Everyone needs a break now and again. Just throw a couple of things in a bag, grab your keys and phone, and go
Obviously, Kiwi.com is the best and cheapest way to book your flights, but where are you actually going to go? It’s a big world out there.
Well, to make things a bit easier, we’ve come up with eight European city breaks that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. So why not have a weekend exploring one of these gems?
Sicily has, by and large, been ignored by tourists investigating Italy as they head for the more immediate delights of Rome, Florence, Venice, Pisa, Milan and so on.
But for a taste of genuine, day-to-day, living, breathing Italy, Sicily takes some beating. On the south-east of the island lies Catania – a city covered elsewhere on this site – but let’s focus on the largest Sicilian city, Palermo.
A lot of the buildings in the centre of the city date from as far back as the 9th century, so history buffs won’t go unrewarded. Being a city on the very edge of Europe, the style of the place is a mix of Byzantine, North African and European, with chaotic street markets spilling out around stately Baroque churches.
It feels like a film set; all crumbling walls and noisy street life, but there’s nowhere better to sit outside, eating, drinking and watching the frenzied dance of Sicilian life.
Old Paphos was supposed to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, so maybe this could be somewhere romantic to take a loved one…? What is certainly true is that it’s old.
There’s been a settlement here since Neolithic times, but Paphos now is the modern city that incorporates the harbour, and the ancient ruins of tombs, fortresses, theatres and villas at Paphos Archaeological Park.
The Troodos Mountains are worth hiking out to, and the pines and cedars occasionally make way for some of the most spectacular hidden churches in Europe. Ten of them have, individually, been granted World Heritage status.
Back in town outside the northern walls, you’ll find the Tombs of the Kings, a sandstone necropolis dating back to the 4th century BC. Work your way back to the centre via the Archaeological Park, and set about exploring the bars and restaurants – in particular, the freshly caught seafood!
Ljubljana is lovely, sure, but hidden up in Slovenia’s wine region is Maribor. Sitting on the banks of the Drava River, the town centre is mostly stately 15th century buildings, their red-tiled roofs surrounding squares and lanes around which you can comfortably stroll.
After being heavily bombed in World War Two, you might not be so keen on some of the reconstruction, but things are improving nowadays. But that’s not why you’re here! Head to the Old Vine Museum for tasting sessions of the product the locals are so passionate about (and with good reason).
It’s not just wine, though. The city has a couple of good microbreweries, and Postna street near the university has some great bars. It’s a good place for art lovers too.
The Salon of Applied Arts on Glavni was formerly a casino that went bust, but now it’s a beautifully restored cafe-bar that hosts gigs and sells work by local designers.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
To people of a certain generation, the name Sarajevo conjures up images of reporters in flak jackets standing amid bullet-riddled buildings. All that seems a long way away from what is now a compact, cosmopolitan city; an odd mix of Ottoman, Slavic and Austro-Hungarian styles that house welcoming cafes and interesting museums.
Speaking of museums, seeing as the city was central to many of the events that shaped the 20th century, you’d expect there to be a lot to investigate, and you’d be right. The Tunnel Museum is a visceral, moving way to learn about the siege of the city by Serbian forces between 1992 and 1996.
After learning about the period through video footage and a museum in the shelled-out house that provided the entrance to the tunnel that connected this last, Bosnian-held part of the city with the outside world. A reconstructed 25 metre section that you can walk through does some justice to how terrifying the whole thing was.
On the corner of the Latin Bridge is another museum to another momentous act: the assassination of Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip, but if you tire of learning about conflict, how about a piece of sporting history? Head out into the hills to discover the rotting, overgrown remains of the bobsleigh track, built for the 1984 Winter Olympics and then abandoned.
This Polish city has grown into more of a destination recently, thanks to extra flights being laid on from and to major cities like London, Paris, Rome and Madrid.
