Top 10 Alternative European Cities to Visit This Summer
Top 10 Alternative European Cities to Visit This Summer
By Simon Thompson
The long summer break means one thing for many students: HOLIDAY!! A popular choice is to go travelling round Europe, but the usual visits to Spain, France and Germany can get rather boring! Still, unsure of where to go? Well, as a self-confessed lover of Europe and visitor of cities that no one else has heard of (seriously, when I told someone I was going to Estonia, they replied “That’s in Spain, right?!”); I feel like I am qualified to share with you the top 10 alternative European cities to visit... some places I have visited; some places I am desperate to go to!
1. BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA
After many years of wanting to go to Bratislava, I finally went in February and it was amaaazing. When I first told people I had booked a trip there, reactions were “where’s that?!”, “ewww... why do you want to go there??” and “do you realise you’ll probably be murdered like in Hostel?”; but their ignorance only makes the city even better! Wandering round, you’ll realise you’re pretty much the only English people there, which means Slovakians love you. They’ll be dishing out complements and practising their English because they don’t really get the opportunity to. Another huge plus for Slovakia is how cheap everything is – my friend and I had a two course meal and cocktails every night for under €10!
If you’re wondering what to do in Bratislava, then don’t worry, there’s plenty of things going on. The old town is beautiful for walking round with lots of souvenir shops; and the architecture is stunning with castles and palaces seemingly everywhere! Bratislava’s zoo is a 20 minute bus ride away (and at €3 entry fee you can’t complain); and the amazing Aupark shopping centre (where my friend and I took refuge in for SEVEN AND A HALF HOURS after we got lost trying to find the zoo and ended up on a random Slovakian highway knee-deep in snow... but hey, that’s another story) which has loads of nice shops.
A major plus of a land-locked country is its proximity to other countries – a return train to Vienna costs €17 and gets you there in under an hour; and you can travel to Budapest and Prague in under four hours.
Maybe I’m going on about Bratislava a bit too much but believe me, it’s an amazing place that you have to go to! My top three eateries to visit are: Chocobon (similar to Hotel Chocolat with prices approximately 1/5 cost; the Slovak Pub whose speciality is soup in a loaf of bread, and Sky Bar – the most exclusive, expensive bar in all of Bratislava, with cocktails a mere €6!
2. TALLINN, ESTONIA
OK, I confess, I’ve been here too! The biggest of the Baltic countries (more to come later) does not disappoint, with pretty cobblestone streets which all lead up to the top of the hill with impressive views over the city. The Hotel Viru, which stands by the Viru Keskus shopping centre; holds really insightful tours into life during communism – the hotel was built for foreigners, and every room was bugged with cameras. It’s shocking what went on, but it’s so interesting!
Other things to do in Tallinn include a visit to Kadriorg Park, where the original ‘Swan Lake’ is; a bus trip to Pirita (boasting a long, sandy beach) and ‘Kalev Marzipan Museum Room’; with marzipan sweets in the shape of swan’s, butterflies, cats... you name it, they’ve got it!
3. BELGRADE, SERBIA
This is a place I’ve wanted to visit for years, and being located in Central-Eastern Europe, prices are pretty low (although there aren’t really any cheap flights there). Shop ‘til you drop on the bustling Knez Mihajlova, admire the beautiful architecture including the Crkva Svetog Marka (Serbian Orthodox church) and the St Sava Temple. For history buffs, a trip to the Museum of Yugloslav History is worthwhile; and to wind down after a hard day of sight-seeing; relax at the many cafe’s and restaurants that line the Danube. Just one thing: if you book a trip to Belgrade, make sure you get me a ticket too!
4. BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
While purse-friendly Budapest is well-known for its spas (of which there are plenty), there are many other things to do here too! A very historical city, it hosts plenty of museums depicting what life was like years ago – particularly for Jewish Hungarians. For a truly heart-wrenching experience, visit the Shoes on the Danube – a war memorial to the Hungarian Jews shot and thrown into the Danube in 1944; I challenge you to visit and not have a tear in your eye!
The nightlife is good too – bars to visit (that don’t have the seedy stag-night crowds) include Kisuzem – cafe in the day, jazz bar at night – Szoda for dancing and Pezsego bar for pizzas and wine.
5. GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN
Gothenburg is Sweden’s second biggest city, and it’s one of my favourite places. Extremely clean and beautiful, as you’d probably expect; Göteborg (to the Swedes) has the largest harbour in Sweden, and a relaxing boat trip is seen as a normal way of getting to the different areas of the city. Nordstan shopping centre is worth a visit, full of Scandinavian brands such as Acne, Odd Molly and Lindex. Theme park Liseberg is a 10 minute drive from the city centre; with entry prices SEK395 (approximately £35). Ryanair flies daily to Gothenburg city airport, so keep a look-out. One trip to Gothenburg will have you exclaiming ‘Jag älskar Sverige’ over and over again!
6. VILNIUS, LITHUANIA
The smallest of the Baltic States still has plenty going on – the Old Town does not disappoint with its breathtaking buildings, although be aware that Vilnius isn’t really a shopping destination. Unlike some other countries, rather than hiding their Soviet-era years; Vilnius really highlights and attempts to show what life was like back then. The KGB museum consists of a prison on the basement and many exhibitions; and Grūtas Park (otherwise known as ‘Stalin’s World’) located 80 miles South-West of Vilnius is one of the world’s strangest theme parks; where visitors step back in time to 1984 with the help of highly-convincing actors. Well worth a visit!
7. REYKJAVIK, ICELAND
Another city on my list of places to go; Reykjavik has become more accessible to students due to EasyJet recently operating low-cost flights over there. Iceland is home to a mere 320,000 people; but offers many different experiences such as a swim in their Geothermal pools, like the Blue Lagoon (approximately a 40 minute drive from Reykjavik); the opportunity to see the Northern Lights and go whale watching. There truly is nowhere else quite like Iceland.
8. RIGA, LATVIA
The third Baltic state (I’ve been there!); Riga may not have as much to offer as main rival Tallinn; but there is still plenty to keep you occupied. Stroll around the Old Town and admire the views from the top of St Peter’s church, and visit the Cat House (a historical building with a stone cat on the top) housing a nice bar. Riga is particularly nice in the summer, with plenty of outside cafes lining the many squares. If it’s a particularly warm day, catch the bus to the beach-resort Jūrmala, which is popular with locals and tourists alike.
9. KIEV, UKRAINE
I’ve been desperate to go to Kiev for years but unfortunately haven’t yet. It’s advisable to go to the Ukraine as a large group for safety reasons (not that it’s dangerous!) Visit the many churches, wander around the Pirogovo Open-Air museum, depicting life of rural Ukraine and visit the Chernobyl Museum for an eye-opening experience. If you want to make me really jealous, then you must do one of the things that is top of my to-do list, and that is: eat a kiev in Kiev.
10. PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
Prague has become increasingly popular with British travellers, but its prices both to the country and living costs still remain low. Visit the many markets for authentic Czech goods (the best are Havelske Trziste and Prazska Trznice); admire the architecture and of course; experience the night-life! Great bars without a trace of stag-nights are Kaverna Slavia, Blues Skelp for cheap booze and Aloha Cocktail Bar – frequently known by locals as the best bar in Prague!
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