While Berlin, Budapest and Barcelona are great destinations for weekend city breaks, it can be tough to escape the crowds in these much-explored locales. This winter, why not learn about Soviet-era architecture in Moscow, try craft beers in Armenian microbreweries, explore ancient Georgian monasteries or shop at vibrant Jordanian bazaars? Here are five alternative city breaks, taking travellers away from the well-trodden path.
For a hipster city break, try Yerevan instead of Berlin
Buzzing Yerevan is an up-and-coming city break destination, with an industrial chic aesthetic, café culture, microbreweries and art galleries to rival the hip German capital. Music lovers can dive into the city’s live music scene with a night at the ultra-cool Kami Club, where jazz and rock bands accompany dinner and cocktails. Design buffs can witness fascinating Soviet-era architecture and modern art all around the city. History enthusiasts can learn about Armenia’s past and culture at the State Museum, the twelfth century monastery of Geghard and the Megerian Carpet Museum.
For rich history and thermal baths, try Tbilisi instead of Budapest
On the banks of the Kura River, close to the Silk Road and awash with rejuvenating hot spring baths, the beautiful cobblestoned Georgian capital, Tbilisi, abounds in similarities to Budapest but offers charms and intrigue all of its own. Learn about the city’s fascinating blend of Russian, Persian, Roman and Byzantine influences, while wandering its winding lanes and leafy squares and exploring its deserted monasteries, secret gardens and historic churches. The remnants of Soviet Georgia are all around, with 1930s bus stations and modernist structures as well as fascinating finds (including Lenin busts, vintage typewriters and iconic posters) on display at the Dry Bridge Flea Market. Fuel your explorations with stop-offs for comforting Georgian cuisine, from Khachapuri – bread and melted cheese – to Khinkali – tasty dumplings, all washed down with excellent, and very reasonably priced, Georgian wines.
For grand architecture worthy of a Wes Anderson film, try Moscow instead of Vienna
Kick off this snowy getaway with an interactive walking tour around Red Square, stopping off at the imposing building that is Lenin’s Mausoleum, the magnificent neoclassical GUM Department Store, and the stunning red State Historical Museum, which houses a vast collection of Russian artefacts dating back to the Mongol invasion. A cruise along the Moskva River will reveal the old and modern faces of Russia’s capital, from the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral to the iconic Moscow City skyscrapers. Cold weather lovers will delight in an evening performance by Russian figure skaters, an ice-skating lesson in Gorky Park and a visit to a Siberian husky nursery.
For delicious cuisine and winter sunshine, try Amman instead of Barcelona
Jordan’s sunlit capital boasts fine winter weather (up to 14 degrees and seven hours of sunshine in February) and excellent cuisine throughout the city’s many great cafés and restaurants, offering a relaxed alternative to over-crowded Barcelona. Learn the skills to recreate traditional Arabic dishes at home and dine on Jordanian dishes such as mansaf (the national dish, with Bedouin roots, containing rice cooked with meat and yogurt), warak enab (stuffed vine leaves) and musakhan (a Levantine-style pizza of sorts). Visit handicraft markets to shop for colourful Jordanian ceramics, straw baskets and herbal remedies; wander around the labyrinthine downtown area; explore the remains of the Islamic Governor’s Palace and Mosque, and much more.
For sun-soaked souks, try Muscat instead of Marrakech
The exotic waterside city of Muscat is rich in history, grandeur and friendly Arabian hospitality. With dazzling souks, fantastic food and a stunning mountain backdrop, it rivals Marrakech as a winter sun destination. The city’s many souks boast colourful ceramics, carpets, antiques, spices and fruits – a sight to behold for foodies, photographers and magpies! Meander along characterful streets lined with clean, whitewashed buildings, explore ancient mosques and venture beyond the city for day trips to otherworldly desert oasis Wadi Shab – a rocky ravine full of palms, banana trees and turquoise pools – and Wahiba Sands – the vast sea of red and white sands, traditionally home to the Bedouin tribes.
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