5 European Destinations You Can See in a Weekend

New year, new travel plans to be made. With five more long weekends coming up this year, why not plan a European getaway? Take a six- to eight-hour overnight flight from New York or Boston on a Friday, and you can be in a major international city the next morning to enjoy a weekend abroad. Check out our picks on what to do in each before hopping a plane back home.


Covent Garden

As London is renowned for shopping, those who want to indulge in retail therapy can spend the whole weekend perusing the stores in Knightsbridge, Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Covent Garden. Covent Garden, it should be noted, offers much more than just cute boutiques, so there's plenty to do when your shopping is done. Set in London’s West End, this area draws both tourists and locals for the shopping, live theater, restaurants, bars, history, and culture. You can shop in the morning, then stay in neighborhood for lunch and people watching from either the market area or the Punch & Judy pub. Or choose to dine at one of the various restaurants such as Rules (London's oldest restaurant serving classic British food) or Sticks'n'Sushi (a Copenhagen-based restaurant that specializes in sushi and yakitori sticks). Then in the afternoon, a fun stop is the Somerset House nearby on the Strand, where exhibitions and historical tours are held.

London is home to countless galleries and museums, but if it's not your first time to London, a more off-the-beaten-path option is the Hospital Club. On the bustling Endell Street in Covent Garden, it's a creative hub that houses a television studio, screening room, live performance space, restaurant, gallery, and lounges over seven floors. While most of the spaces can only be accessed through private membership, public exhibits are held here. Plus, 15 boutique accommodations were added just two years ago for both members and outside guests to book, allowing easier access into venue's top-notch digs.

For a riverside getaway, the Mondrian London provides for a chic stay and offers picture-perfect views of the Thames. Right near the Blackfriars Bridge, the hotel is also within walking distance to the Tate Modern and the National Theatre. You can have breakfast or dinner on site at Sea Containers to enjoy seasonal American and British cuisine in a modern, casual setting alongside the river. 

If you want to spend some time in the countryside before heading back home, Cliveden House is five-star luxury hotel and estate in Berkshire that is just a 20-minute drive from Heathrow. Several glorious gardens within the 376 acres make for a memorable weekend. Recently celebrating its 350th anniversary, the estate and grounds have been undergoing renovations, which will finally be completed this spring. 

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Canal Ring, Amsterdam

More than just cannabis coffeeshops and red neon lights, Amsterdam is a charming city of diversity. Some 180 nationalities make up the population of the city, which means there’s quite a range of options when it comes to dining, nightlife, events, and more. Its relatively small size makes the city very accessible—a great way to see it all is through the canal system. The city has over 60 miles of canals, which were built in the 17th century and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Booking a cruise ahead with a company like Gray Line is helpful to maximize your time in the city. First-time visitors should opt for the one-hour trip to catch city highlights. For a private experience, Canal Company makes it possible to hire boats, whether you're looking for a personal tour or you'd like to celebrate a special occasion (you can enjoy food and drinks while sailing along). 

It’s easy to spend all day on the canals, but if you want to explore options by foot, head to Amsterdam West. The area is filled with idyllic corner cafes, shopping, and a range of cuisine options. A perfect place to start is the popular De Hallen, a cultural hot spot comprising an arthouse cinema complex, independent shops and studios, a weekly craft market, and Foodhallen—a food market filled with street food–style options, bars, and a grill. Walk off the meal over in Vondelpark, a 120-acre public green space. For a delicious and upscale evening of Dutch cuisine, visit de Silveren Spiegel in the Old City area. Rated the third best eatery in the city on TripAdvisor, the restaurant and its building have a history that stretches back to the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age.

Save a full day to explore the museums of Amsterdam. The Jordaan neighborhood offers maze-like streets filled with street art, cafés and galleries, and the Museum District is home to the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, and the Van Gogh Museum. For interior design lovers, the Museum Van Loon is must, and the Museum Het Grachtenhuis brings the history of Amsterdam's canals to life through film, audio, and interactive exhibits.

