There's more to Europe than Rome, Madrid and Paris. Forget the usual tourist hotspots and explore a little further afield with our guide to the best alternative European city breaks for spring 2016.
While the majority of visitors are drawn to Italy's 'big three' (Rome, Venice and Florence), Siena in Tuscany is no less lovely and is well worth a visit – especially if you coincide your stay with the Palio horse race. The city, which has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famous for its art, museums and medieval cityscape – at the heart of which lies the great scallop-shaped piazza Il Campo, one of the loveliest squares in Italy and the backdrop to the Palio. Twice a year (July 2 and August 16) a magnificent pageant takes place to herald the start of the race, which sees jockeys in traditional dress ride bareback around the square. The race may be over in minutes, but the atmosphere, pomp and pageant makes it a must-see.
There's more to Holland than Amsterdam. Utrecht, a university city located in the centre of the country, makes a pleasant change to the capital and is home to canals, cobbled lanes and pretty gabled houses as well as a lively night life thanks to the large student population. Visit the 13th century Dom church, take in the historic surroundings and medieval buildings on a cruise through the canals, or, if you're feeling particularly energetic, hire a bicycle. For lunch head to the Oudegracht 'old' canal which curves through the centre of the city, where many of the warehouses have been converted into cafes, bars and restaurants. Aside from the many theatres and museums, Utrecht hosts a number of popular music festivals – from Trance Energy and indie and art rock to the Summer Darkness festival, which celebrates goth music and culture.
Known as the Rome of Portugal, Braga, in the north of the country, is steeped in history and makes a great alternative to the usual tourist hot spots of Lisbon and the Algarve. The ancient 'city of Archbishops' is home to a great many churches - indeed it seems there is a beautiful baroque church on almost every street corner. No trip is complete without a visit to the hillside sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, with its unique baroque staircase, the Sameiro Sanctuary and the 12th century Cathedral, the oldest in Portugal. If you get tired of touring ancient churches, head to one of the city centre's many lively cafes or drive to the nearest beach, about 25 minutes away.
Located in the west of Spain, Salamanca is considered to be one of the most spectacular Renaissance cities in Europe. Nicknamed 'La Dorada' or the golden city due to the sandstone buildings that glow pink and gold in the evening sun, Salamanca boasts the oldest university in Spain as well as many lovely churches, university buildings and gothic palaces. After a day's sightseeing head to the beautiful Plaza Mayor, a large central square bustling with cafes, bars and restaurants, where you can enjoy a bowl of Charreria (a casserole made with chickpeas) or sample the local cured hams as you watch the world go by.
Located on the western coast of the Black Sea, Constanta is Romania's largest sea port – and famed in legend as where Jason landed with the Argonauts after finding the Golden Fleece. The Old Town offers a wealth of monuments, ancient ruins, museums and shops as well as some truly photo-worthy buildings (the grand Casino is a must-see), while its proximity to the coast means beach resorts are in easy reach too. Three miles north of Constanta you'll find the coastal resort of Mamaia, a favourite weekend get-away for locals. Soak up the sun on the fine sandy beaches or try your hand at the many water sports on offer.
Are you planning to explore more of Europe next year? Leave a comment below...