All aboard the new European express

As 10 neighbours join the EU on Saturday, Mark Stratton gives the lowdown on their capital cities


1 Nicosia, Cyprus

1 Nicosia, Cyprus

Why go?

Two cultures for the price of one in what will soon be the EU's most divided city. You can leave behind the Orthodox churches of Greek-Cypriot Nicosia, cross the militarised green line partitioning the city, and then explore the Turkish zone's mosques and hammams.

Don't miss

Within Greek Nicosia, the Cyprus Museum is filled to the gunnels with exhibits from 8,000 years of colourful Cypriot history. Not to be missed in the Turkish zone are some fine examples of restored Ottoman architecture, such as Buyuk Han, a 16th-century caravanserai, and Dervish Pahsa, a sumptuously furnished mansion dating from 1807. Take a Turkish bath and massage at the Buyuk Hammam.

Eat locally

Pop over for a lunchtime kebab and strong Turkish coffee in the northern zone before returning to your hotel in the evening for a fish meze and chilled Keo beer.

How to get there

The only way to see both halves of Nicosia is to fly into and stay in Greek Nicosia from where you can cross the green line to visit the Turkish sector for the day. This cannot currently be done vice versa. Sunvil Cyprus (020 8568 4499; www.sunvil.co.uk/cyprus) offers three-night breaks to Nicosia from £482 per person. Price includes b&b at the three-star Castelli Hotel, BA flights from London to Larnaca, and taxi transfers.

Further information

Contact the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (020-7569 8800; www.visitcyprus.org.cy) for information on Greek Nicosia, and North Cyprus Tourism Centre (020-7631 1930; www.go-northcyprus.com) for information on Turkish Nicosia.

2 Prague, Czech Republic

Why go?

Whether you wander wide-eyed amid the city's bewildering architectural medley of Gothic spires, Renaissance bridges, and baroque churches, browse the numerous art galleries and museums, sip coffee in buzzing squares, or seek Czech pilsners in its much vaunted beer cellars, Prague is firmly established in the premier league of weekend break destinations.

Don't miss

A trip during the Prague Spring, so to speak, thus avoiding the fierce onslaught of summer's tourist hordes. You will want to take in Hradcany's hilltop castle complex, pausing to admire St Vitus Cathedral's daunting gothic basilica, before crossing Prague's iconic 14th-century bridge, Karluv Most, finally to lose yourself in the city's stunning stare mesto (old) quarter.

Eat locally

Try specialities such as knedliky, Bohemian dumplings, or venison steak at Restaurant U Vladare (Maltezske namesti 10) before going to one of Prague's oldest microbreweries at Kremencova 11 for a pint of its speciality, U Fleku - a sweet black ale.

How to get there

Osprey Holidays (0870-560 5605; www.ospreyholidays.com) has three-night breaks from £339 per person including b&b at the centrally located three-star Hotel Moran, and BA flights from London.

Further information

Visit www.czechtourism.com or call 09063 640641 for recorded information (charged 60p per minute). Take Prague (Thomas Cook, £8.99).

3 Tallinn, Estonia

Why go?

A short hop from Finland, located on the Baltic's breezy shoreline, Tallinn offers a slice of Scandinavia at a fraction of the cost. Its medieval-walled old town's assemblage of cobbled streets and chocolate-box townhouses has been revitalized since emerging from Soviet subjugation.

Don't miss

St Olav's: its 120m-high main tower makes it Europe's tallest medieval church. The ornate cupola of the Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral remains an overt symbol of Russian Tsarist rule. The city's maritime past can be explored in quirky museums: one aboard a 1930s submarine (The Lembit) built in Barrow-in-Furness, the other, on Suur Toll, a steam-powered icebreaker.

Eat locally

Typical Estonian cuisine features such solid fare as pork and potatoes. Restaurant Maiasmokk (Pikk 16), however, excels in offering obscure Estonian delicacies such as fried blood bread with lingonberry-apple salad.

How to get there

Regent Holidays (0117-921 1711; www.regent-holidays.co.uk) offers three-night breaks to Tallinn from £439 per person staying at the five-star Hotel Park Consul Schlossle. Price includes b&b and return flights from Gatwick on Estonian Air.

