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How to Make the Most of your European City Break



You’re back from your Easter holiday, the taste of chocolate still tingling and wondering, where next? Why, Europe, of course. 

The Continent’s cities quite literally spring to life in May, and early summer is the optimum time to visit. Since it’s also the season of coachloads and cruise liners, visiting and getting the most out of sought-after destinations like Barcelona, Paris and Venice takes some advance preparation and more than a little reliable insider intel. 

As ever, we’ve got your back. Read on for our collection of tried and trusted city experiences that will enable you to sidestep the tourist faff and engage with the destination like a resident, truly making the most of your European city break.

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Amsterdam

Amsterdam Classic Boat Tours

How to LUXE it? 

Skip the touristy canal cruises and bob along the city’s famed waterways aboard a tony 100-yr-old saloon boat courtesy of Classic Boat Tours. 

Why we rate it: 

If you’re going to do it, do it right… these beautifully restored vessels with polished timber and velvet interiors accommodate 1-12 people only and can be hired for a customised sailing. The onboard chef will prep brekkie, lunch, drinks or dinner to your requirements, or simply ask to boat hop between the city’s bars and diners. Ahoy sailor! 

Amsterdam dinner cruise,  classicboattours.nl/en/


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Barcelona

Barcelona Antiques & Boutiques

How to LUXE it? 

Our gals on the ground Lisa Richardson and Niki Robinson design harmonious interiors for their biz A&B Curated, while also offering personal shopping, sourcing and bespoke tours of their adopted city. Book one of their style jaunts and they’ll lead you by the hand to Barcelona’s ateliers, showrooms and galleries – offering a sprinkling of insider tips about the top tables and bar perches along the way.

Why we rate them: 

What’s not to love? While the hordes are jostling elbow-to-nip along La Ramblas, you get a personal perspective of Barca, by two of the city’s most stylish and well-connected residents. Avoid sticky August when like the rest of the city, Lisa and Niki head on holiday.

Tel: +34 607 653 817 or +34 671 234 800, info@abcurated.com, antiquesandboutiques.com


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Berlin

Berlin Cafe Am Nueun See

How to LUXE it? 

We’ve long been fans of the magical Clärchens Ballhaus tucked amid the galleries and shops of hip-happening Mitte. Built in 1895, this regal dance hall has seen it all from flirty flappers in the roaring ‘20s to black marketers under communist rule. Today, in her current iteration as a nightclub, dance class venue, concert space and beer garden, the now slightly shabby centenarian remains a grand institution of Berlin’s party scene.

Why we rate it: 

The twinkly garden is uber-charming on a balmy summer evening, though don’t miss going inside, especially when there's live music and dancing – a devoted crew of tango dancers, DJs and band fans have been tearing up the dance floor here since 1913. The top floor is eerily beautiful with its faded, mirrored walls and fin-de-siècle atmos.

Also worth a leisurely afternoon of your time is leafy, mid-park Biergarten Cafe Am Nueun See in Tiergarten. Repping pretty table-clothed picnic benches, suspended decks and DJ-spun sounds, it’s captivating day through to night. Take the brood – it’s super family friendly too.

Clärchens Ballhaus, Auguststraße 24, +49 30 2829295, ballhaus.de/en/

Cafe Am Neuen See, Lichtensteinallee 2, +49 30 2544930, cafeamneuensee.de


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London

London Somerset House Summer Series

How to LUXE it? 

London’s summer calendar is packed with open-air concerts and festivals – from the avant-garde to the raucous. For something a little more refined, hotfoot it to Wigmore Hall in Marylebone, a pitch-perfect recital venue built in 1901 in a Renaissance style with an impressive Art Nouveau cupola. 

Why we rate it: 

Wigmore Hall hosts a series of concerts spanning classical song, chamber music and jazz through to July. Its in-house restaurant and bar are ideal contenders for date night, or swing by for one of the lunchtime or Sunday coffee-morning concerts. If you’re headed to London in July, the Somerset House Summer Series serves up 11 days of alfresco sounds repping a more contemporary beat in the central courtyard – Nao, Rosalía and Jacob Banks are just three of this year’s headliners (11 July- 22 July). 

