For some travelers, the perfect kind of getaway is settling down in one destination and spending several days (or weeks!) immersing deeply into the culture. For others, it’s about squeezing in as many locations and itinerary items as possible. Depending on what you’re looking to get out of your trip, you could argue in favor or against both viewpoints — or somewhere in between the two. And while it’s true: there’s probably nowhere in the world you can fully know by spending just one day in it, the reality of limited vacation days and tight budgets means that sometimes you have to squeeze a whole lot of experience into a shorter timeframe.
Thankfully, Europe is a country where charming day trips hit their stride. Whether it’s for a long weekend or a pitstop while transiting from one big city to the next, there are several European towns that can be experienced and appreciated in 24 hours (albeit, worth a longer stay when possible). These destinations tend to have similar characteristics: efficient public transportation, walkable streets, and old town city centers with plenty of things to do, see, and taste. Ahead, eight such cities to visit to help get the most mileage out of your next European jaunt.
This charming Swiss town sits on the northern shore of Lake Geneva and its many beautiful buildings are sprinkled up and down a hillside overlooking the Alps. Lausanne’s metro system is world-renowned and makes getting around town impeccably easy. (Fun fact: it’s the smallest city in the world to have a full metro system.) The best use of your day is to begin at the top of the hill and make your way down, stopping at historic sites such as the Lausanne Cathedral and meandering around the quaint old town. Complete your route along the Lake Geneva shore and enjoy waterfront tapas and drinks at La Guinguette de Vidy, a beloved locals’ spot that’s perfect for watching the sunset.
Where to Stay: Royal Savoy Hotel & Spa — A historic landmark since 1906 that feels like staying in a fancy friend’s mansion. Don’t miss the rooftop bar or the spa featuring a sauna, steam room, and heated indoor and outdoor pools.
Sound of Music fans need little introduction to the storybook town of Salzburg (it was the setting for the iconic film). But even if you don’t worship at the alter of Fräulein Maria there’s still plenty to fall in love with in this lovely Austrian town. For starters, it was the birthplace of Mozart and history abounds at every cobblestone corner, with UNESCO-listed Baroque architecture weaving together the city’s unique German and Italian heritage. Salzburg is very walkable and also offers buses and trolleybuses should you wish to hop outside the city limits for access to nature. Be sure to look up musical performances happening during your visit (there’s a ton of them here) and relish in the many food and drink options in town, ranging from Michelin-starred restaurants to a laidback brewery.
Where to Stay: Hotel Sacher Salzburg — An elegant property that’s part of the luxury Austrian brand Sacher. Some rooms even have a balcony with a view of Salzburg’s old town and the Hohensalzburg Fortress.
Even if you’re never been to Bruges you’ve likely seen it in many photographs — cobbled streets wind along storybook canals that lead to medieval buildings. It’s one of those places that genuinely feels like stepping back in time in all the right ways. And thanks to its small size, it’s manageable to see in just one day. (Some like to note that you can walk from one end of Bruges to the other in around 30 minutes.) While here, stroll around market square to take in its beautiful building facades and marvel at a marketplace that’s been around since 985. Take a boat trip on the canals to see the city from a different perspective or climb to the top of the iconic Belfry Tower. You won’t want to miss a visit to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, nor a walk across the St. Boniface Bridge. Wrap up your day by enjoying one of Bruges’s many food and drink specialties: chocolate, waffles, and beer.
Where to Stay: Hotel Heritage — A lavish Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel with old world elegance and modern amenities.
Around 100 miles west of London is the lovely city of Bath — ideal for a quick, culture-packed trip. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is best known for its ancient natural thermal springs, which were enjoyed by the likes of the Romans and Celts. Nowadays, it’s a quaint walking city with plenty to see and do. Perhaps the most popular attraction is the Roman Baths — you can’t take a dip in them but there’s an interactive exhibit to help visitors visualize what it was like 2,000 years ago. But rest assured there are day spas where you can enjoy the region’s hot springs, like Thermae Bath Spa and The Gainsborough Bath Spa. You can also head to one of the town’s many museums and galleries, followed up by a climb to the top of Abbey Tower. If you’re an aesthete, don’t miss Bath’s bourgeoning design scene: 8 Holland Street, Nam, and Jack and Danny’s are all worthy shopping stops.
Where to Stay: The Royal Crescent Hotel — A Georgian architecture building with refined interior design by Jane Clayton. Stroll around the property’s expansive gardens or enjoy afternoon tea by the fire.
Approaching the medieval center of Siena while the church bells of the Basilica of San Domenico are ringing is among the more dramatic travel experiences one can have. This breathtaking Tuscan hill town feels frozen in time thanks to its distinctive Gothic style and cascading hills peppered with historic architecture. You’ll want to check out Piazza Del Campo, one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares that is home to a historic horse race called Palio di Siena. Explore deeper into the city streets and you’ll stumble upon the grandeur that is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, which is adorned with white and inky green marble. And if you’re feeling peckish, simply step inside one of the wine bars for a cheese board and a pour of Sangiovese.
Where to Stay: Grand Hotel Continental Siena — Housed in a 16th-century building that was once a private palazzo, this five-star hotel is pure luxury. Enjoy design details like cotto tiled floors, frescoed ceilings, and original chandeliers plus a lavish ballroom and underground wine cellar.
The Alsace region is one of the most beautiful bits of France (think: lush forests, rolling hills, tranquil bodies of water, and world famous vineyards). It boasts several villages that epitomize charm, and one such destination that’s worth adding to your itinerary is Éguisheim (not far from Colmar). One glance at the village’s center and it’s clear that the medieval charm is strong here thanks to its narrow, winding roads and half-timbered houses. Visitors can explore the exterior of Château Saint-Léon, a historic castle, and take in the many colorful floral displays all around town. And no trip to Alsace is complete without a tarte flambée accompanied by a local Riesling.
Where to Stay: James Vignoble Hotel — A quiet, stylish boutique hotel with a standout pool surrounded by vineyards.
On the shores of the Baltic Sea sits Tallinn, Estonia’s capital. A day here is best spent exploring the old town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s all the ingredients of a charming village here — cobblestone streets, medieval walls, and historic buildings to boot. Begin your day at Toompea Castle, which dates back to the 13th century and offers panoramic views of the city. There’s also a Russian Orthodox cathedral in town (Alexander Nevsky Cathedral) that’s known for its onion domes as well as a baroque palace (Kadriorg Palace) that’s surrounded by a park and houses the Kadriorg Art Museum. Flavors are particularly unique here thanks to both Scandinavian and Russian influences, and traditional dishes like herring, black bread, and roast goose are well worth a try.
Where to Stay: Hotel Telegraaf — A hotel under Marriott’s Autograph Collection, this property is located in the old town and has an on-property restaurant and indoor pool.
Surrounded by mountains and majestic forest and nestled in the Neckar River Valley, Heidelberg is a quintessential German town. Its history dates back to the 13th century and is well-known for its university founded in 1386 as well as the Heidelberg Castle built in the German Renaissance style. The old town is ideal for wandering around thanks to its narrow streets, historic buildings, and lively market square (which is particularly charming during the holiday season). Cross over the bridge to stroll along the Philosopher’s Way, a scenic path named after the many philosophers and poets who used to walk there. Wrap up a day of exploring with a traditional German meal of specialties like sausages and sauerkraut.
Where to Stay: Heidelberg Suites — A stylish boutique hotel under the Small Luxury Hotels of the World umbrella with a sunlit penthouse suite worth booking a second night at.
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