From Athens to Venice, our guide to urban enjoyment with 21 city breaks for 2021

OUR love affair with a cheeky city break has taken a huge hit in the wake of the pandemic – and many of our favourite capitals are basically deserted.

But with promising news of vaccines coming daily, now is the time to dream of travelling again.

The chance to escape for a short shot of culture, food and drink has always been a great-value way to enjoy a break from the norm.

Here are our top choices for a city break in 2021 when hopefully we’ll be able to return to these metropolitan marvels once more.

1. NEW YORK

THE Big Apple remains the No1 bucket-list city break, with good reason. With must-see attractions such as the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, and streets straight out of our favourite TV shows, a long weekend will never be sufficient to cover it all. 

Spring is the perfect time to stroll its diverse neighbourhoods or the High Line Park disused railway line that winds its way through Manhattan.

Three nights’ room-only at the 3-star Yotel New York is from £450pp including flights from Manchester or London on April 17. Book with a deposit of just £79 at holidaypirates.com.

2. FLORENCE

THE capital of Tuscany is an art lover’s dream, home to masterpieces by Raphael, Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Botticelli. Its architectural treats include the medieval Ponte Vecchio bridge. 

Yet there is so much more to explore, with fantastic retail therapy. Prada, Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo all have factories and headquarters there. 

There is something magical about strolling through its many piazzas with a gelato in hand. 

Inghams has a specialist Italian programme and recommends the 3-star Hotel Corona d’Italia. Three nights’ B&B is from £344pp including flights from Gatwick on August 11. Deposit of £75 if booked before December 18. See inghams.co.uk or call 01483 698 051.

3. LAS VEGAS

THE original sin city is the ultimate party playground and remains a huge hit with Brits looking for fun in the sun.

R&B legend Usher begins a new residency at the recently renovated Colosseum at Caesars Palace in July. Also set to open next year is Area 15 — a blend of high-tech attractions, restaurants and bars. 

Off the strip, the Fremont Street area gets its latest mega-resort, Circa, the first over-21-only venue in Vegas. 

The slots and sports-themed hotel will feature a multi-tiered pool amphitheatre complete with vast screen for showing games. 

Four nights’ room-only at 3-star The D, which is also near the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Vegas, is from £605pp including flights from Heathrow on May 24. See tui.co.uk.

4. ATHENS

A WINNING combination of ancient archaeological treasures and buzzing modern nightlife, the Greek capital has increasingly become a city break option for those looking for something a little different.

From the Acropolis, you can soak up the city’s rich history with a fantastic 360-degree view. 

Join Athenians getting their caffeine fix in the many bars by day or search out the secret rooftop bars for sundowners.

A Greek city break offers the chance to combine culture with oodles of sunshine and some great-value food and drink.

The 5-star St George Lycabettus Hotel has views of the Acropolis as well as a rooftop pool and even its own cinema. Three nights’ B&B is from £219pp including flights from Gatwick on February 19.

See southalltravel.co.uk or call 0208 705 0086.

5. VIENNA

AUSTRIA’S capital city is home to impressive palaces, waltzes and spectacular Klimt paintings, as well as Christmas markets in winter.

There is a thriving art scene with contemporary art galleries and art deco cafes as well as The M-ARS, an art supermarket where you can buy work off the shelves. Culture vultures are spoilt for choice with museums and galleries. 

The Schonbrunn Palace, a summer residence of the royal Habsburg line, is one of the most popular attractions in the city.

Afterwards, enjoy a slice of sachertorte — rich chocolate cake — at one of the city’s many cafes. 

The 5-star Grand Ferdinand Vienna boutique hotel is a five-minute walk from the City Park and Vienna State Opera. There’s a rooftop pool and three restaurants.

Three nights’ room-only is from £291pp including flights from Gatwick on April 4. See loveholidays.com.

6. BUDAPEST 

STRADDLING the mighty Danube, the bewitching Hungarian capital combines history and hedonism, making it perfect for a wild weekend.

Go clubbing in a 100-year-old thermal bath, sip Communist-era cocktails at a Soviet-themed bar or explore Europe’s biggest pinball arcade.

Or take a cruise on the River Danube to admire the hills of Buda and the downtown delights of Pest.

The 4-star Hotel Parlament is an elegant boutique hotel within walking distance of the Parliament building and St Stephen’s Basilica. 

Two nights’ room-only is from £149pp including BA flights from Heathrow in March and 23kg baggage.

Book by December 1 at ba.com/budapest.

7. VENICE 

PRE-PANDEMIC, the Italian city’s canals were suffering from over-tourism in summer. While it’s different now, early spring and late autumn remain the best times to visit. Explore St Mark’s Square and the city’s Renaissance and gothic palaces but for a real glimpse of local life, delve into the smaller islands in the Venetian lagoon. 

Those looking to avoid the pricey restaurants on the waterfront should head further inland and snack on cicchetti, their unique take on tapas, at a local bar.

