How to visit three European cities in one holiday – on a budget!

We asked seasoned European traveller Lana Nikolajeva to show us how to follow in her footsteps for an exciting trip she’s got planned.

On a budget? In desperate need of a city break and unsure where to go? Not a problem, go to a flight comparison website like SkyScanner, put in the dates you wish to travel, pick “anywhere” as your destination and away you go. [Editor’s note: did you realise you can ask Skyscanner to take you “anywhere”? What an exciting feature!]

This is what I did, and came up with a £45 return trip to Vienna. The only slight issue is that 5 days and 4 nights in Vienna seems to be just a tad too long for me. After a bit more research I discovered that Bratislava is only an hour and a half away from Vienna, and Budapest is only three hours away, heading south-east in both cases. This opened up some possibilities.

Transport
Coaches and trains depart from Vienna city centre and arrive in the city centre of your chosen destination. The departure time is as early as 05:40 in the morning and as late as 11:40 at night. My return coach trip to Bratislava will set me back a grand total of £8.88 per person. As Budapest is a further distance away, the costs of a round trip will be £15.98 per person.

Bratislava
Before booking this trip I didn’t know that much about Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia) if I’m honest. But after some intense Google research, I can say that I am really looking forward to visiting the city. It seems to be a perfect combination of urban jungle, historic landmarks and green spaces.

Budapest
Budapest is better known to me, as it has been on my radar for a while. It’s a beautiful historic city filled with spectacular architecture divided by the River Danube. I’ve been told that it’s best to stay there until it’s dark, because when the lights come on and the whole town is illuminated it’s supposed to be quite a sight!

I will also do my best to visit the thermal baths. The Széchenyi Baths are one of the largest left in Europe. The city is split in two by the river, and you can find the baths on the Pest side of the city (east of the river). I know it sounds like a rather intense day, but based on my calculations I should be able to make it! The other option is to stay in Budapest for the night and return to Vienna the next day.

Vienna
Just because I’m not staying in Vienna for the duration of my trip doesn’t mean that there is nothing to see there. All you have to do is type the name of the city into Google and you will be bombarded with absolutely stunning images of palaces, museums, quirky streets and the world famous Vienna State Opera house. My plan is to remain in Vienna on days 1, 3 and 5 of my trip, and the other two days will be spent exploring Budapest and Bratislava.

What to check for
I have to admit that I’ve never done three countries in the same trip before: two was the maximum. But I’m not worried. I checked the timing of the transport, I have a list of my “must-see places”, and the hotel in Vienna is close to the coach station, so I’m not reliant on public transport once I arrive back late.

I don’t tend to plan out every minute of my trip, and I do like to take my time and stroll around the cities soaking up the local atmosphere. I occasionally look at the map to check if any of the places I want to see are nearby, and course-correct as required.

What I do triple check, religiously, is how to get from the airport to the hotel. The rest can be improvised if the occasion calls for it. Sometimes, not having a rigid plan turns a good holiday into a great one!

Milan: shopping, cathedrals, and a spiritual home of motorsport

While Milan may be renowned for first-rate football and being at the forefront of fashion, the city offers its visitors culture and beauty like nowhere else.

A city break gives you enough time to see the stunning sights while feasting on risotto, pizza, and gelato ice-cream, and you could have time to squeeze in some shopping too.

Where to stay
Accommodation in Milan can be expensive, but there are options available for every budget. The heart of the city, close to the stunning Gothic Duomo di Milano Cathedral, is the best area to stay for a city break, because you’ll already be near to the main attractions, so you won’t be wasting time travelling around.

Discovering the sights
The Duomo, a grand cathedral, really is the must-see attraction here. It’s an imposing masterpiece of Gothic architecture, with pink and white marble and a facade that’s adorned with more than a hundred spires and over three thousand statues. It took nearly six centuries to complete the building, but it’s now stunning, both inside and out.

Climb to the top, or take the lift, and you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of the city from the roof terraces.

The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is a fine church. The monastery permanently houses Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper – one of the world’s most admired and studied pieces of art – which da Vinci painted directly onto a wall there. You’ll need to book a viewing in advance or sign up for a guided city tour to see this famous masterpiece, but it’ll be worth it.

There’s plenty more to explore around Milan that could see your city break jam-packed with visits to galleries to see works by Old Masters, or to museums and churches and even a cemetery tour! Cimitero Monumentale is an enormous cemetery and has an abundance of beautifully decorated tombs, as well as sculptures and architecture that attract many visitors each year.

