Looking for a couple of wonderful days away? Is it better to opt for a traditional city favourite or try something completely new? We pit the classic against the cool in our edit of weekend breaks to try this year…
GREECE VS DUBROVNIK
The classic option: Dubrovnik
The cobalt blue Adriatic Sea
contrasts with the terracotta roofs of Dubrovnik’s Old Town. Stroll
along Stradun, the city’s main thoroughfare, pause for a drink and watch
the world go by. Walk round the city’s 16th century perimeter wall, now
part of the set for Game of Thrones. Then enjoy a wander and discover
centuries-old churches, palaces and houses.
Don’t miss Relaxing on Banje Beach, with views of Dubrovnik’s Old Town.
Take a boat trip to the little island of Korcula. It’s like a smaller
version of Dubrovnik. Organised day trips cost from £48
Stylish stay w&h travel (escorted.womanandhome.com;
01283 742 348) offers an escorted tour of Dubrovnik, the Dalmatian
Coast and Montenegro from £829pp, including flights, seven nights hotel
with half-board, tours of Dubrovnik, Montenegro, Krka National Park,
Mostar, Split and medieval Trogir.
The cool option: Sai
ling in Greece
The summer holidays
offer the perfect chance to get out on Greece’s Kassandra Peninsula,
which promises warmer weather and calmer seas. Even if you only have a
few days to spare, the Sani Marina Sailing Academy will get you out on
the water. Pay £200 for a 10-hour intensive beginner sailing course
spread over three days, with lessons held both on dry land as well as
offshore. Each lesson starts with theory, followed by sailing practice,
and a debrief at the end.
Don’t miss Sani’s beaches, including
the state-of-the-art marina, which have Blue Flag status and
crystal-clear waters. You’ll often catch sight of dolphins in the deeper
parts of the bay.
Sun factor If the water activities aren’t
enough, why not brush up your tennis skills? The Sani Resort has six
clay courts, with equipment to hire and professional instructors.
Sani Resort (saniresort.gr; 0800 949 6809) offers rooms from £91 per
night. Flights from Gatwick to Thessaloniki from £245 with EasyJet
PORTO VS BARCELONA
The classic option:
Barcelona offers sunshine, amazing architecture, Blue Flag beaches, and stylish bars and restaurants.
Don’t miss Purchase a “skip the line” ticket for a tour of the Sagrada Familia cathedral (from £11.70; tiqets.com). Stroll down café-and-boutique-packed La Rambla, then explore the Gothic Quarter’s maze of little streets.
Sun factor Head to a beach, such as Ocata, 30 minutes by train, or try your hand at sea kayaking (£60pp per day, excursionsbarcelona.com).
Stylish stay Rates at the trendy Barceló Raval (barceloraval.com) start at £98 per room per night for two sharing. Flights from Gatwick with Vueling Airlines (vueling.com) from £39 one way.
The cool option: Porto
There’s still a real sense of
the undiscovered in this lovely little historic Portuguese city – the
home of port wine. It also boasts a thriving food scene, the hip bars of
the Baixa district and Portugal’s most important contemporary art
centre, the Serralves.
Don’t miss A port tour and tasting
session at Taylor’s (£9.50). Explore Porto’s beautiful old town, with
buildings covered in decorative “Azulejo” tiles, and winding lanes lined
with tabernas selling fresh seafood tapas.
Sun factor Take a
rickety tram along the riverfront to Foz, a hip suburb skirted by a
sandy beach and chic cocktail and sushi-serving bars. Or cruise along
the Douro River (from £10pp, portodouro.com).
Built into the hills gazing over Porto’s centre, The Yeatman (above)
houses a huge collection of Portugese wine, plus a Michelin-starred
restaurant. Each room has a private front-facing balcony. The Caudalie
Vinothérapie Spa offers a crushed cabernet scrub, red wine barrel baths
and fresh grape massage. Double rooms from £144 per night
(the-yeatman-hotel.com). Return flights with TAP (flytap.com) from
LONDON VS LAKE VYRNWY
The classic option: London
beautiful in summer. Head to one of the public parks or gardens, from
Primrose Hill to Regent’s Park (don’t miss the new Gir Lion Lodge
experience inside London Zoo and sleep in one of nine cabins built
inside the Land of the Lions within roaring distance of a pride of
Asiatic lions, zsl.org/girlionlodge).
