Holidays & Travel

3 of Europe’s coolest city breaks for a sweat-free urban holiday

As the mercury rises in the Med, try these more northerly destinations, says Sarah Marshall.

Helsinki is a brilliant summer destination if you don’t want to get too hot and bothered
Senate Square turned into giant summer terrace or beer garden serving beverages and food with Helsinki Cathedral in the background (Alamy/PA) Helsinki is a brilliant summer destination if you don’t want to get too hot and bothered (Alamy Stock Photo)

News Greece is experiencing its earliest ever heatwave might sound incomprehensible to those of us in grey and rainy destinations.

But as temperatures rise in the southern Med, a trend for coolcations in the north continues to soar.

Whether bathing in the Baltic or dining al fresco above the Arctic Circle, city breaks at higher latitudes promise to be extremely pleasant during the summer months.

1. Helsinki, Finland

Pihlajasaari beach
Pihlajasaari beach (Alamy Stock Photo)

Shaping up to be one of Europe’s coolest city breaks, Finland’s capital scores highly in terms of trendiness. Summers are warm enough to spend time on one of the archipelago’s many islands which boom into life during these months.

Head to Lonna, a 10-minute ferry ride from the Market Square, to flip-flop between a hot house and the bracing Gulf of Finland at one of the city’s finest public saunas. Further south, Pihlajasaari has rocky cliffs, grilling stations and a nature trail.

Back in the city, several restaurants have been awarded stars in the new Nordic Michelin guide, including the excellent 14-seat Room by Kozeen Shiwan – an edible memoir of the Iraq-born chef’s colourful life plated up in equally theatrical dishes.

A 40-minute drive out of town, Nuuksio national park also has a number of shady hiking trails and clear lakes to cool off in.

2. Bodo, Norway

Midnight sun in Northern Norway
Midnight sun in Northern Norway (Alamy Stock Photo)

Designated a European Capital of Culture 2024, this rapidly growing northern Norwegian city combines urban attractions with easy access to natural wonders, making it one of the most scenic places on the planet.

Lying above the Arctic Circle on a peninsula between two fjords, it’s ideally located to experience the Midnight Sun – either on a hike, a late night dip, or a round of golf at Bodo Golfpark.

Cool off with a RIB boat ride to Saltstraumen, the world’s strongest maelstrom where 400 million cubic metres of water cross a narrow strait, or a trip to one of Europe’s most accessible glacier, Svartisen.

In town, more than 1,000 performances, concerts, art exhibitions and events will take place as part of the Bodo2024 cultural programme.

3. Stockholm, Sweden

Island in Stockholm Archipelago
Island in Stockholm Archipelago (Alamy Stock Photo)

There aren’t many country capitals where it’s possible to combine all the conveniences of metropolitan living with the pleasures of natural pursuits. Made up of more than 30,000 islands, the Stockholm archipelago covers an area of more than 650 square miles and can easily be explored within an hour of leaving town.

Settle into seaside living at Hotell Furusund, a cosy historic home where maritime memorabilia decorates the dining area and bedrooms. Take kayak rides around the island or relax in a sauna suspended in the water.

Get closer to nature in one of the wooden eco cabins at Lidö Värdshus. Later this year, a new hiking trail will launch, forming part of a new route crossing 22 islands from north to south.