From the heart of the Med to the fringe of the Pacific, here are the places to see before autumn arrives.
While it’s tempting to eke out your summer holiday poolside, lazily gazing at the horizon, by our reckoning it takes at least a week to really feel the benefits of doing nothing at all – whereas the fun:time ratio of a city break means you can cram a whole lot into a few feverish days and still come out feeling like you’ve had a proper escape. Not as well rested, maybe, but you can sleep when you’re dead, right?
And enjoyable as it can be to take a city break just for the hell of it, a stay timed to coincide with an out-of-the-ordinary event, be it the world’s best pop-up restaurant, all-night blues jams or the greatest street party on the planet, can be just that bit more thrilling. So, whether you’re a gourmand, a beer aficionado, a jazz connoisseur or simply a frustrated flâneur, we have searched high and low for an urban getaway that’s just right for this time of year – and the most stylish places to lay your head when all that culture, dancing and good cooking gets too much.
Barcelona is a perennial city-break favourite, thanks to its 4km of sandy beaches, Gaudían architecture, Picasso museum, La Boqueria food market and dance clubs such as Bling Bling – not to mention some fantastic restaurants in labyrinthine El Born. It’s small enough that you can explore its many neighbourhoods, or barrios, on foot, and when the heat gets too much, head for a chiringuito on the beach for a cold beer and a pan of paella. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the city’s El Grec festival, a celebration of music, theatre, dance and circus that runs throughout July. Visitors can also enjoy the annual festes majors, a series of neighbourhood celebrations that usually last several days and feature street parties, huge communal meals, fireworks and general mayhem soundtracked by local DJs. Two of the best-loved are the Festa Major de Poble-Sec (14–23 July) and the Festa Major de Gràcia (15–21 August).
Where to stay: Cotton House
One of the newest and most elegant hotels in the city, Cotton House is in an impressive 19th-century building that was once home to the Cotton Textile Foundation. It’s just a moment’s stroll from the finest shopping in the city, on the Passeig de Gracia. It has an excellent restaurant, Batuar, which will prepare you anything on the menu from 7am to midnight, plus a gaping terrace and a tiny rooftop pool.
The Danish capital continues to fuel our ongoing obsession with all things Scandinavian. Food is, of course, a major reason to visit all year round (Noma called it home before it shuttered), but summer also offers the chance to explore this bike-friendly city on two wheels without getting frostbite, take a dip in the old industrial harbour (better than it sounds) or simply enjoy the light nights and knock back beers on the waterfront. Summer also boasts a number of street festivals, as well as the brand-new Haven Festival (11–12 August), which celebrates music, art, food and, yes, beer, and has the famously laid-back and design-savvy locals in a frenzy of anticipation. Started by Noma co-founder Mr Claus Meyer, American brothers Messrs Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National, and the local Mikkeller microbrewery, it’s sure to delight any hipster.
Where to stay: Nimb
For all its international appeal, Copenhagen is not blessed with innumerable appealing hotels. Happily, the 17-room Nimb makes up for what is lacking elsewhere. Set in an unlikely looking maharajah’s palace-style building in the famous Tivoli pleasure gardens (where you can enjoy live music every Friday night during the summer) close to the city centre, its exterior belies a sophisticated, gimmick-free interior, with fireplaces in every room and lots of bar and restaurant options. nimb.dk
With nine Michelin-starred restaurants (including three with the maximum three stars), this seaside town in the Basque region of northern Spain has long been a mecca for foodie pilgrims who want to check out the planet’s most daring chefs. But it’s not all about high-end restaurants. If you don’t want to blow the budget at every meal, there are any number of talented young chefs dishing up culinary delights in un-showy locales such as La Cuchara de San Telmo and Casa Urola, plus pintxo bars aplenty where they charge €1 or €2 apiece. Spend your days lounging under a stripy umbrella on La Concha beach and, for a bird’s-eye view, take the funicular railway up Mount Igueldo. The city’s second beach, Ondarreta, is a prime surfing spot. Now that’s a way to work up an appetite. Where to stay: Hotel Maria Cristina
Rest your head at the classic five-star Hotel Maria Cristina, where Ms Hélène Darroze is taking a break from her eponymous two-Michelin-starred restaurant at The Connaught in London between 1 July and 15 October to host a pop-up, following her knock-out success there last year. hotel-mariacristina.com
A slice of old Europe in North America, Montreal offers everything you’d expect of a continental metropolis, but on the other side of the pond. From landmarks such as the Notre Dame Basilica on Place d’Armes and the white clock tower on the harbour commemorating sailors who died in WWI, to a vibrant arts community (the city hosts 90 festivals each year) and a buzzing restaurant scene (it’s said to have more restaurants per head than any city in North America, bar New York), it really has it all. This year marks Canada’s 150th anniversary, and Montreal’s 375th – cue some serious celebrations. The 38th Montreal International Jazz Festival (the world’s largest) runs from 28 June to 8 July, with more than 650 live shows, many of them free, ranging from Ms Diana Krall to Mr José González, and flamenco jazz to gospel choirs. Where to stay: Auberge du Vieux-Port
Downtown is the place to be during the jazz festival, so stay in Old Montreal at the Auberge du Vieux-Port, on the banks of the St Lawrence river. Once a pair of warehouses, the hotel now has its own industrial-chic tavern and a rooftop bar. aubergeduvieuxport.com
Think of Zurich, and secret bank accounts and very clean streets spring to mind. Well, think again. With wild swimming in Lake Zurich and the River Limmat, some of the best art galleries in Europe – the Kunsthaus boasts every name from Rembrandt to Rodin to Rothko – spectacular medieval architecture, including the imposing Grossmünster, and a booming arts scene, Zurich could be the best summer holiday you’ve never had.
