Seven city breaks with bonus beaches and national parks within easy reach

When it comes to city breaks, we want more. Blame flexible working culture, adventurous start-ups touting mini-adventures, or Instagram flagging cool side-trips from top cities, but our concept of the city break is expanding.

According to Abta, Britons who went on a city break jumped by 8 per cent between 2022 and 2023 (from 32 to 40 per cent); urban breaks also outstripped beach holidays as the most popular type of trip in 2023. Meanwhile, a 2023 Expedia report found that nearly half (44 per cent) of Brits planned to take more holiday days compared with the previous year (29 per cent), with an average of 21-30 days taken.

Tour operators say that sustainability-conscious customers are booking more time on the ground.

James Chisnall, founder of Untravelled Paths, which specialises in trips combining cities with hiking or wildlife spotting, says: “We’ve seen a massive increase in business, despite prices going up. With higher flight prices, people want to get the most out of each trip. They might extend from two to four nights in order to see more in the surrounding area.”

“A maxi-break unlocks a destination in a way the habitual ‘skip through’ can’t,” agrees Huw Owen, co-founder of TravelLocal. “Out goes the two-day checkbox exercise; in come gastronomy, hikes and wilderness stays.”

Here are some of the best cities for access to surrounding sights, scenery and untamed nature…

Provençal feasts and seaview hikes: Marseille, France

This red-blooded port gives you a dose of unpretentious riviera life, from steaming pots of bouillabaisse to wanders through the shabby-chic Le Panier district. Tuck in to seafood at informal joints such as La Boite a Sardine; stroll along the Vieux Port, trimmed with high-masted boats; and hike 45 minutes to hilltop Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica for views across the city. Kids will love the mini-train along the port (£7 adults, £3.50 children).

Go further Aside from Provence’s honey-coloured villages and wineries (some within an hour’s drive), the idyllic Calanques National Park, 45 minutes’ drive east, should top your list. Named for the striking limestone cliffs and coves that trim the coast, it is a paradise for hikers, bikers, paddle-boarders and swimmers; scores of wildflower-trimmed, sea-view trails are on the park’s online map (calanques-parcnational.fr).

Where to stay In Marseille, try clean, central Residhotel (doubles from £56 room only; residhotel.com). In the Calanques, Le Petite Calanque is close to swimming coves and hiking trails (double rooms from £99 B&B, lapetitecalanque.com).

Surf the impressive waves near Tangier (Photo: Silvia Otte/Getty/Stone RF)

Souks and surfer beaches: Tangier, Morocco

Strangely underappreciated next to headline-grabbing Marrakech, this northwestern port has an ancient medina, an exquisitely tiled 17th-century kasbah and a city beach to boot. Linger over pastries and mint tea at one of its historic cafés, see contemporary art in the Kasbah Museum and tuck into Moroccan-style seafood. Tangier is also a magnet for artisans and designers: make sure you leave room for treasures from Las Chicas and Topolina.

Go further This stretch of coast is blessed with lovely beaches – surfers will love Achakar (detour to the mythology-stacked Caves of Hercules), while Dalia has great waterfront bars. Head down the road to Spanish-influenced Asilah, with its own low-key medina and surfy beaches; and tick off the “Blue City” of Chefchaouen with its powder-blue passageways, a two-hour drive south.

Where to stay A riad is a must while in Morocco; try affordable Riad Amr (doubles from £61 B&B, riadamr.ma). In Chefchaouen, Riad Mosaic takes the sapphire hues inside, with a stunning mountain-view roof terrace (doubles from £66, facebook.com/RiadMosaic).

Seville, Andalusia, Spain.
The architecture of Seville never fails to impress (Photo: Chiara Salvadori/Getty/Moment RF)

Dramatic gorges and Islamic architecture: Seville, Spain

Spain’s pin-up historic city, Andalucia’s capital is a no-brainer city break: the magical Royal Alcázar, with its gold ceilings, intricate tiling and gardens dripping with herbs, palms and citrus trees; tiny tapas bars to graze through; low-lit tablaos hosting live flamenco guitar and sensual, stomping dancers, and tranquil boat rides along the Guadalquivir.

