City breaks have never been more popular, especially as the credit crunch takes a chunk out of consumer pockets. With many Brits choosing to swap their long summer holiday for a couple of well-planned short breaks, here are our tips for a top city break in Europe this year.
One of eastern Europe’s rising stars, Krakow in Poland is at the heart of the country’s artistic and cultural life. This beautiful city is Poland’s second largest and has a population of around 800,000 people. Visitors will appreciate the Old Town with its historic Main Market Square; the wealth of museums including the impressive Czartoryski Museum; and the Wawel Hill with the ancient castle and cathedral.
Many travellers will want to visit Auschwitz, the former Nazi concentration camp located 60 km out of the city. A regular bus service runs from Krakow bus station.
The local cuisine largely involves meat, dumplings and cabbage and the large student population means lots of cheap Polish beer, vodka and cheesy clubs – what’s not to like?
This compact city is located on the Wisla River, close to the Carpathian Mountains. Balice Airport can be reached from a range of UK airports with airlines such as Ryanair, easyJet and LOT.
Spain’s most independent city, Barcelona, is a classic city break destination. The cool Catalonian capital is separated from the rest of the country by culture, language and attitude and has reinvented itself over the past twenty years.
The medieval quarter, Barri Gotic; La Rambla, a lively pedestrian street filled with market stalls, bars and street theatre; and the Port Vell waterfront area draw thousands of visitors throughout the year. The Museo Picasso and the park at Montjuic are also must-sees.
The city is full of the extraordinary work of Antoni Gaudi, a Catalan architect working during the late 19th century. Some of his most famous creations include the (unfinished) Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo and Parc Guell.
Football fans will want to head to the home of FC Barcelona at Camp Nou and beach babes will love Sitges, the super cool coastal resort just half an hour from Barcelona by car or train. El Prat and Girona are Barcelona’s closest airports, with airlines including British Airways, KLM and easyJet flying from the UK.
Over the past few years Budapest has really taken off as a weekend destination for British travellers. The numerous cheap and cheerful flights now servicing the city have helped us to discover one of Eastern Europe’s most lively and cultured spots.
Budapest consists of two separate cities, Buda and Pest, positioned opposite each other on the River Danube. Buda is the cultural half, featuring most of the cafes, bars, music and coffee house intellectual scene. Pest is the commercial centre but is also home to some museums, the fantastic riverside Parliament Building and the recently restored St Stephen Cathedral.
Budapest is famous for its thermal spas and bath houses, one of the most accessible being the Gellert Baths at the beautiful art nouveau Gellert Hotel on the Buda side of the river. Castle Hill, the Royal Palace, the Labyrinth at Buda Castle and Margaret Island are all worth a visit.
Malev Hungarian Airlines, British Airways and Aer Lingus all fly to the city’s main airport, Ferihegy International.
Bruges may sound more chocolate box than cutting edge to many, but Belgium’s medieval port is an unexpectedly cool city. And at just around an hour’s drive from Calais it’s perfect for UK travellers looking to nip across the Channel for a few days.
Whether its exploring the maze of cobbled streets and canals, taking in the art galleries, museums and beautifully preserved medieval architecture, shopping on Steenstraat and Noordzandstraat or simply enjoying a Belgian beer (or ten) with mussels and chips, there’s plenty to entertain you on a relaxed short break.
The central Markt Square and bell tower, Burg Square (home to the Basilica of the Holy Blood), the Lake of Love, Groeninge Museum, the Church of Our Lady and Gruuthuse Museum should all be on the sightseeing list. Refreshingly, the city’s permanent residents are consistently friendly and helpful to tourists in spite of there being around four million every year.
The entire centre of Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is easily reached by car or via Eurostar.
The mother of all European city break destinations has to be Paris. Ignore the cliches, the French capital will charm you and you’ll want to go back again and again.
The best way to soak up the city’s unique atmosphere is to wander on foot along the River Seine and around the different ‘quartiers’ with their own special personalities. Dip in and out of bohemian cafes and boutiques in the Marais; see the Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre, Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe; peruse works of literature in the eccentric Shakespeare and Company bookshop in the Latin Quarter; devour hot crepes outside the Pompidou Centre; discover the formerly naughty Pigalle and Moulin Rouge.
There’s so much to enjoy in Paris it is impossible to list in a few sentences. But whether you’re looking for art, good food, fine wine, stunning architecture, late night clubbing, antiques or flea market finds, jazz, cinema, theatre or even romance, you’ll find it here.
Travellers from the UK can reach Paris by Eurostar or by flying to Charles De Gaulle or Beauvais airports. Air France, British Airways and EasyJet all fly to Paris.