Planning your next break? Get off the beaten path with these hip swaps

Swap your favourite city break for a lesser-known (harder to pronounce) bargain getaway.

Swap Amsterdam for…Leeuwarden
Ride your bike along the waters of Leeuwarden

Canals, cycles and coffee shops: this northern Dutch city has plenty to offer Amsterdam stalwarts, plus it’s European Capital of Culture in 2018, so expect lots of festivals and extra tourist attractions this year.

Easy to reach, via a direct train journey from Schiphol Airport, Leeuwarden’s historic centre is perfect to explore by foot.

Start by climbing Oldehove, a crooked red brick tower, for fabulous views, then learn about the region’s art and culture at the Frisian Museum.

Take a spare suitcase as the shopping is unexpectedly good, particularly the quirky one-off boutiques on Klein Kerkstraat (voted the best street in the Netherlands for shops).

When it’s time to eat hunt out By Us, a fine dining restaurant run by a friendly local couple and be sure to treat yourself to coffee and cake (or mussels and frites if it’s lunch time) at the Grand Cafe; set in a former Post Office it has a spectacular soaring ceiling and glitzy bar.

Stay: The Post-Plaza Hotel & Grand Café (rooms from £75) lies in the heart of the city with a spa, bar and fabulous restaurant.

Easyjet flies to Amsterdam from £44 return. 

Swap Prague for…Brno
Sample the delights at Soul Bistro, Brno

You know, Brno? Ok, well incase you’ve never heard of this vowel-lacking place, Brno’s actually the Czech Republic’s second largest city and, just like Prague, has the baroque church thing going on, though a lot less stag dos.

Don’t miss an underground cruise exploring the Moravian Karst, a network of underground caves and gorges.

And if you’re a foodie, the city has good value restaurants, like Soul Bistro (you’ve got to try the white chocolate cheesecake) and plenty of fun places to hang out in the evening, such as the Lucky Bastard Beerhouse, which is what you’ll feel when you sip a chilled Blond beer for a couple of pounds.

For late night action try Super Panda Circus, entered through a prohibition-style unmarked door (you have to ring the bell).

Stay: Chic hotels aren’t plentiful, but Avanti’s (rooms from £70pn) rooftop spa with outdoor hot tub and city views is a winner.

Wizz air flies to Brno from £38 return.

Swap Dubrovnik for…Kotor
Get lost and fall in love in the streets of Kotor

There’s a touch of Game of Thrones about this medieval, fortified Montenegrin city which lies between mountains and sea just like Dubrov.

Only the Old Town here was built as a maze to confuse invading forces, so by the time you’ve navigated your way to the main square, you more than deserve a chilled local Nikšićko beer on the terrace of Hotel Vardar.

For travel magazine-esque snaps of the city, climb the many steps to the hillside Castle of St John and, after you’ve descended, treat yourself to a sea bass supper at harbour-side Galion restaurant. If you want to party, the glam crowd go to Maximus in the Old Town (open Fri and Sat).

Stay: Book into the city’s chicest hotel, Forza Mare (from £177pn), where celebs like Beyoncé have chilled at the waterfront restaurant and spa.

Ryanaiflies to Podgorica (25 miles from Kotor) from £65 return

Swap Bologna for…Bari
Dip your feet in the emerald waters of San Vito port, Bari

This southern Italian city is just as gorgeous as its northern counterpart, so don’t be put off by its dad-style name.

Whitewashed houses line the harbour, there’s a castle and seafront Lungomare Nazario Sauro (promenade to you and me), where you can call in at the modern art gallery if you get the urge to stare knowingly at a Tintoretto.

There’s strong shopping game here too; hit the Via Sparano for Armani, Prada, Michael Kors (and Zara and H&M for a more budget-friendly spree) and quality Italian accessories stop off at Mimma Ninni.

Don’t leave without trying local speciality polpo arricciato (octopus beaten until tender on the rocks of the fish market!), best eaten at La Tana Del Polpo.

Stay: Book a room at design-led Hotel Imago (from £84pn).

Ryanair flies to Bari from £50 return

Three more places you’ve probably never heard of but should visit for a weekend break…
Graz

Switch Berlin for this hip Austrian city which has modern art museum Kunsthaus Graz (looks like it’s landed from space) and Murinsal Graz, a futuristic artificial Island in the River Mur, where you can enjoy a coffee and strudel or maybe watch a movie or live music at night.

Stay: Book into Augarten Art Hotel (from £97pn), a stylish steel-and-glass affair.

Lufthansa flies to Graz from £139 return.

Girona

Catalan culture, modernist architecture and bike-mad locals make this ancient walled city, an hour from the Costa Brava coast, a total find for a weekend break. Like a miniature Barcelona without the tourist crowds, it even has its own Rambla, art museum and shop-filled old quarter.

Stay: Hotel Nord 1901 (rooms from £88pn) has a pool and airy suites to restore equilibrium. 

Jet2 flies to Girona from £63 return.

Aarhus

Small yet mighty (imagine the Nicola Adams of Europe), Denmark’s second city has spent recent years quietly amassing stellar foodie credentials and a host of cultural hot spots – in particular art gallery Aros, with its Instagrammable rooftop walkway of rainbow glass.

Thanks to its status as a European Capital Of Culture in 2017, and our love affair with all things Danish-cool, it’s sitting pretty in the pantheon of desirable mini break locations – all in a compact, walkable package.

Stay: The Aarhus Scandic City hotel is modern and minimalist with Face Stockholm toiletries and an epic breakfast buffet (from £115pn).

Ryanair flies to Aarhus from £38.

@Amanda_Statham_Travel

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