Summer in the city

Sun has warmed the cobbles, the cafés are abuzz… Our favourite places in Europe are at their finest when the mercury climbs. Here’s where to go with the flow

 

Split, Croatia

Visitors are drawn in their droves to the Dalmatian islands, seeking out Venetian cobbled towns and hidden beaches among lovely dense woodland. To get to the likes of party-central Hvar, beachy Brač or undeveloped Vis, they all need to come to Split, the starting point for dozens of ferry routes.

But don’t disappear as soon as you arrive — there’s plenty in this honey-hued town to fill a lazy couple of days. Wander down cramped alleyways lined with gelato shops and and you’re suddenly thrust into café-lined squares, where suited waiters dart between tables serving luscious prawn linguine. Indeed, seafood is Split’s real star.

Try Restoran Bajamonti (restoran- bajamonti.hr) for sea views, or cosy Konoba Varos (konobavaros.com), its vast, ancient architecture only adding to the atmosphere.

Between the aged churches and Roman-era Diocletian’s Palace (diocletianspalace.org), whose ancient walls and chambers cover half the Old Town, you feel as though you could be in a teeny, seaside Rome. There’s even a little beach, Bačvice, where locals come to squeeze in on a free afternoon. It’s not Croatia’s finest, but the people-watching is great.

Finally, just potter: through the Pazar flower and veg market just east of the walls, or past tablefuls of brass treasures at the flea market. Reserve evenings for ambles along the seaside embankment, lined with umbrella-topped cafés serving strong coffees.

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Lisbon Tram, Elevador da Bica Portugal
Lisbon Tram

Lisbon, Portugal

Cobbled hills, chilled-out vibes and one-euro coffee-and-custard-tarts all help make Lisbon one of the most charming of city breaks, but it really comes into its own once the beach weather kicks in. This is when you’re pretty much obliged to alternate city sightseeing and shopping (just try coming home without a vivid sardine tin or ceramic bowl) with easy half-hour train rides out to the beach. There are sands closer to town, but follow the locals to the more sheltered spots at Estoril and Cascais. Rainha beach, once reserved for Portuguese royalty, is the best-looking; Tamariz, by a 17th-century fort, is good for families. Surfers should pick up a free city bike at Cascais station and pedal to Guincho for its Atlantic waves and sunset-view Bar do Guincho.

Back in town, don’t see the city’s seven hills as your enemy in the heat. Instead, take it slowly, get on a funicular or a tram and make the most of the contours to catch a cooling breeze. Sightseers’ favourite, tram No. 28, runs up to the Moorish Sao Jorge castle at the top of the Alfama district. Better still, you can admire it across terracotta rooftops from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. 

On another day, dip back down for a riverside stroll from the cool cloisters of the Jeronimos Monastery to the curvy new Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology.

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Umbrellas and sun beds on the beach
Nice

Nice, France

It’s nice to be in Nice in July. Temperatures hover at 25°c around the clock, so you can shrug off the sweater while sipping your morning coffee in a pretty square. It’s not yet too hot to walk mid-afternoon down the rambling Promenade des Anglais, or laze on the polished pebbles of the beach. And, crucially, the surrounding Côte d’Azur towns that you’ve probably come here to see – Antibes, Cannes, all the way down to Saint-Tropez – haven’t yet suffered the full onslaught of the summer ‘set’, so the scene is still largely local (and a bit more affordable).

Nice’s Old Town is where the action is. Locals throw open the shutters of their creamy townhouses and trot down to the winding lanes of butchers, boulangeries and cheese shops. Rent an apartment and you can join them, or else decamp to Cours Saleya market, where you can sip rosé in the sun, munching on fresh socca, a warm chickpea pancake that’s satisfyingly crisp and crumbly.

For that postcard-perfect shot of Nice’s gently curving arch of azure, scale the zigzagging steps up the Bellanda tower. Should the day start to get sweaty, simply make like the local children and run through the vast fountains in Parc du Paillon. Or, catch a breeze over an icy drink at Le Méridien’s rooftop bar overlooking the Med.

