4 Three-Day City Break Ideas In Europe

Looking to plan an early-autumn escape full of culture, good food and just a little bit of luxury? We’ve done the hard work for you and rounded up four European city break ideas that are perfect in September for a long weekend away.

MARSEILLE

Marseille is often dubbed the gateway to Provence and is probably best known for its proximity to endless lavender fields and lush vineyards. But the city itself also offers picture-perfect beaches and a vibrant food scene.

UNSPLASH/ELISA SCHMIDT

Where To Stay 

You’ll find the epitome of luxury at the InterContinental Marseille-Hotel Dieu in Marseille’s historic Panier district. There, you can enjoy a pastis apéritif on the terrace with views of Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica before dining on Mediterranean dishes in the Michelin-starred Alcyone restaurant, or swim in the indoor pool and unwind with a treatment in the chic SPA by Clarins. If designer-cool is more your speed, then it has to be the C2Hotel, a chic five-star boutique hotel which could easily double up as an art gallery. It’s where modern design and traditional French influences combine, resulting in interiors which are clean, unfussy and calm. The spa features a long, narrow indoor pool carved out within the walls, while three showers (rainbow, high-pressure and waterfall), a steam room, and two treatment cubicles promise to provide both residents and non-residents with a moment of well-being and tranquillity. For something a little more budget friendly, the Maison Montgrand offers two different concepts – a charming boutique hotel and cosy apartments with a kitchenette – while Hôtel 96 is located just a little further out of town in Baumettes, if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle at the end of each day.

Where To Eat & Drink

Marseille is home to a variety of food styles and restaurants. For those looking to stay off the (expensive) beaten track, it’s best to stick to smaller independent eateries such as Chez Fanny in picturesque Panier or Les Halles de la Major food hall in the Vieux-Port area – which offers everything from charcuterie and oysters to pastries and cheese. For real on-the-go fare, Chez Sauveur in Noailles serves great pizzas. If you are looking for special occasion dining, book a table at coastal three-Michelin-starred Le Petit Nice. As for drinks, there’s an abundance of affordable regional wine on offer – think bottles of rosé from Provence for €8 and carafes of local Côtes du Rhônes. As with most seafront cities, the apéritif culture is prevalent, with hundreds of cafés transforming into late-night al fresco joints to serve local drinks. If you’re looking to make a night of it, head to Saint Victor, home to some of the best bars in town.

UNSPLASH/LIEN VAN WIN
Maison Montgrand

What To Do

The city might be the second largest in France, but most attractions are easy to get to by foot, bus or the simple, two-line Metro system. The moment you arrive, you’ll be struck by the imposing hilltop Notre-Dame de la Garde cathedral, which overlooks the city and coastline. Trust us, it’s worth the trek. Down in the recently reconfigured Vieux-Port, make sure to stop by MuCEM, a strikingly designed museum, complete with a roof terrace, communal gardens and a top restaurant from Gérald Passedat, the same chef behind Le Petit Nice. The south of France is known for the striking architecture of modernist Le Corbusier and Marseille is no different. In fact, his masterpiece – futuristic housing project La Cité Radieuse – now houses MAMO, a modern art gallery with far-reaching views and a hotel beneath, complete with a wine bar and swimming pool. 

Walking along the old port is another great way to spend an afternoon in Marseille. But you can also drive or take the bus to Calanques National Park, where you’ll find islands, caves and beaches. From the bus stop, it’s a 45-minute hike through a forest and down winding cliffs to the blue waters. Remember to pack a picnic and (if warm enough) your swimsuit, as this is a natural wonder and there are no shops or restaurants. For somewhere in the city itself, head to the much-busier Catalan Beach, which offers sand – rather than the rocks of Les Calanques – and plenty of places for post-swim refreshments. If you want to extend your stay, there are plenty of great day-trip options from central Marseille – Van Gogh’s residence in Arles, the charming, picture-perfect streets of Aix-en-Provence and art-filled Avignon are all an easy drive away or accessible by bus, too. 

Finally, for unusual homewares and original French labourer jackets, head to Maison Empereur in Noailles. An old-fashioned department store set across two buildings, this emporium sells everything from straw boaters to luxury bedding, traditional children’s toys and beautiful tableware. When it comes to fashion, head to American Vintage’s flagship store. The brand originates from Marseille, so expect a much larger selection of clothing – without the shipping fees.

The Need-To-Knows

The flight time is about two hours from London and you can buy affordable return flights via easyJet. Shuttle buses will then get you from the airport to the city centre in just 30 minutes. It’s also possible to get the Eurostar to Marseille (with a change in Paris or Lille), which takes 6.5 hours. Average summer temperatures peak around 29°C but settle between 21°C and 26°C from September onwards.

