Weekend Break Destinations - from the UK

Weekend Getaways 

Weekend breaks from the UK - Sol - Madrid

Getting away for the weekend can mean taking a quick drive or flight on a Friday evening and a return on Sunday evening, or taking a Monday and a Friday off work to get a long four day weekend break. Whatever you decide, if you live in the UK or Europe you are within easy reach of so many culturally and geologically diverse cities and countries. Weekend breaks are a great way to make the most of this without taking too much valuable time off work.
Websites such as skyscanner.net list most flights from various airlines with live prices. Skyscanner is a versatile flight search tool, you can search flight departures and destinations by country or city, and you can even leave the destination blank for a list of the cheapest flights to various locations. Often these will be places which are out of season such as Scandinavian ski locations in summer, or the Italian lakes in winter. However this is a good way to have these places more to yourself and to experience them without hoards of other tourists.

 

City Break Destination Ideas: Comparisons and Highlights


Madrid

Fashionable, creative, tasty Madrid! This city is full of wonderful art galleries and packed full of interesting museums (the generic word for both of these being museo), and if you like tasty snacks for sharing, tapas is the answer! With pretty mountain landscapes nearby (skiing in the winter), and beautiful historic little towns on Madrid's doorstep (namely Segovia and Toledo), you won't be getting bored any time soon in this city. 

For a day in the heart of the city start at Sol (the 'Soul' of the city - much like London's Leicester Square). From here you can walk to any of the other highlights, including La Plaza de Toros (The Bullring), Plaza de Cibeles, and the Palace for example. 
Madrid city break from UK


Category
Rating
Additional Information
When it’s raining
***
There are plenty of museums and art galleries to occupy you here. There are also indoor shopping centres and department stores.
Restaurants and Bars
***
In Madrid restaurants open late (around 8pm) and eating before this is difficult. That said, there are some lovely bars, cafes and restaurants, and lunch time is a great time to sample some local cuisine with a selection of tapas in a traditonal cafe bar.  
Access from UK
***
Flying is the best option, Ryanair have great rates, and Easyjet. 
Value
****
Great value for food and drink, especially wine and beer! Also clothes and shoes are excellent value in many different stores, with good quality items for sale. 
Getting around
****
The metro is cheap and pretty easy to navigate, as is the local rail service. Make sure you have cash as the ticket machines don't seem to always like cards. 






















Lille

Access to Lille is extremely easy with a car, by ferry or Eurostar. The roads to Lille are toll-free motorways and it takes around one hour to get to Lille from the ferry ports (Calais or Dover). Alternatively you can get the Eurostar straight to the city of Lille.
The main attraction to Lille is the Citadel, and the Flemish architecture in the old town (Vielle Ville). These are easily found on most maps. The narrow streets in the old town are sprinkled with little boutiques and patisseries, affording lovely shopping experiences even on a grey day. There is also a good, varied market on at weekends, which is a good place for a bargain, if a bit like a jumble sale! There is particularly good choice for cheap boho style jewellery.
The Citadel is an interesting place to visit, dating back to the 1600s. It is a large pentagon-shaped fortress, which actually inspired the design of the US Pentagon. Book in advance for guided tours.

Category
Rating
Additional Information
When it’s raining
***
Indoor shopping mall in city centre. Citadel tours are also good for rainy days
Restaurants and Bars
****
Lots of choice and varied cuisine, especially in Vielle Lille
Access from UK
*****
Eurostar goes straight to Lille. The city is also around an hour’s drive away from the French ports of Calais and Dunkirk
Value
***
Cheapest shops and restaurants are a few streets away from the city centre and main sights. Excellent value at most small cafes
Getting around
***
Good service of busses, metros and trams


Bruges

Bruges is another popular destination for weekends due to its proximity to the UK. Access is incredibly easy due to frequent cheap ferries from Dover to Dunkirk. Bruges is also within easy access of the UK by Eurostar and linked train journey.
The main attractions to Bruges are the beautiful canals, intact Medieval Flemish architecture, museums and of course the chocolate and beer! The city is well accustomed to British visitors and almost everyone speaks English. The main shopping street can feel touristy, however this beautiful city has a lot to offer. Bruges also makes an excellent stop-over from/to France, Switzerland, Amsterdam, and Germany by car or rail. You can even visit Lille and Bruges on the same weekend, especially if you are driving.
Bruges city break from UK

 
Category
Rating
Additional Information
When it’s raining
**
The museums are the best option when it’s raining, but if you have a raincoat try and see the canals anyway, as they really are pretty.
Restaurants and Bars
****
Lots of choice, excellent choice of beers and ales.
Access from UK
****
Eurostar goes straight to Lille and there are excellent connections to Bruges. The city is also well-placed in terms of toll-free motorways.
Value
****
Competitive prices in most restaurants due to heavy tourist footfall. Gift shops can be a little pricey on main shopping streets however (especially chocolate).
Getting around
***
There are 5 main underground car parks allowing pedestrian access directly to the city centre.  Day passes are available for city busses. The best way to travel around Bruges is on its famous canals.















