Forget New Year’s resolutions, detox retreats and fleeting change-your-life plans. The credit crunch may mean things are getting tight, but cheap flights to Europe’s most hedonistic cities are more affordable than ever.
Defy the recession and live a little – it doesn’t have to come at a price! So here are my favourite places to have a drink and let your hair down in Europe’s hippest
Opulent yet edgy, a leader in modern interior design yet famous for its gothic architecture, Barcelona presents a series of contrasts. The key is to go with the flow and soak up the pervasive bohemian vibe.
Foodies and oenophiles, head to CATA 181 (181 Valencia) for a fantastic degustación menu and a mind-boggling wine list. Laid-back watering holes abound in the Barrio Gotico – my favourite is MILK (21 Gignas), which also does an excellent hangover brunch.
In the northern Eixample district you’ll find more-sophisticated nightspots, like OMM SENSATION (265 Rosselló), pictured right, and MUR MURI (104 Rambla de Catalunya). Shoppers head to the chic Passeig de Gràcia, or the cobbled streets of the Barrio Gòtico for edgier wares.
It’s not hard to find hedonism in Berlin. Here the maxim “anything goes” from the 1920s days of cabaret still rings true today. Driven by an unconventional and uncompromising spirit, East Berlin’s fashion, bar and club scene continues to thrive.
Start a night out with drinks and dinner at waterside warehouse SPINDLER & KLATT (16–17 Köpenickerstrasse), pictured above, where a fusion of great music, languid seating and industrial design sets the tone for a decadent evening. When the scene palls head over to nearby club WATERGATE (49 Falckensteinstrasse).
Cocktails can be found aplenty in both East and West, so try GREEN DOOR (50 Winterfeldstrasse) and GAINSBOURG (5 Savignyplatz) in Charlottenburg, then join a younger, more style-conscious crowd at Mitte hangouts FLUIDO (6 Christburger Strasse) and GREENWICH BAR (5 Gipstrasse).
For the more extreme, undress to impress at the notorious KITKATCLUB (76 Kopenickerstrasse), where every fetish is catered for.
Glacially cool in every sense, Stockholm has become one of Europe’s most popular party destinations, as a thriving bar and restaurant scene has grown alongside a surge of Swedish designers leading the way in fashion and interiors.
Winter is a lovely time to visit, so have a go at ice skating, before warming up in cosy eateries like DEN GYLDENE FREDEN (51 Osterlanggatan) with traditional Swedish fare and hearty red wine. The short days give you plenty of time to pay full attention to the stylish nightlife.
Bar/restaurant combos are particularly popular, and guaranteed to deliver a potent mix of great cocktails, food, design and people watching are GRODAN (16 Grev Turegatan), INFERNO (85 Drottninggatan) and LOKAL (8 Scheelegatan).
Afterwards, join the wall-to wall beauties at CAFÉ OPERA (Operahuset), pictured left, or hop aboard boat-club PATRICIA (Stadsgardskajen) for some good, uncomplicated fun.
One of the most majestic and mysterious cities in Europe, Prague is perfect for a weekend break.
After exploring the stunning architecture and medieval streets of the Staré Mesto (old town), indulge in some sightseeing over lunch at HERGETOVA CIHELNA (2b Cihelna), a bar/ restaurant with stunning views of the Charles Bridge and the old town; sip a cocktail or two at kicking KU CAFÉ (13 Rytirska); or just hang with the locals at ULTRAMARIN (32 Ostrovni).
Dine at the reassuringly Czech U MODRE KACHNICKY II (16 Michalska), before exploring the cosy cellars and glossy cocktail bars in the “Triangle of Sin” (area north of Old Town Square). Round off the evening at cutting-edge clubs like RADOST FX (120 Belehradska), the grande dame of the Prague club scene, and LE CLAN (23 Balbinova) if you’re still feeling lively at 5am.
Marrakesh might not be first on your list of party cities, but think again. The newer wave of restaurants and clubs have brought cutting-edge cool to North Africa’s most stylish city.
Immerse yourself in Marrakchi life with a drink at CAFÉ FRANCE in the swirling, chaotic Djemaa el-Fna, before heading off to dinner at bar-cum-restaurant LE COMPTOIR (Avenue Rechouada) – Moroccan food with a side order of belly dancing.
A good drink can be elusive in the Medina, but KOZYBAR (47 Place des Ferblantiers) serves swish cocktails on its rooftop lounge. Club-wise, the best venues are out of town – NIKKI BEACH (Circuit de la Palmeraie), pictured above, is a South Beach-esque mecca with poolside day beds and day-long DJs, while PACHA (Boulevard Mohammed VI) delivers big-name DJs in a stylish restaurant/club complex and is the only real option for serious clubbers.
Rome’s wonderful architectural and cultural mix reflects some 2,800 years of history. Sitting amid the heritage are some fantastic restaurants, such as ultra-minimalist TRATTORIA (25 Via Pozzo delle Cornacchie) and superlative pizza restaurant DA BAFFETTO (114 Via del Governo Vecchio).
Head to cocktail hotspots like shabby-chic FRENI E FRIZIONI (4–6 Via del Politeama) or sexy rooftop bars like the Aleph Hotel’s 7TH HEAVEN BAR (15 Via San Basilio). Clubbing in Rome is a diverse experience, from the chic and glamorous LA MAISON (4 Vicolo dei Granari) to commercial clubs in Monte di Testaccio and the counter-cultural chaos of BRANCALEONE (11 Via Levanna).
Milan is Italy’s fashion and party capital, and you’ll find both in abundance. Splash out on world-class shopping in the QUADRILATERO D’ORO, four streets that house every designer store you could ever want.
To rest tired feet, luxuriate in fashion-designer spas at DOLCE & GABBANA and BULGARI, before joining the locals for aperitivo. Every bar offers some sort of snack, but try DIANA GARDEN, pictured below, at the Sheraton (42 Viale Piave) for people watching par excellence, or BAR BASSO (39 Via Plinio) for its lethal Negroni cocktails.
For dinner, choose between fashion restaurants (CHATULLE is always popular) and friendly family trattoria, then dance off the pasta in Milan’s high-energy clubs.
If partying with models and footballers is your bag, HOLLYWOOD (15 Corso Como) and TOCQUEVILLE 13 (13 Via de Tocqueville) are a must. Also check out the risqué kitsch on offer at edgily alternative PLASTIC (120 Viale Umbria).
Madrid, Europe’s ultimate pleasure playground, has a level of vibrancy and energy unparalleled in other cities. The first thing to know is that Madrilenos never sleep.
So write off your mornings – nothing much opens before noon anyway – and immerse yourself in the night. Eat at 10pm, drink from midnight and start clubbing after 2am! Eat at actor Javier Bardem’s sister’s joint LA BARDEMCILLA (47 Augusto Figueroa), then follow the eye-wateringly attractive crowds around poly-sexual Chueca for the hippest bars.
DEL DIEGO or SUSAN BAR (C/ Reina) are great places to start, or chill in splendour at EL JARDINO SEGRETO (C/ Conde Duque). Clubs range from MONDO (7 C/Arlabán) and PACHA (11 C/ Barceló), pictured above, where big-name DJs play crowd-pleasing house, to underground DEMODE (7 C/ Ballesta).
When those summer nights finally come again, celeb-filled outdoor ANANDA (Estación de Atocha, Avenida Ciudad de Barcelona) is the place to be.