The Best Weekend Gateways for every type of traveller
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.
Stay: Luxurious five-star resort Le Pondy has its own private beach and has doubles from under £100 a night. Bit rich for your blood? Rooms at the four-star Ocean Spray resort are half that.
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.