Four of the best summer cities
We celebrate some of best cities to explore in the sunshine. From fjordic wanderings in Norway to the buzz and dolce vita of Rome, we showcase four city stars with something for everyone.
The Greek capital is a sprawling, noisy, exuberant place where the city’s ancient past lives hand-in-hand with the city’s cool present.
Athenian life plays out under the shadow of the magnificent Acropolis (meaning ‘high city’) and exploring the wealth of Ancient Greek treasures is easy thanks to the Grand Promenade – a two-mile pedestrianised walking trail that links the city’s key archaeological sites, including big hitters the Parthenon, the Propylaea and the Temple of Athena Nike. ‘Climb up Filopappos Hill to explore Socrates’ Prison,’ says local writer John Malathronas. ‘You’ll leave the modern city behind for the shade of Mediterranean pines and the cacophony of cicadas. The mysterious maze of caves is almost certainly not the real prison of Socrates, as folklore has it, but it’s an atmospheric diversion.’
The resilient locals have survived economic hardship to create a new energy and mood – art, music and debate is alive and well in the bars and streets of the city. And their hospitality is legendary. In bars and cafés, soak up the buzz as you refuel. ‘For the ultimate sugar shot, try a bowl of cherry, plum or quince spoon sweets. These preserved, candied fruits are traditionally served on a spoon as a gesture of Greek hospitality,’ says John.
A vibrant feast for the senses, the Catalan capital truly comes alive in the summer. Get in on the action in the labyrinthine Gothic Quarter or the buzzy Las Ramblas. Alternatively, head for Barceloneta, the city’s golden beach just 20 minutes walk from the centre – take a dip, hang out at lively bars and restaurants or stroll along the stylish seafront promenade.
Then there’s the architecture. ‘Antoni Gaudí is indisputably Barcelona’s most famous son and his work jumps out at you on every corner,’ says documentary filmmaker Charlotte Metcalfe. ‘The vast, soaring, unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral towers over the city, imbuing it with a unique flamboyance and audacious extravagance. It’s only once you have experienced the Sagrada, Park Güell and Gaudí’s Modernist houses on Passeig de Gràcia that you begin to absorb fully Barcelona’s adventurous, provocative spirit.’
The tapas bars are another sensation. ‘These lively, friendly places serve small plates exploding with intense flavour, from salt cod and squid to cured sausage and pungent cheeses,’ says Charlotte. ‘Every time I visit, I find a new one. There’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting at a bar with a glass of chilled cava rosado and a plate of razor clams or spicy meatballs with homemade croquetas.’
Italy’s dramatic capital has everything you could ask for in one awe-inspiring, breathtaking, life-loving package. Feel the weight of history at every turn: from the Colosseum and the Pantheon to the Roman Forum and the Trevi Fountain, architectural treasures are a casual part of the fabric of the city with art galleries and museums aplenty. Then there’s the food. Romans are passionate foodies and only the best will do. ‘We have a great saying in Roman dialect, “Quer che nù strozza ngrassa”,’ says local writer Erica Firpo. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you fat, and it’s a pretty good summation of the city’s extraordinary cuisine: simple, local and comforting. Try trippa pajata, quinto quarto and, my favourites, port cheek and pasta alla amatriciana.’
And nothing beats standing at the bar with your coffee or sitting with an aperitivo at a piazza bar watching the beautiful people go by. ‘Romans live and love by the rule of la bella figura,’ says Erica. ‘No Roman worth their salt will leave home without properly pressed and coordinated attire, stylish sunglasses and, most importantly, great hair.’ But don’t let their good looks intimidate you. Romans are warm, proud and passionate hosts, who love to talk and will do all in their power to show you the best of their city. So buff up those sunglasses and throw yourself into Rome’s dolce vita.
With its coastal location, white wooden houses and outdoor café culture, Stavanger is a summer sensation. Many Norwegians associate the city with summer getaways, and even have a word; ‘Sommerbyer’ (literal translation ‘summer cities’) for cities like Stavanger. Home to around 8,000 wooden houses – the most colourful of which are located on café-lined Øvre Holmegate street – there are few things that beat a relaxing stroll through this gorgeous city when the sun is shining.
Summer is also a time for feasting on glorious food when the Gladmat food festival comes to town, filling the streets around the harbour with the irresistible smell of cooking. Norway is known for the quality if its fresh produce and Stavanger is perfectly placed to take advantage of the seas, forests and farmland that surround the city. Eat the freshest foraged mushrooms, wild game, vegetables and fruit at the city’s inventive restaurants, as well as local delicacies like pickled herring and platters of raw shellfish on the harbourfront.
If you’re more interested in the great outdoors, hike along the Lysefjord. This impressive waterway is home to the 604m tall Pulpit Rock, which offers jaw-dropping vistas in every direction. If you’re eager to take a dip or ride the waves, head to windswept Solastranden, or walk along the pine-fringed conservation area of Jaren to marvel at some of Europe’s most beautifully rugged beaches.