 

MILAN

Milan in northern Italy is the second-most populous city after Rome. Known for being one of the four fashion capitals, it’s also home to some of the most important cultural and artistic landmarks in the world, including Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper.

UNSPLASH/OUAEL BEN SALAH

Where To Stay

The Mandarin Oriental oozes luxury. Its spa can be reserved just for you and we recommend relaxing in the sauna before indulging in a scrub with a coarse salt massage. The décor is chic and – in parts – minimalist, like the white bedrooms with soft accents of purple and light grey, and lots of natural light. Alternatively, the Hotel Principe di Savoia is part of the Dorchester Collection and offers impeccable service with a dose of Italian charm. Expect lush interiors with lots of Milanese touches – plus, we’ve heard great things about the on-site restaurant Acanto. Finally, for something a little less OTT, Palazzo Segreti is the chic boutique hotel to have on your radar. Interiors are sharp, modern and highly stylised, with plenty of raw materials and textures throughout.

Where To Eat & Drink

The food in Milan is quintessentially Italian – with a focus on quality ingredients and simple pleasures. Il Pescatore is a fish restaurant loved by locals for its simple, traditional food and especially its catalana – a traditional baked custard dish. Meanwhile, La Brisa has beautiful décor and a fun atmosphere – spend an evening here enjoying typical Italian dishes either inside or on the beautiful terrace. Italian food can be quite rich, so it’s worth knowing about MIXMI, which serves delicious, healthy meals but if you’re looking for something a little bit special, Lu Bar – set inside one of Milan’s royal villas – attracts an eclectic mix of cool people. For a quick breakfast, pick up pastries and coffee from Pasticceria Cucchi on Corso Genova or drop by mid-afternoon to sample the delicious ice-cream or apple puff pastries. As for drinks, Vineria Eretica has a fantastic selection of sparkling and natural wines and serves many of them alongside tasty side dishes. Alternatively, sit in the dining room or garden at Ralph Lauren’s bar to soak up the chic atmosphere. It feels intimate and exclusive, and we have it on good authority that the waiters never let your glass go empty.

UNSPLASH/OUAEL BEN SALAH
UNSPLASH/ALEXANDR HOVHANNISYAN

What To Do

The city’s most important building is the Duomo – head to the Piazza del Duomo to appreciate the sheer scale of Italy’s largest Gothic-style cathedral and, if you have a head for heights, take in a tour of the vast roof. Of course, being one of the world’s four fashion capitals, it would be remiss not to do a bit of shopping (or at least some window shopping) in Milan. Next door to the Duomo, and almost as famous, is the world’s oldest shopping mall, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – even if you’re not after any of Italy’s high-end designer labels, the architecture is stunning and a coffee at Camparino is a must.  Wait And See in Via Santa Marta sells eclectic fashion and accessories, including colourful swimwear and small items that make great souvenirs. Profumeria Mazzolari is in San Babila, a quiet area known for its beautiful churches. Spread across two floors, shoppers can try a range of fragrances and make-up from niche brands you won’t find anywhere else. For unique homeware and furniture, check out Radisa Gallery. It stocks an extensive collection of old and contemporary crockery, glassware and silverware at competitive prices, while Verso Books has new and old books spanning every genre – plus, there’s a small bar inside for apéritifs. Afterwards, make your way to the Fondazione Prada, one of the best galleries in the city, or The Brera Art Gallery, before strolling around the beautiful Sempione Park. If you’re an opera lover, a performance at La Scala will be top of your list, but tickets are hard to come by at short notice; instead, you could book a behind-the-scenes tour of this sumptuous neo-classical building. For an easy day trip, Lake Como is only a short train ride away. Visit the Old Town, walk along the stunning lake and enjoy drinks at Harry’s Bar in the little square.

The Need-To-Knows

The flight time is about one hour and 55 minutes from London and, again, you can usually find affordable return flights via easyJet. Average summer temperatures peak around 29°C but settle between 18°C and 24°C from September onwards.

 

SEVILLE

Where To Stay

In the old quarter of Barrio Alfalfa five minutes from Seville Cathedral, Corral del Rey is a luxury boutique hotel set in a stylishly renovated 17th-century building. Head up to the roof terrace to see the cathedral at night and enjoy delicious Sevillian dishes at the on-site restaurant. Meanwhile, Casa del Poeta is a boutique hotel with only 18 rooms. Again, set in a large, renovate 17th century house, it’s a testament to former glories, and retains the traditional style of an authentic Sevillian mansion. Finally, for something tucked away from the hustle and bustle, it doesn’t get much more stylish than Hacienda San Rafael. Once a thriving olive estate, it has now been meticulously restored and converted into a family-run heavenly hideaway and strikes the perfect balance between rustic charm and modern sophistication.

