If your holiday allowance is limited, then Europe is rich with short breaks that can stimulate your senses, let you escape into nature, get a cultural fix, or see some sunshine. All within easy reach of the UK. Here are my top destinations for short breaks in Europe. Including one based in the UK itself, of course!
This is a collaborative feature. All views are my own. The top image is the Picos de Europa, from Pixabay. All other images are my own.
Short breaks in the sun: Asturias Spain
This destination’s one we haven’t visited yet, but it’s high up on my wish-list. Asturias is a lush, green part of Spain, best seen by foot, which is why I’m tempted by a walking holiday from Inntravel. The travel company offers a few breaks in this verdant region.
As well as the Picos de Europa mountain range, a national park with sheer rock faces and dramatic river gorges, Asturias is home to Spain’s “Green Coast”. The Costa Verde is less well-known, and more peaceful than some other Spanish coastal regions. Huge rocky cliffs, hidden coves and rolling green hills line the coast. Set between the mountains and Atlantic Ocean, Costa Verde features elegant seaside resorts and beguiling medieval towns with narrow, cobbled streets and traditional cafés.
For a city fix, Asturias’ charming capital Oviedo boasts a medieval Old Town and a Museum of Fine Arts. You can visit the beautiful Palacio de Santa María del Naranco, a UNESCO world heritage site, or explore the city’s main park, Campo de San Francisco. A walk around the 90,000 square metres of wide paths will take you past ruined monuments, ponds, fountains, green meadows and woodland. The Mercado El Fontán, a market dating back to the 19th century, sells cheeses and souvenirs. All this is incredibly tempting to me. Spain is a top destination for short breaks in the sun, and Asturias sounds like a calm, peaceful choice. Have you been?
Weekend city breaks: Paris
The Eurostar train connection between the UK and France makes mini breaks to Paris very easy. If you’re travelling from London, it only takes an hour or so longer to get to the French capital than it does to the Kent coast. Once you’ve checked into the Eurostar’s departure lounge at St Pancras International, the journey is usually as smooth as beurre d’Isigny.
The Eurostar connection takes you into Gare du Nord. Despite the short time it takes to get there, when you step out of the station, and see the Gothic and Renaissance architecture, you’re unmistakeably in a different country. A short stroll from Gare du Nord, on the Boulevard de Magenta, is Marché Saint-Quentin. This historic artisan food market opened in 1866. It’s the largest of its type in Paris, and as well as selling meats (cured and fresh), fish and cheese, there are several delicatessan stalls where you can sit and eat African, Italian and Portuguese food. You’ll also find the obligatory champagne and oyster booths.
Short breaks to Paris: the iconic sights
If you want to see the iconic Eiffel Tower, from Gare du Nord take the Metro to the Champs de Mars Tour Eiffel station. Alternatively, you could pick up one of the plentiful taxis that roam the streets. Once you’ve reached the Eiffel Tower, be prepared to queue, and try to buy a ticket in advance. But when you make it to the top , the views across Paris are unparalleled.
There are countless other sights to see in Paris, including the 44-hectare Père Lachaise Cemetery, where you can see the graves of Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. There’s the Louvre, the world’s largest art museum and home of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. If you like to dine in style, you can book a lunch or dinner cruise on board one of the Bateaux Mouches. These celebrated boats ride up and down the Seine, past all the Parisian river’s major landmarks. As you float along, waiters serve you gourmet French cuisine, and a pianist tinkles some graceful melodies.
Great little breaks: Bournemouth
It wouldn’t be a round-up of short breaks in Europe without including at least one UK destination. Bournemouth, in Dorset on the south coast of England, has been a popular seaside resort since the 19th Century. Its 7-mile, sandy beach, and the revamped seafront attractions have earned Bournemouth a TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards for two years in a row.
A cute Land Train runs up and down the seafront, taking visitors right up to Bournemouth’s iconic beach huts. These shed-like constructions line the coast, in graduated pastel colours, ranging from yellows and creams through greens, blues and then on to purples and pinks. You can hire one of these eye-catching huts for your own personal use while you’re in Bournemouth. They’re handy for putting your beach gear inside, and they come with deckchairs and a gas ring. So you can make a cuppa and relax by the edge of the waves. The Bournemouth Tourism website. gives more details on how to hire a beach hut.
The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum is set in an exquisite Bournemouth Victorian villa overlooking the sea. It’s crammed full of gleaming furniture, as well as delicate 19th Century statues and paintings that made you want to stop and gaze. The elegant Art Deco Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre regularly hosts top-quality shows on tour from London’s West End. And, for a bit of fun, there’s Smuggler’s Cove Adventure Golf, an 18-hole golf course with a sea view.
Christmas weekend breaks in Bournemouth
If you visit at Christmas time, Bournemouth comes alive with over 100 sparkling Christmas trees and illuminations, at Christmas Tree Wonderland. The festive season is a good time for family breaks to Bournemouth. You can read about ours here.
Short breaks for nature lovers: the Norwegian fjords
Norway’s a country of fjords, with more than a thousand along the coast. But most of the iconic ones – the Sognefjord, Lysefjord, Geirangerfjord and the UNESCO world heritage Nærøyfjord – are in western Norway. So short break holidays to the region around Bergen can be a good choice for people wanting to pack the biggest fjord wow-factor into the shortest time possible.
You can see my four-day itinerary for the western fjords near Bergen here. You really need longer to properly take it in, but if you only have a short time, four days is enough to see the main highlights.
The route to Stegastein viewpoint is a knuckle-whitening drive along the Aurlandsfjellet mountain road. Its hairpin bends and sheer drops would make even a mountain goat call for crampons. But once there, you’ll be treated to one of the most breathtaking views on this planet. The Stegastein viewing platform is 650m above ground level. A wooden jetty juts out over the precipice, before doubling back under itself in an elegant curve. This means that, when you peer down over the sloping perspex barrier at the end of the viewpoint, all you can see are the mountains, and the Aurlandsfjord way down in the abyss. It’s a moving experience. In this part of Norway, nature really is king.
To see the Norwegian fjords from a much closer distance, head to Flåm, a small town beloved of cruise trips. Nestled into the water, the town is a set-off point for RIB boat tours, which skim along the water, past the village of Undredal, which inspired the hit Disney film, Frozen. The safari takes you to the Nærøyfjorden, a UNESCO world heritage site where the fjord is only 250 m wide in places, and the mountains loom 1800 metres above. It’s breathtaking.
After seeing Flåm, you can take the charming Flåm Railway. After chuffing out of the small town it goes curling up into the mountains, past snowy cycle tracks and the frozen Kjossfossen waterfall, where a Norse goddess is said to dance. It eventually connects with a line back to Bergen, where some international flights run to the UK, and connecting flights go to Oslo.
Where would you go on a short break in Europe?
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