Further information:

See www.visitestonia.com; read Tallinn (Bradt, £6.99).

4 Budapest, Hungary

Why go?

Budapest's romantic setting either side of the Danube may be its initial allure, but the essence of week-ending there is to relax in its café culture and the invigorating spa scene.

Don't miss

After an energetic morning exploring Buda's historic castle district, drinking in the sweeping views across the Danube towards Pest, ease into the warm, medicinal waters of Szechenyi's classical outdoors bath complex to watch the locals play chess amid sulphurous steam. Don't miss an exhibition of Giacometti at the Museum of Fine Arts (runs until 15 June).

Eat locally

For more than a century Café Gerbeaud (Vorosmarty 7) and Café Ruszwurm (Szentharomsag 7) have been flying the flag for Budapest's Viennese coffee-house tradition. Try the sweet tortas and strudels or savoury pastries (beiglis) amid antique furnishings.

How to get there

Three-nights' b&b at Budapest's most famous spa-centre, the art deco Hotel Gellert, is offered by Kirker Holidays (020-7231 3333; www.kirkerholidays.com) from £537 per person. The price includes return flights from London, transfers, and free use of Gellert's spa facilities.

Further information

Hungarian National Tourist Office at 020-7823 1032; www.hungarytourism.hu). Take Budapest (Insight Pocket Guide, £6.99).

5 Riga, Latvia

Why go?

From a World Heritage-listed medieval old town to an exuberant art nouveau district, Riga's eclectic hotchpotch of cultural influences sits comfortably together in the Baltic's most cosmopolitan capital.

Don't miss

Riga's striking Art Nouveau (or jugendstil) quarter, centred on Alberta Street, is a must. A riot of nymphs and gargoyles and exotic friezes leap out from every almost façade. Try to catch a choral performance or concert at the Dome Cathedral - known worldwide for the thunderous acoustics created by its 19th-century organ, which has more than 6,000 pipes.

Eat locally

A popular phenomenon among Riga's diners is Lido restaurant chain. Hardly haute cuisine, Latvian favourites such as sour cream soup and piragi (bacon buns) are dished up in family-friendly log cabins the size of warehouses. Try Lido Atputas (krasta 76).

How to get there

Baltic Holidays (0870-757 9233; www.balticholidays.com) offers three-night b&b breaks from £353 per person. Guests stay within the old town at the four-star Schossle Grand Palace. Flights on Air Baltic from Heathrow included.

Further information

Contact the Latvian Tourism Bureau in London (020-7229 8271; www.latviatourism.lv).

6 Vilnius, Lithuania

Why go?

Explore the picturesque lanes of one of the finest baroque cities in the world. The architecture of Senamiestis, Vilnius's Unesco-listed fairytale quarter of castles, medieval courtyards and parks, is more reminiscent of southern Europe than the Baltics.

Don't miss

Vilnius's 17th-century baroque masterpiece - the church of St Paul and St Peter - was constructed by Italian architects from Como who lavished its interior with more than 2,000 human figures. Don't miss the Museum of Applied Art's glittering treasury of Christian artefacts.

Eat locally

Try the national dish cepelinai: meat, onion, and potato-stuffed dumplings smothered with sour cream at Zemaiciu Smukle (Vokieciu 24).

How to get there

Baltic Holidays (0870-7575 9233; www.balticholidays.com) offers three-night breaks to Vilnius from £335 per person, including b&b at the four-star Hotel Conti and return flights to Vilnius by Lithuanian Airlines departing Gatwick.

Further information

Visit www.tourism.lt, or pick up Baltic Capitals (Bradt, £11.95) which also features Riga and Tallinn.

7 Valletta, Malta

Why go?

Weather-wise, Valletta (soon the EU's smallest capital) is a year-round weekend-break destination. Often bypassed by those en route to the beach, it offers a little culture to go with the tan.

Don't miss

Caravaggio's masterpiece The Beheading of St John the Baptist displayed inside St John's Co-Cathedral's stunning Baroque interior. And breathtaking views across the natural harbour from the 17th-century Upper Barakka Gardens built by the Knights of St John. Valletta hosts an annual international jazz festival (16-18 July) against the backdrop of the harbour's fortified walls.

