European Summer City Escapes

The best European cities where you can beat the heat and indulge in air-conditioned culture, great restaurants, and urban adventures.

Marina 19-21 08005 Barcelona, Spain
As the name suggests, this soaring 44-story hotel from the Ritz-Carlton brand is peppered with high-end artwork, mainly by renowned Spanish and Catalan artists such as Eduardo Chillida, Albert Rafols-Casamada, Perico Pastor, and Luis Feito. But there’s much more to the hotel than paintings and sculptures—such as the peaceful terraced gardens, an outdoor swimming pool that overlooks a large Frank Gehry fish sculpture, a luxury spa offering panoramic views, and several excellent restaurants. The hotel overlooks Barcelona and the Mediterranean from its prime location on the Olympic Port. And, perhaps best of all, the beach is right at the doorstep.

The rooms are a delight, too, with dark-wood furnishings and flooring, flat-screen TVs, and sleek, spacious bathrooms that come with separate bathtubs and Asprey toiletries. The hotel’s penthouses are even more swish; guests who book one of these will not only get their own private elevator and fully equipped kitchen (where the hotel’s chefs will happily prepare meals en suite) but can also book a dedicated butler service.
1 Ham Yard, Soho, London W1D 7DT, UK
Most London hotels can’t claim to have a bowling alley in the basement. But then Ham Yard isn’t most hotels. The new address, opened in June 2014, also features a 190-seat cinema with Dolby surround sound, a spa with its own Hypoxic Studio for high-altitude training, a roof terrace with a full vegetable garden, and a karaoke bar curated by Lucky Voice. Ham Yard is the eighth opening for Firmdale Hotels, the chain run by husband-and-wife team Tim and Kit Kemp. Tim brings business brains to the partnership, while Kit handles the interior design. It’s this aspect for which the brand is best known, and Ham Yard is the most exuberant of Kit’s colorful creations. Kit has filled the space with her trademark mismatched fabrics and art works sourced from the likes of Shilo Engelbrecht. Curious touches, such as light installations from cult-creator Gods Own Junkyard, lend the hotel an idiosyncratic edge. The unusual name derives from the Soho square in which the hotel stands. Ham Yard’s emergence has not only created London’s hottest new opening, but also a courtyard space where locals come to sit and linger at the hotel’s partner shops, including Brazilian beachwear brand Frescobol Carioca and a Press London juice bar.
Toldbodgade 24-28, 1253 København, Denmark
The Copenhagen Admiral Hotel began its life as an 18th-century warehouse on the Copenhagen waterfront, before being turned into a maritime-themed hotel in the 1970s. With the royal family’s Amalienborg Palace on one side, the lively and picturesque Nyhavn canal on the other, and the Copenhagen Opera House across the water, the hotel couldn’t be better placed for feeling like you’re in the heart of Copenhagen’s sights. Historic tall ships regularly dock out front, and, when the sun comes out, locals and guests alike spill onto the waterfront patio for a Carlsberg beer.

Inside, the hotel feels quintessentially Scandinavian, with exposed beams and a blue-green color palette. The acclaimed SALT restaurant puts a modern spin on traditional Scandinavian cuisine with inspiration from local, raw produce and French cuisine.
108 Rue Saint-Lazare, 75008 Paris, France
Hilton’s reentry into the heart of Paris is nothing short of majestic. After a $50 million design overhaul, the 125-year-old hotel, made for the 1889 World’s Fair, has been revived to its 19th-century splendor with a contemporary twist. Formerly the Grand Hotel Terminus and the Concorde Opéra Paris, the property’s landmark status—with its Haussmannian facade and elegant public spaces—demanded it be painstakingly preserved. Among the restored, original elements, the most awe-inspiring are the Corinthian columns, chandeliers, balustrades, hand-painted frescoes, and marble and mosaic tiling. Fortunately, the bar takes pride of place among them, making it the ideal spot to start your stay with a cocktail or glass of wine.

The style in each of the rooms breaks with the traditional stark-white modern codes of most business hotels. Here it incorporates warm accent colors and textiles. With few heritage elements left to preserve, the sense of place is woven in with custom etchings of iconic Paris scenes hung behind each bed. But you won’t be spending much time here, as the action happens in the grand salon.
Kurhausstrasse 65, 8032 Zürich, Switzerland
This landmark hotel, built in the Swiss rustic style popular at the turn of the 19th century, has hosted Winston Churchill, Arturo Toscanini, Albert Einstein, the Shah of Iran, Henry Kissinger, and the Rolling Stones, among others. Situated high above Zurich, with a sweeping forest and a golf course for company, it offers breathtaking views of the city, the lake, and even—on clear days—the Alps.

