Skg Thessaloniki 105929302 Rfis

Alternative city breaks


Rome, Barcelona, Paris – been there, done that, bought the T-shirt? Come with us on a tour of some under-the-radar cities that have got just as much to offer and more.

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Okay, so ticking off the bucket-list cities is always a good idea. But they can come with their fair share of crowds, queues and hefty prices. If you’re a seasoned city-breaker after an alternative angle, then it’s time to consider some of Europe’s lesser-known cities.

They show off all the usual history, culture, sights, shopping and dining of course. But what makes them stand apart is the authentic atmosphere you’ll get, which adds to the whole experience. You’ll be dining next to locals rather than tourists. There’ll be more space to move about and less time waiting around. And you’ll discover unusual sights you haven’t already seen one hundred times in the guidebooks.

Best of all, you can tell everyone back home you’ve discovered the next best thing in city breaks. So, what are you waiting for?

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Where is it?

This buzzy, sunlit port city is on Greece’s north-eastern Aegean coast. Size-wise, it comes in a close second to capital city, Athens. And thanks to its seaside home, it’s not far from some of the country’s best beaches either – hello, Halkidiki. A melting pot of student café culture meets time-old traditions means Thessaloniki is fabulously full of life.

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What is there to see and do?

Like with many cities, Thessaloniki has seen heaps of influences come and go over the centuries, from the Romans to the Ottomans. All of which have left their mark on the city’s skyline – it’s a different style each way you look.

Aristotelous Square is the centre of everything and shows off Byzantine beauty and then some. A short walk away, the 15th-century White Tower takes pride of place among the cocktail bars lining the waterfront. While you’re round these parts, don’t miss the UNESCO-stamped Roman Rotunda and statue of local legend Alexander the Great – or the quirky umbrella sculpture while you’re at it.

Museum fan? You can tick off archaeology, contemporary art, Jewish history, war, photography and cinema all in one city. It’s the shopping that gets our vote though. Think everything from designer boutiques and fast-fashion malls to one-of-a-kind craft shops tucked down dinky side streets.

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And what about the food and drink scene?

Well, Rick Stein refers to this as the gourmet capital of Greece so that’s a good start! It’s a classic case of east meets west, so diverse dining is all the rage. We’re talking spiced lamb, smoky slow-cooked stews, aromatic stuffed onions and of course, gorgeous grilled souvlaki with fresh Greek salad. Sign. Us. Up.

For the best al fresco atmosphere in town, turn your attention to the lively Ladadika district. It’s bursting with bars, tavernas and mezedopoleía (that’s meze bars to us), so there’s never a dull moment.

And whatever you do, don’t leave without trying the bougatsa for breakfast. It’s a sweet, syrupy cream-filled pastry that’s well worth the calories!

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Where is it?

Girona takes pride of place in the heart of Spain’s north-eastern Catalonia area. Its medieval walls are nestled among the most knockout countryside and it’s just a short drive away from the wild pine-fringed bays of the Costa Brava. Food fan? You’ve come to the right place.

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What is there to see and do?

The best place to start is the warren of cobbled lanes that make up the old Jewish Quarter. Then swing by the beautiful Baroque cathedral that towers over the city’s central square. Make your way up its 86 steps and admire the widest Gothic nave in the world.

The ochre-coloured arcaded houses lining the River Onyar make a super spot for a photo op. Admire them from the Pont de Ferro – an iron footbridge built by Gustave Eiffel, creator of Paris’ world-famous tower. There are shops and lovely waterfront cafés around here too.

Want to see the city from its best angle? Take a walk along its grand old walls and watch out for ivy-clad towers and fairy-tale gardens along the way. Art fans, you’re in day-tripping distance of the Dali Triangle too.

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And what about the food and drink scene?

If there’s one thing Girona loves, it’s food, which is no surprise given Catalonia is Spain’s gastronomic heart and soul. And it shows of everything from shabby-chic bars plating up taster plates of pintxo to cutting-edge, Michelin-starred eateries.

