Fancy a sunny European city break this spring? You don’t have to blast a hole in your pocket and surely anywhere is better than here right now…snow in springtime; who needs it?
Istanbul is a compelling city. A mesmerising blend of ancient roots meets colourful bustling modern metropolis; with a good dose of ‘happening hip’ to boot. Clean, green and home to a staggering array of dazzlingly beautiful sites and sights – including exquisite Ottoman mosques and an abundance of important historical buildings – Istanbul is an exciting city with a unique ambience and an ever-growing array of new art galleries, stylish bars, clubs and restaurants. The food alone will take you on an unforgettable adventure; just commit the word büfe to memory. A type of corner store found throughout the city, the büfe is the place to beeline to for cheap, tasty fare. From mussels stuffed with rice to meaty kebabs, fried chestnuts to spicy pickles, prepare to widen your culinary horizons (and your waistline). Street food is a cornerstone of Istanbul’s on a shoe string appeal, so get stuck in. It’s not just the food that’s budget-friendly, Istanbul boasts a fantastic range of quality budget hotels and hostels; Hotel Niles and Agora Guesthouse tick a lot of boxes. With so much to offer, unsurprisingly, Istanbul attracts tourists in their droves, and yet the alluring city is anything but a slave to tourism. Retaining a strong sense of authenticity and national pride at its core, Istanbul is not to be missed. Then, of course, there’s the weather. Istanbul is lovely in spring, with pleasantly mild and sunny conditions. Getting there doesn’t have to cost a bomb either; Pegasus Airlines flies from Stansted to Istanbul from £101 return.
Barcelona has long been a popular city break destination and is usually a failsafe choice in terms of enjoying plenty of sunshine come spring. However, despite its undisputed cosmopolitan flair and clement conditions, Barcelona may not spring to mind when choosing a good place to pop over to on a tight budget (as anyone who has paid above the odds for seriously mediocre tapas or had their wallet pick-pocketed on the Ramblas will attest). But Barcelona doesn’t have to break the bank; earmark some good budget places to stay, such as Barceló Raval, and swerve the plethora of over priced, touristy tapas restaurants, and opt for authentic, affordable tapas bars and freshly bought picnic food instead – both of which can be found in the brilliant Boqueria Market. Plus, with the recent opening of a new stretch of high-speed line between Figueres and Barcelona, it’s now perfectly feasible to hop on a train from London in the morning, connect in Paris, and reach Barcelona in time for a quick shower and dinner. Prices start from £98 one way (renfe.com), plus come April it’s expected that additional track improvements will cut journey times even further. Bueno!
Despite being Belgium’s most popular destination and one of Western Europe’s most visited medieval cities, Bruges hasn’t allowed itself to become a tourist trap, nor a city that can’t move with the times. In fact, although much of the architecture looks as it would have centuries ago, Bruges has undergone regular renovation over the years and much of its architecture dates to the 19th and 20th centuries. With a tangible timeless quality and picturesque cobbled streets, traditional market squares and canals flanked by old almshouses, a visit to Bruges is like a step back in time. However, bringing things bang up to date is the city’s enjoyable array of art galleries, cosy cafes, lively bars and quality restaurants. Visit now and the peaceful begijnhof (a walled community once housing a Catholic order of women) will be carpeted with daffodils, which is more than can be said for our green and (currently not so) pleasant land. Renting a bike out is a fun (albeit sometimes bumpy; blame the cobblestones and strong Belgian beer) and cheap way to get around and explore the city. Once you’ve worked up a good appetite, head to Sint- Amandsstraat Street where you’ll find some excellent delis serving tasty, well priced food. It would be rude to leave Bruges without eating your own body weight in Belgian chocolate. Chocostory is dedicated to all things cocoa-related, and best of all, dishes out free chocolate. Adornes Hotel is a cosy, old-style hotel located right on the canal on Sint Annarei and combines comfy rooms boasting lovely views of the canal with great rates. It takes a little over two hours to get to Brussels from St Pancras on Eurostar (with free onward train travel available to Bruges) with return tickets from £79.