European city breaks are easy to arrange. But why limit yourself? Think global for your long weekend, says Simon Calder
A hole in the ground has created a whole new trend in travel. At 8.23am on 14 November 1994, the first Eurostar train with fare-paying passengers aboard glided from Waterloo International, destination Paris. In less than two years, 6.7 million passengers have travelled by train through the tunnel. From central London, you can be in the capital of France or Belgium in three hours or so, and in Lille in just two hours - transforming a dreary turn-off the autoroute into a whole new city-break destination, as the story below relates. Travellers are taking stock of the opportunities to re-define short breaks. Since you can arrive in Paris in good time for a pre-luncheon aperitif, and stay until mid-evening, a day trip is entirely feasible. Europe has shrunk, and the traveller with more cash than time is being pulled in all manner of directions.

Those old enough to remember the Warsaw Pact may recall the labour-intensive procedure involved in a visit to, say, Prague or Budapest. Two visits to the consulate; some improbable financial dealings to procure currency vouchers; and a grilling by humourless immigration officials convinced that your mission was to overthrow Communism.

That was 1989; this is now, when for under pounds 200 you can breeze in to either capital on a wing and a whim, needing only a passport and a cache of currency to secure admission. The same goes for Warsaw and Krakow, Tallin and Riga. Only Russia remains aloof from the new freedoms, which could explain why St Petersburg and Moscow have not shared in the city-break bonanza that is currently cheering up the travel trade.

Why stop at Europe? Your plans for tonight may be different, but straight after work today I am heading for Heathrow and the last flight of the night to New York. With a following wind, I should be in Manhattan in time for the late set at the Blue Note Cafe. In return for pounds 260, British Airways promises to bring me back in time for work on Monday morning. Britain is the world centre for low-cost air fares, which means an intercontinental break can be yours for a lot less than the average weekly wage.

First base for the transatlantic long weekend should be Boston, which has everything going for it: the shortest journey time from Britain, then barely a four-mile hop from the airport into town, and a sense of style that the visitor can easily access. Then Montreal and Toronto, Chicago and Atlanta beckon, each a manageable yet hugely rewarding destination. And if you really want to impress people, take a weekend getaway to Buenos Aires for 48 solid hours of Latin indulgence and southern hemisphere midsummer sunshine. In the process, you'll probably accrue enough frequent-flyer miles to take a short break in Europe.

You could use the free flight to reach Scandinavia, now returning to the realms of sensible pricing. A fall in air fares to Copenhagen coincides with the city's status of European Capital of Culture, while for the first time that I can remember Stockholm is a competitive city break destination.

Back in Britain, Edinburgh and Glasgow are enticing the English with the Autumn Gold promotion of cheap deals, while Manchester is making the most of its status as Top Tourist Town. Across the Irish Sea, Dublin is holding its own despite the draw of the tunnel in the opposite direction. Air fares to the Irish capital are lower now than they were 10 years ago.

The city-breaker lives in auspicious times. The only limit is your imagination.