Why you shouldn’t book a 4-star hotel on your next visit to the city – and other mistakes to avoid

If you plan to visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, be sure to book a few days in advance - Sylvain Sonnet

If you plan to visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, be sure to book a few days in advance – Sylvain Sonnet

Thinking of starting 2023 with a short break? It’s a great time of year for a cultural getaway to the continent at a good price, but don’t jeopardize your fun – or your budget – by planning it wrong. Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid – and some fixes to make it even more fun.

1. Bad timing

As I wrote last fall (telegraph.co.uk/tt-weekend-costs), booking a standard weekend away from Thursday or Friday to Sunday is often more expensive than returning on Monday. Hotel prices are low on a Sunday evening and air/train tickets are usually cheaper on Mondays.

2. Ignoring alternatives

The European cities with the greatest cultural appeal have long been Paris, Amsterdam, Venice and Rome – but they are also the most expensive. If you’re keeping an eye on your budget during these busy times, opt for a less obvious alternative that offers plenty of variety for a short break but without the high prices.

Padua and Vicenza (where a good 3-star hotel costs around £100 a night) are fascinating alternatives to Venice (at least £150); and The Hague (usually £130 a night) provides an interesting contrast to Amsterdam (£200 a night).

3. Commitment too late

With Eurostar in particular, you will almost always pay more if you leave your booking late. I checked returns from London to Paris this week for a trip from Friday to Sunday (departure 9:30am, return 5pm). From January 20 to 22, the return costs £269; from 19 to 21 March it was £199, but from 19 to 21 May only £149.

Air fares are less predictable, but Friday and Sunday are peak times – so the earlier you book, the better.

4. Four star booking, not two

How much time will you spend in your room on a short break? Save on stars and spend your money on other goodies.

5. Location avoidance

If the extra stars aren’t worth the price, it’s always worth paying for a good location. You don’t have time to sit on the bus or tube every morning and evening, roaming to and from the suburbs to save a few pounds on a hotel.

You want to be able to get out into the thick of it. So, especially when booking with a tour operator, search for your hotel on Google Maps and make sure you know exactly where it is.

6. Failed transfer

It is almost always cheaper and faster to travel by public transport from the airport to your hotel in the city center than by taxi. It is therefore worth checking the costs and routes before departure – and perhaps buying a ticket online.

The only exception is Venice. Nothing beats the thrill of being transported from the airport to your hotel by water taxi (around £100; motoscafivenezia.com).

7. No restaurant reservations

During a special break, you want to enjoy the best of your destination. If you’re going to eat at a decent restaurant, you definitely need to book in advance – or you risk looking for a table in a restaurant where, by definition, smarter locals and travelers weren’t interested in booking in advance.

8. …or monuments

If you want to avoid the long lines at the best museums, it’s important to book your ticket and entry time several days in advance. The Louvre and Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Uffizi in Florence and the Vatican Museums in Rome are good examples of must-see museums and galleries.

For smaller, popular attractions like Leonardo’s Last Supper in Milan (cenacolovinciano.vivacket.it), you may not get in at all if you don’t book in advance. It is currently sold out at least a week in advance.

9. …or shows

An evening at the opera, ballet or concert is a great way to get to know the cultural life of the city. But you’ll have to pay through the nose to get tickets if you show up hoping. Instead, plan weeks in advance – you may even need to adjust your travel dates to make it to a particular show.

10. Forgetting about ferries

You don’t need to fly or take the train. Proximity to a UK port can offer some interesting options for foot passengers. There are services from Holyhead to Dublin or Harwich to Hook of Holland (for Rotterdam or Amsterdam both stenaline.co.uk). Or from Hull to Rotterdam (poferries.com). And – while not exactly cities – both St Malo (from Portsmouth, brittany-ferries.co.uk) and Dieppe (from Newhaven, dfds.com) make excellent short breaks. If you have time for a longer sailing, how about Portsmouth to Bilbao or Santander in northern Spain (also Brittany Ferries)?

Do you have any tips for booking the perfect city break? Tell us in the comments

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