For Baroque Architecture & Boutique Stores: Antwerp
Cool and compact, Belgium’s second city is perfect city-break material. A maze of lanes knits together its engaging medieval core, a dense concentration of Baroque architecture, excellent museums and beautiful churches. There’s a lively cultural and fashion scene here too: admire the work of Antwerp-born artist Pieter Paul Rubens at the Rubenshuis; check out the fashion exhibits at the ModeMuseum; or stroll the boutique-studded streets. Add in a stop for a Belgian beer and you’ve got the makings of a great trip.
Journey: Less than 3 hrs from London. Eurostar to Brussels, then change for Antwerp.
For A Foodie City Break: Lyon
France’s undisputed culinary capital is overflowing with wonderful places to eat, from haute-cuisine showstoppers to traditional ‘bouchons’. In fact, its old town has more restaurants per square mile than anywhere else on earth. Gluttony aside, there’s more to Lyon: wander Vieux-Lyon’s atmospheric streets; take a tour of the Basilica Notre-Dame’s roof for views that stretch out to the Alps; explore the city’s museums; or catch December’s dazzling light festival.
Journey: Around 5 hrs from London. Eurostar to Lille, then change for Lyon. (In summer, the Eurostar runs direct from London to Lyon.)
For Culture & Character: Cologne
What Cologne lacks in looks, it makes up for in historic credentials. Its mish-mash of architectural styles reads like a history book: odd Roman walls; clusters of medieval churches; a rash of postwar eyesores; a postmodern quarter; a world-famous Gothic cathedral. Elsewhere, the city bursts with character. Beer halls buzz year-round, while a forward-thinking arts scene reverberates through the gallery-studded inner city. The locals are known for their fun-loving spirit – February’s carnival is reputedly Germany’s craziest party.
Journey: Just over 4 hrs from London. Eurostar to Brussels, then change for Cologne.
For Unsung Italy: Turin
Northern Italy’s great powerhouse – the birthplace of the mighty Fiat – has long been overlooked by tourists. Elegant Turin is fringed by the Alps and its tree-framed avenues are awash with Baroque palaces and Art Nouveau cafés. It’s a place with a rich heritage, from the cathedral to the Porta Palatine, one of the world’s best-preserved Roman gates. Recently, Turin’s been enlivened by a spirit of newness: since it hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics, a wave of regeneration has fuelled a progressive arts and music scene. A burgeoning food scene, stocked by surrounding Piedmont’s wealth of produce, has swept the city, while industrial spaces have been reborn as cultural hubs – the showstopper is the boldly converted former Fiat factory.
Journey: Just under 8 hrs from London. Eurostar to Paris, then take the TGV to Turin.
For A Memorable Journey: Inverness
Anyone who’s rolled their eyes at being told, ‘Getting there is half the fun’, should think again. Riding the Caledonian Sleeper is a magical experience: slipping away from London at dusk, settling down for a whisky nightcap in the lounge before bed, then waking up to views of misty Scottish scenery. Your destination? Inverness, the ‘capital of the Highlands’, a bustling, riverside city tucked at the edge of Great Glen. Take in the views from the city’s castle, hunt for the Loch Ness monster, or set off into the Highlands – Scotland’s best road trip, the North Coast 500, is on your doorstep.
Journey: Just over 11 hrs from London on the Caledonian Sleeper.
For Seafood & Seascapes: San Sebastian
French cuisine lovers flock to Lyon; Spanish food lovers make a beeline for San Sebastian. Here, great food comes in many guises: Michelin-starred restaurants showcase Basque creative flair; seaside cafes pair fresh seafood with local sparkling wine; while tapas bars flaunt delicately sculpted pintxos. This gastronomic heartland is a looker too. Backed by the lush Monte Urgull, San Sebastian sweeps around a sand-fringed bay, its old town an ensemble of Art Nouveau architecture, sculpted parks and elegant buildings reborn as boutique shops and arts spaces.
Journey: Just over 7 hrs by train from London. Eurostar to Paris, then the TGV to Hendaye, followed by a train to San Sebastian.