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Europe's best summer destinations for culture vultures

Plan a trip to one of these cultural capitals

For those who like their Vitamin D served alongside a healthy dose of sophistication, Europe’s mainland capitals are the obvious summer choice. Whatever type of culture you’re after, city breaks can offer a dazzling array of world-class museums, art-filled galleries and historic architecture. Here are our top three picks.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna © Dreamstime.com/Arseniy Rogov

Vienna

Best for: history and museums

Home to Mozart, Beethoven, Shrödinger and Freud, it’s little wonder Vienna tops our list as a historical hotspot. Just a two-hour flight from London, the Austrian capital is packed with unmissable museums and fascinating tours to suit all interests.

The sprawling Kunsthistorisches Museum will captivate art lovers, while equestrian enthusiasts should head for the Spanish Riding School’s 10am training session to see the magnificent Lipizzaner stable put through their paces.

You can also wander the medieval streets of Old Vienna and admire the ornate Stephanson cathedral. Just be sure to make time for a slice of Sachertorte – this famous chocolate cake is the sweetest historic treat of all.

Spanish Riding School, Vienna © Alamy Stock Photo/blickwinkel

Stockholm

Best for: variety 

Why limit yourself to one city, when you can explore what feels like several? Stockholm’s 14 islands are stitched together by a network of bridges and ferries, with each area maintaining its own distinct identity.

Wander the verdant greenery of Djurgarden island – also home to the world’s only dedicated Abba museum – before crossing to Scandi-cool Södermalm for lingonberry-laced food and great craft beer, or to historic Helgeandsholmen, site of the city’s imposing parliament buildings. There’s enough to keep even the shortest attention span engaged, and with summer daylight lasting until after 10pm, you’ll be grateful for the extra hours to pack your activities into.

Displays in The Gold Room at ABBA The Museum in Stockholm © ABBA The Museum

Barcelona

Best for: art and architecture

Fans of Modernisme, Cubism and Surrealism will find plenty to feast their eyes on in Barcelona.

Gaudí’s fantastic buildings dot the Catalan capital; you can experience La Pedrera during a simple wander of the streets, while the Sagrada Família and Palau Güell require tickets but are well worth it.

And of course, in the artist’s adopted city, the Museu Picasso is a must-visit. Those who outlast the inevitable queues are rewarded by more than 3,500 artworks, with a focus on Picasso’s early years. The Fundació Joan Miró also ticks both art and architecture boxes, with its spectacular and impressively housed collection.

Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera, in Barcelona © iStock.com/PumpizoldA