Barcelona

Catalonia, the cosmopolitan corner of Spain with a culture of its own, is where Catalonian is spoken. Its quirky capital city Barcelona is full of lovely little surprises and has an extremely creative appeal, mainly due to its famous Gaudi architecture, and the ever unfinished Basilica De La Sagrada Familia, also by Antonio Gaudi. This impressively unique construction was started in 1882 and is, incredibly, still undergoing construction.  The city’s attractive abstract sculptures, mosaics, and tree-lined avenues are a pleasure to wander around at any time of year, although the beachside location is best enjoyed in the summer months.
For an impressive free attraction, head down to the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc (Font Màgica) near to the Museum of National Art Catalanya. This unbelievably huge and powerful, brightly lit water fountain dances to the surrounding dramatic classical music, changing colour and dazzling the surrounding crowds. This usually takes place on Friday and Saturday evenings. In the summer this increases to Thursdays and Sundays also.
Cheap flights to Barcelona are common and nearby attractions are within easy reach by train, such as the attractive seaside town of Sitges and the rocky, mountainous cable car ride to Monserrat, the monastery in the Mountains. Views are incredible.
Barcelona city break from UK



Category
Rating
Additional Information
When it’s raining
***
The museums, art galleries and Gaudi architectural delights are the main indoor options.
Restaurants and Bars
***
Catalonian cuisine is world-class, especially for seafood. Lots of restaurant choice in the centre, however somewhat limited restaurant choices otherwise.
Access from UK
***
Cheap flights are common with the usual UK budget airlines.
Value
****
Competitive prices in most restaurants due to heavy tourist footfall. Cheap eateries can be found with a little exploring. Prices for most attractions and metro transport are modest.
Getting around
****
The city metro is well-developed and you can get to most places using just this. The external trains are well-linked to the metro also and you can easily get to surrounding attractions and beaches. 















Venice

The most striking thing about Venice is arguably its canals and lack of roads and vehicles. This strange, alluring feature, with ghostly gondolas and rippling reflections adds to a unique and spellbinding atmosphere, alongside Venice’s ‘crumbling around the edges’ appeal. The stunning, intact gilt Basilica and St Mark’s Square are of course highlights, however away from the main tourist areas, a quaint, hidden Venice can be uncovered to delight your senses.
The labyrinth of streets around St Mark’s Square and beyond offer a myriad of eating, drinking and shopping opportunities. Strolling around these tiny streets in the warm, balmy summer evenings is a delight, even if just to soak up the atmosphere.
Gondola rides are of course an experience not to be missed. Although expensive, haggling is possible and prices can be competitive, so it doesn’t hurt to give it the old ‘we’ll try somewhere else’ to see what price they can come up with for you. Gondolas are always around, however for the most ethereal experiences, take a Gondola at night. 
Excellent trips to further away Venetian islands allows visitors to capture the micro-culture of this magnificent city, each little place having its own history and traditions. Murano is the island famous for its exquisite glass-making. Here you can see the glass being made, visit factory shops and learn about the glass-making tradition and its history. It is an easy day trip from the city – a quick boat trip away. Burano is an island around an hour away from the city, using the small ferry service. It is a wonderfully quaint and eccentric little island, with all the buildings painted in the brightest of colours, reflecting vividly in the rippling canals. 
Venice can be reached easily by cheap flight to Treviso, which is around an hour’s bus ride to Venice. The bus drops you at the bus port near the grand canal, and from then on you will see no other road vehicles, apart from if you take a boat to the Lido area.

Venice city break from UK


Category
Rating
Additional Information
When it’s raining
**
A large part of Venice’s draw is the canals, bridges and magnificent buildings seen reflecting in the water. However there are wonderful sights indoors such as the interior of the Basilica San Marco.
Restaurants and Bars
***
Venice is not a renowned part of Italy for food, however it still offers some good places to eat and the standard of cuisine is still high. Pizza in Venice is probably one the least enjoyable foods. Excellent seafood is of course in abundance.
Access from UK
***
Cheap flights to Treviso are common with the usual UK budget airlines.
Value
***
Stay away from St Mark’s square for good value. Prices can drop dramatically just a couple of streets away. Food can be expensive, especially at restaurants with views of the bigger canals.
Getting around
****
Excellent water-taxis which are practical as well as fun. It is possible to buy tickets for a couple of days’ use or even a week, which is much more economical. Gondolas are pricey and more of a treat, not an everyday transport method for us financial mortals.  
























