None of us have enough holiday allowance yet there are 104 weekend days each year. Meaning, technically, you can take a lot more time away if you’re smart with your weekends. The mundane niceties of weekends at home are fine – brunches, online shopping, maybe a quick workout to make you feel better about Monday coming round. But with a little bit of planning (and some saving on brunch) you could be throwing darts at a map, plotting your next weekend getaway.
So where to? Well, whether you’re looking for a penny pinching staycation, a family-friendly break or some lads-lads-lads time in the next Ibiza, allow us…
Weekend Getaways On A Budget
You can’t knock studies, especially when they’re done by the pressed-shirted individuals who run the UK’s Post Office. They discovered that this 2,000-year-old riverside city in Serbia was cheap in a way that only those people who shun Primark for being a bit pricey could really appreciate. The top museum barely costs £3, while a fancy meal for two comes in at the price a London gent would cheerily hand over for a sandwich (£35).
True, Belgrade is an odd-ish blend of ancient history (think bits and bobs from the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg dynasty) coupled with socialist brutalism, but once you’ve done the sight-seeing comes the real reason you’re there – the buzzy nightlife. If you’re there in summer, step aboard one of the floating clubs that line the Danube; just remember to devise some sort of buddy system in case you fall in.
Stay: The luxury boutique hotel Saint Ten might be out of your price range at around £120 a night, but if you can stretch to around half that try the four-star hotel Tesla. Still a bit steep? There’s a whole slew of hostels with rooms costing under £20.
In a penny-pinching TripAdvisor study, the Welsh capital was found to be the sixth cheapest city in the UK for a weekend break. The severely parsimonious amongst you might be wondering why we picked Cardiff over the winner of that survey, and we’ll tell you: it’s because the winner was Sheffield, that’s why.
Cardiff is a splendid weekend destination: as well as a bustling and picturesque town centre – which you might (especially after an evening’s drinking) say has the look of a more mainland European city – it has a cool waterfront area called Mermaid Quay, where you can sit and pretend you’re in Barcelona. The Castle Emporium on Womanby Street is a little slice of hipster heaven, with art galleries, barbers and more, and if you like massive old buildings – and come on, who doesn’t? – pop into Cardiff Castle, a medieval majesty that has some interesting dashes of Victorian pomp.
Stay: Sleeperz Hotel offers modern, budget lodgings in the heart of the city from around £50 a night.
You may know it as Pondicherry (it was recently renamed – though folk still call it “Pondi”) and they like to big it up as India’s Côte d’Azur. This (vaguely) European-style jewel on the south-east coast is 130km from Chennai and has the French to thank for its mildly Mediterranean flair, as the Gallic colonialists helped shaped the place in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Their town planning and architecture – some of which is evident to this day – does lend it a bit more of a Nice or Cannes vibe than the grimy mad bustle you’d normally associate with India, and Puducherry has some of the best diving on the East coast too. Plus: you’re in India – so it’s cheap! You’d likely wish you’d splashed out for an expensive weekend in Antibes if you’re thinking of going in May, however, when the Pondi-mometer tops 40 degrees.
Portsmouth and Gosport, England
These two towns are right next to each other, but many an idle visitor never ventures beyond the more famous Portsmouth – possibly because it’s a deadly 500m swim from one to the other (not recommended for anyone in the family) or 28 mins by car around Portsmouth harbour. But the kids won’t thank you if you miss Gosport – especially when they point out that the ferry’s the easiest route and takes just four minutes – as the big attractions there are the Royal Navy Submarine Museum and the Museum of Naval Firepower, where they can appreciate some of the mechanical innovation that inspired the modern killing machines they’re so adept with in Fortnite.
Portsmouth itself has stacks more naval history on offer, including the chance to see the recovered wreck of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s best-loved ship, and there are cracking views from the 170m-tall Spinnaker Tower on the harbour front, too.
Stay: The Portsmouth Marriott has a cool bar, pool, gym and rooms with two double beds from around £150 a night.
Here in the Carpathian Mountains in a little old place known as Transylvania (you can see where this is going), you’ll find a corner of Europe that can’t fail to excite the whole family. Its most famous sight is Bran Castle, known worldwide as Dracula’s Castle, and the place towers over the surrounding forests like a malevolent fortress of evil. It’s not, of course, it’s just a castle, and the legendary Vlad The Impaler – the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula – may never have actually set foot here. But that won’t stop you from laughing as the kids look over their shoulders while wandering round the place, or from an icy chill tickling its way down your spine as you open the creaking door of a roadside inn and you’re greeted by a huge, bearded woodsman in a checked shirt. Bran is 100km from Bucharest and there are regular trains – just pray you’ll be needing the return part of your ticket (insert manic cackle here).
Stay: Pension Casa Medievala is a quaint little hotel and just a stone’s throw from the castle. A two-bed apartment there costs from around £65 a night.
Yes, of course the ankle-biters want to go to Disney – but why let them gorge on the pigswill of corporate America when you can show them a side to Florida that’s a little less well travelled? Sanibel is a small island, linked by a road bridge, off the state’s south west coast and it all feels a bit Caribbean.
