Top micro breaks in Europe

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

From unspoiled Adriatic beaches and hypnotic Highland hills to one of Europe’s best cities for coffee, these destinations are our top picks for a micro-break in Europe, all within 3 hours travel time from most major European cities.

Budapest - Regal architecture and electric nightlife

When looking out over the waters of the Danube from Buda to Pest, Budapest looks as though it is made entirely of dreamy church spires, huge swaggering bridges and regal Habsburg-era architecture. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find trendy bars built into ruined factories, rowdy club nights in spas, and some of central Europe’s most memorable restaurants.

The city is best explored in districts, and of those districts, the 5th is grandest and resplendent with Habsburg palaces resting on tree lined boulevards and many of Budapest’s must-see sights including St. Stephen's Basilica and the Shoes Memorial. The 1st district over in Pest is charming with the fabulous Buda Castle overlooking the river. And the 7th district is a bit of an upstart, popular with local artists who adore the bohemian stylings of its vine wrapped, graffiti-coloured buildings filled with galleries and ruin bars.

Buda for the most part is simply the Castle District, and is small, sweet and village-like in comparison to Pest, but it’s also the best spot for views of the Hungarian Parliament building and the river. To see it at its best either jump on one of the cute yellow cable trams, or cross the river via the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and climb to the top of the fairytale towers of the Fisherman's Bastion.

Aerial view of Budapest

Zadar - Best for beach addicts and laid-back weekend getaways

Perched on the northern tip of picturesque Dalmatia, Zadar with its capital of cool personality is quickly becoming a favourite for weekend travellers. The city boasts an idyllic and warren-like old town with medieval churches, terracotta rooftops, and dainty cobbled walkways. Walk along the coastline and you’ll find a small collection of modernist art in the form of the Sea Organ and the Monument to The Sun installation.

The Venetians left a huge mark on Zadar, fortifying it when the Turks invaded in the 16th century and what’s left makes for a perfect stroll through the town. Start at Foša harbour and then make your way to Konena Vrata, once the main gate to the city, which leads to the ruins of the Roman Forum and the Byzantine St Donatus’ Church.

Beaches in Zadar are a little more rustic than in southern Dalmatia, but the area, with its expansive coastline and numerous hidden coves and beaches rewards exploration. The Zadar archipelago is blessed by a couple of hundred islands, many of them unspoiled and uninhabited. While the Telascica Nature Park is a heavenly hideaway filled with diverse fauna, and lush with dense forests and unspoiled beaches.

Zadar, Croatia

Photographer: Sidharth Bhatia

Scottish Highlands: Ravishing sunsets over perfect glens

Sweeping vistas of rugged emerald peaks undulate skywards to jagged hilltops that fall gracefully to the shores of glistening lochs. Pine forests stretch outwards towards rocky coastlines and break open in front of medieval castles. Graceful Highland cows graze in fields close to old farmhouses that are still thick with Rowan trees, a remnant of Scotland’s superstitious past and an ancient protection from witchcraft. Everything in the Highlands is breathtaking and full of story.

It’s possible to visit many of these wild islands and villages in a day if you like, but for a weekend away from it all it’s best to choose just one or two and spend your time indulging in the song of wild birds, the unscathed country views and the Highlands’ developing culinary scene.

Walkers should ascend to the peak of Ben Nevis or follow the great Glen Way south from Inverness. Beach lovers could choose Murkle Bay or Morar. And romantics should seek out castles such as 19th century Dunrobin, and the charming 13th century Eilean Donan Castle, that sits loch side on a small islet with an arched stone bridge, overlooking the otherworldly peaks of the Isle of Skye.

The Scottish Highlands, Scotland

Photographer: Sorin Tudorut

Vienna: The heart of Europe’s cafe culture

Vienna is a mix of stunning imperial palaces, baroque churches and elegant shopping arcades all bundled up in an aura that is equal parts historic grandeur and laid-back conservative cool. But at its heart Vienna is all about the cafe culture.

Cafe Central, just moments from the grand Hofburg Palace, is probably the best known of Vienna’s coffee houses. It opened in 1876 with exquisite interiors of vaulted ceilings that drape elegantly into tall polished columns, each framing a collection of traditionally dressed tables. The cafe is said to have been a favourite with the likes of Sigmund Freud and Leon Trotsky and is a perfect example of a coffee house designed for lingering. An extended living room as the Viennese call them, complete with newspapers, snacks, attentive service and late closing times.

Elsewhere Café Landtmann enjoys views of the neo-Gothic towers of the Vienna City Hall, while Kleines Café seats most of its customers out on the cobbled square (it’s tiny!) just a few minutes from picturesque Stadtpark.

Vienna, Austria

Photographer: Jacek Dylag

Bordeaux: Where sun-kissed vineyards meet elegant boulevards

Limestone cobbles criss-cross vast boulevards and pretty backstreets, occasionally broken up by gothic churches and vibrant squares framed by tasteful townhouses, and home to some of modern Bordeaux’s best eateries. All overlooked by the dreamy hills of the famous Bordeaux wine region.

Over the past few years, Bordeaux’s dining scene has grown to be eclectic and international, and the city now easily competes with both Paris and Lyon. Offering world class museums such as La Cité du Vin alongside modern attractions like the atmospheric Miroir d’Eau, which reflects the grand architecture of the Place de la Bourse from the banks of the Garonne.

When it comes to food, steak lovers should eat with the locals in the tried and tested La brasserie Bordelaise. But one of the best michelin-starred restaurants in Bordeaux is Brit chef, Gordon Ramsay’s surprising Le Pressoir d’Argent on the first floor of the InterContinental Bordeaux, which offers refined European cuisine with views of the beautifully-lit façade of the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux.

Oenophiles should drink with the Bordelais at Aux Quatre Coins du Vin or explore leafy Chartrons for something a little more relaxed. For cocktails with an Asian edge try Madame Pang. For a speakeasy feel with cool interiors and inventive cocktails, head to the Symbiose restaurant - walk towards the clock at the back of the dining room where you’ll find a hidden door and the excellent Symbiose cocktail bar nestled into a hidden room.

Bordeaux, France

Photographer: Niki Nagy

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