Unusual
city breaks

Whenever you think of the classic city break, Europe will automatically spring to mind – no matter where in the world you’re based. It’s not surprising, seeing as this relatively small continent (compared with, say, Africa, for example) contains over 50 countries, all of which have something unique and different to offer. But just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean it’s overrated.

There are so many hidden, unknown city breaks that are perfect for history buffs, culture vultures, and anyone looking for some great pics for the ‘gram – and this is true of city breaks all over the world. Have a read of our top picks for unique city getaways, from Girona in Spain to Managua in Nicaragua and everything in-between.

Europe

Girona Spain

Girona – Spain

It always seems that a lot of Spain is pretty underrated; if it’s not Barcelona or Madrid, people just aren’t interested. Enter: Girona. With all the charm and culture of Barcelona, but with a lot less of the annoying tourism, Girona is the perfect hidden getaway.

A truly ancient city, it’s famous for its incredible medieval architecture such as the Girona Cathedral, an 11th-century building complete with a large Gothic nave 23 metres wide. A strong Game of Thrones vibe with none of the fanatics you’ll find in Dubrovnik, this little town is the perfect spot.

Strasbourg – France

If you can’t decide between France and Germany, Strasbourg is probably your best bet. Nestled along the French-German border, this little town is an amalgamation of the best of both countries. Whether it’s food, language, or architecture, you’ll find a mix of German and French inspiration – even down to the independent language called “Alsatian”. The region has its own magic, full of half-timber houses, a series of picturesque canals, and an idyllic sense of stepping back in time.

Visit the magnificent Notre-Dame cathedral (not the same as the Parisian Notre-Dame), and wonder at the Strasbourg astronomical clock inside, first built in the 14th century. Most importantly, enjoy the fresh pretzels and croissants inside the winstubs – German pubs with an undeniable French twist.

Kutna Hora – Czech Republic

Kutna Hora is everything you imagine an old medieval town in Europe to be like. Fully of hauntingly beautiful architecture from the Middle Ages, Kutna Hora was the seat of Wenceslas II’s royal mint in 1308, producing the currency for all of central Europe thanks to the silver ore that ran through the surrounding hills.

The most interesting site to visit is the famous Sedlec Ossuary, a small Roman Catholic church decorated with the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people. Created during the 19th century by František Rint, a local craftsman, these decorations were a result of overcrowding in the cemetery; a handful of holy soil from Jerusalem was scattered here during the 13th century, making it an incredibly popular place to be buried.

So, to make room for fresh corpses, the bones and teeth of long-buried bodies were removed and placed in the chapel. It was the Schwarzenberg family who decided to do something creative with the remains in 1870.

Kutna Hora Czech Republic

Africa

Rabat Morocco

Rabat – Morocco

Often overlooked for the likes of Marrakech and Fez, Rabat is a delightful small town – small enough to be completely walkable – located at the mouth of the River Bou Regreg, with unspoilt beaches and a fairy-tale feel to the entire city. Travel across the lagoon to explore Rabat’s sister city of Salé, complete with historic buildings, exquisite local restaurants, and a 12th century Kasbah on the water.

Addis Ababa – Ethiopia

Ethiopia is an economically growing country, and this new-found confidence in what they have to offer to the world can be clearly seen in Addis Ababa. The country’s capital, the city overflows with culture, from the excess of museums to the vibrant nightlife, and rich cuisine everywhere you turn.

The city was only founded during the 19th century, but thanks to its location it exudes a medieval atmosphere that feels like you’ve gone back in time; it’s a city where the streets are paved with gold, a gateway to an ancient and mystical world inaccessible elsewhere. With an interesting mix of tradition and modernity, wealth and poverty, it is a city bursting with surprises.

South America

Salta – Argentina

A relatively new city compared with most of those in Europe, Salta was founded in 1582 and has since grown to become full of wonderful museums, plaza-side cafes, and live music on every street. It’s known locally as Salta la Linda, which translates to “Salta the beautiful” thanks to its natural surroundings of Andean peaks, red-rock valleys, and vineyards.

It’s a town with all the amenities of a larger city, coupled with the charm of a small village and more colonial architecture than most destinations in Argentina have managed to preserve.

Managua – Nicaragua

Nicaragua is often overlooked for the likes of Costa Rica, but it truly is a hidden gem for the traveller looking for something unique. From cloud forests to rumbling volcanoes, there’s something for everyone, and Managua is the capital city holding this unique landscape together.

The city itself is eclectic, but once you get your head around it, you’ll fall in love with the scattered attractions and sprawling markets. There’re countless revolutionary landmarks, nightlife scenes, remarkable street art, and impressive monuments, as well as natural attractions that should not be lost on anyone – such as the nature reserve of Chocoyero-El Brujo, and the beaches found at Pochomil.

North America

Boston – USA

When you think of the USA, you often think of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Florida, and Las Vegas. But the US is a giant country, with hundreds of cities that are just as worth exploring as these ones, with just as much to offer. Take Boston for example, which has everything you need to have the ultimate history, culture, sports, and shopping break away.

