The 20 greatest cities to visit in spring

The following 20 escapes will help shrug off cold season’s drab touch and embrace the northern hemisphere’s return from hibernation

By Editorial Board
April 2, 2023, 3:42 p.m.

John Keats was not a man given to giddy bursts of happiness. Witness his Ode To A Nightingale, written in the fresh warmth of May 1819, but lost to an opening line of: “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense/ As though of hemlock I had drunk”.

Still, even this most melancholy of poets could detect a joy of sorts in spring. In The Human Seasons (1818) – a musing on man’s emotional development over the course of a lifetime – he deploys the most positive quarter of the calendar as a metaphor for youthful exuberance: “His lusty Spring – when fancy clear/ Takes in all beauty with an easy span”.

Such rare moments of elation were not enough to keep Keats from tragedy – he was dead at 25. But you cannot say that he didn’t have a point. The coming of spring is an annual reason to be cheerful; the moment when we shrug off winter’s drab touch and embrace (in our case) the northern hemisphere’s return from hibernation, with its flowers, its bright bouquets, its perfumed petals – and its hint of something better around the corner.

It is also, most certainly, a time for travel. The following 20 escapes limit the rapture to a long weekend (or, go on then, a week) – and, with a handful of exceptions, to the European landmass and some of its most intriguing major cities. You don’t need to go far to collide with spring’s flirtatiousness. But they should all deliver, to some extent, a dose of renewal, a surge in spirit – and, on a less ethereal basis, a night or three in an inviting hotel, with its fluffy pillows and decadent breakfasts. No more nightingales. Not for now.

1. Madrid

Forever praised as a city of summer, its bars and restaurants teeming with customers well into the small hours, the Spanish capital ( is also a splendid option for the first season of the year. El Retiro (or the Parque del Buen Retiro, if you are going to be all formal about it) is one of Europe’s foremost urban parks, half a square mile of open space whose Rosaleda (rose garden) might be the perfect spot to put a little spring in your step.

Do it: Four nights at the five-star Melia Madrid Princesa, leaving Gatwick on April 26, start at £616 per person, via British Airways Holidays (0344 493 0787;

The cityscape of Madrid Credit: Getty

2. Amsterdam

Having survived the twin travel hindrances of Brexit and the pandemic, Eurostar’s direct rail service between London and Holland’s most famous dot on the map ( is back to performing its tale of two cities in just under four hours. You can see spring in full swing at the celebrated Keukenhof garden, a 20-mile hop south-west of Amsterdam in Lisse ( Here, arguably, is the season of revival at its most picturesque on the European continent; some seven million bulbs pushing upwards.

Do it: A three-night stay at the four-star WestCord Fashion Hotel, with trains (leaving London on May 4), starts at €600 a head through Eurostar (0343 2186186;

Keukenhof in spring Credit: Getty

3. Prague

The Czech Republic’s capital ( tussles with the Keukenhof for Europe’s spring crown. It does so chiefly by bursting into colour where Petrin Hill rears above the Mala Strana district, on the west bank of the River Vltava. The noise of the city fades as you climb this 427ft (130m) bluff, the boughs around you heavy with cherry blossom. At the top, the Eiffel-esque Petrin Lookout Tower ( offers sublime views.

Do it: A three-night stay at the five-star Hotel Aria in the Mala Strana starts at £798 a head, with flights and transfers, via Kirker Holidays (020 75931899;

The River Vltava

The River Vltava Credit: The Image Bank RF

4. Edinburgh

The Scottish capital ( is also no stranger to the misty outline of a majestic hill. Arthur’s Seat cannot match Petrin Hill for pink March-April prettiness, but with its higher reach (823ft/251m), it arguably shows off a broader swathe of the city at its feet. A hike up to its summit on a spring afternoon is one of Britain’s loveliest urban experiences.

Do it: The Balmoral (0131 5562414; has double rooms from £250.

Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat Credit: Getty

5. Oslo

If a date with the Norwegian capital ( in spring may still mean packing your gloves, it will also make for high beauty in the Ekebergparken ( – a quiet space on the slopes above the east side of the port and the fjord where wildflowers break out amid striking sculptures of the female form – from Rodin’s classic nude Eva (1881) to the ghostly face of Konkavt Ansikt (2006) by Oslo’s Hilde Maehlum.

Do it: A four-night stay at the four-star Scandic Vulkan hotel, flying from Edinburgh on July 2, costs from £642 a head, including transfers, with Tui (020 3451 2688; 

The city’s famous opera house

The city’s famous opera house Credit: Visit Oslo

6. Copenhagen

Denmark’s capital ( has its own take on the pleasing green space in an urban setting. The Tivoli Gardens ( have been operating as a haven of theme-park thrills and ornamental whimsy since 1843. As such, their appeal stretches from a 1943 Ferris wheel, the playful Nimb Water Fountains and the Hanging Gardens (a giddy swirl of flowerbed fragrance during spring) to roller-coasters such as the 48mph Demon.

