Ever arrived in a city and felt immediately at ease, confident that you’re absolutely in the right place? I hope you have. All famous cities are famous for a reason and have amazing things to do, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and everybody has their own places that they love the most, that fit them perfectly. I’m lucky enough to have found more than one of my ‘soulmate cites’; these are the weekend break destinations that are most special to me.
I’ve been to Rome about four times and still, if anyone suggests it I am immediately on Skyscanner looking up flights. Yes it has a rubbish problem and is full of hawkers trying to stuff roses into your hands, but it’s also one of the most overwhelmingly beautiful places I’ve ever visited and I love that you can see pieces of the city’s ancient history on every corner. Rome has a basic Metro system, but if you can I recommend walking everywhere as you miss so many little gems by rushing between the major sights on the underground.
I think the reason I keep going back is that every time I discover something new; it was only on my fourth visit that I found Trastevere, and took a day trip to Ostia Antica, Rome’s remarkably well-preserved ancient sea port about a 25-minute train ride from the city. My challenge for the next visit (and I know there will be many more) is to find more of the good restaurant spots, that hide so well among the mediocre tourist traps. On my last visit I stumbled across an incredible wine bar down a side street next to the Colosseum whose red wine menu was an inch-thick binder (there was a second one for white) – I need more places like this in my life.
I landed in Ljubljana on my first solo holiday last year and knew immediately that it was going to be a great fit for me. From the moment my taxi driver got out of the car to help with my bag and point me in the direction of my hostel, I encountered nothing but kindness and generosity everywhere I went; an experience that is particularly welcome when travelling alone for the first time. Slovenia is also fairly under the tourist radar in comparison to a lot of Western European cities, so you can explore without being swept away in a current of tour groups and pushy street sellers.
Even though it’s a capital Ljubljana is so small you can easily cover all the city’s highlights on foot in a couple of days. I took my time wandering up to Ljubljana Castle, down the other side of the hill to the Old Town and museums, and got around all the main squares and landmarks as well as taking a half-day tour to Predjama Castle and Postojna Caves. I ate great food and drank cheap wine at laidback restaurants by the river, and went on the most incredible food tour that focused on traditional Slovenian dishes in restaurants favoured by locals (Ljubljananjam if anyone wants to know). I urge everyone to go to Ljubljana as soon as possible, before the rest of the world finds out about it.
The reason I love Budapest is simple – it’s just so undeniably cool. Our hostel was inside a beautiful building with spiral staircases and wrought iron balconies, and the streets just oozed charisma. The nightlife culture was a perfect fit for me; Budapest is full of ruin bars that have been converted from old warehouses and abandoned buildings into quirky venues that after a few drinks feel like the setting of a surreal dream. The dress code is super casual, and a pint of decent Hungarian beer costs less than £1 even in bars like Szimpla Kert that are considered ‘touristy’.
I was lucky enough to spend four full days in Budapest, which gave me plenty of time to explore the whole city. I found that the Buda side of the river, which has Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion, felt a whole world away from Pest; they really are two different sides of the same city. I love that there are so many places to find respite from the city noise – Margaret Island, the woodland around the Citadella and Vjdahunyad Castle, and of course the amazing thermal baths. I spent almost a whole day at Szechenyi and it was glorious.
Portugal’s second city is great for a relaxing weekend break because of its small size – I went to Porto for three days and found that I had enough time to cover all the major sights while also consuming my body weight in food/wine/port and taking a trip out to the beach. Sometimes when you’re in a large city with limited time you can really feel the pressure to rush around and tick off everything on your ‘must-do’ list, and for me the fact that I always felt able to pause for a coffee or a few extra photos made Porto all the more enjoyable.
I really wasn’t prepared for how beautiful this city was going to be; not only are there the blue and white tiles that pop up everywhere, the city is mainly made up of gorgeous cobbled streets that are enclosed on both sides by shabby chic building facades with ornate balconies and washing lines hanging overhead. This understated vibe is also evident in the bar and restaurant culture; some of the best meals I had were at the most casual looking venues with the simplest menus. I’m convinced that the nata tart is the true breakfast of kings – three months on from my visit to Porto I’m still experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
What cities are your favourites for an amazing weekend away? Let me know in the comments!