The Best Of Both Worlds – 7 Beautiful Cities With Mountains On The Doorstep

STORY BY Megan Hughes 3rd June 2019

It’s a conundrum often faced when debating a summer getaway. Do you leave the hustle of the city behind for the relaxing open spaces and fresh air of the mountains, or do you marvel in at some of the world’s most historic sites and unmissable cultural destinations? This year, why not combine the two in one of these stunning cities, where a weekend can encapsulate both the metropolitan and the mountains?

Granada, Spain

A laid-back paradise awaits you in Granada, Andalucia, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. A combination of Spanish and Islamic influences makes this a highly interesting weekend destination, with huge artistic and cultural wealth.

The stunning Alhambra Palace complex showcases the unique architectural features of the Nasrid dynasty, the Muslim dynasty that ruled the Emirate of Granada from 1230 to 1492. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a key attraction for anyone visiting the area.

The Alhambra lies in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which are a summer paradise, with some of the most diverse flora and fauna in Europe.

Various trekking trails, mountain biking routes and horse- riding opportunities allow you to explore the area your way, while a number of family centres and activities make this a great destination for those travelling with youngsters. Visitors can also enjoy water sports, from canyoning at the Rio Verde gorge to rafting and kayaking in the crystal- blue mountain waters.

All can be reached incredibly easily from Granada, either by car or public transport.

Don’t miss the many different and highly interesting neighbourhoods that surround the main city, most notably the Sacromonte and the Albayzín, both with their own unique history.

Reykjavik, Iceland

The capital of Iceland, Reykjavik, is fast becoming one of Europe’s trendiest destinations. With lively nightlife, a bustling, modern town centre and spectacular mountainscapes surrounding the city, there’s it’s no surprise many are flocking here for a long weekend.

Dominating the Reykjavik skyline is the striking Mt Esja, which offers explorers a new perspective on the city from above. Routes to the summit at 914m metres vary in difficulty and can generally be hiked in around half a day, allowing visitors the rest of the day to enjoy all that the city has to offer. Mount Mt Keilir and Mt Esjan are other popular spots for hikers within driving distance of Reykjavik.

© Raggi Th – Visit Reykjavík

Thermal pools are a large part of the culture in Iceland, and with 17 different pools in Reykjavik, there’s something for everyone, from water slides to thermal hot tubs, saunas and spas. One highly popular destination is the famous Blue Lagoon, where visitors can soak up the mineral-rich geothermal water amongst incredible Icelandic landscapes. There’s even an in-water bar!

If you prefer to be on the water than in it, whale watching and puffin tours are available from the bustling Old Harbour, a vibrant emerging community with many new local businesses to explore.

Don’t miss the striking Hallgrímskirkja churchChurch, the city’s main landmark and one of Iceland’s tallest structures with a truly one-of-a-kind design.

© Raggi Th – Visit Reykjavík

Bolzano, Italy

Often referred to as ‘the gateway to the dolomites’, Bolzano is a stunning city set within lush green mountains. It’s the capital city of the northern Italian province of South Tyrol and has previously been ranked as having the best quality of life in Italy.

South Tyrol benefits from unique history due to the combination of Italian and German-Austrian cultures. This makes Bolzano a highly interesting destination with a rich historical background, from Roman, Bavarian and then Holy Roman Empire rule, to Bolzano’s unique history during the first and second World Wars.

The city’s architecture bears the influence of this conflation of cultures, with both gothic and romanesqueRomanesque buildings featured in the medieval city centre. Open air markets and a range of shops line the streets, and magnificent mountain scenery surrounds the city with a number of hiking routes.

A cable car allows access to the higher peaks, with traditional churches and castles to visit, as well as hiking, biking and climbing opportunities.

Don’t miss the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. This museum holds the mummy of Ötzi the Iceman, an incredibly well- preserved natural mummy found in the Ötztal Alps and believed to be Europe’s oldest.

Vienna, Austria

The Austrian capital of Vienna is a sophisticated yet charming city packed to the brim with cultural, political and musical heritage.

