It’s that time of year again: uncertainty over whether to pack the umbrella (do it), doubt over whether to cycle in the rain (don’t do it), and the annual household argument over central heating (it’s definitely cold enough). Yep, Autumn is here.
The onset of our third season also means that we can start deliberating over a much more exciting predicament – planning an autumnal getaway. Autumn is prime for a European city break and today I’m going to focus on a quintet of the continent’s most fantastic capital cities.
“The Paris of the East” is the perfect nickname for this wonderful central European destination. The two sides of the city, “Buda” and “Pest”, straddle both banks of Europe’s most famous river – the Danube.
Hungary was once one of Europe’s powerhouse countries and the architecture alludes to that. The Parliament building, Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion are all examples of a city that thrived, largely thanks to its proximity on a river that spans 10 countries.
Another positive of going to Hungary right now is the favourable exchange rate from pound to Forint.
If “Paris of the East” is used as praise for Budapest – then just imagine being Paris! I know Paris doesn’t have feelings, but it is most definitely a city with feeling!
The City of Romance, the City of Lights, the home of the Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, a thriving arts scene, arguably the best food in the world, The Palace of Versailles (day trip), Notre Dame Cathedral – there are so many globally recognised “wow” things to do in Paris that it’s quite unbelievable.
If there is a greater city in the world to sit and have a late-afternoon coffee and watch the world go by then please, add it to the comments section as I’d like to go!
Although similar, Lisbon doesn’t get the recognition of a Barcelona or a Valencia but then, Portugal is used to sitting in Spain’s shadow. Unfairly? Without doubt. Do they care? Not really – they’re used to it!
Lisbon is not quite a secret anymore though. If it is, then it’s a badly kept one. That’s because this is a glorious city full of colour, life and verve. And unlike Paris or Budapest, you’ll likely get a bit of sunshine in the Autumn too. The hills are severe, the cobbled streets winding, the areas varied in aesthetics and content. And the seafood, oh the seafood.
Lisbon is on the Atlantic Coast and to my mind, the seafood rivals anywhere in Europe.
A city steeped in history. Home to the most powerful empire to have ever existed, and a place that has not forgotten its past.
Luckily, it’s not quite as dangerous as it once was but you can still visit all of those places and imagine what it once was. Go to the Coliseum, go to the Pantheon, go to Vatican City – it’s okay to be an old-school tourist for the day because in Rome, you just have to.
And once you’ve got all of that out of the way then explore the winding, slopping back-streets: popping into bars for antipasti, beer, wine, coffee – Rome is indulgent and so should you be.
Fun fact: An estimated €3500 is thrown into the Trevi Fountain by travellers every day – the money has been used to subsidise a market for the homeless. Nice touch.
Despite being Spain’s capital city – Madrid is regularly overlooked as a European holiday destination – a reality I feel is rather unjust.
Madrid has all the things that people love about Spain. Delicious food, amazing weather, late-night dining and dancing, but it also has a certain pace and vitality that you can only get in a capital.
The palaces are stunning the municipal buildings the grandest and most jaw-dropping in Spain, unusually for this part of the world, there is also a fair smattering of greenery… although as it’s autumn the parks will also be full of reds, yellows and browns too
Sports fan or not, a visit to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium should be on your list too. Real Madrid are the biggest, richest and most famous club on the planet and they employ the world’s greatest footballer in Cristiano Ronaldo. You need to see the passion of the locals up close.
So finally, if you put me on the spot, which city would I select?
If I had to pick one, I’d pick Budapest – but I think it’s because I went with medium expectations and it totally over-delivered.
The truth is, you could close your eyes and point to any of these capitals and you wouldn’t be disappointed. Just move in fast, autumn is here and flights and accommodation will fill up fast.
Rob Stross is Chief Marketing Officer at WeSwap.