Do it: The park’s own hotel (0045 4487 0000; offers doubles from £118.

7. Milan

Italy’s northern powerhouse ( puts the “spring collection” into spring – there are fashionable designs galore to be perused and purchased in the boutiques of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II. But Milan also offers spring in the conventional sense, in the grassy grandeur of the Parco Sempione, and in the hidden corners and private gardens glimpsed in the “Secret Cloisters of the Renaissance” tour run by the Casa Baglioni hotel.

Do it: This three-hour guided jaunt starts at €44 per person (up to eight people). Double rooms at the (five-star) hotel cost from €810 a night (0039 0277077;

Parco Sempione

Parco Sempione Credit: Getty

8. Florence

Not to be outdone by its Lombardy rival, the Tuscan capital ( serves up spring in the Boboli Gardens – the former strolling grounds of the ruthless Medicis, which still cocoons their ancestral Pitti Palace, on the southern bank of the River Arno.

Do it: Original Travel (020 3958 6120; sells a four-day “Cultural Break in Florence” from £2,310 per person – including flights, transfers and breakfast.

Soaking up the sun in the Boboli Gardens

Soaking up the sun in the Boboli Gardens Credit: Getty

9. Valletta

Malta’s fabulously grand capital rarely earns the plaudits it deserves. It is even rarer that it is considered as an option for a spring mini-break. Valletta exudes a visible history in its giant harbour and close-clustered buildings, but is hardly renowned for acres of green space. And yet, a few days in its company can mean a chance to stroll in the Floriana Gardens, the park which opens its arms directly beneath the city’s still-magnificent walls.

Do it: A seven-night stay at the five-star Phoenicia Malta, flying from Gatwick on April 15, starts at £1,391 a head, with easyJet Holidays (0330 551 5165;

Spectacular Valletta

Spectacular Valletta Credit: Getty

10. Valencia

Las Fallas – the wild fire festival which enthralls Spain’s third biggest city ( in the first fortnight of March is over for 2023 – but there is still much of Valencia which sings of spring. April is the perfect month for a stroll along the Turia Gardens, the park that fills the city with blooms and beauty. Why “along” and not “through”? Because the Turia Gardens are the former path of the river of the same name. Following a particularly destructive flood in October 1957 (the Turia was prone to such outbursts), the river was diverted around the centre, leaving a six-mile trail where the locals cycle, run and simply hang out. Eighteen bridges still cross it, in ghostly fashion.

Do it: A four-night stay at the four-star Hotel Turia (next to the gardens), flying from Gatwick on April 19, starts at £369 a head, with Expedia (020 3024 8211;

11. Vienna

In truth, there is never a bad time to visit the Austrian capital (; a city which, even on its grey days, looks like something from a fairy-tale, its palaces and churches silhouetted against the sky. But spring paints it as a glorious canvas, the trees which flank the circular avenue of the Ringstrasse stretching their limbs towards the returning sun, the grounds of the Schönbrunn (former) royal palace ( bursting with renewal.

Do it: A four-night stay at the four-star Max Brown 7th District, flying from Heathrow on May 3, costs from £512 per person, with First Choice (020 3451 2716;

Vienna looks like something from a fairy-tale

Vienna looks like something from a fairy-tale Credit: Getty

12. Ohrid

Vienna is internationally renowned. Ohrid, it is perhaps fair to say, is not. It is, after all, only the eighth largest city ( in North Macedonia. But it is also one of the most beautiful fragments of the European realm, pitched on the shore of Lake Ohrid with such persuasion that it features on both the Unesco Cultural and Natural World Heritage lists (only 28 places have achieved this double). Inevitably, it is at its prettiest in spring.

Do it: Ohrid is part of Tui’s “Lakes & Mountains” brochure. A seven-night break to the four-star Inex Olgica Hotel & Spa, flying from Gatwick on May 31, starts at £425 a head.

Lake Ohrid

Lake Ohrid Credit: Getty

13. Marrakech

Morocco’s swirling souk of a city ( is often reduced to a dust bowl of medina madness and charmed cobras on Djemaa el-Fna. But this overlooks the leafiness of the Jardin Majorelle (, the landscaped garden founded by French artist Jacques Majorelle in 1923, then nurtured by Yves Saint Laurent in the Eighties. A museum ( to the designer’s genius opened alongside it in 2017.

