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14 European Cities You Can See In A Weekend

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One of the best things about spending an extended period in Britain is how close so much of Europe is.

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If you’ve come from the other side of the world, it can be a revelation to realise just how many wonderful cities are close enough to visit in a weekend, without spending half your time on a plane. You’ll have the luxury to explore each destination properly, rather than dashing between them as you try to see as much of Europe as you can in a two-week holiday.

These are our top picks for a weekend break from the UK. There are some cities that aren’t as well suited to a single weekend break. In particular, London, Paris, Rome and Athens all have so much to see that if you’re only there for two days, you’re bound to leave with a sense that you’ve missed out – not just that there are things that you’d like to see if you had more time, but that you haven’t even got around all of the most famous sights. Here, we’ve selected cities that are better suited to a shorter break. The cities on this list might reward having a bit more time spent on them, but at least you can see everything that gets included on the postcards in a weekend.

1. Berlin

A chequered past that is view-able on foot.

Flight time from London: 2 hours

Germany’s capital city is relatively compact, despite being home to just under 4 million people. Its excellent public transport system means that you can zip between the major sights quickly enough to get through most of them in a weekend. It’s even manageable on foot, with a circuit round Checkpoint Charlie, the DDR Museum, the TV tower, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag (German Parliament building), Holocaust Memorial and Potsdamer Platz taking about two hours.

As you can see from that diverse list, Berlin is a patchwork of history, and the city doesn’t shy away from the darker parts of its past. But it’s also one of the most vibrant cities of modern Germany, so aside from doing the standard tourist route, it’s also a great destination for street culture and nightlife.

2. Lisbon

Custard tarts and sunshine, in the same timezone as the UK.

Flight time from London: 2 hours 40 mins

The capital city of Portugal has it all. There are beautiful historical buildings, such as the Monastery of Jerónimos and São Jorge Castle, delicious food, great museums, wonderful flea markets and sandy beaches a short journey from the city centre. Plus you can get there from the UK without even having to change time zone.

Lisbon is especially rewarding as a city that you can just wander around, taking in the atmosphere and walking off all the pastéis de nata (custard tarts – but they’re so much better than the phrase ‘custard tart’ implies) that you’ve undoubtedly eaten. And if your feet start to get sore, hop on the vintage tram 28 and travel in style.

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3. Kraków

A UNESCO World Heritage site, both above and below ground.

Flight time from London: 2 hours 30 mins

Poland’s second-largest city is generally considered more attractive than its capital, Warsaw, which suffered considerable damage in the Second World War and the worst excesses of Communist architecture. Much more of Kraków’s historic buildings have survived to the present day, including its medieval city walls; the historic centre of Kraków is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Within a weekend, you should just about have time to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a vast construction that includes an underground cathedral, Wawel Castle, which is an imposing presence overlooking the city from Wawel Hill, and the medieval Old Town more generally. Alongside trying traditional Polish food, it’s also well worth having a meal in the Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz, which is home to many of Kraków’s best cafés and restaurants.

4. Copenhagen

Colourful and picturesque, no matter the season.

Flight time from London: 2 hours

Denmark’s pretty capital city looks like a picture on a Christmas card, especially in winter, when it fills up with Christmas markets and sometimes acquires a picturesque dusting of snow. The temperature is mild year-round, hovering in the high teens in summer and just above freezing throughout winter, making it a good option for a cosy autumn or winter break.

What makes Copenhagen particularly good for a weekend trip is that it’s a compact city that’s notable bicycle-friendly, which can be a good option if you haven’t got long and want to explore in a hurry. There are palaces, a castle, beautiful gardens, churches and museums for you to visit, and the waterfront houses painted bright and cheerful colours make for an enjoyable stroll as well.

5. Amsterdam

Lively and artsy…but be careful of the canal.

Flight time from London: 1 hour 15 mins (or take the Eurostar)

If the pretty buildings and canals of Copenhagen don’t take your fancy, how about Amsterdam? The Dutch capital has a lively reputation, but it’s a very safe city, with a lot to see in the way of museums and galleries as well as its famous nightlife. Amsterdam is particularly recommended for art lovers: there’s the Van Gogh Museum, of course, but also the Rijksmuseum to see works by Vermeer and Rembrandt, among others.

Very busy in summer, Amsterdam becomes a little calmer and less touristy in winter, when visitors escape the falling snow in cosy cafés – though exploring the city by bike is less tempting when there’s a danger you might slip into a semi-frozen canal.

6. Galway

Small, but perfectly formed, and lively to boot.

Flight time from London: 1 hour 25 mins

Dublin, Ireland’s capital city, is a classic weekend destination from London and is well worth visiting. But the fact that Dublin gets all the visitors means that Ireland’s other major cities, such as Cork and Galway, get ignored.

With a population of under 100,000, Galway is a compact but lively city. Any time it’s not raining, the city is full of buskers, artists and street performers, usually with no small measure of talent, and it’s a pleasure to walk through the centre in the sunshine and see them perform. In the evening, the restaurants and bars fill up with more live music. And if you care to travel a little further afield, the beautiful landscape of the west coast of Ireland is there for you to explore.

7. Budapest

Palatial architecture spanning both sides of the river.

