7 of the best destinations close to Europe’s top airports

Bored of London and Brussels? Then try Oxford and Bruges instead. Tony Clayton-Lea picks the best destinations 30 miles from Europe’s top airports. 

LONDON: OXFORD

Getting There: Disembark at Heathrow, and locate Airline Coaches (outside the Arrivals area). Airline operates seven days a week and coaches leave Heathrow for Oxford every 20 minutes; the return ticket is approximately £20 and the journey time is less than an hour and a half. Airline also operates from Gatwick, with a return ticket approximately £30. The journey takes up to two hours.

What’s It Like:

With more than 800 years of history and academia under its belt, Oxford boasts some of Britain’s best architecture.

See/Do:

Do not miss the university, which is the oldest in the English-speaking world. Ditto the Ashmolean Museum.

Eat/Drink:

The nearby village of Great Milton is home to the Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons, which is run by Raymond Blanc. In Oxford city, have a jar in the Eagle & Child pub, once the haunt of Lord of the Rings author, JRR Tolkien.

Sleep:

With a very pretty courtyard and a clientele that includes academics of all ages, the 17th century Old Parsonage Hotel, 1 Banbury Road, is perfect for resting the head and exploring Oxford by foot. oldparsonage-hotel.co.uk

BRUSSELS: BRUGES

Getting There:

Bruges is about one hour’s train journey from Brussels Airport (although the closest airport to is Ostend-Bruges International, which is about 16 miles away).

What’s It Like:

If Brussels thrives on the cut and thrust of big city life, then Bruges is content to serenely sit back and let the world go by. Day tourists love Bruges, but here’s the thing: once the last tour bus leaves, Bruges winds down even more. The result is as intimate a city experience as you’ll ever enjoy.

See/Do:

Museum of the Basilica of the Holy Blood is a Romanesque church and a Basilica. The interior is breathtaking — all bright gilt and dark wood, with an atmosphere that is both special and sepulchral. holyblood.org

Eat/Drink:

Cafédraal is a hip yet downhome city centre bistro/bar that is smartly designed and operates from the principles of customer satisfaction. cafedraal.be

Sleep:

Hotel Azalea is a restored 14th century Patrician house and a former brewery located 500 metres from the city’s main square, and right by the charming Speelmansrei canal. A nice touch is the hotel bar, which has a terrace that overlooks a well-kept garden and a calm, rippling waterway. azaleahotel.be

AMSTERDAM: Haarlem

Getting There:

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is about 20 minutes away by train, and the R-net (rapid bus transit system) has regular services from the town to the airport (a distance of just over 15 miles).

What’s It Like:

Away from the buzz of Amsterdam, you can allow yourself to relax here, a cozy and compact historic city of cobblestoned streets, canal sights, museums, idiosyncratic shopping, architecture, atmospheric bars and deceptively fine dining.

See/Do:

Grote Markt (Market Square) is the central, car-free point at which numerous streets converge, and which conjure up what is essentially an essential European experience of market trading and people watching.

Eat/Drink:

Housed in an old merchant’s building, Indonesian restaurant De Lachende Javaan, Frankestraat 27, serves food that is as enriching as its interior design. delachendejavaan.com

Sleep:

Carlton Square Hotel, Baan 7, is the epitome of 4-sar intimacy; it’s also bang in the historical centre, so you’re sorted every which way. carlton.nl

7 of the best destinations close to Europe’s top airports                

GIRONA: FIGUERES

Getting There:

Figueres is 25 miles from Girona ( just a shade over 30 miles from Girona-Costa Brava airport). A high-sped train from Girona to the town takes under 15 minutes.

What’s It Like:

Known globally as the birthplace of perhaps the best-known surreal artist, Salvador Dali, Figueres is a traditional town quietly boasting a mix of architectural styles (baroque, neo-classical, modernist) across some bustling public squares.

See/Do:

The Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dali is a remarkable centre that was designed by the artist, and displays the single largest and most wide-ranging collection of his works. In a typically odd manner, Dali’s body is buried in a crypt within the building.

Eat/Drink:

Spain without tapas is unthinkable, so we’re going to go with Sidreria Txot’s, Aninguda Salvador Dali, 114; the restaurant serves yummy tapas from the region with a sharp cider twist. sidreristxots.com

Sleep:

A central family-run 3-star hotel that has been in business for over 50 years, Hotel Pirineos, Avenida Salvador Dali, 68, was smartly renovated four years ago. It remains a firm favourite. hotelpirineospelegri.com

PALMA: MIJAS

Getting There:

From Malaga Airport take either a shuttle bus or taxi to Mijas, which is less than 20 miles away.

What’s It Like:

Located in the heart of the Costa del Sol, Mijas is a typically pretty Andalusian whitewashed village (narrow cobbled streets, craft shops, etc) perched on a mountainside about 1,500 ft above sea level.

See/Do:

One of the most unusual tourist attractions you’ll ever see is the Museum of Miniatures, Avda del Compas, which houses a private collection of tiny (so small intensified magnifying glasses are provided) artwork.

If you want to see a ballet dancer carved from a toothpick, here’s your chance!

Eat/Drink:

Restaurant El Mirio Blanco, C/Cuesta de la Villa, has been in operation for almost 50 years, so (as the advert says) they must be doing something right. miro-blanco.es

Sleep:

There are many B&B options in the small town, but for a mixture of Spanish charm and typical tourist treats such as an outdoor pool, Hotel TRH Mijas is your best bet.

BRISTOL: BATH

Getting There:

Bath is less than 20 miles from Bristol Airport, with regular bus services.

What’s It Like:

Bath’s former reputation as a centre of one of Britain’s Great Meeting Places is understandable, quite possibly the most stylish of British cities.

See/Do:

The Royal Crescent is one of Bath’s architectural gems. Regarded by some as a folly, on a clear day and from a certain angle it’s astounding. A short walk away is The Circus, a circular residential pile the like of which you won’t see anywhere else.

Eat/Drink:

One of the most atmospheric cafés is Sally Lunn’s House, 4 North Parade Passage. It was established by a French refugee, whose claim to fame was her buns (stop giggling at the back!). sallylunns.co.uk

Sleep:

The Halcyon, 2/3 South Parade, is a Grade 1-listed Georgian townhouse minutes from the city centre. The hotel’s pitch is heavy-duty luxury at light-on-the-wallet prices. thehalcyon.com

PARIS: LILLE

Getting There:

The passenger traffic through Lille Airport is deemed unexceptional due to the city’s proximity to airports at Brussels and Paris-CDG.

The city, however, is one hour by train from Paris (and less than 40 minutes from Brussels).

What’s It Like:

A former European Capital of Culture, Lille has also strengthened its status as a must-see destination for culture and tourism.

See/Do:

Take in the beautifully positioned Vieille Bourse, an architecturally pristine square between Place de Theatre and Grand Place.

Eat/Drink:

Au Vieux de la Vieille, 2-4 rue des Vieux Murs, is regarded as one of the best restaurants for sampling regional cuisine.

Sleep:

Blending history with modern design, charm with business, Hermitage Gantois, 224 rue de Paris, is an exceptional 5-star hotel in the heart of Lille.

hotelhermitagegantois.com


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