When somebody says they are going on a trip to Europe nobody would question you if the thoughts running around your head were off the romantic tourist hotspots like Paris, Rome and Prague.
But the true beauty of Europe is often found beyond the boundaries of these huge cities, in the small country towns or the hidden gems of lesser travelled countries. And many of these places are perfectly suited to a short getaway of a couple of days.
We have been fortunate to experience some amazing places on our European road trips but we wanted to discover new places as well. So, after launching Part One of this list, we reached out to our travel blogging friends and asked them to tell us about their best place in Europe for a short getaway.
Porto, Portugal with Jane from Scarlet Jones Travels.
Porto is the perfect European city for a short break with easy access from the airport and plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets.
The city is compact so little time is wasted on transport and there’s a wealth of interesting things to see and to do. Porto ticks all the boxes regarding food and drink, there’s a great beach close by and good nightlife too.
Take a while to stroll around the UNESCO listed old town with its twisty cobbled streets and pretty houses and then tackle a francesinha if you dare. This is a daunting local dish that will certainly fill you up; and you can wash it all down with some of the local port wine at a bar or on a cellar tour.
Like its big brother Lisboa, Porto has trams and steep hills but it’s less frantic and people here are generally more relaxed. You can stroll across the famous bridge and at dusk join the crowds at the viewpoint above the town for some fabulous sunsets. And then if the steep streets haven’t exhausted you, do climb to the top of the Clerigos Tower for views of the city or wander around one of the many parks.
A local bus can take you to the nearby beach and another to the gardens and museum of the Contemporary Art Museum. I loved the relaxed atmosphere of Porto and its friendly people. You won’t be bored on a short break here.
Tatra Mountains, Poland with Dorota from Born Globals.
Tatra mountains are a mountain range on the border of Poland and Slovakia. There is over 300 kilometers of trails on Polish side. You can either plan a day hike or stay up in the mountains for a couple of days and walk from peak to peak. No matter which option you choose the views will surely take your breath away.
What I love about Tatras is their beauty and variety. You can do a leisurely stroll along the valleys or hike for the whole day on a very demanding trail. If you’re lucky you can see a fox, a marmot or a Tatra chamois and a great variety of flowers and plants. A bear if you’re less lucky!
The Tatras are perfect for a short break from the city. You can charge your batteries there admiring outstanding nature, breathing the fresh and sharp mountain air. Some trails around Morskie Oko and Giewont can be crowded but if you choose less popular parts of the mountains you can spend the whole day with your thoughts and nature only.
Kotor, Montenegro with Mike from Travel and Destinations.
Kotor makes for a fantastic place to visit for a short break. This small town is nestled in the Bay of Kotor off the Dalmatian Coast and has huge towering mountains, stunning beaches and provides that perfect getaway feeling.
The Old Town is one of the highlights of this place, being super cute with old ancient architecture, cobbled streets and an amazing selection of restaurants with most offering outdoor dining. And as you dine eating delicious local food, you may also experience locals playing music which adds magic to the atmosphere.
If you fancied a challenge, then one of the best things to do during your visit would be to head up the Fortress of Kotor, where you’ll be presented with breathtaking views of the surroundings mountains, the Bay and Old Town. It takes a fair amount of effort to get to the top, and a good time to go is around sunset, or in the early morning before the sun becomes too hot.
Kotor is especially good to visit in the summer, with nice temperatures perfect for sunbathing, relaxing and swimming on the beach. A good way to visit is to come from Dubrovnik as the bus only takes around two hours, which means you could see two fantastic places within one trip.
Cies Islands, Spain with Inma from A World to Travel.
Along with Ons Islands and a few other little ones such as the tiny Salvora and Cortegada, Cies Islands look like they just came out of a luxury travel brochure. They were first declared a Nature Reserve in 1980 and later included in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park created in 2002.
And we as Galicians could not be more proud of them. Many times highlighted as some of the best islands in the world by authority newspapers and big travel magazines, Vigo’s estuary has three of them guarding its entrance: Monteagudo (Sharp Mount or North Island), do Faro (Lighthouse Island, or Middle Island) and San Martiño aka the South Island.
The first two ones are the most touristy – and where Rodas Beach is – but the South Island, only accessible by private yacht is also a great option to spend an epic day. Have a look, you are missing out!
Sarlat, France with Cindy from Travel Bliss Now.
Just a two hour drive from Bordeaux, France, this pretty medieval town is perfect for a short getaway that will make you feel a million miles away.
Dating back to the 9th century, I loved getting lost in the narrow alleyways that wind between the honey-coloured limestone buildings. While there are plenty of adorable villages and historic sites to explore nearby, Sarlat is an idyllic place to experience a taste of small town life in the Dordogne region of France.
Sarlat is a gourmet paradise, particularly known for foix gras, truffles, fresh produce, cheese and wine. On market days, (Saturday and Wednesday), the main square fills with local vendors with delicious offerings. Lined with outdoor cafes, the square is also a splendid place to enjoy some local wine.
You’ll also discover the cutest and tiniest cafes tucked into nooks and hugging the stone buildings. Best of all, when the sun goes down in Sarlat, the town lights up by gas lamps casting a romantic glow.
Tip for visiting Sarlat: Consider going in the shoulder seasons of spring or fall, when it’s less busy and weather is still pleasant.
Istanbul, Turkey with Marta from Where Life is Great.
Istanbul is one of those places which when you visit for the first time they surprise you and leave you speechless. It is a city that mixes culture of the West with the Middle East, a place with architecture so magical that resembles a fairy tale, and where two different continents are tight together.
If you fancy a short break, head to Istanbul and indulge yourself in the culture, pamper yourself with Turkish bath and spoil yourself with delicious Turkish sweets. You won’t regret!