Don’t miss Seeing the skyline from above. The London Helicopter offers a 12-minute “London Buzz” flight (£150pp, thelondonhelicopter.com).
Book one of the seven balcony suites in the London Marriott County Hall
(left) for amazing views of London, from the Houses of Westminster on
one side to the London Eye on the other.
Stylish stay The
London Marriott County Hall (londonmarriottcountyhall.co.uk) is set at
the foot of Westminster Bridge in the former London Council offices. The
rooms have all been refurbished this year. Doubles from £300 per night
The cool option:
Lake Vyrnwy is spectacular Wales at its best, set amid the beauty of the Berwyn Mountains. Gaze at birds of prey or hire bikes (oldbarncafe.com, £10 for two hours) for a gentle 12-mile route around the lake.
Don’t miss A 55-minute ESPA Age-Defier facial at Lake Vyrnwy Hotel Spa (£65). The thermal suite (£10 per day if you’re staying; £20 for day visitors) has fire and ice experience showers, plus a whirlpool, salt steam and sauna.
Sun factor Hire a kayak (from £20 for two hours, Bethania Watersports, 01691 870615), and paddle to a secluded cove.
Stylish stay Lake Vyrnwy Hotel and Spa (lakevyrnwy.com, 01691 870692) has rooms from £99. The Tower Restaurant offers local produce (three courses, £35). The £115pp Spa and Bubbles break includes dinner, bed, breakfast, use of the thermal suite with a glass of Prosecco and a mud rasul treatment for two.
DENMARK VS AMSTERDAM
The classic option: Amsterdam
Amsterdam is one of Europe’s prettiest cities. Cycling is key to its character, but why not try a water bike (£6 for one hour, canal.nl)? Shopping addicts should head to the Nine Streets district, home to independent stores, boutiques and cafés, from eclectic vintage at Episode to kitsch Mexican homeware store Tikal.
Don’t miss The Rijksmuseum (£14, rijksmuseum.nl) houses more than 8,000 works of art. Get an insight into how schoolgirl Anne Frank really lived during WWII at the museum of her former house (£7, annefrank.org). The Hermitage art collection has rotating exhibitions (hermitage.nl/en); catch the tribute to Catherine the Great from 18 June.
Sun factor Stroll around the Plantage gardens, which contain the zoo and exotic birds. Have a drink at an outdoor café or take a picnic to Wertheimpark. Take a hop-on, hop-off canal cruise (canal.nl) and soak up the sunshine and scenery.
Stylish Stay The Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam (waldorfastoria.com), is an elegant, airy, marble-clad luxury hotel (above). The Michelin-starred Librije’s Zusje restaurant attracts city residents as well as hotel guests, and there’s a sumptuous Guerlain Spa in the basement. Don’t miss Afternoon Tea in Peacock Alley. Rooms from £385pp. Flights from London from £95 (klm.com).
The cool option: Denmark
Denmark was crowned the
happiest country on earth this year. Copenhagen is the obvious
destination for a first visit, but for something different, consider Aalborg, in the northern tip. It’s a bustling university town
with an interesting tale to tell. Start at the Lindholm Høje Viking
burial ground and museum (£80, nordmus.dk); more than 150 ships have
been found on the site.
The Utzon Center on the waterfront is the
last design of Jørn Utzon (best known for the Sydney Opera House) – it
was built as a meeting place for young architecture students to discuss
Don’t miss Dinner at Mortens Kro (mortenskro.dk).
Owner Morten Nielsen and his team serve up a fabulous array of Danish
and international treats (langoustines, other seafood, baked lamb and
rhubarb cream desserts are on the seven-course £90 tasting menu).
