How to plan a city break

Ready for a break or want something a little more exciting to do of a weekend? A city break could be the ideal solution, giving you the chance to immerse yourself in the culture and history of a place, sample some delicious food and see the sights - all without having to take too much time off work.

If you’re ready to start planning your trip, read our guide to putting the perfect city break together - from choosing the right destination and accommodation to creating an itinerary and packing smart.

What is a city break holiday? 

City breaks are a great way to see more of the world, a fun and thrilling adventure just for a few days. They usually consist of around two to four days spent in a European city, as the flights from the UK are convenient, short and often very affordable. Many people choose capital cities, such as Paris or Rome, where there’s plenty to see and do. Capitals and bigger cities also offer great transport links and a wide choice of hotels, apartments and accommodation. And, of course, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to food, drink, art, culture and nightlife.

Cityscape of Milan, Italy with blue sky and lots of trees

 

Choosing your dream destination

So, where do you want to go? You might have a destination in mind, whether you’ve always wanted to see the mysterious canals of Venice or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona or Trafalgar Square in London (that’s right, city breaks don’t always have to be overseas). 

If you don’t know where you’d like to go, the world is your oyster! It can make it a little tricky to narrow down your options, but there are plenty of places to start. Have a look at the cheapest flights from your local airport, and use this as your starting point. You can also check out whether there are any special events or festivals happening in certain cities when you plan to travel, as these could be good spots to visit - or avoid, if you don’t like crowds. 

Recommendations from friends and family are also good sources of inspiration. If someone you know went and had a brilliant time, and you tend to like similar things, this could be your dream destination. 

Still stuck? Here are some of the most popular city break destinations among UK holidaymakers:

  • Rome, Italy. The Eternal City of Rome will astonish you with its history, art and architecture, with highlights being the 2000-year-old Pantheon, the largest church in the world - St Peter’s Basilica - and the Sistine Chapel with it’s world-famous Michelangelo artwork. 
  • Barcelona, Spain. The Catalonian capital has it all, from breathtaking Gaudi architecture to golden beaches and the buzzing Las Ramblas. 
  • Krakow, Poland. Offering brilliant value for money, Krakow is bursting with Renaissance palaces, beautiful churches and alfresco cafes. 
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands. This hedonistic, culture-packed city is great value, offering cycle-friendly travel, boat rides along its picturesque canals and hip nightlife. 
  • Porto, Portugal. A rising star in the world of city breaks, Portugal’s laid-back second city is the home of incredible food, culture and of course, world-famous port wine.

 

Booking flights and accommodation

Inspired and excited by your destination? Now it’s time to start booking your flights and accommodation, with the latter being one of the most crucial parts of your holiday experience. 

City breaks can be bought as package holidays, but most people choose to book flights and accommodation separately for the best prices and choice of options. As you’ll be managing your itinerary independently and airport transfers are usually very easy in major cities, there isn’t really the need for a holiday rep, transfers and other extras you get with package holidays. 

When choosing flights, you’ll usually only have a couple of options - as there aren’t a huge number of airlines flying to the same places. Price will nearly always be the dominant factor when comparing flights, but you should always look at times too. Early morning outbound flights and later inbound flights tend to work well for city breaks, giving you the maximum amount of time in your destination. However, you’ll need to check transport links to and from the airport (if public transport services aren’t running at the time of your arrival or departure) and make sure you get plenty of sleep too! You don’t want to be totally exhausted for your big trip.

aeroplane wing against the blue sky and scattered clouds below

 

While flights are relatively easy to pick, it’s worth putting a little time into researching where to stay. Bear the following in mind when booking accommodation:

  • Location is crucial. You’ll only be on your city break for a short time, so you’ll want to stay somewhere central with easy access to everything. You should find out what the different neighbourhoods are like though, as some central locations are in noisy, busy areas which could affect your sleep.
  • If you plan on being out all the time seeing the sights, a clean, comfortable hotel room or apartment is all you need, even if it is fairly basic. This can be a real money saver too.
  • If you like a taste of luxury (and you’re on holiday, so why not?), you’ll need to set aside a little more of your budget to book a higher standard of accommodation. It all depends on the price of hotels and apartments in your chosen destination, although you can shop around and try a few tricks to get the best deals.
  • Do you want breakfast included? Choosing a hotel with breakfast included in the price can be a smart way to manage your finances, and set yourself up for full days of adventure and exploration with a hearty meal.

 

How to do an itinerary for a holiday

You’ll only be in your chosen destination for a few days, so you’ll want to really make the most of it - seeing and doing as much as possible. This is where an itinerary comes in very useful. This can be as busy or as laid-back as you like - it’s up to you. Perhaps you’ll do just a couple of things per day, or you’ll want to plan your day hour-by-hour to tick off everything on your ‘must see’ list. 

A good way to start your itinerary is to take a look at some travel guides or blogs and search for the best attractions, landmarks and sites in your chosen city. You don’t have to see everything just because it’s the number one attraction or other people like it - simply note down some of the key things that sound fun and exciting to you. 

To make sure you’ll be able to reach all of the places on your list, get out your map (or use online maps) to work out your route from your accommodation. Travelling around by underground rail or bus is usually really easy in big cities, while in smaller destinations you may be able to get everywhere on foot.

If you like, you can mark each location on your map and use this to work out which things you’ll do each day - depending on how close they are to each other. Travel (especially walking) can be one of the best ways to really get the feel of a city, but you don’t want to spend too much time doing this if you’re only there for a few days. 

When building your itinerary, don’t forget to add in plenty of stops for refreshment. Get back online and find the best spots for local food, drink, coffee and sweet treats. If you prefer to keep things relaxed and spontaneous, make a note of which neighbourhoods are good for food - then pop into any place that catches your eye. You could end up discovering a hidden gem that isn’t on the tourist guides!

What to pack for a city break

If you’re only away for a few days, you’ll want to pack light. You can even avoid extra baggage charges when flying by sticking to a large backpack or small travel suitcase. But what will you need? Here’s a quick guide to the essentials:

  • Comfortable shoes. There’s no doubt you’ll be pounding the pavements visiting all of the main attractions, so you’ll need trainers, boots or other comfortable shoes to help you avoid blisters.
  • A versatile coat. This is a coat or jacket that can be worn day to night, which is especially useful if you plan on sight-seeing in the daytime and then head to dinner in the evening.
  • A cross body bag or small backpack. You’ll need a hands-free bag that is roomy enough to carry all of your daytime essentials, such as sun cream, sunglasses, guide book and a bottle of water.
  • Tiny toiletries. Fill small empty bottles with your essentials - shampoo, conditioner and shower gel - and keep other toiletries like toothpaste and deodorant travel-sized too
  • Layers are a great choice for city breaks, giving you many more options when it comes to choosing what to wear. They will also take up far less space in your suitcase compared to thick, bulky clothing items, such as jumpers. And remember to roll, rather than fold, your clothes when packing - you’ll be amazed at how much more you’ll fit in!
  • Take a travel umbrella and your suncream. You just never know what the weather will do, so it’s good to be prepared for every eventuality. If you don’t have space, you can just buy what you need while you’re out there.
  • Don’t forget those travel essentials. You’ll find a money belt very useful if you’re worried about pickpockets in busy areas. Remember to pack other ‘just in case’ items like a travel adapter, small combination lock, power bank, ear plugs and an eye mask.
  • And of course, don’t forget your passport - bon voyage!