Last-minute escapes in Europe

Travel inspiration

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August 19, 2021

By | August 19, 2021

Thinking of a getaway? Here are our — and our customers’ — picks for a bargain city break in the off-season

You can pick up some incredible deals on Kiwi.com, so to make the most of the late summer, we looked into where our customers have been going last minute. And when we say last minute, we mean it: these are routes on which our adventurous travelers have gone from booking to departure in under three days! So if you’re thinking of dropping everything and heading out in the off-season, here’s where we — and they — recommend.

Kyiv

View of the Andrew Descent in Kyiv, Ukraine View of the Andrew Descent in Kyiv, Ukraine — Shutterstock


We begin in Ukraine, a country whose history (both older and more recent) means it can seem slightly intimidating to travelers. Well, don’t be put off. Kyiv is one of Europe’s great cities, virtually the birthplace of the Slavic people, and a city that’s throwing off the dark days of the past and embracing art, music, creativity, openness, and fun.

Take Khreschatyk street for example. Half a mile (1 km) or so of bars, restaurants, and western mainstream brands, at weekends it becomes pedestrianized, giving itself over to street musicians, artists, and party-goers. It’s also a city of grand landmarks, huge buildings or spaces that tell the story of Ukraine’s turbulent past: Independence Square, (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), meeting place for the city and site of the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution; Pechersk Lavra, a grand monastery and one of the seven wonders of Kyiv; the Motherland Monument, installed by the Soviets in 1981 and taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York. Almost every age of the city is represented in some way, but right now is more exciting than ever.

Prague

Historic Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic is a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike Historic Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic is a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike — Shutterstock


The Czech capital has long been a favorite for people wanting a last-minute break, its location in the heart of Europe, a plethora of bargain flights, and its sheer beauty attracting visitors from all over the continent. No matter how many times you go — and no matter how busy it gets — it never fails to reveal another stunning view, another secret alleyway or square, another quaint coffee shop or bustling pub.

 

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The best thing to do in Prague is just to walk. The historic center is relatively small when compared to other cities on this list, and lends itself to meandering wherever the mood takes you: across Charles Bridge, through Malá Strana to the castle, across the Old Town Square, up to Letná for views across the city. It’s great for families, couples, mates, or simply to give yourself some you-time with a bag, a book, and no particular thing to do.

Vienna

View to the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Austria View to the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Austria — Shutterstock


Not far from Prague (around five and a half hours by train with over 15 connections every day), Vienna is elegant rather than pretty; stately, refined, and, on the surface, slightly less willing to let its hair down. Investigate a little bit though, and its charms make themselves known.

It’s a great city for art and culture. The Kunsthistorisches Museum is Austria’s finest treasure trove of masterpieces from the likes of Michelangelo, Titian, and Rembrandt. The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, housed in the Belvedere Palace, has works by Austrian artists and is particularly strong for Art Nouveau and Fin de Siècle pieces. If you’d prefer your art more audible, try the House of Music, a wonderfully interactive museum with a musical staircase, games to try and compose music, and even the chance to conduct a virtual orchestra!

When you’re done and are looking for a souvenir (but probably can’t afford a Rembrandt of your own), head to one of Vienna‘s numerous flea markets and bazaars that regularly pop up all over the city. Vintage clothes, furniture, pictures, records… there’ll be something interesting to remind you of your trip.

Milan

There’s nothing quite like enjoying gelato and the view of the famous Milan DuomoThere’s nothing quite like enjoying gelato and the view of the famous Milan Duomo — Shutterstock


Italy’s northern powerhouse, Milan is technology, fashion, business, and culture all rolled into one. Sometimes regarded with suspicion by cities to the south who see it as almost Germanic in its no-nonsense, un-Italian briskness, it’s a city that doesn’t lounge about over a long lunch; rather, it has a strong espresso and a delicate snack, before striding out in its immaculately-tailored suit to do high-powered things in cutting-edge offices.

People come here to eat some of the country’s finest food (and in Italy that’s saying something), see its elegant architecture (Milan Cathedral, for example, is one of the world’s best), sip cocktails in sophisticated bars, and finally, let it all out in some of the country’s coolest clubs and nightspots. It’s not necessarily a typically Italian experience, but it is a city that carries itself with confidence, vigor, and more than a dash of class.

