With so many budget airlines, train and bus companies, it’s easy to find affordable city breaks in Western Europe. Distrances are short enough to enable you to take off for just a weekend. Whether you’re looking for a winter market to cater to your Christmas shopping needs or a sunny summer break, the following five cities are some of the most attractive options.
AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS
You’ll rarely meet more friendly and hospitable people than the Dutch, and the city of Amsterdam is a fascinating contrast of culture, history and liberal morality. This is a place where you can learn about the struggle of the jews while exploring the house that hid Anne Frank and, in the same day, take in a live sex show, peruse the windows of the red light district or sample legal cannabis in a coffee shop. A network of canals and the characteristic tall, thin houses add charm and character. It’s a vibrant and exciting place to be at any time of the year, but if you can join the party on King’s Day you’ll have one of the world’s best national celebrations to write home about too!
It’s very easy to see Barcelona on a budget. This city offers plenty of comfortable hostel accommodation, which often comes with a free city sightseeing tour. Whether you choose to follow a guide or explore by yourself, many of Gaudí’s famous buildings, as well as its cathedral, picturesque squares, churches, streets and markets are free to explore or – at the very least – admire from the outside. Blessed with a mild to scorching Mediterranean climate, visitors can enjoy its beaches and coastline all year-round.
Lucerne is one of the most stunning cities in Western Europe. Surrounded by mountains, and with castle turrets poking out above its skyline, it’s reminiscent of a fairytale setting. In the winter, it goes to town with Christmas decorations, carol singing and crowded markets. Warm your cockles with a mug of gluhwein and fried sausage, or indulge in a cheese fondue at one of its many world-class restaurants. While Switzerland is a notoriously expensive country to visit, there’s plenty to do here that doesn’t cost a penny. Wind back and forth across the Reuss on a network of charming wooden bridges, learn the touching story behing the famous Lion Monument or climb out of the city towards Hotel Gutsch for woodland walks and city scapes. This city is also the perfect starting point for those who are serious about exploring the Alps.
While Paris is the more obvious destination for a French city break, the country’s second-most-visited city, Nice, has arguably more understated charm. There are plenty of great reasons to visit Nice. Its location on the Mediterranean coast means it has more favourable weather, as well as both beach and mountain scenery on its doorstep. Narrow alleyways are lined with bakeries and quaint boutique stores; markets offer fresh produce daily; and its main square is a visually striking collection of clashing architectural styles, sculptures, art installations, fountains and bold patterns. Nice is also located close to the perfume region of Grasse, lavender-producing Provence, and the opulent Principality of Monaco.
To explore every attraction in depth would take months, but a day in Rome is sufficient to catch a glimse of most of the main sights. This city is brimming with impressive art and architecture, but there’s so much more beyond this. The most unmissible structures include St Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum and the Pantheon. The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain also draw tourists in their thousands. For a more unique experience, head below ground to the Capuchin Crypt where the bones of around 4000 deceased monks are arranged in creepy yet intricate decorative designs. Another lesser-known highlight is Aventine Hill, which has stunning panoramic views of the city, as well as a keyhole that lines up perfectly with the distant dome of St Peter’s Basilica.