Possessing an old world charm that’s reminiscent of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, Leiden is all colourful facades, 17th-century architecture and cosy pub retreats. One of the best ways to navigate the city is through its sprawling canal network (which spans the length and breadth of the area) before catching a waterside sunset from one of Leiden’s picturesque, floral-lined bridges. Our best tip? Spend an afternoon finding the 100 murals that adorn the Leiden poetry walk, a series of carefully hand-painted works which feature the words of Dylan Thomas, William Shakespeare and William Butler Yeats.

With an extravagant gothic skyline and centuries of history, it is no wonder that the city of Cologne – or Köln to the Germans – is hailed as one of Europe's urban jewels. First settled by locals over 2000 years ago, the arrival of the Romans soon afterwards brought about rapid expansion and modernisation. Today, this city beside the River Rhine has been transformed it into a nucleus of trade and culture, and the list of must-sees are seemingly endless. Cologne Cathedral is the largest gothic church in Europe and Germany's most visited landmark. Alongside remnants of the ancient Roman walls, you'll find a huge collection of modern masterpieces by pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein at the revered Ludwig Museum. Cologne's traditional German magnetisms include romantic boat rides up the river Rhine, a gorgeous harbour-side Chocolate Museum located near the old town and of course scores of Christmas markets that pop up over the Advent season.

Though Gouda is world renowned for the delectable cheese of the same name, this Dutch city isn’t just for food fans. After postcard perfect holiday snaps? This city has beauty in abundance. With majestic gothic architecture, cobbled streets and picturesque courtyards acting as the idyllic backdrop for your holiday. If you’re lucky enough to visit between June and September, the Gouda Cheese Market on Thursday mornings is a historical phenomenon which sees local farmers gather in front of the Goudse Waag (weighing house) and Stadhuis (city hall) to sell their produce – an event that’s occurred for hundreds of years. Aside from gastronomical wonders (sweet stroopwafels also hail from here), the city has plenty of parks and wildlife reserves that are perfect for a moment of tranquillity – including Goudse Hout, on the outskirts of the city, and Van Bergen IJzendoornpark in the city centre.

It’s no news that across the world, France is admired for its haute cuisine. But to truly indulge your wildest gourmet fantasies, you must head to Lyon - the country’s gastronomical capital. Located in the Rhône Alps region, its placement on the confluence on the Rhône and Saône rivers make it easy to source exceptional ingredients from many places nearby. Summer vegetables from Bresse farms, fresh fish from Savoy, fruits from Drome and vintage wine from the Rhône Valley all come together at the hands of Lyon’s local chefs. Don't leave the city without sampling some quintessentially Lyonnaise ‘Cervelle de Canut’ or ‘Saucisson de Lyon’ in a bouchon. Though Lyon’s vibrant cultural scene doesn’t stop at fine riverside dining. It’s the birthplace of cinema, and you can catch screenings at arty independent picture houses, as well as soaking up culture at the many photography galleries and museums. As a thriving university city, Lyon is home to many young creatives, and as you’d imagine it boasts a colourful nightlife scene. Check out the thrilling live jazz clubs and the biggest Chinatown outside of Paris.

Known for holding some of the world’s finest produce, Normandy, in Northern France, is a gastronomical wonder. The region’s delicacies and restaurants owe a lot to its expansive coastline and idyllic countryside surroundings, with menus often based around local, seasonal ingredients. The area is also home to the monumental D-Day landings, which today are brought to life on the region’s beaches by expert guides. If you’re planning a self-drive holiday, the 80-mile Alabaster Coast is a true spectacle, with enormous white chalk cliffs that span from the scenic town of Etretat to the coastal village of Dieppe.

Located along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, Galway is a medley of bright, painterly shops, heady live music venues and quirky eateries – making it the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. The city, often referred to as Ireland’s cultural beating heart, is a hub of activity crammed full of innovative art, theatre and stand-up comedy. In fact, its much-applauded creativity has seen it named the European Capital of Culture for 2020. Best appreciated on foot, the city’s network of cobbled streets are a joy to explore for all ages - where you can while away the day listening to traditional folk music, sampling the area’s famous fresh oysters at the local restaurants, and partying up a storm at the famous Latin Quarter.

