London, Paris, Vienna, Venice and Florence, cities of the Grand Tour have always been popular and remain so to day despite the hordes of tourists and the high prices. Then there are the trending, or trendy, cities like Reykjavik, Tallinn, Barcelona, Prague and Amsterdam.
Below are six cities I would recommend for 2017. I have included three or four highlights in each case but there is much more to see in all of them.
Cologne sits on the banks of the Rhine and is dominated by its cathedral or Dom. At one point its soaring spires made it the tallest building in the world. After only nine years it was locked off the top spot by a tower of girders built by one Gustav Eiffel. The cathedral is said to house the relics of the magi who visited the infant Jesus.
As the name suggests Eau de Cologne was invented here to bring a touch of Italian spring meadows to the stinking environment of Cologne. There are two rival perfumeries producing the perfume and both are open to visitors.
Already thinking of Valentine’s Day? You can be romantic in Cologne and attach a padlock to what is claimed as the first love padlock bridge. Follow this by strolling along the Rhine to the Chocolate Museum and the Grand Cafe Chocolat.
Hard enough to find on a map and even harder to pronounce (bid-gosh is near enough) this city in western Poland is an undiscovered jewel for culture vultures and for those who like to be close to nature. It was shortlisted for European Capital of Culture for 2016. There is evidence of art everywhere with the free balancing man on a tightrope over the Brda River being the centrepiece of it all.
Wyspa Mlynska or Mill’s Island is the quiet park in the centre of Bydgoszcz. As the name suggests it was once home to mills that harnessed the power of the Brda River. Some of these mills now house museums and art galleries. The island is adjacent to the Old Town and accessed by several footbridges.
For a close to nature experience you can kayak right into the city centre at Wyspa Mlynska opposite Opera Nova, the city’s modern opera house. From the wharf you can walk down stream visiting the cathedral and admiring the three granaries and the red brick Gothic post office. In the other direction you can head to the Old Market Square to enjoy an iced coffee and people watch.
I discovered the delights of Amiens quite by accident (read here) and during my short stay fell in love with the city. The Cathedral of Notre Dame is the stand out highlight and is hard to miss. It is a magnificent edifice famous, among other things, for its carved stone facade.
Medieval St-Leu has many older wooden and brick houses built along its many drainage canals. It is popular with Amien’s young population and is full of cafes and restaurants. Many of them are along Quai Belu and have great views of the cathedral.
The floating gardens or “hortillonages” in the marshlands of the Somme are something not to miss. Dating back to Roman times these islands of gardens, allotments and small scale producers can easily be visited by boat from the quays below the cathedral.
Mdina, or L-Imdina as it is often signposted, was once the capital of Malta until the Knights of St John moved their capital to the vast natural harbour at Valletta. The city, within the ancient walls, retains much of its character and is a great place to spend a few hours wandering.
The best way to enter is through the Baroque main gate and continue up the palazzo lined Triq Villegaignon. Many of these elegant palaces are still occupied by ancient noble Maltese families. One or two are open as museums or places to eat. Facing a piazza just off this street is the rather plain Baroque St Paul’s Cathedral. Step inside and and you will discover that it is far more ornate than the exterior would have you believe.
You cannot leave Mdina without a visit to the Fontanella Tea Gardens on the ramparts behind the cathedral. The views across Malta are amazing, the cakes are amazing as is the variety on the menu.
In the rush to see other parts of Puglia down the heel of the boot of Italy visitors tend to pass through the gateway city of Bari and miss much of what it has to offer.
Old Bari is the original port and is the place to sample the street food of the city. Puglian matriarchs prepare and cook their food directly outside their front doors. Bakers serve slices of focaccia straight from the wood burning ovens. Finally, to finish it all off you can take part in “the stroll” with some of the most wonderful gelato.
Also in Old Bari is the cathedral dedicated to St Nicholas who apparently came over to Bari from his native Turkey. His relics, it is claimed, are in one of the cathedral chapels. We know him as Santa Claus and his giving of gifts to children is not just a myth. However, the frightening carving of him in the cathedral would deter any child from being naughty ever again.
If you have time it is well worth taking in a performance at the theatre. The Teatro Petruzzelli has a reputation for great acoustics and well-known artists and performers often tread the boards here.
The great ocean liners of White Star and Cunard departed from Southampton on their trans-Atlantic voyages but the city was a trading port long before then. Today it once again serves the great ships of the ocean. The three Queens of Cunard are often in port as are numerous cruise ships. Southampton is the busiest cruise port in the UK and there is invariably at least one in port.
The Titanic left Southampton on its maiden and ill fated final voyage. The Museum of the Sea chronicles the events of that voyage along with the part the sea has played in Southampton’s history. Another well known ship America bound also left from Southampton but apart from a memorial, a park and a theatre there is little to commemorate the sailing of the Mayflower. Plymouth holds that distinction as that was where the little ship took shelter when bad weather and damage to another ship in the fleet forced them to turn back.
The great flying boats to Australia, Africa and North America took off from Southampton Water on multi-leg journeys around the globe. One of these can be seen in the Solent Sky aviation museum. The building housing the museum is packed full of aircraft and aviation paraphernalia much of it with a connection to Southampton. The Supekrmarine Spitfire was designed and originally built in Southampton.
A stroll around the walls of Southampton gives an insight into the city and its history. The old docks are now half a kilometre from the current docks, there is a Tudor house and garden to visit as well as one or two public houses that date from that time.
These six are a personal selection of places I discovered off the beaten track and would highly recommend if you are looking for something a little different in 2017. I have no doubt you will have places you would recommend. Do get in touch and leave your favourite “off the beaten” track destinations in Europe in the comments below.