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Parliament form Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest
Budapest

Budapest, Hungary

Open-air baths surrounding wedding-cake Hapsburg architecture, a rambling castle fortress overlooking a squiggle of a river — Budapest was seemingly made for wandering, especially in the sunny mid-summer. If it all gets a bit too hot, you can always go for a dip with the pensioners at Szechenyi Thermal Baths (szechenyispabaths.com).

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Helsingborg

Stockholm, Sweden 

With 3am sunrises and 10pm sunsets throughout July, you get a lot of sun for your buck here. Focus on Gamla Stan and Skeppsholmen islands, and the waterfront by Strömgatan. There are sleepy isles to explore, too, so get out on the water — try Grinda, an hour away by ferry; or take the hop-off-hop-on boat (stromma.com).

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Bologna cityscape at sunset
Bologna

Bologna, Italy

As you might guess, Emilia Romagna’s industrious capital loves its food. And so will you, particularly in summer. Invariably eating is al fresco, be it on the hoof through markets, or at some piazza café, soaking up the sun. Wafts of Parmesan, ham and coffee fill the maze-like Quadrilateral quarter, while Piazza Maggiore is a gelato-licking parade.

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Young couple strolling near Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
The Eiffel Tower, Paris

 

Paris, France 

Paris in August is like a ghost town, right? Well, not quite – it’s actually rather a good time to come. Sure, lots of Parisians are away, but plenty remain, enjoying their city at a more relaxed pace, especially in the less-central neighbourhoods. Join them picnicking in the parks, enjoying drinks canalside and swimming in the Paris Plage pools at Bassin de la Villette. The centre is still tourist-busy, but the weather makes an open-top bus tour a thing of glory.

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Uspenski Cathedral at Dusk in Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki

Helsinki, Finland 

Endless summer nights, harbourside walks, markets stuffed with fresh-picked berries and cool design make this city a dream weekend. Hop between shops in the Design District, drooling at minimalist-chic plates (try Lokal; lokalhelsinki.com). Don’t miss the outdoor  Hietalahti flea market for vintage glassware, then feast on cinnamon rolls at pavement tables at Robert’s Coffee (robertscoffee.com).

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Ljubljana

Ljubljana, Slovenia

A cluster of candy-hued baroque buildings on a snaking, green-banked river, it’s a wonder Ljubljana isn’t busier at this time of year. A few hours of lazy meandering past market squares and hilltop castle ramparts will take you through the ‘sights’. Spend the rest of your weekend café-hopping or cycling around Tivoli park (hire from the tourist office) and, of course, eating the Italy-quality food.

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Aerial view of Berlin skyline with dramatic clouds in twilight during blue hour at dusk, Germany
Berlin

Berlin, Germany 

Winters can be long and grey, but in summer the German capital sheds its dreary demeanour, transforming into a carefree, sun-streaked paradise.

The city is surprisingly green, peppered with vast parks, such as the tree-rimmed Tempelhofer Feld, where you can fly kites, rollerblade or cycle along a disused airport runway. Berlin is threaded with waterways, too – lined with promenades and criss- crossed with bridges. Stroll along the meandering Landwehr canal, popping into the Tiergarten for a row around the lake and a brew in the Cafe am Neuen See’s garden. Further green thrills await at Marzahn’s Gärten der Welt, ablaze with blooms from Japan, Korea, Italy and Bali, and the Comenius Garden in Neukölln.

If it gets too steamy (temperatures can spike at 32°c in summer), rent a bike (berlinfahrradverleih.com) or jump on an S-Bahn. Within 90 minutes you could be cooling off in the glistening waters of Wannsee, one of the largest lidos in Europe, or lying on the sand with an ice cream at the Tegeler See or Liepnitzsee lakes.

Berlin’s nighttime party scene also goes al fresco. When the sun dips, the rumble of bass can be heard at outdoor bars-cum-clubs, such as Badeschiff (arena.berlin), Club der Visionäre (clubdervisionaere.com) and the rooftop Klunkerkranich (klunkerkranich.de).

In summer the German capital sheds its dreary demeanour, transforming into a carefree, sun-streaked paradise

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Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain

They used to call Barcelona the city with its back to the sea, but not anymore. Just metres from the leafy Ramblas, with its Gaudí concoctions and fairy-tale turrets, what was once a derelict spit of coast is now home to everything from hip xiringuitos (beach bars) and stylish restaurants to giant sculptures.

