Soaring prices need not mean sacrificing your next city break – you can still get a marvellous weekend away for less than you think
Some good news for travellers this autumn. We might be in the grip of double-digit inflation, energy rates may have gone through the roof and the price of half-term holidays may have reached unprecedented levels. But the cost of city breaks in Europe is looking better value than ever. It might seem scarcely credible, but if you fancy a weekend away in Nice or Madrid, Venice or Berlin this autumn, you can easily find a two-night break for less than £200 a head. 
As explained in our table, that’s the price for a two-night break including flights and accommodation on my chosen dates on a Friday to Sunday in mid-November. October is more expensive – partly because it’s warmer and partly because the departure dates are only a few weeks away, so the cheapest fares have already been snapped up. But there are still excellent deals then too. Even on the October dates I surveyed, eight of the 12 cities came in at under £300 and one, Nice, still made it under the £200 bar.
I sense your scepticism. How real are these costs? The travel trade is notorious for its “from” prices, which balloon into much higher figures when you actually try to book. But I wanted to give a realistic price which would reflect how most people would plan a weekend. So, for example, while I wasn’t fussy about the timing of the outbound flight, all the fares quoted for the returns are for departures after 4pm, because I assume that most people on a two-night break don’t want to catch a flight home early on Sunday morning. That would certainly be cheaper, but it wouldn’t give you much of a break. 
Testing the cost of accommodation was a little more subjective but, again, I was fussy. I picked three-star hotels with a decent customer-review score of at least 8.5/10, as listed on booking.com. I also only considered those with a good, central location – which, for me, is essential on such a short break. 
For one or two of the most expensive cities, this might mean adjusting your plans slightly. In Rome, for example if you want to find a reasonably-priced three-star on an October weekend, you’ll have to stay in the station area – central, though not the most alluring part of town – and still pay around £150 a night for a room. 
You could certainly reduce all these costs further if you went for one- or two-star hotels, took a risk on a poor rating or decided to stay less centrally. You could also seek out cheaper apartments in most cities – either through a site like booking.com or, perhaps, through Airbnb. But when you can find such good value in a decent, well-located hotel, it seems like a false economy given that the overall costs are so low.
The one concession I did make to travel pricing conventions was that I have given the rate per person – based on two people sharing the hotel room. So to get the total cost for a couple, you have to double the overall prices in our table. As a guide, single travellers would need to double the cost of the hotel given in the table and then add the airfare – though you might well be able to find single rooms a bit more cheaply than the rate for single occupancy of a double.
My champion city for an exceptional value weekend break this autumn is Nice. Our survey priced a two-night break in mid-October at just £167 per person. That’s about 20 per cent cheaper than its nearest rival, Barcelona. The French seaside city also offered the lowest overall rate in November – at £131. (This time its Catalonian rival gave it more of a run for its money and came in at the same price.) Given Nice’s mild, sunny autumn, the allure of its old town, its world-class art museums and its superb Provençal cuisine, that really does represent an amazing deal.
Prague and Lisbon also have strong potential for bargain hunters because they offer such well-priced accommodation. They were knocked out of contention in October because airfares on the dates I chose were relatively high. But book far enough in advance – as for the November weekend – and the overall cost is exceptionally low.
I would also highlight Seville. At £217, it was the third-cheapest option in October, and although it is well down the table in November, it is still, at £171, only £40 more than Nice. Given its long golden autumn (even in November midday temperatures still generally hit 20C), it makes a wonderfully warm and sunny alternative to cities further north.
The highest prices by a long way were for weekend breaks in Paris and Amsterdam. In fact, a break in Amsterdam in October was three times more expensive than in Nice and more than £100 more expensive than any other destination in our table. In November, both cities were more than twice the price of any of the others. That was partly because I based costs on travel on the Eurostar, which is significantly more expensive than flying. But it also reflects the high price of hotels, which were way above their rivals in other cities.
Perhaps the most surprising finding was that, despite the high cost of oil and aviation fuel, there are still plenty of extraordinarily low airfares out there. For the November dates I surveyed, all the returns were below £100 and more than half were less than £60. Sure, these are bare bones prices – you’ll probably end up paying more if you want to take a bigger bag or reserve seats – but these are still remarkable value.
