Culture, cuisine and one-of-a-kind charm – these destinations have it all
If, like us, you’re already planning your urban getaways for next year, allow The Independent to provide a little #Travelinspo. Here’s our pick of 10 of the best city breaks to kick the next decade off with a bang.
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This pretty gem of a city on Ireland’s west coast is gearing up for a stint as one of two European capitals of culture next year (along with Rijeka in Croatia). It’s presumably a big reason behind Galway’s inclusion in both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides’ lists of top cities to visit in 2020 – but there’s plenty else to recommend it besides. The cobbled streets of the historic centre are ripe for an amble, with plenty of independent boutiques to browse. Foodies will find fresh seafood in generous supply, while the starkly beautiful Arran Islands are just a short (if choppy) boat ride away.
That said, the schedule for 2020’s cultural feast looks particularly juicy, featuring a giant light installation illuminating the Connemara mountains, talks from authors including Margaret Atwood, and a major new international triennial cello festival.
Where to stay: The Continental Boutique Residence offers boutique-y luxury (country estate-meets-urban chic furnishings; free breakfast bags; Smeg fridges and flatscreen TVs) for a bargain price tag (from £41 a night). HC
As holidaymakers become increasingly aware of their carbon footprint when travelling, 2020 is set to become the year of the staycation. The UK has no shortage of buzzing cities to explore. But for those wanting to take the slow travel trend a step further (literally), the historic city of Durham in northeast England has announced 2020 as its Year of Pilgrimage. There’s a whole programme of events and activities planned around the theme of the spiritual journey, at the centre of which is the launch of seven new walking trails across the region. Although the project will explore Durham’s Christian heritage, it’s also designed to appeal to “those simply looking for their own personal spirituality or peace and tranquillity”.
Elsewhere, the city is dripping with history, including the Unesco-listed 11th-century Durham Castle and Cathedral, now possible to explore with the help of an augmented reality app.
Where to stay: Sleek boutique The Townhouse is dripping with opulent swagger: flock wallpaper, thick velvet drapes and gilt-framed mirrors are tempered by in-room smart TVs and Nespresso machines. HC
This western German city straddling the Rhine River happens to be the birthplace of Beethoven – a fact that won’t go unmentioned in 2020, as Bonn celebrates the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Beethoven House, a memorial and museum honouring the musical legend, is a good place to start exploring, before diving into the cultural smorgasbord served up as part of Bonn’s grandly named Beethoven Jubilee Year. Performances come thick and fast, from the likes of Sir Simon Rattle with the London Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim and Teodor Currentis. There’s also a multimedia Beethoven city tour, dance performances and interactive exhibitions. And the annual Beethovenfest, running from 13 March to 27 September, should ensure that even the most ardent of Ludwig fans gets their fix.
Where to stay: Design hotel Kameha Grand Bonn is right on the river, housed in a light-filled, all-glass building – and it’s got a rooftop pool. HC
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Brazil’s most populated city and financial centre is becoming more accessible from 2020, when Virgin Atlantic launches daily direct flights from London Heathrow at the end of March. Once there, visitors will find a vibrant food scene, from carb-heavy street food – try pastel (deep-fried puff pastry with meat and cheese fillings), pão de queijo (baked cheese puffs) and coxinhas (fried breaded pastry crammed with chicken and cheese) – to fine-dining restaurants (check out Michelin-starred Japanese establishment Huto and D.O.M, where Brazilian favourites like pirarucu fish and tapioca are elevated to another level).
It’s also rich in culture, with myriad art-house cinemas and world-renowned museums, such as Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), plus it has one of the biggest Japantowns of anywhere in the world.
Where to stay: One block from MASP in the upmarket Jardins neighbourhood, the five-star Tivoli Mofarrej São Paulo has simple, sophisticated rooms and an outdoor pool. HC
France’s often overlooked and underrated second city has everything you’d want from a short break: culture (be sure to check out the MuCem for the building alone); architecture (Le Corbusier’s Unesco-listed, brutalist masterpiece Cite Radieuse is a must-visit); food and drink (bouillabaisse and rosé, anyone?); and beaches (soak up the sun on manmade beach Plage du Prado or get adventurous and discover the exquisite calanques nearby).