36 Wigmore St, Marylebone, +44 20 7935 2141, wigmore-hall.org.uk

Somerset House, The Strand, +44 (0)20 7845 4600, somersethouse.org.uk 


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Madrid

Madrid Mercado de San Fernando

How to LUXE it? 

Markets are a staple of the Spanish social scene and if you’ve had your fill of tourista magnet Mercado de San Miguel, skip over to Mercado de San Fernando in upcoming Lavapiés instead. What it lacks in panache, it makes up for in atmos; this rustic, low-key emporium pulls a local hipster crowd to quaff and graze their way through dishes local and global at lunchtimes and weekends.

Why we rate it: 

You’re not just here to eat – browse myriad stalls repping artisan-made bib bobs and check the market’s website for a host of activities, events, workshops and talks. Drop by on the third Sunday of the month and you might be lucky enough to catch one of the salsa sessions. Bueno.

Calle de Embajadores, 41, +34 915 27 25 12 mercadodesanfernando.es


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Milan

Milan Teatro La Scala

How to LUXE it? 

Once you’ve shopped, sipped n’ preened your way around the city, frock up and put your fash-foot forward to the magnificent Teatro alla Scala for a night at the opera. 

Why we rate it: 

Admittedly La Scala is hardly a city secret, but that’s exactly why it should stay on your radar; it’s quite simply the tops for a performance of opera or ballet. Better still, you can arrange a behind-the-scenes peek and learn about the backstage machinations, with a guided tour of the Scala Ansaldo Workshops. The season runs all year long, with a break in August. Book tickets well ahead via your concierge or online.

Via Filodrammatici, 2, +39 02 88791, teatroallascala.org


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Paris

Paris Musée de la vie romantique

How to LUXE it? 

The Louvre, Musée d'Orsay and Centre Pompidou are all famously mobbed in the summer months, so steal yourself away from mayhem with a jaunt to the lovely Musée de la vie romantique. Allow a few hours to browse this divine ode to  Romanticism – no, not cupids and hearts silly, but the C.18th art and literary movement centred on individualism, nature and nostalgia. 

Why we rate it? 

This lesser-known trove of artworks and curios makes for a peaceful and thought-provoking wander. Afterwards, take tea in the shaded secret garden cafe to drink in the full aspect of this pretty shuttered manse.

16 Rue Chaptal, vie-romantique.paris.fr/en


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Rome

Unlocked Rome

How to LUXE it? 

Peel back the layers of the city with Unlocked Rome, founded by poster boy of the ancient world, archaeologist and TV host Darius Arya. 

Why we rate it: 

Like it says on the tin, Darius will hand you the keys to Rome, providing enviable insider access to the city’s famous archaeological sites minus the crowds, and introduce you to lesser-known secrets, while recommending the hottest tables and bar perches for afters. 

Email darius@unlockedrome.com, dariusarya.co


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Venice

Venice Aurora Beach Club

How to LUXE it? 

Come mid-May, Venice will be abuzz with art-seeking cliques and while the whirl of creativity, inspiration and socialising at Biennale Arte magnetizes, the rest of the city will be swarming with Tonya tourist et al. So, when you’ve had your fill of art and mwah-mwah, seek out the Lido’s sandy-shored altar of good times Aurora Beach Club.

Why we rate it: 

This casual all-day beachside bunker provides a welcome respite from the city’s hot n’ hordes-filled canals and alleyways. Lounge by day, party by night.

Biennale Arte runs 11 May-24 Nov at venues across Venice. Open Tue-Fri and the following Mondays: 13 May, 2 Sep, 18 Nov, Giardini open 10am-6pm, labiennale.org

Aurora Beach Club, Lungomare Gabriele D'annunzio, @aurorabeachvenezia


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