If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may remember my Forty Before 40 list of things I wanted to try and accomplish by the time I was 40. I didn’t give myself much time, and gave a video update six weeks before my 40th birthday! I decided them that I would turn my list into a Fifty Before 50 list, as it seemed a bit more practical to actually tick everything off that I wanted to do.
Anyway, the reason I’m mentioning it is because one of those things to do was to go to Europe for the weekend – to spend a few days immersed in the city and exploring what it had to offer. We really do love city breaks, but never seem to find enough time to fit them into our lives – and also because we go to Florida every year for our annual holiday, don’t actually have tons of cash to be swanning off when we fancy!
So it got me thinking. What about taking a day trip to a European city? Don’t reel in shock, I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out! When we go on days out (here in the UK), we think nothing of driving for an hour or two to visit an attraction, and then drive back home on the same day. Some flights to European cities are under 2 hours – that means it is perfectly feasible to take a day trip to a European city!
Day Trip To A European City
Cheap airlines like EasyJet, and Ryanair make having a unique day trip affordable, and flight comparison websites like Skyscanner, and Opodo, means you can search for the best deal. I don’t book a single flight online without comparing the prices. Prices not only vary between the various airlines, but also vary from day to day, as well as month to month – avoid school holidays if you can, the prices will soar (no pun intended!)
Don’t forget, there is also the Eurostar which starts running trains from around 6am! Eurostar is a high-speed railway service connecting London with Avignon, Brussels, Lille, Lyon, Marseille and Paris. The train may take a little longer, but you may find the times are more flexible than a flight.
A day trip to a European city will definitely be a whirlwind tour, but I think there is something really special and jet-setter about it! Imagine being in one country in the morning, another during the day, and back home in the evening.
It does mean you have to be super organised, so that you get the most of your time – so get planning before you even step on the plane! Since I haven’t visited all of these I’ve called up the knowledge of my friends and the blogging community for their recommendations! And if a day trip to Europe is a bit much for you, I’ve included some hotel recommendations, and will be following this post up with one about weekend breaks for cities that are a little bit further afield.
Here are ten European cities that can be flown to (from London) in around 2 hours or less. Which ones have you visited? I am looking forward to ticking some of them off over the next nine years!
Paris – 1hr 5 mins
One way to see a city sites quickly is by taking a hop-on hop-off bus or river tour. We did both when we visited Paris in 2010 and it was fab because we got to see all the iconic sites like Notre Dame, the Arc de Triumphe, and more in just one day. We had gone for a weekend during the summer, so places like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower had very long lines – something you don’t want to waste your time doing with just a day to spend in the city. The open-top, double-decker bus, has the added bonus of an excellent vantage point for panoramic views.
Buy a Big Bus ticket online and save money! If you do want to visit the Eiffel Tower (and you really should, the views from the top are AMAZING!) then buy a ticket in advance or you’ll be queuing for hours. We made that mistake and was in line for FOUR hours!
Want to stay overnight? Check out out the great value Hotel Le 123 Elysees
Brussels – 1hr 10 mins
Brussels can be reached by Eurostar, and we passed through on our way to Brugge in 2013. Make use of the Metro network – a day pass gives you unlimited access. Famous sites include The Grand Palace, The Bourse (Stock Exchange) and the Museum of Modern Art. You should also try to see the Manneken Pis (the little boy peeing into the fountain!) as well as The Atomium which is a landmark building in Brussels, originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. It is located on the Heysel Plateau, where the exhibition took place. It is now a museum.
Visit the Museum of Modern Art, and buy chocolates, obviously! The best make is Neuhaus. – Bella
Want to stay overnight? Try the eco-friendly Radisson Blu Royal Hotel.
Edinburgh – 1hr 10mins
You definitely don’t need a car. You can explore better on foot. The tram and bus links are great. If you can face the climb up Arthur’s Seat the views are stunning, the same for Calton Hill. I also love the zoo but it’s probably a day in itself if you haven’t been before. – Hannah, East Sussex Mummy
Edinburgh would definitely be the castle and the Royal Mile then a wander down the hill to Princes Street. There is a fabulous park there and shops to wander through. – Nicola
Want to stay overnight? For a romantic stay, try The Principal Edinburgh George Street.
Dublin – 1hr 15mins
Experience Dublin’s best attractions with a Dublin Bus Tour. All Dublin Bus day tours offer live commentary by experienced tour guides. And of course, you can’t visit Dublin without visiting the Guinness Storehouse – Located in the heart of the St James’s Gate Brewery, GUINNESS STOREHOUSE® is Ireland’s No. 1 Dublin tourist attraction. I have written a post about planning a short break to Dublin, with lots more ideas. And make sure to enjoy some real Irish food in Dublin.
Want to stay overnight? Why not the luxury of Hotel Conrad?
Prague – 1hr 45 mins
Make sure you see the clock in Wenceslas Square. And the Charles Bridge. Loads of history in the Jewish Quarter. Fabulous architecture and beautiful old buildings everywhere. – Hannah, East Sussex Mummy
Walk around the old square eating “pig knuckle” and go to the castle and monastery at the top of the hill. The Jewish Quarter is fascinating and extremely moving because of the Nazi occupation and history around that.I’ve been four times and it’s beautiful! Copenhagen is amazing. The Hotel Fox is a great budget hotel with rooms individually themed and designed and decorated by artists. Eat brunch – it’s amazing! Bjorns near the Tivoli Gardens and the national art museum cafe both do a wonderful brunch. All the museums and galleries are free and are very interesting. If you’re a fan of Nordic Noir and Danish drama like The Killing, and Borgen you can walk around easily and spot your favourite locations. – Helen, Welsh Mum Writing
Buy garnet jewellery and eat in a restaurant a couple of streets away from the main tourist square for better value and a more authentic experience. – Bella
Want to stay overnight? The Black Eagle Hotel is in the heart of Prague.