The city is also getting its sport on next year as it plays host to the 2020 rugby Challenge Cup and Heineken Champions Cup finals in May, held at the Stade Vélodrome. Tickets from €15.
Where to stay: Seafront-based Les Bords de Mer offers an ocean view from every room, stripped-back, beach-chic design and access to a rooftop plunge pool and terrace. HC
Previously poorly connected to the UK, Sarajevo has been given a three-times-weekly direct flight from London Luton with Bosnia Airlines, which makes spring 2020 the perfect time to explore this once-war-torn, now-vibrant capital. Why? The café culture here rivals any western European capital (a cup of Bosnian coffee and baklava is the perfect shot in the arm at any time of day) and old-style Ottoman charm emanates from every pore in its cobbled old town. Those interested in World War One can see the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated – whose death precipitated the invasion of Austria-Hungary into Serbia.
Where to stay: You can’t go wrong with Sarajevo institution Hotel Europe, decked out in Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian style. CA
The American city everyone was talking about this year was Nashville, Tennessee. There’s been a huge hotel boom this year, with a Moxy and The Russell in a historic church opening, and more are slated for 2020 – including the party-friendly W brand. In fact, Music City proved so popular with UK visitors that British Airways, which launched flights in 2018, upped its flight schedule to five times a week. With a flight time of just eight hours, Nashville is even possible for a long weekend. Explore the Country Music Hall of Fame, home to names such as Johnny Cash and Taylor Swift, wander into honky-tonk bars on Broadway (our recommendation for the most authentic is Robert’s Western World) and enjoy slow-mo Southern brunches of pulled pork and brisket in the hip 12 South neighbourhood.
Where to stay: The Omni hotel in downtown is right next to the Country Music Hall of Fame and comes with a knock-out view over the Bridgetown Arena. CA
Regularly ranked as the cheapest city in Europe (and the sauciest… remember the “G spot of Europe” campaign?), Lithuanian capital Vilnius is a pretty, compact city that’s easy enough to explore in a couple of days. There’s the medieval cobbled Old Town, lined with cutesy cafés and restaurants (try traditional Mykolo 4 or the tasting menu at Sweet Root), the neoclassical cathedral and the hilltop Gediminas Castle, which after a sharp 10-minute slog up the hill affords a panorama of this up-and-coming city. As per any bohemian city worth its salt, there’s a free-thinking “republic”, called Uzupis, home to some hole-in-the-wall restaurants and odd pieces of art dotted along the river.
Where to stay: The Shakespeare Boutique Hotel, in a baroque building in the Old Town, is ideally located next to Vilnius’ main attractions, and comes with lovely views to boot. CA
This windy city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast is more of a second or third visit to the country, perhaps after exploring the souks of Marrakech and the heady bustle of Fez. Essaouira is far more Atlantic in feel and laid-back than both, with a manageable Unesco World Heritage Site-listed medina and miles of blowsy beach, perfect for kitesurfing. Argan trees bloom in the valleys outside the city – as do luxuriant resorts, ideal for enjoying lazy days and starry nights. Thanks to the Atlantic wind, summers are never too hot here: temperatures rarely go above 30C. Ryanair recently started direct flights from London Stansted, so it’s easier than ever to get here.
Where to stay: Terracotta Jardin des Douars combines old-school twinkly Morocco (lamps, fuzzy Bedouin rugs, Moorish arches) with a pretty spa and two pools, including one reserved for adults. It’s very family-friendly, too. CA
Most tourists will bypass Jordan’s capital Amman for Wadi Rum – and, since easyJet started flying to the coast, the Red Sea resort of Aqaba – but that could be about to change. The city, which is positioning itself as a destination in 2020, has plenty for city breakers to see: the old town, reformed as Downtown; the ancient Citadel, which offers eye-popping views of Amman’s cityscape; and the old-new mash-up of Rainbow Street. There’s modern too, in the shape of cutting-edge art gallery Darat al-Funun, housed in a beautiful 1920s hillside villa.
Where to stay: The luxed-up St Regis opened this year in the affluent Abdoun district. CA