With its prime position at the heart of the Alsatian wine route in north-east France, it’s no wonder that Colmar is a favourite destination among connoisseurs. In fact, this pine-clad place is considered the capital of the celebrated wine region, noted for its exceptional dry white vintages made possible by the mountainous surrounds of the Vosges, and playing annual host to local winemakers at the famous Foire aux vins d'Alsace (Alsatian wine fair). But wine is not all that’s to be had in Colmar. The beautiful alley-woven old town looks as though it has been plucked from the pages of a medieval fairy story. The picture-perfect half-timbered houses are traditionally painted in pastel colours, providing a unique contrast to the dark cobblestone lanes and dimly lit bridge-lined canals. Besides its quaint appearance, Colmar’s fascinating past is well preserved in a number of magnificent churches and curious museums. Established in 1849 in a former 13th-century convent, the Unterlinden Museum is home to many spectacular artworks and biblical masterpieces.

Situated on the westernmost edge of continental Europe, Brittany is easily one of the most intriguing regions of France. Its strong Celtic heritage has given birth to Breton culture, making it feel far removed from archetypal French destinations like Paris. Centuries ago, a wave of people from south-west England settled here after escaping the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons - consequently, the traditional language of the Breton people is related closely to Welsh and Cornish. Brittany hosts an abundance of medieval towns and mysterious forests, with plenty of museums telling the area’s story from the prehistoric times - but history isn’t the only thing you’ll find here. The region’s wild coastline boasts some of the most beautiful untamed beaches in France, and its fresh lobster, oysters and scallops are among the best in the world - perfect served up with a glass of the locals’ favourite drink: cider. World-famous locations such as the walled port city of Saint-Malo, regal Dinard and the tiny town of Dinan are essential stops when visiting this captivating area.

Just 20km west of bustling Amsterdam lies the city of Haarlem, a hidden gem of old Dutch charm that’s a favourite with the locals. The city that leant its name to its vibrant Manhattan sister has a whole history of stories that has shaped each cobbled street, with tales of beer brewing, tulip trading and great fires producing the city’s striking architecture. As well as providing quintessential Dutch experiences such as browsing markets in the Grote Markt or taking in the views from the Molen de Adriaan windmill, Haarlem is also home to many unique ones. Visit the oldest museum in the Netherlands, attend a beer tasting in former church-turned-microbrewery De Jopenkerk, or wander through the boutique shopping district – affectionately nicknamed De Gouden Straatjes (The Golden Streets), Haarlem has regularly been voted the best shopping destination in the Netherlands.

The beautifully diverse Groningen is a unique fusion of stories dating back thousands of years and a thriving modern cultural scene. The city, one of the largest in the north of the Netherlands, continues to transform every day - thanks in part to its large student population. Over the last few hundred years, Groningen has grown from one of the most important trading centres of the medieval period to a must-see destination for innovative venues, art and music. Explore the collections of the iconic Groninger museum, climb the Martinitoren tower which stood tall through the flattening of the city in World War II, or take a cycle through the colourful streets of the car-free city centre.

This star-studded city is the beautiful backdrop to the glamorous Cannes Film Festival, and with views overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, it's not hard to see why. Set on the stunning French Riviera, you can catch some rays on one of its sandy beaches or stroll through the boutique-lined streets. For a taste of local culture, explore the charming old quarter of the city, Le Suquet, which was originally a fishing village. There the gothic Église Notre-Dame D’Espérance has kept watch over Cannes since 1521, and today it offers panoramic views of the city below.

Affectionately named the ‘Ville Rose’ for its blush-hued buildings, Toulouse is the lively capital of France’s Occitanie region. A dreamy patchwork of pretty shopfronts, centuries-old structures and raucous jazz bars, there’s something for everyone in this French city. In spring, the Jardin Japonais (Japanese Garden) comes alive with pink cherry blossom, while you’ll find the crystal blue waters of the River Garonne perfect for water sports in the summer. Still, there are plenty of things to do in Toulouse all year round, from burning the midnight oil in the city’s cellar bars to sipping vin chaud at the annual Christmas market. If you have more time to explore the surrounding area, you could hike the mountainous terrain of the Pyrenées to the south, see the famous pilgrimage site of Lourdes to the west, or head east for the delights of the Côte d’Azur.

