Travel tips

Alternative Europe: A Travel Guide

By Tasha Kleeman |

Britain may be leaving the European Union, but there’s no reason why your summer holidays should suffer.

The European Commission has confirmed that Brits will still be able to travel freely within Europe post-Brexit, and while the Pound isn’t as strong against the Euro as it once was, travellers can still get good rates by ordering their Euros in advance online.

We’ve put together a list of European city-break destinations where you can still expect good value, in spite of Brexit.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Nestled between Austria, Croatia and Italy, Slovenia is often overshadowed by its neighbours. However, with as much to offer as the countries that surround it (but at a much more affordable price), the country is increasingly becoming a popular tourist destination in its own right.

With its cobbled streets and 16th century castle, Ljubljana feels like something out of a fairy tale. Its colourful blend of Baroque and Art Nuveau architecture lends a unique charm to the city, set against the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and the River Ljublicana that runs through it.

Voted Europe’s Green Capital of 2016, the city is highly accessible to travellers, with a pedestrianised centre, and cycling encouraged. Green space abounds, the largest being the beautiful Tivoli Park: five square-km of green featuring an open-air gallery.

Cultural highlights include the National Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art and the Opera House. For a taste of history, the Ljubljana Castle, which sits on a 375m hill in the city’s Old Town, is well worth a visit. For shopping, head to the Central Market, or one of the city’s many independent shops. And for something a bit different, make sure to visit the Ljubljana Cat Café.

The city is also well situated for day trips, with easy access to stunning Alpine lakes like Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj.

How much can you expect to pay*:

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant: £6.86

Three-course meal for 2 at a mid-range restaurant: £30.02

Domestic beer: £2.14

Cappuccino: £1.25

Bottle of water: £1.32

Taxi tariff per/km: £0.76

Valletta, Malta

Small but mighty, Malta is one of the world’s most concentrated historic areas. Boasting a 7,000-year history, it features prehistoric temples, medieval towns and remnants of the reign of the Knights of St John.

Despite being the European Union’s smallest capital, Valletta was designated the Capital of Culture for 2018, and has been officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1980. Sites like St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the Grandmaster’s Palace and La Sacra Infermia offer a window into the world of the Knights of St. John, and a taste of Baroque architecture. Other top Valletta attractions include the Upper Barrakka Gardens, with stunning views over the Grand Harbour, and the Manoel Theatre, one of Europe’s oldest active theatres.

The best way to explore the city is by foot. Start at City Gate, the main entry point to Valetta, and make your way to Merchants Street, one of the city’s longest streets, with its historic churches and many quaint shops and cafes.

If you’re lucky, you might catch one of the many festivals that run throughout the year. February visitors can attend the Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck, or the February Carnival, while summer travellers can catch the Malta International Fireworks Festival at the end of April, the Malta Jazz Festival at the end of July, or the two wine festivals which the city puts on at the end of July and August.

How much can you expect to pay:

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant: £10.86

Three-course meal for 2 at a mid-range restaurant: £44.31

Domestic beer: £2.61

Cappuccino: £1.20

Bottle of water: £0.65

Taxi tariff per/km: £1.74

Lisbon, Portugal

Vibrant, colourful and full of activity, Lisbon is becoming an increasingly popular tourist spot. With its colourful tiled walls and architectural blend of old and new, Lisbon’s streets are fascinating to explore. Must-see areas include the historic Alfama, which was the only district to have survived the 1755 earthquake which destroyed most of the city, and Belem, whose famous bakery (Pasteis de Belem) is widely agreed to be home to the best pasteis de nata (custard tarts) in the city.

Lisbon sits on seven hillsides, precariously navigated by yellow 1930s trams, which are both a great way to get around and a memorable experience in their own right. The hills provide ample opportunities for views over the city’s terracotta roofs. For the best sunset views, head to the miradouros Portas do Sol, Santa Luzia or Santa Catarina, or grab a drink at Park Bar in Bairro Alto.

For those looking for some culture, Lisbon has countless museums and galleries to explore. A particular highlight is the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, which is worth a visit for its external architecture alone. You’ll find it on the waterfront (a great spot for a scenic cycle ride), in close proximity to several other museums and galleries.

