When on vacation, every waking moment can become a strictly scheduled, regimented affair. Sometimes there’s such a rush to see everything suggested by guidebooks and acquaintances, there is little time given to actually appreciating your surroundings. If you’re looking for a getaway of a slightly slower pace check out our selection of cities to get lost in below. They offer a wealth of attractions for those who need to stay entertained, but are perfect for plodding around and a more meandering pace, should you so desire.
As the birthplace of numerous British institutions, Liverpool is a vibrant, cultural hotspot, where a cacophony of happenings have earned it numerous accolades, including the title of European Capital of Culture 2008. There are several districts in which to wander and amble away the hours; China Town, the Cultural Quarter, Albert Dock and the waterfronts, and the up-and-coming Baltic Triangle. All have numerous and distinguishable landmarks, architectural styles, attractions and eateries. Exclusive local sights include The Beatles Museum, the iconic Three Graces and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Refuel for your continued wandering in some unique restaurants such as Camp and Furnace, a local favourite set up in an abandoned warehouse.
- Start your wander: Begin at Albert Dock and work your way inland towards the city centre.
- Duration: You can easily spend a day taking in all the sights.
- You shouldn’t miss: The entrance to China Town is the largest gateway of its kind outside of China. The city also boasts 27 Grade I listed buildings and 85 Grade II.
Freiburg Inner City, Old Town
Freiburg, located on the border of France and Switzerland, has existed since the early middle ages and combines the charms of a historic town with the culture from the French Elsas Valley. Don’t miss Augustiner Platz, known as “August” by locals, which boasts Mediterranean flair and is surrounded by numerous museums. Various ghost tours are also available in this historic and rumoured-to-be haunted district. Beware of wandering into Freiburg’s old cemetery by mistake; locals report a large amount of ghostly activity on site. Obviously a highly superstitious area, legend also has it that if your step into one of the area’s rivers you will marry a person from Freiburg.
- Start your wander: Directly at Münster, from there you can navigate through the old town.
- Duration: Anything from one day to a week. There’s enough to keep any visitor busy.
- You shouldn’t miss: Freiburger Münster, standing 116 m high with a very distinctive design. Building began in a Romanesque style but switched to a Gothic influence during construction.
Old City of Bruges, Belgium
Beautiful Bruges, often referred to as the Amsterdam of the north, is home to a whimsical Old City district which is perfect for wandering. Having been declared a Human Heritage site since 2000, it is one of the best examples of such an area, having remained well-preserved since the Middle Ages. In days gone by, it was an important commercial hub, and as such contains palaces and grand abodes from the era. Meander your way through the streets any evening of the week to soak up the vibrant atmosphere from the numerous bars here, and quench your thirst on a traditional Belgian beer. Balance out the drinking with a visit to the Friet Museum, the self-described “first and only museum dedicated to potato fries”.
- Start your wander: At the Grote Markt in the heart of the city, surrounded by beautiful buildings.
- Duration: It’s quite a small area, so you only need half a day.
- You shouldn’t miss: The Burg Square and the Bejinghof, where the widows from the Crusades used to live. The Vrouwekerk, with its bell tower of 122 meters, is an iconic city site, and Minnewater – aka “The Lake of Love” – is one of the most romantic parts of Bruges.
The Old Town of Delft, The Netherlands
This hugely historic city suffered many disasters over the years, having been devastated by fire in the 16th century, and suffering damage from a massive explosion from a weapon storage in the 17th century. It largely escaped the bombings from World War II, thankfully leaving the Old Town intact.
It is here that visitors will find our Dutch choice for an enjoyable dawdle. Explore the 4 hofjes, the Dutch word for almshouses which provided housing for the elderly, all founded in the 16th century. The area is densely populated, however, many open spaces make this an ideal place to visit if big cities aren’t your thing.
The student district merges with the Old Town, creating a lively atmosphere. You’ll know you’re in the very centre of the city if you pass Nieuwe Kerk, a 14th-century church which houses the mausoleum of Wilhelm Von Oranien, the founder of the Republic of the Netherlands.
- Start your wander: Phoenixtuin makes for an ideal start point. You can explore in any direction from here and follow numerous signs to the big sightseeing spots. These same signs will also bring you back on track if you get lost.
- Duration: Anything from just an afternoon trip to a complete weekend in the city.
- You shouldn’t miss: Molen de Roos, the city windmill, and the Botanisch Tuin, the botanical garden.
UNESCO declared the whole city of Salamanca Human Heritage in 1988, which is not surprising considering the vast amount of stunning historic buildings here. The city is home to the oldest university in Spain, which makes the buildings associated with it well worth checking out.
Add an element of intrigue to your explorations by keeping your eyes peeled for the frog hidden in front of the university. Salamanca’s two cathedrals and a whole host of other religious structures border beautiful gardens such as the Huerto de Calixto y Melibea, which inspired the book La Celestina, an important work in Spanish literature.
- Start your wander: Plaza Mayor, from where you can reach any point in the old city. It’s an animated, lively square with many bars and restaurants.
- Duration: 24 hours should be enough to see the main sights and enjoy some traditional cuisine, such a piglet.
