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HomeWorldEurope's Best City breaks with Rural Escapes, Revealed in New Study

Europe’s Best City breaks with Rural Escapes, Revealed in New Study

According to Skyscanner, the majority of Americans are opting to prioritize holidays that allow them to unwind and connect with nature this year1. In light of this, Icelandair has conducted a study to uncover the best rural retreats just outside of the most popular European cities: London, Reykjavík, Rome, Dublin, and Barcelona.

In-house experts have created an index to analyze seven rural locations outside each city based on factors such as beauty, average restaurant ratings, and the number of outdoor activities. The index has awarded each location a score out of 35, revealing the ultimate country escape to enjoy while on a city break. 

To help you get a feel for each of these major cities, Icelandair has put together a selection of destination-specific Spotify playlists to listen to while on your journey to get you excited for your trip! 


(Scan the QR code on the Spotify app to listen to the sounds of London.) 

Oxford ranks as the best rural retreat just outside of London with an index score of 25 out of 35, making it an excellent choice for those looking for a bit of everything. Scoring high for beauty (4.8 million Instagram hashtags), dining options (4.3 average restaurant rating), and outdoor activities (136), this university town offers plenty to explore. Being only a 52-minute commute from London, Oxford is ideal for a short break from the city.

Cambridge follows in second place with a score of 24 out of 35. From the impressive campus of Cambridge University to the serene River Cam, there’s plenty to see! With 241 outdoor activities, including 138 hiking routes, you can also enjoy lots of time in the great outdoors.

Lewes takes third place with a score of 22 out of 35. Travel expert Tom Bourlet suggests finishing your day by “stopping off at a country pub, sitting down by a fireplace (unless it’s summertime, at which point you can enjoy the beer garden), and having a Sunday roast, a truly British tradition. 


(Scan the Spotify QR code on the app to listen to the sounds of Reykjavik.) 

Vik, with a score of 25 out of 35, is the best rural retreat just outside of Iceland’s capital. Boasting 351,042 Instagram hashtags, the seafront village has the highest activity and beauty score, and it’s not hard to see why.

Iceland-based writer Carolyn Bain recommends “checking out the stunning view over the town, black beach, and Reynisdrangar rock formations from the hilltop church area. And at the black beach itself, look for puffins overhead in summer." 

Hveragerði and Geysir are joint second, scoring 22 out of 35. Both geothermal areas are renowned for their beauty and have high average restaurant ratings of 4.4 and 4.3, respectively. The pair are followed by Snæfellsnes in third place with an index score of 21 out of 35. 


(Scan the QR code on the Spotify app to listen to the sounds of Rome.) 

The top rural retreat, Tivoli, has an index score of 27 out of 35. It is the most accessible countryside destination from Rome, being under a 50-minute drive from the capital. It claims the highest score for beauty on this index (1.3 million Instagram hashtags), thanks to its pretty old town and UNESCO-listed sites like Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este. 

Grottaferrata ranks second (24 out of 35). An elegant little town just 12 miles from the centre of Rome. It is the most public transport-friendly place on the list and has the highest number of outdoor activities, with just under 50 hiking routes to choose from. 

Bracciano ranks third with a score of 22 out of 35. Travel expert Kirstie McConnell says the best way to enjoy Italy is to “do as the Italians do. Embrace cornetto (pastry) for breakfast, dress for the weather, and always have a glass of local wine.” As the area with the second-highest restaurant ratings on our list (4.5), Bracciano is a perfect spot to eat and drink like a local


(Scan the QR code on the Spotify app to listen to the sounds of Dublin.)

Malahide is the best countryside escape just outside of Dublin, with an index score of 27 out of 35. Will Hatton, CEO and Founder of The Broke Backpacker, shares why he loves this beautiful coastal spot: “Malahide offers the perfect balance of the historic charm of the Malahide Castle, the relaxed atmosphere of the beach, and the relaxing walks through the Malahide Demesne. [It’s] the perfect getaway from the bustling streets of Dublin.”

Howth comes in second place with a score of 24 out of 35. With a high beauty score (438,383 Instagram hashtags) and a good average restaurant rating of 4.31, there’s plenty to see and do here for a whole day. But if you’re short on time, Howth is also a great afternoon getaway since it’s only 11 miles from Dublin.

Wicklow and Skerries come in joint third place with an index score of 20 out of 35. 


(Scan the QR code on the Spotify app to listen to the sounds of Barcelona.) 

Set against the Parc Natural del Garraf, Sitges ranks as the best rural escape near Barcelona with an average index score of 31 out of 35.  With top scores for beauty (1.6 million Instagram hashtags) and restaurant ratings (4.4), this vibrant town has plenty going on and is only a 35-minute commute from central Barcelona.

Tossa de Mar takes the second spot with an index score of 20 out of 35. Travel expert Michael Sawyer tells us why this is one of his favourite regions in Spain: “There is nothing quite like it, from the breathtaking scenery to the sights, sounds, and even the smell. There is something truly magical about the Catalonian countryside.”

Montseny and Montserrat come in joint third place with an index score of 19 out of 35. 


Using online travel resources, Icelandair compiled a list of seven rural and suburban destinations accessible from five major European cities: London, Dublin, Rome, Barcelona, and Reykjavík.

For each location, internal experts assessed its beauty score by analyzing the number of Instagram hashtags for relevant keywords, assigning higher points to places with more hashtags.

Travel accessibility was determined by extracting data from Google Maps, considering the time (in minutes) required to travel from each major city to the rural location by both car and public transport. A consistent starting time of 11:30 am was maintained for each journey to avoid rush-hour bias. Locations with the shortest travel time received the highest accessibility scores.

Additionally, Google Maps was utilized for the restaurant score, filtering for restaurants in each area and collecting the Google rating out of 5 for the first 10 results. The average rating for each area was calculated, and locations with the highest average restaurant reviews were awarded the top scores.

Links to all referenced playlists:

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Disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for general education and informational purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose. It is not intended to be and does not constitute financial, legal, tax or any other advice specific to you the user or anyone else. TurtleVerse does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information and shall not be held responsible for any action taken based on the published information.



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