Head to Skagen, Denmark’s northernmost town, and hire bikes (£11.50 per
day, hotel-skagen-strand.com) to ride around sites such as the old
artists’ community. Then walk on the huge beach before sampling the
fabulous Fish Menu at Ruths Restaurant (£84 for four courses,
Stylish stay Rooms at the RadissonBlu Hotel
Aalborg (radissonblu.com), from £136 with booking.com. Ruths Hotel in
Skagen has doubles from £240 per night including breakfast. Return
flights from Gatwick to Aalborg from £52.70 (norwegian.com).
BUDAPEST VS VIENNA
The classic option: Vienna
The Austrian capital is so magnificent, it’s first district is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Check out the Hofburg Palace, the museums, Cathedral and the labyrinth of historic streets. Getting lost is part of the fun – you’re sure to emerge by a traditional Viennese café.
Don’t miss The Third Man Museum (£8, 3mpc.net) – watch the fantastic 1949 film, starring Orson Wells, before you arrive.
Sun factor Enjoy a lazy summer’s evening cruise along the Danube (£35 with buffet supper, ddsg-blue-danube.at).
Stylish stay The Park Hyatt Vienna’s Bank Brasserie & Bar offers guests an exciting new menu and is perfect for dinner or a cocktail. Doubles (right) from £292.25 (vienna.park.hyatt.com). The Best Western Kagran has doubles from £59 with breakfast (hotels.com). Flights from Heathrow from £141 return (austrian.com).
The cool option: Budapest
Split into two by the Danube,
Buda is quieter, with royal palaces and leafy hills, while Pest offers
cool cafés and bars. In new luxe boutique hotel Aria Hotel Budapest, in
Pest, stay in music-themed “wings” – w&h loved the Louis Armstrong,
Elvis Presley and Beatles rooms. The hotel’s rooftop bar (below left) is
perfect for an early evening drink, and a five-minute walk away is the
chain bridge, linking Buda and Pest.
Don’t miss Having a
drink in a buzzing “ruin” bars and beer garden, built in what were
dilapidated buildings and courtyards – Szimpla Kert has different rooms
and areas. For a more sedate drink, try a grand coffee and cake bar,
like Café Gerbeaud.
Sun factor Play chess while you bathe in
mineral-rich waters at the Szechenyi baths (szechenyibath.hu, above
left). Or try the Gellert Spa baths (gellertspa.com).
A member of the Library Hotel Collection, The Aria Hotel Budapest
(ariahotelbudapest.com, left) has rooms from £277 per night. Guests can
use the Harmony spa, with sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and indoor pool.
MILAN VS ROME
The classic option: Rome
Chaotic, decadent, proud, mad, historic, amazing – all describe the Italian capital. When it comes to planning a short visit, include the Colosseum (right), the Palatine Hill, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, plus the Forum and St Peter’s.
Don’t miss Try a wine-tasting and cheese-pairing workshop, a “skip-the-queue” ticket and guided tour of the Vatican (usually £30), or a Fiat 500 tour through some of the city’s iconic sites. All these Rome experiences are available through only-apartments.com.
Sun factor Santa Marinella is Rome’s most convenient beach – a 45-minute train ride from Termini, Trastevere or San Pietro stations.
Stylish stay A two-bed penthouse (right) at the top of the Campo de Fiori medieval tower, costs from £85 per night with only-apartments.com. Flights from £82 return, easyjet.com
The cool option: Milan
Italy’s centre of fashion is a
dream come true for shopping. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a
must-visit arcade, and the boutiques on the Corso di Porta Ticinese are
worth a visit too.
Don’t miss As well as the magnificent
600-year-old Gothic cathedral (left), the Museo del Novecento is the
city’s modern art gallery. Pause for lunch at Giacomo Arengario
(giacomoarengario.com) and enjoy fresh pasta with truffles.
Enjoy a summer supper al fresco; the Giardino del Duca is the outdoor
restaurant attached to the Il Duca Hotel, offering a wide selection of
dishes throughout the day.
Stylish stay The central ME Milan
Il Duca (left) is near the new vibrant Porta Garibaldi area. Head to the
hotel’s Radio Rooftop Bar. It offers spectacular panoramic views of the
Milanese skyline. Rooms from £194 per night (me-by-melia.com). Flights
to Milan from £181 return with British Airways (ba.com).