For many, a city break is a simple addition to a main holiday. So many of Europe’s finest destinations are just a short journey away, making them perfect for a weekend escape.
Often overlooked for its more famous neighbours, Bruges and Brussels, Antwerp is something of a gem with its folkloric beginnings, striking architecture and reputation for the arts. A stroll through the city introduces the casual visitor to a catalogue of styles, from the medieval Grote Markt to the to the Art Nouveau design of the houses in the Zurenborg district. Possibly the most famous artwork is the statue of Antigoon the giant in front of the town hall. According to folklore, he charged a toll for crossing the river and severed the hands of those who refused to pay. A young hero named Brabo eventually slew him, cutting off the giant’s hand and flinging it into the river.
In contrast to the more formal architecture of the buildings, Antwerp has a lighter side, visible in the walls scattered throughout the city that have been transformed into comic strip scenes. Cartoon walks can be taken that pass some of Belgium’s best loved characters, such as De Rode Ridder (the Red Knight) and Suske and Wiske (Willy and Wanda).
A trip to Antwerp wouldn’t be complete without a chance to sample the famous Belgian beers. De Koninck beers can be found in most pubs as the city is home to its brewery, and a recent favourite among locals and visitors alike is Seefbier, resurrected from its pre-1930s heyday and now a must-try for the beer connoisseur.
The ultimate city break destination, Paris is great for a short getaway, whether it’s a romantic weekend or a sophisticated sojourn with the girls. There’s no shortage of world famous landmarks, cultural attractions, shopping centres and restaurants.
The metro is a fast way to travel, but the real experience of Paris is on foot. Many of the ‘must-sees’ are within a central area – the Jardin du Luxembourg, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay are all within walking distance – so it’s easy to get acquainted with the city while taking in some of the main sights. As with any bustling tourist town, an early start for attractions such as the Louvre is necessary if queues are to be avoided.
Shoppers will naturally flock to the Champs Elysées, but Paris will reward those prepared to go off the beaten track with an irresistible bargain or two. Mistigriff, near the Eiffel Tower, has some excellent designer seconds that carry discounts of up to 85%, while north of Norte Dame on Rue de Rivoli is André, a shop known for its affordable shoes.
Predictably, good food is never more than a stone’s throw either. Most city breakers will be out and about in the heart of Paris, where a clever mini-chain called Boco operates. Food can be eaten in or taken away, so it’s an ideal place to stop for some picnic fare, which can then be unhurriedly enjoyed in one of the city’s lovely green spaces nearby. For a special occasion, Michelin stars are obligatory. The cream of the crop includes Cobéa in Montparnasse, a chic place that epitomes French fine dining, and Lasserre near the Champs Elysées, where the likes of Audrey Hepburn, André Malraux and Marc Chagall have dined.
Whilst a trip up the Eiffel Tower is seen as one of the essential things to do, Montparnasse Tower is actually a higher point in the city and gives you a great view that includes the Eiffel Tower. It’s also a little easier on the wallet.
City breaks don’t come much more relaxing than a visit to Bath. Named for the famous Roman baths that lie at the heart of the city, it makes for a great cultural getaway all year round. Nothing beats a stroll through the cobbled streets on a frosty December morning with the promise of a steaming cup of tea and a fresh pastry just around the corner.
A trip to Bath without a visit to its most famous attraction seems absurd. The Great Bath lies below street level and offers an insight into Roman life in the city. Walk round the museum with an audio guide, explore the ruins and sample the spa water, said to have healing properties. The ideal follow up to this is a stint in the Thermae Bath Spa, which offers one-off spa sessions and a host of soothing treatments such as hot stone therapies, facials and Watsu, a stretching and massage treatment that takes place in the thermal waters of the Hot Bath.
There’s no better way to round off a relaxing city break than with a delicious afternoon tea. A range of hotels, including the Bath Spa Hotel and Royal Crescent Hotel offer sumptuous array of elegant sandwiches, cakes and scones complete, of course, with a selection of teas.