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Carrer del Bisbe

The first thing that stands out in Barcelona? Its architecture. The city is home to numerous projects by iconic architect Antoni Gaudí. After checking into your hotel, make your way to his famous Parc Güell, then visit his as-of-yet-unfinished cathedral La Sagrada Familia in Eixample. After a half-day of sightseeing, reward yourself with some oceanfront tapas. There are countless spots on main beach area of La Barceloneta to enjoy a quick bite, but if you're looking for a more formal experience, dine alfresco at the Marina restaurant at the Hotel Arts Barcelona, which offers a menu of Peruvian and Asian cuisine. After a couple glasses of sangria, it’ll be time for a siesta. Once rested up and ready for a night out, head to the vibrant Passeig del Born neighborhood, which is known as one of the city's most popular nightlife destinations. 

Spend your Sunday on the beach, or strolling along Passeig de Gràcia (the city’s big shopping street), where you’ll find a range of international brands from the high-end, like Louis Vuitton and Santa Eulalia (Barcelona’s oldest design house), to more affordable brands, like Zara and H&M. While on Gràcia, keep your eyes open for a few more Gaudí buildings.

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Frankfurt, Germany

The central business district of metropolitan Frankfurt has been dubbed Mainhattan, thanks to the Main river that runs through the city and the modern skyline's uncanny resemblance to New York's. With many connections to public transit, the airport neighborhood makes for a decent area to stay in, especially when you have a limited time in the city. It’s just 20 to 30 minutes via taxi or metro into the city.

Literary travelers will want to see the Goethe House (the childhood home of the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), which, for those with little literary interest, should also be noted for its architecture. Then head to the medieval Altstadt district to see the Römerberg (the historic heart of the city and site of numerous trade fairs and markets), the Frankfurt Cathedral, the Old St. Nicholas Church, St. Paul's Church, and Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, a modern and contemporary art museum. If you're hungry for more, plenty of other museums can be found right across the Main. After a day of exploring, treat yourself to traditional German food and cider. On the edge of the Main, Restaurant Druckwasserwerk is housed in an old warehouse and offers a cozy atmosphere. 

A few other highlights to hit up before heading home are the Main Tower (for those that like heights, see Frankfurt from 56 stories up), Alte Oper (the city’s treasured opera house, where 300 concerts and events at held each year), and the Höchst district for its medieval streets, Höchst Castle, and the Bolongaro Palace.

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Guinness Storehouse

Offering travelers robust pub culture, seaside adventure, and a rich history to explore through museums, galleries, and architecture, Dublin should be on your travel list, if it isn’t already there. Musts for culture and history buffs include St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Kilmainham Gaol Museum, the National Gallery of Ireland, and Trinity College (in particular for the 213-foot, 18th-century Long Room that is filled with 200,000 of Trinity's oldest books, including the Book of Kells). After your trip through history, you might want to have a beer.

No trip to Dublin is complete without visiting the iconic Guinness Storehouse, where visitors can discover the history of the 258-year-old brand and learn how to pour the perfect pint. Die-hard fans can book a private tasting experience with an expert Guinness Connoisseur. A new highlight is the Storehouse’s recently opened restaurant, 1837 Bar & Brasserie (named for the year when pairing Guinness and oysters became popular), which features modern takes on Irish cuisine. After an afternoon of Guinness, you might want to let your buzz wear off (or keep it going) in the Creative Quarter, an area that has long history of specialist design and is home to artisan boutiques, studios, cafes, and restaurants, among them the renowned Eden Bar & Grill. For a lively night, head over to Dublin’s Temple Bar area.

After your jam-packed first day, you might want to relax on your second day by taking in the beauty of the nearby Irish countryside. County Kildare (about an hour's drive away) offers attractions such as the Castletown House (Ireland’s largest and most imposing Georgian estate), the Straffan Butterfly Farm, and the Museum of Style Icons. Do breakfast or afternoon tea at the Cliff at Lyons, a hotel complex on a restored 16-acre village with a collection of historic rose-covered buildings, for a luxurious countryside experience. The property is also worth a stay if you have time. Another lovely countryside spot is Glendalough, a valley in County Wicklow that is home to the remains of an early medieval monastic settlement founded in the sixth century. There are walking and hiking trails throughout the area as part of the Wicklow Mountains National Park that will bring you around two lakes for pristine views of the land. Also in Wicklow, flora lovers can enjoy the Mount Usher Gardens.

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