UNSPLASH/JOAN OGER

Where To Eat & Drink

Suffice to say, Seville is a foodie’s paradise. Petit Comite is a stylish family bistro where locals gather for hearty meals in a traditional Sevillian dining room. Filled with interesting artwork and original floor tiles, diners can choose from the tapas menu or order larger plates. In a similar vein, conTenedor uses local, seasonal ingredients and diners are encouraged to settle in for hours with jugs of sangria. You can also watch tapas and larger sharing dishes being prepared in the open kitchen. For one of the most stylish rooftop bars in the city, head to The Corner House at the top of the Corner House hotel in Plaza Alameda de Hércules where you can enjoy classic cocktails, cava, spritzers and an extensive selection of wines. Another chic rooftop terrace – La Terraza at Hotel Doña María – has stunning views of La Giralda and beyond, and there’s a buzzy atmosphere in the evenings when tourists and locals flock to the bar for cocktails and sangria, as well as tasty bar snacks. For a real foodie experience, Seis is on the ground floor of Hotel Inglaterra, on the corner of Plaza Nueva. It serves small plates and experimental cocktails against a backdrop of live music. Equally, for something more upmarket, La Azotea serves delicious seafood and Andalusian meat dishes in a contemporary Scandi-inspired dining room. Book a seat at the chef’s table to watch your meal being prepared. Finally, El Rinconcillo is Seville’s oldest bar and has been serving tapas and wine since 1670. One of the best tapas bars in the city, diners can choose from an authentic selection of dishes including homemade croquettes, Iberian tenderloin, gazpacho and soft tortillas stuffed with fillings like manchego cheese, mushrooms, chorizo and wild asparagus. 

UNSPLASH/HUMPHREY MULEBA
Corral Del Rey

What To Do

One of Seville’s most famous landmarks, its cathedral, dates back to the early 15th century and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. It has an impressive bell tower, known as the Giralda, which houses the monumental tomb of Christopher Columbus. Visitors can pay €3 for a guided tour of the cathedral or take a self-guided walk to learn about the history of the stained-glass windows. Then, walk a few steps from the cathedral to find the Aire Ancient Baths in Santa Cruz, a majestic Mudéjar-style palace with various underground baths with water at different temperatures. Known locally as Las Setas (the Mushrooms), Metropol Parasol is another of Seville’s most famous landmarks. Designed by German architect Jürgen Mayer, it was built in 2011 as a colossal sunshade for the city. Take a lift to the top to see beautiful city views then walk back down the winding walkway.

Parque de María Luisa is one the few public parks in the city, so it’s well worth a visit and the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo Museum is a contemporary art museum that hosts exhibitions by Andalusian and international artists. Meanwhile, Alcázar of Seville is the royal palace of Seville, but it was originally a fort back in 913 AD. A marriage of Christian and Mudéjar architecture, it’s been reimagined over 11 centuries and was most recently used as a filming location for Game of Thrones. Book a guided tour to see the stunning palace interiors including Pedro I’s grand bedroom – just make sure to skip the queues by pre-booking tickets online. Finally, Nno trip to Seville is complete without a traditional flamenco show. Casa de la Guitarra is a small bar set in a historic 18th-century building in the Jewish quarter. Run by the award-winning guitarist José Luis Postigo, guests can experience a trio of highlights during one of the evening shows: dance, singing and guitar. It lasts around an hour, with three to four flamenco dancers each night.

For shopping enthusiasts, Seville is full of artisan and family-run shops – many of which are worth a browse. A few of our favourites include Wabi Sabi Shop & Gallery – a contemporary art gallery stocking works from local and Spanish artists. Expect to browse framed prints, ornaments and a selection of gifts and homeware, and it also hosts regular events and exhibitions. If homeware is more your thing, check out Cerámica Triana. Seville is famous for its ceramics, so if you’re after beautiful pieces for your home, make a beeline for the instantly recognisable shop front made from an impressive ceramic mosaic. Fashion fans should make a point of visiting Libélula – a short walk from Plaza Nueva. With more than 20 Spanish designers to choose from, as well as unique fashion pieces from local Sevillian designers, it’s a great spot for souvenir pieces. 

Controversially, Seville is also known for bullfighting. The Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza is the city’s old bullfighting stadium – not to mention the oldest ring in Spain and one of the biggest. There, visitors can also learn about Spain’s deep-rooted bullfighting traditions without witnessing a fight.

