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6 European city break ideas for this summer

Get to know old city break favourites in a new light while locals empty out for summer holidays

August has traditionally been the month of exodus for European city dwellers, as the temperatures climb and many cities move into vacation mode when residents swap their townhouses for rural retreats and beachfront villas. And with fewer international tourists braving travel restrictions and PCR admin this year, you’ll have the city to yourself like never before as these cultural hotspots emerge from the pandemic with an array of just-reopened, refurbished, and brand new attractions.

1. Paris, France

Well, because Paris is always a good idea. During the summer months, the City of Lights enjoys long, sunny days and balmy evenings beneath the twinkling Tour d’Eiffel, settling into a slower, more relaxed atmosphere of coffee in quiet, quaint cafés and mooching around markets brimming with artisan goods and antique treasures. Paris has long been beloved by artists and writers, with a huge number of highlights to head for – and alongside the big-hitters like the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay, there are some new cultural kids on the block. Our top pick? The recently opened Bourse de Commerce, a former exchange building near the Centre Pompidou that’s been turned into a vast contemporary art space.

From July to August, the banks of the River Seine and Canal de l’Ourcq are transformed into a seaside resort within the city, as the annual Paris Plages event creates sandy beaches dotted with deckchairs, hammocks and palm trees. Meanwhile, families should head for the Tuileries Gardens, where a traditional funfair of more than 60 rides and stalls takes over the beautiful grounds until the 29th August 2021.

Where to stay

The Duplex Suite at Hotel Raphael is a suite like no other with its 30 metre squared terrace and breathtaking views of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

Hotel Raphael…a landmark hotel in the 16th arrondissement with a blossoming rooftop garden – complete with panoramic views of the city.

Hôtel Relais Christine…tucked away down a narrow street beside the Left Bank, this medieval abbey turned honey-stone townhouse has a pretty courtyard and private garden terraces off the sumptuous suites.

Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal…one of the most prestigious addresses in Paris nestled between the Louvre and the Royal Gardens, with a collection of over 30 champagnes to choose from. Santé!

Hôtel San Régis…a magnificent mansion house with Eiffel Tower views from private balconies, just steps from the designer boutiques and Michelin-starred restaurants of Paris’ 8th arrondissement.

Feel like a French film star at Grand Powers, while waking up to these incredible Eiffel Tower views.

Grand Powers…a mid-19th century Haussmann style stately residence in the heart of the Golden Triangle, this stylish sanctuary puts you among fashion royalty with Eiffel Tower views.

Hôtel du Petit Moulin…an historic 17th-century building, with an original baker’s shopfront and whimsical interiors designed by Christian Lacroix.

Le Narcisse Blanc Hôtel & Spa…inspired by the famous muse of Belle Époque Paris, ballet dancer Cléo de Mérode, this classis-meets-contemporary retreat overlooks flourishing courtyards and quintessentially Parisian streets.

Le Pavillon de la Reine & Spa…Set on one of Paris’ oldest and most beautiful squares, this urban oasis has a pretty flower-filled courtyard and offers complimentary bicycles for guests.

Hotel Maison Souquet…an exclusive Parisian townhouse just a stone’s throw from Montmartre and its famous Moulin Rouge, decorated in Empire and nineteenth-century Orientalist style.

Le Pavillon des Lettres…a literary inspired hotel with rooms named and themed after famous authors and poets, situated close to Place de la Madeleine.

Freshly prepared pastries for breakfast on the private terrace of the Oscar Wilde Suite at L’Hotel.

L’Hotel…Oscar Wilde’s last home in St-Germain-des-Prés, this theatrically decorated hideaway is set in a quiet street surrounded by art galleries and boutiques.

2. Rome, Italy

When in Rome, a city that’s peppered with ancient monuments and renowned works of art, you’ll feel as though you’re wandering around a living museum. Modern day Romans tend to run for the rolling hills when the city becomes stiflingly hot, especially during Ferragosto in mid-August. But if you can cope with the heat, you’ll be rewarded with archaeological wonders and world-famous sights seemingly on every corner without the queues and crowds you’re bound to find in the shoulder seasons.

