5 Bank Holiday European City Breaks
Don’t let that extra day go to waste. With continental Europe on our doorstep, it’s easy to make it a long weekend in one of these cities.
Heather Richardson is an award-winning travel writer based in London. She has worked in print, online and in broadcasting in the UK, US, Asia and Australia. In 2015, she was selected as one of TTG’s 30 under 30 travel influencers for her work in the luxury travel industry. @HG_Richardson / www.hg-richardson.com
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Scotland’s picturesque, historic capital, Edinburgh is the perfect size for a long weekend of exploration. Climb Carlton Hill for some of the best views across the city before enjoying lunch at the wonderful, unpretentious, Michelin-starred – and reasonably priced – restaurant 21212, which sits at the foot of the hill and has four rooms as well if you’re looking for a luxurious, inviting place to sleep.
An alternative hilltop view can be enjoyed from Arthur’s Seat. A May Day tradition is for young women to wash their faces with the morning dew of the hill. If it’s a warm day, take a stroll through the Meadows, located just by the University of Edinburgh’s main buildings in George Square.
Up in the city centre, you can shop along Princes Street and George Street, after climbing the 287 steps of the narrow, spiral staircase that winds up the iconic, ornate Scott Monument that towers over Princes Street with views of Edinburgh Castle.
Spend an afternoon tantalising your tastebuds at the grand Balmoral hotel’s whisky bar with a Scotch tasting session or wandering around the Scottish National Gallery. In the evening, try one of Edinburgh’s top cocktail bars such as Bramble, or throw yourself into a ceilidh at Ghillie Dhu.
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Budapest is one of eastern Europe’s most popular cities and easily accessed for a bank holiday break. A city rich in history and culture, Budapest straddles the Danube River with the Buda Hills located to the west of the city.
Visit the Royal Palace, the Great Synagogue and the Parliament, though in truth you could spend days admiring the architecture of the city. A must-see is Memento Park, where you’ll find statues and artworks that hark back to the Socialist past of Budapest. After a day of sightseeing, take a soak in one of the hot spring public baths, such the ornate Széchenyi Baths by City Park.
Though it may not be easy viewing, a trip to the House of Terror is essential for anyone interested in history. Telling the story of Jews in Hungary during the Second World War, the museum is housed in the building that used to be the party headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis.
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One of the most eclectic capitals in Europe, Berlin is full of surprises. With a harrowing history behind it, Berlin is also a modern city with a cutting-edge alternative music and nightlife scene.
Though Berlin’s history is not the only aspect of this capital, it is unavoidable. Make a stop at the striking Holocaust Memorial, which remembers the Jews killed during the Holocaust and consists of 2,711 blocks of stone arranged across a square, creating a labyrinth in which to walk. Visit the Berlin Wall, where the East Side Gallery stretch has been covered in graffiti by local artists. Checkpoint Charlie – the east/west checkpoint – is now a fascinating museum.
One of Berlin’s most iconic structures is the interior of the Reichstag, where a glass funnel-shaped structure rises up to the glass ceiling ahead, a spiral walkway wrapping upwards around the walls. This is a great place from which to view the city.
Finally, those partial to a night out should not miss the chance to sample Berlin’s hedonistic offerings. The techno ‘church’ Berghain is an institution, albeit one that can be difficult to enter due to a door policy that seems to follow no obvious pattern. It opens at midnight on Saturday and doesn’t close until Monday morning.
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A European capital of culture in 2016, San Sebastián has long been known as paradise for foodies, but it’s also a charming, beautiful city. Set by the sea, the beach – Playa de la Concha – is clean, wide and picturesque, with plenty of bars and restaurants lining the harbour and shore, and great surf for wave riders.
The food for which San Seb is famous for is of course pintxos – the Basque version of tapas. You don’t need to hunt for pintxos, as any bar will have a selection of bites to compliment your beverage. However, two recommendations are Zeruko, which has a queue waiting at the door when it opens and Atari, which serves fantastic octopus.
You’ll find dessert at La Viña, which offers what might be the best cheesecake in the world. The local wine is txakolí, which is a light, slightly fizzy white wine that is gloriously cheap and wonderfully easy to drink.
At some point you’ll want a break from all the eating and drinking (probably), so stretch your legs and head up Urgull, the hill that overlooks the city and the beach. The Mota Castle sits at the top with a 12-metre statue of Jesus.
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An underrated capital, Lisbon is a chilled capital set on Portugal’s Atlantic coastline. Alfama is the city’s traditional – though quickly changing – neighbourhood, where a Moorish influence makes the architecture interesting and the quiet streets make it feel like a real slice of local life.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is a UNESCO-protected monastery. Grand and ornate, this site is worth a morning of your weekend in Lisbon. For an afternoon treat, don’t miss the custard tarts at Pastéis de Belém, just down the road.
Ride one of the classic yellow trams through the city and spend a while at a pavement cafe, before heading for lunch or dinner at a seafood restaurant. Try Ramiro, one of the capital’s most popular spots.
Finally, take advantage of Lisbon’s coastline by spending a day at the beach. Praia de Carcavelos is nearby with convenient transport links, good surfing and a stretch of golden sand. Further out, Praia da Rainha is one of the most lovely coves in the area.
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