No worries here: there’s something to suit every pocket with these 30 great-value destinations. Been to most of them on my travels so if you have an questions drop me a message…
Prague has layers of history
Best for Budget Travellers
Take one of the many free walking tours of the city of 100 spires, wander the old town admiring the baroque architecture and visit the popular astronomical clock with its hourly free show. Both food and drink are keenly priced, as is nightlife. Karlovy Lazne is the biggest club in central Europe with a different type of music on each of its five storeys.
Get there: lowcostholidays.ie has two-night packages from €156pp in November. Or try czech-inn.com for luxury hostel accommodation.
More info: prague.eu
If you like this, try: Budapest
Lisbon’s a relaxed city with great cafes, pretty architecture and decent shopping. If the weather is clement, there are terrific beaches within easy reach of the city at Cascais and Estoril, otherwise just stroll around, listen to Fado music, admire the beautiful tiles for which Lisbon is famous and enjoy some excellent food and some of the good value wines for which Portugal is well known.
Get there: Independent Travel has 5-star breaks from €239pp in November.
More info: visitlisboa.com
If you like this, try: Porto
Destroyed in WW2, Warsaw’s Old Town has been fully restored and the city is known for great museums, particularly those exploring the history of Poland’s Jewish community. You can make the day-trip to Auschwitz from Warsaw. Warsaw has palaces, and gardens, and great nightlife too.
Get there: Travel Republic (travelrepublic.ie) has three-night breaks in November, including flights and 4-star hotel, from €320pp.
More info: warsawtour.pl
If you like this, try: Bratislava
Visit the Jewish quarter, and the Cave Church on Gellert Hill overlooking the city for the best views, and wander what is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Check out one of the city’s famed baths, and if you are young enough (under 25, we suggest) get a ticket for a Sparty bath party in the Schechenyi baths, which take place until the end of October. Not for the faint-hearted. Or the prudish.
Get there: ebookers.ie has two-night city breaks in a 3-star hotel in November from €122. aventurahostelbudapest.com offers luxury hostel accommodation.
More info: budapest.com
If you like this, try: Berlin
The capital of Latvia is known as the pearl of the Baltics, and there’s a medieval old town to explore plus Art Nouveau architecture, museums, boat tours along the Daugava river and some smart shopping if budgets permit. Good value for eating, drinking and accommodation.
Get there: Club Travel (clubtravel.ie) has a three-night city break in Riga, staying in a 4-star hotel departing October 30 from €170pp.
More info: liveriga.com
Best for Families
The Italian capital is brilliant for families – but hold your visit until the kids have some idea about the Romans and who they were. Autumn is the perfect time to visit, temperature-wise, and this is one city where a hop-on hop-off bus tour is worthwhile. Rome is never quiet, so be prepared for long queues at the Vatican unless you pre-book and pay a premium. Children of a certain age will love the smutty ancient graffiti at the Colosseum, and consider a day-trip to Pompeii if you have time.
Get there: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies to Rome from €43.99 each way, while Cassidy Travel (cassidytravel.ie) has a 4-star city break from €260pp in December.
More info: rome.info
Ideal family break: Rome
If you like this, try: Athens for an equally spectacular history fix.
Everyone gets a thrill from seeing the familiar landmarks of Paris up close and personal, and teenagers will love the shopping opportunities and flea markets. Keep the troops onside by diluting the churches and galleries with gourmet treats along the way – Maison Berthillon on the Ile Saint Louis serves a spectacular range of ice-cream in all the usual flavours, with oddities such as foie gras and Earl Grey tea for the more adventurous. Frozen fans and younger children might prefer Disneyland Paris.
Get there: Budget Travel (budgettravel.ie) has a 3-star city break including flights from €242pp, based on an October 15 departure.
More info: en.parisinfo.com
If you like this, try: London, with a day trip to Legoland (legoland.co.uk) at Windsor.
A trip to New York is one that even the most jaded and anti-social of teenagers will leap at. With the exchange rate as cruel as it is these days, plan to include some activities that don’t cost anything. New York is one of the best cities in the world to explore on foot; try the Highline linear park, and the walk into Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge at night. Galleries can be expensive (though do consider the small and perfectly formed Frick) but MOMA is free on Fridays between 4 and 8pm. At the Bronx Zoo you pay what you want on Wednesdays.
Get there: Tour America (touramerica.ie) has direct flights and three nights at the Fitzpatrick Grand Central Hotel from €899pp based on two people sharing a November 21 departure.
