European cities to dream about
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Living on the rural edge of a Home
Counties commuter town, I’ve always enjoyed the best of both worlds. So it’s no
wonder I have something of a split personality when it comes to holidays. I
love countryside breaks in unspoilt natural spaces, but I also love the buzz of
a city break too.
As I write this, we have no idea
when international cities will re-open to visitors, but by the time they do,
I’m confident that we’ll all be used to a new way of interacting although we
may need to plan a more carefully. Visitor numbers to major museums will almost
certainly be limited and will probably require timed tickets, and we may need
to book restaurants in advance rather than be spontaneous. So there will be big
advantages by booking with a specialist tour operator such as Silver Travel Advisor
partner Kirker Holidays who can
make recommendations and reservations for us.
So whilst I await the start of lockdown
release, I’m researching cities still on my wish list, and I’m also enjoying looking
through photos of favourite cities I hope to visit again before too long. Meanwhile,
many cities, galleries, and visitor attractions are keeping in virtual touch
with the travelling public through new videos and behind-the-scenes content on
their websites. Just sit down with your favourite comfort drink and browse the
web on Google.
In case you are in need of a little
inspiration to get you started, here are six cities that really surprised me on
my first visit:
I’m a big fan of Italian cities and
I love the big hitters like Rome, Florence and Venice. Last autumn, I fell in
love with Bologna, heading out by train on day trips to Parma and Modena. But
the city that surprised me most was Naples.
Like many historic ports, Naples has
long had a reputation for being frenetic and rather down-at-heel, but that’s
only part of the story. Yes, it’s predictably scruffy in parts and Napolitan drivers
are a law unto themselves, but Naples has an authenticity and a buzz all its
own. Just use common sense with possessions in crowded places. Naples offer
plenty of beauty too – the fine mansions and designer shops of the Chiaia
district, the flamboyant opera house, and the magnificent Baroque churches,
plus of course that glorious bay in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.
Naples is an easy train ride from picturesque
Sorrento and the ruined Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Then you can come
back to the city to see original artefacts in the archaeological museum, and
enjoy the atmosphere of one of Italy’s most exciting cities.
So many of my friends recommended
Lisbon that I feared I might expect too much when I planned a surprise trip for
my husband’s birthday last year. Not a bit of it. One of Europe’s smaller
capital cities, Lisbon seems to embrace visitors to its spacious squares and
broad avenues with arms wide open. We stayed just off the Avnida Liberdade,
Lisbon’s answer to the Champs-Elysées, and a comfortable walk from the Tagus
quayside and main sights.
Yes, Lisbon does have some steep hills.
Seven of them in fact. But lifts, funiculars, and an efficient tramway system
make for easy access to the different districts, all liberally dotted with some
excellent museums and art collections. We particularly enjoyed the National
Tile Museum where traditional blue and white Portuguese tiles are effectively
displayed inside a 16th century convent building.
And no trip to Lisbon is complete
without a visit to Belem, a short journey by bus or tram along the banks of the
Tagus. Visit the UNESCO-listed church and cloister; stroll the waterfront gardens,
but don’t miss the home of the original Pasteis de Belem custard tarts! Delicious.
If ever a city took me by surprise,
it was Moscow. I still laugh to think back to our first evening in the Russian
capital, newly arrived at an international hotel within ten minutes’ walk of
Red Square. Better not take the camera or a guidebook, we thought; don’t want
to look like tourists. So we left everything behind and just followed the
throng towards the towering walls of the Kremlin, emerging into adjacent Red
Square to find this vast space full of families with children in buggies and
tourists taking videos with iPads!
Moscow has some grand and glorious
buildings to explore. The multi-coloured-domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, for
instance; the four churches and Armoury Museum inside the high walls of the
Kremlin; and the ornate decoration of the famous Moscow Metro.
The women too are surprisingly well
dressed. At least in the city centre. “Fashion victims” remarked our deadpan
Russian guide who arrived each day wearing stunning monochrome outfits with killer
heels. A city and a people we will never forget!
Talk about a Belgian city break and
most people immediately think of Brussels or Bruges. Both are fascinating in
different ways, but if you’ve never visited Antwerp, you’ve got a treat in
store. This historic port is one of the great ‘Art Cities’ of Northern Europe
and is easy to reach by train from London for those who don’t fancy flying in
the near future.
Like Bruges and Brussels, Antwerp has a magnificent square surrounded by gabled buildings in typical Flemish style, and two of my favourite museums anywhere are located in the old quarter. Visit the home and studio of artist Peter Paul Rubens, and the extraordinary Plantin-Moretus House, home to a 17th century printing empire. Explore city history at MAS – the Museum aan de Stroom on the old harbour quayside – and maybe head to the Diamond Quarter for a sparkling souvenir!
Easily explored on foot, Antwerp
also offers plenty of elegant cafes where you can take the weight off your feet
over coffee and scrumptious cake or handmade chocolates. Belgian goodies at
their very best!
I love the coast and countryside of
Scandinavia but whilst I had visited a number of its cities from Bergen to
Copenhagen, Tromso to Helsinki, somehow Stockholm had always eluded me. Until last
year when I tacked a short break onto the start of a Baltic cruise and was
bowled over by this glorious waterfront capital.
The historic centre is easy to
explore on foot, whilst a city sightseeing bus or shuttle boat will quickly
transport you round its indented coastline. You could spend a day in the five
museums of the Royal Palace, but if time is limited, make sure you see the
lavish Royal Apartments. Don’t miss the extraordinary Vasa Ship, sunk 20
minutes into her maiden voyage in 1628 and recovered in 1961. And absorb the
atmosphere of historic Sweden at Skansen open air museum.
I loved wandering the quaint
streets of the Gamla Stan or Old Town with its tempting restaurants and cosy
cafes. And at the time of writing, Stockholm is already re-opening for
business, so this could be one of the first cities to welcome visitors under
the ‘new normal’ guidelines. Put it high on your list …!
Travel Advisor recommends Kirker
Holidays for city breaks.
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