The Need-To-Knows

The flight time is about two hours and 45 minutes from London and, again, you can usually find affordable return flights via easyJet or RyanAir. Average summer temperatures peak around 35°C but settle between 24°C and 28°C from September onwards.

 

VIENNA

Known for its musical history and grand palaces, Vienna has plenty to offer. View the twinkling skyline from the giant ferris wheel, indulge in Sachertorte in an elegant coffee house, or watch a free outdoor simulcast of the opera. There’s also a buzzing carnival season in the spring, which brings more than 400 balls waltzing through the city. 

UNSPLASH/LUCA DUGARO

Where To Stay

For a bit of five-star luxury, it doesn’t get much better than Hotel Sacher Wien, with its opulent red interiors and indulgent hospitality. The cherished meeting place of artists and heads of state, including US President John F. Kennedy, opera soprano Anna Netrebko, Queen Elizabeth II of England and Naomi Campbell, the Sacher has been an important part of Vienna’s cultural history since its opening in 1876. For something more purse-friendly, the four-star Hollaman Beletage is centrally located in the first district, while interiors are smart, modern and clean. Set in a 19th-centry building that’s been fully renovated, there are 26 rooms and suites to choose from. Finally, the Grand Ferdinand also offers visitors a city centre location, with décor that expertly blends rococo themes with modern updates. The on-site restaurant also serves a traditional Austrian menu.

Where To Eat

Start by grabbing a freshly roasted espresso or cold drip at hole-in-the-wall Fenster Café before tucking into breakfast at the gloriously retro Vollpension, where a team of Omas (grandmas) bake some of the city’s most delicious cakes. Just south of here is the Freihausviertel, a neighbourhood full of indie galleries and boutiques and speciality shops that’s only a short walk from the Naschmarkt (Linke Wienzeile), where food stalls overflow with fresh produce, spices and picnic fixings. For either a mid-morning or mid-afternoon pick-me-up, Café Sperl is a vision of stylishly faded grandeur and one of Vienna’s most enticing coffeehouses. Nab a booth for lunch, or coffee and a slice of milk-chocolate Sperl Torte. 

If you’re looking for drink with a view try the Hotel Lamée rooftop for a botanical-infused spritzer and breath-taking views of the city – or the rather stylish Onyx bar at Do & Co. Afterwards, as you wind your way through the back alleys and courtyards of the Innere Stadt, you’ll be able to track down an old-school Viennese supper at tiny, vaulted Gasthaus Pöschl, which is brimming with good cheer and tasty schnitzels.

Hotel Sacher Wien
©HOTEL SACHER
Hotel Sacher Wien
©HOTEL SACHER

What To Do

Plenty will be familiar with Vienna’s rich and vibrant history – which spans everything from world-class music to art and architecture – and if you’re planning on doing lots of exploring, it’s worth investing in the one- or three-day Vienna Pass, which covers entry to all the big sights. Art fans will no doubt want to see Klimt’s The Kiss, so make a beeline for Schloss Belvedere. Klimt fans shouldn’t miss the Secession, either, which houses the artists’ Beethoven Frieze down in the basement. If you’re curious to see how the Hapsburgs once lived, tour the lavish state apartments at Schloss Schönbrunn, which is where child prodigy Mozart gave his first public performance in the gilded Mirror Room at the age of six. If you don’t want to pay the entry fees to either, both have extensive and beautiful gardens that are free to walk around. Finally, the Hofburg is an imperial palace to outpomp them all – just remember it is worth pre-booking tickets online to dodge the crowds. 

Once you’ve had your caffeine fix, you’ll be ready to make your way up the 343 steps mounting the south tower of gargantuan Gothic St Stephen's Cathedral. There you’ll be able to get close-ups of the cathedral’s zigzagging mosaic-tiled roof and enjoy dress-circle views of Vienna’s skyline. You can always squeeze in another memorable 360° city view by sipping on a pre-dinner cocktail at Das Loft on the 18th floor of the Sofitel. 

For something a bit different, one suggestion is the Albertina for graphic art in a grand Hapsburg palace. Don’t miss the peerless collection of Dürer works. Or make for the neoclassical Kunsthistorisches Museum nearby, which is home to a fine art collection that will you take you from Ancient Rome right through to the Renaissance. The picture gallery is full of Old Master treasures, including works by Rubens, Raphael and Caravaggio. Come the evening, providing you’ve bought tickets ahead, tourists can get dressed up to enjoy a performance at the Staatsoper, one of the world’s most revered opera houses, which counts Mahler and Strauss among its past directors.

The Need-To-Knows

The flight time is about two hours and 15 minutes from London and, again, you can usually find affordable return flights via easyJet or RyanAir. Average summer temperatures peak around 27°C but settle between 15°C and 21°C from September onwards.

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