The key tourist attractions in Venice are St Mark's Basilica, a magnificent example of Italo-Byzantine architecture, and the Doge's Palace, where you can see priceless works of art, ornate chambers of state, and the prison cells that briefly housed Casanova before he made his escape. For something further off the beaten track, however, visit the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, once a meeting house for Dalmation immigrants of the city in the 15th century, now an art gallery with stunning paintings by Carpaccio. For a memorable experience, take the vaporetto to the island church of St Giorgio Maggiore, a 16th century Benedictine church designed by Andrea Palladio. The contrast between gleaming white marble and the blue lagoon lapping at the island's shore is a feast for the eyes, as is the view from the top of the tower, where you can see all of Venice. The contemporary art scene in Venice is extremely strong – although the next Venice Biennale is 2015, you can get your fix at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection on the edge of the Grand Canal. Round off the days in the Venetian way with an early evening aperitif and cicheti in a stylish bar – there’s plenty to choose from along the Zattere (the waterside promenade).
Eat: Eat on a terrace built out over the Giudecca Canal at Ristorante La Piscina then stroll on the Zattere admiring the view. Dorsoduro 780, Zattere www.lacalcina.com
Shop: Venice's long history of trade in glass, fabrics and paper makes it the perfect place to pick up exquisite handmade goods. Visit Marina e Susanna Sent on the island of Murano for elegant, modern glass jewellery.
Stay: Oltre Il Giardino is a country house with a tranquil garden in the heart of the city. San Polo 2542, Fondamenta Contarini www.oltreilgiardino-venezia.com
There’s so much more to Paris than the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, and its quintessence isn’t always to be found in tourist spots. Often it’s the otherwise ordinary locations which just exude Parisian chic. There’s a great atmosphere along the Canal St-Martin, a 19th century waterway shaded by trees and lined with quirky boutiques and bistros – it’s a great spot to stop for a coffee and people-watch. For art lovers, skip the Musée D’Orsay and head for the Musée Jacquemart-André in the 8th Arrondissement, close to the Champs-Elysées, with a collection including works by Bernini, Rembrandt and Canaletto housed inside a 19th-century mansion. The beautifully furnished tearoom here serves delicious meals, with cakes and pastries to rival any in Paris. For a more unusual experience of the city, descend beneath its pavements to the Catacombs. At the end of the 18th century, the bones from the city’s overcrowded cemeteries were taken underground and stacked together to create a macabre series of bone-lined corridors, and a haunting chapel of skulls. Many visitors head for the higher ground of Montmartre and the artful atmosphere in the Place du Tertre, but don’t forget to head further down the cobbled streets of this quaint urban village as you never know what you might find – there’s even a secluded vineyard hidden away beyond the Sacré-Cœur.
Eat: Le Mâchon d’Henri in the 6th Arrondissement is a traditional, family-owned little Parisian bistro where the seven-hour lamb stew is legendary. 8 Rue Guisarde, 6th Arrondissement
Shop: Visit Shakespeare and Company, a legendary English-language bookshop in the Latin Quarter of the Left Bank, perfect for an afternoon’s rummaging.
Stay: Hotel Particulier is a legendary B&B with rooms containing works by contemporary artists, individually ‘curated’ by
the art-loving owner. 23 Avenue Junot, 18th Arrondissement www.hotel-particulier-montmartre.com
Copenhagen is a lively and welcoming city with a vibrant culture and growing foodie reputation. It’s a great place for cyclists – you can hire bikes for free with a small deposit from pick up points around the city. Copenhagen’s top attraction is Tivoli, an 1840s pleasure park at the heart of the city, boasting flower gardens, pavilions, rides, and open-air concerts and theatre in summer. There’s a cultural smorgasbord to enjoy in Copenhagen, from the Nationalmuseet, a fantastic museum of antiquities with stunning Viking treasures, to the Design Museum, which has all manner of medieval silverware and modern Scandinavian furniture. Additionally, there’s a fine selection of classical and 19th century European art at the quirky Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, home to the personal art collection of Carl Jacobsen, who was the son of the founder of the Carlsberg breweries. You should make the obligatory trip to the Langelinie Promenade to see the famous Little Mermaid Statue, but why not also take in a view of the city from Europe’s oldest working observatory, the Rundetårn?
Eat: While you may have a fight on your hands getting a table at Noma, the twice voted ‘best restaurant in the world’, there are many great alternatives, including Relæ, which is run by ex-Noma chefs. Jægersborggade 41, 2200 Copenhagen www.restaurant-relae.dk
Shop: Pick up vintage bargains and antiques in Nørebbo, a stylish, bohemian quarter populated by trendy bars and second-hand stores.
Stay: Nimb is a well-placed and comfortable boutique hotel on the edge of Tivoli. Bernstorffsgade 5, 1577 Copenhagen www.nimb.dk
From the sun-kissed parks to the shade of its magnificent old churches, Rome is picturesque beyond measure. The abundance of beautiful churches can be overwhelming, and the Byzantine churches are among the best, particularly St John Lateran, which is home to several papal tombs, the brilliant marble of the Holy Steps, and life-size sculptures of the apostles. The Vatican City itself is unmissable, from St Peter’s Basilica to the majesty of the Sistine Chapel. Castel Sant’Angelo is also a must-visit, built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian on the shores of the Tiber, later serving various functions including a papal residency and a prison. If you’re staying outdoors, a stroll in the charming Villa Borghese gardens is a rewarding use of a hot summer afternoon. You should also take a trip up the Palatine Hill, in which the ruins of the imperial palaces are scattered, and which offers spectacular views of the Circus Maximus and Colosseum. If you have time to head further out, a trip to nearby Ostia Antica is essential; the remains of this abandoned ancient city can be easily reached on the underground.
