In the city

In the city

The traditional idea of sun, sea and sand being all you need for the perfect holiday has been well and truly blown apart in recent times. Although many Brits still prefer to bake in the sun for two weeks a year, growing numbers of travellers are looking for a more cultural holiday experience by visiting some of the world's most interesting cities - and with flight choice expanding all the time, you can now easily get to almost any metropolis you wish to see.

It's all in the timing

One of the main reasons behind the rise of city breaks is the fact that for some of us, it is far more convenient to book a Friday and Monday off work and jet off to a bustling European city these days than it is to take one or two weeks off at a time in favour of a long beach holiday. Of course, with the UK enjoying several bank holidays a year, there are numerous opportunities to go on holiday without using up that precious annual leave.

Cities are convenient to visit over short periods because everything you could want is in one place. You don't have to travel miles to get to the best restaurants, museums, galleries and attractions as it is likely everything will be within walking distance or easily accessible by bus, tram or train - something that is not necessarily the case in an out-of-the-way sun-soaked spot.

According to research by Yorkshire Bank, almost one in five Britons now plan to forgo the traditional two-week break for the chance to take numerous mini-breaks year-round.

Where in the world?

So where are the best places to go when you have a hankering to spend a few days in a culture-filled city? If you only have a short time in which to do as you please, Europe has a plethora of interesting locations just a couple of hours away by plane. The capitals are the obvious choices and are the most likely to be home to the biggest number of attractions.

If you're planning on taking the family, you might want to try Venice, according to Kirker Holidays. Sales and marketing director Ted Wake says that the Italian city is full of attractions likely to fascinate both children and adults.

"For most children, the water taxi transfer from the airport is significantly more exciting than the average Disney ride - and has the thrill of arriving in a destination as beautiful as Venice," he remarks.

"Activities to focus on include wandering around St Mark's square, admiring the architecture, having a delicious cup of coffee at Florian's cafe and feeding the pigeons. That's the classic example of a multigenerational experience that appeals to all participants. Italians love children and with a great guide on a historical private walking tour, they can focus on a range of elements."

Elsewhere, Berlin is another European city steeped in culture and history. As well as playing host to numerous Christmas markets over the festive period, the German capital is home to more than 170 museums, the spectacular Berlin Cathedral and Charlottenburg Palace, and KaDeWe, the biggest department store on the European continent.

If you don't mind the cold, why not head further north to cities such as Reykjavik, Oslo, Helsinki or Stockholm? Reykjavik is perfect for those looking for a city break with a difference, as the Icelandic capital is surrounded by numerous natural attractions that are ideal for a day trip or two.

Oslo, Helsinki and Stockholm each hold their own charms, with the advantage of being situated in northern Europe, which is not quite as heavily frequented by tourists as southern Europe, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation - meaning that you may not be quite as likely to be faced with impenetrable crowds as you would elsewhere.

The same can be said for more popular cities in off-peak seasons - according to the Telegraph, the famously long queues to visit the Vatican Museums in Rome are non-existent if you visit the Italian city during the winter months.

Faraway cities

Of course, there's no reason why you should restrict a city break to Europe, especially if you have more than four days to play with. One of the most popular long-haul city destinations has to be New York. The Big Apple has everything - the best shops, the best restaurants and the best entertainment, combined with eye-wateringly high skyscrapers and that certain vibe that you just don't get anywhere else.

"New York works very well for families. No teenage girl can fail to be excited about the prospect of going to Central Park to drink a cup of coffee [at the site of] the Friends set," Kirker Holidays' Ted Wake remarks.

While you're on the US east coast, why not take a look at other cities in the area? You could visit the president's modest home in Washington, or see what all the fuss is about in Philadelphia or Boston. Or if you fancy some sun, take a flight across the country to California and explore the delights of Los Angeles and San Francisco, for example.

Heading in the other direction (or across the Pacific, if you prefer) Australia is home to Sydney, Perth and Brisbane, among other destinations, while New Zealand has Wellington and Auckland to offer. If you love sunshine, the best time to go is during the British winter.

The most promising up-and-coming city destinations, meanwhile, are those in the Middle East and Asia. The former region holds jewels such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which are cities that everyone seems to be raving about these days. Dubai in particular has seen its image transformed into that of a shiny, glamorous new city packed to the rafters with more shops than you can shake a stick at and opportunities for offbeat activities such as desert safaris and a night at the camel races.

In Asia, China is perhaps the country to watch. While the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong are already popular among western tourists, the advent of this year's Olympic Games in Beijing is likely to result in an influx of curious people wanting to see what it has to offer. The Chinese capital does indeed hold a heady mix of attractions, ranging from beautiful temples and the Great Wall to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Ming tombs.

Elsewhere in Asia, Tokyo is perfect as the ultimate quirky city break destination, made even more popular in recent times by films such as Lost In Translation. If you want a more exotic holiday, why not see what a real curry tastes like in Mumbai or Delhi, or head to Thailand and the joys of Bangkok?