of hashish-inspired protest music rebetiko and home of the popular Mill of Elves Christmas market, under-the-radar Trikala in northwestern Thessaly is Greece’s first official ‘smart city’. Green in all senses of the word, this tree-shaded spot is topped by its Byzantine castle and crisscrossed by the trout-filled Lithaios River. With a bike-sharing scheme and a slew of new cycle paths, it’s easy to get around – and when summer temperatures soar, there are pitstops where you can pick up (free) water. It also has the country’s first driverless buses.Heidi Fuller-Love

Been there? Try... Copenhagen, Denmark, another hyper-innovative eco-capital.

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Renovated and reinvigorated in recent years, the Netherlands’ second city is now firmly on the tourist map. Not just the host of 2021 Eurovision, Rotterdam also has incredible art museums and dazzling architecture that’d light up any Insta feed. Where else but in Rotterdam could you visit the Depot, the world’s first publicly accessible art storage facility housing 151,000 objects, or marvel at floating buildings, including an officea farm and even an entire street? And don’t even get us started on the amazing food and nightlife.Derek Robertson

Been there? Try... Sheffield, UK, because canals! Art! Culture! Similar vibes.

Freiburg, Germany
Photograph: Ioana Catalina E / Shutterstock.com

16. Freiburg, Germany

Freiburg im Bresau is a remarkable example of how ‘green living’ and ‘urban sprawl’ can go hand in hand. The southwest German city has long championed conservation and sustainability, with several recent initiatives carrying this tradition onward, including a million-euro initiative to plant new trees and Dietenbach, a climate-neutral eco-district that is currently under construction. Revered as both the sunniest (and warmest) city in Germany, Freiburg is also the gateway into one of the country’s best-known natural wonders: the Black Forest, which is a short hike from the centre and makes a breathtaking day trip. —Nathan Ma

Been there? Try... Leeds, UK, just a short distance from the spectacular Yorkshire Dales.

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Turku, Finland
Photograph: Inspired By Maps / Shutterstock.com

17. Turku, Finland

With its abundance of café terraces, Turku is often referred to as the ‘Paris of Finland’. But the country’s oldest city (and historic capital) has a distinct vibe of its own. It is big on music for a start, with fabulous festivals throughout the year. Turku is also a leading light in sustainable tourism, with the city running electric boat trips, nature excursions and food tours that showcase the finest local produce. That all forms part of Turku’s plans to become carbon-neutral and ‘zero waste’ by 2040. Want to get there by greener means yourself? The city is easily reachable via train (from Helsinki) and ferry (from Stockholm and Tallinn). —Ed Cunningham

Been there? Try... Paris, France, Finnish Paris? Try the original!

Valencia’s a classic all-rounder. But despite being as celebrated for its arts and gastronomy as it is for its science and innovation, the southern Spanish city still remains a little underrated. This magnificent city on the Turia is full of delights, from being (widely regarded as) the true birthplace of paella and having a bunch of marvellous beaches to exhibiting some of the finest attractions and museums that contemporary Spain has to offer.

Been there? Try... Girona, Spain, for a more condensed eastern Spanish cultural spot.

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