If you’re visiting Milan during mid to late September, the infamous Milan Fashion Week (Women’s) means you’ll pay a higher price for your accommodation, but there are many public events available that can make your trip even more memorable.

F1 Grand Prix at historic Monza
Also occurring at the beginning of September is the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix, which is easily reached from Milan as it’s just 12 miles to the north in the city of Monza.

Monza is one of the most famous and historic circuits in all of motor racing: built in 1922 it is the third oldest purpose-built circuit in the world. Every Ferrari fan should visit this incredible race, which has a unique atmosphere of racing passion like nowhere else.

Almost every legendary driver in F1 history has won at Monza, from earlier drivers such as Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, and Stirling Moss, to Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher, and the current champion Lewis Hamilton.

With Ferrari doing well this year, winning at Monza in 2018 would be the first home victory for the red team since Fernando Alonso in 2010, and would be an amazing experience to remember for the rest of your life.

Shop til you drop!
If high-class shopping is more your thing, then the world-famous Quadrilatero d’Oro (the ‘golden rectangle’) is the place to be. Even if you prefer to window-shop or people-watch, this lovely shopping district is perfect for either, and you can stroll along the cobbled streets pointing out the most famous designer labels in the world.

Eat til you pop!
Who doesn’t love Italian food? When you’re in Milan, you can also enjoy local cuisine including Milanesa minestrone, polenta or risotto, finished off with a panettone, said to be created by a Milanese nobleman.

You can eat the most wonderful food on your city break and then return home, full of tales to tell and full of delicious food, too!

Exploring the Algarve – From Lagos to Faro

With endless golden sands, secluded coves, and calm, clean waters, it’s no wonder that the Algarve is renowned for its stunning coastline. Located in the southernmost part of Portugal, the region covers over 730 square miles, and is the country’s top holiday destination.

Every year, millions of tourists flock to its sun-drenched beaches. Even better, the enchanting inner towns and villages are also full of charms just waiting to be explored, from mountain ranges to natural springs and archaeological remains.

The Algarve has a Mediterranean climate, so even in winter it’s an ideal European holiday destination. July and August are the hottest months, with temperatures in July reaching reach 33C (91F) and averaging around 24C (75F), while August has the most daily sunshine hours of the year.

If you’re visiting the coast in summer, the sea breeze is a blessing. Outside of the summer months, the Algarve is cooler yet still warm enough to sunbathe; sunshine is pretty much guaranteed here all year round.

There are accommodation options here to suit every budget, from cheap hotels and apartments to luxurious villas and resorts. In the slightly cooler spring or autumn months, it’s more likely that you’ll find better deals and experience fewer crowds too, so why not consider visiting this September or October?

Coast to coast
There are so many beautiful towns and villages to visit in the Algarve, both coastal and inland, although the seaside is more popular with tourists.

Albufeira is the largest resort town and one of the most well-known for holidaymakers. With a lovely beach, plenty of restaurants and attractions, a historic Old Town, and a lively nightlife on the Strip, it has something for all tastes.

Known as the Monaco of Portugal, the purpose-built resort of Vilamoura is somewhat more upmarket, and has its own marina, casino, designer shops and world-class hotels.

For either a day trip or a relaxing holiday, the towns of Faro, Lagos, and Portimao all have their own delights. The regional capital, Faro, has ancient city walls, excellent shopping, and pristine beaches. Lagos has stunning sandstone cliffs, a pretty harbour, and a 17th-century fort. Portimao has its Old Quarter, famous fish restaurants, and a marina.

Swimming, golf, sandcastles, and seafood
From various coastal sites in the region, you can take in the wondrous clifftop views and then head to the beach to swim, snorkel, surf or dive in the warm Atlantic.

If golf is more your scene, then the Algarve is the perfect European destination, as it has a host of championship golf courses and resorts, with the fairways perennially enjoying fair weather.

Every year, the Algarve offers its visitors plenty to see and do, with festivals, events for foodies, and much more. The annual Fiesa International Sand Sculpture Festival (the largest of its kind) takes place between April and October, and the incredible sculptures have to be seen to be believed.

August in the Algarve is for seafood lovers, who can head to Faro’s Festa da Ria Formosa, the Portimao Sardine Festival, and the seafood festival Festival do Marisco de Olhao.

Whether you’re after a holiday with dolphin-watching, cultural and heritage tours, or if you just prefer to eat good food and sunbathe, the Algarve is simply the ideal destination.