Lisbon’s food scene has transformed in recent years, so at dinner time you’ll be spoilt for choice. A particular highlight is the Time Out market Lisboa, where you can get a taste of Lisbon’s best restaurants and wine bars under one roof.

How much can you expect to pay?

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant: £7.27

Three-course meal for 2 at a mid-range restaurant: £29.92

Domestic beer: £1.71.

Cappuccino: £1.28

Bottle of water: £0.83

Taxi tariff per/km: £0.40

Athens, Greece

With roots in the 5th century BC, Athens offers a fascinating window into Ancient Greece. A visit to the temples of the Acropolis, where ancient history is preserved in striking white marble, is a must. If you can, go and see the Parthenon first thing in the morning or in the early evening, to avoid the crowds and the mid-day sun.

For a greater sense of Greek culture, walk down Vasilissis Sofias Avenue, where you will find the Museum of Cycladic Art, the Byzantine and Christian Museum, and the Benaki Museum.

However, there is much more to this city than the ancient history for which it is famous, with an emergent young cultural scene. For a taste of alternative Athens, head to Koukaki, where you’ll find plenty of quirky cafes, galleries, shops and bars.

How much can you expect to pay?

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant: £8.59

Three-course meal for 2 at a mid-range restaurant: £34.35

Domestic beer: £3.44

Cappuccino: £2.62

Bottle of water: £0.43

Taxi tariff per/km: £0.64

Krakow, Poland

Described as Poland’s cultural capital, Krakow has so much to offer. The city’s old town, with its quaint cobbled streets, historic churches and grand squares, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Popular tourist spots include Rynek Główny (Europe’s largest market square), Wawel Castle, and Wielicza Salt Mine: a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing salt carvings, including a giant salt replica of da Vinci’s Last Supper.

Those interest in history can learn a great deal from this city, where the remnants of Nazi Occupation and the communist era can still be felt. Visit the factory of Oskar Schindler, which is now a public museum, or take an immersive communist-era tour of Nowa Huta. For a difficult but important history lesson, visitors can take a train to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where respectful and informative tours shed light into Europe’s troubled past.

Krakow also offers plenty of light relief, with a hub of cultural activity and a vibrant nightlife. In fact, Krakow is said to have more bars per capita than any other European city.

How much can you expect to pay?

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant: £4.59

Three-course meal for 2 at a mid-range restaurant: £19.95

Domestic beer: £1.60

Cappuccino: £1.55

Bottle of water: £0.65

Taxi tariff per/km: £0.44

Tallinn, Estonia          

The Estonian capital is a city steeped in history. Its old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has preserved much of its medieval and Hanseatic roots, featuring original cobblestone streets, medieval churches and barns.

After exploring the historic old town, head to the Kohtuotsa viewing platform, with panoramic views over the city’s red roofs. Next, take a cycle ride along the waterfront, and take in the beautiful views.

Despite its strong affinity with its historical roots, new influences can be felt throughout the city, most notably in its food scene. Recent years have seen a new wave of cuisine emerged, inspired by Nordic influences. For a taste of this, head to Leib Restoran, Noa or Kaks Kokka. Or for a more traditional fare, eat at Olde Hanse at Vana Turg 1, and experience an immersive medieval dining experience.

How much can you expect to pay?

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant: £8.00

Three-course meal for 2 at a mid-range restaurant: £45.00

Domestic beer: £4.00

Cappuccino: £2.70

Bottle of water: £1.38

Taxi tariff per/km: £0.50

Bratislava, Slovakia

Old meets new in this young capital, which became Slovakia’s official centre when the country became independent in 1993. Ancient buildings, like the regal Bratislava castle, brush up against communist-era blocks and the futurist bridge which looms over the city. A new modernism can also be felt in the emergent cafes, shops and bars throughout the city street.

Bratislava has a vibrant modern art scene, with more galleries than you’ll be able to fit into a weekend break. For those that really love modern art, Hotel Galeria Spirit, with its famously eclectic exterior, offers guests the opportunity to sleep alongside abstract paintings.

