Although the timeless charm of Parisian boulevards and Venetian canals are well-established, these two cities are far from the only options for love birds seeking a romantic weekend away. Our selection of alternative European cities promises to satisfy any hopeless romantic seeking a Valentine’s escape away from the crowds.
Cambridge is full of storybook scenes. From the ornate spires that rise above the River Cam, to the university scholars rattling down cobbled backstreets on rusty old bikes, there are few cities in England with the same potential for romance.
Take a stroll around the University grounds, made up of 31 autonomous colleges which are scattered throughout the city. Don’t miss the Bridge of Sighs that spans the River Cam and St John’s College. This ornate river crossing is said to have been a favourite spot of Queen Victoria’s and is the perfect place to capture the magic of a romantic English weekend on film.
For an equally picturesque vantage point, venture along the Cambridge Backs, a strip of land along the river where a number of colleges can be seen from a different perspective, their ancient buildings rising above the water and their landscaped grounds rolling down to the banks.
Spend the afternoon indulging in a winter picnic provided by the iconic Fitzbillies café and while away the evening in Cambridge Wine Merchants. Named as one of the UK’s top 25 wine bars and best independent retailer, this intimate wine shop and bar is a wonderful place to immerse yourself in the city’s delightfully relaxed atmosphere.
Visible for miles around, Assisi sweeps along the flanks of Monte Subasio like a pink ship sailing over the green sea valley below. For couples seeking stunning natural scenery and dreamy Italian architecture, this fairytale town is the perfect choice.
There are few things more romantic than a magical view, and the one from the Basilica di San Francesco is hard to beat. Rent a bike from Angelucci Cicli and enjoy a scenic (if somewhat strenuous) cycle from Piazza Matteotti or take a stroll through the Piazza del Commune, the medieval heart of Assisi embellished with a series of 13th-century buildings (including a Temple of Minerva), and make a wish in the 16th-century fountain that sits along the Via San Francesco.
For a quintessential Italian evening, head to La Stalla. This country trattoria situated in a converted stone barn offers traditional hearty fare and an ideal environment to reflect on a day of exploration.
A spiderweb spun from spindly streets and framed by tranquil canals, Bruges’s status as Europe’s best-preserved medieval city makes it an ideal choice for travellers seeking real fairytale romance.
If a winding stroll isn’t enough to convince you of the charm of this Belgium gem, try taking a horse-drawn carriage around the city’s central market square, climbing the wooden spire at the belfry or marvelling at the dramatic interiors of the Gotische Zaal.
While Bruges’s shopping scene isn’t limited to lace and chocolate, it does do best when it comes to these romantic classics. For lace, try the quaint Sint-Anna boutique ’t Apostelientje and for chocolate, any one of the city’s 60 shops is bound to please.
With numerous Michelin-starred restaurants (mostly French with a twist) the city is a contender for Belgium’s gourmet capital – and a great place to treat yourself, or indeed, a special someone. If you like to dine in a place that looks as good as the food tastes, try the ultra-opulent restaurant attached to the Relais & Châteaux-owned Hotel Heritage. The set menus at Le Mystique run from €59–120, but they also do a rather reasonable à la carte, & the veggie option is as fancy as it gets. Expect to be treated like a king.
Known as the ‘Paris of the East’, Budapest is a city with romance at its core. Characterised by the broad and the bold, the Hungarian capital’s stunning river banks, magnificent domed Parliament building and wide boulevards are an ideal backdrop for anyone seeking enchantment at every turn.
The hills and cobbles of Castle Hill, on the Buda side of the Danube, are best explored when you’re fresh-legged. Take the funicular on the ride up and stroll the length of the grounds towards the Fisherman’s Bastion, a unique spot with an impressive vantage point over the city.
For those more interested in relaxation than perspiration, a visit to one of the city’s 40 thermal baths is an unmissable experience. Head to the Széchenyi Baths for a romantic winter dip.
The best way to enjoy the riverbank sights (particularly the iconic Parliament building) is to take a voyage along the Danube. Expect live music, plenty of cocktails and some of the most magical night-time views to be found anywhere in Europe.
In terms of dining, for a traditional Hungarian experience with a twist, we’d recommend Baltazar on Castle Hill. This boutique hotel and grill is a little out of the way but is certainly worth the effort, and offers a modern take on traditional Hungarian fare in intimate, colourful surroundings.
Valletta must be the easiest capital city in the world to explore and is probably the most charming. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and European Capital of Culture in 2018, this bastion enclosed Mediterranean city is a wonderful place to let your inner romantic fly.
The best thing to do in Valletta is walk. The warm limestone of the old buildings that populate the city is set off by painted wooden gallariji (closed balconies) that overhang the narrow streets. Much of Valletta is pedestrianised and even some of the shabbier streets towards the edge of town have real charm. Head to Castille Square to marvel at the Church of Our Lady of Victory before catching a show at the Manoel Theatre, one of the oldest still in use in Europe.
For cosy and charming evening dining, head to Guzé. This lovely family-run Mediterranean restaurant is located in a delightfully traditional old Valletta house, thought once to have been part of the home and workshop of Valletta’s main Maltese architect. The food is beautifully presented with taste to match.
While the Baltics might not be the first place that come to mind when asked to think about romantic getaway destinations, there is something undeniably magical about Tallinn.
First established in the early medieval era, Tallinn is an exciting mix of old and new. Owing to its compact size, the Estonian capital is a wonderful place to explore on foot, taking the time to soak up the city’s charming atmosphere at a pleasantly slow place. Begin with the Old Town and its impressive architectural attractions, including but not limited to, St Nicholas Church, Town Hall Square and the Holy Ghost Church. Beyond this, the impressive Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Kadriorg Palace (aptly nicknamed ‘mini-Versailles’) are not to be missed.
Dining options are vast in Tallinn and there are numerous spots perfect for indulging in a romantic evening of fine food and wine. Head to Mantel ja Korsten for elegant Mediterranean cuisine or Fotografiska to sample an impressive Scandinavian menu.
To start planning your getaway, check out our guidebooks: