old market square in potsdam

Stroll through Old Market Square in Potsdam on a day trip from Berlin. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

From Cape Town to London: 8 Short Breaks to Take with Your Family This Holiday Season

If you’re itching for a quick, mini break in Europe, the UAE or South Africa come wintertime or the holidays, you’ll find plenty of day trips close to your city center that’ll satisfy your travel wishes.

From London and Madrid to Zurich, Dubai and beyond, here are a few suggestions for short family breaks this holiday season. As always, check for any travel restrictions or closures in effect before planning your adventures.

Berlin to Potsdam

Potsdam, a picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site, is only a 40-minute drive southwest of Berlin and also easily accessible via the city’s S-Bahn (rapid transit railway).

Winter means fewer tourists in the Brandenburg state capital, although there’s still plenty to see. Some of city’s highlights include the rococo Sanssouci Palace, the New Palace, the Dutch Quarter with its rows of elegant redbrick buildings, and the Barberini Art Museum in the historic Old Market Square.

London to Bath

bath england
Relax in the thermal spas of Bath. (Photo: Getty Images)

The entire town of Bath is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and lies about an hour and a half away by train from London. This Somerset town is a true pleasure to wander through — even in winter.

Awe at gold-hued Georgian architecture, cross the River Avon via Pulteney Bridge (with shops on both sides of the span), and then perhaps fuel up with a stop for some cake and tea. Tour the historical Roman Baths Museum; then take a dip in a natural thermal spa with the family to steam away winter’s chill.

Paris to Chartres

While many visitors head to Versailles for a taste of the opulence associated with the French royalty, Chartres Cathedral — about an hour southwest of Paris — makes for a lovely, less crowded day jaunt.

The town’s main draw, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, is a striking example of 13th-century Gothic architecture. Other religious structures, including the Church of Saint-Aignan, appeal as well — as does the endearing town itself, with plenty of pretty lanes to meander along.

Zurich to Mount Titlis

ski slope cable car mount titlis
Carve powder on Mount Titlis. (Photo: Getty Images)

If you’re in Switzerland come wintertime, you should enjoy the snow that blankets the landscape. Mount Titlis — a day trip distance from Zurich — boasts tobogganing, snow tubing and an Alpine zip line at its family snow park. A revolving cable car takes you up the last leg to the summit (just under 10,000 feet).

You and your clan can explore the 5,000-year-old turquoise ice cave there. You can also traverse the thrilling (but safe) cliff walk and suspended steel-cable bridge, both affording magnificent vistas across the Alps.

Vienna to Klosterneuburg Monastery

The stunning Klosterneuburg Augustinian Monastery, just outside Vienna, offers a superb short break for adults and children. The monastery provides audio guides for kids, as well as tactile activities like the Discovery Desk and Materials Cabinet.

Parents will appreciate the exquisite Baroque architecture, a tour of the Royal Treasure Chamber, the manicured imperial estate and vineyards, not to mention spectacular panoramas of Vienna and the Danube. And let’s not forget that Klosterneuburg is home to the oldest winery (yes, tours and tastings are available) in Austria.

Madrid to Toledo

cityscape of toledo
Explore the distinct cultures of Toledo. (Photo: Getty Images)

In summer, Toledo, south of Madrid, is bumper to bumper with tourists. In winter, this UNESCO World Heritage hilltop town retains its charm, but the crowds thin out considerably. Christian, Islamic and Jewish influences have shaped the distinctive cultural characteristics of this striking walled city over the centuries.

Highlights include the towering Alcázar of Toledo, the exquisite 13th-century Toledo Cathedral and the Museo Sefardí, located in a lovely former convent. Every nook and cranny overflows with history, making Toledo the perfect spot to roam and explore.

Cape Town to Boulders Penguin Colony

penguins in cape town
Watch penguins frolic in Cape Town. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Boulders Beach Penguin Colony, roughly an hour south of Cape Town, makes for an enjoyable bird-themed day excursion. While you can’t walk on the beach, you can view the sizable colony of endangered African penguins from special boardwalks and get close to these fascinating aquatic birds. Book a kayak trip to see the penguins from the water, or perhaps run into a bathing penguin if you opt for a (cold) swim from a nearby beach.

Dubai to the Musandam Peninsula

For a relaxing day away from hyper-urban Dubai, the Musandam Peninsula, known as the “Norway of Arabia” (due to its fjord-like “khors”) is hard to beat. Aquamarine seas, crags and precipitous mountains surround the fishing village of Khasab (technically located in Oman) at the northern tip of the peninsula, which is the main port of call. Diving, snorkeling and dolphin-viewing boat tours are just some of the distractions that will occupy you here during your big-city reprieve.