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Marseilles used to have a bit of a reputation: it was dirty, it was dangerous and therefore it was dismissed. It’s true, the port city lacks the beauty of Paris and the glitz of Cannes, but it’s got something all its own. It has personality and grit, a glistening waterfront and an edgy nightlife scene. This is where French hip-hop originated, where bouillabaisse was perfected and where tarot cards came into being. The Old Port is the centre of it all, but you’ll want to hike up to the historic Le Panier quarter to explore its laneways, workshops and cafés and explore the chic Republique quarter and its boutiques.
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Straddling seven hills, Plovdiv is Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Still, it manages to feel youthful and lively, integrating modern life and ancient ruins seamlessly. The cosmopolitan old town is free from cars so visitors can walk the cobblestone streets, investigate the ruins of Plovdiv’s Roman theatre and peek inside the flaking 19th-century mansions, now home to museums and restaurants.
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The Georgian capital’s long and storied history can be seen in the diverse architecture of downtown Tbilisi. From the cobbled streets of the old town, Russian Orthodox churches rise over austere Soviet structures and Narikala, a fourth-century fortress, looms over Art Nouveau architecture. The city, located on the Kura River, has great nightlife, traditional markets and charming streets and alleyways.
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From Albania’s vibrant, colourful capital visitors can access remarkable attractions such as fertile mountains, Mediterranean-style beaches and fascinating archaeological sites. The country emerged from a brutal communist regime in 1991 and it’s still catching up in terms of infrastructure, but it’s one of the most interesting places in the Balkans. Tirana is a small thriving city and a cultural hub packed with museums, monuments, parks and those day-brightening rainbow-hued apartment buildings. You’ll also find excellent coffee, strong raki and delicious walnut biscuits known as biskota me arra.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
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The capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast suffered during The Troubles and was once overlooked in favour of its peaceful southern cousin, Dublin. In recent years, though, Belfast has been free from its former political strife and has a palpable new lease on life. The historical city is now less bullet-riddled curiosity and more cosmopolitan European capital. The city’s ship-building past (the ill-fated Titanic was built here) is honoured in museums, its revived waterfront is a hub for great dining and its beautiful Victorian architecture makes the walkable city centre a delight. The many pubs and colourful street art don’t hurt, either.
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Crete is a large island straddling two climates, Mediterranean and North African. In winter, snowfall is common but in summer it’s a sundrenched holiday mecca that offers glorious beaches, incredible ancient ruins, beautiful towns and an imposing, mountainous landscape. Visitors can explore the ancient Minoan site of Knossos in the capital Heraklion or laze on the soft white sands at the former hippy commune of Matala (pictured). In the easternmost region of Lasithi there are picture-perfect windmills, crystalline beaches and the dreamy forest of Vai where the rare Phoenix theophrasti palm grows.
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Fashion, art and food are just some of the traditional reasons to visit Milan. Now that the city is in the midst of an architectural renaissance, there’s another – think, the sparkling skyscrapers erected around the Porta Garibaldi train station, the restoration of the beautiful Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II shopping arcade and the restoration of Milan’s ancient canals. Milan’s magnificent many-spired cathedral, known simply as the Duomo (cathedral), is stuffed with treasures from sculptures to drawings and there’s a Gucci store on every corner – almost.
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This tiny coastal town was once a Mediterranean port ruled by Venice, and today the Bay of Kotor is still surrounded by the incredible 20-metre-high fortifications from the era. Now, though, visitors are very welcome and they come in increasing numbers. It’s Kotor’s beauty that draws them, its serene mountains, maze-like cobbled streets and the so-picturesque-it-hurts sight of colourful clothes drying on lines strung between medieval buildings.
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Lisbon is on everyone’s lips in 2017 – it’s as though the whole world just noticed that the southern European city has it all. A thriving arts scene, an excellent climate, fabulous food, gorgeous white limestone architecture and winding laneways are just some of the charms Lisbon offers. It’s more affordable than many of its European capital counterparts, and the cherry on top? This is where the Portuguese tart originated.
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Once the site of a Roman city called Emona, Ljubljana is a blend of baroque, Renaissance and Art Nouveau architecture. And with a medieval castle presiding over it, Ljubljana could be Europe’s prettiest little capital. The green city is hugged by the curving Ljubljanica River, which divides the cobbled streets of the old town from the modern commercial centre. Car traffic is restricted in the centre of the old town, leaving visitors free to explore its narrow streets on foot, ducking into cafés for a coffee or taking a seat at one of the many cool bars and restaurants.
Up Next: Which Cinque Terre Town Is for You?
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