For a delicious distraction from sightseeing, tuck into a custard-filled xuixo pastry or two. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, hot foot it to the Willy Wonka-like Rocambolesc Gelateria. You’ll be welcomed by a rainbow-bright interior and imaginative ice cream toppings from candy floss to popping candy.

Want to take a taste of Girona home? Head to herb-scented El Lleo market for local oils, wine and spicy botifarra sausages.

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Where is it?

Sitting pretty at the heart of Portugal’s Algarve region is fabulous Faro. Tiled buildings, decorative arches and laid-back vibes give off flavours of Lisbon. But its compact size and proximity to the Ria Formosa lagoon – not to mention a bunch of classic seaside resorts – give it a unique appeal all of its own.

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What is there to see and do?

First on your Faro agenda should be a stroll around the charming cobbles of the Old Town. Rock up to this part of the city and you can tick off unique souvenirs from cute boutiques, local vino at duck-your-head wine cellars and selfies in front of colourful painted doors. Arco da Porta Nova and Arco da Vila are two places that make a nice pitstop for a picture too.

There are lots of churches to discover across the city, but if you only see one, make it the Cathedral – and look out for the gargoyles. Got a ghoulish side? Make your way to the Chapel of Bones if you dare.

When it’s time to put your feet up, it’s easy to hit the beach from here. Praia de Faro pulls in surfer types thanks to its golden dunes and wicked waves. Or take a scenic boat ride through the reeds and birdlife of the nearby Ria Formosa wetlands.

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And what about the food and drink scene?

First things first, whenever you’re in Portugal you have to try a pastel de nata… or several (we won’t tell). This teeny, caramelised custard-filled tart is a local legend for a reason.

But we’re on the coast here, so it’s safe to say that seafood is a big deal. The marina is a top spot for lazy brunching on lobster while yacht-watching. After something more rustic? Get lost in the Old Town and you’ll stumble across humble, homestyle spots serving up traditional dishes like lemon-sprinkled lulinhas fritas, chargrilled sardines and cataplana stew.

As for drinks, Columbus Cocktail & Wine Bar’s terrace is a popular spot, but it’s Rua do Prior where you’ll find the serious bar-hoppers and all-night clubbers.

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Where is it?

Funchal is the flower-filled capital of Madeira. Perched along this lush little island’s sunny south coast, it mixes old-world architecture and wine cellars between gorgeous green hills to one side and Atlantic Ocean waves to the other. This place may be famous for its flora and fauna, but its street art and buzzy cocktail bars shows off a more modern pulse to this pretty city.

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What is there to see and do?

Funchal mixes classic and quirky in equal measure. On the one hand, you have 16th-century buildings such as Sao Lourenco Palace and Funchal Cathedral to nosy around. Not to mention the manicured splendour of the Botanical Garden, complete with traditional tea house en route.

But on the other hand, you can go whizzing down a hill in a basket on wheels, glide high above the city in a cable car, walk down a street of uniquely painted doors or take a dip in the city’s 1930s lido!

Let’s not forget the amazing museums. The Madeira Film Experience is a documentary film telling the story of the island’s history in a charming little cinema. Meanwhile, you can admire Cristiano Ronaldo’s footballing fame and waxwork at CR7 or head to the Museum of Modern Art for avant-garde installations.


And what about the food and drink scene?

Let’s start with the garlic-basted beef espetada kebabs, sprinkled with fragrant laurel from the mountains then grilled over hot coals until deliciously smoky. Yum. Eat with a side of fried polenta and local banter in the buzzing Old Town, followed by swanky drinks around the marina.

Wine is the island’s most famous export – head to the award-winning Blandy's Wine Lodge to watch it made first-hand. You’ll also sup a glass or two of course. And for a taste of the high life, it’s got to be afternoon tea on the clifftop terrace at Belmond Reid’s Palace. The dress code is dapper, so make like a film star.

If that’s got you pulling your suitcase out the loft ready for your next adventure, check out our incredible Jet2CityBreaks today.

Posted: 30th Jan 2024. Updated: 5th Jun 2024. Jet2 Holidays Jet2 City Breaks Jet2 Villas