First, let’s talk about history. Istanbul has been a capital of 3 empires and has incredible architectural gems, such as Haga Sophia, Blue Mosque or Topkapi Palace. For me, the main attraction was visiting Harem – home to Sultan’s family and lovers.
Istanbul is also heaven for shoppers. Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and the biggest covered market in the World! It consists of 61 streets and 4000 shops so anybody will find little something for themselves. To be honest, you can easily spend 3 days shopping if that is your thing!
My personal favorite though was Turkish baths – the best place to relax after a long day of sightseeing. Feel like a royalty while having a body scrub, body wash, and a soap message. I can assure you, you have never felt so clean.
Istanbul is really a place for everybody: spa lovers, history geeks, foodies and party animals.
Edinburgh, Scotland with Suzanne from Phila Travel Girl.
A short trip is just enough time to scratch the surface of Scotland via Edinburgh. The compact city offers a bit of everything – history at Edinburgh Castle, a taste of royalty at Holyrood Palace, green space in Princes Street Gardens, exciting food options and of course, Scottish whiskey and shortbread biscuits!
You can explore the Old Town and do a bit of shopping on Princes Street in one day. On the second day, get out of town to the Highlands to see the other side of Scotland and be wowed by nature. To finish the short break in Edinburgh, go to St. Andrews to see the history of golf come alive at the Old Course. Learn about Tom and Tommy Morris and their enormous contributions to modern golf as we know it.
Back in Edinburgh, don’t forget to support a street performer playing the bagpipes and make that Instagram photo/video, social media gold! People think kilts, bagpipes and whiskey are all Scotland has to offer but the short city break with a taste of the countryside you’ll see that Scotland is much more as you plot out your return to explore more of the country.
Check out the movie, The Angels Share for a bit of whiskey fun in Scotland and of course, the animated movie, Brave.
Hamburg, Germany with Sonal from Drifter Planet.
If you are visiting Europe, then Hamburg in Germany is one of the best places for a short break. With canals, pretty houses, historical architecture, red light district, interesting street art and an amazing party scene – Hamburg offers something for every kind of a traveler.
Believe it or not – this city has more bridges than Amsterdam and Venice combined. Hamburg also has Europe’s biggest red light district – Reeperbahn. Reeperbahn is in St. Pauli and it is the same place where the Beatles played in their early music career before they became famous all over the world.
Hamburg also has the longest underwater river tunnel that goes under the river Elb. The best part – Hamburg’s buses have bookshelves and you can borrow the books for free!
Corfu, Greece with Suzy from Wunderlander.
Greece’s island of Corfu is the greenest and most diverse in comparison to the other Greek islands and is only a short flight away from many major European cities. Perfect for a little get-away!
Here my boyfriend and I spend extended weekends all through the year and recharge our batteries in the mild climate and great food. Here we discovered a small, hidden bay in the northeast of the island. Looking for a place to sleep, we simply followed a narrow path with a tent in our luggage. This led us through magical, dense olive groves and stony coastal areas. We were rewarded by a beautiful, small and lonely bay.
A wall of wild cacti shielded the bay from the shore side, so that we could enjoy the beach and the water undisturbed. We swam, had a little picnic with fresh tomatoes, bread and goat cheese and then spent the night in this wonderful, hidden place. It was a wonderful experience.
Den Haag, Netherlands with Bilyana from Owl over the World.
Den Haag should definitely be a stop on your Netherlands trip that’s for sure. Also, the city is one of the best places for a short break that I’ve been to, not just in the Netherlands but anywhere.
There are many things to do in Den Haag for free, the city is very pretty and relaxed. One of the things that I liked the most about Den Haag is Scheveningen, aka Den Haag beach. How cool is it to have a beach just 15 minutes tram ride away from the city center? There are bars and cafes where you can sit and relax and there are even a couple of attractions, like the Ferris Wheel and a bungee jump platform.
Den Haag has a very nice atmosphere and a couple of days there would be enough to explore the city and chill. There are many green areas and opportunities to have fun. From Den Haag, you can also visit Delft as a day trip. Lovely and authentic small Dutch town, which is also a great idea for a short break.
Bologna, Italy with Faye and David from Delve into Europe.
I had somehow passed close to or through Bologna several times, but was always on my way somewhere else until my wife took me there for a recent birthday. It turned out I had been missing out on one of my favourite cities, and I won’t make that mistake again.
Bologna is the capital of the central Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, and its historic centre is stunning, with distinctive beautifully preserved red brick churches, palazzi and towers clustered around the central squares, Piazza Maggiore and Piazza Nettuno. It is known as the ‘pianeta porticata’ because so many of its streets are lined by porticoed buildings.
The two twelfth century towers, the taller Asinelli and shorter Garisenda, dominate the skyline of the centre, and you can climb 498 steps to the top of the former for breathtaking views over the city.
Bologna’s other attraction for us is its food. We found our way to a tiny backstreet trattoria and ordered tagliatelle al ragu, the dish on which ‘spaghetti bolognese’ is based. It’s become a staple around the world, albeit far removed from the original. This was utterly sublime, one of the tastiest dishes I had ever eaten. After this, we took every opportunity we could to sit down and sample as much as possible, slowing down on the sightseeing somewhat to accommodate all those extra calories. It was my birthday, after all.
Carcassonne, France with us.
It is always special when you get to witness a Medieval walled city anywhere in the world but one of the most scenic would have to be the UNESCO listed Carcassonne in the Southwest of France.
Perched high on a hill overlooking the “new” town the fortress makes an imposing sight from miles around. A rich history and an excellent state of repair, teamed up with some wonderful local food served in small restaurants along the cobbled lanes, make this a very magical place.
Accommodation options are varied but whether you decide to stay inside the walls or out, try to get a view of this amazing place.