5 great Europe getaways, from Christmas markets to continental train journeys

Cruises, sleeper trains and city breaks are back — and it's not too soon to plan a Christmas Market getaway
5 great Europe getaways, from Christmas markets to continental train journeys

Young woman tourist photographing famous retro yellow tram on the street in Lisbon

The City Break is back!

Hopscotching for weekend breaks across Europe was nearly on the endangered list but if our social media feeds are anything to go by, the city break seems to be back. Alternative destinations seem to be proving popular this autumn and Lisbon has almost become the new Paris with many Irish travellers falling for its aesthetic streets, great food and beguiling go-slow energy. This weekend sees all Covid regulations lifting in Portugal allowing visitors to enjoy the full, social Iberian experience. You’ll find excellent value too, whether you opt to travel DIY or nab a package with a travel agent. Cassidy Travel (cassidytravel.ie) currently has a number of pretty incredible city breaks deals to the Portuguese capital with three nights stays including flights and a three-star city hotel from €95pps. For a more off-the-beaten path destination, Kyiv, is one of my favourite European cities and the Ukrainian capital which bursts with culture and history is also one of Europe’s cheapest urban getaways. November return flights from Dublin are from just €80 including baggage.

Ryanair.com

Maltese Movement

Narrow medieval street at dusk, Mdina Old City, Malta 
Narrow medieval street at dusk, Mdina Old City, Malta 

Buoyed by low Covid rates, strict vaccination entry requirements and even free hotel stay incentives, Malta has emerged from the pandemic more popular than ever. Those direct (but currently suspended) flights from Cork have helped draw the Munster masses to its southern climes. And with its sun-soaked arts, culture and food scene, Malta has become a niche winter sun destination. In terms of accommodation, the island is famous for its beach resorts but don’t overlook some of Maltase stunning heritage property; the five-star Xara Palace is the only hotel located in the historic medieval city of Mdina with rooms from €225 a night, while if you’re looking for a total switch off, take a look at Gozo’s incredible farmhouse rentals on Airbnb. Flights from Dublin start from €170 including baggage and don’t be turned off by the 3hr 30min flight either; you’ll save on a chunk of transfer time when you land! 

visitmalta.com

Train Travel

The Orient Express goes from Verona to London
The Orient Express goes from Verona to London

No-fly holidays are always going to be a tough sell for a nation of islanders, but once you touch land on The Continent, there is a whole fleet of train travel options to tempt rail romantics — and it’s only set to grow! This year has seen the launch of a series of new sleeper train routes across Europe while a new French start-up called Midnight Trains is set to create a network of train hotels by 2024. If you’re looking for an alternative autumn or winter adventure, take the night train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi for an alternative Lapland route: cabins start from €89 per couple via Finnish Rail (vr.fitarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">). Budget travellers can hopscotch across various countries on a Interrail pass (interrail.eu): think a seven-day travel pass from London to Istanbul from €251. And if you’d really like to take your journey first-class, the iconic Orient Express is back on track this winter; they offer a series of bucket list journeys with a one-night trip from Verona to London starting from €2,800.

belmond.com

Christmas Markets

The Christmas market set up in Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin
The Christmas market set up in Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin

The smell of roast chestnuts and glühwein seems a very distant memory but Christmas Markets are back on the festive calendar and now is a great time to book. The Travel Department has a series of Christmas Market offers from Bruges or Prague — but Berlin is one of their cheapest deals this season. The three-night break includes a guided walking tour of the German capital at the most magical time of year, taking in highlights such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall, the Reichstag and Checkpoint Charlie. You’ll also overnight in four-star accommodation in the heart of the city with easy access to Berlin's 80 different markets. Rates of €499pps include return flights from Dublin, three nights’ 4* B&B, guided city tour and transfers with flights departing November 27th (traveldepartment.com). If you fancy fashioning a DIY Christmas market break, Ryanair flies from Cork to the truly gorgeous city of Gdansk with return flights from €90.

Cruise Control

Cruise Ship in Santorini, Greece 
Cruise Ship in Santorini, Greece 

Cruises were one of the tourism sectors to truly sink during the pandemic but now a combo of consumer confidence and attractive deals sees them become the first port of call for a European getaway. Irish operator Sunway has seen a surge in cruise bookings: they’re offering a seven-day Mediterranean Adventure from Barcelona (departing on October 10, 17 or 24) with the cruise taking in coastal gems like Valencia, Genoa, and Palermo before journeying back to Spain. Prices from €473pp include all meals and on-board entertainment and you can splash out an extra €99 for unlimited drinks and other bonuses. To take in an alternative stretch of the seas, Sunway’s Greek and Italian Delight cruise starts from €525. Tip: don’t be turned off by booking cheaper interior cabins when you’ll spend much of your time sunning yourself on the decks.

sunway.ie

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