Do it: Abercrombie & Kent (0330 162 7323; offers a five-day “Marrakech and Mountains” luxury getaway from £3,550 per person (including flights).

Jardin Majorelle

Jardin Majorelle Credit: Getty

14. Zagreb

When it comes to Croatian cities, all eyes tend to look towards the coast. And with good reason; Dubrovnik and Split are two of the loveliest destinations on the Adriatic. But such thinking obscures the bigger picture. “Stranded” some 120 miles inland, Zagreb may well be Europe’s most underrated capital ( Its bars, restaurants and markets have a cool appeal, and spring makes itself known in spaces like the vast Park Maksimir.

Do it: Regent Holidays (0117 453 7485; sells a seven-day “Zagreb and Plitvice Lakes” tour which combines three nights in the Croatian capital with a further three in the lake district to the south-west. From £1,110 a head (including flights).

15. Ljubljana

There are few more literal signs of the planet rediscovering its fertility after the winter shutdown than bees at work. And nowhere is the buzz is more clearly heard, perhaps, than in Slovenia – where the humble producer of honey enjoys an almost religious status.

Do it: Specialist tour operator Api Routes (00386 2229 8360; sells a four-day “Slovenia Eco Tour” (from €660 – flights extra) which views the country from an “apicultural” angle, dropping in on beekeepers, observing their methods, sampling their honey – and spending time in the photogenic capital, Ljubljana (

The pint-sized capital of Slovenia

The pint-sized capital of Slovenia Credit: Getty

16. Cologne

If Germany’s major cities feel like a better fit with either autumn (and the beer festivals it brings) or winter (Berlin looks at its best, to the mind’s eye, lost in snow), then Cologne at least breaks the mould by shimmering in spring. It is all about its position on the Rhine – and the paths along the river which allow for strolls defined by blue skies and fresh air.

Do it: A four-night break to the four-star Art’otel Cologne, flying directly from Stansted on April 26, starts at £328 per person with Last Minute (020 3386 8411;

17. Palma de Mallorca

Generally undervalued, at least in comparison to the beach resorts and palatial villas on the island around it, Palma ( is nonetheless a fully formed Spanish city, with all the art, entertainment and endless evenings that usually entails. It even has a tree-lined central avenue, the Passeig del Born – akin to Barcelona’s main promenade La Rambla, but much less cluttered – for strolls and coffee pit-stops beneath spring foliage.

Do it: A four-night getaway to the city’s four-star Innside Palma Bosque Hotel, departing from Gatwick on April 26, costs from £579 per person through British Airways Holidays.

Palma promises art, entertainment and endless evenings

Palma promises art, entertainment and endless evenings Credit: Getty

18. Lisbon

Portugal’s endlessly intriguing capital ( serenades spring’s approach from its fabled seven hilltops, and is always a joy to explore in the new season – the panorama visible from the ramparts of the Castelo de Sao Jorge captures the Tagus estuary in all its glory. Follow the river west for 20 miles and you encounter another reason to visit Lisbon as the days lengthen – the seaside town of Cascais (a one-hour hop from Cais do Sodre train station), where Praiha da Rainha makes for lazy afternoons on soft suburban sands.

Do it: A five-night stay at the three-star Cascais Hotel, flying from Birmingham on April 22, costs from £377 per person through Thomas Cook (020 80163295;

19. Santa Cruz de Tenerife

The capital of the biggest Canary Island ( is a best of all worlds as spring arrives; up to 20C on the temperature gauge in April, but also blessed with an unsung cultural aspect that makes weekends away more than a matter of basic sun-worship. The Auditorio de Tenerife (, the opera house built to resemble a breaking wave by celebrated Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is a case in point. That said, there is sand too, Playa de la Teresitas holding court north of the city.

Do it: A seven-night stay at the five-star Iberostar Heritage Grand Mencey resort (on the hillside, above the city), flying from Birmingham on April 22, costs from £648 per person, including transfers – through Love Holidays (01234 230 440; 

Combine city with sea and sand in Tenerife

Combine city with sea and sand in Tenerife Credit: Getty

20. New York

How far is too far for a swing reawakening? Is a full leap of the Atlantic a bit much? Not if you aim for America’s most famous metropolis. After four months in winter’s grip, the Big Apple ( sheds its winter coat with such willingness that it is impossible not to catch the mood. Central Park is abloom, while the change of season transforms Governors Island (reached by ferry from the southern tip of Manhattan; from a windswept outcrop into a playground with splendid views of the Statue of Liberty.

Do it: A seven-night getaway to the four-star Renaissance New York Times Square – at the heart of the Manhattan matter – departing from London Heathrow on April 29, costs from £1,935 per person, through Virgin Holidays (0344 472 9646; 

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