Flight time from London: 2 hours 30 mins

The capital city of Hungary is often recommended for a discount city break, and it’s true that it’s one of the cheapest destinations on this list. But there are many more reasons to visit than just trying to save some cash.

There’s the grandeur of the architecture, the excitement of the nightlife, and perhaps best of all, the delight of going to steaming outdoor Turkish baths and feeling cosy-warm even in the depths of winter. Though you may not have heard of it, Hungarian food has an excellent reputation as well, and for good reason. Don’t miss out on taking a river cruise down the Danube, either – it can be one of the best ways of getting to know the city.

8. Prague

Stag parties are a thing of the past.

Flight time from London: 2 hours

Prague used to be a top destination for stag and hen parties in Europe, crowding the narrow streets and making evenings in the city unpleasant. But as the city becomes wealthier and best-touristed, the stag and hen parties are moving on to cheaper locations, leaving Prague for others to enjoy.

There’s lots to explore in Prague that you won’t get to in a weekend, but roaming around the city for a couple of days is rewarding nonetheless: try walking from the Old Town Square, across the Charles Bridge, up through winding streets to Prague Castle and soaking in the atmosphere. The local trdelník pastries make for an excellent sightseeing snack.

9. Palma

Palma stays relatively warm even in winter.

Flight time from London: 2 hours 30 mins

Palma, the capital city of Mallorca, has two faces for tourists. In summer, it’s a key getaway for people from colder climes all across Europe, who come to soak up the 30+ degree heat on sandy beaches.

In winter, the temperatures drop, but not so much as you might think – by October, most of the tourists have gone but to British people, it still feels like summer temperatures through until November at least. At that time of year, many hotels and restaurants will have closed for the season, but there are still plenty open and lots to do in terms of exploring the city, eating tapas, and if you’re brave enough, maybe even chancing a quick swim.

10. Reykjavik

Northern, and stark.

Flight time from London: 3 hours

The most distant city on our list is the tiny capital of Iceland, with a population roughly the same size as Oxford. It’s the most northerly capital in the world, and one key draw for sightseers to endure the freezing Icelandic winter is the opportunity to see the Northern Lights. But whichever time of year you visit, you’ll find a wealth of museums charting Iceland’s unique history, and geothermal pools to dip into and defrost your toes.

If you only have a couple of days to spend in Reykjavik, you might be best advised to spend one of them exploring the city itself, and one of them on a planned excursion into the incredible Icelandic countryside, which even near to the city looks like nowhere else on Earth.

11. Barcelona

Bizarre architecture and delicious food.

Flight time from London: 2 hours

Barcelona is a great destination when you only have a weekend but you want to cram it all in: sunshine, the seaside, exciting food, a relaxed atmosphere and art and architecture that vary from the magnificent to the unworldly.

Barcelona was a key hub and source of inspiration for Modernist and Surrealist artists and architects including Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and of course Antoni Gaudí, whose work is inescapable in Barcelona. The jewel in Barcelona’s architectural crown, La Sagrada Familia, remains unfinished but is now sufficiently complete to be visited without feeling like you’re touring a building site, and the full unearthly impact of Gaudí’s vision can already be felt.

12. Stockholm

Fancy exploring the city by kayak?

Flight time from London: 2 hours 30 mins

For a capital city of 1.5 million people, Stockholm feels remarkably attuned to the natural world. Stockholm is spread out across 14 islands and facing the Baltic Sea, so you’re never too far from the water. It’s also full of trees and parkland, and public transport out into the countryside is frequent and reliable. Where other cities might offer walking tours, in Stockholm you can also, if you so choose, explore by kayak. Even the city’s most celebrated museum, the Vasa Museum, follows a maritime theme, with the world’s only almost entirely salvaged 17th century warship on display.

Beyond the sea and the great outdoors, Stockholm is also a foodie destination, combining traditional Swedish cuisine with whatever the new trends are from around the world.

13. Bruges

Avoid going when you’ll be falling over tourists at every turn.

Flight time from London: 1 hour to Brussels and a train (or take the train all the way)

You don’t need to step on a flight to get to this perfect chocolate-box of a city: the Eurostar will take you into Brussels (which is worth a weekend visit in its own right) and from there you can catch a train to Bruges.

Bruges is known for its almost flawlessly preserved medieval buildings with canals and cobbled lanes. You might run out of things to do after a couple of days, but for that period, it’s worth just wandering around a city where nearly every view looks postcard-perfect. If you can, go in the off-season; the only downside of Bruges is that every other tourist in the Western Hemisphere knows how lovely it is as well.

14. Nice

Friendly, relaxing, and chic.

Flight time from London: 2 hours

Nice is a city where you can lounge on the beach all morning, go shopping in boutiques or local markets all afternoon, climb the Castle Hill to watch the sun set and then while away the evening in a beautiful little restaurant enjoying the best that French cuisine has to offer.

If Nice’s beach is too pebbly and crowded for you, a short journey on public buses along windy roads will take you to nearby villages where far fewer tourists can be found. But staying in the city itself is to be recommended, if only for the atmosphere: where somewhere like Paris is busy and can be overwhelming, Nice is friendly and above all, relaxing.

Images: berlin; lisbon; krakow; copenhagen; amsterdam; galway; budapest; prague; palma; reykjavik; barcelona; stockholm; bruges; nice; airplane over beach; travellers in airport








 

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