Porto – Portugal
Portugal’s second city, located in the northwest of the country, some 195 miles north of the capital is rapidly becoming the quintessential Portuguese destination. Think seafood dinners with plenty of wine followed by strolls along cobbled streets and sunsets glinting off of rooftops.
With far less of the crowds than Lisbon, Porto makes for a relaxing, slow-paced city break that still includes many of the metropolitan mainstays such as the Mercado Do Bolhāo food market at weekends, and Soares Dos Reis national museum. Add in the fact that it is nestled between numerous beaches on the Portuguese Costa Verde, and Porto becomes an ideal destination for both short and long breaks.
Make sure you try a francesinha whilst you’re there. This meat and cheese-filled toasted sandwich-eque dish is delicious, messy and cheap. Wash it down with a Super Bock beer and you’ll find yourself needing to be rolled down Porto’s hilly streets for just shy of a tenner. Are you salivating? Because we’re salivating.
Gdańsk – Poland
The perfect destination for a low-priced short break. Flights can be had for around £50 return from London if you pick the right times and airlines, and the city is the right size for walking and travelling around via public transport.
Anybody who has been to Poland, or other Eastern European countries before will know that food and drink is surprisingly cheap. Expect to find bottles of beer for 10zł (around £1.20) and hearty home cooked meals for around twice that. Pierogarnia Mandu offers just that, and you can actually watch the chefs rolling out and stuffing pierogi dumplings by hand whilst you wait for your meal. As a rule, Polish food is hearty, tasty and cheap and Gdańsk has no shortage of it.
Aside from food, Gdańsk offers a superb old town, which interestingly enough isn’t actually that old. Gdańsk was nearly flattened completely during WWII bombing, so the majority of it was rebuilt in the same Dutch style after the war was over. In a definitely-not-pre-WWII-style however, is the World War 2 museum, housed in a modern, angular building by the water’s edge. Well worth a visit and just as cheap as you’d expect by now. For those not so interested in the history, visit Zaspa, Europe’s largest outdoor gallery, consisting of many, many vibrant wall murals.
Bilbao – Spain
Another often-overlooked city, Bilbao is nestled in Spain’s northern Basque region. What was once a port city, devoid of any tourist attractions became a centre for art, culture and architecture after the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997. Since then, numerous modern architectural pieces have popped up such as the Zubizuri Bridge and the famous Bilbao Metro.
But it’s not all modernity; Bilbao still boasts a classic old town, complete with winding alleyways and narrow steps. Here you can gorge yourself on the region’s speciality: pixtos. Pronounced “pinch-os” which literally translates as “pierced”, these are (often but not always) ingredients on a piece of bread held in place with a toothpick. A Basque bar snack, the traditional way of enjoying these is to order one with a drink, finish, and move on to the next establishment. Just don’t call them tapas. The Basque region fiercely defends it autonomy (and cultural differences) from the surrounding Spanish regions.