Eat locally

Amid the fish and chips and takeaways, Maltese specialities include fenek - fried rabbit in garlic - and the ubiquitous pastizzis, savoury puff pastries.

How to get there

Bridge Cities (0870-191 7287; www.bridge-travel.co.uk) has three-night breaks from £340 per person including b&b at Valletta's most luxurious hotel, Le Meridian Phoenicia, and BA flights from Gatwick.

Further information

Malta Tourist Office (020-8877 6996; www.visitmalta.com).

8 Warsaw, Poland

Why go?

Chic boutiques, cutting-edge cuisine and limitless trendy vodka bars. Since the end of communism the city has undergone a metamorphosis into one of Eastern Europe's liveliest weekend cities.

Don't miss

Warsaw's Old Town is a faithful reconstruction of the city's medieval core that was razed to the ground by the Germans, and is now a haven of cafés, restaurants and curio shops set among elegant façades topped with pantile roofs. Try a spot of shopping on Nowy Swiat, Warsaw's smartest street, with boutiques selling designer brands. Blow away the big-night-out cobwebs with a Sunday morning stroll through Lazienki Park's tree-lined palaces and pavilions.

Eat locally

The doyen of Warsaw's café society, Café Blikle (Nowy Swiat 33), has survived wars and communism to deliver coffee and fancy pastries. Restaurant Literacka (Krakowskie Przedmiescie 87) adds a contemporary twist to Polish standards such as pierogi (ravioli filled with meat or mushroom) and duck baked with apple.

How to get there

City Vacations (020-8518 1010; www.cityvacations.net) offers three nights' b&b at Warsaw's five-star Marriot Hotel with flights from £229.

Further information

Polish Tourist Office (020-7580 8811; www.visitpoland.org). Pack Warsaw (DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, £13.99).

9 Bratislava, Slovakia

Why go?

If not quite the new Prague, Bratislava is an inexpensive and less crowded alternative to its busier Czech neighbour. Actually closer to Vienna, its compact Old Town has Baroque and Gothic treasures, while dining out is scarcely likely to dent the plastic.

Don't miss

View the Danube from Bratislava's hilltop castle, and check out the "peeper", a bronze figure crawling out

of a manhole cover on Panska Street. Take a cruise along the Danube to beautiful Castle Devin, Slovakia's most important archaeological site.

Eat locally

Try the national dish halusky, boiled potato dumplings topped with feta and bacon bits, washed down with a glass of Tokai from Slovakia's own excellent appellation, at Slovenska restaurant (Hviezdoslavovo namestie 20).

How to get there

Stay on a floating hotel on the Danube as part of a three-night package offered by Regent Holidays (0117-921 1711; www.regent-holidays.co.uk) from £255 per person. Includes b&b on Botel Fairway and flights operated by Sky Europe from Stansted.

Further information

Visit www.slovakiatourism.sk.

10 Ljubljana, Slovenia

Why go?

Go now to say you have seen Ljubljana before its popularity soars with the launch of easyJet's service from Stansted this week. The charming centre of pastel-coloured churches and mansions harks back to the Habsburgs' days.

Don't miss

Updating a 19th-century bridge spanning the River Ljubljanica, Slovene architect Joze Plecnik added two further crossings in the 1930s to create the city's unique triple bridge - the Tromostovje. The 17th-century salmon-pink Franciscan church on Preseren's imposing square is the height of Habsburg elegance. Ljubljana's central market, every day bar Sunday, is a fine way to stock up on Slovene country produce.

Eat locally

Strudels and schnitzels from Austria and pasta from Italy influence Ljubljana's restaurant culture. Slovene meals such as jota, turnip and bean potage served with bread are specialities of Restaurant Zlatica Ribica (Cankarjevo nabrezje 5). Bohemian pale lagers are brewed on the premises at Kratochwill (Kolodvorska 14).

How to get there

Slovenija Pursuits (0870 2255305; www.sloveniapursuits.com) offers three-night breaks to Ljubljana from £389 including b&b at the three-star City Hotel Turist.

Further information

Visit www.slovenia-tourism.si or contact Slovenija Pursuits, the UK office for tourist information.

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