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Whether you’re building an itinerary to fill a two-week vacation, or scouting weekend jaunts from your study-abroad home base, these four European cities are perfect for touching down, checking in, going out, staying up and taking off — all within 48 hours so you can make the most of those 2017 vacation days.
1. Explore Oslo on a Dime
If You’re Going to be Near: Stockholm, Copenhagen or Bergen
While you may balk at Norway’s capital because of its expensive reputation, there are plenty of ways to see Oslo on a lean budget too. And if you’re flying from the US, Norwegian Air constantly offers outrageously affordable nonstop flights to Olso (OSL) from cities like New York (JFK and EWR), Boston (BOS), and Fort Lauderdale (FLL) — always check our TPG Deals Page before you book to see if any are currently available.
To get around the city with ease, purchase an Oslo Pass, your ticket to the city’s public transportation as well as admission to its many museums and sights. Oslo’s main attractions — City Hall Square, the Royal Palace, Karl Johans Gate, the Nobel Peace Center, Akershus Fortress and the statues of Vigelandsparken — can all be reached on foot, but you may want to jump on a bus or tram during the chilly winter months. In the center of town, you can take part in Oslo’s cafe culture, particularly evident around the city’s harbor, which will help warm you up after a day of sightseeing. Make dinner reservations at Hos Thea, a popular restaurant that can be difficult to get into, as soon as you book your flight.
The next day, spend some time wandering through the area along Karl Johans Gate, the city’s main street. Sample a mug of gløgg and cozy up by the communal fire. The wintry temperatures may appear off-putting, but Norwegians know how to warm you from the inside out. Putting your Oslo Pass to work, take the subway-turned-overground train to Holmenkollen ski jump; the ride through the hills surrounding Oslo makes the journey alone worth it. Once you’ve arrived, plan to ascend the ski-jump tower, where you can see the totality of Oslo, and enjoy the view of the ski jump under the sheen of freshly made snow.
2. Indulge Your Appetites in Bratislava
If You’re Going to be Near: Vienna or Budapest
Bratislava’s petite sprawl offers everything I’ve come to love about Eastern European cities: 10th-century castles, picturesque old-town squares and tiny lanes that spindle off the city center. Flying in to Bratislava (BTS) is convenient from continental European cities like London, Berlin and Milan. It’s also easily accessible by car or train from Prague and Vienna.
Slovakia, like its Czech Republic neighbor, produces excellent beers — the country is less known for its quality wines, but that’s what makes the opportunity to drink them even better. To sample both, stop by the LOFT Hotel Bratislava to visit its on-site brewery and the cozy wine bar serving more than 100 Slovakian wines. Or if you’d rather sip from the source, take a day trip outside the city to visit the local wineries. If you’re worried about spending your first 24 hours outside of the city, fear not! Bratislava is compact and can be easily seen on your second day.
Looking to burn off those liquid calories from the night before, but also want to see the sights? Book a trip with Go! Running Tours Bratislava. With four tour routes to choose from, you’ll get a workout and a guided tour of the city and its many sites, including the Presidential Palace, Bratislava Castle, Slavin (a military cemetery with views of the entire city), the Old Town and Michael’s Gate. If the weather proves too cold for a run on your visit, satiate your hunger inside a cozy restaurant with traditional Slovakian food. Dishes like okše, typical potato pancakes prepared either salty or sweet; cigánska pečienka, a hamburger-like fried pork steak covered in mustard and onions and served in a bread pocket; and šmalec, a wedge of bread with pork fat and onion, will soon have you warmed up and ready for more wine. Or wash down these winter dishes with hriato, a traditional fruit-and-brandy-based cocktail made with honey and bacon or pork fat.
3. Make History in Munich
If You’re Going to be Near: Salzburg or elsewhere in Bavaria
While most tourists flock to Munich in late-September for Oktoberfest, the city has plenty to offer visitors in the remaining months of the year, too. To get there, plan to arrive in Munich via its international airport (MUC). Once you’ve arrived, take the S1 or S8 S-Bahn trains that depart from the airport for the city center. The journey to the main station at the center of Munich takes about 45 minutes, with trains departing every 20 minutes.
Once you’ve dropped your bags at your hotel, you’re free to move about the city. Munich’s Marienplatz is a logical place to start your clock if you’re traveling here around Christmastime — once you’ve perused the stalls and had your fill of steaming glühwein, a dangerously delicious concoction of wine, cinnamon, clove, orange and sugar, head to your pre-booked (hint, hint) Hitler and the Third Reich Munich Walking tour. This tour, which I found on through Viator.com’s app, gives you an in-depth look at the city in which Hitler and his followers first rose to prominence and attempted to take over the country with their Beer Hall Putsch. (After he served time in prison for the failed coup, Hitler ran a strong campaign for the presidency of Germany and was legally appointed as Chancellor, a move that eventually led to his dictatorship.) Munich’s part in Germany’s dark past is illuminated by the guide’s exceptional grasp of history and storytelling. If you’re a history buff, 2.5-hour tour is well worth your short time in the quintessential Bavarian city.
The next morning, collect your caffeinated cup of choice and head to the Englischer Garten, Munich’s largest public park. What’s so special about this green space? Not only does it have numerous cycling and running trails, as well as a beer garden, it’s also home to Eisbachwelle, a river where surfers line the banks while they wait their turn to take on the waves. This hypnotic dance of river surfers could keep you captivated for hours… just don’t spend too long here, it’s your last day in Munich! Looking to try a bit of local cuisine to round out your experience? Local specialties like roasted pork knuckle, pork roast, Fleischpflanzerl (Bavarian meatballs) and Weißwurst (veal sausage) are all great options. To quench your thirst, try the variety of different Bavarian beers available. If you want to sample some from the source, look for a local brewery like Weisses Brauhaus or Richelbräu.
4. Get Your Glengoyne on in Glasgow
If You’re Going to be Near: Edinburgh or London
How does a city go from a rough-and-tumble reputation to being voted one of the world’s friendliest cities? Simply put: “People Make Glasgow.” The city’s campaign champions the idea that its citizens are what make it such a great place to live and visit. Glasgow is accessible to visitors via its international airport (GLA), or if you’re traveling domestically via rail, its main railway station at Queen Street — a train journey takes about 50 minutes from Edinburgh and just over four hours from London.
Once you’ve arrived, take a stroll through George Square, which serves as the perfect meeting point for sightseeing tours or public-transportation exchanges. Hop on either of these buses to see iconic sights like City Chambers, Glasgow Cathedral, Hampden Park, the Gallery of Modern Art and the Tenement House. And don’t miss the city’s thriving music scene. From its impressive SSE Hydro stadium to smaller venues where up-and-coming artists like Suspire perform, Glasgow has something for every genre of music lover. Can’t catch a concert while you’re in town? From cheeky wee drams of whisky to handcrafted cocktails, you’ll find a variety of pubs, cocktail bars and nightclubs to keep the fun going all night.
Getting up the next morning might be rough, but a little hair of the dog will help. Don’t leave Glasgow without first stopping by a local distillery. Glengoyne Distillery, open from 10:00am to 5:00pm each day, is the perfect place to sample the water of life before you head to your next destination. If checking out art is more your inclination, spend your time in Glasgow following the Mural Trail, an initiative that began in 2008 as a means to revamp older buildings and vacant areas that has inspired close to 20 murals across the city center. Some are temporary, making catching sight of them while you’re in town that much more unique.
Where are your favorite whirlwind European city destinations? Tell us about them below.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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