If you’re looking for a bargain holiday destination that oozes culture, sultry weather and plenty of things to do, then look no further than South Europe! Often considered a playground for the rich and famous, there are still pockets of southern Europe that offer charm, atmosphere and fantastic prices!
As Istanbul gains in popularity (thanks to the James Bond blockbuster Skyfall) prices have crept up yet this hot and happening city still offers fantastic value. If you want to spend your days admiring sumptuous Ottoman mosques, interesting museums and ornate churches, then Istanbul is for you! Throw in trendy art galleries, traditional bazaars (markets) and therapeutic Hamams (Turkish steam baths). Your Turkish lira will go far in this lively city which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and the European Capital of Culture in 2010. Don’t miss; the Hagia Sophia Museum and Church, the stunning Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) and the Grand Bazaar, where you can haggle to your heart’s content!
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
The Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife has an astounding record of year-round sun, superb beaches and tons of things to do both day and night. Everybody should visit Tenerife at least once in their lifetime and thanks to direct flights and a solidly established tourist infrastructure, prices have remained keen. Whether you want to fly and flop on one of the pristine beaches, soak up the history inland or try your hand at one of the many adventure sports on offer; Tenerife’s got it all! Don’t miss the Loro Parque, try climbing the tallest mountain in Spain; Mount Teide and spend some time hiking in the pretty Masca Valley. And of course a visit to Tenerife wouldn’t be complete without taking in some watersports activities – thanks to a keen Atlantic breeze this is one of the best places in Europe for windsurfing. And if you crave some nightlife in the shape of bars, clubs and pubs, then the capital city Santa Cruz de Tenerife, will more than cater for your needs.
Most travellers head straight for the resorts along Croatia’s coast, leaving the inland capital city of Zagreb relatively free of tourists and, as a result, cheaper – certainly when compared to neighboring Italy! Zagreb is both the cultural and economic capital of Croatia so there are plenty of interesting museums, old architecture and lush parks. Wander the old town region of Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and admire the Austro-Hungarian architecture, whilst enjoying a coffee or meal at one of the authentic Croatian restaurants. Explore the innovative (if curiously named) Museum of Broken Relationships and enjoy a picnic in the city center Maksimir Park which also has an on-site zoo.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Balkan city of Sarajevo is remote yet incredibly picturesque, yet hasn’t attracted the wealth of tourists that other former-Yugoslav countries have. Well their loss is your gain! Sarajevo has a wealth of culture and history within the mosques, churches, cathedrals and public buildings which were constructed by the Ottoman Turks. Ride the old tram through the Old Town (Stari Grad), explore the old bazaar and try the traditional coffee. Take a sobering walk through the Sarajevo War Tunnel, visit the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque in the Muslim Old Town and learn the local history at the interesting Sarajevo History Museum.
The capital city of Portugal is tucked away on the west coast with the tempestuous Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop. Lisbon is a really handsome city and did you know that it’s so old that it actually pre-dates Rome, London and Paris? The city was the proud host of the 1994 European Capital of Culture, thanks to the swathe of Gothic cathedrals, fascinating museums and traditional monasteries. Far enough off the well-worn tourist trail, yet easy enough to reach for a weekend break, Lisbon offers plenty to see and do. Must see sights in Lisbon include Gulbenkian Arts Museum, São Roque Church and the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, which has the best panoramic views of Lisbon. Check out the UNESCO listed sites of the Monastery of the Hieronymites and the Tower of Belém, which were inscribed in 1983. To immerse yourself in the local history, take a walking tour of the Belem district and for some fashionable shopping, check out the Chiado district.
The lively city of Belgrade has established itself on the party-weekend circuit, although there is so much more to just great bars and authentic restaurants. Thanks to low prices, high quality and low-cost direct flights, Belgrade is a real gem. Great architectural wonders are punctuated with Soviet-style block-like buildings but there some notable heritage buildings, such as the Kalemegdan Citadel, Saint Petka’s Chapel and the imposing National Theatre. Wander the old Knez Mihailova Street where you’ll find galleries, bookshops and cafes. Take a cycling trip along the banks of the Danube River, learn about the former Yugoslavian country at the Museum of Yugoslav History and admire the pretty traditional Balkan-style Residence of Princess Ljubica, which was built in 1831.
By Julie Bowman