Rome

The historic Trastevere district in Rome, Italy is full of cobbled streets with terra-cotta colored houses The historic Trastevere district in Rome, Italy is full of cobbled streets with terra-cotta colored houses — Shutterstock


While Milan feels confident, stridently cool, and modern, Rome is Italy in a nutshell. From the buzzing scooters to the wild-armed, coffee-fuelled discussions about politics, football, food — anything really! — it just feels so very Italian. It’s one of those cities that you’ve seen a million times in books, in films, or on TV, yet still manages to be utterly fresh and stunning when you’re there in person. Familiarity with Rome never breeds complacency.

 

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You’re (almost literally) tripping over history wherever you go. Turn a corner and you’ll be confronted with a building or a square that has been a bathhouse, a meeting place, a church, a political statement, or a whatever for over two millennia. It’s like walking around the best museum in the world, a museum which you will have been a small, fleeting part of as it stretches another 2,000 years into the future.

Bucharest

The intersection of roads between Strada Smardan and Strada Lipscani in the historic center of Bucharest, Romania The intersection of roads between Strada Smardan and Strada Lipscani in the historic center of Bucharest, Romania — Shutterstock


If you need to book-a-rest (sorry), where better than the capital of Romania? Long seen as a bit too wild east for some people compared with, say, Prague, Krakow, or Budapest, it’s now becoming a popular destination for travelers who want somewhere genuinely interesting, easy to get to, but without being overwhelmed by other tourists.

We’ll say it here now: there is a lot of concrete, a product of Ceauşescu’s 1971 trip to Pyongyang that impressed him so much he spent the 1980s trying to recreate its brutal grandeur. The best example is the Centrul Civic, a vast complex of thumpingly huge concrete buildings with marble frontages covering around 5 square kilometers. It’s also home to the Palace of Parliament, an immense monument to megalomania on a scale that’s hard to grasp.

 

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Once you’re done with gawping at the sheer size of… well, everything… it’s time to hit the Old Town, a series of avenues and alleyways packed with wine bars, little restaurants specializing in local cuisine, or hip bars, their patrons spilling out into the streets. It’s not the most obvious place for a city break, but it might just be the most surprising.

Lisbon

The view of Lisbon and the river Tejo from Alfama district The view of Lisbon and the river Tejo from Alfama district — Shutterstock


Historical landmarks, wonderful vistas, delectable food, and much, much more await you in Lisbon, so where to even begin? Well, it’s a bit of a cliche, but Lisbon’s famous yellow trams are as good a place as any. Add your photos to the countless Instagram posts by taking Line 28 for a 40-minute ride through Lisbon’s coolest neighborhoods and past more landmarks than you’ll know what to do with. If nothing else it’s a great way to get your bearings, and it’s even better if you do it early in the morning to avoid the tourist crowds.

And so to explore. Castelo de São Jorge is the city’s 11th-century castle, high on a hilltop to deter invaders. Martim Moniz’s green square is a popular place for street traders and live music. Mouraria means street art inspired by fado (a traditional type of music) in its medieval streets. Visit Alfama, the city’s oldest neighborhood, for souvenirs, or Belém to get your fill of the most popular landmarks. These include the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery, famous for, among other things, being the place where the recipe for Portugal’s Pastéis de Nata, their famous custard tarts, was developed. Bom apetite!

Istanbul

The view of the Galata tower in Istanbul, Turkey from a narrow street The view of the Galata tower in Istanbul, Turkey from a narrow street — Shutterstock

One of the most storied cities on the planet, Istanbul’s location at the point where east meets west has meant its history is one of triumph, glory, bloodshed, romance, disaster, passion, and much, much more. The Greeks, Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans all had a go at ruling at various points, each leaving behind art and architecture to various degrees, and the fact the city lay at the end of the legendary Silk Road from Asia gave it a swarthy, multicultural glamor that is still very much alive.

Indeed, it’s the locals that make the city what it is: their infectious enthusiasm for life is what makes the place tick, and simply hanging out in the tea houses and small, local restaurants is the best way to learn what Istanbul is all about. After all, almost the only common thread running through a city of 15 million people isn’t language, religion, skin color, or any of that: it’s the fact they’ve chosen to enrich an already wonderful city by putting all those things aside to enjoy what life has to offer.

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