Here’s my my pick of the best affordable city breaks to take this winter…
I love winter city breaks. They’re affordable, usually a lot less crowded than peak season, and they also show off the city in a whole new light. Bruges twinkling with fairy lights and Budapest frosted with layers snow, like a great big Christmas cake, are just two cases in point. That’s right, you don’t get much more charming than a beautiful city in winter. If it involves a horrible Ryanair flight that costs less than a train ride, a cosy hotel to curl up in at the end of the day, and lots of stodgy food that it would be rude not to sample then I am All. Over. It.
Need some inspiration? Here’s my round-up of the best winter city breaks in Europe…
Peer through the windows of the first ever Prada shop, get the quintessential photograph in front of the Duomo, and take a
freezing exhilarating boat ride around the nearby Lake Como – they’ll even point out where George Clooney’s house is. Oh yes, and there’s one of the most famous frescoes of all time to see, Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Delicious, creamy plates of pasta are a must and this was also the place I discovered the delights of tiramisu and Aperol Spritz for the first time… heavenly!
Top tip: avoid booking one of the touristy day trips up to Lake Como and just take the train – it’s miles cheaper and it means you can create your own schedule rather then being shuttled around.
It certainly didn’t enamour Colin Farrell in the movie In Bruges, but I was totally charmed by Bruges in winter. If you want to have loads of stuff on your itinerary you might be disappointed, but if you’re happy to potter around and take in the canals, the beautiful medieval buildings, or discover the swans at the Lake of Love then you’ll be fine. Hey, it doesn’t get much more romantic than Bruges.
Top tip: I really wanted to stay in a hotel that embodied the old fashioned charm of Bruges, so we stayed in the Hotel Ter Brughe. I’d seen on their website that they had a couple of rooms that had lots of wonderful beams and so I popped a request for one on the booking – and we got one!
I’ve already mentioned Budapest in my other posts here and here, but it’s difficult to find something more magical than the Hungarian capital, particularly in winter. Fisherman’s Bastion is like something out of a fairytale at the best of times, but when it’s sprinkled powdery white snow it’s even more gorgeous. You can also ice skate in front of a castle or discover the graffiti-ridden ruins bars. Visiting in winter also means you have the perfect excuse to get stuck into all of the stodge-heavy food, from traditional langos to the disarmingly tasty chicken stew and dumplings.
Top tip: Definitely carve out some time to visit Szimpla Kert, one of the most famous ruins bars in Budapest. It’s got a dirty underground vibe and is honestly one of the coolest places I’ve ever been.
Visit Venice in winter and you won’t have to deal with the crowds spilling out of the cruise ships onto St Mark’s Square, the endless queues for the sights, and the road rage you’ll inevitably get every time you try to cross a bridge and it’s crammed with tourists. Beep beep. On a more positive note, Venice in winter is dreamy; its undeniable charm is only enhanced further by the cloak of moody blues and greys it wears in the off-season. Oh, to live somewhere that beautiful…
Top tip: one of the best things we did in Venice was take the all-day Murano, Burano, and Torcello boat trip. The multi-coloured houses in Burano are absolutely stunning and made my trip.