Europe’s five most interesting second cities
When planning a short European break it’s often the case that we look to a country’s capital city to head away to. And while these are the ones that house most of the important buildings and cultural amenities, there’s plenty of interest in second cities too.
Not aiming to compete on such a global scale, these cities have developed a personality that’s more representative of the country and its customs. Often, the buildings are quirkier, the restaurants more inventive and the culture more grassroots. Plus there’s more space to breathe in the air, and weekend trips tend to be cheaper too.
So while the biggest cities don’t need to sell themselves, here’s why the Flexicover team think you should visit these strong alternatives.
Once the capital of Norway and the centre of the Hanseatic League’s trading empire, Bergen is still a key city for domestic and international visitors. It’s best known for Bryggen, the historic wharf lined with colourful wooden houses from the 14th century (though they’ve burned down and been rebuilt many times since). Plus there’s plenty more to explore: Fløyen, the nearest of its seven mountains, is eight minutes away from the city centre via a funicular. The aquarium is among the better and more popular ones, and we love Kode, an organisation of museums, galleries and artists’ residences that support rising creatives and display established artists like Edvard Munch.
St Petersburg, Russia
St Petersburg is certainly a stunner - it was developed as a status symbol to show off Russian splendour and advancement. That means it’s home to incredible buildings like the Winter Palace, the Old Stock Exchange and the five-domed Church of the Resurrection of Christ – even the brutalist House of Soviets is a cut above the rest. Its northerly location means it’s privy to the midnight sun, or ‘white nights’ as it’s known there. Plan a visit for mid-June, when the city’s energy levels and events are at their peak.
No, Bruges isn’t officially Belgium’s second city: that honour goes to Antwerp. One of the world’s most diverse cities, it contains 164 nationalities within its half a million inhabitants and that’s shown in the vibrancy of the city. With excellent Eurostar connections, you’ll likely enter through its central station known as ‘Railway Cathedral’. The neo-baroque building is as fine as any palace, with more than 20 types of marble and stone. But there’s so much more to Antwerp: admire the rows of antiques shops on Kloosterstraat, try a Belgian waffle in the well-named Smallest Waffle Shop in the World, or try out the trendy new food market of Mercado.
Even more than Croatia’s capital of Zagreb, Split is alive with history. The expansive Diocletian’s Palace in particular is a history fan’s dream come true. A UNESCO-protected site faithfully preserved from the 4th century, it’s one of the last remaining original complexes in the world. It takes at least a day to explore Split’s historical sites and cobbled old city, leaving the rest of the time free for visitors to spend on the other activities: soak up the atmosphere of the Pazar market, climb up Marjan Hill for some incredible views, or enjoy the inviting beaches that face the warm, Adriatic Sea.
Rotterdam is only slightly smaller than Amsterdam, but takes a shape of its own as it’s a major European port, and one which does things a little differently. While port cities are known for their red light districts, Rotterdam has transformed theirs into a hip, revived area – head to Fenix Food Factory, where young entrepreneurs sell locally sourced food. Art lovers can follow the city’s public sculpture route that includes Pablo Picasso's 46-ton Sylvette. Or to see how Rotterdam is making use of its expanses of water, check out the newly open Floating Farm, which is as novel as it sounds.
So wherever you plan to travel this year it’s good to know that Flexicover Travel Insurance is committed to providing you with the highest level of protection to ensure you are safe and secure 24 hours a day when away.