Summer holidays are so last season. Now? It’s all about Winter escapes. So unhand your hot water bottle, release yourself from the clutches of your onesie and book a flight to one of these two, very different cities.
Depending on what you consider the perfect Winter break – a week of chilling or something a bit more thrilling, one of these cities are sure to have all the things you’re looking for and being some of the cheapest destinations around, they won’t make too much of a dent in your Christmas savings either! Hannah Gunn puts on her woolly mitts and investigates…
If it’s culture you crave, Budapest is the best place to start. An architectural paradise straddling both sides of the River Danube, this city will take your breath away.
Winter is arguably the best season to visit Budapest, a time when the city is transformed into a scene normally reserved only for the insides of snow globes.
Below are a few suggestions to help you get the best out of your winter escapade in Budapest;
Flights from Glasgow to Budapest will cost around £180 return and buses- which will only set you back around £1- run regularly from Liszt Ferenc airport and even continue through the night.
Undoubtedly the must-do winter activity in Budapest is a visit to Varosligeti Majegpalya or City Park Lake. A boating lake for most of the year, from late October it is transformed into Europe’s largest outdoor ice rink and set against the backdrop of the picturesque Vajdahunyad Castle, conceivably also its most beautiful. Cost – £4
What better way is there to end a day on the ice-rink than to thaw in one of Budapest’s many thermal pools? Being built on a meshwork of over 100 hot springs has made the city famous for its many thermal spas, thought for centuries to have medicinal and therapeutic properties.
Szechenyi Baths and Pool is the largest and most popular of them all, with 15 indoor baths and 3 outdoor pools. Rudas Spa which dates back to Ottoman times, is quieter and more intimate. If you’re looking to splash out, Gellert Spa offers an intriguing treatment- a ‘Red Wine bath’ which involves sitting in a bathtub filled with red wine whilst drinking a bottle of red wine – the dream! Cost – around £12 for entry only.
Budapest has a huge variety of restaurants, from street food to fine dining, there’s no shortage of food to warm your soul.
If you want to try some traditional Hungarian fare, like the national dish – Goulash (a hearty and comforting stew), book in advance at Zeller Bistro, a quirky little restaurant with rustic décor. This place is perfect if you’re looking for meals designed to be Instagrammed. Cost- £6-10 for mains.
If you want to spend even less, a whole host of street foods are also available, Bors Gastrobar serves gourmet soups with freshly made bread as well as pasta and other homely meals. Cost – £2-3
Kazinczy Street is Budapest’s answer to Koh San Road, with busy bars and nightclubs serving cheap booze until the early hours.
The city is famed for its unusual Ruin Bars – previously abandoned spaces transformed into surreal mazes filled with eclectic décor. Instant was once an apartment building and has now been converted into a bar – the individual apartments remain intact. Corvinteto was previously a department store – it’s roof now serves as a dancefloor with stunning panoramic views across the city. Cost of a pint – £1.50 average
If you can’t get enough of the bathhouse scene, Lukacs Baths run year round night-time ‘Bath Parties’ featuring lasers, fireworks and house music. These parties often take place in heavy snow. The steam from the hot pool forms a kind of natural insulation and will hopefully prevent you from becoming Budapest’s latest ice sculpture. Cost – around £30.
When considering where to stay in Budapest, remember that the city is split over both sides of the river Danube. Buda, on the West bank is quieter and more scenic while Pest, on the East is livelier and draws a younger crowd.
The cost of accommodation is remarkably cheap; There are some truly stunning places available on AirBnB for as little as £20 per night for an entire apartment.
For an even cheaper option stay in a dorm room at the highly recommended Friends Hostel where a bed will cost as little as £6 a night.
ANDORRA LA VELLA, ANDORRA
For an all-together more fast-paced trip, Andorra La Vella, the capital of the tiny country of Andorra is another city taking advantage of its extraordinary geological location. Nestled in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France, this is nature at its rawest, a thrill-seekers playground which springs to life during the snowy winter when skiers from across the globe arrive in hoards to take advantage of some of the most thrilling slopes on earth.
Andorra La Vella is not only one of the best places to ski, it’s also one of the cheapest. Not being part of the EU means paying less VAT, therefore Andorra is far cheaper than its neighbours and as it’s within easy travelling distance of Barcelona. Getting there isn’t too expensive either.
Here are a few tips on how to make the most of a trip to this engaging city;
Getting to Andorra is far less complicated than it first appears, the best and cheapest way is a flight from Glasgow to Barcelona – a return can cost as little as £35.
Buses run regularly to Andorra La Vella from Barcelona Airport (Terminal B) and take around 4 hours, at a cost of about £50.
This is one of the few trips you’ll go on when you’ll want everything to go downhill – because the most obvious and exciting thing to do while in Andorra La Vella in Winter is ski. With a multitude of slopes, from gentle and gradual for beginners to intense off-piste courses more suited to experts and those with death wishes.
Andorra’s ski resorts are split into two areas; Grandvalira and Vallnors, each of which are then sub-divided into a variety of different slopes. With over 300kms of runs between them, you’re sure to find a slope you feel comfortable on and if you don’t, you can take lessons from one of the 450 ski instructors who are on hand to help. Grandvalria even has an app which can tell you everything from current weather conditions on the slopes to which competitions you can take part in.
If you don’t feel comfortable skiing on the slopes, why not descend them in another way? Sledging is one option or if you’re an animal lover, how about Mushing– a ride in a sledge drawn by dogs. Cost – £180 for a 5 day ski pass which allows access to both Grandvalira and Valnord.
Andorra’s cuisine is influenced by both French and Spanish cooking, particularly methods derived in Catalonia. Cooking in the country has evolved around the use of ingredients which can be easily produced at high altitudes.
Try some well-rooted Catalan cuisine at L’Olive which serves up meals like Escudella – a stew of boiled pork and veg, to restore some warmth after a day of skiing. You should also try Andorra’s twist on Scottish Stovies, a dish called Trinxat. Cost – £10- £15 for mains.
There are plenty of bars and nightclubs in the city however they are mostly frequented by a mature Spanish crowd and heavy drinking isn’t very common. Ski resorts do often run 2 for 1 deals on drinks during Happy Hour after the ski lifts close. This can be the cheapest way to drink in a city where the average cost of a beer is around £2.50. Try your luck at La Borsa where drink prices fluctuate throughout the night depending on how many are sold, the more the cheaper – so get drinking.
Avoid paying a hefty price to stay at one of the ski resorts and save money by staying in the city where you can have the best of both worlds. Barri Antic is a biker café/ bar which doubles up as a hostel. It’s in the middle of the city and is as central as it gets, so you won’t be too far from the slopes, local buses run regularly to the ski lifts. The hostel also provides ski hire which is cheaper than at either of the ski areas. Cost- £25 per night.
If you have cash to spare, you could plan a night at Hotel Iglu, inspired by the original ice hotel in Sweden, this place is made entirely of snow. You can stay in a dorm room for £100 a night, expensive – but worth it for the novelty factor.
So whether you choose to spend your holiday throwing yourself from mountains or throwing yourself into thermal pools, you can rest assured that by going to either of these budget friendly cities, you won’t have to cancel Christmas to afford an amazing winter trip!