By contrast, Eurostar is a much more expensive alternative. Despite the relatively short distances and the huge capacity of each train, fares are way above its airborne rivals. In November, all three Eurostar fares were significantly higher than the nine airfares I have quoted, even though the flights were to destinations which were much further away. In October, Eurostar comprised three out of the five highest fares. And when I compared those rail fares with the cost of flying, the airlines were nearly always offering significantly cheaper options. That is especially depressing given that rail travel is so much more environmentally friendly than flying.
Of course, many of us prefer the experience of travelling by train and are happy to pay a bit more for that luxury. The overall cost difference is also likely to be reduced because you will be arriving at the city centre station, so you will likely save time and money on the airport transfer. If you live in London or Kent, you may also save on the cost of the airport transfer on departure. There are ways of finding lower fares on Eurostar. But you have to be alert, book a long way in advance and pick your departure times and days carefully.
For the sake of consistency I based all the comparisons on flights from London. But obviously there are lots of options from regional airports, too. Sometimes these work out cheaper (for example, I found flights to Rome from Manchester £20 lower than from London) and sometimes quite a lot more expensive (the cheapest Barcelona flight from Manchester on the October dates was £201 compared with £77).
Your hotel and the airfare/train fare are likely to be the highest single costs on a weekend break. But eating out and sight-seeing will also make a significant difference to the overall bill. Unfortunately, according to the most recent Post Office cost barometer which was published today (see table below), Paris and Amsterdam – already among the most expensive destinations in our survey – both also offer poor value on this score. 
The price of a three-course evening meal for two including a bottle of house wine came out at £77.06 in the French capital and £80.09 in Amsterdam (where the cost of sightseeing was also notably high). Only Venice (£82.47) was cheaper. By contrast, in Lisbon you’d be paying less than half that – just £41.04. 
Among the many exhibitions opening this autumn, there’s a major Munch show at the Musée d’Orsay from September 20 (musee-orsay.fr) and a fascinating survey of the history of still-life painting at the Louvre from October 13 (louvre.fr). Meanwhile the Picasso Museum (museepicassoparis.fr) focusses on the artist’s paintings of his children (until December 22). 
There is also a rare chance to see inside an 18th-century hôtel particulier, home to the Fondation Custodia (fondationcustodia.fr), which will host an exhibition of 19th-century drawings from October 8. Those interested in the mid-century aesthetic might enjoy “French Decorative Arts and Furniture from 1930 to 1960” at the Mobilier National (mobiliernational.culture.gouv.fr) from October 12. 
This autumn the Gemäldegalerie (smb.museum) hosts a landmark exhibition, “Donatello: Inventor of the Renaissance”, which focuses on the works of the great Florentine sculptor (until January 8). Meanwhile, Mies van der Rohe’s stunning steel and glass Neue Nationalgalerie of 20th-century art has re-opened after six years of renovation overseen by David Chipperfield. And, on September 17, the East Wing, the final part of the new Humboldt Forum (humboldtforum.org) will open, completing the exhibition space for the Ethnological collection and the Museum of Asian Art. 
Finally, if you want a taste of Berlin’s lively restaurant scene, then the best time to visit is from October 27 to November 6 when the gourmet festival “Eat! Berlin” celebrates its 10th anniversary at venues all over the city (eat-berlin.de).
Clubbers have a special reason to head to Holland in mid-October, when the Amsterdam Dance Event (amsterdam-dance-event.nl) celebrates its 25th anniversary with more than a thousand events over five days including lectures, workshops, DJs and bands. Things quieten down on November 5 for Museum Night Amsterdam (museumnacht.amsterdam). One ticket gives entry to over 50 museums until 2am, with live music, food, drink and special events.
Perhaps the best reason to visit Seville in autumn is the wonderful climate. If you like outdoor urban life, few cities can offer such reliably sunny weather right through November. You can enjoy lunch outdoors, spend a sunny afternoon in the gardens of the Real Alcázar palace, and it will still be cool enough to sleep well at night. If you prefer to stay awake and enjoy the nightlife, the great flamenco festival, the Bienal, is on for four full weeks from September 8 (labienal.com).
Among the artistic highlights is an exhibition at the Prado marking the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death, comparing his work with that of El Greco, one of the Old Masters that most influenced him (from October 25, museodelprado.es). Until November 30, the Fundación Casa de México in Spain is showing artworks and photographs by Frida Kahlo (casademexico.es). And from October 5, the Circulo de Bellas Artes is showing “Hergé: The Exhibition” – a collection of drawings and memorabilia by the artist who created Tintin (herge-exhibition.com).
