Top 5 European Cities

Airport hotel Heathrow to – where? How about a European city break? But where to go?

Madrid buzzes with bars, entertainment, and a night life that lasts until morning. Wander along the Gran Via, a boulevard of belle epoque facades, or relax in green Buen Retiro Park.

Haggle at the centuries-old El Rastro market, and congratulate yourself on your purchases over a cerveza in elegant Plaza Mayor. Make time for the Prado art gallery, a treasure house of work by artists such as Velazquez, Goya, Titian, Bosch, and several Flemish artists.

The lively city of Berlin has always embraced art and culture. Recent history, however, has been dominated by division and re-unification. In 2014, it will be twenty-five years since the Wall came down, so be there there to join the celebrations. And make sure you visit the Brandenburg Gate, which emphasised the separation between East and West, but now symbolises German unity.

Combine a stop at the Holocaust monument, one block south, with a visit to the Jewish Museum, designed by architect Danile Libeskind. Then check the Television Tower for views of the Reichstag (Parliament), the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, and other sights.

Prague, now part of the Czech Republic, is another city that has changed since the fall of the Soviet Union, but its elegant mix of architectural styles remains. Linger under the statues on Charles Bridge, Prague’s oldest. Cross it to check the time by the iconic Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Hall, but be sure to arrive before the hour strikes.
Venture into the Jewish Quarter to see the best complex of Jewish historical monuments in Europe. Admire the stained glass by Alfons Mucha in St Vitus Cathedral, and experience Prague Castle, which originally dates from the ninth century. Then fill your beer tankard, and listen to the soundtrack of this very musical city.

Venice will transport you to another world in two hours. Acclimatise yourself in St Mark’s Square, then explore the little shops along narrow streets to the Rialto. Other districts are less crowded; discover the old Jewish Quarter, or watch glass-blowing on the island of Murano.

Take your camera for the colourful masks and costumes of the Carnival period. There are fireworks at the Festa del Redentore in July, when locals decorate their boats, and the night lagoon becomes a bobbing sea of lights.

The only romantic destination that can compete with La Serenissimma is Paris, city of art, music, and dance. Must-see sights include the Arc de Triomphe, commissioned by Napoleon, the 320 metre-high Eiffel Tower, and the stunning stained glass windows of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Mona Lisa’s smile will follow you round the Louvre; or you could join the Impressionists at the Musee d’Orsay. Originally a railway station, and an art nouveau gem, it retains its clock, from behind which you can see the artist’s favourite of Montmartre.

Take a Parisian stroll in the Luxembourg Gardens, then pause at a candlelit bistro on the Left Bank. And finally, round off a perfect weekend with a walk by the River Seine.

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