The must-do big cities

Do you really need an excuse to visit these great destinations? Danielle Demetriou gives 10 good reasons to go right now
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The Independent Travel

Art fix in Dublin

There's life beyond Dublin's enticing pubs - a blossoming artistic heritage, to be celebrated this winter. An exhibition opening next month brings together more than 100 of the most important works of modern Irish art created in the past 50 years. From Brian Bourke and Patrick Scott to Barrie Cook and Robert Ballagh, the work of the Emerald Isle's leading artists can be viewed under one roof at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (00 353 1612 9900; www.modernart.ie; free admission) from 17 November. It coincides with a retrospective of the work of Tony O'Malley, the distinguished Irish painter who died in 2003. An amble around the grounds of the museum, housed in the impressive 17th century Royal Hospital, is also recommended, with its formal garden and medieval burial ground.

Saints in Marseille

With its bustling streets and lively port bars, the southern French city of Marseille is not somewhere one would automatically associate with the creation of delicate religious figurines. But the row on row of street-stalls brimming with saintly clay figures, known as santons, is as traditionally Provençal as eating bouillabaisse or growing lavender. And nowhere does it better than Marseille. The annual market there dates back to the end of the French Revolution, making it the oldest in Provence. As well as the usual nativity scenes there are quirky additions from local folklore. The fair is launched on the last Sunday in November with a bashing of tambourines, which follows a Mass for santon-makers in the Saint Vincent des Réformés church at the top of the main street, La Canebière. The heart of the fair is the Allées de Meilhan, where the figures are sold until 31 December. Marseille Tourism (00 33 4 91 13 89 00; www.marseille-tourisme.com).

Go bo-ho in Copenhagen

Once it was famous for having more butchers per square mile than anywhere else in Europe, but it appears that Copenhagen's former red light district is having something of a fashion moment. Vesterbro, situated to the west of Central Station, is shedding the vestiges of its seedy reputation to emerge as one of the hippest places in town. Bohemian artists, designers and fashionistas are flooding to the area and creating a new generation of edgy bars, clubs and restaurants. The highlights include Øksnehallen, Halmtorvet 11 (00 45 33 86 00 40, www.oeksne hallen.dk), a former cattle market transformed into a stylish exhibition space. The area is also home to the legendary Vega nightclub and Ideal Bar, where past performers have included David Bowie and Robbie Williams, at Enghavevej 40 (00 45 33 25 70 11, www.vega.dk). Nocturnal café lounging is an art form among local residents and is centered around the restored Halmtorvet Square, a prime spot for people watching.

Hear Mozart in Viennam

Cities across the globe are preparing for an extended celebration of next year's 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, but nowhere will it be commemorated as zealously as in Austria, where 2006 has been grandly renamed Mozart Year. Those keen to bypass next year's crowds should slip over to Vienna on the eve of the celebrations for a special Mozart Advent concert, performed by the city's celebrated Philharmonic Orchestra on 8 December (00 43 1 505 65 25; www.wienerhilharmoniker.at). Within the sedate confines of the Large Hall of Musikverein, the orchestra will perform an array of popular works, from Symphony No 1 in E flat Major to arias from Titus. Spare some time for a visit to the house where the composer stayed in 1781 and wrote The Marriage of Figaro (00 431 911 90 77; www.mozarthaus.at). Here, in the atmospheric fresco-adorned setting of the Sala Terrena, the oldest concert hall in Vienna, the Mozart Ensemble Wien performs regular concerts in the tradition of the Viennese classical period.

Eat well in Paris

When the acclaimed chef Alain Senderens decided to strip his restaurant of its three hard-earned Michelin stars this year, he surprised many in the world of haute cuisine. It was a desire to return to basics that prompted him to shun accolades in favour of a brasserie for straightforward cut-price Gallic gastronomy. And so the prestigious Lucas Carton restaurant on the Place de la Madeleine was reincarnated in September as Senderens (00 33 1 42 65 22 90; www.lucascarton.com). Simple in name, simple in nature: while the menu in the original restaurant cost as much as €400 (£270) per person, the new venue charges around €120 (£86) for dinner with a selection of wines. Highlights include roast duck foie gras with a warm salad of black figs, powdered liquorice and almond shavings (€26). Go now, before he's awarded a new set of Michelin stars.

Alternative arts in Prague

A winter trip to the city of perfect spires and snow-dusted streets should not be confined to strolls and cut-price beer festivals. Every year, the avant garde of the artistic world gathers in Prague in November and December to take part in the Festival Alternativa, a celebration of all things experimentally artistic (00 420 222 24 09 01; www.alternativa-festival.cz). When it was established more than 10 years ago, the festival was primarily for alternative musicians. But today no area of the performing arts is excluded from the festival schedule, from song and dance to film and theatre. The Archa Theatre (00 420 221 71 63 33; www.archatheatre.cz) gets things started this year, on 25 November. A number of nightclubs join in with suitably eclectic events. An original cultural experience is guaranteed.

