Romantic Weekends: Three Luxury City Breaks on a Budget

Looking for somewhere to whisk away your sweetheart on a romantic city break? See our three swoon-worthy suggestions below…

Venice, Italy

Why go? It’s Europe’s city of love, silly! Canals, art, crumbling palazzos, and miles of winding alleys to get lost in make Venice a dizzying sensory overload – in a good way.

Where to stay: Hotel Canal (Via Santa Croce 553) is intimate and charming, with parquet floors and antique beds. It’s a short walk from the train station and Piazzale Roma (where you will have to park if you’re driving into Venice), and the Grand Canal Vaporetto stop is right outside your door. A garden opens in summer, and there’s a bar open all day for coffee or wine. Double rooms start at €32.25pppn (or see a full selection of cheap hotels in Venice).

Where to eat: Bacaros are Venetian wine bars, where you can accompany your tipple with some tasty Cicchetti – a kind of Italian version of tapas. Typical Cicchetti consists of crostini toast with seafood or meatballs. Bacaros are found all over the city, but a popular choice would be Cantina Do Mori (Calle Do Mori) in San Polo, which has been open since 1462.

Other romantic things to do: Rather than doing the prescribed ‘romantic’ gondola ride (anything but canals are busy and noisy, plus it costs €80), do the things that interest you most – whether that’s viewing Titians or drinking wine in a bacaro - and romance will follow. For art, head to the Galleria dell’Accademia for Old Masters and the Peggy Guggenheim for modern stuff. Climb the Campanile in St. Mark’s Square for the highest views of the city, and enter the Doge’s Palace to walk over the famed Bridge of Sighs.

Split, Croatia

Why go? Never considered Split before? That’s the point! Croatia’s unspoiled, super cheap city on the Dalmatian coast is ripe for exploring hand-in-hand.

Where to stay: Goli & Bosi (Morpurgova Poljana 2) is a modern and minimalist hostel with private ensuite rooms perfect for design-loving couples on a budget. Converted from a 19th-century warehouse turned department store, there’s a lot of space to play in here, including a cinema room and a coffee house with seating on the square outside. Rooms have a striking modern design, and breakfast is included at the rate of €32.61pppn.

Where to eat: As a coastal city, Split specializes in seafood: go to sample the best of local cooking at Nostromo next to the city’s fish market. Super-fresh fish kebabs, soups, and lobster go down a treat.

Other romantic things to do: Explore Diocletian’s Palace, a marvel of Roman architecture next door to Goli & Bosi. Built by a Roman emperor in the 4th century, this complex of buildings is at once a historic artifact and a working city-within-a-city with homes, shops, and restaurants still found within its walls.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Why go? Reykjavik’s colorful buildings and never-ending nightlife make it the trendiest place near the Arctic Circle. A fairy-tale landscape of geysers and volcanos just beyond the horizon entices, too.

Where to stay: Kex (Skulagata 26) means ‘biscuit’ in Icelandic, and appropriately enough Reykjavik’s first boutique hostel occupies an old biscuit factory. Couples will love the stylish and comfy private double rooms, but it’s the public spaces that give the hostel its edgy vibe: a gastropub serves local and organic dishes at a perch-up bar, there’s a gym that turns into a cinema room by night and free Wi-Fi is available throughout. Double rooms start at €49.65pppn.

Where to eat: Sægreifinn is an authentic fish restaurant near the harbor – its lobster soup (with free rounds of bread) comes highly recommended by locals as well as the New York Times and Lonely Planet.

Other romantic things to do: Romantic things to do in Reykjavik often blend urban life with nature. Go on a whale-watching tour off the old harbor and in three hours you’re almost guaranteed to see a minke whale or a humpback if you’re lucky. There are also plenty of outdoor geothermal swimming pools to lounge around in – Laugardalslaug is the largest and most popular, with two large outdoor pools, several ‘hot pots’, a water slide, a seaweed bath, and a steam bath. It has the same kind of social atmosphere as a bar, and your skin will feel all glowy afterward.