Go further Western Andalucia is stacked with treasures, so hire a car to drive an epic, views-packed loop: stop at Unesco World Heritage site Córdoba with its Islamic architecture and the labyrinthine Alhambra palace in Granada. Swing by Nerja or Malaga on the coast before the mountaintop city of Ronda, with its plunging gorge. End in Jerez for sherry tastings and dancing horses, before circling back to Seville.

Where to stay Seville’s Catalonia Santa Justa has a rooftop bar and plunge pool (doubles from £55 room only, cataloniahotels.com). In Ronda, Hotel Soho Boutique Palacio San Gabriel has the antique looks and ornate tiling to match your cultured trip (doubles from £113, sohohoteles.com).

Belfast City Sunset with colorful twilight over Lagan Weir Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge spanning over the Lagan River in downtown Belfast. Illuminated Modern Urban Riverside Cityscape of Belfast. Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK, Europe
Sunset over Belfast’s Lagan Weir Bridge (Photor: Mlenny/Getty/E+)

Seaweed spas and craggy coastline: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast has quite a fan club thanks to its fascinating museums, character-packed pubs and handsome university buildings. Crumlin Road Gaol is a whimsical stop: a 19th-century prison with a fully immersive tour (crumlinroadgaol.com); while Black Taxi political tours give vital context on the Troubles (cabtoursbelfast.com). The Titanic Quarter is worth your time for its techy Titanic Experience exhibit – the ocean liner was built here. The ambitious Belfast 2024 cultural calendar kicks off soon, for eight months of added reasons to visit the city.

Go further Accessible adventures abound: the fairy-tale rock stacks of Giant’s Causeway are just over an hour’s drive, while The Gobbins cliff path clings to wave-lashed rocks just 35 minutes from town (thegobbinscliffpath.com). Head to coastal Newcastle, south of Belfast, for its seaweed-bath spa treatments; or travel west for the ritzier version at FinnLough, its Scandi-feel outdoor spa trail runs through woodland (finnlough.com/elements-trail).

Where to stay In Belfast, the affordable Malmaison does the job (doubles from £125, malmaison.com). Close to Giant’s Causeway, the Bushmills Inn is handy for its namesake whisky distillery (doubles from £180 B&B, bushmillsinn.com).

Kotor, Montenegro, is surrounded by natural beauty
(Photo: CWLawrence/Getty/E+)

Unspoiled mountains and national parks: Kotor, Montenegro

This under-the-radar city is home to one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval old towns, with a dramatic, mountainous backdrop that hints at the nature beyond. Stroll its Dubrovnik-alike Stari Grad, all huddled russet rooftops and plump domes; then hike up to Sveti Ivan fortress (entry £7) – there’s a 40-minute trail or a longer, three- to six-hour “Ladder of Kotor” hike. Come summer, boat trips to the Blue Cave and Our Lady of the Rocks, a quaint island church, will cool you off.

Go further Nature lovers head for Lovcen National Park, whose Wolf Trail takes in birdsong-filled woodland, craggy peaks, sea views and natural springs for refilling water bottles. If you have smaller children, the Budva Riviera (30 minutes south of Kotor) has shingly beaches and relaxed outdoor restaurants.

Where to stay Hotel Hippocampus is central for Kotor’s sights and boat trips (doubles from £159 B&B, hotelhippocampus.me). Hotel Monte Rosa is on the fringes of Lovcen, with striking mountain and forest views from its indoor pool (doubles from £55, monterosacetinje.me-hotel.com).

Porto, Portugal old town skyline from across the Douro River.
The Porto old town skyline from across the Douro River (Photo: Sean Pavone/Getty)

Wine tasting and seaside strolls: Porto, Portugal

This northern city is already a city-break classic, but it is also a gateway to both the Atlantic coastline and serene wine country. Start in the centre with a browse along Rua das Flores, grazing through Mercado de Bolhão, before a riverside lunch in the Ribeira neighbourhood (try traditional feeling Dos Mercadores). Lose an afternoon in one of the city’s port houses – Taylor’s has a comprehensive tour (taylor.pt).

