Holiday ideas for couples
By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel Writer and Editor of 101 Holidays
Whether you’re a young couple looking for a romantic break or the children have left home and you’re getting your first chance to travel alone, here you’ll find the best destinations for couples, whatever your budget. Also see our holiday ideas for anniversaries and UK holidays for couples. Note: all the travel companies featured are personally recommended by our editors.
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Across the Channel
1. Inntravel can always be relied upon to unearth some hotel gems on the continent – I love these gentle independent cycling breaks.
2. The markets of Nice on the Cote d’Azur are some of the most vibrant in France. With its warm Mediterranean climate, elegant streets, art museums and markets, Nice works as a short break destination at any time of year.
3. The canals and rivers of France wind their way through some of Europe’s most beautiful scenery. There’s no better way to see it all than on board a luxury hotel barge. Each barge sleeps between four and 20 passengers, in considerable comfort, and the price includes gourmet meals, fine wines, an open bar and all shore excursions. Most journeys are for six nights – take a look at Burgundy, Alsace-Lorraine, Bordeaux and the Canal du Midi.
4. If you want to fly without stress, go by private jet. Formalities are kept to a minimum, you fly from a convenient local airstrip and you can choose from a day trip or short break. Gather together some friends or family and you will find it surprisingly affordable, starting at less than £1,000 per person for a Michelin-starred lunch in Paris.
Summer holiday ideas for couples
1. Croatia is one of Europe’s gems with a gorgeous coastline studded with islands and great-value hotels.
2. If you like to linger longer in a destination and really get under its skin, check out this selection of Journeys in SlowMotion, many of them by train or boat – I love the look of the ideas in Norway.
3. If you like mountain air along with your summer sunshine, head to the Alps. Peak Retreats has a selection of “aparthotels” in some of the prettiest alpine villages – in some you can even enjoy try glacier skiing in summer.
4. For old-school Italian glamour and superb hotels it’s hard to beat the Amalfi Coast – and the coastal road is one of the most dramatic and picturesque in the world.
5. Also ranking high in the glamour stakes are the Italian Lakes, where you’ll find jaw-dropping scenery, excellent hotels and good food. Most lakes have a great public transport system for local sightseeing, and lots of boat trips are available. They are a particularly good option in the spring and autumn when the colours are vibrant and there are fewer crowds.
6. The Italian island of Sicily is packed with atmospheric towns, fascinating historical sites and a gorgeous coastline. For good-value locally-owned hotels throughout the island, our writers recommend ExpertoItaly. For something on a grander scale, there’s Sir Rocco Forte’s Verdura Golf & Spa Resort which has rapidly emerged as one of the Mediterranean’s most desirable hotels.
8. The tiny Adriatic nation of Montenegro – about the size of Northern Ireland – is rapidly emerging as one of Europe’s most attractive destinations, and it’s excellent value compared to neighbouring Croatia. With lots of characterful places to stay, it has mountains that reach down to the coast, pretty lakes, national parks, historic cities and dozens of tiny beaches.
9. The Catalonian coast is one of the most beautiful regions of Spain, with unspoilt fishing villages and pretty coves as well as some sandy beaches. These self-guided cycling holidays include a selection of routes – some very gentle – and your luggage is transported each day to await you at your next hotel. You can also combine it with a beach break.
10. Wide empty beaches with unspoilt countryside, mountains, historic medieval towns and vibrant cities….if these are all on your tick list, you might not realise that they can all be found in Northern Spain. Not to mention great food and wine, modestly-priced hotels and friendly locals. Check out these villas in Galicia.
11. Another way to explore the “real Spain” is a self-drive holiday in the fascinating region of Extremadura, home to jamon iberico, medieval walled towns and national parks. This 8-night self-drive tour from Seville to Madrid includes overnight stays in historic Paradors.
12. When the Portuguese want to escape the holiday crowds, they head to the Alentejo, a beautiful region that is like an undeveloped version of the Algarve. You’ll find some lovely places to stay close to white-sand beaches, medieval towns, vineyards, lakes and a stone circle that is older than Stonehenge. See this selection of holiday ideas.
13. It can be hard to find a villa for two but Vintage Travel, makes the search easier with a selection of properties throughout the Med that are suited to couples – and all have a private pool. Find them here.
15. In Tuscany, we’ve found a selection of villas for two set in beautiful countryside and each with a private or shared pool.
16. I rate Turkey – particularly its Aegean coast – as one of the best destinations for young couples who want to laze in the sun in a stylish boutique hotel – and for anyone with even a passing interest in ancient history. The region is packed with archaeological treasures. The best resort is Kalkan but you should also consider Kas, Akyaka and the relatively undiscovered Bozburun Peninsula.
17. Menorca may be popular with families but it has some cracking places to stay for couples. This collection of special places to stay includes these adult-only suites and this 19th-century cheese farm converted into a stylish rural retreat.
18. Malta has a long season – it’s arguably a bit too hot in August, but you can expect glorious sunshine as early as March and long into October and even November. Don’t miss a ferry trip to its laid-back neighbour Gozo (or head straight there for a sublimely chilled week).