The sun shines most of the year, but the city is best before the August rush – the air, tempered by sea breezes, means it’s not yet too hot, and you can combine the culture, shopping and foodie hits of Spain’s coolest city with all its five-star beaches, from bustling Barceloneta to family-friendly Bogatell. The big sights are all still there for the ticking: the Sagrada Família, the Fundació Joan Miró, but the true joy at this time of year is feasting on freshly landed seafood, while watching the waves lap near your feet. There’s a string of restaurants with beachfront terraces near Barceloneta, and the best, Can Majo (canmajo.es), dishes up juicy prawns, alongside Catalan classics such as suquet, a saffron-flecked fish casserole with monkfish, clams and abundant prawns.

Great places to enjoy a drink and Barcelona go hand in hand. El Born or Raval are the go-to areas for late-night drinks and nibbles, but first hit Eclipse (eclipse- barcelona.com) for the sunset. Here, on the 26th floor of the W Hotel, the watermelon mocktails are the same colour as the evening sky.

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Caucasian tourists walking on cobblestone Leningrad street, Leningrad, Russia
St Petersburg

St Petersburg, Russia 

Russia’s pretty port city is a place where the sun never sets and the parties go on all night.

On Friday evenings, the unmissable Hermitage opens ’til 9pm (hermitage museum.org) – beat the queues by booking in advance online. Afterwards, a short waterside stroll along the embankments, gleaming in the night-time sun, brings you to New Holland Island, a hip redevelopment hidden among old canals. Kuznya restaurant channels pre-rev Petersburg – try the borscht or honey cake.

Now’s also the best time to see the city by bike. Roll through St Isaac’s Square and baroque Petrogradsky on a tour (peterswalk.com), seeing lift-bridges on the Neva and quiet backstreets on Vasilievsky Island. Don’t miss Andreevsky Market (through the arch between 16 and 18 Bolshoy Prospekt), with its beetroot- stained pickled garlic and hand-painted matryoshka dolls.

Squeeze in an afternoon nap — you could be out all night. First fuel up with designer burgers at Bureau (barbureau.ru) followed by doughnuts from retro-style Pyshechka. Then stroll along the Fontanka to Rubinstein Street, making regular stops for refreshments, or catch a late-night ballet on the roof terrace of the Mariinsky II Theatre. Fifteen minutes’ walk away, the dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral is open all night – head up for a 4am sunrise, before a porridge-and-pancake breakfast at nearby Bonch (bonchcoffee.ru).

In summer, Russia’s pretty port city is a place where the sun never sets and the parties go on all night

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View of the sea from a height of Pope Luna's Castle. Valencia, Spain. Peniscola. Castell. The medieval castle of the Knights Templar on the beach. Beautiful view of the sea and the bay.
Valencia

Valencia, Spain
Valencia doesn’t draw as many visitors as some Spanish cities, but it should. There are just as many historical buildings, squares, tapas bars, gardens and museums – plus a breeze-licked beach where you can flop and simply ignore it all. Evenings are made for sitting out on promenade-side tables, forks in saffron-bright paella (made ‘properly’ the local way – try Casa Carmela; casa-carmela.com). 

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View toward the historic city of Valletta, Malta
Valletta

Valleta, Malta

The sunniest city in Europe is hot news this year: it’s seizing its moment as European Capital of Culture 2018, while bold design and trendy openings have given this UNESCO World Heritage Site a fresh new look. The architect of London’s The Shard – Renzo Piano – revitalised Valletta’s grand city gate. Baroque mansions have reopened as boutique hotels, and the ancient streets are now rippling with cool restaurants. 

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Crowds of holiday makers on coast, Marseille, France
Marseille

Marseille, France 

Marseille’s trick is to make you feel like you’ve had a week’s summer holiday in one stress-free, strollable 48 hours. One minute you’re by the big boat port; the next, you’re up in the pretty, historic Le Panier district; or you’re absorbing the ‘culture’ on the rooftop terrace of the modern Mucem museum. Then you’re off into the multi-ethnic Noailles area for mint tea and bourek pies, before hitting the coast for beaches.

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Credit: Ed Grenby, News Licensing / The Sunday Times Travel Magazine