10 great European city breaks within two hours of the UK

For an easy escape, consider one of these brilliant European city breaks - perfect for a long weekend

1. Dublin, Ireland

A short hop over the sea from Britain or a drive over the border from Northern Ireland, Dublin’s a fun-loving, all-round gorgeous city.

European city breaks - Dublin

Marvel at the architecture inside Trinity College Library, Dublin

Beer lovers should head straight for the Guinness Store experience. Even if you don’t drink the stuff you’ll be fascinated by its interactive exhibits. Alternatively, set up camp in one of the city’s plentiful pubs and experience the legendary Irish craic.

Dublin’s also known for its impressive architecture – don’t miss Trinity College Library. There’s some spectacular history here too, so make time to explore Dublin Castle and both St Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals.

Get there: It’s just 1hr 15 minutes from London to Dublin by plane, or you can take a ferry from Holyhead, Wales in around three hours.

Stay at: The Shelbourne for five-star service and serious luxury. Just five minutes from the city’s main attractions, it’s in prime location – plus there’s a fantastic seafood and steak restaurant.

2. Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerp is a brilliant European city break: think towering, Gothic cathedral, higgledy-piggledy architecture, cobbled lanes and an arts and fashion scene to rival Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Best European city breaks - Antwerp

Antwerp’s Gothic-style cathedral dates back to 1352

Don’t miss a visit to The Rubenshuis, former home and studio of painter Peter Paul Rubens, and make time to explore MAS – the Museum aan de Stroom – which has fabulous views over the city from its upper floors and outdoor deck. Do a spot of shopping around Volkstraat and Nationalestraat – the city’s top designers have boutiques there – and find inspiration at the MoMu.

Get there: Flights from most UK airports take around one hour. Alternatively, take the Eurostar from St Pancras International or Ashford in Kent to Brussels, then change for a local train – included in the ticket price when you buy ‘to all Belgian stations’. This option takes around three hours.

Stay at: Hilton Antwerp Old Town – with all of Antwerp’s best bits on its doorstep.

3. Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Canals, bikes, tulips… There’s a lot to love about Amsterdam. It’s certainly one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, and one of our best places to visit in April.

On arrival, head straight to the Bloemenmarkt on the canals for a view of quintessential Amsterdam, then stop off at the Kattenkabinet for something completely different – a museum entirely dedicated to cats and art involving cats.

BEst European city breaks - Amsterdam

There are an estimated 881,000 bicycles in Amsterdam – 60,000 more than there are residents

The foodie highlights of Amsterdam are stroopwafels, which can be sampled in giant form at the Albert Cuyp Market, and the punch-packing Foodhallen. The latter is a towering hall featuring numerous food stalls and bars – indulge on bitterballen (Dutch meatballs), salmon tacos, vegan nachos and delectable dim sum, all topped off with a G&T.

Get there: Flights from most UK airports take around 1 hour 15 minutes, or take the Eurostar route between London and Amsterdam, taking you direct between the two cities in just under 4 hours without the hassle of flying.

Stay at: Hotel de Hallen. Located in the same complex as the Foodhallen, this boutique hotel is perfect for when you’ve eaten yourself to sleep.

4. Paris, France

Paris poses the ultimate European city break: culture, food and a distinctly continental feel. As the French capital, it’s where all the important stuff happens. It’s also inhabited by more than 2.2 million people, undoubtedly seduced by its timeless feel, an abundance of quaint cafés and bakeries, and the iconic structures.

best european city breaks

Sacre-Coeur Basilica at sunset

Easy to navigate via the Metro, you can join them in exploring Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe, all in one weekend. Paris, je t’aime.

Get there: Fly from most UK airports in just over an hour, or take the Eurostar from London St Pancras (2 hours, 15 minutes).

Stay at: Mama Shelter. This trendy hotel is in the heart of one of Paris’s coolest neighbourhoods.

5. Berlin, Germany

If you’re fascinated by Berlin’s tumultuous yet compelling wartime history, there’s plenty to see: Brandenburg Gate, the graffiti-covered remains of the Berlin Wall and the Holocaust Memorial. But don’t stop there. Today, Berlin is a phoenix from the ashes and, after paying homage to its past, it’s crucial you immerse yourself in its present too.

european city

The imposing Berlin Cathedral illuminated at sunset

Wander the city’s local markets (particularly at Christmas), gaze over the city from atop the 368m Television Tower, and observe 22,000 types of plant in the stunning Botanical Gardens. The shopping is fantastic, too.