It’s a city that evokes images of revolution and transformation, once dubbed the Athens of America thanks to its ever-increasing art culture. Indeed, Boston has an unprecedented appreciation of fine paintings and classical music, but it isn’t an elitist artistic culture – countless museums, libraries, and orchestras have been set up across the city, making the arts accessible for everyone.

There’s the chance to take the Freedom Trail around town, which is 2.5 miles long and covers 16 attractions, each one marking a significant point in US history. Or cheer on the Red Six at Fenway Park, and stroll through the grounds of the famous Harvard University.

Montréal – Canada

Smaller than Toronto, with so much more charm, Montréal is Canada’s hidden gem. Once split down the middle, with French-speaking on one side and English on the other, Montréal is now united, and rich with culture. It’s a city that’s in love with festivals, arts, good food, living well and enjoying life; witness the incredible food scene that ranges from Kamouraska lamb, arctic char, and poutine, or visit the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal that’s followed by parties dedicated to world cinema, comedy, and gay pride. The architecture is European in essence with the Basilique Notre-Dame, the Stade Olympique, and Habitat 67.

Montreal Skyline

Washington DC – USA

A stone’s throw away from NYC, Washington DC is a whole new ball game. Any House of Cards fan will already have this unique city on their bucket list, but even if you’re not a fan of the show you should 100% visit. The capital of the USA, the city is a kaleidoscope of iconic monuments, museums, and symbols of American history like nowhere else. For one, there’s the iconic White House building, as well as Congress and the Supreme Court – the three pillars of US government.

The city is abuzz with sheer power, with the Pentagon, the State Department, the World Bank, countless embassies, and a pretty high chance of accidentally having a pint with a congressman in a local bar. But that’s not all; there’s the Smithsonian Institution – a collection of 19 artefact-rich museums – the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of History, the National Museum of African American History, the Reynolds Centre for American Art and Portraiture, you get the gist.

Washington is the location of Lincoln’s assassination, of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the very same place where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Asia

Istanbul – Turkey

The only city in the world spread over two continents, Istanbul is the perfect blend of European and Asian cultures. A living history of great empires over the ages, Istanbul is a site that has seen the Greeks, Romans, and Venetians ruling, before conceding to the Ottomans, who left their mark across the architecture of the city. The Byzantines decorated their churches and palaces with mosaics and frescoes, many of which remain today and can be witnessed all over the city.

With an impressive array of galleries, museums, and festivals, as well as cuisine that ranges from the traditionally Asian to Italian lasagne, it’s a city that provides all you could wish for from a city break.

UNESCO protected, with a decent food scene and enough nightlife to keep even a surly teenager entertained, Puerto Princesa oozes appeal.

Muscat – Oman

Muscat translates to “safe anchorage”, which perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of this picturesque port city found in the beautiful country of Oman. Often overlooked by the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Muscat’s setting between mountain and sea sets it miles apart from its tourist-y neighbours – and the most noticeable difference is the significant lack of high-rise buildings.

Muscat is known for traditional architecture, seen in the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque or the Royal Opera House, and even functional buildings are required to be built in line with traditions, with a dome or arabesque window. Muscat is a model of calm in a region plagued by conflict, with an impressive fishing industry, and the opportunity to dive with turtles in nearby lagoons.

Puerto Princesa – Phillipines

The capital of Palawan, the city has just enough going on to make it the perfect short getaway, a stop along on the way to the sustainable island resorts of El Nido. One of the least densely populated cities in the Philippines, it’s known for its white sandy beaches, natural lagoons, amazing seafood – and how green and clean the city is as a whole.

UNESCO protected, with a decent food scene and enough nightlife to keep even a surly teenager entertained, Puerto Princesa oozes appeal.

Oceania

Perth Australia

Perth – Australia

One of the most remote cities in the world, Perth is known as the gateway into Western Australia – and the country as a whole. With wonderful weather, beautiful beaches, and a laidback atmosphere, the city has developed from its pioneering days into a place determined to succeed, with high standards in architecture, culture, food, entertainment – you name it, it’s trying to be the best of the best at it.

Established along the Swan River, and the Indian Ocean, Perth is sophisticated while maintaining the stereotypical surfer-vibe Australians are famous for. 1,200 miles from the nearest city, it’s a wonderful combination of a big-city vibe with bars, restaurants, museums, and cultural activities, while maintaining a chilled-out approach with parks, rivers, beaches, and more.

Bundaberg – Australia

Bundaberg is known for its dark rum, and fruit-farming backpackers, but it’s also a city teeming with coral-fringed beach hamlets, friendly pubs, and a regional art gallery. The agricultural heartland of Queensland, Bundaberg’s famous rum brewery provides spirits before, or after, your food – or both – and the brewhouse is full of eclectic brews such as the Thirst Turtle, Drunk Fish, and Rusty Roo. There is the Hinkler Aviation museum, as well as a turtle hatchery and a golf course, providing something for everyone.

Summary

The world is full of unusual city destinations, meaning not every getaway has to involve Paris, or Berlin, or Amsterdam. Clearly, it doesn’t even have to involve Europe at all. All of these unique places ooze culture and history, so get stuck in and fall in love with some of the most interesting places in the world.

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