Europe’s “second cities,” those that, you guessed it, come in second place for population size, are often a great place to visit when it comes to great food, art, cultural sites, and affordable lodging. Here, four of second cities, where you can have a great European vacation without busting your budget.
- BIRMINGHAM, U.K.
The Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery offers one of the world’s most acclaimed collections of pre-Raphaelite paintings, including the iconic, otherworldly work of 19th-century Birmingham native Edward Burne Jones. Speaking of other worlds, Lord of the Rings fans must spend time at Sarehole Mill, said to have inspired the locale of Tolkien’s trilogy. And no trip to Brum is complete without dropping by the Bull Ring Open Market, which is at once a throwback to England’s agrarian past and a forward-looking source of local fruits and vegetables at great prices. The nabe is also known for its Rag Market (not as dismal as it sounds—think eye-popping fabrics, vintage clothing, household goods, and treats like mince pie and pickled chile peppers for a song).
- ANTWERP, BELGIUM
The Zuid (“south”) district is the place for art lovers; here, you’ll find the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (featuring an exquisite collection of paintings by Baroque-era Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, such as “The Adoration of the Magi”), galleries of contemporary art, and a thriving cafe culture. Running north from the square in front of the museum, Kloosterstraat offers a stretch of cool antique shops that often boast mid-century design finds alongside older pieces.
- PORTO, PORTUGAL
Porto’s Casa da Musica is eye candy of the highest order. The concert hall, designed by Rem Koolhaas, is home to Porto’s three symphony orchestras and was inaugurated by rocker Lou Reed in 2005. The city is ideal for strolling and shopping. Don’t miss the Mercado do Bolhão public market and the contemporary art galleries arrayed along Rua Miguel Bombarda.
- MILAN, ITALY
Art lovers and spiritual travelers visit Milan just to see Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” at the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Don’t miss it, but you should also drop into the Duomo, a Gothic cathedral that can hold 40,0000 congregants. Unwind in lovely Parco Sempione, which is also home to the imposing Castello Sforzeso. This stylish city’s artsiest residents hang out in the Navigli district, a center of design and culture and home to Milan’s annual flower show.