Nothing says summer in the Eternal City quite like a film under the stars (preferably with a gelato in hand). This month, piazzas, villas, and Rome’s only island transform into open-air cinemas, showing everything from old classics to new releases. And if you’re working up a sweat sightseeing during the day, night tours of the Colosseum run every Saturday until the end of October this year for a cooler way to experience this cultural icon in every sense of the word.

Where to stay

The Grand View Colosseum Suite at Palazzo Manfredi more than lives up to its name.

Palazzo Manfredi… a 17th century noble’s villa directly opposite the Colosseum, with a Michelin-starred restaurant and buzzing bar.

Palm Suite…this set of individually designed, eclectic, colourful suites are housed within a grand 18th-century building just a seven minute stroll from any one of the ‘big five’: Capitoline Hill, the Forum, the Pantheon, the Colosseum and Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains.

Babuino 181…a discreet retreat on Via del Babuino, with jewellers, perfumers and designer boutiques for neighbours.

Fendi Private Suites…the world’s first hotel by Fendi, above the flagship store on Via dei Condotti, Palazzo Fendi has retained every ounce of elegance from its days as an aristocratic residence.

Soak up some Roman holiday sunshine from the balconies of Hotel Vilòn (left) or Hotel De’ Ricci (right).

Hotel De’ Ricci…a luxury townhouse tucked away down a smart cobbled street just off the Piazza De’ Ricci, with a staff composed of professional sommeliers and an extensive wine list of over 1,500 labels.

Hotel Vilòn…a perfectly placed retreat in the Campo Marzio neighbourhood with rooms looking onto the celebrated Borghese ‘secret gardens’.

Hotel Lord Byron…an intimate and stylish Art Deco haven close to the Villa Borghese with a fascinating art collection.

Hotel d’Inghilterra…a grand residence which Romantic poet John Keats once called home, with a spectacular Penthouse terrace lined with jasmine and citrus trees.

Hotel Splendide Royal…a 19th-century palace overlooking the Villa Borghese gardens with a panoramic terrace restaurant.

Get the keys to your own private courtyard and a spacious suite that was once a 17th-century artist studio for visionaries such as Picasso at Margutta 19.

Margutta 19…you’ll feel a world away from the throng of the Spanish Steps, despite being moments away at this palazzo on the picture-perfect ‘artist’s street’.

Villa Spalletti Trivelli…an intimate 15-bedroom villa filled with antiques and artworks which welcome you into a world once linked to the Italian royal family.

3. Stockholm, Sweden

Built on 14 picturesque islands, the beauty of this water-based city is reflected in its Baltic Sea setting. You can rent a private kayak or canoe and paddle your way around, or take a daring dip in the waters in front of Stadshuset, Stockholm’s City Hall for some city-centre swimming.

Back on dry land, the city can easily be seen on foot or by bicycle – from the enchanting Old Town, with its narrow cobblestone streets as well as the Royal Palace, to the thriving creative scene of countless art galleries, museums, and world heritage sites. Not to mention the competitive culinary display largely driven by the new Nordic movement focusing on seasonal and local produce – stock up on wholegrain breads, freshly baked pastries, and seafood classics while you’re here.

Where to stay

The beautiful walled garden at Ett Hem is made for long summer evenings – help yourself to a snack or a drink in the kitchen anytime you like and enjoy alfresco.

Ett Hem…an impossibly stylish Arts and Crafts townhouse in the embassy quarter of Stockholm, specifically designed by the owners to feel like a home rather than a hotel.

Bank Hotel…a heritage bank building on Stockholm’s sweeping waterfront, offering private guided sightseeing tours on foot or by luxury limousine, boat trips around the archipelago, and tip-offs for just-opened exhibitions.

Lydmar Hotel…rooms at this art-filled hotel come with breath-taking views overlooking the sea, the Royal Palace, Nybroviken and Strandvägen.

