Wanderlust: Inspiration for your next escape with some of Europe’s most picturesque cities

City breaks have become one of the most popular forms of holidays among Britons. In fact, research from Statista shows that urban escapes were the leading type of holiday in 2019, with 46 percent of the nation opting for an urban retreat.


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With plenty of time as the current lockdown measures plod on, why not use the extra hours to dream up your next big escape.

To help with the planning, Express.co.uk has compiled five of Europe’s most picturesque cities ideal for that first escape.

Paris, France

It comes as no surprise Paris would make the cut, renowned for its gothic and Rayonnant architecture, bustling patios and lively nature.

What’s more, the city is famously dripping in romance, from its aesthetic to its quaint restaurants.

The French capital was voted the most Romantic city in the world by InsureMyTrip, which based its data on the popularity of location for honeymoons and marriage proposals, price of accommodations, quality of romantic hotels and wine bars, and quality of green space and parks.

Of course, Paris isn’t just for lovers.

A city saturated in culture, travellers can choose from an array of world-famous art galleries and museums, including The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Musée Marmottan-Claude Monet and Musée de l’Orangerie.

Take a walk alongside the central river Seine, climb the 284 steps of the Arc de Triomphe for an astonishing view, or sit on the grass and watch the Eiffel tower light up into a sea of sparkles come nightfall.

Paris can be accessed from the UK by train in just two hours and 16 minutes on average, and by plane in one hour and 10 minutes from London.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon has been growing in popularity year-on-year attracting around 4.5 million tourists annually to the city.

Famous for its panoramic views, hills surroundings, cobbled streets and ancient ruins, Lisbon is the ideal city break for the urban explorer.

One of its greatest trademarks are the seven hills spread across the cityscape and the consequent yellow trams that chug their way up and down the hills daily.

There is plenty of walking to be done, taking in sights including St George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) overlooking the city, UNESCO World Heritage Site 16th-century erónimos monastery and Museum Calouste Gulbenkian – one of Europe’s most celebrated museums.

However, once the active part of the day is through, tourists can chow down on some incredible food, another of the capital’s most famed assets.

Thanks to its coastal location, Lisbon restaurants dish up some of the freshest seafood on offer, and booze is renowned for its budget pricing, too.

Lisbon has an average flight time of two hours and 47 minutes from London, two hours and 45 minutes from Manchester, and 3 hours and 12 minutes from Edinburgh.

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Copenhagen, Denmark

Denmark’s capital was listed by Conde Nasté Traveller as their top European city destination in 2020 thanks to its aesthetic and design draw. A hipster haven, Copenhagen is situated on the coastal islands of Zealand and Amager.

A seaside city rich in colour and creativity, one of its most picturesque assets being its jellybean coloured houses which line the harbour front.

LonelyPlanet says the city is “enviably liveable” meanwhile locals are hailed for their effortlessly cool style.

Aside from the local fashion, there are plenty of visionary wonders to look at.

One of the city’s most famous draws is Tivoli Gardens – the world’s oldest theme park dating back to the 19th-century.

Decked out in dainty lighting and romantic Scandi design, Tivoli is complete with an 80-metre carousel offering a stunning view.

Along its shoreline, tourists also flock to the Little Mermaid statue, which has called the city its home since 1913 and pays homage to the author Hans Christian Andersen.

Completing the tourist draw is, of course, Copenhagen’s delicious foodie offering.

The city is home to 15 Michelin-starred restaurants, though there are still plenty of eateries with a more purse-friendly price tag that doesn’t scrimp on flavour.

The average flight time from London to Copenhagen is one hour and 51 minutes.


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Salzburg, Austria

The fourth-largest city in Austria might not be the top of your holiday list, but it was the top of Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities in the world for 2020.

Though it is often cast in the shadow of nearby Vienna and Munich, the city was described by Lonely Planet as a “heart-stealer of an Alpine city.”

Once the home of Mozart, the riverside city boasts a stunningly intricate landscape – a muddle of graceful domes and hand-crafted spires.

The urban landscape is famous for its musical offering, not only thanks to the 18th-century composer but also as it was the setting for the1965 musical The Sound of Music.

Salzburg’s aesthetic wonder includes its ornate concert galls, burgeoning art scene and manicured parks.

Take in the beauty of Schloss Hellbrunn, a Renaissance palace and surrounding park lane, stare up at the marble walls of Salzburg Cathedral, or visit the Kunstmuseum Den Haag art gallery.

The average flight time from London to Salzburg is one hour and 50 minutes.

Budapest, Hungary

The Hungarian city has grown into a tourist hotspot in recent years, welcoming 2.5 million guests in the first seven months of 2019.

It’s peak time is during the summer, when temperatures soar to an average of 28 degrees daily, ideal for tourists to soak in one of the outdoor spas or relax on the grass of one of the city’s picture-perfect parks.

With a relatively straight forward transit system and walkable streets, its the ideal city to experience the rich culture even while travelling to and from sights.

Its traditional thermal baths and spas remain one of Budapest’s crown jewels, boasting ornate design and an opportunity to relax.

Some of the most popular thermal baths in the city include Széchenyi Baths, offering 13 indoor and 3 outdoor pools, and Gellért Baths renowned for its 20th-century art nouveau design.

The city is split into two halves by the Danube River, which has become increasingly popular with river cruises.

One of the capital’s most famous sights is Saint Stephen’s Basilica, the most famous religious building in the city.

Meanwhile, the landscape is also made famous by Hungary’s neo-Gothic Parliament building, Castle Hill and Fisherman’s Bastion.

Party animals can unwind and dance the night away at one of the city’s artsy ruin bars – a series of cool drinking joints which have taken up residence inside dilapidated pre-war buildings.

The average flight time to Budapest is two hours and 44 minutes from Manchester, and two hours and 29 minutes from London.

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