Although many people choose to take a summer holiday each year, there’s something to be said about getting away from it all in the wintertime. Cooler temperatures across the northern hemisphere mean that you have to travel further to enjoy a typical beach holiday in sunny climes, but it’s perfect for a different kind of holiday – the city break.
Exploring a new city for a few days is a great choice in the winter months, and here in the UK we are lucky to have so many options just a short flight, ferry crossing or train ride away. You may want to get away for the festive season, book a New Year’s trip to remember, or beat the winter blues by booking something in early 2019. A short city break can also make a wonderful Christmas gift for a loved one, especially if it’s somewhere they’ve never been before.
Here are H&T’s top 5 city breaks – all are relatively easy to get to, and they all have so much to offer; however they’re not your usual suspects. Destinations like Paris, Rome and Amsterdam are amazing and hugely popular, but there are so many other great places just waiting to be explored. Gain some inspiration for your next trip away below:
Lille is a beautiful city in northern France and is the capital of the Hauts-de-France region. Its stunning baroque buildings give the centre an almost fairy tale charm and there’s plenty to do. If art and/or history are your thing, the Palais des Beaux-Arts is the second largest museum in France, after the Louvre in Paris. You can see works by Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Raphael and many, many others here.
The zoo in Lille is conservation-based and free to visit. It houses 450 animals including zebras, rhinos, tapirs, monkeys and snakes. If you prefer sports – the city boasts a 50,000 seat football stadium which was built for EURO 2016. You can see local football team Lille OSC play here.
Lille is very easy to get to, as it’s just a 1 hour 30 minute ride on the Eurostar from London.
Gothenburg in Sweden is the perfect place for a festive getaway, and boasts its own unique Christmas market. Here, you’re likely to see real life reindeer pulling sleighs along the streets, twinkling lights adorning every building and an eclectic selection of arts, crafts and food stalls to enjoy. The market is frequented by the Sami herders from Lapland which give it a very authentic feel.
Gothenburg has many other attractions, such as its ‘Fish Church’ market hall, the Gothenburg museum of art, and Scandinavia’s largest amusement park – Liseberg.
You can reach Gothenburg by direct flights from London in under 2 hours, and other UK city airports can get you there with just one short stop.
Belgium is a small but beautiful country, and many visitors tend to flock to the more well-known Bruges and Brussels. Ghent, however is just as cultured and has a more authentic feel due to the lower number of visitors. There’s so much to see in Ghent, which is filled with medieval architecture and even has a 12th century moated castle - named Gravensteen castle - where you can soak up its fascinating yet brutal history.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, Ghent is the place for you – especially on a Thursday. Thursdays are known in Ghent as Donderdag Veggiedag, which means Thursday Veggie Day. Cafes and restaurants all over the city offer an ‘extravaganza’ of veggie dishes and you’ll find plenty of street vendors taking part too.
Ghent is easy to get to via Eurostar, and takes just over 2 hours with a change at Brussels.
Brno, Czech Republic
Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic, and is often passed over by tourists in favour of Prague. Due to Prague’s popularity as a hotspot for stag and hen parties, it may not be everyone's cup of tea, but you can still enjoy all that the Czech Republic has to offer by going to Brno instead. Brno a university city filled with bustling cafes, bars, restaurants and microbreweries, all settled within a city steeped in medieval history.
One of the most interesting features of Brno’s history is its labyrinth of underground tunnels, which can be visited below the Cabbage Market. You can also visit underground crypts at the Church of St James, or why not see the 13th century Špilberk Castle?
You can reach Brno with direct flights from London, which take just over 2 hours.
Segovia is an incredible city in central Spain which boasts some of the most unique historical architecture in Europe. The city is split in two by an imposing 30 meter tall double-arched Roman aqueduct which was built in the 1st century AD. The city also houses the stunning castle, the Alcázar of Segovia, which is said to be the inspiration for the castle in Walt Disney’s Cinderella.
The historical buildings are offset by a lively cultural scene within the city, with art exhibitions, music events and entertainment to be found around every corner. You’ll find excellent cafes and restaurants dotted around the old cobbled streets and for the meat lovers, the city of Segovia is famous for its local dish of cochinillo – roasted suckling pig.
You can get to Segovia in under 3 hours by flying to Madrid (which is served direct by many UK airports) and then taking the high speed train, which takes just 30 minutes.
City Breaks: Quick Tips
- Get your travel money in advance – visit any one of H&T’s 190+ stores for excellent rates on foreign currency. You can order your currency online in advance and pick up in-store, or simply drop in to request what you need.
- Stay safe – if you’re travelling alone, always let someone know your schedule. Keep your foreign currency in a secure money belt or similar, and beware of scams aimed at tourists. These are more common in popular cities like Rome and Paris, but it’s still worth being vigilant.
- Do a little research before you go – check how much money you are likely to need for food, drinks and tips so that you aren’t caught by surprise.