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Do you ever get the feeling that everybody seems to be heading to exactly the same cities?! While Venice, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona and Berlin are certainly world-class locations, the sheer numbers flocking to them have led to many opting for alternative city breaks around Europe where the crowds are thinner and prices are often lower.  

Here’s our pick of under-rated cities if you’re looking for something a little different this year.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Why go? 

A small but buzzing capital city with a backdrop of snowy mountains and dazzling natural wonders, such as glaciers, geysers, and volcanos. 

Don’t miss

Reykjavik Shore Excursion is perfect if you’re short on time. The tour includes Hallgrimskirkja church, the presidential residence at Bessastadir, the fish market in Hafnarfjordur and the open-air Arbaer Museum. 

Kids will love the Whales of Iceland exhibition in the harbour area, which features life-size models of the 23 species of Whale found around Iceland’s coast.

Where to stay 

Hotel Holt, one of Reykjavík's first hotels, is full to the brim with paintings, drawings and sculptures (the largest private art collection in Iceland). It’s not cheap but there are bargains to be had at certain times of the year.

What to eat

The local speciality, Hakarl – putrefied shark – is certainly a dish you won’t have tried elsewhere. For foodies, February’s Food & Fun festival is not to be missed - a perfect introduction to the city and the special Reykjavik atmosphere.

Budget: €€€ 

2. Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Why go? 

Amsterdam might draw the crowds, but with its mix of iconic contemporary architecture, world-class museums and buzzing nightlife Rotterdam has emerged as the must-see second city of the Netherlands.

Don’t miss 

Museum Boijmans van Beuningen is one of Europe’s finest collections of Dutch and European art. Highlights include Man in a Red Cap by Rembrandt, The Marriage Feast at Cana by Hieronymus Bosch and a whole room dedicated to Salvador Dali in the surrealist wing. 

If you’re looking for something a little more nautical, this is the home of one of the busiest ports in the world, after all, check out the Maritime Museum and then spend a leisurely afternoon aboard one of Rotterdam's excellent boat tours.  

Where to stay

Stroom, a converted power station, is now a sleek, contemporary design hotel in the Delfshaven harbour district where prices start from €135 per night. For a great budget alternative, try Stayokay at Overblaak 85. Designed by Dutch architect Piet Bloom, its quirky design has rooms of raised “cube houses” and is also a stone’s throw from the city’s major attractions.

What to eat

Try raw herring at the famous restaurant Wijn of Water in the old warehouse district of Lloydkade or taste traditional Dutch fare at Hiernaast overlooking the historic harbour. Don’t forget to order chips - Rotterdam is famous for its Frites and they’re usually served with a choice of sauces, including truffle mayo, pickles and curry, or peanut.

The Markthal is a vibrant location that is both an office complex and food hall with some stunning architecture and a dazzling ceiling fresco painted by Arno Coenen - making it the perfect place to spend a lazy few hours sampling to your heart’s content. 

Budget: €€

3. Leipzig, Germany

Why go? 

Described as ‘Little Paris’ thanks to its stunning buildings and rich cultural heritage, with 14 museums you won’t be short on things to see. And with its other frequently used tag, ‘the new Berlin’ Leipzig is certainly providing plenty of competition to Germany’s big-hitting capital.  

Don’t miss

For an insight into life under the GDR regime, The Runde Ecke Museum is well worth a visit. Housed in the former headquarters of the Stasi (East German secret police), its permanent exhibition 'Stasi – Power and Banality’ displays the propaganda, sinister surveillance devices and other chilling reminders of the oppressive regime.

Nature-lovers should take a stroll through Auenwald Forest, Leipzig’s beautiful city park. It’s brimming with native wildlife so keep an eye out for moose, bison, foxes, red deer, boars and several owl species.

Where to stay

For a special treat, try the 200-year-old Hotel Fürstenhof, a 5-Star Luxury Hotel in the heart of the city. The Vienna Townhouse Bach is not only a delightful musical-themed hotel with a nod to one of Germany’s greatest composers Johann Sebastian Bach but it’s also located in the oldest townhouse in the city.  

What to eat

Try the Leipziger Lerche, a local pastry filled with crushed almonds and cherries. For something savoury, head to the famous canal side haunt, Stelzenhaus, for their acclaimed pork chops.

Budget: €€

4. Ljubljana, Slovenia

Why go? 

One of Europe’s smallest capital cities is home to wonderfully friendly people, a lively atmosphere and a thriving restaurant scene.

Don’t miss

February's Dragon Carnival combines parades and marching bands with pop-up puppet theatres. Or take a craft beer tour with Ljubljananjam Foodwalks – a casual walking tour that weaves between tapas bars and secret beer haunts.

What to eat

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, don’t miss the kremna rezinas (traditional cream cakes). For ice-cream lovers, try one of the bewildering choices of flavours at Cacao (wild strawberry, raspberry pie and chocolate caramel fudge are among their huge choice!).

Where to stay

The Hostel Celica, a former prison that’s been converted by architects and artists is certainly worth a visit. Alternatively, stay at the stylish Cubo Hotel in the heart of the Centre district, its cool minimalist design is perfect for a relaxing weekend away.

Budget: €

Staying Safe

If you’re planning a city break, whether it’s to one of the destinations listed here or elsewhere, it always pays to stay safe. 123.ie offers great value travel insurance in Ireland with a variety of cover options - all of which will give you peace of mind while you're enjoying your mini break. We offer single trip or annual cover both of which come with the option of winter sports coverage. Getting a quote is quick and easy through our website so check us out before you leave on your next holiday!
 

Sources:

theguardian.com
whalesoficeland.is
tripsketch.com
lonelyplanet.com
wanderlust.co.uk
telegraph.co.uk
lostinleipzig.com
ljubljana.info
inyourpocket.com

Fardosa Flanagan

Marketing Executive

Hi, I'm Fardosa and I work in the Marketing team here at 123.ie. Please sit back and enjoy our blog posts, hopefully you find them enjoyable and helpful.