There are some timeless classics when it comes to European city breaks, but this means that these cities are besieged by crowds. Luckily there are other, less-visited options that are surprisingly similar...
Alternative city breaks
Instead of: Rome
Who for? Those who want a history overdose.
Why? While Rome claims to have laid the foundations of Western Europe, Istanbul can make a similar claim for Eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East. In its former incarnations as Byzantium and Constantinople, this was where the Eastern half of the Roman Empire was ruled from and where Orthodox Christianity germinated.
Highlights: The city is crammed with historical sites, whether from the Byzantine or Ottoman era. Istanbul also competes on the mega-building front – the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are guaranteed jaw-to-the floor monsters.
Instead of: Barcelona
Who for: Lovers of atmosphere and attitude.
Why? While Barcelona is resolutely different because of its Gaudi architecture, fiercely independent Catalan identity and general exciting vibe, Vilnius has its own big bag of quirks. Amongst them is a statue of psychedelic musician Frank Zappa, which was erected to symbolise freedom, even though he has no link with the city.
Highlights: Vilnius has a passionate feel to it, especially in the suburb of Uzupis. It has declared itself independent and even has its own constitution. Which is largely about being nice to cats.
Instead of: Paris
Who for: Romantics and people-watchers.
Why? There are few places in Eastern Europe that are as utterly charming as the Slovenian capital, and the Ljubljanica River provides a centrepiece, just as the Seine does in Paris. At night, the river is given the full mood lighting treatment – perfect for walking along hand-in-hand.
Highlights: It's not just the river that gives a Parisien feel. Ljubljana is also huge on its street cafes. Turn up on a summer evening, and terraces take up every bit of pavement possible. It makes for a people-watcher's paradise.
Instead of: Venice
Who for: Water and art-lovers.
Why? The former Russian capital was partially modelled on Venice, after Peter the Great decided to build a great city on over 100 islands. Consequently, once the winter mist descends, it has many of the same magical qualities.
Highlights: St Petersburg also has its own party equivalent of the Venice Carnival – summer's White Nights festival is a cultural haven – and collections of priceless art. The Hermitage in the massive Winter Palace is the key place to head to for the biggest masterpieces.
Instead of: Dublin
Who for: Drinkers
Why? The capitals of Latvia and Estonia – Riga and Tallinn – have taken over from the likes of Amsterdam and Dublin in recent times for those wanting to go abroad for a booze-a-thon. Of the two, Tallinn is slightly more expensive, but prettier and with more variety.
Highlights: For those purely intent on sinking as much as possible, there are plenty of Anglo-centric bars that cater for tourists and stag parties. However, there are also plenty of ultra-cool bars hidden away in underground caves, often without obvious signposts. Keep a look out for flights of steps leading below street level for some seriously sexy spots.