Visitors to Bratislava should make sure to check out the UFO Tower, which offers excellent views from the Observation Deck, as well as a world-famous restaurant. Nearby is Magio, a public beach on the bank of the Danube River with live music at the weekend.

For some respite from city life, the Botanical Gardens are located just outside the old town, and boast 5,000 species of plants.

How much can you expect to pay?

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant: £5.13

Three-course meal for 2 at a mid-range restaurant: £25.67

Domestic beer: £1.48

Cappuccino: £1.68

Bottle of water: £1.01

Taxi tariff per/km: £0.51

Berlin, Germany

With fascinating historical landmarks, a buzzing nightlife and plenty of cultural offerings, Berlin has something for everyone. Not a hidden gem, perhaps, but a gem nonetheless.

With so much turbulence in its recent past, Berlin is full of historical intrigue. The Berlin Wall, which has now become an art installation in its own right, is a good place to start, but the remnants of its division can be felt throughout the entire city, with East and West Berlin still distinguished by radically contrasting architecture and cultural influences. Other must-see landmarks include the Holocaust Memorial, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag and Museum Island: an impressive complex of five museums that has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status. A good way to fit it all in is by booking yourself a place on a city bike tour, which tend to be fun and inexpensive.

How much can you expect to pay?

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant: 6.85

Three-course meal for 2 at a mid-range restaurant: £35.94

Domestic beer: £3.00

Cappuccino: £2.33

Bottle of water: £1.52

Taxi tariff per/km: £1.71

Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius has been described as the G-spot of Europe (‘nobody knows where it is, but when you find it, it’s amazing’). Indeed, this hidden gem has lots to offer, with beautiful Baroque architecture, plenty of green space and much historical intrigue.

The city was once known as the Jerusalem of the North, but 90% of its Jewish population were lost in the Holocaust. As a result, the city is full of tributes to its troubled past, with a particularly informative Holocaust museum. Those interested in the post-war Soviet rule can visit the Museum of Genocide Victims, or the famous TV Tower, which was attacked by Soviet troops after the country was declared independent.

Other popular sites include the Vilnius Cathedral and the Hill of Three Crosses, a monument to martyred monks with spectacular views over the city. A short train ride away is Trakai, whose island castle is well worth a day trip.

Make sure to visit the creative district of Užupis, which declared itself a separate republic in 1997. The neighbourhood is full of quirky bars, restaurants, galleries and street art, and you can even get your passport stamped.

How much can you expect to pay?

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant: £7.27

Three-course meal for 2 at a mid-range restaurant: £32.09

Domestic beer: £2.57

Cappuccino: £1.91

Bottle of water: £0.97

Taxi tariff per/km: £0.51

Catania, Italy

With excellent food, beautiful architecture and a unique character, Catania like nowhere else. Looming over the city is Mt. Etna, an active volcano which has destroyed the city several times, and is responsible for the blackened quality of Catania’s buildings. A tour of the volcano is a must when visiting the city. It can be explored by bus, cable car, quad bike or even donkey ride.

Also worth exploring is the city’s Unesco-listed old town, with its stunning Baroque architecture. Highlights include the Piazza del Duomo and the Teatro Massimo Bellini: a beautiful Baroque theatre dedicated to the composer Bellini.

Sicilians know how to eat, and Catania is full of first-rate restaurants and colourful open-air markets. Make sure to order the region’s signature pasta alla norma (an aubergine and tomato pasta dish), which you’ll find on most menus throughout the city. The city is also famous for its raucous fish market (La Pescheria), where fishmongers compete to sell their wares. Situated behind the Piazza del Duomo, the market’s streets are also home to a variety of excellent seafood restaurants. Catania is also a short drive from the many wineries for which the area is famed. For wine enthusiasts, the Etna Wine Route takes travellers through vineyards, wine shops, local producers and dedicated wine museums.

How much can you expect to pay?

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant: £8.56

Three-course meal for 2 at a mid-range restaurant: £38.51

Domestic beer: £4.28

Cappuccino: £1.11

Bottle of water: £0.70

Taxi tariff per/km: £1.24

*According to data collected by Numbeo

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