Perched proudly on its mound in the heart of the Hainaut province, the Belgian city of Mons is the perfect location for an enriching city break. This characterful place is compact but beautiful, and what it lacks in size it makes up for with its unique ethereal charm. The city pulses around its ancient Grand-Place, a large cobblestone square lined with gorgeous terraces, shops, cafes and restaurants. The sumptuous Gothic town hall, or Hôtel de Ville, is a big draw for architecture fans, who stop by to marvel at the intricate details on the façade. Curiously, it is custom to pat the head of a bronze monkey - of disputed origin - that resides in front of the building. Doing so is said to bring good fortune. The Hôtel de Ville is topped with a stunning 17th century UNESCO-listed Baroque belfry, which you can climb for panoramic views of the Mons skyline. As well as sightseeing, visitors can explore a handful of modern museums, an abandoned castle and catch a live concert at L'Alhambra music venue. Visit after Easter and partake in the festivities of the Ducasse de Mons, a peculiar but unmissable religious festival where locals recreate the combat between Saint George and the Dragon.

The glacial ski resort of Chamonix is one of the oldest in France. Situated at the foot of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe, this alpine playground attracts droves of skiers and snowboarders every year. Many skiers come here to qualify as professional instructors and guides, as the fast cruising pistes and famous 20km Vallée Blanche glacier run really put their skills to the test. Chamonix village is charming with its traditional Belle Époque look, offering riverside cafes, interesting shops, galleries, museums, bookshops and speciality food stores. Although the area is well known for its winter sports and mountaineering, summer is also a popular time to visit, with great opportunities for hiking and cycling around the crystal waters of Lac Blanc.

With miles of sandy beaches as far as the eye can see, Flanders is the perfect place for a European escape. Head to the east of this region and you’ll arrive at some of Belgium's largest and most frequented cities. Ghent is a popular choice for its collection of early Flemish art, while Antwerp attracts many families with its world-class zoo. History buffs should head south-west to the city of Ypres, where many of the key battles in World War 1 were fought, while the principal city of this part of Flanders, Bruges, is awash with fun things to do – from taking a canal tour around the city’s walkways to tasting sweet treats at the Chocolate Museum. Although technically a region in its own right, Flanders also surrounds Brussels, making a trip to the Belgian capital an easy feat.

Tilburg is the sixth largest city in the Netherlands and well worth the 80-minute drive from Rotterdam Europoort. This lovely Dutch destination is a former nucleus for textile production, its rapid growth quickly made it one of the most historically significant locations in Europe. That rich industrial heritage has given way to urban renewal, and it's now an innovative and spirited university town with a substantial student population. Known for its open air art exhibitions and music festival programme, this culture-filled gem is the perfect pick for a long weekend.

If you're happiest sipping fine red wine in picturesque countryside, then a trip to Burgundy is a must. Situated slightly east of central France, this breathtaking area is a vision of gently rolling hills, sun-drenched vineyards and mustard fields, making it perfect for scenic strolls. World class pinot noir and immaculate medieval sites such as Fontenay Abbey and the village of Vézelay make the lengthy drive from Calais well worth it.

The timeless allure of Bruges is found in its medieval buildings, flowing canals and cobbled streets full of horse-drawn carriages. Scour the many fine chocolateries for that perfect praline, explore the vast array of Trappist beers in the many alfresco bars before delving into the city's history in its fascinating museums.

Brussels, the vibrant capital of Belgium, is a historic city which boasts dazzling architectural splendour at its core in the Grand Place, as well as top-notch attractions and eateries at every turn. Take in stunning views of the city from the Mont des Arts or while away some peaceful hours in the beautiful greenery of Parc du Cinquantenaire.

Known as the 'Royal City by the Sea', The Hague is full of pleasing contradictions. On one hand, it's a corporate metropolis that hosts both the Dutch parliament and its monarchy. On the other, it also boasts deer-filled parks and densely wooded forests, as well as a beautiful 11-kilometre stretch of sand on the North Sea coast, lined with bars and restaurants.

The beautiful island of Texel is found off the mainland coast of north Holland, and boasts panoramas of white sand and peaceful forests as far as the eye can see. If you can drag yourself away from the beach, there are hiking and cycling trails, horse riding lessons and boating to be enjoyed too.