Go further The tranquil, emerald Douro Valley is 90 minutes’ drive out of town (you can also take an atmospheric day cruise up the river itself). Drop in on boutique wineries such as Quinta da Pacheca and Quinta da Roeda, where you can pre-order a picnic lunch. Or venture west to the pretty coastline, savouring seaside lunches in family-friendly Matosinhos and Vila do Conde.

Where to stay In Porto, BessaHotel Baixa has an indoor pool and sun terrace (doubles from £130 room only; baixa.bessahotel.com). The Douro Royal Valley Hotel has river and valley views (doubles from £162, douroroyal.com).

Kosterhavet is one of Sweden?s 30 national parks. Inaugurated in 2009, it is the first marine nature park in Sweden. It is part of the Skagerrak sea and consists of the sea and shores around the Koster Islands. It contains coral reefs and a unique flora and fauna, making the park a great snorkelling site. Credits: Per Pixel Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se Region: Southern Sweden Location: Kosterhavet Style: Outdoor, No people, Big file format +40 Mb Time: Day, Summer Categories: Nature, Outdoor, No people, Big file format +40 Mb, Day, Summer Terms of use: Image Bank Sweden Terms of use apply Image via Imagebank Sweden Note T's & C's Terms and Conditions of Use - Image Bank Sweden Acceptance of the Terms and Conditions of Use means that the user has read all the Terms and Conditions below. The Terms and Conditions of Use are binding on all users. The user must at all times note that an image may be subject to alternative conditions, additional conditions, which, if so, are provided in connection with the downloading of the image. In such cases, the additional terms shall prevail over these Terms and Conditions of Use. User means the person, organization or company that uses the image. Terms and Conditions in brief: These Terms and Conditions of Use are binding on all users. Images from Image Bank Sweden may be used for the purpose of presenting Sweden abroad. Marketing of products or services is prohibited (exemption marketing intended to increase travel to Sweden). Please note Limits of use for exceptions. Images in the image bank may not be used in Sweden for a Swedish target audience. In conjunction with the use of an image, the name of the photographer (and the artist) shall be indicated in the following manner: name of photographer (artist) / imagebank.sweden.se The user of an image must download the image from Image Bank Sweden and accept the Terms and Conditions of Use. An image from Image Bank Sweden may not be transferred to third parties. The downloaded image may be used only once. If the image shall be used again, it must be downloaded anew, since new Terms and Conditions may be applicable to the image. The person, company or organization which uses an image from Image Bank Sweden is responsible for compliance with the Terms and Conditions of Use.
Kosterhavet is one of Sweden’s 30 national parks (Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se)

Wild archipelagos and rustic lodges: Gothenburg, Sweden

The “world’s most sustainable destination” has been a plaudit given to Gothenburg by the Global Destination Sustainability Index for the past seven years. Along with a hyper-local food scene – brunch at solar-and biogas-powered Kafé Magasinet – its vibrant student population means great nightlife, cycling routes and cheap eats. And a waterfront museum brings the Vikings to life with its preserved ship remains (goteborgsstadsmuseum.se).

Go further Cycle onward to the Bohuslän Archipelago for paintbox-bright boathouses in tiny fishing villages and dinky islands perfect for walks, wild swims and eco-lodges. The remote Koster Islands have around 300 year-round inhabitants and form a marine national park: rent kayaks, follow its trails, or take kids on a “seal safari”.

Where to stay In the city, try the stylish Hotell Onyxen (doubles from £82 B&B, hotellonyxen.se). On Klädesholmen island, Salt & Sill has a cracking seafood restaurant (doubles from £107 B&B, saltosill.se). In wild Nordkoster, Lyths have seven summer eco-cabins less than 100m from the sea (cabins for four from £254, lyths.se).