Wanderlust: Your Best European Mini Trips for Weekends and Bank Holidays (Soon)

Aug 1, 2020

Health & Lifestyle | Lauranne Heres


Remember those days when we could just catch a £15 EasyJet flight to Italy on a Friday night? Yeah, I struggle too. But they existed (I have the photo and magnet evidence) and they’ll be back soon enough. Remember to take a free walking tour whenever possible (there’s loads of companies around Europe offering them) to maximise what you see and learn. So, to titillate your travel-deprived brain, here are some of my favourite mini getaways. I’ll obviously start with my home countries!

France

Lyon: Not only my hometown, but also the capital of gastronomy! Thought Paris had all the good stuff? Think again. Lyon is famous for its Michelin-starred restaurants and cooks, and even smaller eateries (the famous Bouchons) have great dishes at affordable prices. Walk through rue des Marroniers or rue Mercière for some of the best restaurants, touristy or not. If you’re into history, the city has plenty to offer. Once an important Gallic and Roman town, there’s the Gallo-Roman Museum in the Croix-Rousse neighbourhood, right next to several old amphitheatres, some of which are still used today for concerts and open-air events. If you’re a movie buff, Lyon is the birthplace of the frères Lumière, the brothers that invented cinema. There’s a museum dedicated to them in the 8ème arrondissement, and also a miniature museum in rue St Jean, where you can see original scenes and props from famous films. Don’t miss out on the Cathédrale Saint Jean, the Basilisk of Fourvière, the grand Opera house and the Théâtre des Célestins. For shopping, stick to rue de la République and adjacent streets when the weather is nice, the Vieux Lyon neighbourhood for random knickknacks or La Part-Dieu mall on rainy days. Buy some snacks and head to Parc de la Tête D’Or for a leisurely picnic or get out of town a little and check out the Parc de Miribel Jonage which has a lovely lake. If skiing is your jam, it shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to get to the nearest slopes.


Paris: Oh, the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysées, Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame! You know it all, so no need to dive into specifics. Just remember that queues will be long, it’s always best to buy tickets online ahead of time and to pick times where there’s less people (early mornings or lunch). If you haven’t been already, the Palace of Versailles has recently completed extensive renovations and it’s an amazing place to visit. Stroll through the gardens designed by André Le Nôtre and sneak a peak into the King’s bedchamber. If you’re a fan of Amélie Poulain, get yourself to Montmartre and marvel at the Sacre-Coeur, and the tiny streets with adorable shops. My dad always fondly remembers the Quartier Latin, where all the students hang out after a hard day at the Sorbonne. Check out the Pantheon, the Jardins du Luxembourg or Jardin des Plantes and have lunch or dinner in one of the many restaurants there. I won’t forget Disneyland (how could I), which is easily accessible by RER. If you’re only going there, avoid the official park hotels and stay at a smaller hotel chain a little further out. They all offer shuttles to the parks all day long and are usually half the price. Park hopper tickets are most cost-effective, especially if you scope out where to eat ahead of time. Smaller snacks are good for lunch (also check out the Disney village between the two parks) while a bigger dinner will help you waste time between rides closing and the fireworks. And to avoid long queues, don’t hesitate to break up your party and try the single rider queues. You’ll often end up in the same carriage anyway, and it’ll be much faster on rides such as Crush’s Coaster.


Also great: Nice, Strasbourg (especially at Christmas time), Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Biarritz, Rennes.

Photographer: Lauranne Heres

Germany

Cologne: It’s one of my favourite cities, and not just because it has 7 Christmas markets (including an LGBT one that sells waffle penises). The Dom, the famous cathedral, is an imposing sight and there’s always plenty to do around there. Shopping streets fan out behind and a Zoo is nearby. I recommend checking out the chocolate museum near the Rhine for interesting facts and sneaky snacks. If you’re there for a few days, also check out Bonn, the former capital of Germany between 1949 and 1990, while de country was divided by the Wall. If you have kids, head to Brühl and go to Phantasialand, an awesome theme park with great rides. It’s cheaper than both Disney and the neighbouring Europapark.


