Unusual short /
Sometimes you don’t need a massive two-week break in an all-inclusive resort in the middle of the Caribbean. Sometimes, all you need is a short refreshing break over a long weekend, somewhere new, somewhere exotic, and somewhere interesting. Of course, you mention a weekend away and everyone automatically thinks of Europe – but that doesn’t have to be the case. Why not spend your Saturday climbing the mountains of South America, or snorkelling along the coral reefs in Australia? There are plenty of options that don’t involve your typical European culture (which can get pretty same-y, let’s be honest).
Read on for our line-up of the best weekend breaks out there.
Manhattan, New York – USA
One of the most famous cities in the world, Manhattan has it all. Literally. You want luxury shops to blow your savings on? You got it. A road trip of famous tv and movie spots? Just take a walk around the city. $1 pizza at 4 in the morning? Honestly try and find somewhere that doesn’t serve that.
There are enough museums to fill a good 4-day weekend: the Met, MoMA, and the Guggenheim all among the most famous, but you’ll find museums dedicated to fin de siècle Vienna, or the immigrant life on the Lower East Side, Japanese sculpture, postmodern American painting – you name it, you can find it.
It’s also the capital of food – even the food trucks are to die for – and the nightlife is second to none. Trust me, you don’t go to New York and not stay up until 6 am on at least one of your nights there. Even Times Square is open until the early hours; Manhattan really is the city that never sleeps, and it’ll take you down with it.
Chicago, Illinois – USA
Chicago is one of those cities that has everything you would expect: world-class museums, vibrant shopping districts, and incredible nightlife. It’s a city full of steely skyscrapers, fantastic restaurants, and vibey festivals. Whether you’re there to learn, or just embrace the culture, there’s something for you to do in Chicago.
The best part about Chicago is hands down the amazing architecture; from the glass-floored Willis Tower to Frank Gehry’s silver Pritzker Pavilion, or the abstract Picasso statue that you’re even allowed to climb on. If that’s not your cup of tea though, there’s also the impressionist masterpieces you can find at the Art Institute or go mad for sports with a Bears football game. One thing you can’t miss is the peanut butter and banana topped waffles for breakfast – a classic.
La Gomera, the Canary Islands – Spain
You’ve probably never heard of La Gomera, and trust me, you won’t be alone in that. This completely under the radar island is part of the Canary Islands, and is the ideal place to get away from it all for a quick weekend. Sure, from a distance the island kind of looks like an impenetrable fortress that would be more at home in the Jurassic Park films, but up close you’ll see that it’s full of lush valleys, fantastic cliffs, rock formations formed by ancient volcanic activity and erosion, and unspoiled beaches.
Totally different from its counterparts in the rest of the Canary Islands, La Gomera is only a 50-minute ferry ride away from Tenerife, but it comes without the tourist traps of golden beaches and an animated nightlife. The country has a bohemian atmosphere, complete with beaches secluded enough to have them all to yourself, and more hiking opportunities that you could handle in the wild El Cedro forest.
St. Petersburg – Russia
A city that’s both imperial and revolutionary in its nature, it will never fail to amaze. From the minute it was starting to be built, St. Petersburg was always intended to be a grand display of Russia’s status in the world, hence the elegant canals, 342 bridges, and the fabulous palaces and cathedrals.
An absolute treasure trove of art and culture, a weekend away here will be filled with visits to the Hermitage, where you can see everything from Egyptian mummies to Picasso’s paintings, and the Russian Museum which is spread over 4 palaces and is known as the best collection of Russian art in the world.
Salvador – Brazil
A veritable hub of 17th and 18th-century architecture, complete with gold-laden churches, Salvador was once the capital of Portugal’s New World Colony – and it shows. With effortless energy and beauty, Salvador is the place to go if you appreciate art. The city has deep African roots, and this heritage is proudly put on display through the museums and art galleries that dot the streets.
The city is home to wild festivals, with drum corps pounding out rhythms against a backdrop of colonial buildings, as well as religious iconography allowing residents to reconnect with African gods at Candomblé ceremonies. Like much of America’s history, Salvador has a tumultuous one, but nowhere else in the world has the culture of those brought over as slaves been preserved quite as well as it has here.
Easter Island has been a site of mystery and fascination since it was first discovered. As one of the most isolated places on earth, it was barely reachable until 1961, when an airport was built.
Home to the most logic-defying statues in the world – including Stonehenge – the mysterious Moai (carved stone heads) keep a watchful eye over the coastline. Thought to have been sculpted by early settlers between AD 700 and AD 1500, there are roughly 887 Easter Island statues dotted around the country – but the 15 giant heads are the real icons.
Easter Island is more than just these statues though. It’s also a fantastic spot for diving, snorkelling, and surfing, and there’s no better way to explore the island’s beauty than on horseback.
Dubai – United Arab Emirates
Dubai is known for many things: it’s flashy, full of rich people, a brand-new city, and for some reason, it’s created a bunch of islands to look like the world along its coastline? It’s the place you go if you have a desire to see a super-car traffic jam on the street or spend $100 on a bottle of champagne just because. It’s not somewhere you go for masses of culture, but in a way, Dubai has a unique culture all of its own.