19. Buckle up and explore Portugal by car, staying in a selection of historic pousada hotels. A self-drive tour starts at just £445 including flights. Best regions to visit include the Algarve and the Alentejo.
City breaks for couples
2. In winter take a short break to visit one of Europe’s best Christmas markets. Most popular destinations include Cologne, Munich and Prague, but I suggest you consider the smaller German towns such as Freiburg, Koblenz and Wiesbaden.
3. Madrid offers world-class art galleries, lovely bars and restaurants, pretty squares and charming hotels. Stay at the The Ritz Madrid or the boutique-style Hotel Orfila. Or head down to Barcelona which boasts the works of Gaudi, Miro and Picasso as well as fabulous restaurants and a beach.
4. Escape to Prague at any time of year for a heady dose of gothic and Art Deco architecture, an atmospheric cafe scene and head-turning cityscapes in every direction. Indulge yourselves with a stay at The Augustine, a stylish hotel in a former monastery.
5. Head to the Carnival of Venice where you can hire a costume and get invited to masked balls and grand dinners. In the summer months, the Verona Opera Festival features candlelit open-air performances of operas such as Aida and Carmen in the city’s spectacular Roman arena.
6. The city of St Petersburg is unmatched for its opulent sights and artistic heritage. Go in summer for the White Nights when the sun never sets, or wrap up warm for the romance of winter. Find more holiday ideas in Russia.
7. Budapest is excellent value. It’s actually two cities, ancient Buda and the more modern Pest across the Danube river. Both are packed with history, cheap places to eat and historic spa hotels. Find out more.
8. Cairo is a great city, rich in cultural treasures. Combine it with a luxury Nile Cruise.
Do something different
1. A glimpse of the Northern Lights is on many people’s bucket lists. Head to Iceland for a good chance of viewing this amazing phenomenon, combined with jaw-dropping natural wonders, including glaciers, hot springs and geysers, volcanic craters, lava flows and waterfalls. Reykyavik is a great choice for a city break.
2. Sweden is stunning in summer – a land of sparkling lakes, midnight sun, beautiful design and great food. On this Seascapes and Forests fly-drive you can stay in a 400-year-old castle, sunbathe on white sand Baltic beaches and explore the cities of Gothenburg and Stockholm.
3. If you love nature, the Galapagos Islands should be on your list. The chance to enjoy up-close encounters with turtles, giant tortoises, seals and exotic birdlife is unique, and the sheer pristine beauty of these protected islands will enchant you. Combine it with a trip to mainland Ecuador – take a thrilling train ride into the Andes and visit the Amazon rainforest.
4. Norway is a stunning year-round destination, but best seen under the Midnight Sun or in winter when you can witness the Northern Lights. An independent summer tour of fjords, lakes and mountains will highlight many of the country’s natural wonders, or take to the water on a coastal voyage. You could take a four-night Roof Across Norway break including Europe’s highest public railway, or cruise through the gorgeous and little-known Lofoten Islands.
6. Inntravel offers a terrific choice of self-guided hotel-to-hotel walking holidays. Stay in charming locally-owned hotels and inns, armed with detailed route maps and notes – your luggage is transported for you each day to your next destination. Try the Costa Vicentina coastal walk in Portugal, the Lycian Way in Turkey or Waterways and Flowers in Madeira.
7. If you love Italy, join one of these escorted tours with expert local guides. You could do a two-week Grand Tour from the country’s top to toe, or focus on a single area such as Pompeii and Herculaneum. It’s always worth checking these last-minute offers.
9. How about a golfing weekend? If you don’t both play, there are many hotels with other daytime distractions, such as Sir Rocco Forte’s Verdura Resort in Sicily. Check out the latest offers from Elegant Golf Resorts.
Long-haul holidays for couples
2. A safari in Africa is one of the ultimate holiday treats. For luxury, isolation and incredible game viewing, head to Botswana. Or choose from a great selection of safari camps in Kenya. Here’s one for the bucket list: join a gorilla tracking safari in Rwanda.
4. An intoxicating taste of Brazil, Portugal, Africa and the tropics awaits in the Cape Verde Islands. Only a six hour flight away, located in the Atlantic ocean west of The Gambia and Senegal, you’ll find a good choice of hotels, diverse restaurants and dreamy white sand beaches with guaranteed winter sunshine. It’s a surfer’s paradise too.
5. There are few destinations more exciting right now than Cambodia. The mysterious and beautiful temple complex of Angkor is a “must see before you die” while the capital of Phnom Penh is an exciting, buzzing city. Great food, world-class beaches and friendly people complete the picture.
6. Discover the delights of Sri Lanka – a wealth of cultural treasures, superb beaches, beautiful hotels, great food and epic scenery from lush tea plantations to arid parkland, home to wild elephant and leopard. Try this selection of unique experiences.
9. Head to Argentina to see the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, the glacier fields of Patagonia and the wild pampas regions.
12. Bermuda combines knockout beaches with quirky colonial style. It’s a great long-haul destination for spring, summer and autumn (too cold in winter) with fast direct flights and the option to combine with New York.
Last updated: 3 February 2020