Wondering where to book for your next city break? Whether you’re looking for independent eateries, vintage fashion finds or buzzing nightlife, the trendiest districts in Europe promise everything from culture and creative arts to mouth-watering cuisine. From Manchester to Stockholm, these are the coolest city hangouts across Europe, guaranteed to earn you serious points on your next weekend away…
1. Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany
Famed for its buzzing party vibe, Berlin is undoubtedly a cool city. But if you want to go off the beaten track, head to Kreuzberg, where you’ll find graffitied streets scattered with arty cafés, quaint shops and street food joints selling everything from vegan ice cream cookies and curried Bratwurst to aromatic Egyptian delights. Music, food and dance festivals fill the streets during the summer, and there are hordes of independent art galleries and fashion stores to rifle through during your down time.
When the weather is warm, crowds swarm the banks of the canal, and it’s the ideal spot to watch the sunrise if you’re up early. A hotbed of diversity boasting an eclectic mix of artists, creatives and entrepreneurs, Kreuzberg is the epicentre of Berlin’s unique style and culture, and a place not to be missed.
2. Miera Iela, Riga, Latvia
Overflowing with cafés, candlelit bars, small galleries and shops, Miera Ierla (Peace Street) is Riga’s peaceful neighbourhood hangout, where mums meet for laid-back lunch dates and freelancers type away on their laptops drinking flat whites in trendy hangouts. From the outside looking in, the white-washed buildings may appear bland and lifeless, but inside it’s a different story; interiors are an explosion of style and colour. The café culture here is booming – you’ll find spots on every street corner adorned with mismatched furniture, modern artwork and freshly baked goods – but at night, people spill out onto the streets in search of late-night drinking dens and glorious food joints.
Like many European cities, Riga comes alive during the summer, particularly around the Midsummer solstice (called the Jani holiday in Latvian), when streets, shops, bicycles and houses are decorated with floral embellishments. With plenty of shops – selling everything from apparel to kids’ toys – there’s enough to keep you occupied, and if you’re looking for a busy night spot, try TAKA – a local bar famed for its quirky events – and work your way through their homemade apple wine list and Latvian craft beers.
3. Ancoats, Manchester
Manchester’s answer to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, Ancoats is a cultural hub of creative activity, bubbling with energy and full of charm. Having undergone a major overhaul over the last 20 years, Ancoats is swiftly taking over from the neighbouring Northern Quarter as Manchester’s coolest hangout, attracting swarms of students, artists and creatives. Streets are paved with chic shops, bustling restaurants and quirky cafés, with every corner showcasing street art. Theatres and open art spaces play host to countless exhibitions and performances – the Hope Mill Theatre puts on a range of productions, from musicals to cutting edge drama – and there’s an array of Scandi-style cafés and warehouse-inspired pizza restaurants – Rudy’s Pizza is a must-visit – which are popular amongst food-loving freelancers. With quaint food joints and a rich, historical heritage, Ancoats is a place of art, culture and pure intrigue.
4. Praga-Północ, Warsaw, Poland
What was once a dangerous, war-torn district, now serves as home to Poland’s boho art set, reclaimed by hip cafés, galleries, lively bars, clubs and bustling markets. A mix of old and new, Praga has everything from quaint farmer’s markets to wedding dresses, and everything in between. Live concerts and dance parties kick off at Hydrozagadka and Skład Butelek – an area covered in graffiti and filled with outdoor spaces – and at Sen Pszczoły you’ll find an art centre, bar and club where cocktails are served up to thirsty patrons whilst they relax on bunk beds. For culture, visit the Neon Museum to see the iconic Cold War-era neon signs, which date back from the 1960s, and for food, head to the Soho Factory, where celebrity chef Mateusz Gessler serves up a fusion of Polish and French cuisine in his Warszawa Wschodnia restaurant – one of the hottest food haunts in town.
5. Södermalm, Stockholm, Sweden
As one of Stockholm’s largest islands, Södermalm is made up of various different areas, each with its own unique style. The SoFo area, just south of Folkungagatan street, is where you’ll find rows upon rows of stylish vintage stores selling all kinds of retro designer wares, or for culinary kicks, head towards Mariatorget square in the centre of Södermalm for countless restaurants, coffee shops and eateries serving everything from modern American and Creole cuisine (be sure to try Marie Laveau) to falafel pit stops at the enduringly popular Falafelbaren.
The coolest spots in Södermalm double up as shops, where the furniture you’re sitting on is often for sale. Bookshops, designer vintage stores and swanky cafés line the streets, and in August the city comes alive with buzzing music festivals and parties, as well as hosting Stockholm Pride (Scandinavia’s largest LGBT festival). The Urban Deli at Nytorget Square is Södermalm’s foodie hotspot, and here you’ll get to sample the delights of Sweden’s traditional cuisine – think Swedish meatballs and open-faced rye sandwiches topped with succulent salmon or smoked, cooked meats. Artistic, trendy and with a laid-back, relaxed vibe, Södermalm is a must-visit for anyone travelling through Sweden.
