With most European countries just a stone's throw away, it can feel like us Brits already know our neighbours like the back of our hand. Well, we are here to tell you otherwise. If you're in the mood to shake up your travel plans, read on for a round up of our alternative European city breaks. We've included alternative takes on some classic destinations, and some alternative destinations that really should be classics…
Often passed over for cities in neighbouring Tuscany, Perugia - the capital city of Italy's Umbria region - has plenty to offer for an alternative European city break. Less crowded than other Italian cities (Rome, we're looking at you), a trip to Perugia is like stepping back 400 years into a medieval world with winding cobbled streets, gothic palaces sitting off of pretty piazzas and imposing churches adorned by elaborate arching stairways. While all this history and mysticism is fascinating, the city also hosts the annual Umbria Jazz Festival every July, where free concerts pop up around the city for all to enjoy. While you're there don't forget to sample some of the delicious gelato, which we dare say is some of the best in Italy - flavours like strawberry and ginger are popular while gorgonzola is only for the brave.
San Sebastian, Spain
If you like good food, wonderful wine and cooking (who doesn't?) then San Sebastian is going to be right up your street… or right down your train tracks, should we say, as the city is easily accessible with our London to San Sebastian train itinerary. This seaside city is a gastronomic powerhouse with plenty of fancy restaurants, but the best places to eat in town are a little more tucked away. The Old Town is peppered (pun intended) with bars which serve yummy pintxos - tiny tapas dishes to nibble on while you drink. The best way to think of it, is that pintxos are to San Sebastian what sushi is to Japan. They can be anything from toast topped with tasty cured meats and cheese to white asparagus served with a rich dipping sauce. We can arrange for a guide to take you on a tour of a popular local market, where you can learn about the high quality produce used to create these delicious dishes. Keen to burn off the extra calories? San Sebastian is a great place to learn to surf (if you aren't a pro already), so head to the beach for a lesson or two.
The architecture of luscious Lecce is so beautiful and distinctive that it has acquired its own name - barocco leccese. Often referred to as 'Puglia's Most Beautiful City', spend your days in Lecce wandering the golden sandstone streets, stumbling across countless piazzas filled with locals enjoying cups of coffee (or glasses of wine, depending on the time of day), and gazing at ridiculously ornate baroque churches. The main square, Piazza Sant'Oronzo, boasts an impressive bronze clock which stands at over 65ft high as well as a Roman amphitheatre which seats 14,000 people and continues to be used today for concerts. Nearby, there is another plaza well worth a visit - Palazzo del Duomo - which is home to the impressive and jaw-droppingly detailed Lecce Cathedral, an architectural gem which embodies the style that defines the whole city. Lecce is relatively small, which makes it the perfect place for an alternative European big short city break, and it is also a great option for a festive getaway, as the city plays host to a famous Christmas market which jingles into town every December.
Elegant, historical and fascinating in equal measure, Georgia's capital city of Tbilisi is the ultimate spot for an alternative European city break. Sitting in the valley of the Mtkvari River, the city is surrounded by ruggedly beautiful landscapes, while the town itself is full of cobbled streets, wonderful restaurants and charming churches. This East-meets-West city has a flourishing bohemian art scene, and while there are numerous galleries and museums to explore, some of the best art is tucked away in Tbilisi's art cafes. Blurring the boundaries between a gallery and restaurant, these fabulous fusion bistros boast heaps of artwork and a menu of utterly fantastic food. Another must on a visit to Tbilisi is a visit to the Metechi church. One of the most ancient monuments in Georgia, it stands tall in the Old Town and has a fascinating yet troubled history which your expert guide will bring to life as they tell you about how it has been rebuilt and restored (and even used as a prison for a short stint). For a comprehensive introduction to the city, make sure to check out the many wine shops and bar to sample Georgia's famous wines.
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