There’s nothing quite as exciting as the buzz of exploring a new city –mouthwatering smells wafting from restaurants, music and chatter escaping onto lively streets – but sometimes the overload of sights and sounds can leave you craving a quiet spot to relax and recharge your batteries.
Luckily, you rarely have to look far. From gardens to lakes, parks to thermal baths, here are eight oases serving up solitude in some of Europe’s most hectic cities.
Kew Gardens – London, UK
Just half an hour from central London, Kew Gardens feels like a world away from the bright lights of the city. This enormous botanical garden boasts the largest and most diverse flora collections in the world. Walk in the shadows of redwoods and oaks in the Arboretum, listen to the soothing sound of trickling waterfalls in the Japanese Garden, and admire the weird-and-wonderful species of palm tree in the Palm House.
Save time for the Treetop Walkway – this 18-metre-high platform gives you a unique opportunity to walk among the forest canopy and offers spectacular bird’s-eye views.
Musee de la Sculpture en Plein Air – Paris, France
While everyone else is fighting to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, you can take in some impressive artwork – minus all the crowds – at Paris’ open-air sculpture museum. It’s in a lovely spot, nestled within the beautiful Tino Rossi Gardens on the banks of the Seine River.
Here, you can get up-close to more than 50 late-20th-century sculptures by big-name artists like César and Brancusi. When you’ve finished exploring, grab a baguette and find a quiet spot for a picnic by the water.
Therme – Bucharest, Romania
Europe’s biggest wellness, relaxation and entertainment centre, just 10 minutes outside of Bucharest, provides the perfect antidote to city life. Here, thermal water makes its way from deep underground to supply nine pools, six saunas and 16 waterslides. Start off in the main pool, where you can bathe in 33-degree waters while surrounded by no less than 500 palm trees.
Then soak up all the natural goodness in one of the mineral pools or indulge in a relaxing hydromassage. When you’re ready to turn things up a notch, head to the entertainment zone to tackle the waterslides and wave pool.
Parc de Montjuic – Barcelona, Spain
In a city that’s home to world-famous sites like the Sagrada Família and Park Güell, Barcelona’s impressive Parc de Montjuic, once host to the 1992 Olympics, is often overlooked by tourists. But that just makes a visit here all the more enjoyable. As you wander through the perfectly-manicured grounds, it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a big city.
Barcelona hosted the games back in 1992, and you can still check out all the main sports venues, from the athletics stadium to the outdoor swimming pools. Don’t miss the iconic Calatrava tower. Its unique shape is meant to represent an athlete holding up a torch to the sky.
Muggelsee Lake – Berlin, Germany
If one too many nights at Berghain has left you in need of some rejuvenation, head to Müggelsee Lake for a day of rest and relaxation. Set on the eastern edge of the city, Berlin’s biggest lake offers up a taste of Germany’s great outdoors. Breathe in the fresh countryside air as you stroll along the wooded walkways, then pick a shady spot on the sandy banks to watch the world go by.
If you’re here in the summer, the lake’s clear, calm waters are likely to tempt you in for a dip. Trust us, there’s no better way to cool off.
Anafiotika – Athens, Greece
The minute you arrive in Anafiotika, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported out of Athens and across the sea to a Greek island. This tiny neighbourhood, hidden among the hillside of the city’s famous Acropolis, was built back in the 19th century by a small group of Masons from the island of Anafi in the Cyclades.
It’s hardly been touched since and, these days, the traditional architecture is a stark contrast to Athens’ big, modern buildings. Think narrow cobbled lanes and sugar-cube houses wrapped in bougainvillea. Take some time to soak up the tranquillity, and enjoy a slice of island life in the middle of the city.
Protestant Cemetery – Rome, Italy
If you need a respite from Rome’s busy piazzas and crowded tourist attractions, make a beeline for the city’s Protestant Cemetery (also known as the Non-Catholic Cemetery). This peaceful oasis of green is the perfect spot to while away a few hours. As you wander among the sweet-smelling pomegranate trees and strawberry bushes, you might spot the graves of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Animal lovers should also seek out the cemetery’s ancient Pyramid of Cestius, which doubles as a cat sanctuary. Time your visit between 2pm-4pm to coincide with feeding time.
Szechenyi Thermal Baths – Budapest, Hungary
Tired legs from too much sightseeing? There’s no better cure than a visit to the Széchenyi thermal baths. This giant spa complex is set inside a grand palace, and its 18 pools are fed by natural hot springs. As you submerge yourself in the warm waters, you’ll feel any aches and stresses melt away.
Spend a bit of time unwinding in the indoor pools, then head outside to relax in the huge outdoor pools (they’re especially satisfying in the winter). If you want to up the pampering even further, book in for an aromatherapy massage or facial – you’ll leave feeling brand new.
Which of these charming oases would you visit first? If you’re ready to escape, start planning your next holiday at momondo.com.