Get there: Flights from most UK airports take 1 hour 50 minutes.

Stay at: Hotel am Steinplatz, the beautiful former haunt of screen siren Brigitte Bardot.

6. Brussels, Belgium

We might know Brussels as the home of the European Union, but there’s so much more to this quirky city than bureaucracy. Fusing together French and Dutch inspiration, the streets are a cultural mishmash of cobblestones, chocolate shops and breweries.

Best European city breaks - Brussels

A traditional Brussels chocolate shop

Its many sights vary in style and peculiarity, from the famous Mannekan Pis (a tiny statue of a cherub-like boy urinating) and a museum dedicated to Tintin, to the UNESCO-listed Grand Place. If you like your city breaks full of contradictions, history and unusual architecture, look no further.

Get there: The Eurostar from London St Pancras takes two hours.

Stay at: Hotel Amigo – as close to old town Brussels as you can get.

7. Lille, France

Lille knows a thing or two about being underrated, but this Flemish-French fusion city should not be overlooked.

Once the victim of dying service industries, these days it is instead a prolific haven for the arts. Discover the Palace for the Fine Arts, the Lille Opera House and abundant theatres, museums and galleries; it has even held the European Capital of Culture accolade.

Best European city breaks - Lille

The interior of Lille’s Palace of Fine Arts

As well as postcard-perfect art and architecture, you’ll find more than 4,000 shops, not to mention an unending choice of cafes, patisseries, bars and restaurants. 

Get there: London to Lille takes just 1 hour 22 minutes on Eurostar. Alternatively take Eurotunnel Le Shuttle from Folkestone to Calais (35 minutes) then self-drive to Lille (1 hour 15 minutes).

Stay at: Mercure Lille Centre Grand Place Hotel, located on the south side of Lille’s beautiful Old Town.

8. Salzburg, Austria

The hills are well and truly alive in Salzburg, and the list of our favourite things to do here extends well beyond just a few.

BEst European city breaks - Salzburg

The Mondsee Basilica featured in The Sound of Music

If you hadn’t already guessed it, this Austrian gem is the real-life set of The Sound of Music, where you can visit Leopoldskron Palace – where the Von Trapp family lived – dance through the beautiful Mirabell Gardens, or re-enact the wedding scene at the Mondsee Church.

Beyond the 1965 movie, Salzburg is also a haven for lovers of baroque architecture and the birthplace of world-famous composer Mozart.

Get there: Fly from most UK airports in 1 hour 50 minutes.

Stay at: Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron, famous as a location for The Sound of Music.

9. Geneva, Switzerland

Fringed by snow-dusted mountains and a stone’s throw from the best ski resorts in France and Switzerland, it can be hard see beyond the powder in Geneva. But dig deeper and a wealth of gems are revealed.

Best European city breaks - Geneva

Discover the charm of Geneva’s Old Town

There’s the pretty Old Town, the European seat of the United Nations (which actually has a giant seat), and outdoor green spaces like Bastions Park – a stark contrast to the white snow. Feel the spray of Jet d’Eau and get clued up on particle physics at the CERN, home to the Large Hadron Collider.

Get there: Flights from most UK airports take 1 hour 35 minutes.

Stay at: the Tiffany Hotel, just a 10-minute stroll from Lake Geneva.

10. Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is one of Europe’s best-value cities – and one of its most spectacular too. Known as the ‘City of 100 Spires’ but boasting around 500, Prague has a history stretching back 1,000 years – all discoverable without having to spend a penny.

Best European city breaks - Prague

Prague’s impressive Astronomical Clock is the oldest clock still operating in the world

Navigate the labyrinthine Jewish Quarter, stroll the Charles Bridge, admire the Church of St Nicholas, and gaze upon the Astronomical Clock. Finish your days with a coffee or wine (yes, that’s really cheap too).

Get there: Flights are available from most UK airports and take around 1 hour 55 minutes.

Stay at: Alchymist Prague Castle Suites, an historic hotel right below Prague castle.

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