This might be the Golden Age of Spontaneous Travel. The Internet makes it ridiculously simple for anyone to plan a getaway, literally, on the spur of the moment. This convenience creates a unique resource for busy couples (or singles!) on the go who find it difficult to get away for long periods of time. It means that whenever they are able to carve out even just a couple of days, that can still be enough for a quick magical getaway.
For short jaunts, Europe is an ideal destination, because it offers a number of amazing locations catering to any taste and suitable for any time of year. If you have the time, Europe has the place. One word of advice—do not treat these shorter trips as you would a longer vacation. Now is not the time for overambitious sightseeing. After all, when you’re only in Paris for the weekend, who wants to spend an entire day in line, waiting to ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower? Save it for the next trip!
No, these getaways are about recharging your batteries and having some fun. On these trips, you can discover an aspect of the soul of the particular city, and create a wonderful little pocket memory.
Best City in the Spring
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Welkom in Amsterdam! From the moment you step off the plane at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, your springtime sojourn begins. For a charming and romantic hotel that is utterly unique, consider the Hotel Pulitzer, a row of 25 canal houses dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. This luxury hotel is located in a particularly perfect location, overlooking two of the city’s most famous canals, the Keizergracht(pictured) and the Prinsegracht. The hotel is very conveniently located within easy walking distance of many of Amsterdam’s top attractions, or you can opt to take the hotel’s own classic 1920’s boat to tour the canals. Winston Churchill himself took the selfsame tour in that very boat in 1946.
If it strikes your fancy, it is well worth your time to take an exploratory stroll along the canals or around the city center. Many famous points of interest are extremely nearby – the Anne Frank House, museums for both Van Gogh and Rembrandt, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and the iconic flower market are all within 1 mile from the hotel.
Do this: Take a short day trip to nearby Lisse, and visit the Keukenhof, a world-class floral park and exhibition. To best showcase the flowers while they are in bloom, the park is only open during the first two months of spring.
Best City in the Summer
The Algarve, Portugal
Summer means beaches, and there are no more spectacular beaches in all of Europe in the region known as the Algarve, the southernmost part of mainland Portugal. This is an especially popular destination for visitors from the UK or the United States, so much so that there are even English-language newspapers printed here.
Although the Algarve is a region rather than a city, the offerings here are so beautiful that there is no need to dwell on a technicality. Fly into Faro, and from there you have a multitude of options before you. For access to Praia da Marinha, perhaps the most picturesque beach in the country, choose the civil parish of Carvoeiro. This will give you a central location, not only for a plethora of beaches, but also from which to take a car tour of the area.
Do This: For a macabre experience not for the faint of heart, visit the Igreja Real de São Francisco, in nearby Évora. This Gothic church was built in the late 1400’s and is remarkable for its golden altars and its painted blue tile walls, but the real heart-stopper is the Capela dos Ossos –The Chapel of Bones.
In the early 16th century, the Franciscan monks constructed this consecrated chapel from thousands of human skeletons as a way to constantly contemplate the inevitability of mortality. The inscription above the door reads, “Our bones that are here wait for yours!”
Best City in the Fall
Despite the name, Oktoberfest actually commences in late September, and is billed as “the world’s largest fair.” Judging by the copious amounts of authorized German Oktoberfest beers that will be consumed during the festival—almost two MILLION gallons—perhaps it would be more apropos to call it the “world’s largest party.”
Known colloquially to locals as “Wiesn”, after the fields where the original festival took place in 1810, this is a wonderful opportunity to observe and celebrate Bavarian culture and tradition. Revelers can wander among the many specialty tents erected just for the event, sampling a smorgasbord of beers and traditional foods. Some especially good Oktoberfest fare includes schweinshaxe (marinated and roasted crispy ham hocks) and hendl (roast chicken).
If you come early in the day, try a famous Bavarian pretzel and weisswurst, a venison-and-bacon sausage that is almost exclusively eaten in Bavaria, and no other part of Germany. Traditionally, these are only eaten in the morning, because there is an old saying, “the sausages should not be allowed to hear the noon chime of the church bells.”
For accommodations, it is hard to top the convenience and history offered by the central location of the Hotel Torbrau, located just off of the city’s center. This historic hotel first opened its doors back in 1490, before Columbus even arrived in the New World, and has currently been owned by four generations of the same family for more than 100 years.
The hotel is within extremely easy walking distance of many of Munich’s premier sites and attractions, which can be extremely important when your time is limited and at a premium. Within a few minutes’ walk, you can reach the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl, the most famous beer hall in the world, or the Marienplatz, which is served as the city’s main square for almost 900 years.
Try to arrive at try to arrive at 11 AM or noon, and you will be treated to a site that you won’t see anywhere else in the world – the Rathaus-Glockenspiel, where every day you will see 32 life-sized automated figurines reenact important events in Bavarian history.
Do this: The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site
Just because you are here for the party doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take some time to stop by the memorial located at the site of the first German concentration camp, located just 10 miles Northwest of Munich. Visitors will walk the same route as did incoming prisoners, starting with a passage through the iron gate that reads “work will make you free.”
There are extensive exhibits and the original buildings, including prisoner barracks, baths, work areas, and the infamous crematorium. A visit here pays respect to the victims and just might change your life, as you reflect upon man’s capacity for inhumanity to man.
Best City in the Winter
Winter in Copenhagen can be wonderful, and if you arrive near Christmas time, it can be magical. What else could you expect from a city that hosts the World Santa Claus Congress every year? At this time of year, whimsy seems to touch every aspect of Danish life. Every day in December, Danish children will receive a small advent gifts, white Christmas fairy lights are strung across the streets, and nearly every shop, business, and home seems to be overrun by figurines of the nisser, mischievous imps from Danish folklore.
