Q. We would like to go on a city break at Easter, but can't decide where to go. We've been to Paris, Barcelona, Prague, Rome and Venice and want to go somewhere different this time. There will be three of us – including our eight-month-old daughter – so we don't want to travel too far. We'd like to go somewhere with beautiful architecture, good shopping, a nice hotel and good places to eat. Any suggestions? D Simons, via email
A. Early spring is an ideal time to experience the rich history and culture of Europe's cities, without having to fight your way through the tourist crowds of the summer months, or traipse around in sweltering heat with an infant. The EU alone comprises 27 countries, with a handful more in Eastern Europe, most of which are within easy reach of the UK.
The Danish capital Copenhagen is only two hours' flight from London and is emerging from the long, dark winter with plenty to attract visitors. Often regarded as the cultural capital of Scandinavia, the city saw the reopening of its striking and enlarged Arken museum of modern art (00 45 43 54 02 22; www. arken.dk) in the suburb of Ishoj last month. The inaugural exhibition is of works by the Skagen painters, and there is a room of Damien Hirst's work. It is open Tuesday-Friday 10am-5pm and until 9pm Wednesday, closed Monday; admission is Dkr85 (£8.60) , free for under-17s. The museum is bordered by a sandy beach and a pretty harbour, ideal for a stroll.
Copenhagen has an abundance of fine architecture, from medieval to modern. Be sure to visit Rosenborg Castle (00 45 3315 3286; www. rosenborgslot.dk), a fairy-tale, turreted Dutch Renaissance edifice constructed in the early 17th-century as a royal residence. Today it houses the crown jewels and a collection of royal armour. It opens Tuesday-Sunday 11am-4pm, closed Mondays; admission Dkr50 (£5). For a more contemporary perspective, the stunning Opera House (00 45 33 69 6969; www.operaen.dk) and the Royal Library, or Black Diamond (00 45 33 47 47 47; www.kb.dk/en) are good examples of Danish design.
The city's centre also benefits from a watery location, adding a scenic dimension that makes wandering along the canals and medieval streets a pleasure. The harbour in particular is undergoing regeneration, bringing a brand new Royal Theatre (opened this month) to its shores. Chic shops and restaurants are also popping up in restored warehouses and historic buildings. Cutting-edge fashion can be found on Kronprinsensgade, antique books on Fiolstraede, and art on Bredgade.
As befits a city with design and culture at its heart, there are plenty of hip places to stay in the centre of town. For the ultimate stress-free trip, try the luxurious and family-friendly Front Hotel (00 45 33 13 3400; www.front.dk), where double rooms with a crib cost Dkr1,620 (£164) per night over Easter, including breakfast. Alternatively, Hotel Twentyseven (00 45 70 27 5627; www.hotel27.dk) offers doubles with a cot from Dkr1,095 (£111), including breakfast.
There is a healthy mix of good local and international eateries in the city, including 10 Michelin-starred restaurants. The two-starred Noma (00 45 32 96 3297; www.noma. dk) in Christianshavn showcases the best of Nordic cuisine (it was voted 15th best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine). For more traditional fare , try Kong Hans Kaelder (00 45 3311 6868; www.konghans.dk) on Vingaardsstraede, in the cellar of the oldest building in Copenhagen, once home to Hans Christian Andersen.
For more information, contact the tourist board (00 45 33 25 74 00; www.visitcopenhagen.com).
If you fancy a more animated Easter break, you might consider Madrid, which celebrates Semana Santa in style, with religious processions and decorations. Peace and beauty can be found in the city's museums, such as the Prado (00 34 330 28 00; www. museodelprado.es; open Tues-Sun 9am-8pm; €6/£4.60), with its masterpieces by painters such as Velazquez, El Greco and Goya; and the Centro d'Arte Reina Sofia (00 34 774 10 100; www. museoreinasofia.es; daily 10am-9pm, to 2.30pm Sunday; €6/£4.60), where Picasso's Guernica is proudly displayed.
In the centre of Madrid there are some excellent shops, from the Spanish Zara and Mango (Gran Via), to designer names; the latter are found on Calle Serrano in the upmarket Salamanca district.
There are gracious squares aplenty, from the 1619 Plaza Mayor, which has witnessed canonisations, the Inquisition and bullfights, to the Plaza de Oriente, an 18th-century imperial landmark, now King Juan Carlos's official address.
A short walk from the royal palace is Hotel Meninas (00 34 91 541 28 05; www.hotel meninas.es), in a 19th-century building. The bright, contemporary rooms cost from €170 (£131), including breakfast, over Easter (cots are free). If you want to explore the city's late-night tapas scene, consider a hotel that offers babysitting, such as the central AC Santo Mauro (00 34 913 196 900; www.ac-hotels.com), near the Plaza Alonso Martinez. The former residence of the Duke of Santo Mauro, it has rooms from €279 (£215), including breakfast; babysitting costs €27 (£21) per hour.
More information can be obtained from the tourist office (00 34 902 100 007; www.turismomadrid.es).
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