From just 50p + Avios: 6 underrated destinations less than a 2-hour flight from London

May 30, 2020

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When planning a quick weekend trip to Europe, there are a few usual suspects that hit the top of peoples’ lists: Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Lisbon. They’re the cities that you see on everyone’s Instagram. While these are all great places and are definitely worth a visit, they can be a little overwhelming — and crowded considering the guidelines for social distancing — for just a couple of nights away.

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Luxembourg City -- one of our chosen destinations. (Photo by wichan yingyongsomsawas/Getty Images)
Luxembourg City — one of our chosen destinations. (Photo by wichan yingyongsomsawas/Getty Images)

To make better use of a long weekend, we thought we’d suggest a few smaller, off-the-beaten-track alternative city breaks that are less than two hours of flying time from London.

What makes them even greater is that thanks to BA’s Reward Flight Savers they’re all available to book for as little as £0.50 one-way — plus some Avios, of course. For off-peak dates, you’re looking at 8,500 for each destination while during peak times that jumps up to 14,500.

Related: How to get the best value out of BA’s Reward Flight Saver redemptions

1. Bilbao, Spain

Tucked away slightly inland in the north of Spain and just a stone’s throw from the French border, Bilbao is still largely uncharted territory for British travellers. With Mediterranean coastal towns and cities like Barcelona in the north east, Cadiz in the far south\west and hundreds of miles of beautiful coastline in between, it’s easy to see why Bilbao is mistakenly overlooked.

Related: Top hacks for visiting Spain like a local

"Aerial view of tourists on walkway over urban canal, Bilbao, Biscay, Spain" (Photo by Chris Clor/Getty Images)
The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain. (Photo by Chris Clor/Getty Images)

Bilbao is to the Basque Country what Barcelona is to Catalonia — the cultural hub of a region whose customs and language are completely different from the rest of Spain. It’s also a great place to visit if you’re into surfing as some of the spots close to the city like La Zurriola beach boast non-stop, year-round waves.

The city itself has some rather striking architecture. The main attraction is the Guggenheim Museum on the banks of the Estuary of Bilbao and another is the Zubizuri Bridge, which can be found just a bit further down the river.

And if you like tapas, Bilbao has its own take on the typical Spanish snack called “pintxos”. The tiny portions of meat, cheese or whatever it may be will be served on either a piece of bread or a cocktail stick. The main difference here is that you will pay for each one you eat rather than getting tapas free with your drinks as is often the case in cities like Madrid.

Pintxos of Bilbao (Photo by
Pintxos of Bilbao. (Photo by Malcolm P Chapman/Getty Images)

2. Hamburg, Germany

This German city often gets overlooked by the more widely covered tourist spots like Berlin, Munich and, of course, Cologne. However, as Germany’s second city, Hamburg has so much to offer.

The city is close to the estuary of the River Elbe and acts as one of Germany’s major ports. It boasts all the usual charm and friendliness of a maritime city and has miles upon miles of waterway — there are more canals there than Amsterdam and Venice combined. No wonder it has the nickname “the Venice of the North”.

Germany, Hamburg, Old Town, Town houses at Nikolai Fleet
Germany, Hamburg. (Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

While Berlin is world-renowned for its nightlife, Hamburg sure gives it a run for its money. The city has Europe’s longest party street called the Reeperbahn and is also the birthplace of much of Germany’s house music as well as big-time DJ Solomun.

3. Luxembourg

A nice and easy-to-get-to country to tick off your country list during a weekend away is Luxembourg. The capital, Luxembourg City, is in the south of the tiny country and is surrounded by beautiful rolling hills and lush green countryside dotted with dozens of magical, fairytale-like castles.

The Grund (lower city) quarter of Luxembourg City, Luxembourg (Photo by Jorg Greuel/Getty Images)
Luxembourg City. (Photo by Jorg Greuel/Getty Images)

Luxembourg is also a polyglot’s heaven. It’s common that people there speak at least four or five languages, including Luxembourgish, with French and German also being official languages of the country. For those whose first language is English, Portuguese or Italian, these are also listed as languages officially spoken in Luxembourg.

As the only Grand Duchy (a country or territory whose official head of state or ruler is a monarch with the title of grand duke or grand duchess) in the world, the tiny country has bags of history. From its many museums to an array of stunning architecture, there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

4. Lyon, France

Often referred to as the gastronomical heart of France, Lyon is one for the foodies out there. The streets are lined with everything from your traditional Lyonnais bouchon restaurants to one of 20 Michelin-starred restaurants in the city. A popular local dish is “cochonnailles”, which is made from parts of the pig that we’re slightly less accustomed to eating like the tongue and even the feet. Another typically Lyonnais dish is cervelle de canut, which is a fancy-sounding name for cheese with herbs, shallots, oil and salt. It wouldn’t be France without eating your entire body weight in cheese now, would it?

France, Lyon, Vieux Lyon, people dining outside restaurants along narrow cobbled street at night (Photo by Gary Yeowell/Getty Images)
Lyon, France. (Photo by Gary Yeowell/Getty Images)

The city also hosts an annual festival of light (Fête des Lumières) every December, which brings visitors from French regions near and far as well as from across Europe and the world.

Finally, if you’re a fan of nature and outdoor green spaces, there are lots to be found in Lyon. The most famous in the city is the park called Parc de la Tête d’Or, which is one of the biggest urban parks in France and it even includes a zoo.

5. Toulouse, France

Toulouse is the capital of the Occitanie region of France, close to the breathtaking Pyrenees mountains and the Spanish border.

Almost every region in France has a specific regional dish and Toulouse and Occitanie are no different. Here, the regional speciality is cassoulet, which is similar to a casserole that we’d have in the U.K. Just like a typical casserole, it’s a hearty, meaty dish that is usually made with duck and pork with the addition of white beans to finish it off nicely.

french cassoulet with bean and meats
(Photo by margouillatphotos/Getty Images)

Toulouse is also on many an AvGeek’s radar. It’s home to the Airbus factory at Toulouse Blagnac Airport (TLS) where new aircraft are tested and delivery events are held with press and media from around the world. It’s also where the first-ever Concorde took off from in 1969. Nowadays, you can visit the Aeroscopia Museum as well as the A380 and A350 assembly lines.

Related: The Airbus A380 rolled through a French town for the last time

6. Zurich, Switzerland

Last, but only because it starts with a Z, is Zurich. This made the list for a reason that might surprise you. The city of Zurich wraps around the end of Lake Zurich whose waters are — for the most part — crystal clear. The lake is often used by locals and tourists as a swimming pool thanks to purpose-built swimming platforms like this one.

Photo taken in Zürich, Switzerland (Paolo Vieceli/Getty Images)
(Paolo Vieceli/Getty Images)

There are also two rivers, the Sihl and the Limmat, which have lidos and are lined with bars.

Switzerland is also about chocolate, luxury and high-end watches — so there’s plenty of that to be had. One final note is that Zurich Airport is home to some of the best airport viewing spots in the world. The terrace wraps around almost an entire terminal — but you’ll have to be flying Swiss in first class for the best views.

Related reading: Swiss Perfection: A review of Swiss first class on its flagship Boeing 777-300ER

Flights to Hamburg (HAM), Lyon (LYS), Toulouse (TLS) and Zurich (ZRH) depart from Heathrow — you can also fly from London City to Zurich. And for Bilbao, flights depart from London Gatwick (LGW).

Bottom line

There we have it. Six lesser-known European cities that would be perfect for a cheeky weekend break away all for as little as £0.50 and a few thousand Avios. You really can’t beat a Reward Flight Saver.

Featured image by Paulo Vieceli/Getty Images

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