We’ve all heard the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, but what about judging a holiday destination by its grey airport or dingy, old-fashioned trains? These four cities have some of the worst reputations in Europe. But look beyond the stereotypes and you’ll soon discover what might just be the best kept secrets on the continent.
Brussels is the closest capital city to London. You can get there in less than two hours on Eurostar (prices start from £30 one way). Although for most the name ‘Brussels’ conjures up images of grey government buildings and overpriced chocolate shops, if you venture just a few streets away from the tourist traps and European Quarter you’ll find a city bursting with kooky cafes, secret parks and gorgeous Art Nouveau architecture.
Push through swathes of vines to enter Brussels’ Secret Garden Hotel through its concealed entrance in a shadowy plant shop or spend hours losing yourself in Cook & Book, a bookshop made up of eight different restaurants each themed around the books in its department, from Travel to Music.
Poland’s capital city tends to be painted in the typical gloomy hues of post-Soviet urban sprawl, yet Warsaw boasts around 100 lush green parks. At the city’s most famous, Łazienki Park (or Royal Baths Park), you can admire the reflections of the royal palace in the water while enjoying the sounds of one of the regular outdoor Chopin recitals that take place in the summer months.
After the city centre was razed to the ground during WWII locals gathered together to rebuild Warsaw from the wreckage based on 18th century paintings of its buildings. The colourful houses and narrow, winding streets you see today have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fascinating Museum of Warsaw tells the full story of the city’s restoration.
Once known as a bustling industrial centre, Lille remains one of the undiscovered gems of northern France. Sitting just by the Belgian border close to the Scarpe-Escaut national park, the city is an eclectic mix of French and Flemish architectural styles with cobbled alleys, Gothic churches and gabled townhouses.
Lille is considered to have the best art collection outside of Paris. The Fine Arts Museum is France’s second largest (beaten only by the Louvre) and includes works by Rubens, Van Dyck and Goya; while the city’s unique La Piscine Museum, housed inside a former art deco swimming pool, exhibits modern masters such as Rodin and Picasso.
Don’t be fooled by the jagged skyline featured on the front of most guidebooks, there’s far more to Minsk than soaring Stalinist skyscrapers. Despite being scarred by conflicts over the years there are still stunning examples of traditional Belarusian architecture to be found in the country’s capital including the star-spangled onion domes of the Church Of St. Mary Magdalene and the icon-encrusted Holy Spirit Cathedral.