Three nights’ B&B at the 4.5-star L’Orologio Venezia, on the Grand Canal, is from £189pp including BA flights from Heathrow in March, 2021. The quirky modern hotel was designed by Prada architects. Book by December 1 at ba.com/venice

8. PALMA

MAJORCA’S capital offers cosmopolitan chic just moments from sandy beaches. The cobblestone streets and tree-lined boulevards are ripe for exploring in spring and autumn without the crowds. 

The gothic La Seu cathedral and museums including the contemporary Es Baluard will give culture vultures their fix. With more than 1,000 restaurants to choose from, enjoy local specialities including suckling roast pig and tumbet — a traditional dish of layers of potato, aubergine and red peppers. 

The 4-star boutique Brondo Architect Hotel is set in a 17th century Majorcan townhouse, refurbished with a modern industrial touch. There’s a roof terrace with views of Palma’s old town. One night stays from just £73 per night for two adults in January. Flights with easyJet from London are from £19 one way. For hotel details see brondoarchitectpalmademallorca.com

9. ZADAR

WHILE the Croatian town of Dubrovnik has seen huge popularity in recent years, this historic port on the Dalmatian Riviera offers many of the same delights but without the crowds. 

Wander streets of marble to discover the city’s Venetian and Roman heritage or admire its modern marvels, including a solar-powered public dance floor that dazzles at night on the seafront. 

Bars and restaurants are cheaper than those in Dubrovnik and to really make it a bargain break, consider staying just outside the city at Eurocamp’s Zaton Holiday Resort. Set on a Blue Flag beach and with pools, sports and more there’s even a free bus shuttle to Zadar. Seven nights’ self-catering in a three-bed holiday home sleep­ing up to six is from £368 in total. See eurocamp.co.uk or call 01606 787391. Flights to Zadar with easyJet in May, 2021 are from £59 return. 

10. KRAKOW

COMPACT and charming Krakow is the perfect budget-friendly destination — regularly topping polls for the best city break due to its value for money. 

But the city is more than just a cheap treat. With its history dating back to the 10th century, there’s an atmospheric old town as well as medieval, gothic and Renaissance gems to explore, from the Royal Castle and cathedral to the Market Square.

Other must-sees include the Jewish Quarter or Kazimierz district — home for more than 500 years to the Jewish community. It was destroyed in World War Two but now features some of the city’s liveliest bars and restaurants. The 4-star Grand Ascot Hotel is a short walk from Market Square. 

Three nights’ B&B is from £179pp including flights from Manchester on February 6, 2021 and 23kg luggage. See easyjet.com/en/holidays

11. CHICAGO

THE windy city rivals New York for its architecture, diverse cultural scene and foodie favourites. 

Take a cruise along the river to explore the story behind the city’s unique skyscrapers before a river walk to the many bars and restaurants. 

Head to Millennium Park to enjoy open spaces and public art and get a selfie with The Bean sculpture. 

No trip to the city would be complete without a Chicago-style pizza pie. For a more refined gastro experience, the newly opened Nobu Hotel has a 10,000sqft restaurant opening on to the city’s Restaurant Row as well as a rooftop sushi bar. There’s also a spa with pool and in-room dining from the Nobu restaurant. Prices from £315 per night room-only. See chicago-nobuhotels.com. BA flights are from £433 return in 2021. See ba.com/chicago.

12. TEL AVIV 

ISRAEL’S buzzing city by the Med has all the right ingredients — good weather, gorgeous beaches, a vibrant late-night scene and hundreds of exciting restaurants.

Chill with a cocktail at La La Land beach restaurant or learn to “hang ten” at Waves Surf School. The port of Jaffa has artisan shops, art galleries plus hipster restaurants and bars and a new museum from spoon-bender Uri Geller. A new high-speed train means the Holy City is just half an hour away. 

Three nights’ room-only at the Isrotel Tower Hotel on the seafront promenade is from £492pp including flights from Gatwick on September 18. See expedia.co.uk

13. MADRID

THE Spanish capital, with its thriving nightlife and toasty temperatures, makes an ideal break in spring or autumn. 

Get to the heart of the city and its locals on a tapas tour (devourtours.com) — a great way to learn the history of the place while picking up foodie tips. 

Find your way to the Puerta del Sol — the exact geographical centre of not just the city but the whole country. The Prado and a host of other galleries and museums are also ripe for exploring. 

The NH Collection Madrid Abascal is a contemporary gem close to the Paseo de la Castellana, a wide, tree-lined avenue with its many high-end bars, shops and restaurants. Three nights’ room-only is from £322pp including Gatwick flights on May 7. See easyjet.com/en/holidays

14. NASHVILLE

A MECCA for music lovers, Nashville makes the ideal city break with a difference for those who have ticked New York or Chicago off their list. 

Visit the Ryman Auditorium, original home of the Grand Ole Opry, plus Studio B where Elvis recorded, and the vast Country Music Hall of Fame. Take in a show at the Bluebird Cafe or grab a beer and listen to live music 24/7 at the honky tonk bars on Broadway. 