Den Bosch's official name might be 's-Hertogenbosch, but locals tend to use the abbreviated form, which simply translates to 'The Forest.' Using the city as a base, adventurers are perfectly positioned to explore the nearby wonder of the Dunes of Loon and Drunen National Park, which make up the largest shifting sand drift region in western Europe.

As one of the Netherlands' oldest cities, Utrecht naturally dazzles visitors with its medieval buildings and the impressive Dom Tower at its core. If you're a history buff, make sure to head the Kasteel De Haar, the largest castle in the country.

Known by the Dutch as the City of Light, Eindhoven is renowned as one of the design and technology capitals of the Netherlands. With markets, museums and magnificent architecture as well as a lively nightlife scene, Eindhoven has it all.

Built around a horseshoe-shaped network of picturesque canals, the charming capital of the Netherlands makes for one of the most iconic getaways in Europe. Historic leaning buildings, virbant nightlife and incredible local restaurants await.

The vibrant capital of Northern Ireland is not only famous for being the birthplace of the RMS Titanic. You'll find dozens of lively historic pubs, brilliant museums and St George's Market, a beautiful Victorian building full of stalls of fresh produce, local craft and live music.

Situated on the doorstep of Killarney National Park and the waters of Lough Leane, the city of Killarney has become a hub for sporting enthusiasts. Hire a boat, take off on a bike or join a tour through the Gap of Dunloe, a stunning alpine pass between MacGillycuddy's Reeks and the Purple Mountain.

County Clare is home to one of Ireland's most popular attractions, the magnificent Cliffs of Moher. Enjoy a walk along the breathtaking clifftop path or head inland to hike the limestone landscape of the Burren National Park.

With Ireland's 10 highest peaks, a national park full of ancient trees and the spectacular Dingle Peninsula all within its boundaries, County Kerry is a green paradise in southwest Ireland.

Set in a picturesque bay full of bobbing yachts, the historic port of Kinsale is the gourmet centre of the southwest. Be sure to discover the 17th Century star-shaped Charles Fort nearby.

The lively city of Cork boasts a fantastic food scene, quirky boutiques and a cultural calendar to match even Dublin. Make sure to pay a visit to the famous English Market, a historic covered bazaar full of artisan produce and local specialties that has even been visited by the Queen.

The great Irish capital needs little introduction. Experience the warmth of Dublin by frequenting the picturesque pubs of Temple Bar, learn its history in the Kilmainham Gaol and taste its lifeblood at the Guinness Storehouse.

Despite its small size, this city really packs a punch. Wander down the quaint 'Medieval Mile' of historic buildings, explore Kilkenny Castle and drop in for a pint at Kyteler's Inn, one of the oldest pubs in Ireland.

Named Ireland's first ever National City of Culture in 2014, Limerick is a vibrant city full of buzzing cafés, art museums and the spectacular King John's Castle.

A true gem of the Alsace region, this cycle capital boasts a medieval past and a multicultural identity. Wander among the half-timbered houses of Petite France or hit the road to drink in the delights of the Alsace wine route.

The beating heart of France, Paris is the number one spot for fashion in the world; be prepared to shop till you drop like never before.

Experience the champagne city of France, where architectural masterpieces, grand champagne houses and Michelin starred restaurants go hand in hand.

Relax by the beach in fashion conscious Le Touquet, a chic seaside resort in the Nord-Pad-de-Calais

Leiden, Netherlands

Cologne, Germany

Gouda, Netherlands

Lyon, France

Normandy, France

Galway, Ireland

Colmar, France

Saint-Malo, France

Haarlem, Netherlands

Groningen, Netherlands

Cannes, France

Toulouse, France

Mons, Belgium

Chamonix, France

Flanders, Belgium

Tilburg, Netherlands

Burgundy, France

Bruges, Belgium

Brussels, Belgium

The Hague, Netherlands

Texel, Netherlands

's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands

Utrecht, Netherlands

Eindhoven, Netherlands

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Belfast, United Kingdom

Killarney, Ireland

County Clare, Killane X, Clare, Ireland

Kerry, Ireland

Kinsale, Ireland

Cork, Ireland

Dublin, Ireland

Kilkenny, Ireland

Limerick

Strasbourg, France

Paris, France

Reims, France

Le Touquet, France