There are not many surprises when you ask city break specialists about their top-selling destinations in Europe – the big names including Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Venice and Rome all feature prominently.
But smaller cities in Europe are increasingly coming on to the radar for consumers – helped by the growth of airline routes, eye-catching new hotels and prestigious cultural events. While Venice, Rome and Vienna continue to be top sellers for Kirker Holidays, there has also been increased demand for less high-profile cities such as Porto, Bordeaux and The Hague.
Meanwhile, Classic Collection’s most popular city breaks include the Spanish options of Seville, Granada and Malaga, alongside perennial favourites such as Amsterdam and Vienna.
Operators are also quick to mention the Maltese capital of Valletta, currently one of two European Capitals of Culture for 2018, alongside Dutch city Leeuwarden. Valletta is not just in the spotlight for its extensive programme of events throughout this year, the city has also seen some significant luxury hotel developments.
Amsterdam has also enjoyed renewed publicity since the start of the twice-daily direct Eurostar train services from London in April, a journey that takes just under four hours.
Another city to watch may be Russia’s St Petersburg, which was a major venue for this summer’s Fifa World Cup football tournament. Despite all the negative media publicity about Russia in general this year, St Petersburg remains Regent Holidays’ most popular city break. The city could also continue to bask in the positive glow of being part of hosting such a successful World Cup.
Here are five of top European city options for 2018 and beyond:
The new Eurostar service from St Pancras in London has certainly re-asserted Amsterdam’s status on the short-break map.
Art has always been one of the city’s top selling points with major attractions such as the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum, while the Hermitage’s major exhibition for the rest of this year is Classic Beauties, which includes Antonio Canova’s iconic Three Graces marble statue.
Amsterdam is also benefitting from a glut of new accommodation including Kimpton De Witt, Hotel Mercier, Hotel TwentySeven and the Pestana Amsterdam Riverside, which is located in a former city hall.
But don’t expect any bargains – Amsterdam was found to be the most expensive city break in Europe, according to Post Office Travel Money research earlier this year.
How to book it: Cox & Kings offers two nights at the Pulitzer Hotel from £850pp including flights, coxandkings.co.uk
Majorca may be better known as a summer beach destination but its historic capital is one of the Mediterranean’s most fascinating cities, with landmarks such as the Gothic 13th-century Santa Maria cathedral, the hilltop Bellver Castle and the Royal Palace of La Almudaina.
Palma is also becoming known for its growing number of boutique hotels (now closing in on 30 properties) with another six due to open this year including the 68-room Hotel Es Princep in the Calatrava area close to the city’s restored ancient walls.
Other newcomers include Icon Roseto, Hotel Gloria Sant Jaume and Hotel Mama, all located within Palma’s old city.
The five-star Protur Naisa Hotel is also set to open this autumn on the site of a former military building in Palma’s Paseo Mallorca coastal area – the property will feature 100 rooms and a rooftop terrace.
How to book it: Super Break offers three nights at the Valparaiso Palace from £601pp including flights, superbreak.com/agents
Yes, diplomatic relationships between the UK and Russia have been somewhat strained of late (for a whole of host of reasons), but Russia’s second city remains one of Europe’s most fascinating and spectacular city breaks.
The Fifa World Cup has helped to boost the city’s profile – particularly as the England football team was based in a camp outside St Petersburg during its run to the semi-finals.
Even though the city is relatively modern at just over 300 years old, it has a wealth of historic attractions such as the Winter Palace, Hermitage Museum and the beautiful – if macabrely named – Church of the Spilled Blood. Outside the city, the summer palaces of the former tsars, including Catherine Palace, are similarly impressive.
Culture runs deep in St Petersburg and visitors can enjoy an atmospheric night of opera or ballet at the iconic Mariinsky Theatre. Corthinia Hotel St Petersburg, one of the city’s most prominent luxury hotels, has just redesigned 280 of its 388 rooms and created a new-look “light-filled” lobby.
How to book it: Regent Holidays offers a six-day trip to St Petersburg from £1,300pp including flights, accommodation at the Hotel Astoria and sightseeing, regent-holidays.co.uk
Being awarded the status of a European Capital of Culture always helps to put a host city in the spotlight and that’s certainly true of the Maltese capital. Valletta is holding more than 400 events and running 140 projects throughout 2018, including the opening of the new Muza art gallery in a former home of the Italian Knights of St John.
Valletta’s appeal is being even more heightened by significant new hotel developments including
The Saint John in the city centre, which features 20 rooms in a converted former merchant’s shop and home, and the historic Phoenicia hotel, which reopened last year after a major refurbishment and is now part of Campbell Gray Hotels.
In nearby Senglea, the all-suite Cugo Gran Macina Grand Harbour opened in January and offers 21 suites in a renovated 16th-century building.
How to book it: Classic Collection offers five nights at The Saint John from £1,069pp including flights, classic-collection.co.uk
The Austrian capital is currently celebrating some of its most famous and influential former residents including artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Koloman Moser, plus architect and city planner Otto Wagner, during a series of exhibitions and events throughout the year under the title Modernism in 2018.
Talking of modernism, one of Vienna’s big hotel openings this year will be Mooons, a design-focused property located opposite the city’s new Central Station. Mooons is promising to offer affordable luxury with 170 minimalist rooms and a rooftop bar.
For accommodation that’s a bit more traditional in style, Ruby Lissi Hotel & Bar, which opened last year in a former post office building in the old town, features plush interiors based on the “golden age of rail travel”. Another new option is HoHo Hotel, which will be housed in a 24-storey timber building on the outskirts of Vienna and is due to open in late 2018.
How to book it: Kirker offers four nights at the Hotel Konig von Ungarn from £794pp including flights and entrance to museums, kirkerholidays.com