Eastern Europe is streets ahead for fascinating city breaks, reports Katie McGonagle
If good things come in small packages, then a short and sweet city break must be the best holiday of all.
That’s certainly the case in eastern Europe, where seductive cities reel culture-hungry travellers in with promises of compelling history, east-meets-west architecture, and quaint cobbled Old Towns to enjoy getting lost in.
Short flight times, easy access from UK regional airports and abundant capacity from no-frills carriers all make it an easy sell too, particularly with clients booking a break on top of their summer getaway. Make sure you know where to send them with our guide to five of the region’s most exciting cities.
1 PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
Best for: Bohemian beauty
Tell me more: The Czech capital is Superbreak’s biggest seller across the region, and a perfect gateway for first-time visitors to begin their love affair with eastern Europe. Sightseeing highlights abound, but most visitors rightly make a beeline for the bustling Charles Bridge, which spans the Vltava River and teems with tourists no matter what the time of year.
Next, visit the world’s largest ancient castle and impressive cathedral, cross the river to the charming Old Town – stopping for a coffee in the square to admire the animated figures on the Astronomical Clock – then wander through the Jewish Quarter to see its unusual synagogues and the house of literary genius Franz Kafka. Make time to climb Petrin Hill – or take the funicular railway – for unbeatable views.
For a shortcut to the city sights, Do Something Different offers several excursions including Prague Discovery, a small group tour, from £51.
Book it: Superbreak offers a three night bed-and-breakfast break at the three-star Rubicon Hotel from £605, including flights from Gatwick in August.
0871 221 1515
2 BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
Best for: Twice the fun
Tell me more: Skim down the River Danube with Buda on one bank and Pest on the other, past the magnificent Westminster-style parliament and a host of beautiful bridges, and there will be no mistaking the appeal of this split city.
Most historical attractions are concentrated in Castle Hill, to the west: take in the Royal Palace and National Gallery, then wander towards Gothic masterpiece Matthias Church, and next-door, the lookout point Fisherman’s Bastion for superb views of the Chain Bridge and across the river to Pest. Cross over to find another fascinating Jewish district, centred around the grand Dohány Street Synagogue. Nightlife is livelier on this side too, with bars and restaurants serving up hearty Hungarian goulash.
Kirker Holidays’ Patrick Millar recommends visiting the city’s small opera house – a fraction of the price of Vienna or Milan – and its famous public baths. For those with more time, one of the operator’s most popular excursions is a half-day trip to artists’ haven Szentendre.
Book it: Three nights’ B&B at the four-star Art’Otel leads in at £548 with Kirker Holidays, including flights from Heathrow, private car transfers and a Kirker concierge.
020 7593 2288
3 KRAKOW, POLAND
Best for: A poignant past
Tell me more: Krakow’s historical sites stretch from the staterooms and gardens of medieval Wawel Castle to the harrowing concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau nearby. The latter is not recommended for under-14s, but those who wish to visit the site can pre-book a half-day trip through Attraction World for £37 (£20 for 14 to 16-year-olds).
Within Krakow, the Jewish district of Podgorze – home to the Schindler factory – is another reminder of wartime devastation, but the recent emergence of hip bars and cafes there shows the more modern face of the city. Get a culture fix at the National Museum, Czartoryskis Museum or City of Krakow Museum, or swap for some retail therapy at Cloth Hall in the massive market square of Rynek Glowny.
Lawrence Peachey, UK sales manager for Fred Holidays, says: “Most people still go to Krakow to see the Old Town, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site and contains beautiful architecture. You can take a bicycle sightseeing tour of the city, or a tour in an old Trabant car. It is also used as a base for people to visit Auschwitz or a tour of the old salt mines in Wieliczka.”
Book it: Fred Holidays’ three-night breaks to Krakow start at £369, with flights from London or Newcastle, and B&B at the Radisson Blu Hotel.
0808 250 7755
4 TALLINN, ESTONIA
Best for: Rustic charm
Tell me more: Look around Tallinn and you’ll see an eclectic jumble of charming European architecture, brutal Soviet-style buildings, and tell-tale signs of 21st-century globalisation – the sight of the McDonald’s golden arches next to the fairy tale-like ancient city walls says it all.
This unique blend makes for a fascinating city. Go from the 13th-century Toompea Castle – the city’s highest point and a great spot for panoramic views – to one of the best-preserved Old Towns in northern Europe, with a mix of 15th and 16th-century buildings within a compact area, before visiting the Museum of Occupation for a glimpse of life under Nazi and Soviet rule.
Along the way, look out for the onion-shaped domes of the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, drop in to renowned Kumu Art Museum and magnificent Kadriorg Palace, or stop for coffee in charming walkway St Catherine’s Passage. Cresta offers a private guided walking tour, from £74 per couple for two hours.
Book it: Cresta Holidays offers three nights at the Radisson Blu Tallinn from £439, including breakfast and easyJet flights from Gatwick, departing July 14.
0844 800 7019
5 RIGA, LATVIA
Best for: Style and substance
Tell me more: Get ready for an influx of enquiries: Riga has been named European Capital of Culture for 2014, so encourage your clients to go before the crowds descend.
Like its Baltic sister city Tallinn, Riga’s medieval roots have been overlaid with everything from German art nouveau architecture to Soviet-era apartment blocks, so a tour of the city’s building styles doubles up as a potted history of its myriad influences.
Riga Cathedral, best known for its enormous pipe organ, should be top of the sightseeing list, followed by a trip to the Town Square, 14th-century House of Blackheads which was restored after terrible wartime damage, and a relaxing stroll around Bastejkalns Park. The park has statues dedicated to those who died in the struggle for freedom from Soviet rule in 1991, so if that piques your clients’ interest, suggest a stop at the Museum of Occupation.
Book it: Three nights’ B&B at Hanza Hotel, plus flights, starts at £295 with Regent Holidays.
020 7666 1244
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