Up all night in Amsterdam

Visit the Dutch capital next Saturday and you will see another side to Amsterdam - one far removed from the usual round of bars and restaurants. Around 40 museums will be extending their opening hours into the small hours for the fourth annual Museum Night (00 31 2020 18800; www.n8.nl). Those participating will be open between 7pm and 2am and will be instantly recognisable in the street, as each one will be spotlit by colourful shafts of light. An eclectic selection of institutions across the artistic spectrum will be opening for the event, from the traditional Van Gogh Museum ( www.vangogh museum.nl) to FOAM, ( www.foam.nl), the modern photography museum, where visitors will be able to view permanent collections and take part in special events, from dancing to debating. Passes cost €17.50 (£12.50), and are available from venues across the city, as well as from tourist offices.

Spa time in Monaco

A pleasurable winter sojourn in the small and glitzy principality of Monaco need not be limited to a flutter at the Place du Casino or an afternoon spectating at the Grand Prix.

The first new resort to be built in Monaco in 75 years has opened amid much regal pomp and ceremony this month. And best of all, it has a state of the art spa.

The Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort reflects old-school glamour on a large scale. Aiming to evoke the style and atmosphere of the 1920s on the French Riviera, this neo-classical hotel brims with pale marble, exotic woods, colonnades and lush waterfall-filled gardens. And with its 312 rooms, 22 suites, four restaurants, casino and solarium, it is the antithesis of the minimalist boutique hotel. But the real highlight is the Spa Cinq Mondes, which opens this month with nine treatment rooms, three spa suites and a Turkish bath. Its signature treatment is the Rituel Royal Lulur, comprising an Oriental hammam followed by a papaya body rub and a Balinese massage.

While double rooms start at €300 (£214), there is currently an introductory rate of €149 (£103). The Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort, 40 Avenue Princesse Grace (00 377 98 06 25 25; www.montecarlobay.com).

Horse around in Stockholm

Europe's biggest indoor equestrian event kicks off next month: the Stockholm International Horse Show (00 46 77 131 00 00; www.stockholmhorse show.com) is a highlight of the horse-lover's calendar, comprising three days of high quality equestrian events. Featuring everything from dressage to jumping, the event attracts around 77,000 people every year, ranging from top players of the professional horse world to hordes of tourists - as well as at least one member of the Swedish royal family. The event offers both entertainment and serious competition in equal measure.

The opening night on 25 November is an equestrian spectacle, with highlights including a pony-jumping warm-up for the Prince Carl Philip Prize, a steeplechase with Shetland ponies and an Icelandic horse show. The event also stages the World Cup in dressage and international show jumping.

Make waves in Reykjavik

Reykjavik currently enjoys a reputation as one of Europe's hippest weekend destinations. But take some time out from partying to visit Vikin, the new Reykjavik Maritime Museum, which has opened at Grandagardur 8 (00 354 517 9400; www.sjominjasafn.is).

The museum celebrates the seafaring heritage of Iceland, and its opening coincides with the launching of the first fishing trawler, Coot, 100 years ago. Since then, the country's fortunes have been bound up with the sea. The museum tells the story of trawlers in Iceland, charting their successes, failures and, most importantly, their impact on society, culture and the economy. The influence of all things maritime on the nation is not taken lightly - as reflected in a new festive edition stamp. The museum, which is open on Saturdays and Sundays during the winter months, is housed in a former fish factory next door to the fishermen's café, Kaffivagninn, at the old Reyjkavik Harbour. Admission costs 500 Kronur (£4.70).

The best hotel opening

Barcelona is reinventing itself as designer hotel capital of Europe. The Grand Hotel Central, which opens next month, is housed in a 1926 building in the El Born district, minutes from Las Ramblas. Its rooms are defined by stark urban lines and sleek contemporary furniture, while the roof-top swimming pool has views over the Gothic quarter. A double costs €184 (£124), rising to €220 next year. Grand Hotel Central (00 34 93295 7900; grandhotelcentral.com)

The best foodie festival

Chocolate-lovers dying to break their GI diets should head to Bologna in November. It is in this picturesque Italian city that the Willy Wonkas of the chocolate world are planning to gather en masse for the annual Cioccoshow festival (00 39 051 282871; www.cioccoshow.it). The morning of 17 November heralds the start of four days of cocoa-induced madness attended by the finest chocolate makers in the country, all keen to showcase their craftsmanship. Most events are free.

The best design great

The legacy of the architect Victor Horta is visible all over Brussels, but now Belgium is marking its 175th birthday by charting the city's wider role in the art nouveau movement. The exhibition, at the Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, houses more than 250 exhibits dated between 1830 and 1950, and features not just Horta but a raft of fellow Belgian pioneers, including Van de Velde, Serrurier-Bovy and Wolfers. Admission costs €9 (£6) until 31 December (00 322 741 72 11; www.kmkg-mrah.be).

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