6. Pigneto, Rome, Italy
A food lover’s paradise, Pigneto is home to the most charming collection of authentic Italian restaurants, where wine bars, all-night eateries and music clubs and bars keep the party vibes going every night of the week. At the centre of the neighbourhood’s life and soul is the pedestrian-only street Via del Pigneto – a bohemian sanctuary scattered with restaurants, galleries and shops showcasing international and local art.
Wine and cocktails flow freely in Pigneto, as does the food, so you’ll have your pick of slick watering holes and trendy eateries, but if you’re looking for traditional try Pepper Restaurant, which serves up authentic Roman cuisine. Cocktail & Social and Club Spirito are some of the area’s hottest cocktail haunts, and for international wine and food, Cohouse has an ever-changing roster of chefs serving everything from American vegan cuisine to international street food. Fixie bikes and graffitied walls line the streets and during the summer you’ll find pavement cafés packed with brunching locals and lined with vibrant flowers.
7. Grünerløkka, Oslo, Norway
Often compared to Shoreditch and Williamsburg, Grünerløkka attracts international trendsetters from every corner of the globe. What was once a predominantly working-class neighbourhood has flourished into an artistic hub – part shabby, part pretty, with a mix of warehouse-style architecture, to retain a sense of its original industrial heritage. Saturday and Sunday afternoons are ideal for people watching, and it’s easy enough to escape the crowds in a quiet corner of one of the many parks in the area.
With two main high streets, Grünerløkka boasts a wonderful selection of independent stores and charming boutiques (as well as a few high street chains), whilst foodies will revel in the delights of the regular farmers’ market and the Mathallen (food hall) – where you’ll find Champagne bars, fishmongers, cheese shops, organic bakeries and burger joints. Music lovers will soak up the live music scene, and there are plenty of bars and clubs for after-hours indulgence, head to Smelteverket — a cool gastro pub, and the longest bar in Norway – or Blà; a popular club that hosts everything from jazz to cover bands.
8. Exarchia, Athens, Greece
Renowned as the historical home to many Greek anarchists, Exarchia is the essence of alternative culture, especially around the central square. Intellectuals and artists have played a part in shaping the area in recent years, and you’ll find lots of political graffiti and murals throughout the district. Home to some of Athens’ best food spots, there’s plenty in the way of the culinary amusement. Dessert-only kiosks serve up moreish profiteroles (Sorolop) and retro cafés pour out vintage-style homemade lemonades. Traditional Greek delicacies are served in Yiantes (one of Exarchia’s best-known restaurants), and Valtetsiou specialises in modern Greek and international cuisine. Take a wander through the meandering streets to stumble on one of the many bookshops, record stores and small music venues, and get a taste of the bustling action at one of the nearby cocktail bars, packed with students conversing about social issues.
9. Kalamaja, Tallinn, Estonia
Head north from the enchanting setting of Tallinn’s Old Town and you’ll swiftly arrive in the charming spot of Kalamaja. It’s a relatively tourist-free area of the city, with a mishmash of brightly coloured, old-fashioned houses. The area’s name literally translates as “fish house”, which gives you an idea of its rich history as the town’s main fishing harbour. Today, Kalamaja’s vibe is more beards and craft ales, with an influx of boho-types flooding to the area.
The main cultural hub is the Telliskivi creative centre, which has blossomed from an old factory building into a collection of off-the-grid restaurants, shared creative studios and trendy bars and shops. Despite being the largest creative centre in Estonia (with 200 thriving businesses already on the books) it still manages to retain an intimate, cosy atmosphere, where you can shop for artisan Estonian-designed crafts, organic cosmetics and unique fashionwear. There are flea markets held every Saturday, and the Cultural Cauldron Gardens host a series of events including yoga mornings, jazz sessions, art galleries, themed markets and even ping pong tournaments, for the more energetic folk.
Quaint bars, local restaurants and cosy cafés make up the majority of the dining/drinking scene – notable spots include Kueke, a rustic bar/bistro with an experimental menu of breakfast, lunch and gourmet food; and Paber Käärid, which serves daily specials alongside an enormous list of craft beers and delicious wines. Burger Box is a local favourite, and their Korean-inspired kimchi fries are well worth a try.
10. Nørrebro, Copenhagen, Denmark
With its diverse population, the Nørrebro district – located in the north-west of Copenhagen – is one of the most culturally rich parts of the Danish capital. With everything from art galleries, restaurants and small vintage shops, Jægersborggade Street showcases Denmark’s rich, traditional culture. Green spaces decorated with art objects from around the world provide a relaxing refuge for busy city dwellers, and you’ll find a host of quirky places like Depanneur – a kiosk and convenience store where locals hang out all day and night drinking coffee and enjoying live music.
Art events and festivals in Copenhagen are in abundance during the summer. The annual 48timer festival, like so many other places and events in Nørrebro, celebrates the cultural diversity of the district with a line-up of food, music and art shows taking place over an entire weekend, in venues as varied as private backyards to public squares. Foodies should head to Nørrebro Bryghus – a small local brewery that’s flrouished into Nørrebro’s coolest hangout.