We may be out of the Europe Union but we still love to get away to our neighbours near and far. Whether for short stays or longer holidays, we visit them more than anywhere else. Pre-Covid, the most popular Europe destination for UK residents was Spain, followed by France and Italy, the top 10 also including the Netherlands, Greece, Germany, Portugal, Poland and Turkey.
City break stars remain evergreen favourites Paris, Barcelona, Rome and Prague, along with Amsterdam, Berlin, Florence and others. But there are many more to choose from, too. Foodie fans, culture vultures, night owls – there are cities that fit the bill whatever your style.
Beach lovers are drawn by the sun, sand and sangria of Spain’s Costas and islands, besides Portugal’s Algarve, the Greek islands and mainland, and the Turkish Riviera.
Europe’s numerous other holiday options include road trips, train journeys, cycling tours, hiking expeditions, river cruises, and wine and food-based stays.
FRANCE, BELGIUM & HOLLAND
The romantic appeal of Paris is as strong as ever. Stroll the streets of Montmartre, stopping for coffee at a pavement café. Window shop the Champs- Elysee’s swanky stores. Visit the Louvre. And see Paris from on high atop the Eiffel Tower, on a Seine dinner cruise or in an iconic 2CV car.
Explore the historic towns, cities and villages of Normandy, where reminders of World War II’s D-Day Landings remain off its cliffs and beaches, and Brittany’s charismatic sites that include island monastery Mont-Saint-Michel.
Spot celebs on the beaches of Cannes and the Cote d’Azur and in neighbouring Monaco. Cruise the Canal du Midi. Go wine tasting in the vineyards around Bordeaux. All the while staying in accommodation from campsites and rural gites to grand chateaux.
Belgium is a nation with a split personality, with Dutch-speak coastal region Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia in the south sandwiching bilingual and multicultural capital Brussels. Cruise canals past medieval buildings in Bruges and enjoy a health stay in Spa, the town in the forested Ardennes hills that gave its name to wellness treatments. Then gorge on Belgian chocolate washed down with craft and Trappist beers.
Amsterdam is a joy to discover on foot, by bike and on its maze of canals, making time to see famous artworks in its Museum District. Beyond the Dutch capital, see Holland’s tulip fields, windmills and pretty history-packed towns and cities such as Delft, Maastricht, Leiden, Utrecht and Edam.
SPAIN & PORTUGAL
We have been flocking to the inviting sands of Spain’s Costa del Sol, Costa Brava and Costa Blanca, Balearics islands Majorca and Ibiza, and Tenerife, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands for decades.
Drag yourself away from your beach or hotel pool lounger to discover hilltop White Villages and Granada’s Moorish splendour in Andalucia, the rugged volcanic panorama of Tenerife’s Mount Teide and local traditions such as the human towers of Catalonia’s towns and villages – not forgetting world-class golf courses.
Enjoy a few days sampling Barcelona’s pedestrian-only La Rambla, great food and effervescent feel. Alternative city break destinations include dynamic Madrid, Basque beauty Bilbao, flamenco-filled Seville, Valencia for its paella and striking old and new architecture, and elegant Palma. You might also catch a colourful festival, as they take place throughout the calendar across Spain.
Rocky coves, quaint fishing villages, villa communities and lively resorts lining expansive beaches are just part of the attraction of Portugal’s Algarve. The beaches of its west-facing coast are less crowded but no less appealing. Popular for short stays, Lisbon’s hilly centre is full of shops, bars and restaurants. Historic former capital Porto built its fortunes on wine, notably fortified port. From there you can cruise along the vineyard-lined Douro River.
ITALY, GREECE & TURKEY
Who cannot fail to fall under the spell of Italy’s beguiling cities? See stunning Venice by gondola. Throw a coin in Rome’s Trevi Fountain. Climb Pisa’s Leaning Tower. And be seduced by the architectural glories of Florence, the style of Milan, the charm of Verona, volcano-dominated Naples and the food of Bologna and Turin.
Italy also delights with its wonderful coastline of cliffs, beaches and fishing villages, the cypress trees and rolling hills of Tuscany, communities tucked between high mountains and sinuous lakes, and disparate islands Capri, Sardinia and Sicily.
Independent island nations Malta and Cyprus serve up their own inimitable mix of offerings, both appealing to beach lovers but with Malta adding the rich history of its capital, Valetta, and rocky Gozo island, and Cyprus boasting cool forest-covered mountains and sleepy villages.