And summer is the ideal time to visit. Not only do the many swimming baths in the river reopen as open-air bars come evening, but the calendar of festivals and events puts every other city in Europe to shame. Take your pick from the Street Food Festival (29 June–9 July), the outdoor concerts of Live at Sunset (6–22 July), or the Zurich Festival, with more than 40 theatre productions from around the world (17 August–3 September). Where to stay: Marktgasse Hotel
Combine the best of ancient and modern at the recently revamped Marktgasse Hotel, close to the river and Lake Zurich and many of the city’s main cultural spaces, as well as the buzzing Niederdorf district. Parts of the building are said to date from as early as 1291, but with its airy, cool, contemporary interiors, it’s hard to believe it. marktgassehotel.ch
Known as the other city that never sleeps, Tel Aviv boasts some of the best nightlife in the Med, with a 24-hour culture of bars and clubs to keep you happy whatever your wont. Kuli Alma has a terrace and live music and The Block and Sputnik blast techno until dawn. There’s plenty to do during daylight hours as well. Just like Rio and Barcelona, each beach has its own distinct character – sophisticated beach bar types should head to Hilton Beach, but for a cross-section of Tel Aviv on sand, it has to be Gordon or Bograshov. For a dose of history, explore the ancient streets of Jaffa and get lost searching through the antiques stands and trendy boutiques in the old flea market. You’ve missed Tel Aviv Pride, which was on 9 June, when 200,000 visitors descended on its shores, but it’s one of the most gay-friendly cities year-round. For something (a little) more sedate, visit between 13 and 16 July for the Tel Aviv Blues Festival, when 20 clubs around the city turn themselves over to performances from Israel and beyond. Where to stay: Hotel Montefiore
Small and perfectly formed, the Hotel Montefiore is a converted 1920s house with 12 elegantly designed rooms (each one with its own floor-to-ceiling library, with books in several languages), walls covered in contemporary local art and one of the hottest cocktail bars in town. Book one of the balcony rooms and enjoy the hotel’s legendary breakfasts as you watch the world go by on Montefiore Street. hotelmontefiore.co.il
If you’re going to San Francisco this summer, be sure to wear flowers in your hair. Seriously. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, and the city is buzzing with events, festivals, parties, exhibitions and tours, all embracing the groovy ethos of 1967 California. The party comes to a head on 27 August, with a planned celebratory concert in Golden Gate Park.
Away from the festivities, San Fran is a cultural melting-pot, where Asian-Pacific influences mix with Californian vibes. It’s the original counterculture holiday hotspot with Instagram-ready cable cars, art galleries, sea lions, trams and a big old bridge thrown in.
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the popular Outside Lands Festival (11–13 August) and headliners include A Tribe Called Quest, Gorillaz and Lorde. It’s not Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds, but still. Where to stay: Clift
Clift is Mr Ian Schrager’s San Francisco outpost. Much of the interior is designed by his longtime collaborator Mr Philippe Starck, but the hotel is more liveable than many of their design-led offerings. You might even call it sophisticated. Try the Redwood Room for cocktails, then head out to see a show – you’re in the heart of the theatre district. morganshotelgroup.com