- You shouldn’t miss: A slightly strange recommendation, but the Zara shop in Plaza del Liceo contains the remains of a convent from the Middle Ages. Also Casa de Lis, a beautiful palace.
The Old Town of Florence, Italy
The old town of Florence is very flat and made up of narrow alleyways and paths. These, being too small for cars or buses to navigate, mean that walking is the only way to explore this part of the city.
There are also many bike hire shops within the area, should you prefer to cycle rather than stroll. There are so many attractions here, the city has before been described as somewhat of an open-air museum, an unsurprising judgement considering it was the birth of the Italian Renaissance.
This gives the whole area an air of ancient grandeur. Stroll across the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in town and full of small shops. Afterwards, check out the Uffizi Gallery with its unique collection of art treasures. If you’d like to visit the museums you discover on your stroll, purchase a Frienzecard which allows access to 72 of the cities finest attractions over a 72 hour period. But culture vultures beware! Stendhal syndrome is a real illness which can cause dizziness due to overwhelming exposure to Florence’s culture and art.
- Start your wander: The Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral) is the ideal starting point. Nearby is the historical Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio.
- Duration: The Old Town can be crossed in half an hour if you walk directly through, but take some time to explore the area properly.
- You shouldn’t miss: Try going up the bell tower of Florence Cathedral. It’s cheaper than the tourist-filled dome, with less of a queue, and gives a beautiful view of the dome itself. There is also a white, marble circle on the floor behind the dome. Hardly any tourists know this marks the spot where the copper ball fell from the top of the cathedral’s dome after being struck by lightning in the year 1600. Exploring this part of the city is usually easier in the evening as it is less crowded.
The Marais district, Paris, France
The Marais area, known for being a gay district on one side and a traditionally Jewish neighbourhood on the other, is an excellent escape from the Parisian tourist throng. It is an extremely trendy location, full of boutiques and some of the best second-hand stores to be found in Europe. Add in the fact that the area is generally cheaper than the usual Paris prices and you’ve got a perfect location to while away some time. Once you’ve explored this area, hop on the Metro to nearby Montmartre, where you can walk around the uber parisian filming locations for movies such as Amélie.
- Start your wander: At the Saint-Martin Ourcq Villette Quartier. From here follow the water to find amazing little restaurants (some on boats), boutiques, and “marché des puces” (flea markets).
- Duration: You can easily see the majority of the area in a morning. It’s not a huge neighbourhood.
- You shouldn’t miss: Chez Marianne, often regarded as the best falafel restaurant in the city.
Bad Ischl, Austria
“Sommerfrische” is probably one of the nicest words in German, and refers to the summer holidays when escaping heat for a cooler clime was the top of everyone’s agenda. One of the best places to do this is the Bad Ischl area, the “Sommerfrische” town for the Habsburg family, former monarchs of austria. As a spa town with many thermal and special baths, you can literally soak in the surroundings, and would be hard pressed to find a nicer area to walk than through the beautiful old town in the summer.
- Start your wander: At Kaiservilla, the historic summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I. From here you can hike through the area and walk past many luxurious villas.
- Duration: One day is more than enough for the city itself, but you could stay for up to a week and visit other attractions in the area, such as the town next to the beautiful lake of Traunsee.
- You shouldn’t miss: Traunstein, which is hard to miss! It’s a huge mountain which can be seen from almost everywhere.
Bairro de Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal
Alfama is the oldest suburb of Lisbon and the only one that survived the earthquake from 1755, largely due to its foundations being built within the rocks. It’s one of the oldest cities in Europe and still preserves its original Arabic layout. Because of this the streets are very narrow and steep and, similarly to Florence’s Old Town, is only accessible by foot. For an unmatched brush with Portuguese culture, visit A Parreirinha de Alfama, where you can wander to the sound of fados, the typical Portuguese music, and sample the tastiest bacalhau (codfish).
- Start your wander: The Castle of Saint George (Castelo de Sao Jorge). It’s the highest point of the neighbourhood. From there you can walk down into the city.
- Duration: Half a day is enough time to see the majority of the area.
- You shouldn’t miss: Chapito, a bar and state-funded circus school (not your average combination), boasting a bohemian interior and nightly shows. The Cathedral and other churches are also worth visiting, as is the Military Museum.
Old Town of Tallinn, Estonia
Its twisting cobblestone lanes and iron street lamps give the Old Town of Tallinn an unmatched ambience. As a popular tourist destination, this UNESCO World Heritage Site also boasts a vibrant atmosphere, with many bars playing upbeat music most nights of the week. Despite the tourism Tallinn manages to keep an authentic Baltic feel. Pay a visit to the city wall, which is located near the Müürivahe Street next to Old Town’s knit market. The lower town spreads out from the foot of the hill, still protected by the remnants of the wall fortifications. From here wander in whichever direction takes your fancy. All are incredibly quaint and pretty.
- Start your wander: At the historical and medieval heart of the city is the hill of Toompea. Start from here and make your way through the cobbled streets and alleyways.
- Duration: Much of the district can be covered in half a day.
- You shouldn’t miss: Must Puudel, a not unknown but lively little cafe/bar. The medieval markets and gothic spires are unusual and intriguing sights.