With a wealth of culture, culinary adventure and rich history, these second cities are fast becoming bucket-list heavy weights; here’s our list of the best…

Words Helen Brown

Europe has its fair share of bucket list heavy hitters; London, Paris, Rome, and so on. Meanwhile, lesser known cities go under the radar for a lot of travellers. But the best second cities offer distinctive culture and histories to match the capitals of the world. From a magical Moroccan city to a vibrant Greek coastal city, these second cities are definitely worth visiting first hand. Here are a few of our favourites.

Gothenburg, Sweden

Gothenburg is the mini Swedish hotspot masquerading as a metropolis. Culturally rich, it has around 25 theatres and 18 museums. Four Michelin-starred restaurants add to its reputation as the gastronomic capital of Sweden. It welcomes a steady stream of tourists, thanks in part to the no. 1 attraction, Liseberg amusement park. Visit in August for Göteborgskalaset – Gothenburg Party – the biggest city festival in Sweden, with more than 600 concerts and cultural events.

Munich, Germany

With its old Bavarians in lederhosen, rustic beerhalls, Hacker-Pschorr and Weisswurst, Munich embraces just about every German cliché in the book. But away from all that, today’s Bavarian capital is dynamic. It’s abundant with modern museums, world-class art, high-end shopping and adventurous restaurants.

Thessaloniki, Greece

Although Thessaloniki may be Greece’s second city, it’s a capital when it comes to culture. This seafront metropolis offers Roman remains, Byzantine bounties, Ottoman alleys and exceptional culinary tradition. The waterfront is lined with cafés and has a fun, buzzy atmosphere. The walled old town is woven with meandering streets and traditional tavernas, perfect for getting lost in. Some of the Mediterranean’s best beaches are just an hour’s drive away, ideal for coupling this city break with a sunny escape.

Valencia, Spain

Cooler than Barcelona and more laid-back than Madrid, Valencia is Spain’s understated, sun-and-culture city. The City of Arts & Sciences – Valencia’s futuristic leisure complex has re-invented the place into a thriving cultural centre. The historic old town is a well-preserved, exemplar of Baroque, Gothic and Modernista architecture. It’s full of small alleys, honey-coloured stone and shady spots to relax in. Historically plagued by conquests and flooding, the city now charms visitors with its bold architecture and delicious Moorish cuisine.

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua’s vibrant nightlife, brilliant café culture and cosmopolitan atmosphere are among the many reasons to visit. Its main draw, however, has to be its colonial architecture. Antigua also boasts a beautiful location, skirting a lush mountain range that rises above pretty pastel coloured buildings. A photographer’s dream.

Krakow, Poland

Culturally rich and founded on legend, Kraków offers an abundance of atmosphere. Explore its attractive streets and squares and marvel at its impressive architecture. Wawel Castle is a major drawcard, while the Old Town contains soaring churches, impressive museums and the vast Rynek Główny, Europe’s largest market square. The price of wining and dining make this city a fantastic cheap weekend break.

Medellín, Colombia

Once dubbed the ‘most dangerous city on earth’, Medellín is now one of Colombia’s liveliest and most creative. Visitors enjoy a thriving, modern city with an alluring mixture of traditional and modern architecture. It also benefits from a lively cultural scene and nightlife, as well as established history and traditions.

Bruges, Belgium

Though Brussels has many defining features of its own, it doesn’t compare to the fascinating sights and sounds of Bruges. Fondly referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’, Bruges is interspersed with crisscrossing canals. There aren’t many locations in Europe which are quite as picture perfect. This city is chock-full with historic buildings and art museums and calls itself the capital of chocolate. Sounds perfect.

Fez, Morocco

The medina of Fès el-Bari (Old Fès) is the largest living medieval city in the world. It’s a beguilingly beautiful city, home to Morocco’s most important mosque. It’s also the culinary capital of the country and has a calendar full of lively festivals. Wander the streets and lose yourself amongst its upmarket shops, bustling markets and indulgent hammams.

Bordeaux, France

As one of France’s most esteemed wine regions, Bordeaux enchants travellers with delicious cuisine, fine vintages and breathtaking châteaux. Take a tour of the city’s stunning neoclassical architecture or venture out into the countryside to try the area’s best wine. For laid back tastings, rent a bicycle and head to Pauillac. Here you can picnic on the riverfront within the region’s less expensive wineries.