Walk along the Ringstrasse, which takes you past a vast range of Vienna’s most important landmarks. You can’t help but be impressed by the architecture in Vienna, from the iconic palaces of Hofburg, Schönbrunn and Belvedere to the grand, gothic towers of St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

© WienTourismus : Christian Stemper

However, Vienna’s beauty is by no means limited to the city streets. Visitors can easily reach the Schneeberg mountain or the Rax mountain hiking areas, where gorgeous views and hiking trails are available at the easternmost end of the Alps.

However, in our opinion, the true natural highlight here is the Wachau Valley, a World Heritage Site an hour’s drive from Vienna. Here, the Danube meanders through a simply stunning landscape of lush green peaks dotted with monasteries, churches and castles.

Explore the area on a bicycle to truly experience the best of the area, travelling through villages and vineyards. Indeed, when in need of refreshment, the area’s local wines and culinary delicacies are sure to hit the spot.

Don’t miss the Spanish Riding School, showcasing incredible displays of equestrian talent.

Dürnstein, Wachau – ©

Bergen, Norway

On the west coast of Norway lies a town surrounded by fjords and mountains, a haven for nature lovers and an underrated, artistic city break destination.

The city of Bergen, Norway’s second largest, is a vibrant, international blend of people and cultures. It’s a city that places huge importance on its artistic heritage, with a vast amount of events, festivals and exhibitions, and is a UNESCO World Heritage City as well as a European City of Culture.

Famously surrounded by ‘seven mountains’, Bergen has numerous opportunities for hiking, cycling and sightseeing.

Mount Fløyen and Mount Ulriken are the most popular spots, the latter the highest of the surrounding mountain peaks and easily accessible by cable car as well as on foot. Spectacular views across the city and the fjords await, as well as a new zip line!

A two- hours flight from the UK, Bergen is a great weekend choice for Alpine regulars looking for a new favourite mountain destination.

Don’t miss a boat trip to explore the stunning natural landscapes of the fjords, which will truly take your breath away.

© Bergen Tourist Board / Robin Strand –

Annecy, France

Venturing into the picture-perfect Old Town of Annecy, you would be forgiven for thinking you have just stepped onto the set of a movie. With beautiful views across the lake, canals running through the town and quaint riverside cafes and restaurants, it’s a true escape from reality.

© Lac Annecy / G. Bourmault

Lake Annecy itself is one of the most pure and beautiful urban lakes, with bright blue waters. At 11 over 17km2 , square miles, the lake allows visitors the opportunity to swim, sunbathe, take a boat ride or try their hand at watersports, all in the shadow of the surrounding mountains. It’s a great base for outdoor sports fans, with easy access to mountain biking, cycling, paragliding, climbing and hiking.

To truly immerse yourselves in the higher Alpine pastures, many mountain resorts are within easy driving distance of Annecy, from the gorgeous Aravis range over to Chamonix and Mont Blanc.

Don’t miss the annual Fête Fete du Lac celebration in August –- one of the most incredible firework displays we’ve ever seen.

© Lac Annecy / C. Max

Zurich, Switzerland

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Zurich’s banking reputation makes it an unapproachable tourist destination. In recent years Zurich has evolved into one of Europe’s most fashionable cosmopolitan cities for a weekend of culture, culinary delight and Alpine activity.

Highlights include the picturesque Altstadt (Old Town), the cafe-lined promenades of the River Limmat and the city’s many museums and galleries. Visitors can marvel at the artistic stained glass of the Fraumünster Church and appreciate the architectural design of the Grossmünster Church.

Zurich’s very well-connected train station means that it is a fantastic base from which to explore the surrounding mountains. Within a few hours, you can reach a huge number of stunning hikes and mountain activities, surrounding yourself with Alpine pastures, crystal blue lakes and lush forests. The Rigi Panoramic Trail is a particularly popular excursion under 40 minutes from Zurich main station – – a 4.5-mile trail with spectacular views of Lake Lucerne and Lake Zug in the shadow of the Alps.

© Zurich Tourism

Closer to the city, you can easily spend an afternoon enjoying the Uetliberg peak, where hiking routes and mountain biking are available.

Don’t miss the tiny monastery island of Ufenau, a nature reserve in the middle of Lake Zurich, with quaint medieval churches and a friendly restaurant serving up fresh local delicacies.


Featured Image © Bergen Tourist Board – Robin Strand

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