Four nights’ room-only at the 4-star Holsten House Hotel from £895pp including flights from Heathrow or Manchester. See bon-voyage.co.uk or call 0800 316 0194.

15. DUBAI

THE ultimate glam city break for the jet-set requires deep pockets to make the most of the many glitzy bars, shops and restaurants. 

But with more affordable hotels opening and others offering half board or all-inclusive options, you can have a more value-led sunshine break. There are water parks, theme parks, even an indoor ski slope for adrenaline junkies. And the Burj Khalifa skyscraper offers dizzying views from the 125th floor. 

Four nights’ B&B at 5-star Grand Hyatt Dubai with its 13 restaurants and four pools, is from £458pp including flights from Heathrow on January 28. See southalltravel.co.uk or call 0208 705 0086.

16. MIAMI

FLORIDA’S playground for the rich and famous has always been a perfect city break for sunshine, shopping and stunning nightlife. South Beach and Ocean Drive may be the traditional draws but take a walking tour to delve deeper. 

Head to Little Havana on a foodie tour to enjoy Cuban specialities; visit the Art Deco Welcome Center for free tours of the stunning ’20s and ’30s architecture. 

Sitting on Millionaires’ Row, the 4.5-star Eden Roc Miami Beach has hosted Hollywood greats with three pools and stunning views. Three nights’ room-only is from £545pp including BA flights from Heathrow on May 31, 2021. See ba.com/miami

17. LISBON

BEFORE coronavirus, Lisbon was the go-to city break with fantastic food, buzzing bars and great value. It will be just as popular next year. Hop aboard the trams to take the hard work out of the city’s hills. Then hit the bars of the Bairro Alto quarter for beer from just a euro a pint. Best of all, you can stroll the sandy beaches of Cascais or Estoril, just 20 minutes away by train. 

The Pestana CR7 Lisboa Hotel is in the heart of the city and was designed in partnership with footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Close to the Praca do Comercio historic square and with great views, three nights’ room-only is from £249pp including flights from Gatwick on May 8, 2021. Book by November 30 at travelrepublic.com

18. AMSTERDAM

THE Dutch city promises laid-back locals, dreamy canals, picturesque streets, a thriving nightlife, world-class museums and quirky festivals. 

Hop on a bike to explore historic Jordaan neighbourhood with its art galleries and antique shops. Join the hipsters at Westergas, a former gasworks in Westerpark that now houses bars, restaurants, microbrewery and creative start-ups. 

Museumplein is for culture vultures with the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and more. Stay at 4-star The Manor in East Amsterdam with three nights’ B&B from £235pp including flights from Manchester on January 31, 2021. See easyjet.com/en/holidays

19. MARRAKECH

THE exotic Moroccan city is ideal for a spring break. Explore the souks of the ancient Medina and practise your haggling skills.

By day, see the extraordinary gardens at Jardin Majorelle, created by designer Yves St Laurent, or visit the museum dedicated to his time in the city. 

By night, watch the Jemaa el-Fna square come alive with steaming food stalls, wandering musicians and snake charmers. 

The 5-star Les Jardins de la Koutoubia stands on the site of a 13th century riad and combines Moroccan architecture with contemporary facilities. There are courtyard and rooftop pools as well as four restaurants. Three nights’ B&B is from £390pp including Gatwick flights on March 11. See loveholidays.com

20. GRENOBLE

KNOWN as the capital of the Alps, this French gem sits between the Drac and Isere rivers.

It’s a wonderfully alternative city break, with first-class museums, history-filled castles, plus Les Bulles cable cars up to the mountains.

The old town is fascinating and a must-visit is the Musée de la Résistance, telling the story of one of the major centres of the Resistance in France during World War Two. Stop off for a coffee at the Cafe de la Table Ronde — the second oldest in France or enjoy great food and a buzzing nightlife in the old town. The 4-star Okko Hotel is a modern, quirky hotel near the centre with rooms from £67 per night. Direct flights are on hold, but you can fly to Geneva from £46 return.

21. ROME

THE sheer scale of the Italian capital’s historic and cultural sites can be intimidating — 3,000 years of history mean every inch of the city is a living, breathing museum. 

And there’s so much to discover, from Roman palaces to Renaissance palazzos and Baroque fountains. The solution is not to try to do it all. 

There are hundreds of tours led by locals — from walking treks to Vespa road outings.

But there’s also nothing wrong with not planning a thing and just going with the flow and seeing what you discover on your own!

The 4-star Hotel Nazionale is in the heart of the city, just minutes from the Spanish Steps and overlooking Piazza Montecitorio.

It’s a classic hotel with a beautiful bar with marble columns and richly upholstered furnishings. Three nights’ B&B is from £397pp including flights from Heathrow in May and transfers. See citalia.com or call 01293 832 377.

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