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Day trips to Europe: Spend a few hours in Ireland, the Netherlands and even Poland – for less than you’d think

Why splash out on accommodation when you can pay a whirlwind visit to one of Europe’s great cities for less than you might spend on a UK train fare?

Tuesday 04 June 2019 12:57 BST
Young, hip Amsterdam is just an hour’s flight from London
Young, hip Amsterdam is just an hour’s flight from London (Getty)

Each week, The Independent’s travel team go head-to-head to see who can come up with the best version of a particular trip. Today we’re tackling a day trip to Europe. That’s right – where to fly for a day and be home in time for bed.

Simon’s choice: go to Gdansk
Price of flights: £32 return

Pity the poor airlines once the school summer holidays are over. While they enjoy a brief surge in bookings and prices during the October half-term, as November sets in they can barely give seats away – especially on midweek days, such as Tuesday 1 November. Indeed, in the case of the outbound flight from Stansted to Gdansk, Ryanair is taking a loss: the fare of £12.99 is a penny less than the Air Passenger Duty it must hand to the Chancellor when you step aboard the 9.25am departure (unlike many other day-trip options, this one is at a civilised time and doesn’t demand a cab to the airport).

Two hours later, you touch down in one of Poland’s most intriguing cities. The new light rail link from Gdansk airport means you could be in the city centre by 1pm, local time, ready for a hearty Polish lunch at Velevetka.

Suitably replenished, explore the handsome (and much-restored) old town. The main street, Dluga, brightens the early winter gloom with pastel colours and ornate gabling. The Amber Museum is free on a Tuesday – as is the Dom Uphagena, giving a glimpse of 18th-century life. And St Mary’s is believed to be the biggest brick church in the world.

You can venture out to the Lenin Shipyards where the local hero, Lech Walesa, led the Solidarity movement in the 1980s, and beyond to the lovely resort of Sopot – quiet in November, but still elegant.

Night sets in early in Poland in November. Back in Gdansk city centre Ulica Piwna translates as Beer Street, and is full of warming taverns. The time difference works in your favour on the journey home; a 10.10pm departure from Gdansk gets you to Stansted by 11.30pm, in time for the last trains.

Simon Calder, Travel Correspondent

Gdansk’s Old Town (Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty)
Gdansk’s Old Town (Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty) (Patrik Stollarz/AFP/GettyImages)

Nicola’s choice: a day in Dublin
Price of flights: £27 return

When I was in my final year at university in Manchester, about a decade ago, my housemates and I found flights to Dublin for £5 return in the Ryanair sale, so we decided to pop over for the day. While I can’t find fares for such a bargain price now, you can still find day returns with Ryanair from just under £27 on many weekdays this autumn, including 4 October (leaving Manchester at 8am and flying back from Dublin at 8.30pm). The 747 Airlink bus will get you into the heart of the Irish capital in about 40 minutes (for the princely sum of €6) so that leaves at least eight hours to explore the city.

Check out our 48 Hours in Dublin for ideas of what to do, but my friends and I lounged on the green at Trinity College, wandered the pretty streets of Temple Bar, and settled into a pub for what was my first – and only – taste of Guinness.

Nicola Trup, Head of Travel

Temple Bar
Temple Bar (Getty)

Laura’s choice: Amsterdam’s new cool
Price of flights: £63 return

Amsterdam is enjoying a far fresher reputation these days, its previous incarnation as the go-to spot for stoners now fading alongside the rise of liberal attitudes towards the darling bud elsewhere. Instead, the Dutch capital is becoming a young, hip spot to rival the likes of Berlin and Copenhagen, with local traditions such as cycling everywhere and houseboat living now finding themselves oh so on trend.

Seeing as it only takes an hour to fly from London to “the Dam”, and a cheap train link then whisks you from the airport to the capital’s Central Station in 20 minutes (€4.20 (£3.60) single fare), a day trip here is not at all far-fetched. Flying to Amsterdam will also get you a better price than most train journeys from southern to northern England can offer: a quick search turned up a £63 return fare with easyJet on 1 November, leaving Southend at 7.30am and arriving in Amsterdam for 9.30am, then returning at 8.55pm for a 9pm arrival in Stansted (thank the hour time difference). But if you’re prepared to spend between £10 and £20 more, or shave a couple of hours off your time in town, easyJet has even more convenient combinations from airports all over the UK.

Once there, take your pick of world-class museums (Foam photography museum in a renovated canal house; contemporary art at bath-shaped Stedelijk; art history at the Rijksmuseum, where booking a ticket online helps you queue jump), trendy design shops (Neef Louis Design is a giant warehouse stuffed with vintage furniture) and hot new restaurant openings (C Amsterdam organises its menu by cooking temperatures; Guts & Glory offers a single-ingredient concept, with menus focusing on one theme, such as pork or fish, every couple of months).

Laura Chubb, Deputy Head of Travel

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