Budget breaks for travellers on a shoestring

Budget breaks for travellers on a shoestring
The Croatian town of Pula — your next budget city break? Image: Orlovic under a CC licence

Need to get away but strapped for cash? Never fear. The Calvert Journal presents the best New East city breaks where flights will set you back less that £100 — from the Adriatic to the Baltic, medieval architecture to communist-era grandeur

5 July 2018

Summer can be tough. Your friends are jetting off on glossy holidays (and probably Instagramming every moment of it) while you’re stuck at home, shelling out half your hourly wage for a slightly wilted 99 Ice Cream from the van down the street. But if cut-price wanderlust is what you’re after, then The Calvert Journal is here to help. We’ve dug into the depths of the internet to find seven great New East travel spots for your summer break. And the best news of all? They all come complete with return flights from London for less than £100.

Bratislava, Slovakia

Image: Miroslav Petrasko under a CC licence

The Czech capital of Prague has dominated the city break market for years, leaving its Slovakian counterpart too often overlooked in the rush for well-priced Pilsner. Bratislava, however, has its own unique character. Compact and easy to explore on foot, the city boasts its own eclectic mix of old and new. The mighty Bratislava castle perches on the banks of the Danube, above the delicately-decorated pastel facades of the city’s Old Town. While Prague has strived to scrub away much of its socialist past, Bratislava has left many of its communist-era monuments, giving the city more of a distinct edge. (Keep an eye out for the SNP bridge, topped with what appears to be a concrete UFO.) The nightlife scene is also loved for its underground edge, with a generation of young people reaching out to carve new identities for a nation not much older than they are.

Return flights from London from £83 in July

Vilnius, Lithuania

Image: Tom Mrazek under a CC licence

Brimming with its own unique brand of understated cool, Vilnius offers a true city break: enveloping you with a sense of calm and tranquility that you’ll struggle to find in other European capitals. It’s easy to explore the city on foot and within just a few minutes walk from the main tourist thoroughfare, you’ll find a web of serene, cobbled squares and winding back streets. Once you get bored of exploring the city’s patchwork of churches and cafes, climb the hill by Cathedral Square to Gediminas Tower and catch your breath looking down over the city below. The 15th-century stronghold is all that’s left of Vilnius’ Upper Castle (while you’ll be able to spot the Lower Castle further down the slope.) Other city highlights include the Užupis neighbourhood — home to the capital’s artists, hipsters and much of Vilnius’ celebrated craft beer scene.

Return flights from London from £76 in August

Gdańsk, Poland

Image: Christian Thiele under a CC licence

Nestled on Poland’s Baltic coast, Gdańsk is one of Poland’s most underrated city break destinations. Brimming with history, the city boasts some of the country’s most magnificent architecture, with streets of picturesque 17th-century buildings painstakingly restored after the Second World War. Long Lane, Long Market and Gdańsk’s City Gates are all must-see sights, and well as perfect spots for stirring up some major Instagram envy.

If you’re looking to visit in the summer, then you’ll get to enjoy the cool sea breeze, as well as the legendary St Dominic’s Fair. Dating back to the 13th century, the annual event lasts for three weeks and rivals Oktoberfest in size. A mix between a funfair, a farmers’ market and street food festival, the fair giving you plenty of chances to chow down on local delicacies such as Poland’s classic pirogi and pickles. This year, the fair runs between 28 July and 19 August.

Return flights from London from £75 in August

Kutaisi, Georgia

Image: Roberto Strauss under a CC licence

Founded more than 4,000 years ago, the ancient Georgian city Kutaisi is one of the world’s oldest continuously-inhabited settlements. Now it’s the country’s third-largest city, and the perfect hub for anyone who wants to get out and explore Georgia’s awe-inspiring natural landscapes. Unlike Batumi on the Black Sea Coast, or Tbilisi in the east, Kutaisi boasts a central location, as well as the great food and hospitality you’d be able to find in any of the larger cities. From here, it’s just a few hours’ drive to the Borjom-Kharagauli National Park, the Martvili Canyon, or even the coast if you want to enjoy a blast of seaside air. Don’t forget to drop by the Kinchkha Waterfall: if you’ve got a head for heights, then you’ll be able to take the suspended bridge that runs along the rim of Okatse Canyon to capture the view in all its glory.

Return flights from London from £74 in November

Skopje, Macedonia

Image: Elise Morton

The Macedonian capital of Skopje is on its own journey of self-discovery, embracing a new national identity amid city-wide regeneration. Sure, the city’s latest love affair with marble facades and kitsch-tastic monuments may have caused a stir with art historians (not to mention anti-corruption campaigners), but for tourists, it’s an exciting time to explore this rapidly-evolving city. Spend the morning by climbing up to Kale Fortress (no, not that kind of kale, you shameless hipsters.) Built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, the castle stands on the highest hill in the Skopje valley, offering fantastic views over the city.

Back in the capital itself, you can enjoy a walk around Bedesten, the site of the old Bazaar, or take in some of the area’s infamous neoclassical revamp. Stop by the central monument to a “Warrior on Horseback” — widely believed to represent Alexander the Great — before heading to the river, where you’ll see the newly-built Macedonian National Museum.

Return flights from London from £85 in July

Pula, Croatia

Huddled on the Mediterranean coast close to the Italian border, it’s no surprise that the Croatian city of Pula is teaming with beautifully preserved Roman architecture. The city’s amphitheatre dominates the skyline. It still hosts concerts and events throughout the summer, including the Pula Film Festival, which will be celebrating its 65th anniversary in 2018. Aside from tourism, the city is still a busy commercial hub and port, giving the area a more authentic flavour of Croatian life. Pula has also embraced this more industrial side of its heritage, with projects such as the nightly light show that illuminates the giant cranes down by the docks. If you are in town for a few days, then it’s also worth exploring the coast. The picturesque Verudela Peninsula with its ancient pine forests is your best bet for tourist-friendly cafes and beaches, but don’t forget the nature reserve on the Premantura Peninsula, or the the protected Kamenjak Cape.

Return flights from London from £80 in July

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Image: Sami C under a CC licence

From its winding cobbled streets to its riverside cafes, it’s pretty obvious why the Slovenian capital of Ljublijana has been making its way up the list of must-visit city breaks for some time now. The city’s medieval castle is the perfect place to start if you want to get a feel for the capital. Walk or take the funicular railway to the building itself, and make the most of the chance to get a sense of the city from high above the narrow streets, looking out to the mountains beyond. From here, you’ll be well placed to explore the best that the Old Town has to offer. The river is the perfect place to take a break, have a coffee, or to join the colourful crowds at the marketplace. As afternoon turns to evening, head to the Metelkova commune: an alternative community of artists running some of the city’s best bars, galleries and gigs.

Return flights from London from £98 in July

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