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Feature: Top cultural city breaks

Feature: Top cultural city breaks

28 October 2011 16:25

Museums, historical sites, architectural pearls. There are many reasons why jetting off to one of the world’s finest cities can aso be a great cultural experience. Of course, city breaks are also about shopping and...erm, shopping, but taking a break from the high street could introduce you to some of the best cultural treats you will ever see. And no, we’re not talking about trekking the width and breadth of a country to find a remote city that has a few heritage sites. Our list of best cultural city breaks ranges from chic modern financial centres to colourful Eastern promises.

To convince you that a chic city break can also be a cultural city break, we at have compiled our top destinations. From the Pyramids in Egypt to the ‘coffee’ shops in Amsterdam, a culture holiday is everything but boring.

Istanbul, Turkey
East meets West...welcome to Istanbul! If you are looking for a city that never stands still, that has something for everyone and that has a vast cultural heritage to keep you busy for longer than one holiday, then Istanbul should feature high on your list. It is a city of contrasts, of history, of religious and political importance – but also of vibrancy and an overflowing of culture. Spread out behind and along one of the most beautiful city waterfronts in the world, Istanbul is a rare sight. It not only oozes history and culture, it has a certain mystical feel that is difficult to pinpoint.

Istanbul literally straddles East and West with Asia to the East and Europe to the West. Nowhere is this split more aptly shown than in Hagia Sophia, the city amazing mosque which dates back to the sixth century AD and which was previously a Christian cathedral. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, is another great example, as is Topkapi Palace which used to home to the Ottoman rulers. Istanbul is exciting. It is vibrant. It is different. But most of all, it will welcome you with open arms.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amsterdam is known as a great short break destination. With easy access from the UK, the Dutch capital has long been a favourite with British holidaymakers looking for a weekend getaway on the continent. And Amsterdam is indeed an exciting city. Perhaps best known for its red-light district and ‘coffee’ shops, Amsterdam has been branded as a liberal city with great restaurants, bars and clubs – a city you visit to have fun. But there is much more to Amsterdam.

The elegant streets that run alongside the city’s canals and its myriad attractions hide some great museums and galleries perfect for culture-lovers. The Mseumplein (Museum Square) has fours museums located in it. Rijksmuseum is the most famous and the place to go to see the Dutch masters, like Rembrandt. But the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Van Gogh Museum and The Diamond Museum are all found in the square. But you cannot go to Amsterdam to experience culture without visiting Anne Frank’s house, which brings in over one million visitors a year.

Shanghai, China
This is the place to go if you love skyscrapers and everything modern. Actually, skyscrapers are shooting up faster than you can read this feature. But along with the city’s rapid expansion, Shanghai has not only risen in importance for business but for cultural life too. Shanghai boasts some amazing museums. The Shanghai Museum contains more than 120,000 pieces from thousands of years of Chinese history. And the Shanghai Art Museum is fascinating place to visit for everyone interested Chinese Art.

There is a multitude of styles in architecture in Shanghai, which is also what makes the city an exciting place to visit. Strolling along the streets of the city you will see modern skyscrapers on Pudong but if you then move to the streets of the French Concession area, you will still find the special flavour that had this area called ‘The Paris of the East’.

But if you really cannot help yourself, there are some great shopping areas in Shanghai as well. Nanjing Road and many of the markets around the city offer great shopping treats.

Budapest, Hungary
Often referred to as one of the most attractive cities in Europe, Budapest sits on the banks of the river Danube. The mighty river gives Budapest a special atmosphere that runs through the city. Famous for its beautiful architecture and amazing cityscape, the capital of Hungary has been shaped by some powerful forces throughout history. The Ottomans, the Mongols, the Hapsburgs and the Communists have all left their mark on the city, which makes for an exciting cultural and historical journey.

If you want class and history, Andrassy Avenue is Budapest’s finest street, a World Heritage Site with many fine 19th century buildings along it. At one end is Heroes’ Square, which is attractive to everyone who loves a bit of cultural excitement. The square holds the Millennium Monument, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art. Also, the area also boasts the Szechenyi Medicinal Baths, which is a thermal bath as well as one of Budapest’s most well-known landmarks.

Cairo, Egypt
Cairo is loved by some and disliked by others, which is not that surprising really. It is chaotic, congested, dusty, historic, spectacular and exciting all at the same time. Even if it is a place that is rather avoided by some travellers, it is difficult to deny the city its position in the history of the world. The Pyramids and Sphinx of Gisa probably don’t need much introduction, but there are many other great historical gems hidden in this city. Some of the great civilizations have left their mark here – and it shows.

With many historic centres spread across the city, the finest single attraction for those interested in the ancient Egyptians and everything related to them is the Egyptian Museum with numerous rooms on show. The Museum of Islamic Art also boasts some interesting pieces of work and the Museum of Modern Egyptian Art offers more up-to-date art objects. The old citadel is also a popular tourist attraction. The landmark was home to the city’s rulers and contains countless mosques, the Al-Gawhara Palace and museums.

Even if you might not be the typical art and culture lover who queues up outside a museum for hours to see a new exhibition, a cultural city break offers a great opportunity to explore the cultural heritage of a place while still enjoying other holiday treats. With so many options to choose from, there is plenty of scope to combine a cultural break with a trip to the shopping centre or to the designer shop. But as well as bringing your credit card, don’t forget to take a camera. Who knows, you might end up never going to the shops!

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