Spring is a good time to visit Antwerp, when the days get longer and lighter, parks begin to open and you get to experience the city in full swing before the locals disappear for the summer season. Home of Rubens, baroque architecture and some of Belgium’s best farm-to-fork restaurants, Antwerp is a longstanding hotbed of creativity. The medieval city is full of galleries dedicated to the master painters of old Flanders, while boat tours celebrating the city’s rich maritime history. In terms of gastronomy, beer and chocolate obviously feature quite heavily. Be sure to visit the De Koninck brewery for a VR tour, which ends with a sampling of its signature brews. The trendy southern quarter, Het Zuid, has many cool bistros and coffee shops where you can carb out on waffles and fries.
Once an abandoned shipping port in the sleepy Basque countryside, Bilbao is now a thriving cultural and foodie hub made famous by its Guggenheim Museum and spirited nightlife. Renowned bar and restaurant La Terraza del Yandiola offers some of the city’s best views from its rooftop terrace. History juxtaposed with punchy modern architecture is Bilbao’s signature look: the Nervión river is lined with eye-catching glass structures, asymmetric bridges and renovated dockland buildings. Plaza Nueva is the place to go for good food, with lots of lively restaurants within the colonnades and arches beneath its impressive neoclassical buildings. Look out too for the famous La Ribera market. If you’ve got more than a couple of days, make your trip a double-header with San Sebastian, where you’ll find some of Europe’s best Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as upscale pintxo bars serving local Basque wines.
Stay: Gran Hotel Domaine, Hesperia Bilbao, Hotel Tayko Bilbao
Eat: Mina, Casa Rufo, El Perro Chico
Nice and Marseille are the most popular destinations on France’s glitzy Côte d'Azur, but there are now compelling reasons to choose the charming old town of Montpellier above them. The Languedoc region’s elegant capital is full of alfresco cafés and enticing dining options, such as Le Jardin des Sens and innovative Playfood. The city looks particularly good in April and May, when its limestone buildings show off in the spring light. Central Place de la Comédie is where the action happens in Montpellier and a good starting point from which to explore the rest of the city. Sport fans might want to be around for the International Festival of Extreme Sports (20th-24th May). For anyone thinking about their carbon footprint, you can travel to Montpellier via the Eurostar, with just a quick change in either Paris or Lille.
Stay: Baudon de Manuy, Grand Hotel du Midi, Mas de Lafeuillade
Eat: Le Petit Bistrot, Les t'OCqués, Empanadas Club
The birthplace of pizza is a buzzing metropolis, full of authentic restaurants and lively street-side bars. Awash with tourists in its sweltering summers, Naples is best enjoyed in spring. Gritty appeal makes it an exciting destination to explore for a weekend and work your way round its world-famous pizzerias. Head to Sorbillo to sample the original Neapolitan pizza, and L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele is worth the queue to taste its definitive wood-fired pizza. Set against the unparalleled backdrop of volcanic Mount Vesuvius, the city also has one of Europe’s most ornate Gothic cathedrals. Further afield, scenic Capri is an hour away by boat, and the ancient ruins of Pompeii are easily reached by train.
Stay: Romeo Hotel, The Dante House, Santa Chiara Boutique Hotel
Eat: Antonio & Antonio, Antica Osteria Pisano, Starita
A cultural capital in the north of Portugal, Porto is bang in the middle of the famous Douro wine region. Over the last 15 years, the city has undergone a massive renovation, but its quaint cobbled streets are still lined with artisan shops and cafés, filled with locals drinking coffee and snacking on pastéis de nata. Split by an iconic metal bridge across the Douro, the cityscape is a sophisticated one, with rows of granite buildings and balconied houses interspersed with charming markets, museums and gardens. Porto is ideal for pottering around and taking in the sights, as well as tasting its most famous export at one of its many port houses. When you’ve drunk your fill of sticky red ports, a white port and tonic is a refreshing spring alternative.
Stay: Torel 1884, Maison Albar le Monumental Palace, Porto AS 1829
Eat: Restaurante Cafeina, O Paparico, Puro 4050
It might be time to look beyond the Greek or Balearic islands for a spot of spring sun. Tel Aviv is now easier to get to than ever, with thousands of direct flights available from London each year. This Israeli city on the Med has a lot to offer, from exceptional cuisine to the dynamic nightlife of Rothschild Boulevard and trendy neighbourhood hotspot Sarona. Party the night away in any of the open-air bars on Allenby or Barzilay Streets, or enjoy a more laidback drink at the Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar overlooking Tel Aviv’s promenade. The city centre is filled with hip cafés and bars, leading into quaint side streets you can wander for hours. Indeed, because congestion is an issue, most people tend to explore on foot. Must-see cultural sights include the ancient port of Jaffa, Park HaYarkon and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. That said, sun is almost guaranteed, so spring is also not too early to enjoy one of its 16 beaches.
Stay: Hotel Montefiore, Brown Beach House, The Norman
Eat: Pastel, Claro, Romano
DISCLAIMER: We endeavour to always credit the correct original source of every image we use. If you think a credit may be incorrect, please contact us at [email protected].