4. Lisbon, Portugal

While many Lisboners head south to the Algarve beaches in the height of summer, you don’t need to travel as far as you might think for a seaside holiday, thanks to the city’s close proximity to an array of sandy beaches, championed by the world’s surfing community. Awash with Atlantic waves, many of the beaches which surround the Portuguese capital are wonderfully wild and unspoiled – from the famous coasts of Estoril and Cascais to the sleepy shoreline of Caparica.

The city itself is overflowing with watering holes to cool off in – think laid-back wine bars, seafood restaurants, and rooftop cocktail lounges – not to mention faded imperial palaces and unique Pombaline architecture at every turn.

Where to stay

Sample a delicious contemporary menu from Chef Joao Silva, with spectacular views overlooking Lisbon’s skyline and the Tagus River at Lumiares Hotel and Spa.

Lumiares Hotel and Spa…thanks to its hilltop positioning, this bohemian Bairro Alto district bolthole boasts panoramic views of the city – best enjoyed from the comfort of the Lumi Rooftop Bar with a signature cocktail in hand.

Hotel Da Estrela…a former aristocratic family palace in Lisbon’s prestigious Estrela district renovated by Portugal’s leading interior designer, Miguel Câncio Martins.

Pousada de Lisboa…Portugal’s past echoes from the sunshine yellow façade to the resplendent ballroom of this palatial Lisbon landmark which takes up prime position on the corner of Praça do Comécio.

5. Barcelona, Spain

Many visitors come to Barcelona to enjoy all the pleasures of a city break. But you can top up your tan or even go surfing here too, as there are golden sands all down the coastline, not too far from the city centre if you’re looking to escape the heat. During August, the city’s already lively street culture steps up a notch. La Fiesta de Gracia held in August each year is Barcelona’s answer to Carnevale, which sees the Gracia district decorated with colourful banners, giant flowers, and papier mâché giants set to a soundtrack of live music from almost every genre.

When you’re not marvelling at Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces dotted throughout the city, or shopping the pedestrianised streets of the Old Town, swing by one of Barcelona’s classic barrio parties or sangria-fuelled festivals to celebrate your post-pandemic freedom.

Where to stay

La Terraza del Claris is a restaurant run by Michelin-starred chef Aurelio Morales, with views over the Barcelona’s classic Eixample district.

Claris Hotel & Spa…a celebration of all things artistic just a short walk from Gaudi’s La Pedrera and Casa Batlló, with original pieces of Roman, Hindu art and pre-Columbian cultures and an indoor Japanese water garden.

Grand Hotel Central…historic sites can be spotted out of almost every window at this design hotel in arty El Born – but no view compares to the rooftop terrace.

6. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Boats have been part of the fabric of Amsterdam from the very beginning – fuelling its rise from fishing village to centre of worldwide trade in the 16th century. Today, its narrow canals, criss-crossed with bridges and bordered by narrow merchants’ houses, are an immediately recognisable symbol of the city. Although there are plenty of options for canal tours, there’s more fun to be had in renting your own vessel for an hour or two’s exploration – and a better socially distanced option this summer.

Back on dry land, this artist-approved city is a captivating mix of cutting-edge creativity and historic charm. The Van Gogh Museum, the Rijkmuseum, and Stedelijk Museum for modern art are the obvious must-visits, but don’t miss the new and unique STRAAT, the world’s biggest street art and graffiti museum in a 8,000 square-metre warehouse at NDSM wharf which is showcasing some 150 artworks, all made on-site.

Where to stay

Enjoy a quiet drink in the private garden at Canal House after a day shopping in the nearby boutiques and galleries. 

Canal House…a design-led hotel which comprises three historic 17th century merchant houses overlooking the Keizersgracht, one of the city’s major canals.

The Dylan Amsterdam…an elegant former 17th-century theatre situated on one of Amsterdam’s main canals with a Michelin-starred restaurant and charming courtyard garden.

TwentySeven Hotel…where a head-in-the-clouds location on Dam Square meets above-and-beyond service and Michelin-starred dining.