When planning a short break, it’s easy for thoughts to turn to classic destinations like Paris, Amsterdam or Dublin. However, there’s a real sense of adventure to be found in exploring the undiscovered, untrodden parts of Europe that few get to see. From the incredible Irish culture of Limerick to the centuries old Dutch city of Utrecht, these are the best alternative destinations for weekend wanderers.
The capital of the Pas-de-Calais region, Arras is known for its WWII history, famous literary residents and the magnificent Saint-Vaast Abbey. You’ll fall in love with this elegant city’s tree-lined avenues, grand mansions and astonishing Flemish architecture, which mark it out as one of France’s true hidden gems. What’s more, the beauty of this area extends out into the peaceful Artois countryside, with two gorgeous regional nature parks nearby. Close to the north border with Belgium, this green landscape is dotted with charming towns, rustic churches and scenic walks that all make for a perfect day out.
The second largest city in Belgium, Antwerp boasts an intoxicating blend of art, fashion and a lively nightlife. While primarily known as the diamond capital of the world, this buzzing metropolis has a well-deserved reputation as a hub for creativity too. Browse through the beautiful clothes on offer at boutique stores in the fashion district or learn about the city’s couture history at the MoMu fashion museum. It’s all just a 90-minute drive from the port of Zeebrugge.
With the ancient centre of Utrecht dating back to the 12th century, it has a rich and storied past. Take it all in while navigating the gently flowing canals or trying the variety of local delicacies. With the 112.5m Dom Tower church at its core, this peaceful city is a truly serene place to spend a weekend away. For foodies, make sure to taste some traditional Dutch fare at the unique wharf cellars, which are quaint restaurants set up right on the banks of the canal. Finally, don’t leave without taking a road trip to Kasteel De Haar, the largest castle in the Netherlands and a Neo-Gothic masterpiece.
While many tourists don’t stray far from the Irish capital, there are plenty of fascinating cities to discover outside of Dublin. Set in the heart of the Mid-West Region countryside, Limerick is a melting pot of art and innovation today thanks to some fine regenerative work and growth. This transformation saw it named Ireland’s first national City of Culture in 2014, and it’s already a candidate to become the 2020 European Capital of Culture. For visitors to Limerick, that means quirky museums, colourful street art and resplendent Georgian architecture across the city. History lovers should make sure they don’t miss out on the 13th King John’s Castle, which is located on King’s Island in the medieval city centre.
If this has inspired you to try an alternative city break, check out some more escape ideas on our adventure page.