Travel broadens the mind, and it needn't empty the wallet, even during peak season. Simon Calder picks his top spots for the bank holiday weekend



The secret of a cheap getaway is to choose a place where demand is light, accommodation plentiful and cultural life strong. You can fly to Germany's financial centre cheaply from various UK airports; hotels are half-empty; museums are excellent; and there are classy places to eat and drink.

Lufthansa (08457 737747; from Birmingham, £154

Belfast - best budget break

Northern Ireland will be enjoying the long weekend, which means it is a good time to see Belfast at its most relaxed. Wander through the Botanical Gardens, enjoy the handsome Victorian architecture or try to make sense of the sectarian divide along the Falls and Shankhill Roads.

EasyJet (0870 600 0000; from Liverpool, £65


With one of the finest beaches on the Belgian coast, and a town centre full of good places to eat and drink, you can't avoid the August crowds in Ostend. But many holidaymakers will be returning home to Dortmund or Düsseldorf on Sunday afternoon, freeing up space for visiting Brits.

Ryanair (0871 246 0000; from London Stansted, £280


Spain's third city keeps its secrets well hidden, compared with its larger siblings of Madrid and Barcelona. It has elegant buildings, great restaurants and an elegant beachfront suburb, which is mercifully free of tourists.

Iberia (0845 601 2854; from Heathrow, £191


By the time the Duoro river reaches Portugal's second city, it has carved a wide canyon through northern Portugal. Porto perches precariously on the edge, a magnificent, crumbling relic of the 19th century.

TAP Air Portugal (0845-601 0932; from Heathrow, from £327

Copenhagen - best overall break

Probably the best lager brewery in the world: that is a fair claim for the aesthetically beautiful home of Carlsberg. The Danish capital as a whole is an extremely tasty blend of human-scale city and calm, clear water.

Maersk Air (020-7333 0066; from Gatwick, £168

Lyon - best luxury break

The city is a master of disguise, with Roman origins, Flemish overtones and Parisian pretensions. The succession of masks reaches its unnatural conclusion with the trompes l'oeil that adorn the exteriors of many of the city's buildings.

British Airways (0870 850 9850; flies from Manchester for £366


The Clapham Junction of continental Europe - where Eurostar trains link into the high-speed network - is a superb destination in its own right, with fabulous architecture, delicious food and (unusually for France) great beer on offer, just two hours from London.

Eurostar (0870 518 6186; from London Waterloo or Ashford, £105


For some reason, Switzerland's largest city barely shows up on the radar for Britain's leisure travellers. Yet it is brilliantly located close to the Swiss lakes and mountains, with an attractive city centre and - in August - lots of bargain, high-quality places to stay.

Swiss (0845 601 0956; from London Heathrow, £188


Italy's commercial capital is half asleep in August, which makes it ideal for a dreamy getaway. Many citizens abandon the city to the tourists, and for one month in the year you can wander through the city streets, green spaces and designer stores in relative tranquillity.

Jet2 (0870 737 8282; from Leeds/Bradford to Milan Bergamo for £223