Barcelona’s liveliest moment this autumn will be the annual celebrations marking the feast day of the city’s patron saint, the Virgin of La Mercè (barcelona.cat/lamerce). The festival is held from September 23-26 with a programme of music, dance, circus and street art, ending with musical fireworks. Note too that the construction of Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia cathedral enjoyed a rare moment of visible progress recently. At the end of last year, after 140 years of construction work, the city celebrated the completion of the Mare de Déu, the first of  what will be six main spires.
Prague’s classical music scene is always a vibrant one, especially during the autumn concert season. Among the operatic offerings, Mozart fans may be tempted by a revival of Don Giovanni, at the Estates Theatre, where the composer himself conducted the world premiere in 1787. There are several performances during September and October (narodni-divadlo.cz). A new production of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet is the highlight of the ballet programme at the State Opera House. And for lovers of street art, there is also a major Banksy exhibition in St Michael Church including prints and graffiti  art (until December 31).
The cultural highlight of the autumn is the Lisbon & Sintra Film Festival (November 9-20, leffest.com), while the city’s museums are offering an eclectic mix of exhibitions. Museum of Lisbon looks back 100 years with “The Roaring Twenties” (museudelisboa.pt, until December 22); the Museu do Oriente has an exhibition examining the artistic connections between Portugal and its interactions with Asia and the Far East (foriente.pt, until October 22); and the Calouste Gulbenkian art museum is celebrating the loan of a great Rembrandt self-portrait (gulbenkian.pt, until September 12).
The big art exhibition this autumn is “Picasso & Abstraction” at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Organised in conjunction with the Picasso Museum in Paris it will show over 120 key works. From October 14 (fine-arts-museum.be). Do plan extra time to visit the permanent collection – it has a superb collection of Flemish art, including some of the greatest Bruegels, and also the Magritte Museum, which has by far the largest collection of the surrealist’s work. If you are hungry afterwards, the EAT Festival (visit.brussels) is held from September 29 to October 2 in the Gare Maritime. More than 60 chefs and producers will be cooking up signature dishes and offering Brussels beers.
The Venice Art Biennale has had a particularly successful year in 2022, with lots of positive reviews and it runs right through the autumn until November 27 (labiennale.org). 
Meanwhile, in the Museo Correr, which looks over St Mark’s Square, there is a new opportunity to enjoy the city’s 19th-century history. After years of restoration, 20 rooms of Venice’s “Royal Palace”, which comprised the private apartments of the ruling Habsburgs and Savoys, were reopened to the public this summer, complete with original furniture (correr.visitmuve.it). And one of Venice’s biggest festivals takes place on November 21 when a bridge of boats is made across the Grand Canal and there is a procession from Santa Maria del Giglio to the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, which was built in the 17th century, in gratitude for the ending of the great plague of 1630/31.
The Mausoleum of Augustus – last resting place of many of Rome’s emperors – opened in 2021 for the first time in 14 years (mausoleodiaugusto.it). Add this to the regular tours of the fabulous Domus Aurea – Nero’s remarkably well-preserved palace near the Colosseum (book at coopculture.it) – and there is now a fresh dimension to Rome’s ancient sites. In complete contrast, from October 8, there is a major exhibition of paintings by Van Gogh at the Palazzo Bonaparte, a newly restored 17th century palazzo, once the home of Napoleon’s mother (mostrepalazzobonaparte.it).
The sunbaked city of Nice may be known for its beaches but in autumn, it’s a hive of culture. Art enthusiasts should make a beeline for the Matisse Museum (musee-matisse-nice.org) which opens a new exhibit on 30 October – Matisse in the Nanmad brings together an exceptional showcase of 16 paintings from the David and Ezra Nahmad collection. Elsewhere, bibliophiles can browse rare books at the Marc Chagall National Museum (musees-nationaux-alpesmaritimes.fr) – new titles arriving in autumn include Jean de La Fontaine’s The Fables, Homer’s The Odyssey and The Fairy and the Kingdom by Camille Bourniquel. 
If you’re passing by Place Garibaldi before 30 October, take a moment to admire a pop-up exhibition of 60 photographs honouring the city over the past several decades, or visit Jardin des Arènes de Cimiez to enjoy an al fresco performance by the revered L’Orchestre d’Harmonie de la Ville de Nice (nice.fr).
For full details of entry requirements and Covid rules for your favourite destinations, see telegraph.co.uk/tt-travelrules
Refer to gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice for further travel information.
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