More info: nycgo.com
If you like this, try: Chicago, for art and architecture fans.
Berlin. Photo: Deposit
Berlin’s museums are among the best in Europe, and a three-day museum pass will get you admission to all the museums on Museum Island for three consecutive days for €24 for adults and €12 for children. Apart from great sightseeing, the city also has lots of fantastic playgrounds, for when the culture becomes overwhelming. Good vintage shopping for teens.
Get there: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) and Ryanair (ryanair.com) fly direct to Berlin. Check out airbnb.ie or generator.hostels.com for affordable options if travelling with teens – accommodation starts from €17.50 in the hostel in the central Mitte area which is good for cool shopping.
More info: visitberlin.de
If you like this, try: Amsterdam
Iceland is one of the new success stories of European tourism, and Reykjavik is welcoming to families, with high-chairs in most restaurants and a family friendly vibe. There are 18 splash-and-play thermal pools in the capital, and you can go whale-watching on a boat trip from the city’s old harbour, or try on Viking costumes at one of the city museums. In winter, go skating on Tjornin Lake and explore the Christmas Village. It’s expensive though, so plan carefully to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Read more: WOW Air announces direct fares to Iceland from €69pp
Get there: WOW air (wowair.ie) flies direct from Dublin to Reykjavik until October 22. Wallace Travel(wallacetravelgroup.ie) has packages from €519pp plus tax.
More info: visitreykjavik.is
If you like this, try: Stockholm
Best for Couples
If you’ve never been to Morocco, then a trip to Marrakech is a real eye-opener as it’s nothing like any European city. Visit a hammam, stroll through the medina in the evening for a fix of Gnawa musicians and dancers, snake charmers and storytellers, and eat at one of the city’s rooftop restaurants. The beautiful Jardin Majorelle, associated with Yves Saint Laurent, took 40 years to create and is a must for anyone interested in horticulture. Be sure to stay in a riad to get the real flavour of the city.
Get there: Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies direct to Marrakech. Riad al Moussika (riyad-al-moussika.com) offers a blend of Moorish and Art Deco styles from €230.
More info: visitmorocco.com
If you like this, try: Istanbul for more minarets.
Walk the Royal Mile, explore Edinburgh Castle, climb the 287 steps of the Victorian Gothic Scott monument at dusk, sample some of Scotland’s new craft whiskies, climb Arthur’s Seat (that’s the hill that features in the tearjerker movie, One Day) and stroll along The Shore, before hitting some of the city’s great bars and restaurants. Phew! Bring winter woollies, though, as Edinburgh can get really cold.
Get there: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies to Edinburgh. The 5-star Chester Residence has romantic packages from £95pp/€130.
More info: thisisedinburgh.com
If you like this, try: Nice, for warmer walking.
Venice. Photo: Deposit
A cluster of 117 islands linked by canals and bridges, Venice regularly makes it onto all those lists of most romantic destinations for good reason. The city is a world heritage site, and it’s perfect for lovers of art and architecture. In the past, Venice fell down on the food front, and there are still plenty of over-priced tourist traps – so plan ahead to ensure that you eat well. And be prepared to walk. A lot.
Get there: Independent Travel has Aer Lingus flights plus seven nights at a 3-star hotel from €997pp, departing October 17.
More info: venice-tourism.com
If you like this, try: St. Petersburg
Walk the walls of the old town, and if the weather is good take a ferry to one of the islands, Lokrum or Lopud, where there is good swimming. Take the cable car up the hill for spectacular views at either sunrise or sunset. Chi-chi shopping and good but pricey restaurants; venture away from the main streets for better value and more interesting food. Dubrovnik doubles as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones, so be prepared for many of your fellow tourists to be fans of the series.
Get there: Travel Department (traveldepartment.ie) has seven-night city breaks to Dubrovnik including flights and 3-star hotel from €659pps.
More info: tzdubrovnik.hr
If you like this, try: Talinn. Estonia’s capital has a walled and cobbled old town too.
Head to Vienna for a civilised weekend and explore the city’s baroque architecture, the palaces and museums, and the Spanish riding school. Take in an opera if you plan ahead, and don’t miss out on the café society for which the city is famous. Chocolate cake and strudel at Café Mozart in the Sacher hotel come highly recommended.
Get there: Going to press, GoHop.ie had five nights in the Arion Cityhotel & Appartements on a room-only basis from €296pp, departing October.