Renovated in 2008 by Lord Foster for a cool 385 million Swiss francs, it now features a bold, contemporary edifice that wraps around the turreted original, two entirely new wings (the Spa Wing and the Golf Wing), and a completely revamped interior. While the rooms in the Main Building (the historic structure) are appointed with traditional furniture and hand-painted wallpaper to give a regal, turn-of-the-century feel, the newer rooms are equipped with balconies and bathrooms of white marble or sand-colored Jura limestone. Imagined by London-based United Designers, they also come with flat-screen televisions with integrated Bang & Olufsen CD and DVD players.

The four signature suites sprawl over hundreds of square meters and feature steam showers, whirlpool baths, and even (in one case) a grand piano. The hotel also offers an expansive spa and wellness center.
Torstraße 1, 10119 Berlin, Germany
Looming over one of central Berlin’s most vibrant intersections, this restored Bauhaus building with its distinctive 1920s curved facade was transformed in 2010 into the Berlin outpost of the glamorous Soho House hotel and private members brand. The building has heaps of history, having started as a Jewish-owned department store before being taken over by the Nazis and then occupied by the Communist regime for archival purposes.

Today, it’s one of Mitte’s foremost havens of hip, offering quirkily decorated rooms that mix vintage with contemporary design tropes—think Marshall speakers and old-school record players, floral armchairs, and art deco bathtubs. The lofts are even more astonishing, both for their capacious size and their industrial-chic aesthetic—some come with grand pianos and foosball tables. The hotel also has a rooftop pool and adjacent bar with views of Alexanderplatz, a concept retail area, a private cinema and library room with a bar that hosts occasional events open to the public, an in-house restaurant, and a Cowshed spa that’s a popular destination in its own right.
171 Knightsbridge, London SW7 1DW, UK
From the moment the smiling doorman ushered us into the sleek, burnished lobby of the Bulgari, my sister and I felt like a couple of celebrities taking a discreet trip to the capital city. The type of luxury you get here is of a very distinct kind: a feeling that no expense has been spared in the gleaming dark wood of the corridors and the glow of gold tile around the spa; the soft, low lighting throughout the hotel made us feel like we were in a place that values discretion and sophistication above all things. The service was fantastic—reminiscent of the policy of the famous Harrods, opposite, that no matter how bizarre the customer’s request, they will do their very best to fulfill it. And as for the rooms—well, my sister said she’d never slept in a better bed in her life. And that seems to sum up the Bulgari ethos: Whether it’s the food or the spa treatments or simply having a bath in the gorgeous marble bathroom, they want it to be the best experience you’ve ever had of that kind.
109 Rue de Bagnolet, 75020 Paris, France
Mama Shelter’s owners, who launched the Flèche d’Or indie rock club across the street, turned an outlying location in the 20th arrondissement into an advantage. They enlisted Philippe Starck to design the restaurant, bar, pizzeria, and summer rooftop terrace—which now attract poets, artists, and counterculture types from across the city. The hotel’s street cred is still intact years after the 2008 opening, and the decor—black ceilings turned into graffiti chalkboards bearing literary quotations; Mexican wrestling and Halloween masks turned into lamp shades; tree trunks used as stools—remains relentlessly hipster without being overwhelming; guests could be young parents with sleeve tattoos toting baby carriers in the elevators.
Hverfisgata 10, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
On first glance, it would be easy to dismiss the 101 Hotel as merely a functional option. Stepping inside the austere five-story concrete building on Hverfisgata, however, guests discover an ultra-modern boutique lodging with minimal black-and-white decor—the work of owner-designer Ingibjörg S. Pálmadóttir—that gives it the feel of a chic downtown gallery. Contemporary paintings, photography, and sculptures by local artists appear througout the property, complementing the oak floors and wood-heavy Nordic furniture in the 38 rooms. Queen and king-size beds (there are no twin rooms) come topped with fine Italian linens, entertainment systems are state of the art, and open-plan bathrooms make extensive use of glass and offer Aveda bath products; deluxe rooms and suites up the ante with with claw-foot tubs. The hotel also has a moody restaurant and bar, a gym and spa, and a comfortable lounge area where you can put your feet up by the fire.
Praça Luís de Camões 2, 1200-243 Lisboa, Portugal
What a wonderful location to stay in Lisbon—in the middle of an elegant neighborhood like Chiado and so close to the trendy Bairro Alto. A five-star boutique hotel, this place is full of charm and luxurious rooms spread across five floors, with views over Largo do Camões and the river. A building from the 18th century, this hotel, with décor by Portuguese designers, features dark wood furniture, mixing classic and contemporary. Visit the bar on the rooftop; it is one of the best spots for a drink with a view.
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AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe