Top 10 alternative city breaks in Europe

For great-value city breaks, look past the capitals and big names; some of Europe’s liveliest cultural scenes are in its smaller cities

Why go?
While Bruges can sometimes feel a little like a tourist toy-town, Ghent keeps it real. The city still offers picturesque Flemish architecture and historical sites – St Bavo Cathedral is the obvious one – but you’ll also find a buzzing contemporary creative scene too, with trendy hang outs such as bar/cafe/co-working space Bar Buro, cycle cafe Bidon and cutting edge restaurants such as JEF. Evenings are far livelier too, with a big student population revelling in the city that spawned electro legends Soulwax.
When to go?
During the summer, Ghent hosts a wide range of festivals, including the 10-day multi-arts extravaganza Gentse Feesten. However, the city is just as beautiful during the winter, and in November is the location of the notoriously bonkers Six-days cycle race.
Where to stay?
The Backstay Hostel opened last summer and occupies a stunning city centre art deco building, which was formerly the home of left-wing newspaper Vooruit. There’s a range of pod-style dorms and double rooms, each of which is named after a famous newspaper (including the Guardian). The restaurant and communal spaces are chic, chilled and light, with wooden floors, vintage furniture and a library.
Dormitory beds from €19 a night B&B, double rooms from €64 B&B.

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