More info: vienna.info
If you like this, try: Bruges
Best for Foodies
Rene Redzepi of Noma has revolutionised the way we think about food in the 21st century and is directly responsible for the appearance of wild and foraged ingredients on menus around the world. Even if you can’t get a table at his place – bookings open approximately two months ahead of time – there’s a slew of bright young chefs in the city, including some Noma alumni, all of whom are listed on Noma’s website noma.dk. Try Christian Puglisi’s Relae or Manfreds & Vin for example.
Get there: lowcostholidays.ie had a two-night break for two people from November 6-8 including flights and the 4-star First Hotel from €322pp.
More info: visitcopenhagen.com
If you like this, try: Oslo, for more good Scandi-style food… and sky-high prices.
Foodies are spoilt for choice in France’s gastronomic capital. Les Halles de Lyon is the market associated with culinary legend, Paul Bocuse. There are 60-odd stalls, each more tempting than the last. Remember to check in a bag for the return journey so you can bring home some fabulous cheeses, as you won’t get them through security at the airport otherwise, and book tables at La Mere Brazier, Le Bec and one of the city’s famous traditional bouchons. Pack bigger trousers for the return journey.
Get there: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies to Lyon in October from €123. Rooms at the 5-star Cour des Loges (courdesloges.com) from €203.
More info: en.lyon-france.com
If you like this, try: Bordeaux, for more great food. And wine.
Mosques and palaces, art and architecture, the former capital of the Ottoman empire has all that but is also gaining a reputation as a must-visit city for foodies. Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer run food company Istanbul Eats, offering tours around the culinary backstreets for visitors in search of something more authentic than a doner kebab.
Get there: Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com) fly twice daily from Dublin, with fares from around €265 return. Try booking.com for hotel deals.
More info: goturkey.com
If you like this, try: Beirut, to see where Ottolenghi gets his inspiration.
San Sebastian is home to three of Spain’s seven 3-star Michelin restaurants, including Arzak and Mugaritz, the sixth-best restaurant in the world, according to the San Pellegrino list. You can eat very well, and less extravagantly, at one of the city’s many pintxo (tapas) restaurants, and the quality of the food across the board is outstanding. sansebastianfood.com offers culinary-focused tours.
Get there: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies to Bilbao, or you can fly to Biarritz. The lovely Hotel Maria Cristina offers a one-night pintxo passport from €324pps including accommodation.
More info: sansebastianturismo.com
If you like this, try: Barcelona, for more inspiring modern Spanish food.
Of course Florence is over-run with tourists, and has more than its fair share of over-priced and mediocre restaurants to cater for them. But do your research and you will eat very well in the city at places such as Mario’s Trattoria on Via Rosina, where you should ask for a table in the basement and sit with the locals in a room that doubles as a shrine to the local football team. What to order? Bistecca fiorentina of course. Restaurateur Ronan Ryan, who knows a thing or two about Italian food, recommends Cibreo.
Get there: Club Travel (clubtravel.ie) has city breaks to Florence in November from €261pp.
More info: firenzeturismo.it
If you like this: The Northern Italian towns of Modena, Parma and Bologna are gastronomic heaven.
Best for Christmas Markets
Beginning in late November, the Cologne Christmas market is among the best in Europe. Split into seven separate markets, the four main locations are at Cologne Cathedral, the Alter Markt, the Neumarkt and on Rudolfplatz At the cathedral market, there is an enormous Christmas tree and over 160 decorated huts. Even The Grinch would struggle not to be touched by the sense of festive cheer throughout the city square.
Get there: ebookers.ie has a two-night city break in November with Ryanair flights and 3-star accommodation from €275pp.
More info: cologne-tourism.com
If you like this, try: Munich
Strasbourg’s Christmas market has been voted the best in Europe, so even though there are no direct flights from Ireland, it is worth the extra effort for aficionados to get there. The first Christkindelsmarik was held in 1570, and the tradition has continued ever since. The market now takes place over 11 locations across the city, with over 300 chalets selling everything from arts and crafts to food and typical Alsatian Christmas decorations. This year’s market takes place from November 27 to December 31.
Get there: Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies to Frankfurt Hahn. Check skyscanner.com for flight deals, at the time of writing there were deals from €249 return in late November.