From the wow factor of ancient Greek wonders and buzz of modern-day Athens go island-hopping through the Cyclades chain, chill out on upmarket Santorini or picturesque Corfu, party or go high class on Mykonos, bike Kos and explore the past on Crete and Rhodes.
Back on the mainland, see where the Olympics first began, stretch out on Halkidiki’s beaches and visit the little-known Peloponnese region. Haggle for bargains in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and take in its Hagia Sophia basilica, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace museum. In central Turkey, take a balloon flight over the conical-shaped rock formations of Cappadocia, where houses and churches are carved from caves. Then relax on beautiful beaches in resorts along the Turkish Riviera including Antalya, Belek, Fethiye, Bodrum and Marmaris.
GERMANY & CENTRAL EUROPE
With its new airport now open, Berlin has upped the ante as a city-break destination. The Brandenburg Gate, Museum Island, picturesque Gendarmenmarkt square, Holocaust Memorial and Berlin Wall Memorial are among its must-visit sites.
Munich is great to visit all year, not just during Oktoberfest. Other cities not to miss include hip Hamburg, cool Cologne, palace- filled Potsdam, delightful Dresden and picture-perfect Rothenburg and Heidelberg. And make sure you go to one of Germany’s many Christmas markets. Cruise along the Rhine or Moselle, see fairy-tale Neuschwanstein Castle and lose yourself among the trees and cuckoo clocks of the Black Forest.
Alpine neighbours Austria and Switzerland are year-round destinations, their mountains offering top skiing in winter and hiking and biking among activities at other times.
Pretty Salzburg was where The Sound of Music was filmed and tours visit filming locations, but you don’t have to be a fan to love the castle-topped city and its hills. Austria’s capital, Vienna, won’t fail to enthral with its stately buildings, cultural attractions and gardens.
Swiss delights include alpine towns such as Grindelwald and Interlaken with their mountain railways, and Lake Geneva’s paddle steamers and castles.
Slovenia capital Ljubljana is a hidden gem of riverside restaurants and old buildings set below a castle. An hour away is the compelling beauty of blue-green Lake Bled, where you are rowed to an island below imposing mountains.
Magical Prague is known as “the City of a Hundred Spires” and highlights of the Czech Republic capital include its Gothic churches, exquisite Old Town Square and traffic-free Charles Bridge.
Also on the Danube River is Hungary capital Budapest, the river separating hilly Buda crowned by the turreted Fishermen’s Bastion from flat Pest with its impressive riverside Parliament Building and crossed by the iconic Chain Bridge.
Escape on a city break to Poland’s capital and culture hub, Warsaw, or its magnificent second city, Krakow. The former royal capital rejoices in having Europe’s largest medieval square. It’s a great place for an al fresco coffee by day and dining in at night.
The three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania can be visited individually, on breaks to their respective capital cities – Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius – each of which has history and culture in abundance, or by combining them on a tour.
Founded by Peter the Great, St Petersburg was Russia’s imperial capital for two centuries and today is its cultural heart, with over 250 museums as well as theatres, galleries and other institutions. Among its treasures are the Hermitage Museum, Winter Palace, Mariinsky Theatre and the swirling domes of the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. The best time to visit is during the festival-filled White Nights, named for the long daylight hours from late May to early July.
The Kremlin and adjacent Red Square, with its onion-domed St Basil’s Cathedral, form the historic centre of Moscow. East of Moscow, the Golden Ring is a tourist route of historic towns and rural countryside.
Pristine nature, towering fjords, tree-lined lakes, spouting geysers, bubbling hot springs, pocket-sized cities with cobbled streets and waterways edged by brightly-coloured old buildings – the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland offer all that. Go in winter and you can see the Northern Lights and stay in an ice hotel.
Danish capital Copenhagen’s highlights include its Tivoli Gardens amusement park, its famous Little Mermaid statue and the boats, cafes and colourful 17 th century buildings of Nyhavn waterfront.
Spanning 14 islands, Sweden’s Stockholm is a compact city of palaces, a medieval old town and museums including one housing the Vasa, an intact 400-year-old warship. Norwegian capital Oslo has museums, parks, trendy neighborhoods and a royal palace.
Charming Bergen is UNESCO-listed for its historic harbour districts and is the gateway to the fjords, with coastal cruises and outdoor activities.
Finland’s Helsinki’s grand architecture, art and design is complemented by accessible nature both inland and on nearby islands, while winter wonderland Lapland offers snowy adventures and the chance to meet Santa in his own home. Reykjavik has become cool for short breaks, venturing beyond the city to see geysers, volcanic landscapes and glaciers.