Culture in Europe isn’t hard to find. Filled with cities that have incredible histories, hotels, access to nature, festivals, food and more, there’s so much to do and discover across the continent. Here are just 10 suggestions for your next culture-focused city break.
1. Milan, Italy
Cathedral Milan, Source: Unsplash
Ways to embrace culture simply don’t stop coming in Milan. Start with a trip to the Duomo di Milano – the largest church in Italy, and largely considered Milan’s most iconic landmark. Defined by its intricate marble architecture and golden Madonnina, work on this Gothic masterpiece began in the year 1386. Sforzesco Castle, a medieval fortress and museum, is another must-see, as is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – a shopping gallery that dishes up palatial vibes on tap. That might sound over-the-top for a mall, but seeing as Milan is considered by many to be the fashion capital of the world, it’s only fitting that some of its best stores would come in such a spectacular package.
Beyond seeing the sights, make sure to carve out some time to take in a play or opera during your stay. Milan is known for its strong grasp of the arts, and incredible talents flock here to put on performances year-round. If you want advice on what to see, the staff at the Grand Hotel et de Milan are bound to be able to advise you, too. Based right in the heart of the city’s theatre district, this historic hotel has been beloved by creatives across decades, including the famous composer, Giuseppe Verdi. (Yes – its guestbook is legendary.)
2. Vienna, Austria
Alte Hofburg, Vienna
You’ll have a ball exploring Vienna… perhaps even literally, if you plan your holiday around its ball season! Known as the ‘City of Music’, composers from Beethoven to Mozart have been proud to call the Austrian capital their home, and to this day, it’s an exceptional place to get in touch with your musical side. Do make sure to take one of the guided tours of the Vienna State Opera House while you’re here, which offers brilliant insights into Vienna’s musical past. History lovers can’t miss the city’s incredible expanse of museums and exhibitions, either, featuring some of the best art and artefacts from around the world. Dive into the stucco spectacularity of the Kunsthistorisches Museum or see Gustav Klimt’s renowned painting of ‘The Kiss’ at Belvedere Palace, fuelling up on sachertorte and cream-topped coffees in-between. We couldn’t imagine a more perfect day (or diet).
Add world-class service and characterful rooms to your Viennese vacation by booking a room at Hotel Stefanie, the oldest hotel in Vienna. Furnished with fine antiques and run by a team of attentive and friendly staff, it’s a history buff’s idea of heaven.
3. Lisbon, Portugal
Belém Tower, image source: Unsplash
Some of the best culture in Europe can be found in Lisbon: Portugal’s colourful capital, where historic sights, views of the Atlantic and luxurious boutiques are all within walking distance from each other. Key to your itinerary here should be a trip to São Jorge Castle, an 11th-century fortress towering tall over the Alfama district. Belém Tower also offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s storied past, as does Lisbon’s square, the Praça do Comércio, which is defined by epic colonnades and an impressive statue of King José I. For a touch of luxe, head to the Avenida da Liberdade, one of the most expensive shopping streets in Europe, or dive into the city’s green heart at Parque Eduardo VII, where a variety of natural wonders are at your disposal. It’s the perfect place to while away some hours in the sun with a pão com chouriço in-hand.
For a glamorous stay you’ll dream of long after you’ve left, book a room at the Heritage Avenida Liberdade Hotel. Traces of the property’s past have been expertly retained despite the property’s upgrades, including its eighteenth-century facade. There’s history, hospitality and heart here.
4. Bruges, Belgium
5. Bucharest, Romania
The capital of Romania is perhaps most famously known for its proximity to ‘Dracula’s Castle’ in Bran, which has acted as a fortress, royal residence and, of course, the fictional base of the world’s most famous vampire over the years. But the actual city is a haven for exploring culture in Europe, too. Bucharest’s streets are lined with splendid buildings and hidden gems, from the sprawling Parliamentary Palace to Stavropoleos Church – a stunning building festooned in intricate patterns. What’s more, those looking for a city break with a slower pace should particularly love the Romanian capital, which contains several beautiful parks. The gorgeously green Herăstrau Park spreads across nearly 200 acres, where Tineretului Park is filled with playgrounds and doubles up as a concert and sports venue. Fun for all the family.
In terms of where to stay, Suter Palace has earned each and every one of its glittering five stars. Sample gourmet dishes to live music, luxuriate in plush rooms and watch the sun go down from a tree-filled terrace during a getaway here that’s the stuff of romantic novels (and definitely not of the vampire variety).
