Photo by @thomasbjornstad
The coolest European City breaks – By Carla Griscti
Looking for inspiration for your next city break? Whether you want underground eateries, vintage fashion finds or buzzing nightlife, the trendiest districts in Europe promise everything from culture and creative arts to mouthwatering cuisine. From Manchester to Stockholm to Rome and Berlin, these are Europe’s coolest city hangouts, guaranteed to earn you serious vantage points on your next weekend getaway…
Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany
Famed for its buzzing party vibe, Berlin has earned its stripes as one of the coolest cities out there. Go off the beaten track and head to Kreuzberg, where you’ll find graffitied streets scattered with quirky cafés, quaint shops and street food joints selling everything from vegan ice cream cookies and curried Bratwurst to aromatic Egyptian delights. Music, food and dance festivals swarm the streets during the summer, and there are hordes of independent art galleries and fashion stores to rifle through during your down time. When the weather’s warm, crowds swarm the banks of the canal, making it the ideal spot to watch the sunrise if you’re an early riser.
Miera Iela, Riga, Latvia
Teeming with cafés, candlelit bars, quaint galleries and boutiques, Miera Ierla (Peace Street) is Riga’s peaceful neighbourhood hangout, where mums meet for laid-back lunches and freelancers congregate in trendy hangouts tapping away on their laptops and supping on flat whites. From the outside looking in, the white-washed buildings may appear bland and lifeless, but inside it’s an entirely different story; interiors are an explosion of style and colour. The café culture here is booming – you’ll find spots on every street corner kitted out with mismatched furniture, modern artwork and freshly baked goods – but at night, people spill out onto the streets in search of late-night drinking dens and glorious food joints
Like many European cities, Riga comes alive during the summer, particularly around the Midsummer solstice (called the Jani holiday in Latvian), when streets, shops, bicycles and houses are transformed with floral embellishments. With plenty of shops – selling everything from apparel to kids’ toys – there’s enough to keep you occupied, and if you’re looking for a busy night spot, try TAKA – a local bar famed for its quirky events – and work your way through their homemade apple wine list and Latvian craft beers.
Ancoats, Manchester, UK
Manchester’s answer to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Ancoats is a cultural hub of creativity. Having undergone a major overhaul over the last 20 years, Ancoats is swiftly taking over from the neighbouring Northern Quarter as Manchester’s coolest hangout, attracting swarms of students and creative types in the droves. Streets are paved with stylish shops, bustling restaurants and quirky cafés, with every corner showcasing street art. Theatres and open art spaces play host to endless exhibitions and performances – the Hope Mill Theatre puts on a range of productions, from musicals to cutting edge drama – and you can take your pick from an eclectic choice of Scandi-style cafés and warehouse-inspired pizza restaurants – Rudy’s Pizza is a must – which are popular amongst food-loving freelancers.
Praga-Północ, Warsaw, Poland
What was once a dangerous, war-torn district, now serves as home to Poland’s boho art set, reclaimed by hipster cafés, galleries, lively bars, clubs and bustling street markets. A mix of old and new, Praga has everything from farmer’s markets to wedding dresses, and everything in between. Live concerts and dance parties kick off at Hydrozagadka and Skład Butelek – an area covered in graffiti and filled with outdoor spaces – and at Sen Pszczoły you’ll find an art centre, bar and club where cocktails are served up to thirsty patrons whilst they relax on bunk beds. For a spot of culture, visit the Neon Museum to see the iconic Cold War-era neon signs, which date back from the 1960s, and for food, head to the Soho Factory where celebrity chef Mateusz Gessler serves up a fusion of Polish and French cuisine in his Soho Factory – one of the hottest food haunts in town.
Södermalm, Stockholm, Sweden
As one of Stockholm’s largest islands, Södermalm is made up of various different areas, each with its own distinct style. The SoFo area, just south of Folkungagatan street, is where you’ll find rows of vintage stores selling all kinds of retro designer wares, or for culinary kicks, head towards Mariatorget square in the centre of Södermalm for an enviable pick of restaurants, coffee shops and eateries serving everything from modern American and Creole cuisine to falafel pit stops at the enduringly popular Falafelbaren.
The coolest spots in Södermalm double up as shops, where the furniture you sit on is often up for sale. Bookshops, designer vintage stores and swanky cafés pave the streets, and in August the city lights up with buzzing music festivals and lively parties. If you’re visiting during July, be sure to catch Stockholm Pride (Scandinavia’s largest LGBT festival). Soho Factory at Nytorget Square is Södermalm’s foodie hotspot, and here you’ll get to sample the delights of Sweden’s traditional cuisine – think Swedish meatballs and open-faced rye sandwiches topped with succulent salmon and smoked, cooked meats.