More info: tourisme-alsace.com
If you like this, try: Lille
Madrid goes to town with its Christmas lights and decorations, and different designers and artists are given the honour of planning each year’s theme. Madrid’s Christmas market takes place in the Plaza Mayor, the portico-lined square in the heart of Hapsburg Madrid. The square is filled with a vast array of stalls offering decorations, Christmas trees, crafts, artisan food products, candles and jewellery as well as many stalls devoted to antiques and collectibles. Besides the stalls, there is a carousel and fairground rides. Churros with hot chocolate is the sustenance of choice for market shoppers and, when a rest is needed, there are bus tours of the city to admire the decorations.
Get there: Travel Department (traveldepartment.ie) has three-night city breaks to Madrid from €299pp.
More info: turismomadrid.es
If you like this, try: Barcelona
Read more: Europe’s Top 10 Christmas markets 2015
The Christmas market has been held in Stortorget in the Old Town since 1915, and the little red stalls sell warm “glögg”, gingerbread, cheese, candy and crafts. The Swedish do Christmas really well, and there’s plenty on offer whether your taste in decorations leans towards the traditional or the contemporary. This year’s market runs from November 22 to December 23.
Get there: SAS (flysas.com) flies to Stockholm. Club Travel (clubtravel.ie) has city breaks from €198pps in December.
More info: visitstockholm.com
If you like this, try: Gothenburg
The Christmas Market in Brussels takes over a 2km stretch of the city centre around Grand Place, Bourse, Place Sainte Catherine and Marche aux Poissons. The Winter Wonder theme appeals to both adults and children, with fantastic lighting displays and a Ferris wheel and ice-skating for when you’ve had enough of the shopping. This year the market runs from November 27 to January 3.
Get there: Clickandgo.com has 5-star city breaks with Aer Lingus flights from €289pp in November.
More info: visitbrussels.be
If you like this, try: Krakow
Best for shopping
Label junkies will think they have died and gone to heaven in Dubai, where shopping is the order of the day. Don’t expect too much in the way of culture, but you’ll eat and drink well and come back laden like it’s 2006 all over again. Mall of the Emirates is a good place to start.
Get there: Tropical Sky (tropicalsky.ie) has four-night city breaks to Dubai including flights and accommodation at the 4-star Movenpick Hotel Jumeirah Lakes Towers from €649pp.
More info: visitdubai.com
If you like this, try: Abu Dhabi
Christmas shopping trips to the US have lost their lustre in recent years, as the exchange rate has become distinctly unfriendly. That said, Boston is always a great city to visit for culture and food, the tours of Harvard by students are worthwhile, and the shops are good at coming up with excuses for sales and discounts for no apparent reason at all. Wrentham Village is the best for outlet shopping.
Get there: American Sky (americansky.ie) has three-night breaks with accommodation at the 3-star Midtown Hotel from €629pp this winter.
More info: bostonusa.com
If you like this, try: New York
The appeal of London shopping is big for fashionistas, because the selection is far greater than it is at home, even if the prices will seem eye-wateringly high once the current punishing exchange rate is applied. Selfridges is a fashion mecca with something for everyone, but try the smaller boutiques of Shoreditch and Bethnal Green for a more esoteric retail experience. The Dover Street Market is always worth visiting, and although you’ll find most chains have opened here, Anthropologie still hasn’t made it to Ireland.
Get there: Think about staying in a luxury hostel to keep more money for shopping. Generator (generatorhostels.com) is near St.Pancras with overnight rates from £10.50.
More info: visitlondon.com
If you like this, try: Manchester
Amsterdam’s Nine Streets area, in the heart of the canal district and just a couple of minutes’ walk from Dam Square, is fantastic for shopping, with designer boutiques, art galleries, jewellers, and specialist stores catering to every interest. There are plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants too, which always makes the shopping a more pleasant experience.
Get there: Ryanair (ryanair.com) has launched a new Dublin-Amsterdam service for winter. The smart boutique suite hotel miauw.com has rooms starting at €169 per night.
More info: amsterdam.info
If you like this try: Antwerp, for edgy clothes shopping
Milan does high-end fashion like nowhere else, so it is the city of choice for people who take their designer clothes very seriously indeed. For those on more restricted budgets, the city is surrounded by a number of outlets, stocking designers from Marni to Blumarine, see wheremilan.com for details. Bus services are available from the city centre.
Get there: Independent Travel has three-night, 4-star breaks in Milan from €229pp in November 26.
More info: tourism.milan.it
If you like this, try: Florence
NB: All prices subject to availability/change.