6. Strasbourg, France
Image source: Unsplash
From the moment you enter Strasbourg’s city limits to the moment you leave, you’ll be in a state of awe, encouraged especially by seeing La Petite-France: the city’s quaintest area, where half-timbered houses line the streets and draw eyes in the Bain-aux-Plantes. For cultural foodies, some of the best restaurants are also found around these parts, such as the restaurant Au Petit Bois Vert, which dishes up Alsatian specialities made from local ingredients. Elsewhere in the city, the Barrage Vauban is another deserving entrant for your holiday album – a fortified bridge built in the 1600s, which you can walk across and through to catch some of the city’s best views. Strasbourg’s fifteenth-century cathedral is a dream locale for culture lovers, too, and if you head there around lunch, you’ll be in for a surprise. This historic locale features a mediaeval astronomical clock that goes off around 12:30pm.
For a property that captures all of Strasbourg’s dreamy charm, look no further than Le Bouclier D’Or. Between its warm feel and Alsatian influences, it has an instant appeal that’s sure to chime immediately with history lovers. They even have a spa within which you’ll discover dozens of ways to unwind.
7. Ljubljana, Slovenia
From dawn to dusk, you’ll be well entertained in Ljubljana. Hike up a hill and you’ll be treated to the wonders of Ljubljana Castle, which offers a ‘time machine’ experience… a totally different kind of guided tour! A cultural trip to the city isn’t complete without challenging yourself to find all of its major masterpieces created by the famous architect, Jože Plečnik, either. From the sweeping steps of the Trnovo Pier to the one-of-a-kind Triple Bridge, he’s left an indelible stamp on the city. For forays into contemporary life in the capital, venture to the Sunday flea market at Cobbler’s Bridge. Alternatively, consider planning your trip around Ljubljana Festival, where performers gather to offer exceptional entertainment over the summer months. It’s quite the party.
Small but mighty, Antiq Palace makes up with old-world glamour what it lacks in size. Laze around in classic furniture, enjoy luxury amenities and sink into the finest bed linens every night in this quiet city retreat, which was once the home of noble families.
8. Cork, Ireland
Cork City Goal
Some of the most spirited culture in Europe can be found in Ireland’s Cork. Irish music, language, literature and more are interwoven beautifully with the city’s best sightseeing and events, like the Guinness Jazz Festival and inspiring Cork Literary Festival. Similarly, a trip to see the Shandon Bells at St Anne’s Church and the amazing Blarney Castle are considered to be touristic rites of passage, here: though we’d also recommend hitting the cafes, bars and shops around bustling St. Patrick’s Street, to see first-hand where the city’s merchant history and modern life meet. What’s more, Cork is just a short distance away from natural escapes like Myrtleville Beach if you ever crave a quieter day during your city break. It has everything.
The finer things in life are just par for the course at the Metropole. Named the ‘Cork Hotel of the Year’ in 2018, this remarkable property is an exemplar of elegance just moments away from the Victorian Quarter.
9. Hertogenbosch, Netherlands
Hertogenbosch is famous for being the birthplace of the Early Netherlandish painter, Hieronymous Bosch… an artistic legacy that it suits well. Trendy spots, awe-inspiring architecture and art-centric museums comprise most of this city, the main sights of which include the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center and Het Noordbrabants Museum, where you can get a real feel for Brabant’s art, history and culture. Local businesses are central to contemporary life here, so do take time to pop into the city’s independent boutiques and eateries, where you’ll be able to indulge your sweet tooth in particular. The Bossche bol dished up at the Banketbakkerij Jan de Groot has an unmatched reputation… a moreish dream of chocolate and cream.
Just a seven-minute walk away from this beloved bakery is Golden Tulip Hotel Central, a historic hotel built in 1422. Many of the rooms here contain details alluding to the works of Bosch, though there’s also a fitness centre and restaurant on-site to accommodate your daily needs. An excellent balance of charm and convenience.
10. Bergen, Norway
Those looking for culture in Europe can’t go far wrong with a trip to Bergen, named a European City of Culture in 2000. This Norwegian city is home to one of the world’s oldest symphony orchestras, and contains a plethora of historic buildings like the unmissable Fantoft Stave Church and Gamlehaugen – the King’s official residence. Of course, no trip to Bergen is complete without a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bryggen, either – its iconic harbour which harks back to its role as a major trading port from the 14th to mid-16th centuries. When not taking pictures of the city sights up-close, take in a birds-eye view by heading up to the ‘city mountain’ of Fløyen via funicular. Known as the ‘Gateway to the Fjords’, Bergen is also close to incredible Norwegian nature such as the Hardangerfjord. Take to the waters with ease from several transport links in the city.
Once each day is done, you’ll be delighted to return to Hotel Park. Within its nineteenth-century walls you’ll find character, comfort and class, whether you choose to stay in one of its rooms or studio apartments. The perfect retreat for nomadic souls.