With its stunning architecture, pretty squares and ancient palaces, Florence is often hailed as the most beautiful city in Italy. As stylish as it is picturesque, Florence is also a fashion-follower’s paradise. Home to some of world’s best designers including Gucci and Ferragamo, chic boutiques fill the city centre and squares. Alternatively you can take a stroll around the sights. Head for the Piazza del Duomo, home to many impressive sights including the gothic cathedral with its magnificent dome, where you can climb to the top of the bell tower for a wonderful panoramic of the city; the Baptistry of St. John, ¬which is Florence’s oldest building; the Arcivescovile and Canonici’s Palace; and the Opera del Duomo Museum, where masterpieces by Michelangelo, among others, can be seen.
Stay at the homely yet stylish Riva Lofts where you can expect exceptional service and spacious rooms.
Doubles at Riva Lofts from £187 per night; return flights from London to Florence from £178pp.
As the backdrop for The Sound Of Music, with its baroque architecture and Alpine scenery, Salzburg is picture-book perfect. The UNESCO-listed old town next to the river Salzach is one of the city’s highlights, with cobbled streets, open-air concerts and medieval houses. Overlooking the old town is the 900-year-old Hohensalzburg Fortress, the city’s chief landmark and the most fully preserved medieval fortification in Europe. One of the best ways to see the city is by bicycle – pedal your way around the sights and through the beautiful parks, and if you’re feeling energetic go on a mountain cycle tour through the Austrian Alps for unparalleled views.
As the birthplace and childhood home of Mozart, music is also an important part of Salzburg’s heritage and concerts are regularly held in churches, museums and restaurants all over the city. If you’re visiting in summer, the annual Salzburg Festival is a month-long celebration attracting some of the world’s top performers of opera and classical music. Stay at the Hotel Stein, which has superbly styled rooms and lovely panoramic views over the old town.
Doubles at the Hotel Stein from £150 per night; British Airways return flights from London to Salzburg from £140pp.
As France’s second largest city, Lyon shares many of the same appealing qualities as Paris – outstanding museums, great opera houses, fantastic shops, green parks and a busy nightlife. But as an older city Lyon also has greater historical appeal, with more Roman ruins, and better food than Paris, boasting restaurants that will please even the most adventurous of gastronomes. For a spot of culture visit the Beaux-Arts Museum and the gothic St. John’s Cathedral, or climb the steep Fourviere Hill to see Notre Dame Cathedral.
If you’re visiting Lyon for the food try Nicolas Le Bec, where fresh ingredients are beautifully combined, or Les Adrets, with its fantastic three-course lunch including a lentil and foie-gras terrine for just 13 euros. Stay at the Villa Florentine, a former convent perched on top of the Fourviere Hill, with breathtaking views over Lyon.
Doubles at the Villa Florentine from £204 per night; British Airways return flights to Lyon from £151.
The gem of Andalucia, Seville arguably has the best annual fair, the most delicious tapas, the best nightlife and more romance than any other city in the region. Home to two of Spain’s most famous traditions, flamenco and bullfighting, these passionate pastimes contrast with its sleepy whitewashed villages filled with orange blossom, peaceful plazas and stunning architecture. While you’re there ensure you visit the magnificent cathedral, the third-largest church in the world; the Alcazar royal palace; the Roman ruins of Italica outside the nearby village of Santiponce; and the impressive Plaza de Espana. At night, tour the tapas bars of Barrio Santa Cruz and if you want to see some traditional flamenco, Casa de la Memoria de Al-Andalus has nightly performances.
Avoid going to Seville in summer as temperatures often soar to an oven-like 35C. Visit in spring, when several of the year’s most important festivals are held, autumn or even winter, when there’s still plenty of sunshine. For an authentic touch stay at the Corral del Rey. Tucked away in the maze of streets in Seville’s old quarter, this boutique hotel is a replica of a 17th-century mansion with wooden doorways, Roman marble pillars, and a plunge pool in the rooftop gardens.
Doubles at the Corral del Rey from £249 per night; Ryan Air return flights from London to Seville from £39.98pp
Known as Germany’s millionaire capital, Hamburg is brimming with wealthy inhabitants. However, unlike in Munich, where the rich flaunt their furs, here the well-off tend to downplay their riches. Europe’s second-largest port, with more bridges than Venice, Hamburg is a city built on water, between the Alster Lake in the north and the River Elbe to the south, and linked by a warren of canals. The once-seedy areas such as the red light district, the Reeperbahn, and St. Georg are now transforming into chic, cosmopolitan areas. For a panoramic view of the city head for the Church of St. Nicholas – much of the building was devastated during the Second World War but the spire remains, with a lift transporting you to the top. Enjoy an afternoon of culture at the Kunsthalle art gallery, before heading to the Hamburg History Museum. To see the city at its best take a ferry around the canals or hike around Lake Aster and stop off at the many waterfront cafes along the way.
Stay at the Kempinski Atlantic, one of Hamburg’s oldest and finest hotels. Built in 1909 as a stopover for first-class passengers on the way to America, it still retains an air of refinement.
Doubles at the Kempinski Atlantic from £200 per night; Easy Jet return flights from London to Hamburg from £29.98
Chosen as European Capital of Culture in 2008, Liverpool has become one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the UK. Teeming with theatres, art galleries and museums, it’s not just about The Beatles and football any more. Some of the best galleries and museums include the Tate, the Walker Art Gallery and the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Aside from these, you can take in the scenery with a river cruise across the Mersey, visit the largest cathedral in the UK, and sample the cuisine in the stylish restaurants lining the city centre, before celebrity spotting at some of the more exclusive bars at the beautiful waterside location of the Albert Dock. Stay at the smart, boutique Hope Street Hotel located in the Georgian Quarter, or for a more budget option rent an apartment for your break.
Doubles at the Hope Street Hotel from £140 per night, or rent an apartment from £13pppn through Stay Liverpool.