6 of the best city breaks you probably haven't thought of
The second (third and fourth) choice cities that should be first on your hitlist
Paris? Been there. Rome? Done that. Berlin? Completed it, mate.
Pop up your annual “Need a holiday! Any suggestions?” Facebook status, and we betcha some big bucks that these are the “gotta-try” cities you’ll be getting back from your pals.
Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but when was the last time that following the crowd led you to having near-unhealthy amounts of perma-grinning fun? Yeah, we’re struggling with that one too.
We say, break from tradition, tread your own path, and step into the relative unknown for next international getaway, to somewhere that’s genuinely exciting and not already all over everyone else’s photo feeds.
Try these six on for size…
For the partiers: Cologne
Why it’s ace: It’s not hard to see why Cologne is often dubbed ‘The Party Zone’. With a colourful and plain-mad carnival season that lasts from November all the way to February, a homegrown beer that bar staff will ply you with endlessly until you physically cover your glass, and a massively welcoming LGBTQ scene that might just be the best in Europe, this Rhine-hugging city isn’t Germany’s prettiest, but it sure as heck is the partiest.
Stay here: Get a taste for Cologne’s cool creative and artistic culture with a room at the uber Instagrammable Qvest – a neo-gothic stunner owned and furnished by the trendy German design magazine of the same name.
Drink here: It’s all about the Kölsch here – a sessionable and crisp pale ale. Settle into a ‘Brauhaus’, such as the 134-year-old Päffgen Brewery near the city centre, and let the golden stuff floweth.
Eat here: It ain’t all giant pork knuckles and metre-long bratwurst brewery nosh here. Splash out on a reservation at Ox and Klee, and sample the genius tasting menus (99€ - 144€) that helped earn chef Daniel Gottschlich his Michelin star.
Fly with: British Airways have a new route from London Gatwick to Cologne for as little as £3o each way.
For the history hit-list: Palma
Why it’s ace: Think Balearics, you think 72-hours of non-stop shape-throwing in Beefa’s hyper-clubs. But Palma proves that the sun-kissed archipelago can go just as big on heritage as it can hedonism. There’s enough medieval architecture, old-town tapas and Catalonian history here to fill any 48-hour itinerary, and that’s before we’ve even mentioned the glorious beaches…
Stay here: The Tres is where old-school meets cool. Expect to be met by chic Scandinavian interior design as you enter this 16th-century building, before lapping up panoramic sea, city and mountain views from the hotel’s roof terrace.
Eat here: We’re not going to sit here and tell you to hit just one tapas place – go sample them all! But for a smarter, posher lunch, Marc Fosh is where to drop your crosshairs. Three courses at “Palma’s coolest restaurant” will only set you back 29.50€, too.
Drink here: Ca La Seu, a near-ancient family-run establishment, is where the locals head to pickle themselves in cheap but quality cava (and tapas, obvs). Follow their lead.
Fly with: British Airways have added more flights to Palma from London Gatwick from £25 each way.
For the UNESCO tick-box: Salzburg
Why it’s ace: There are few cities in the world that can genuinely be described as ‘straight from a fairy tale’, but Austria’s fourth-largest is surely right at the head of that list. Castles rise above a baroque old town that’s encompassed by steep hills, to make this the setting of any bedtime story, let alone your next loved-up couples break.
Stay here: Come to Cool Mama for the name, and stay for arguably the hippest roof terrace in Salzburg, a monochrome colour scheme, and uninterrupted views across the Alps thanks to it being one of the only skyscrapers in the city.
Eat here: Let your eyes and nose guide your around the Alter Markt (Old Market) at lunchtime, and plug your hunger hole with smoked meat sarnies, spicy sausages, pretzels and traditional cheeses. It’s right next to classical maestro Mozart’s birthplace too, so tick two must-dos off in one.
Drink here: Sure, it’s probably top of everyone’s to-do list, but a couple of brewskis in the beer garden at Stiegl Brewery – Salzburg’s most popular and beloved beer – and those concerns will magically melt away. Trust us.
Fly with: British Airways flights from London Gatwick to Salzburg will set you back around £30 each way.
For the foodies: Thessaloniki
Why it’s ace: Greece’s second city hasn’t let a little thing like a crippling economic crisis kill its vibe. Stunning sea views (get those cameras ready at sunset), a buzzing nightlife and the finest food scene in the whole country makes Thessaloniki feel a world apart from the crumbling tourist traps and financial breakdown of Athens.
Stay here: Art lovers and sun seekers will love The Met, what with its minimalist aesthetic and selection of sculptures and paintings inside, and luxurious pool on the roof to lounge beside/Instagram the heck out of.
Eat here: The huge spectrum of top-notch eats, from the dirt-cheap feta pittas of Derlicatessan Souvalki to the mussel risotto of swanky waterside Ouzeri Agioli, prove without question Thessaloniki’s status as Greece’s culinary capital.
Drink here: Gorilla is a relative newcomer, but knows how to make a mean cocktail. Industrial vibes, loud music and a 5am closing time (Thurs and Fri) make this a late-night must-try.
Fly with: Flights from London Gatwick to Thessaloniki are around £64 each way with British Airways.
For the unfairly-treated gem: Glasgow
Why it’s ace: Tell someone who’s never been to Glasgow that you’re off to Scotland’s second city, and you’ll be met with a sharp inhale, a look of terror and a “best of luck, pal”. Tell someone who has been there, and just try and stop them from gushing over its enrapturing history, legendary street art, dry-humoured inhabitants and unrivalled music culture. Ignore the stereotypes – lively and cosmopolitan Glasgow has got it going on.
Stay here:Hotel Du Vin turns every single Glaswegian stereotype on its head – an old-world, glamourous and romantic boutique complete with whisky room and cigar shack.
Eat here: “There is no more unfavourably reviled food on Earth than haggis,” said the inimitable Anthony Bourdain on visiting the city for an episode of ‘Parts Unknown’. Bag a table at neighbourhood bistro Roastit Bubbly Jocks and discover what he means.
Drink here: Not even Glasgow’s escaped the vice grip of the craft beer movement, and Drygate’s East End brewhouse, with 26 rotating taps and a slew of icy bottles, gets the local hipster hopheads all giddy.
Fly with: Flights from London Gatwick to Glasgow are around £33 each way with British Airways.
For a bit of brutalism: Tirana
Why it’s ace: Brutalist architecture is, along with jazz music and duvet tog ratings, something that we automatically come to appreciate come adulthood. Which is why you, a proper grown-up, will surely admire the preserved Soviet-style buildings that now stand out against the Albanian capital’s kaleidoscopic post-communist transformation, and the modern, free-thinking and creative people that live there.
Stay here: The classy Padam Boutique not only boasts a location right next to the must-see Pyramid of Tirana, but one of the best restaurants in the Balkans, too.
Eat here: Here’s hoping you like seafood, because whew boy, is there a lot of it on offer here. The jumbo prawns, truffle sashimi and seafood ravioli from Salt’s open kitchen should be a priority, though.
Drink here: Hemingway Bar is hands-down one of the coolest and cosiest spots in town. More rums than you can shake your squiffy fist at, and, of course, a load or traditional raki to imbibe with, too.
Fly with: British Airways flies from London Gatwick to Tirana for £55 each way.
Book your trip to any of the above stellar destinations at ba.com/gatwick.
Limited availability. Prices are available each way based on a return ‘Basic’ Euro Traveller fare from London Gatwick only, and include taxes, fees and charges. Correct as of 1 October 2018 but subject to change at any time. See ba.com/gatwick for details.