If you want to skip the busy capitals and tourist hot spots on your next city break in Europe, these alternative cities offer just as much history and culture as their famous neighbours. Not only will you help reduce the impacts of over-tourism in Europe, these lesser known places may also prove to be a more cost effective option.
Note: Remember to check travel restrictions and the latest government advice before you travel.
A city break alternative to Rome, Venice and Florence
Lecce is located in Apulia, the olive growing region on ‘the heel’ of Southern Italy. The city of Lecce is a treasure trove of history and, similar to Rome, is like an outdoor museum with Roman Amphitheatre ruins viewable from the main square. If you’re drawn to the amazing architecture of Venice and Florence, you’re bound to be impressed by the beautiful baroque buildings of Lecce.
Related: A guide to visiting Lecce, Italy
A city break alternative to Barcelona and Madrid
Cadiz is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe with 3,000 years of stories to discover. Columbus once set sail for the new world from the port city, and its strategic position in Southern Europe resulted in numerous invasions from foreign powers, including the English during Elizabeth I’s reign.
Like Barcelona, Cadiz also has a beachfront and numerous public squares surrounded by tapas bars, seafood restaurants and historic monuments.
AD (partner, Visit Flanders): The top historical sites in Leuven, Belgium
Leuven, Belgium (Benelux)
A city break alternative to Amsterdam and Brussels
The Flemish city of Leuven is just minutes away from the Belgian capital with a Town Hall that rivals that of Brussels. Similar to Amsterdam, the predominantly Dutch-speaking locals enjoy navigating the city streets, parks and canal by bicycle.
A city break alternative to Paris
Not far from the city of lights is the historic Champagne growing region of France dotted with pretty medieval towns and cities like Provins, Troyes and Reims.
It’s hoped the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris will reopen for the 2024 Summer Olympics following the devastating fire in 2019, though you can visit comparable Gothic cathedrals in nearby Chartres and Reims. Reims is particularly significant as the place where 25 French Kings were crowned, and the cathedral is one of four UNESCO heritage sites to check off your list.
AD: View my article for Visit Cardiff exploring the City of Arcades
A city break alternative to London
Less than 2 hours away by rail, the capital of Wales is a much more compact and easy to navigate city than London’s famous tube network – though you may enjoy getting lost in the old shopping arcades.
Much of the city centre is pedestrianised so you can step off the train and walk to top visitor attractions like Cardiff Castle, the National Museum, Art Gallery and Principality Stadium. Cardiff can get very busy on match days having hosted dozens of international games like the Rugby World Cup and UEFA Champions League Final (in 2017), so time your visit accordingly.
AD: Stuttgart, Germany
A city break alternative to Berlin and Munich
Having visited Munich to explore Bavaria, it was interesting to learn about the ‘green city’ of Stuttgart in a webinar by the SouthWest Germany Tourist Board. Nestled amongst hills, vineyards and forests in this sunny corner of Germany, there are numerous viewpoints and green spaces in and around Stuttgart to soak up, including the hilltop burial chapel of Rotenberg (pictured below).
Like the idea of visiting Munich during Oktoberfest? Why not consider Stuttgart and the Karlshöhe ridge beer garden with a panoramic view of the city to enjoy over a pint.