May’s pair of bank holiday long weekends (2–4 May & 23–25 May) positively encourage some escapism – but just where can you go in three days without breaking the bank?

Porto

Porto on the cheap

Pack in three nights in Portugal’s second city by scurrying to make a 20:55 departure from Stansted on Friday night (although it’s slightly cheaper to fly on Saturday morning), and use that extra time to schedule in some wine tasting amid meanders around the cobbled, riverside Ribeira district. Not that the ‘home of Port’ is stuck in the past: a glut of on-trend restaurants, chic galleries and sharp fashion boutiques have arrived in recent years to accompany the eye-catching Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, whose very building is a magnet for contemporary aesthetes.

 

Aarhus

Aarhus on the cheap

Alerting Scandi-swearing foodies to hitherto untapped gastro treasure troves, Michelin’s inaugural Nordic Cities 2015 guide honoured three restaurants in Denmark’s chief Copenhagen alternative. Quiet and quirky, Aarhus will be a European Capital of Culture come 2017, but don’t wait until then to visit: its once-buried river has already been dug up and lined with bars, new hotels are constantly opening and its old port is rapidly becoming a shiny new canal district replete with bold modern architecture and arts hubs. Fly direct from Stansted.

 

Sofia

Sofia on the Cheap

Spring’s a great time to frequent Bulgaria’s beguiling capital: its growing bar scene has awoken from winter hibernation, but the stifling summer heat hasn’t yet arrived. Allocate time to trot around the beautiful Aleksandar Nevski Cathedral, as well as the Sofia City Art Gallery, which boasts some 3500 contemporary works, and National Gallery. Look out for mineral springs and Roman ruins, sunbathe among socialist statues in the lush Borisova Gradina park and dine on Bulgarian meatballs and merlot in culinary headliner Moskovska 15. Direct flights depart daily from London Luton.

 

Zurich

Zurich on the cheap

Zurich has a reputation for plain-ness: a business hub without a heart, a place that’s all finance and no fun. But that’s to overlook its attractive Kunsthaus gallery, with original works by Munch, Turner and Manet adorning the walls. Its world-leading Opera House, which has subtitled performances of La Traviata on 23 May. Its gorgeous medieval old town, packed with artisan chocolate and cheese shops. And its lakeside setting, perfect for gentle cycling jaunts. Well-priced returns from London City await anyone keen to give Switzerland’s largest city a deserved chance.

 

Madrid

Madrid on the cheap

It’s similarly affordable to reach Spain’s capital from Gatwick on the second bank-holiday weekend. Get your bearings by gulping some chocolate con churros in the focal Plaza Mayor. At 6pm (5pm on Sundays), head for the legendary Prado art gallery, where entrance is now free, and the crowds far fewer. Dine on current culinary hotspot Calle Ponzano, sip fishbowls of gin on a rooftop terrace (the new fad) and finish in a traditional, dimly-lit flamenco bar like El Callejon de Madrid, clinking glasses of sherry with merry Madrilenos.

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