Hamburg: See the city’s infamous Opera House on your way through the Speicherstadt, the old wharfs, some of which are now snazzy flats or offices, others still in use for shipping companies. Book ahead to go visit Miniature Wonderland, a gorgeous museum with incredibly detailed miniatures of the world’s greatest sights and inventions. You can stroll on the banks of the river Elbe, and in the summer some of them become as packed as Spanish beaches. You can take a boat to leave the city behind and seek calmer shores, or just stick to one of the bars close to the waterfront. For good views, head up the bell tower of the “Michel”, or St Michaelis church. The inside is also worth a look. From there, and for animated nightlife, head to the Reeperbahn, the famous Hamburg street filled with bars, strip clubs and other establishments that attract rowdy groups of stags and hens. Beatles fans will be able to see a sculpture of the Fab Four near the club they first played at.

Photographer: Lauranne Heres

Berlin: If you haven’t yet been, it’s high time you did. Not only is there plenty to see in terms of historical importance (the Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag, the remnants of Berlin wall dotted around the city – and the attached museums or exhibits; Checkpoint Charlie, the Jewish memorial, the Berlin story Bunker, the Kaiser-Wilhelm church Memorial, the GDR museum and Alexanderplatz), but Berlin is also known for its amazing club scene, some almost impossible to get into; it’s art scene, with new designers and artists flocking there from all over, and its generally chill vibe, which still attracts students and young professionals who flock to the capital like moths to a flame. Remember to order a Curry Wurst at a street stand, and to take a lazy boat tour of the Spree. You can walk around the Tiergarten for hours, or just get lost in the maze of streets which where once divided and where architecture is often the only proof of a different time.


I also recommend Munich, Dresden, Leipzig and Hanover.

Spain

Seville: If you ever fancied watching a Flamenco show, this is the place to do it. There’s countless restaurants and bars which offer dinner with a dance, but for a slightly cheaper option, head to the school of Flamenco, where there’s several shows a night. Check out the famous Cathedral and the adjacent Royal Alcazar, one of the Moorish castles. Visit the Plaza de Toros for a history lesson on the sport of bullfighting. For beautiful pictures, check out Plaza de España. Fill up on tapas which over there still come mostly free when you order a drink at a bar. If you have an extra day and a rental car, you can check out Gibraltar to say hi to the monkeys.


San Sebastian: This gorgeous city in the Basque Country is famous for its food, and there are so many award-winning restaurants there that it can be difficult to pick just one. Thankfully, the Spanish have perfected the art of bar hopping and if you head to La Parte Vieja, the old town, you will see heaving establishments where normal health and safety measures go out the window. Food is displayed for all to see, hams dangle from the ceiling and there’s often barely enough room for you to order Pintxos (the local word for tapas) at the till. I recommend La Viña, on Calle 31 Agosto for their famous croquetas de jamon, tortilla and the cheesecake that wins every prize. The city has a firework competition every August during their holiday week, and you can watch them for free from anywhere around the beach of La Concha. Local trains, affectionately called the Topo (the mole), can take you to neighbouring France in less than 45min so you can surf in Hendaye, on the largest beach of the Basque coast; or to Bilbao, where you could visit the Guggenheim.

In The Photo: Lauranne Heres

Tenerife: The island, the largest of the Canaries, is home to the Teide volcano, Spain’s tallest peak. You can drive up most of the way, and a cable car will take you up to the top. From there you can hike if that’s your jam, or just take a stroll across the black sulfuric surface, sometimes covered in snow. The island is famous for its beaches, some of which are white, others black; and there are countless resorts for you to stay at, or simply hotels dotted around. You can drive across in very little time, so people tend to stay in one place but visit all over during their stay. The food around hotels and beaches is mainly catering to tourists, with a lot of European and US foods available at every establishment. It’s worth checking out more local eateries for a more authentic experience.


Don’t forget to visit Granada, Barcelona and Madrid

Italy

Florence: Check into your hotel and stroll past Ponte Vecchio to feel like you’ve just stepped back in time. The houses perched on the edges seem to be one inch from tumbling into the river below. Order a quick lunch of pizza or a ciabatta sandwich and finish off with some nice gelato. Then head down to the Duomo, an amazing feat of architecture. The incredible story about its construction will blow your mind. Splash out on dinner and stuff your face with course after course. Pasta, meat, vegetables that melt in your mouth. Italians know how to make everything taste better. Take an “art” tour of the city the next day and see Michelangelo’s David and countless other statues, frescos and paintings. Make sure you get a checked luggage as you’ll want to stuff your suitcase with everything from Fico’s Eataly. It’s like the best supermarket you’ll ever find.


