Tired of going away for the weekend to cities rammed with fellow Brits? Branch out from the usual suspects with these overlooked options, from gloriously stag-free Ljubljana to Valencia’s under-visited modern architecture.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Poor Belfast often plays second fiddle to its Guinness-peddling neighbour south of the border, but it’s transformed within the past decade and is now far more than a gateway to the Giant’s Causeway. It has culture – September to November sees back-to-back festivals and Restaurant Week, while there are music festivals in summer – a growing food scene that proudly sports Michelin-starred fare, and in-depth tours of both the city’spolitical murals and expanding street art scene. Plus there’sTitanic Belfast, of course, which was named best European attraction at the World Travel Awards. visitbelfast.com
Slathered in Communist-era architecture and with much of the old town destroyed, there’s not much left to prop up Bucharest’s once trumpeted reputation as the Paris of Eastern Europe. But it’s still a fascinating place to absorb modern history – from the sites of the 1989 revolution to the “People’s House” parliament building. By day, it has a thriving art scene; by night, it’s all about great bars and underground techno raves.romaniatourism.com/bucharest
Most visitors arriving in Genoa tend to leave straight away for Portofino and the Ligurian Riviera. Big mistake – the city has one of the best preserved medieval old towns in Europe, a Renaissance “new” town (Via Garibaldi is one long pedestrianised street of hulking renaissance palaces, many of which are open to the public as museums, shops and restaurants) and even Belle Époque architecture. Add to that the historic street food shops and artisans, and you have an overlooked Italian dream. visitgenoa.it
Bizarrely, considering its beautiful old town, the Slovenian capital has never achieved the same level of tourism as Prague. Luckily too, though – it means you have the picture-perfect looks and decent prices with none of the stag groups. From its monumental bridges to its hilltop castle, it’s well worth a visit.visitljubljana.com
It’s long been overshadowed by Barcelona and Madrid, but Spain’s third city is an astonishing combination of architecture and food. Paella was ‘born’ here (head out to the rice fields where you’ll find snail paella being served), but it’s the modernist architecture that’s the real draw – everything from the new high-speed train station to the Central Market is a work of art, with the highlight being Santiago Calatrava’s architectural complex, the City of Arts and Sciences. visitvalencia.com
Its status as 2017 European Capital of Culture looks set to boost visitor numbers, but for once, you should join the crowds – Aarhus is aperfect weekend destination. It’s got a food scene to rival Copenhagen’s, exhibitions including a perfectly preserved, 2,000-year-old “bog body” at the Moesgaard Museum and cool, modern architecture alongside pretty cobbled streets.visitaarhus.com
There’s far more to Bremen than its airport (it’s a Ryanair destination); one of the oldest and most famous underground wine cellars in Germany, for starters. The Ratskeller (town hall cellar) aside, Bremen has a beautiful mix of architecture, from medieval buildings to converted docklands warehouses and the frothy 600-year-old Rathaus (town hall), to Neues Bauen post-war buildings. What’s more, the airport transfer into town is a tram.bremen-tourism.de
Helsinki tends to lose out to Tallinn, perched the other side of the Gulf of Finland (not least because it’s more expensive) but it’s a delight to visit, especially as winter recedes and it begins to unfurl. Make the most of your luggage allowance in the Design District, visit the Unesco-listed island fortress of Suomenlinna, or try a sauna. visithelsinki.fi
It’s an easy TGV ride from Paris, and Lyon has some heavy reasons to make the journey – mostly food-related ones. This is France’s culinary capital, known for its Michelin-starred fare and down-to-earth bouchon brasseries. But there’s also a world-class gallery (the Musée des Beaux Arts), Roman remains including a 10,000-seater theatre, and a funicular, whisking you above the city for a bird’s eye view of the merging Rhône and Saône rivers.
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