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Amsterdam – 1hr 10 mins
The Nemo Museum is an absolute must with children. We also liked the flea market as it was quite quirky and one of the only places away from hustle and bustle in Amsterdam. – Emma, Our Fairytale Adventure.
Ages ago, we literally spent 4 hours in Amsterdam so I have first hand experience of visiting the city within a short time scale. The top attraction for me and the thing we prioritised visiting was the Anne Frank Museum. It’s a bit of a no brainer and I often think about it even now. – Holly, Little Pickle’s Mom
My husband has been to Amsterdam, and both he, and a friend recommend going on a canal tour as well as visiting the Anne Frank House. I wrote about 5 Things To Do In Amsterdam, so head over to that post and have a read!
Want to stay overnight? The Toren is a lovely bouqtique hotel.
Florence – 2hrs 10mins
My tip would be to visit in the evening so it’s slightly cooler for sightseeing. It’s a cliche but the Ponte Vecchio is fabulous, as is are the architecture around the Duomo. Pizza and ice cream anywhere in Italy is always fabulous. – Hannah, East Sussex Mummy
Florence you must do the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio (this has some lovely views up river and jewellery shops). Also Signoria Square has some lovely cafes. The Uffizi Gallery is also well worth a visit and of course Michaelangelo’s David if you can be bothered to queue for it which I couldn’t! – Nicola
Want to stay overnight? Why not try the best hotel in Florence.
Barcelona – 2hrs 10mins
Barcelona is a fabulous place for a whistle stop tour. I’d totally recommend the Arts Hotel because you’re right on the beach and have the most incredible restaurant in the hotel – Arola – which serves incredible cocktails to give you a treat! We loved venturing away from the popular Las Ramblas and wandering the streets to view the Gaudi buildings. – Emma, The Money Whisperer
The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família is a large unfinished Roman Catholic church in Barcelona and is well worth visiting. So is Casa Batlló, and Park Güell. If you can, also try and see a Flamenco dancing show but if you want to see the real thing go towards Granada. – Turan
Barcelona is breathtakingly beautiful. Everywhere you look there is another perfect photo opportunity. We visited Barcelona Zoo for a few hours, before heading across the Parc De La Ciutadella to see the Cascada Monumental, which was stunning! There is also a lovely craft market that is worth a visit. – Aby, You Baby, Me Mummy
Want to stay overnight? The El Palace Hotel is family friendly.
Frankfurt – 1hr 35
As with most cities, a bus or canal/river tour is always a good way to see a lot of a city in a short amount of time. There are also some great museums to visit including the Judengasse Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Archeology Museum, Senckenberg Natural History Museum, and the Kunst Handwerk Museum. The Palmengarten is the largest botanical garden in Germany. And you cannot visit Frankfurt without eating frankfurters and sauerkraut!
Want to stay overnight? Try the spa hotel – Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof.
Copenhagen – 1hr 50mins
Copenhagen is possibly my favourite European city to visit with children. Tivoli Gardens is an absolute must see! Also the street food market is incredible! – Emma, Our Fairytale Adventure
I lived in Copenhagen for six months so did lots of showing others around when they came to visit. My favourites were Tivoli Gardens (incredible around Christmas time for the festive markets and at all times of the year for the old school fair ground rides), a boat cruise to take in the famous Little Mermaid and a trip out of Christiania which is a hippy commune and totally incredible to wander around and learn about how it operates and exists alongside mainstream civilization! In terms of places to stay, any of the hotels on Radhuspladsen (the central square) are perfectly positioned to explore the city by foot but most of these also have bikes to hire. – Emma, The Money Whisperer
Want to stay overnight? Try the family friendly Scandic Palace Hotel.
Some final tips…
- Leave earlier than you think – to catch the plane/train – time can run away from you.
- Have your itinerary on your phone – it’s easier to check everything on that than rummaging through papers.
- Have helpful apps like Google Maps, and Trip Advisor on your phone to help you if you find yourself a bit lost, or with time to spare and need something to do.
- Wear well worn in walking shoes – you’re going to get a lot of steps in as you tour around the city!
- Check your mobile network provider for any charges in Europe – many have capped them now, or you may be able to bolt on a package to use in Europe.
- Make sure you have fully charged battery packs to recharge your mobile phone.
- If taking a full size camera, make sure all the batteries are fully charged, and that you have a spare memory card or two. If taking a DSLR, try to keep to one lens to save on hauling your whole kit with you.
- Depending on the time of year you visit, make sure you wear the correct type of clothing – pop an umbrella in your bag just in case of rain – you don’t want wet clothing to spoil the rest of the day! If it’s going to be hot, take a hand fan to help cool you down.
- Once through security at the airport, buy some bottled water. Even though it will be more expensive than if you bought it in a regular shop, it may well be cheaper than in Europe.
- Make sure you have enough cash for your plans – check if there are discounts for buying entry tickets online in advance. If you chose to pay with a credit card, aim to have one that charges 0% on purchases overseas. Similarly, let your bank or credit card provider know that you will be using it abroad.
- Enjoy all the moments! Yes, it’ll be a whirlwind of a day, but appreciate not only the bigger picture, but the tiny details too!