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.

Dortmund’s gritty history is built on steel, coal and beer – a combination that has transformed the characterful streets for centuries. While the steel and coal commerce may have declined long ago, its industrial remnants can be seen throughout the city. The beautiful Zollern Colliery made its name as a coal mining centre in 1898, and now hosts fascinating exhibitions about life in the 1900s. While Dortmund was one of the most heavily damaged cities during World War II, it has rebuilt itself as a tech hub – and its educational institutions and technology centres exude an opportunist, cosmopolitan demeanor. Of course, the city’s famous football club make it the obvious home for the German Football Museum, which houses a 3D cinema, treasure chamber, World Cup winners coach and mini pitch – perfect for both kids and adults alike! After a long day’s exploring, head to the Brewery Museum to learn about Dortmund’s history as the nation’s number one beer capital, or relax in one of the green, open spaces that cover over half the city.

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.

Maastricht is a cultural melting pot of lots of different influences – something that comes from being one of Holland’s oldest cities. As you wander across beautiful cobbled streets and along its picturesque canal, you’ll see historical relics that nods to its rich past – from the Roman ruins of the Derlon Museum Cellar to the almighty Basilica tower. The city is divided into different districts, each adding its own unique twist to the city. Head to the charming Wyck for cosy cafes and historical architecture, or the up-and-coming Sphinxkwartier (Sphinx quarter) for an alternative hang-out which is a favourite among young creatives. The city centre itself is a hive of activity, with two shopping centres, a thriving market scene and the iconic Saint Servatius Bridge – said to be the oldest in the country.

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.

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.

The perfect mix of heritage and modern styles, the sparkling 'City of Diamonds' certainly makes an impression. You'll remember the city's extravagant Grote Markt and the towering Cathedral of Our Lady long after your visit, while Antwerp Zoo is a beautiful stop the whole family will love. Hire a bicycle and explore the city's striking architecture before stopping for freshly-brewed coffee and a spot of window shopping in Antwerp's majestic Diamond Quarter.

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 perfect balance of metropolitan life and culture, Düsseldorf is a city of innovators and artists . Enjoy the bohemian art and architecture of the Old Town before heading to the tree-lined streets of Königsallee for an afternoon of shopping. Take a wander down the stunning riverside Rhine Embankment Promenade, which leads to some of the finest bars in the city, or explore the historic gardens of Schloss Benrath, home to the candy pink Baroque Palace. Whatever your interests, Düsseldorf is a little gem just waiting to be discovered.

The gleaming modern architecture of the Netherlands' second city is reason enough alone to visit, but it's the proliferation of cool bars, chic eating spots and fascinating museums that puts Europe's busiest port on the map.

Home to the iconic Delft Blue pottery, and birthplace of 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' artist Johannes Vermeer, this canal-lined city is a hidden gem of the Netherlands. Members of the House of Orange are buried in the tall Nieuwe Kerk, while the dramatically leaning Oude Kerk tower has to be seen to be believed.

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.

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 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.

Cologne, Germany

Dortmund, Germany

Lyon, France

Maastricht, Netherlands

Haarlem, Netherlands

Cannes, France

Antwerp, Belgium

Mons, Belgium

Dusseldorf, Germany

Rotterdam, Netherlands

Delft, Netherlands

Belfast, United Kingdom

Cork, Ireland

Paris, France