A real-life shopping heaven, Dubai even has two huge annual shopping festivals. That doesn’t mean all your get in a Dubai mall is a bunch of shops though; there’s also an indoor ski slope, a giant aquarium, and an open-air botanical garden.
Never one to miss out on the action, Dubai has also homed in on the coveted nightlife market. The people you find here are always on the lookout for a good time – and they find it. From flashy dance temples to sleek rooftop terraces, sizzling beach clubs, cocktail caverns, shisha lounges, and concerts under the stars, Dubai really does have it all.
Seoul – South Korea
Seoul is the best of both worlds: it’s fashion and technology forward while remaining deeply traditional. Indeed, much of the way Seoul functions even today is drawn from feng shui and the “Miracle on the Han”, a phoenix arisen from the ashes of the Korean War. It’s because of this that you’ll discover ancient World Heritage sites, such as the Jongmyo shrine, the alleys between the traditional wooden homes in Bukchon, and the magnificent Seoul City Wall.
Known as the 24-hour city, whatever you want, no matter what time of day it is or what day of the week it is, Seoul will provide. Start the day with a temple visit, and then go gallery-hopping in Samcheong. Visit a tent bar and try the local soju, a vodka-like drink, before heading to the Dongdaemun or Namdaemun night markets, and then enjoy the local sauna and spas.
Alexandria – Egypt
Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, Alexandria was once one of the leading beacons of Christianity and had one of the biggest cathedrals in the world. The city is also home to the towering Pharos lighthouse, which marks the ancient harbour’s entrance and was once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Unfortunately, there are very few visible remains of what was once one of the most important cities in the world. The Pharos collapsed, and the Great Library was burnt down, while part of the ancient city disappeared under the sea. However, the 19th century saw the beginnings of a cosmopolitan makeover, and now the city is an eclectic mix of ancient and modern architecture and atmosphere.
Essaouira – Morocco
Pronounced es-Sweera in Arabic, this little town on Morocco’s western coastline has retained its charming and traditional atmosphere thanks to the very coastal wind that it’s named after. Indeed, for most of the year the coastal wind blows so hard it’s near impossible to relax on the beach, and so the town is often bypassed for the more touristy attractions in Morocco – like Marrakech. It’s this lack of incessant tourism that keeps the city relaxed and unhurried, offering a refreshing escape from the chaos Morocco is often associated with.
Known as the “Wind City of Africa”, Essaouira is perfect for windsurfers between April and November, but the majority of tourists typically visit during the spring and autumn. It’s during these seasons that you can wander through spice-scented lanes and palm-lined avenues to the many art galleries that line the streets.
For those looking for a bit of culture, then Essaouira is perfect. It lies on the crossroads between two tribes: the Arab Chiadma in the north, and the Haha Berbers in the south. These tribes, along with the Gnawa, all have a rich cultural heritage which has mixed to form the historical beauty that is Essaouira.
Byron Bay – Australia
One of Australia’s most popular destinations, and yet Byron Bay is not the first place you’d think of when you wanted to travel to Australia. Probably not the second or third place either, to be honest. Still, Byron Bay is one of the most beautiful locations in Australia, with an enigmatic combination of natural beauty and a creative, free-spirited, local population.
With a temperate subtropical climate, amazing beaches along the coastline, a boho vibe and an eclectic mix of architecture featuring the range of different cultures that have contributed to the country’s tumultuous history, it’s not surprising that Byron Bay is becoming more and more popular.
Visitors come for the surfing at dawn and stay to paddle in the hazy, lazy afternoon sunshine. Or they come for the yoga on the beach and the fire-twirlers at sunset. Essentially, there’s anything and everything you could ask for – especially if you’re a bohemian traveller looking for a bit of a different vibe for a weekend away before you head back to your 9-5.
Noumea – New Caledonia
New Caledonia is well worth the trip over from the Australian mainland; from a lagoon registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list, to a spectacular natural landscape, a charming mix of French and Melanesia, and long gorgeous beaches, there’s literally nothing more you could ask for. New Caledonia is a land of welcome and authenticity unlike many places around the world, where people and cultures blend together seamlessly – and it’s the capital city of Noumea that holds all of this together.
Noumea has spectacular white sandy beaches, well-preserved historic beaches, a charming French atmosphere, picturesque bays, sassy French restaurants, imported Asian textiles markets, and more. Indeed, the cosmopolitan capital is the perfect combination of South Pacific hospitality and European elegance, sitting on a hilly peninsula, and offering all the activities you could ask for.
The centre of the city revolves around Place des Cocotiers, which is surrounded by landscaped gardens, while the main leisure area can be found at Baius des Citrons and Anse Vata, with beaches bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. With only about 100,00 residents in the whole city, it’s definitely a calmer version of Sydney or Canberra – but with some amazing views to make up for it.
So, whether you want to have a quick de-stress with the kids, or a romantic break with your other half, or just get away from the daily grind for a day or two, there are plenty of options out there. A three or four-night trip can offer anything from sun-soaked beach to volcanoes and glaciers – the only limit is your imagination.