So if you fancy a weekend in a Polish city that isn’t Krakow, why not try Wrocław? The Market Square can rival any in the country, lined as it is with rich, patrician townhouses as well as the Gothic Old Town Hall, home to an astronomical clock.
Don’t let the almost one thousand years of history fool you, mind. This is a city building to the future. With a student population of around 130,000, it’s the youngest city in Poland and, as such, one of the liveliest.
In 2015, 2016 and 2017 it was included in the Mercer Top 100 Most Liveable Cities list and its reputation continues to rise. It can compete as well in high culture – it’s home to the Wrocław Opera, National Puppet Theatre, Karol Lipiński Academy of Music and the National Forum of Music – as well as it can throw a party.
This is contrasted beautifully by the fact that the basement of the Old City Hall contains one of Europe’s oldest restaurants (Piwnica Świdnicka has been operating continuously since 1275), while the basement of the New Town Hall is home to Spiż, one of the city’s newest brewpubs.
If you’re flying to Barcelona with a budget carrier, chances are you’ll pitch up at Girona airport. About an hour by bus from Barcelona, it’s worth spending some time in Girona itself, as it is, perversely, a popular spot to visit for Barcelona natives.
The town is built on the confluence of four rivers, and consequently, most of the old town is teeters on the sides of the steep Hill of the Capuchins. Within the old walls and fortifications, there’s a collection of churches, with the focal point being the eighty-six steps leading up to the cathedral.
For the best views and to get your bearings, perhaps start by actually climbing up to the walls and walking them all around the old town. They’re in pretty good condition after being restored and, despite some slightly crumbly bits, the loop is never taxing.
Head into El Call, the old Jewish ghetto since the year 1100. At its peak, Girona had one of medieval Europe’s most important Kabbalistic schools, where a host of important Jewish thinkers and poets lived.
It’s a very photogenic area, with stone walls and crevasse-like alleys with stairways and secret gardens.
For something a bit different, the newer parts of town are home to the majority of the city’s social life. The 19th century Mercadel district contains the Rambla de la Llibertat, a wide and elegant pedestrian boulevard parallel to the River Onyar, a place for locals and visitors to shop, meet up and go for a coffee.
Currently experiencing somewhat of a boom, the eastern German city of Leipzig has been nicknamed the New Berlin in some quarters as young entrepreneurs, artists and general creative types who’ve been priced out of the capital move here in their droves.
A city of massive contrasts, it’s known by classical music lovers through its connections to Bach, Wagner and Mendelssohn, as well as having areas like Connewitz – anarchic, punkish, semi-derelict in some parts with a lefty, communal vibe.
For an educational fix and to really get to grips with the city, the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum is a superb museum to when Leipzig was an important cog in the great, clanking machine of the GDR. Over 3,200 artefacts of everyday life are here and shown in clear context of life under the Communist regime, including communications equipment, books, magazines, football shirts, artworks and much more.
It’s an engaging place indeed. The main sights can be done and dusted in a weekend, but you’ll find yourself oddly not wanting to leave. It’s a cool place.
Despite it slowly becoming a destination for the oi-oi-lads-on-tour curse of the Brits, Vilnius is still an excellent choice for a weekend away. Its Old Town is a World Heritage site, the former KGB Headquarters has been turned into a thoughtful museum, and the Cathedral Square is an oddly, clinically beautiful arrangement.
For great views, there’s no better place that Gediminas’ Castle, sitting atop a small hill above the Old Town.
One thing you really should know about this most curious of capitals, however, is that the area of the city called Užupis declared itself an independent republic in 1997. This manifests itself in this artists’ quarter having “Welcome to the Republic of Užupis” signs upon entering, and the three mottos (“Don’t Fight!”, “Don’t Win!”, “Don’t Surrender!”) being seen.
It’s obviously not recognised by any government, but residents still take pride in it. And why wouldn’t you when your National Day is 1 April, and your most famous landmark is a statue of Frank Zappa?