Eat: Roma Sparita in Trastevere is a charming, family-run restaurant famed for its unique take on Cacio e Pepe – the pasta is served in a bowl made of parmesan. Its reputation is on the rise, so book to avoid disappointment. Piazza Santa Cecilia, Zona Trastevere www.romasparita.com
Shop: Delfina Delettrez’s jewellery boutique in Via del Governo Vecchio near Piazza Navona is a must-visit, furnished as a late 19th century pharmacy, with goods displayed in window cases and drawers.
Stay: Spend the night in one of the sumptuously furnished rooms at Hotel Palazzo Manfredi, a luxury hotel overlooking the Colosseum and Imperial Forum. Via Labicana 125, Rome www.palazzomanfredi.com
Despite its laid-back, bohemian reputation, Amsterdam is a serious cultural destination with a fascinating history. Medieval Amsterdam is exemplified by the Oude Kerk, the city’s oldest building. For bang-up-to-date modernity, meanwhile, feast your eyes on the sleek architecture of the EYE Film Institute in Overhoeks on the Northern bank of the river IJ, which houses fascinating exhibitions and a restaurant with views of the river. For a cultural afternoon, the National Maritime Museum was recently given a modern and stylish renovation and is full of interactive elements for kids. The world-renowned Rijksmuseum, which reopened its main building after a 10-year renovation last year, is home to Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night Watch as well as works by Frans Hals and Vermeer. Close at hand in Museum Square is the Van Gogh Museum, with the world’s largest collection of paintings and drawings by the Dutch Impressionist, but don’t miss the Museum Van Loon, a 17th century mansion beside the canal with treasures from the Dutch Golden Age. Jordaan is a great place to soak up the city atmosphere; a chic, upmarket district with peaceful, cobbled streets, hidden courtyards, pretty houses and locals on bicycles. In the summer, relax in the festival atmosphere of the lush Vondelpark, and don’t forget the other key attraction of Amsterdam: canal tours.
Eat: Dine on the 23rd floor of Hotel Okura. The restaurant, Ciel Bleu, has earned two Michelin stars for its innovative cuisine, to be enjoyed with an exciting view of the whole city. Ferdinand Bolstraat 333 www.cielbleu.nl
Shop: De Negen Straatjes (‘the 9 Streets’) shopping district is a haven of quirky small boutiques, galleries and gift shops.
Stay: Spacious, sleek and modern with a luxury spa, the Conservatorium is ideal for city romance. Van Baerlestraat 27, Amsterdam www.conservatoriumhotel.com
A relaxed, buzzing city with some of Europe’s most distinctive buildings, Barcelona is captivating. Admiring the Gaudi architecture is not only essential but almost unavoidable. La Sagrada Familia is every bit as compelling as it appears in photographs, as are the smooth curves of the Casa Batlló Modernist Museum. Gaudi also designed Park Guell, a public park like no other. There are other buildings of note too though – not least Barcelona Cathedral with its myriad gargoyles and the fascinating story of its dedication to a teenage saint. Disappear into the Barri Gotic, the ancient heart of the city, and visit the Barcelona history museum and the Picasso museum, or make like a local and take it easy at the beach. You can also take a cable car from near the beach to Montjuic Hill for a fresh view of the city and a breath of sea air. Once you’re up there, you’ll find Castell de Montjuic, an 18th century fortress, and the excellent National Museum of Catalan Art.
Eat: Don’t suffer the tyranny of choice – try tapas at La Plata where there are only four dishes, all of them simple and tasty.
Shop: If the presence of such great art and architecture inspires you, Ras is a part bookshop, part gallery close to MACBA, the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Stay: The Banys Orientals is a smart, modern hotel just 10 minutes walk from the beach. Argenteria 37, Barcelona www.hotelbanysorientals.com
Renowned for great pubs and a friendly welcome, Dublin also boasts fine architecture and a rich cultural history. The Guinness Factory is a popular destination, offering a tour that encompasses all aspects of the hallowed pint before giving you a chance to savour one in the Gravity Bar, which boasts panoramic views of the city. However, there’s even more to nourish the soul in this cultured city. The Dublin Writers Museum can be found in an 18th century house north of the river, and you can also visit the James Joyce Centre, which holds an interesting collection of Joyce ephemera, including a copy of his death mask. If you consider books to be sacred make sure you see the Book of Kells, a precious 9th century gospel manuscript, at Trinity College Dublin. The dreamily academic atmosphere and the Science Gallery make the College well worth a visit. Another highlight of the city is the Chester Beatty Library, with its collection of Egyptian papyrus, oriental art and more. Kids and adults can enjoy Dublinia, a Viking and medieval living history museum, and on the same ticket you can visit the ancient Christ Church Cathedral, which dates from 1038. One of Dublin’s hidden gems is St Michan’s Church near Smithfield – check ahead for details of opening hours for the tour, which will introduce you to its chilling collection of mummified remains.
Eat: Pichet is a stylish modern brasserie offering contemporary European dishes and great wine. 12–15 Trinity Street www.pichetrestaurant.ie
Shop: Pick up a gift for the whiskey lover in your life with a visit to the Old Jameson Distillery in Smithfield.
Stay: Relax in style at Dylan, a reasonably priced, quirky Victorian townhouse in the suburbs. Eastmoreland Place, Dublin www.dylan.ie