Forget Paris, Rome and Vienna; these smaller cities are just as big on culture and style.
1. Vintage Seville
Andalucia’s lively capital may lack size, but it offers an atmospheric old town, 12th-century architecture, the Moorish Alcázar palace and the grand square of Plaza de España, combined with fiery flamenco shows, top-notch tapas bars and good-value hotels. There’s also a chance for some late-night partying in the bars and terraces of Alameda de Hércules.
2. Musical Salzburg
Best known as the birthplace of Mozart and the setting for the 1965 film The Sound of Music, this Austrian city’s elegant historic centre – with its alluring mix of medieval and baroque architecture – is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Hotels book out well in advance for the prestigious music festival, which takes place annually in July and August.
3. A food lover’s Lyon
Strangely off the radar of British holidaymakers, despite a direct link with Eurostar, Lyon not only has a remarkably beautiful old town of Roman, Gothic and Renaissance architecture, but a spectacular redevelopment has recently transformed the riverside Confluence district, and, of course, this is the food capital of France.
Eurostar (eurostar.com) to Lyon Part-Dieu station (from £89 return, five-and-a-half hours). BA (ba.com) and easyJet (easyjet.com) fly to Lyon St Exupéry airport. Okko Lyon Lafayette hotel has doubles from £98.
4. Rotterdam rising
Flattened by German bombs during the Second World War, Rotterdam has risen from the ashes to become a vibrant modern city of wide avenues and eye-catching contemporary architecture. It also has a thriving arts scene underpinned by one of the Netherlands’ greatest arts museums – the Boijmans Van Beuningen.
Take the Eurostar (eurostar.com) from London to Rotterdam (from £70 return, journey time three hours). Alternatively, fly direct with BA (ba.com) to Rotterdam The Hague airport, or direct with easyJet (easyjet.com) or KLM (klm.com) via Amsterdam (which is 30 minutes away by train). Mainport hotel has double rooms from £125.
5. Porto renaissance
Sure, this Portuguese city is most famous for its cobbled riverside district, and the port warehouses that line the quays of the Duoro, but the rest of compact, highly walkable Porto is enjoying a renaissance with new hotels, restaurants, cafés and craft shops springing up on the steep streets of the city above the river.
British Airways (ba.com), TAP Air Portugal (flytap.com), easyJet (easyjet.com) and Ryanair (ryanair.com) fly direct to Porto. Return fares from around £58. NH Collection Porto Batalha hotel has doubles from £88.
6. Alfresco Gothenburg
Sweden’s capital of café society is best enjoyed in the summer when it comes to life as an outdoor city, and the leafy canals and boulevards are lined with bars and restaurants. The young vibe is underpinned by its status as a university city, and some popular summer music festivals.
7. Cultural Hamburg
Unfairly typecast by its red-light district, Hamburg is, in fact, an attractive and sophisticated city – qualities recently underlined by the spectacular glass Elbphilharmonie, with its three concert halls, built above an old warehouse on the Elbe river. It joins the city’s “art mile” of five major museums and galleries to emphasise Hamburg’s status as one of Germany’s cultural capitals.
Germanwings (germanwings.com), Ryanair (ryanair.com) and BA (ba.com) fly to Hamburg. Also easyJet (easyJet.com) from Edinburgh, Manchester and Gatwick. Return fares from £54. Hotel Hafen has doubles from £83.
8. Antwerp has arrived
A thriving opera, a house built by Rubens, a spectacular cathedral and excellent museums, including the fascinating Plantin-Moretus – one of Europe’s great printing houses – this is a city of the arts and history par excellence. And if you don’t enjoy high culture, the beer and chips are among the best in Belgium.
Eurostar (eurostar.com) to Antwerp (from £69 return, three hours). BA (ba.com) Flybe (flybe.com) flies from Southend, Glasgow and Manchester. Return fares from £120. Hotel Matelote has doubles from £80.
9. Genuine Genoa
Eat out in Genoa and you will be surrounded not by tourists, but by the Genoese. This is a city that has yet to lose its soul to tourism, despite its seaside setting, a stunning medieval centre, dozens of Renaissance palazzi, and a harbour front redesigned by local boy Renzo Piano.
10. Artistic Aix
Compact, leafy and full of surprises, Aix-en-Provence is surely the most beautiful city in the whole of southern France. There’s enough to do here for a week – from Cézanne’s studio to a cathedral adapted from a Roman temple, and a superb arts museum. And enough excellent restaurants to last you a month.
Eurostar (eurostar.com) to Marseille St Charles (seven hours, the 30-minute onward journey by taxi or bus) or change on to a TGV in Paris or Lille. Return from £115. British Airways (ba.com), easyJet (easyjet.com), Ryanair (ryanair.com) to Marseille from £30 return. Hotel Cézanne offers doubles from £110.