If we’d told you back in January that you’d be planning a city break later this year — well, you wouldn’t have believed us. When we were in the midst of those long, dark, claustrophobic days, the idea of planning a city break — which galleries should we visit? How can we choose between these two sublime hotels? Which café serves the best coffee in the city? — seemed like a far-flung pipe dream.
Well, gents: we made it. We came through the other side, and we can look ahead to planning city breaks once again — and about time, too. The opportunity to immerse yourself from top to toe in a totally different environment and to have such a vast array of cultural activities, food hotspots and buzzing bars on your doorstep is one that should never be taken for granted — least of all in autumn, when the red, gold and yellow leaves lend an indiscernible romance to even the grittiest, grimiest city. So with that in mind, we’ve rounded up the very best locations for a city break this autumn.
To chase your daily stresses away, visit Bath
City breaks are wonderful, yes, but you can often leave more stressed than when you began: due to packed itineraries, long queues for attractions and a burning, urgent need to see and do everything. But Bath isn’t like that. The Romans built it with relaxation in mind, back in the 1st century — in fact, they built it as a thermal spa — and it’s maintained its blissful, wellbeing-centred reputation ever since.
Its Georgian architecture is world-famous, and its hotel and restaurant offerings are second to none (if you don’t believe us, have a read of our experience at the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa and Menu Gordon Jones); but the real pull is in those waters. There are the ancient Roman baths, of course, which can relax even the most tightly-wound, email-laden brain with just one glance into their shimmering depths; but there’s also the Thermae Bath Spa, which evokes a sleek modernity while offering Britain’s only natural thermal hot springs available to bathe in.
To pique your intellectual curiosity, visit Oxford
The merits of a city break to Oxford — the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’ — actually start with the drive. Those winding country roads could serve as a holiday destination in and of themselves. But once you arrive, Oxford is, undoubtedly, the city that can sate any thirst for intellectual stimulation.
It’s just a clever place, really — those spires make one think irresistibly of graduation caps and degrees with overly complex, ten word titles. But it’s not just the university that’ll get your brain whirring — it’s a city rife with history and cultural attractions. The Botanic Garden, for one; the Museum of the History of Science, for another. And when you’re exhausted from your day of intellectual pursuits and in desperate need of sustenance, Daylesford’s The Wild Rabbit is one of many Oxfordshire establishments that’ll cater to your every need.
To immerse yourself in culture, visit Edinburgh
It’s famous for the Fringe Festival, of course — but Edinburgh’s cultural credentials far surpass a month of comedians taking over every bar in town, drama school hopefuls taking up residence on the Royal Mile and plastering flyers over anyone who looks remotely keen to see their show, and tourists and audience-goers feeling like the anomalies for not wandering around town in costume.
Edinburgh’s cultural scene is world-renowned for a reason. It’s home to the classical Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the far more contemporary Fruitmarket Gallery (among many others); the Edinburgh Playhouse is always worth a visit; and Edinburgh Castle stands proudly on Castle Rock — in other words, the views are spectacular and there are any number of post-culture restaurants a mere stone’s throw (or should that be a rock’s throw?) away.
To make the most of autumn, visit Cambridge
Autumn makes any city look good — those red gold leaves and slanting rays of sunshine filtering through the trees go with anything, especially when coupled with the uniquely autumnal scent of woodsmoke. But Cambridge is a city of stunning architectural proportions — we’re talking about the gobsmacking Gothic architecture of the world-famous King’s College Chapel and the awe-inspiring 19th century structure of the Bridge of Sighs (which famously takes its name from its Venice predecessor), to name just two highlights.
So when you couple the country’s most picturesque city (or one of them, at least) with the most picturesque season, the resulting cocktail is one that’ll lead iPhones to protest as storage racks up to epic proportions, due to all those photos you’ll no doubt be taking. Throw in a punt along the river, and your picturesque city break is complete.
To slow everything down, visit Bristol
You don’t go to Bristol to rush around. Bristol isn’t a city to tick off ‘to do’ lists, or to dash in and out of cultural attractions with all the speed and interest you’d give to the local corner shop. It’s a laid back city; and it positively demands a slowed-down, laid back approach.
Perhaps it’s the proximity to the sea — Bristol’s famous port, in the city centre, takes the name of the Harbourside and is a famously popular cultural hub, while the city’s old warehouses now hold a huge variety of restaurants, shops and cultural attractions like The Arnolfini gallery — or perhaps it’s simply a lifestyle that Bristolians have cultivated over the centuries. Whatever it is, this is the city to let go of all that corporate-induced adrenaline, and simply slow down.
To wrap yourself in the cosiness of the season, visit Copenhagen
Don’t worry — Denmark is green listed (for now, at least; we’d always suggest checking). And if you’re looking simultaneously for a city break a little further afield and for the all-encompassing cosiness that can only belong to autumn: then look no further than the city that takes ‘cosy’ one step further.
If you’re up on your social zeitgeists, you’ll no doubt have heard of ‘hygge’ already. It’s a word for which there is no direct English translation — but it encompasses cosiness, conviviality and wellbeing in equal measure (with a few other happy, contented feelings thrown in). If you’re sipping on a hot chocolate while wrapped in a rug by the fire at a Copenhagen café with glowing pools of golden light in its windows and an abundance of mismatched furniture: that’s hygge. You’ve smashed it.
To find some post-lockdown excitement, visit Berlin
We all need a bit more excitement in our post-lockdown, WFH lives. And by ‘excitement’, we don’t mean the thrill of a negative lateral flow, or the exhilaration of seeing live music for the first time since pre-pandemic (exciting though these things certainly are); we mean an excitement of the sort that belongs strictly to the time before Covid entered our lives.
Berlin is an exciting city, and it’s exciting for the reasons that have nothing to do with a global pandemic. Actor Shazad Latif told Gentleman’s Journal how much he loves the Berlin nightlife, and we certainly can’t disagree with him there; Berlin is a city that knows how to party, how to have fun and how to live life to the full. Germany is currently green listed; and, while Berlin is, of course, still subject to various Covid-19 restrictions, you’re guaranteed to have an exciting time simply by soaking up the atmosphere.
To prioritise food and drink, visit Vienna
Austria is currently — you’ve guessed it — on the green list. So give your WFH palette a break (if you’ve been living off pesto pasta during your lunch breaks and then working too late to cook a proper supper, you’re not alone; but you’re certainly in need of a change) and mix up your daily cuisine with a city break to one of Europe’s gastronomical hotspots.
We know — you’d typically think of Rome or Paris first, when it comes to mouthwatering cuisine. But bear with us. We’re not necessarily talking about Michelin-starred food (though Vienna certainly isn’t short on quality restaurants); we’re talking about bringing some exquisitely delicious novelty to your long-suffering, overly monotonous palette. When was the last time you ate sachertorte, for example? Or tafelspitz? Wiener würstel? Buchteln? Wiener schnitzel? We assume you’ve got the idea; but have you got your tickets to Vienna? If not, you’d better get booking — if only for the sake of your tastebuds.