Palermo: Head to Sicily for a different kind of adventure. Palermo has plenty of hotels set up in former palazzos and there’s a little train that takes you around the sights of the city if you’re feeling lazy. Get lost in the winding streets and discover Palermo’s hidden shops and eateries. If you fancy lying around doing nothing, there are plenty of beaches with azure water where you can soak up the sun and while away the hours. For your culture fix, there’s countless Greek temples and theatres around the island. Pick one, or more, and learn better than you did in school.


Not to miss are Rome, Genoa, or Milan.

Photographer: Lauranne Heres

Austria

Vienna: Channel your inner Empress Elizabeth and head to Schönbrunn castle. Vienna has plenty of rental bikes and it’s a great way of getting around. You could also take the tram, either from A to B or to tour parts of the city. If you fancy some fun, check out the Prater where you can either lounge around or go on a ride on the Ferris wheel. Don’t leave without having had a slice of cake, or two or three! Sacher Torte is a classic, but there’s plenty of fruit cakes, poppy seed cakes or other chocolate delights to be had. Get your meat fix with a cheese filled sausage at one of the many stands in town!


Salzburg: If you’re a fan of The Sound of Music, you can either go on an organised tour, driving around town in huge buses; or you can download a list of locations and wander the streets yourself. Most of them are within walking distance of one another and you can see many for free. The gardens of Schloss Mirabell beckon for you to run/dance through them if you feel like recreating Do-Re-Mi and you can visit a lot of the churches used in the movie. Don’t forget to get yourself “Schnitzel with noodles”, also known as Schnitzel with Spätzle.


For great skiing in the winter or hiking in the summer, check out Innsbruck and the surrounding areas. My favourite is Seefeld!

In The Photo: Lauranne Heres

Scandinavia

Oslo: Things in Oslo are big. The ferries, the churches, the universities, theatres, and other government buildings. Get yourself a little troll in one of the many souvenir shops, and remember to get yourself some Freia chocolate to take home. Their Kvikk Lunsj, which is similar to a KitKat, is so much better and best consumed with a chocolate milk such as Cocio. The Freia sign in central Oslo is illuminated at night and cheers up the dark sky. Take a walk up the side of the Opera House (yes you can just walk on it) and enjoy the view. If you don’t have time to go see the Fjords on the West coast, you can take a short boat ride through the inner Oslofjord for some great scenery. You can take public transport to take you to Holmenkollbakken, the Olympic ski jumping hill. Take a walk to the top, check out the museum or zipline down the track in the summer months.


Copenhagen: Channel your inner Instagrammer in front of the colourful houses in Nyhavn, then head to one of the many restaurants and have some seafood. If you’re still feeling peckish, check out the famous food market at Banegarden. From there, it’s just a hop and a skip to Tivoli gardens, the famous amusement park. You can buy tokens for the rides or just stroll around and enjoy the fun. Check out the Little Mermaid and the Kastellet fortress. And if you want to get some funky exercise in, rent a swan or duck shaped Pedalo on the river and cruise around in your boat, waving at other waterfowl as you go.

Photographer: Lauranne Heres

Helsinki: Don’t miss the Rock Church, or Temppeliaukion. A huge organ protruding from a rocky wall, and a gorgeous roof ceiling. Or stand in awe before the Helsinki cathedral, a monument in white and blue. Take a boat and travel to Suomenlinna military fort. You can walk around the island, get some breath-taking views, and get a bit to eat! I recommend trying Lohikeitto, a salmon cream soup that’s served with dark rye bread. We loved it so much, we learned how to make it at home! If you remember The Moomins from your childhood, find your favourite character in one of the many merchandise or souvenir shops around town. And to finish your stay, take a ride in the Ferris wheel. You could even get into the sauna cabin if you wished!


Don’t forget to check out Stockholm, Gothenburg, Bergen and Reykjavik.

There are loads of other places to go, such as Moscow, Madeira, Santorini, Cyprus and so on! Just close your eyes and wish you’re there until it’s safe to go again!

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