Despite being a country and mountain loving girl, city breaks are definitely a thing for me. I really enjoy a few days exploring a new city, or an old favourite.

City breaks have a lot going for them – 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.

I’m not against a spontaneous trip, but a little pre-planning can go a long way. Especially if you are working to limited time and budget. I find it useful to do a little research and then find an angle. 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 always the be all and end all.  A minicruise for example, is a great way to get away and combine a taste of a city destination with time to enjoy the onboard facilities.

We enjoyed a two night 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. Between sailings, we had just less than a day ashore.

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 wander round in ever decreasing circles.

Bruges streets. Photo by Evgenia on

We went no plan, plan 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.

You’re going to eat where ever you go, so why not use that as a starting point? Take a food tour , seek out a local delicacy and learn as you try it, visit a local foodie spot.

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…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.

The hop-on-hop-off tour. You’ll find these in most cities and although I wouldn’t always go for one, they can be a good option. Not always budget friendly, but they do make sight seeing easier and organized.

ย 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.ย 

Things Helen Loves, Facade of Grand Ducal Palace, Luxembourg City
The Grand Ducal Palace, Luxembourg city. Explored on a ho-ho tour.

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. If the tourist office in the city your visiting hasn’t produced one, just ask at the offices for a map and some suggestions. Tip: don’t ask what they think you should see, ask what they personally would take guests to see.

That way you get an insiders view of the city you’re visiting.

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.

Some cities have advanced to having walks available via app. For example, Leipzig has the  Leipzig 89 app that walks visitors across the city and through history.

Comfy footwear and a decent map, app or printed guide advisable.

Cities this is good for…You can adapt this approach to any city. We’ve enjoyed Hannover, Kiel , Leipzig 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 every city has free parks and gardens, and there’s always a free or low cost indoor option.

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  Berlinstreets back to Museum Island.

Local guides, public art trails, 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.

Do you have any method for planning a city break? Or is there a city you think I shouldn’t miss? I’m always looking for places to add to ‘The List’. Suggestions and inspiration always welcome!

Let me know what you think.

Helen x


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