Travel

Planning a City Break

 

City breaks are a thing now. The idea of taking one big holiday is fading, replaced by a number of shorter breaks. Including, but not limited to, the fabulous thing that is the city break. City breaks are great – they can be tailored to any budget, are flexible, can be an affordable means to visit an expensive destination. Choose wisely and a city break can satisfy even the most difficult -to- please traveller. But they can be tricky to make the most of, particularly if you are working to limited time and budget. The best way to get the best out of a city break is to do a little research and then find an angle. And if you’re looking for a little inspiration, here are some of the starting points I have used successfully to get the most out of a short break. Enjoy!

Things Helen Loves, Fjord scenery viewed through a port hole window.
The Fjord Approach to Oslo

Make it about the journey , as much as the destination.

Because the destination isn’t everything! A minicruise is a great way to get away and combine a taste of a city destination with time to enjoy the onboard facilities. I wouldn’t say this is always a great budget option, you can get a reasonably priced minicruise but you need to be prepared to do some onboard spending to make the most of it. We enjoyed a minicruise with Colorline to visit Oslo. Not only did we enjoy the ship with its leisure facilities and entertainment but also enjoyed some beautiful views as we sailed the fjord approach.

Cities this is good for…Oslo, Amsterdam, Bruges, Rotterdam. 

The No-Plan, Plan.

A risky strategy but one that can work really well if  you are visiting a fairly compact city. Exploring by wandering and seeing what you stumble upon will work well in a picturesque and compact city such as Bruges. Not so much a city on a larger scale like Berlin. Its still a good idea to plan ahead and pick out a couple of attractions you want to see and arm yourself with a map…otherwise its easy to realise you’ve spent the past hour wandering round in ever decreasing circles. We adopted this approach in Bruges and after exploring the Belfry and the Markt square, ended up hiring bikes and cycling the canal side path that circles the city. I should point out that this was a child free jaunt. I don’t recommend the No-Plan, Plan if you have the family in tow.

Cities this is good for…Anywhere fairly compact like Bruges ,Aachen or Newcastle Upon Tyne. Also historic cities with twisty streets, interesting corners and pedestrianised areas like York, Edinburgh and Hameln.

Focus on Food.

Everyone’s gotta eat, so why not use that as a starting point? Take a food tour , seek out a local delicacy and learn about it as you try it, visit a local foodie spot. In Germany this often means visiting a bakery or a brewery…tough work, but all in the name of research and experience, right?. This approach worked very well for us when we visited Aachen and we picked up a surprising amount of information about the history of the city just by delving into  the world of the much loved Aachener Printern.

Cities this is good for…Anywhere and Everywhere. Have an open mind and a willingness to try!

Things Helen Loves, Christmas themed window display of Aachener Printern
Aachener Printern

Take  A Ho-Ho.

Ah, the hop-on-hop-off tour. You’ll find these in most cities and although I wouldn’t always opt for one- we did in Luxembourg City  and we could have easily done without-they do have their uses. If your short on time, if you are in a large city, if you are travelling as part of a group or family with different tastes then the Ho-Ho can be a winner. Let everyone in the party take a turn at picking a stop to get off and explore.  If you don’t know too much about the city your in, the commentary can be quite informative too. But if being driven round a pre-selected list of attractions isn’t for you, see the next point.

Cities this is good for… Berlin, London, Prague maybe Edinburgh. Any large city. Not really value for money in smaller cities.

Do a Self Guided Tour.

Most cities now offer up some form of self guided walk or tour. And if the tourist office in the city your visiting hasn’t produced one, just ask at the offices for a map and some suggestions. I love that in some German cities, including Hannover and Kiel, the route of the walk is quite literally marked out on the pavement for you to follow. A great budget option,  you can set your on pace, skip anything that doesn’t interest you, get distracted along the way and pick up the route again when you feel like it. Comfy footwear and a decent map or printed guide advisable.

Cities this is good for…You can adapt this approach to any city. We’ve enjoyed Hannover, Kiel and sections of Berlin & Edinburgh this way.

Things Helen Loves,Red line walking tour in Hannover with guidebook
Walking the Red Thread, self guided walk in Hannover

Indoors and Outdoors.

Does what it says on the tin, really. Pick one indoor attraction and one outdoor and fill in remaining time as you go. We always try to explore at least one city park when we travel, as well as being a chance for the kids to blow off a bit of steam, parks often have an interesting past or former use. When it comes to indoor options the possibilities are endless, from traditional museums and galleries to indoor rainforests and buildings preserving their own history.

Cities this is good for… Anywhere! A great budget option as most parks & gardens are free and most cities offer up some free or low cost indoor options.

Things Helen Loves, Helen sitting on an old steam engine
Interesting find in a park in Berlin.

Seek out the Stories.

If you want to see a different side to a city than the well worn tourist trail, seek out the stories. Blogs are a great source of inspiration for this, I discovered the poignant tale of the Rabbits of Berlin via a blog post and we spent an enjoyable morning finding them, then strolling  Berlins historic streets back to Museum Island. Books, local guides, heritage tours, ghost tours, blogs…find the stories, find a different side to the city you are visiting. You do have to prepared to put some legwork in and sometimes venture into an unremarkable corner of the city to find something a little different. In my opinion, though, its worth it.

Cities this is good for…Any city with history. The more troubled and gory the history, the more interesting the quirks and stories! Berlin and London are full of stories, Edinburgh and York are great for all things ghostly.

Things Helen Loves, image of rabbit silouhette set into paving stone
Rabbits in Chausseestrasse, Berlin.

 

Do you have any method for planning a city break? Or is there a city you think I shouldn’t miss? I am currently making travel plans for the next few months…back on the road in February, watch this space!…so suggestions and inspiration always welcome! Let me know what you think.

Helen x

 

 

 

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