As well as delightful sandy beaches there are shell-laden ones, too, meaning that mum and dad get to kick back while the kids set off beachcombing in search of former mollusc lodgings to smuggle back home. Just keep the wee ones under your watchful eye if you venture into the Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the island – there’s crocs there, and they’re not the mechanical Disney ones.
Stay: The Casa Ybel Resort hogs 23 lovely acres overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and is a seriously swanky place to bed down. One-bedroom suites which can cater to four guests cost from around £220 a night.
Getaways For Guys
The Scottish Highlands
For the latest series of The Grand Tour, Clarkson, Hammond and May pootled around the roads of northern Scotland in three classic cars, and gleefully proclaimed it to be just about the best driving experience they’d ever had. That’s not because they’d been on the whisky: no, it’s so picturesque and peaceful up in the Scottish Highlands that it… well, it gets to you.
It’s a perfect spot to seek out with a mate or two because as well as cosy pubs and fishing villages where men in stout sweaters wrestle with nets, there is some truly joyous sea kayaking to be done, especially along the craggy western coast, with its multitude of islands and lochs.
Stay: It’s hard to top the luxurious Torridon Resort in Wester Ross (rooms from around £185). If you want an all-in trip, Wilderness Scotland do a five-day kayak adventure in the West Highlands for £1,325.
Yes, it’s a hop, skip and a jump from Vegas. But it’s half the price and we’d happily swap the Strip for ATVing in the Sonoran Desert, Arizona’s growing wine scene (you read that right) and mouth watering modern Mexican. It’s the Wild West meets burgeoning metropolis, with more waterways than Venice, Amsterdam and Paris combined (again, not a typo).
The dry climate and year-round sun (it is sunny for an average 310 days a year) also makes Scottsdale a top spot to hit the fairway while the 200-mile long Lower Salt River that runs through the desert is perfect for kayaking. And of course you can’t miss a hike up Echo Canyon trail at Camelback Mountain. When you’ve had enough action take a break and embrace the fact that Arizona is cowboy country after all and hit the Buffalo Chip Saloon, popular for its after-hours party with bull riding, line dancing and live music. John Wayne would be proud.
Stay: The Boulders Golf and Spa Resort is set on 1,300 acres in the Sonoran Desert foothills around half an hour from the centre of Scottsdale. The resort’s 2 golf courses are cleverly manicured around 12-million-year-old rock formations. Rooms from around £105 a night.
He’s a simple beast, the weekend getaway seeker: he thinks he wants cheap lager, gun ranges and all the sleazy vices that Eastern Europe can throw his way, but he may just be better served with a slice of Portuguese sophistication. Lisbon is a seriously cool city, with fabulous nightlife and some great food – in fact the hopelessly likeable Phil Rosenthal, star of the endearing Netflix show Somebody Feed Phil, had an absolute blast when he was in the city. He especially loved the Time Out Market, where 24 restaurants, eight bars and a kick-ass music venue converge. You can surf on the beaches near Lisbon, too.
Stay: Bed down in the Altis Belem Hotel & Spa – five whole stars of luxury with a rooftop pool (rooms from around £180).
Getaways For Couples
Tresco, Isles of Scilly
Once you’ve explained for the 11th time that no, you’re not going to a supermarket for a long weekend, you’ll find yourself aboard a small plane from Land’s End or Newquay or, perhaps, a passenger ferry from Penzance – and looking forward to a place so lovely you might never want to leave.
It’s basically like England without all the people and with better weather, and while it is almost comically tiny (barely two miles from end-to-end), Tresco’s beguiling mix of beaches and coves – and, you suddenly realise as your ears adjust to the sound of the sea-breeze and the gulls, no cars – makes it a top-notch place to disappear.
Stay: The New Inn, a 19th century building hewn from local stone which has a heated outdoor pool. Rooms from around £120.
If you’d visited this riverside town in the south west of France 15 years ago you’d likely have left with the impression of a once-great city that had gone to pot. Then mayor Alain Juppé steamed in (he’s a former Prime Minister) and cleaned the place up, a bit like a French Giuliani – only he was installing trams and sand-blasting the smog-stained buildings rather than kicking drug dealers out of Washington Square Park.
Bordeaux today is lovely, a kind of mini Paris but without the Parisians (though they come for the weekend, as it’s now just two hours by train), and Gordon Ramsay has a restaurant in the swankiest hotel in town. When we ate there (yes, we go posh sometimes too), an overly-blond ex-footballer was having a chat with a colleague in the corner. The newest attraction in Bordeaux is a stunning piece of architecture that looks a bit like a massive metal snail, inside which a state-of-the-art wine museum (la Cité du Vin) is housed.
Stay: Ramsay’s restaurant is at the luxurious InterContinental Bordeaux Le Grand (rooms from around £250), but if you’re all Ubered-up and fancy a view from across the river that looks back at the city, stay at the equally upmarket Le Saint-James four miles away (rooms from around £180). One of their suites has a Harley-Davidson in it.