Starting in November, you can partake of the traditional winter spirits, Julebryg, a specially-brewed Christmas beer, or gløgg, a sort of heavily-spiced mulled wine. Gløgg can be made from red wine, cognac, and rum, which is then mixed with cloves, cinnamon sticks, almonds, and raisins, which have all been soaked in schnapps. It is served piping hot, and is the perfect remedy for chilly evenings.
In keeping with their tradition of celebrating the true spirit of Christmas, the country of Denmark was the first nation in the world to use decorative Christmas stamps as postage. For over 100 years, the proceeds from the sale of this holiday postage have funded four Christmas Stamp Houses underprivileged children. Mail yourself a postcard from here and you will create a memorable souvenir and support a worthy cause, all in one simple step.
While you are there, a visit to the Tivoli Christmas Market is a must. You can stroll around and see all of the wonderful decorations and lights, collect a kitschy souvenir or two, and sample the wares from the numerous vendors.
Do this: Dyrehavsbakken, or as the locals call it, “Bakken”
If the weather is nice, embrace your inner child and take the short trip toDyrehavsbakken, located 10 kilometers north of Copenhagen, close to Klampenborg. “Bakken” is the world’s oldest amusement park, originally opened in 1583. Today, it is a modern playland with dozens of rides and other amusements sure to stimulate your sense of fun. While you are there, try to snap a picture of Pierrot, the famous clown who has been entertaining guests for over 200 years.
Best City Break Anytime of Year
There is a reason why “the City of Lights” is the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. Whether you are interested in history, romance, art, culture, fashion, food, religion, or architecture, there is literally something here for everyone. Without much exaggeration, it can be said that if you don’t like Paris, then you probably have no business traveling.
It is a combination of season and city that inspired a song – “Paris in the spring, hearts begin to dance, and in ev’ry glance you’ll find an invitation to romance.” Those lyrics are incredibly accurate. For a busy couple that is just in town for a few days, there are so many simple activities that are sure to reignite the spark –a meandering stroll through the statuary of Parc Monceau, a bit of canoodling in front of the fountains of the Jardin du Luxembourg, or a visit to the Tuileries Garden, where you can enlist the aid of a fellow passerby to snap a picture of the two of you smooching in front of Rodan’s famous “The Kiss“.
Because the world flocks to Paris in summer, this is the perfect time to avoid the major sites and instead arrive to experience some of the huge summer events happening in Paris. Enjoy the festive spirit, rather than waiting in line. At this time of year, the sun doesn’t set until 10 PM, granting you maximum enjoyment on your short sojourn.
On June 21, the entire city enjoys the Fête de la Musique, an enormous music festival celebrated across the country. You can attend major concerts and any number of venues across the city, or you can opt to simply walk the streets and listen to bands, choirs, singers, and DJs as they showcase their talents on seemingly every street corner.
On July 14, claim your spot along the Champs-Élysées and celebrate Bastille Day with your French hosts. Enjoy the immense parade during the day, and marvel at the fantastic fireworks at night. This date commemorates the storming of the Bastille, signifying the start of the French Revolution, so expect to see expressions of French national pride everywhere.
For many seasoned travelers, autumn is their favorite time of year to visit Paris. Flights are cheaper, the burgeoning foreign crowds are gone, and Parisians are returning from their month-long summer holiday. The hustle and bustle and over-rushed feel of the height of tourist season has slowed to a more measured pace. Now is the time to hit some of those spots that you had to forgo earlier.
In September, plan your trip to take advantage of Journees du Patrimoine, the cultural event that opens the doors of many of Paris’s museums free of charge to the visiting public. This can be especially exciting to anyone interested in art or history, because the Lourve is among the free offerings.
As might be expected in a country so renowned for its wine, there are festivals devoted to the fruit of the vine. At midnight on the third Thursday in November, the endless anticipation is finally over – “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé !”, “The new Beaujolais has arrived!”
Beaujolais Nouveau Day is something of an unofficial holiday in France, and you will find festivals and publicity events where you will hear serious discussions about the relative merits of this year’s offering. Don’t bother saving a bottle for years, because this fruity red wine does not improve with age. Rather, this is a young wine, fermented for less than two months after harvesting, and it is intended for immediate drinking. By law, the grapes must be picked by hand.
In the wintertime, Paris seems like a different city entirely. The days are shorter, and some seasonal attractions are closed. The less-crowded city takes on an ethereal look because of the miles of holiday lights strung down every avenue. When you can experience a rare Parisian snowfall, you can see the iconic landmarks in architecture in an entirely new and magical light. Every year, the city will line the Champs-Élysées with up to a thousand freshly-cut fir trees.
The chill weather can be an excellent time to embark on a relaxed culinary tour. You can sit in any café and sip vin chaud, a hot wine, or satisfy your hunter’s appetite by enjoying a repast of the game meats, such as venison, rabbit, and game fowl, that appear on many menus this time of year.
Do this: Nothing
As many things as there are to do and see in Paris, the beauty of visiting there is that you are not obligated to do or see any of them on any one particular trip. One of the most fulfilling uniquely French activities you can do is to simply sit at one of the innumerable sidewalk cafés and watch the rest of the world go by. Grab your favorite book, order a café au lait, and simply let your senses soak in the palatable atmosphere. Pick the right spot, and you may find that by simply doing nothing, you’ve had the best vacation of your entire life.