Pigneto, Rome, Italy
A food lover’s paradise, Pigneto plays host to a charming collection of authentic Italian restaurants, where wine bars, all-night eateries and music clubs and late-night bars keep the party going strong every night of the week. The life and soul of the neighbourhood is the pedestrian-only street Via del Pigneto – a bohemian sanctuary scattered with restaurants, galleries and shops showcasing international and local art
Wine and cocktails flow freely in Pigneto, as does the food; you’ll be spoilt for choice with a multitude of cocktail haunts and trendy eateries, but for traditional, try Pepper Restaurant or Pigneto Quarantuno both of which serve up a heavy hit of authentic Roman cuisine. For drinks head to Cocktail & Social Punch and Club Spirito and for food be sure to drop into Bar Club Spirito funky late-night eatery for small plates of antipasti and freshly made pasta alongside a great selection of wines and cocktails. Il Tiaso is also worth a visit; a charming wine shop-cum-bookshop where you can read while you quaff. Fixie bikes and graffitied walls line the streets, and during the summer you’ll find pavement cafés packed with brunching locals and lined with bright, colourful flowers.
Grünerløkka, Oslo, Norway
Often compared to Shoreditch and Williamsburg, Grünerløkka attracts international trendsetters from all corners of the globe. What was once a principally working-class neighbourhood has flourished into an cultural artistic hub – part shabby, part pretty, with a mix of warehouse-style architecture, to retain a sense of its original industrial heritage. Saturday and Sunday afternoons are made for people watching, but if you’re after some quiet time, it’s easy enough to escape the crowds in one of the area’s many leafy parks.
With two main high streets, Grünerløkka boasts a wonderful selection of independent stores and charming boutiques (as well as a few high street chains), whilst foodies will revel in the delights of the regular farmers’ market and the Mathallen (food hall) – where you’ll find Champagne bars, fishmongers, cheese shops, organic bakeries and burger joints. Music lovers will revel in the live music scene, and there are plenty of bars and clubs for after-hours indulgence. Be sure to head to Smelteverket a cool gastro pub, and the longest bar in Norway – or Blà a popular club that hosts everything from jazz to cover bands.
Exarchia, Athens, Greece
Renowned as the historical home to many Greek anarchists, Exarchia is the essence of alternative culture, particularly around the central square. Intellectuals and artists have played a big part in shaping the area in recent years, and you’ll find lots of political graffiti and murals throughout the district. Home to some of Athens’ best-loved food spots, there’s plenty in the way of culinary amusement. Dessert-only kiosks serve up moreish profiteroles (Sorolop) and retro cafés pour out glasses of vintage-style homemade lemonades. Traditional Greek delicacies are served in Club Spirito (one of Exarchia’s best-known restaurants), Rozalia a classic taverna with a dreamy outdoor terrace. Take a wander through the meandering streets to stumble on one of the many bookshops, record stores and small music venues, stopping off at one of the nearby cocktail bars packed with local students conversing about pressing social issues.
Kalamaja, Tallinn, Estonia
Head north from Tallinn’s Old Town and you’ll swiftly arrive in the charming spot of Kalamaja. It’s a relatively tourist-free area of the city, with a mishmash of brightly coloured, old-fashioned houses. The area’s name literally translates as “fish house”, which gives you an idea of its rich history as the town’s main fishing harbour. Today, Kalamaja’s vibe is more beards and craft ales than fishing nets and beanies; you’ll find all the boho-types in this fashionable part of the city.
The main cultural hub is the Telliskivi creative centre which has blossomed from an old factory building into a collection of off-the-grid restaurants, shared creative studios and trendy bars and shops. Despite being the largest creative centre in Estonia (with 200 thriving businesses already on the books) it still manages to retain an intimate, cosy atmosphere, where you can shop for artisan Estonian-designed crafts, organic cosmetics and unique fashionwear. There are flea markets held every Saturday, and the Cultural Cauldron Gardens host a series of events including yoga mornings, jazz sessions, art galleries, themed markets and even ping pong tournaments, for the more energetic folk.
Quaint bars, local restaurants and cosy cafés make up the majority of the dining/drinking scene – notable spots include Kovic Moon a homely café-restaurant celebrating traditional Estonian and Russian cuisine; and Paber Käärid which serves daily specials alongside an enormous list of craft beers and delicious wines. Paber Käärid is a local favourite — their Korean-inspired kimchi fries are well worth a try — as is Clayhills Gastropub the area’s first and only gastropub where gourmands can indulge in a seasonal menu of posh pub grub, local craft beers and live music on the weekends.
Nørrebro, Copenhagen, Denmark
With its diverse population, the Nørrebro district – located in the north-west of Copenhagen – is one of the most culturally rich parts of the Danish capital. With everything from art galleries, restaurants and small vintage shops, Jægersborggade Street showcases Denmark’s rich, traditional culture. Green spaces decorated with art objects from around the world offer a relaxing refuge for busy city dwellers, and you’ll find a host of zany places like Clayhills Gastropub a kiosk and convenience store where locals hang out all day and night drinking coffee and listen to live music.
Art events and festivals in Copenhagen are the essence of the summer. The annual 48timer festival, like so many other places and events in Nørrebro, celebrates the cultural diversity of the district with a line-up of food, music and art shows taking place over an entire weekend, in venues as varied as private backyards to public squares. Foodies should head to Nørrebro Bryghus a small local brewery that’s been crowned one of Nørrebro’s coolest hangouts.