Fewer tourists, milder weather, cheaper fares — shoulder season is the smart time to escape for a long weekend away. Whether you want a taste of island paradise, a dose of culture or a romantic retreat, the short breaks below are at their best before the crowds descend.
Best for scenic cycling
There’s a reason top pros such as Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish have been spotted riding in Mallorca. The island has smooth well-maintained roads, challenging climbs, sweeping descents, flat coastal routes and fantastic weather. It’s a cyclist’s dream, whether you’re an occasional pedaller or a wannabe professional. Stay in Port de Soller or Pollenca, near to the island’s best terrain, and get a guide from one of the many touring outfits.
Best arty weekend
This year is the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death and the city where he lived and worked for most of his life has the biggest celebrations. The Rijksmuseum is bringing together all of the 22 paintings, 60 drawings and 300 etchings in its collection for the first time in one exhibition. The Rembrandt House Museum and the Jewish Historical museum are also running shows, plus the tourist board has launched a special Rembrandt walking route.
Best for romance
Lake Como, Italy
You’ll see why the rich and famous flock to the northern Italian lakes as soon as you see Como: dramatic steep-sided shores, boutique towns with cobbled streets, glitzy lakefront restaurants. But most fabulous are the romantic, 18th-century palazzos, with immaculate manicured gardens looking over the water. Many are now fabulous hotels, with spas, and Michelin-starred restaurants, so you can become an Italian lord of the manor — if just for the weekend.
Best for sunny walks
The Algarve isn’t all beaches and golf courses. Just under half an hour from Faro airport at Sao Bras de Alportel, you can step onto the Via Algarvina, a 300km walking route stretching from the Spanish border all the way to Cape St Vincent. It takes you through untamed countryside, wildflower meadows, alongside gently flowing rivers and up to panoramic viewpoints at Foia and Picota, the highest points in the Algarve.
Best island paradise
Dalmatian Coast, Croatia
Dubrovnik’s starring role in Game of Thrones has made the city busier than ever, yet one hour on the ferry from the capital takes you to car-free Lopud island, where you can idle in pretty shingle coves or ride to the island’s 15th and 16th century churches. Spend a few more hours on the water and you’ll reach even wilder Lastovo, where ramshackle villages and cheap lobster restaurants await.
Best wine-based citybreak
The Austrian capital is emerging as one of Europe’s most dynamic wine destinations. It has 1,700 acres of vineyards within the city limits and sleek new wine bars are starting to rival the famous old-school coffee houses. You can drink Sauvignon Blancs from the Styria region and natural and orange wines in waterside and rooftop bars. Plus many spots have list featuring over 50 wines by the glass.
Best city-centre sunbathing
Spain’s second city has the hippest beach in the country: La Barceloneta, a short walk from the famous Las Ramblas boulevard. You’ll find a long, wide stretch of golden sand, beach bars serving deep-fried potato balls wrapped in ham, icy cans of Estrella, and the city’s best sunsets. Go for a dip, promenade on the boardwalk, and watch the locals playing chess and volleyball on the shore.
All the weekends above can be reached from Gatwick Airport with British Airways, which has an extensive network of flights across Europe. Combine your flight with a hotel and car hire from British Airways Holidays to create a great-value getaway.