Everyone knows about London, Paris, Barcelona and Vienna. If you want to skip the tourist trail and discover some of Europe's hidden gems, then head to these four charming cities in the heart of the continent for a bit of history and old-world charm.
This small canal-lined town in northern Belgium has a quiet romantic charm. Take a scenic canal cruise, and then visit the Church of Our Lady, which contains Michelangelo's sculpture 'Madonna and Child'. Travel down the Markt (Market Square), which is dominated by the belfry, a medieval bell tower. Climb up its 366 stairs for stunning views of the city. Afterwards, you can sample chocolates and Belgian waffles from local shops, and in the evening, try a strong Belgian beer.
Ideal for a leisurely holiday, this university town has a long and rich history, having been founded by the Romans 122 BCE. It's now known its beautiful architecture, leafy boulevards, public squares, fresh food and lavender. The historic centre of the town is surrounded by numerous mansions and dotted with over 40 fountains, built during the 17th and 18th centuries. Its highlights include a Town Hall, the Saint Saurveur Cathedral and a 16th-century clock tower. The local markets are ideal for picking up fresh herbs and lavender.
The city was also the birthplace of the French post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne, who created some of his most well-known paintings here. You can follow the Cezanne trail to discover the life of the artist, and visit his remarkably well-preserved studio.
Neighbouring Barcelona might be more famous, but this compact university town in northern Catalonia is packed with superb cultural, dining and nightlife options. The city is split into two parts by River Ter. Girona's historic quarter lies on the eastern side, with numerous medieval mansions, courtyards and an imposing baroque cathedral. The western side is covered with charming avenues lined with chic boutiques and cafes.
The old quarter also contains one of the best-preserved medieval Jewish ghettos (El Call) in Europe. Special tip for cinephiles: head to the Museum of Cinema, which has one of the world's best collections of film memorabilia. Girona is also known for its excellent Catalan cuisine, best sampled at one of the tapas bars or at the Michelin-starred restaurant Celler de Can Roca.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site was one of the most culturally vibrant cities of the Italian Renaissance. The best evidence of this is on display at the Palazzo dei Diamanti, a Renaissance palace which houses the National Art Gallery. It has been named after its facade which is studded with 12,600 marble blocks or 'diamonds'. Ferrara was once ruled by the Este family, and their castle, Castello Estense, is surrounded by stone walls, a moat and drawbridges. There are numerous palaces scattered all around, along with tiny shops and trattoria serving delicious fare.