Heart Hands Valentine's

19 Jan Forget Paris: the alternative Valentine’s Day guide

Forget Paris! Venice? Too predictable. If you’re thinking of heading off with your beloved this Valentine’s Day, we’ve come up with some alternative romantic destinations. You’ll LOVE them!


The River Danube divides the Hungarian capital into the hilly Buda district to the west and the flatter Pest in the east. The city is connected by the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and boasts plenty of romantic cityscapes, ideal for getting down on one knee and popping the big question: “Will we change our Facebook status to ‘In a relationship’?”

What to do:

Budapest is a very easy city to explore by foot. Start your day buying snacks or trinkets in Great Market Hall at the Pest end of Szabadság Bridge and then hop on a sightseeing bus to help you get your bearings. Some hop-on-hop-off bus tours even include a river cruise. Disembark at Margaret Island, a verdant parkland in the city, hire bikes or golf carts pimped to look like mini Rolls Royces and explore. You can even enjoy a thermal spa experience in the park itself! In the evening, throw on your ballgown or tux and enjoy a night at the Hungarian State Opera, which is housed in an impressive neo-Renaissance building.

Getting there:

There are direct flights from Dublin but you will have stopovers if flying from Cork and Shannon.


Located in eastern France, Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has plenty to offer lovebirds looking to make memories. More importantly, the city will provide you with stunning backdrops with which to update your social media.

What to do:

Pay a visit to the magnificent Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière and you will be rewarded with stunning views from its vantage point over the city. Whilst there, you can dine at the Restaurant de Fourvière and survey all below from the giant panoramic bay windows. Go for romantic strolls around Place Bellecour, a large pedestrianised square in the Ainay district which has great shopping streets. What’s more romantic than a trip to Zara? Answer: nothing.

Getting there:

Aer Lingus, Ryanair, KLM and Lufthansa fly direct from Dublin. Flights also operate from Cork, Kerry, Shannon, Donegal and Knock but with stopovers.


Think canals, think Venice – but did you know that Hamburg has more canals than Venice and Amsterdam combined? I bet you did not. Regardless, Hamburg is a beautiful city with plenty of green spaces, diverse architecture and shopping.

What to do:

Pretend to be a giant at Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model train exhibit, with 10 miles of track and over 260,000 figurines. Located in the Speicherstadt area of the city, a few hours will pass easily as you take in tiny replicas of Hamburg, the Alps, America and Scandinavia. If you’re visiting on a weekend, the Flohschanze market in the Sternschanze neighbourhood – Hamburg’s old meatpacking district – is a 30-minute walk away. Running from 8am to 4pm, there are hundreds of stalls for you to browse. Finish off your visit with a river tour of the Elbe leaving from Landungsbrücken, and take in one of the world’s busiest ports.

Getting there:

Fly direct to Hamburg from Dublin and from Cork and Shannon with stopovers.


Located in Northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna Region, Bologna is Europe’s oldest university town. The city famously gave the world Bolognese sauce, traditionally served with tagliatelle and lasagne. There is much to see and do in this beautiful city, which is perfect for lovers and food lovers.

What to do:

If you want to experience the best in Italian food and drink, a visit to food theme park FICO Eately World, has to be on your list. Set over two hectares of fields with over 40 restaurants, farming factories and up to 30 events and 50 classes per day, you’ll feel like an expert the next time you order a meat feast pizza on a Friday night from your local takeaway. A couple of hours exploring the grid of streets known as the Quadrilatero, packed with cafés and delis, is also recommended. Finally, if you’ve got a head for heights, climb to the top of one of the city’s two leaning towers, Torre degli Asinelli.

Getting there:

Direct flights operate from Dublin. Flights leaving from Cork, Knock or Shannon will have one or more stops.


Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and the national concept of hygge, roughly translated as “cosy, charming or special” – perfect for a romantic weekend with your loved one. You won’t be able to cope(nhagen) with all it has to offer.

What to do:

After dark, head to Tivoli, a giant amusement park in the city where a winter theme continues until the end of February. Complete with snow, thousands of twinkling lights, rides, cafés and restaurants, your Valentine’s visit is guaranteed to feel festive. For a more alternative experience, head to Freetown Christiana, a car-free neighbourhood established in 1971 by a group of hippies. Browse galleries, organic restaurants and homemade houses and soak up the atmosphere. Finally, a trip to Copenhagen wouldn’t be complete without visiting the bronze statue of The Little Mermaid by the waterside at Langelinie promenade. Fun fact to casually drop into conversation and impress your lover: the statue was originally gifted to the city by brewer Carl Jacobsen of the Carlsberg breweries and is therefore probably the best bronze statue of a mermaid in the world. You can steal that joke too while you’re at it.

Getting there:

Fly direct from Dublin and with one or more stopovers from Cork and Shannon.


All photos: public domain.

Esther O'Moore Donohoe