Inside a mirrored ark, Rotterdam
A museum store – but not as you know it… The minute you spot the enormous mirrored ark that is Rotterdam’s Depot, you know you’re in for something extraordinary. Open to the public, its Escher-like staircases are designed to encourage visitors to get lost; to discover objects from below, from above, to look at the backs of pictures. Tours (you get to wear a white coat for this bit) give visitors insight into the storage of objects and the complex process of a museum loan. And when you are full of wonder, you can fill up on delicious teas and food at the rooftop restaurant, enjoying city views from the roof garden. Tickets are €20.
The library from the future, Helsinki
Our December trip to wintry Helsinki was pretty amazing – my mind was blown by a parkrun in a snowy forest, heated pavements in the city centre, Portaloos with radiators at the Christmas market, but then we came across what is possibly the best library ever! There’s the usual books and magazines and computer usage, but at Oodi Central Library you can also rent meeting space, photographic studios, recording studios, gaming space and kitchens/dining rooms, have lunch, use large format printers/cutters, sewing machines, musical instruments, do your ironing and (my favourite) rent power tools! How cool is that?
The cheeky dwarves of Wrocław
For me it has to be the bronze dwarves of Wrocław. With more than 600 now in the city (they started to emerge in 2005, when there were only a few dozen), they can be found doing all sorts of mischievous activities on shop fronts, street corners and in public gardens. They make a fantastic spotting activity for a walking tour, and you can even get guides and maps to help you tick them off. Look for the cheeky ice-cream eater and the valiant firefighting team.
Urban surf, Porto
In Porto, wild and elegant collide. Hop on the city metro and whiz past Unesco-listed cobbled streets, cafes brimming with flaky, custard-filled pastries and dark, aromatic port cellars. You will quickly find yourself in the suburb of Matosinhos – home to some of Europe’s best urban surf. Grab a board and wetsuit from a local surf school and paddle head-first into the wild Atlantic spray. Total beginners can book lessons from just €25. The soft, sandy-bottomed beaches are great for learning and draw far fewer crowds than hotspots, such as Ericeira and Peniche farther south.
An intoxicating fairytale, Ljubljana, Slovenia
On an Interrailing trip with my boyfriend, we made our third stop at Ljubljana. We had relatively low expectations, but we were blown away by the food, culture and friendliness of the locals. We stayed in the Fuzzy Log Hostel for three nights and researched “cheap eats” to help us stick to the budget. The city is small and clean, but thriving and youthful, with a mix of fairytale architecture and laid-back Mediterranean culture. We were especially happy to discover that Slovenia is one of the fine wine capitals of the world, something we certainly made the most of!
Porticos and pizza, Bologna
Italy’s “fat city” is a dream for anyone who enjoys food. Stroll through the streets stopping off for pizza by the slice, the perfect marriage of oily but crispy and woodfired. Spend a chilled morning browsing vintage goods at the antiques market in Via Santo Stefano, and regretting only booking hand luggage. Grab lunch at Mò Mortadella Lab for a ham-packed sandwich while taking in the views of Bologna’s Two Towers. Feeling full? Meander through the Porticos of Bologna, 664 arches winding through the streets, a Unesco world heritage site. Sign the day off with tagliatelle al ragu in a cosy restaurant with a bottle of red..
Reeling in the years, Copenhagen
To see Copenhagen in a different light, before you go or while you’re there, check out the Danish Film Institute’s silent film archive at stumfilm.dk. Many of the films include parts shot on location, such as the extract from The Cocaine Rush, which has a sequence involving the tower at Copenhagen Zoo, or the social democratic propaganda film From Darkness Towards Light, which shows off various facilities built by the social democrats. It’s a fascinating way to compare the city from 100 years ago to what we see today.
Munich’s historic hills
I saw Munich in a new light after climbing to the top of the “Schuttberg” hills, dotted across the city centre. These literally mean “rubble mountains”, and were made after the second world war when mounds of debris left over from bombings were planted with greenery. They’re not small: the tallest (Olympiaberg) is 56 metres high. The hills have far-reaching views across the city. But the site also gives a stark reminder of Germany’s history and its rebirth after 1945. The other hills are called Luitpoldhügel and Neuhofener Berg.
Linger in Palma, Mallorca
I can highly recommend Palma. Often it’s somewhere holidaymakers fly into but then quickly leave as they zoom off to the island’s resorts. But they should linger. The city boasts brilliant architecture, cafes in tree-lined boulevards and a truly spectacular cathedral. A day can easily be lost wandering the old streets in the city centre. Our unexpected discovery during our recent visit was the brilliant ride on an open-sided 1912 train from Palma to Sóller, through beautiful mountains, featuring orange trees, olive groves and gorgeous views down to Port de Sóller – a lovely place for a day trip.
Winning tip: beautiful Sarajevo
My partner and I could not have enjoyed this beautiful city more. Winding, cobbled Ottoman-era lanes suddenly transition into dazzling Austro-Hungarian splendour as you explore its rich, tragic history. Make sure you take the cable car up to Trebević to get great views and see the old bobsled track. The food is fantastic and incredibly good value – from delicious grilled ćevapi (£5 a portion), to various flavours of burek (£2-3 a slice), and velvety Bosnian coffee (£1).