Milan

Milan is a stylish city with a modern appeal alongside many cultural and historical delights. It combines the old and new with finesse you would only expect to find in a major Italian city. Being the home of high-end fashion (although not the originator) certainly contributes to Milan’s elegancy and sophistication; however it is the friendliness of the people, the perfection of the Duomo and the subtle colours of the gothic and renaissance buildings which captivate.
Highlights include, of course, the magnificent Duomo. A fantastic feat of stonemasonry and artistic precision, its magnificence is not only due to its sheer size and impressively ornate façade, it is also the depth and perspective of the statues, pillars, and structures on the roof. It is possible to climb the stairs to the roof for a small fee, and on a clear day it is said that a view to the alps is possible. Another highlight is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle. This is conveniently located adjacent to the Duomo and the magnificent interior can be seen from the Piazza. The Galleria is mainly home to shops along the lines of Prada and Gucci, and is not necessarily a good place to go for designer bargains. There are outlet stores out of the centre, specifically for this.
The Sforza castle features beautiful open grounds and parts of the building and fort itself are extremely old and historic. It is free to wander around the grounds and the exterior of the castle. The museum inside is around 3 Euros each.
The famous Teatro Alla Scala is Milan’s fantastic opera house. Compared to the interior and the acoustics infamous in the opera world, the exterior is nothing absolutely spectacular, however it is not without beauty or drama. The opera house is famous for having been the location responsible for the composition of works such as Verdi and Puccini.
Another highlight is of course Da Vinci’s Last Supper.  The mural is located in the Convent Church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, in the centre of the city. Tickets must be booked days, if not weeks in advance.

Milan city break from UK

Category
Rating
Additional Information
When it’s raining
**
The top of the Cathederal Duomo is slippery when wet and it’s best to climb this for good views when it is dry and clear. That said, a visit to this magnificent centrepiece is stunning inside whatever the weather. The Galleria designer mall is all indoors. 
Restaurants and Bars
***
There are not as many restaurants to choose from in certain parts of town – stick to the centre for the best choice.
Access from UK
****
Very cheap flights to Milan Malpensa are commonplace with UK budget airlines 
Value
***
Italy is generally expensive, however drinking wine is a very affordable pursuit! Most mid-range restaurants are reasonable. Shopping can vary greatly. There are designer outlet stores and malls out of the centre, some commonly distributing the very highest brands at considerably discounted prices.
Getting around
****
Milan is a large and compact city, and can be hard to navigate using a map. The metro and tram are easy enough to use – purchase your ticket in a newsagent or tobacconist before you board. The maps can be a little confusing but the metro and tram stations are close together and the city is well-connected. People are generally very friendly and willing to help lost tourists.























Paris

We Brits really are lucky to have Paris so close (as are the French lucky to have London so close!) Paris an enormously inspirational and cultural location. Whether you’re looking for culinary delights, architectural treats, artistic influence, or even just a spot of great shopping, Paris is an elegant, romantic and visually pleasing city which never fails to impress. Just bring a raincoat!

Paris city break from UK

Category
Rating
Additional Information
When it’s raining
**
Paris is a beautiful city, best viewed from the outdoors. Bring a raincoat to enjoy it whatever the weather. That said, anyone who even has a smidgen of art appreciation can spend the best part of a day at the Louvre, and many of the other famous landmarks if you appreciate history and architecture. Shopping is of course immense, too immense to cover here…!
Restaurants and Bars
****
This largely depends on where you are staying. There are reliably delicious brasseries, cafes and restaurants lining the streets of  Paris – expect a high standard of food in most places.
Access from UK
****
Cheap flights to Charles De Gaulle are common with the usual UK budget airlines. Eurostar is quick, and cheaper if you book in advance (four months)
Value
***
Stay away from the main tourist areas and you will find better value (as with any city). Just stepping into some side streets will dramatically reduce prices.
Getting around
****
The metro is made up of two types of train systems – single and double deckers. They each serve most areas of Paris and you can get to the same area using them. It is complicated to work out, but access to most places is easy using the metro. Maps are large and easy to read, just be prepared to spend a little time deciphering it!  

























Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2012
All Rights Reserved

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