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5 splendid short-haul destinations


We all love a trip to a far-flung destination on the other side of the world, but there’s something so gratifying about tossing your sunglasses and swimming gear in a bag, knowing you’ll be in completely new surroundings within a day. Short-haul trips needn’t be any less exciting or intrepid than a long-haul holiday, and if you’re not keen on long flights, or simply don’t have the extra time to spend in transit, going short-haul is the perfect remedy for that niggling travel pang.

From the UK you’ll find an abundance of gorgeous places to visit that, in travel terms, are practically on our doorstep. Read on for our top five short-haul holiday destinations, for which you’ll be landing on new ground within a four-hour flight or less. 

The Azores – three to four hours

Indulge in the true meaning of ‘island getaway’ with a trip to the Azores. This Portuguese archipelago is actually around 950mi away from Portugal, way out in the Atlantic; and with its green-sloped volcanoes, pristine lakes and waterfalls hidden by lush conifer forests, it offers a Hawaii-like experience in only a fraction of the distance. 

São Miguel is the main island of the Azores and home to three active volcanoes – Fogo, Furnas and Sete Cidades. Trek the jungle-like volcano trails past caldera lagoons, moss-covered black rock and ample wildlife, followed up by a soak in the mineral-rich hot springs that dot the islands. Trekking, swimming, and a drink at some hot springs make for a typical day in the Azores, perhaps with a side of dolphin or whale-watching, as hundreds of them inhabit the surrounding waters.

Benchmark your days with lip-smacking cuisine. The Azores’ remoteness makes it one of the most self-sustaining destinations in the world, and as everything is grown and sourced from the land, the food is fresh and flavourful. Tuck into hearty beef or seafood stews, butter-fried limpets in pepper sauce, the famous local cheese of São Jorge, or the sweet, bready bolos lêvedos.

On that gastronomic note, Pico island was once a grape haven, world-renowned for its wine production – until a nasty crop disease all but decimated the industry. Today you can visit the UNESCO-protected former wine regions, admire the old Azorean cultivating techniques, and try some of the iconic tipple yourself.

No matter which of the (approximately) nine islands you explore in the Azores, you’ll get a sense of truly remote adventure, and soon see why we chose it as the location for our TV advert.

Island with a lagoon in the Azores

Switzerland – one hour 45 minutes

Breathe in the incomparable Alpine air with a trip to Switzerland. Known for its magical mountainscapes, delicious cheese and artisanal chocolate, Switzerland has all of these things and more – and you’ll quickly understand why it often tops lists of most beautiful countries in the world. 

Active travellers of all fitness levels will love Zermatt, where the iconic vision of the Matterhorn looms over the picturesque wooden cabins and musical street performers in town. Sign-posted walking trails here are greatly rewarding, with picturesque views across glaciers and glorious green hillsides, but if you prefer the easy life, you can take a summit lift to the more dizzying heights. 

For a more adventurous dose of natural beauty, Jungfrau is a breathtaking region of peak-scattered panoramas known as ‘the Top of Europe’. Take the train here (again, the highest on the continent) to admire this mountainous wonderland overlooked by the three looming peaks of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. 

With the Alps making up 60% of Switzerland, mountain-backed villages are a wonder here, but the cities compete with a sublime beauty all on their own. The capital Bern is an underrated gem of Europe, with scenic red-roofed buildings, waterfront bars and statue-adorned fountains, all encircled by the winding emerald waters of the Aare River. Though the river is fed by the melting glaciers of the Alps, droves of Bern locals still enjoy an exhilarating swim in the summer months. 

There’s so much to love in Switzerland – and using the help of a local travel expert, you can arrange a trip that includes what’s most important to you. 

Mountain landscape in Switzerland

Iceland – two hours 40 minutes

Pack your heavy coat and embark on a short-haul adventure to magnificent Iceland. This tiny island nation is bursting with rugged volcanic trails, steaming lagoons and gleaming ice caves that evoke a sense of being on another planet, let alone less than three hours’ flight away.

Most of Iceland’s inhabitants live in capital Reykjavik, one of the country’s only urban centres and the perfect base for excursions across the country. Reykjavik is more than a springboard however, with an intriguing food scene, quirky modern architecture, and even an inner-city forest that will more than entertain for a few days here.

Exploring the rest of Iceland takes some planning depending on your priorities, so chat to a locally-based expert who can help with your itinerary. Most first-timers go for the Golden Circle route, and for good reason – it includes the ancient Thingvellir National Park, the geothermal Great Geysir, the energising Gullfoss Falls and to add an extra stop, the alluring, powder-blue waters of the Blue Lagoon.

As to other routes, explore the more remote Westfjords Way where the astonishing topography is always changing, taking you through open-air hot springs, dramatic black-rock ravines, and the occasional town. The South Coast is packed with unmissable landscapes, such as the black beach of Reynisfjara and the iceberg-strewn glacial lake of Jökulsárlón. 

Despite its compact size, Iceland never stops serving awesome sights. It may go without saying, but keep your fingers crossed for the celestial marvel of the northern lights – they’re most visible in the winter months between September and April. 

Large waterfall in Iceland

Spain – two hours

How can one compile a list of short-haul destinations without the sunny climes of Spain? Within a mere two-hour flight of the UK, Spain beckons with fabulous food, arty and fun-filled cities, world-renowned beaches and classical architecture, all amid an enviable ‘siesta’ culture.

If it’s urban adventures you’re after, you’ll be spoilt for choice, as Spanish cities are diverse and a treat for the senses. Capital Madrid offers an authentic taste of urban Spain, with a glut of splendid museums, grand Neoclassical buildings and an incomparable food scene; even picnicking in one of the huge, tree-fringed parks in Madrid is a worthwhile use of time. 

Further south in Seville, the sound of flamenco permeates the streets, amidst an outdoor museum of Gothic and Baroque architecture. Then, there’s Barcelona – where a breezy, coastal languidness combines with a lively, fiesta-led spirit, not to mention Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Família. 

In the northeast is the Basque country, where cosmopolitan cities Bilbao, Vitoria and San Sebastián contrast with dramatic mountain scenery and coastal cliffs. With its own language, proud culture and mind-blowing cuisine, el País Vasco is fascinating and warrants a trip all its own. 

But wait – you’ve also a plethora of Spanish islands to consider! If you’re overwhelmed by the possibilities of Spain, discuss your priorities with a local travel expert to arrange a short-haul trip that’s perfect for you.

Street in Madrid, Spain

Morocco – three hours 15 minutes

Who says short-haul means staying within Europe? Morocco is one of the most easily reached off-continent destinations for UK travellers, yet if you’re looking to feel far from home, it certainly delivers. 

This jewel of North Africa is a multi-sensory sensation – a place to indulge and experience and be surprised. Visitors short of time tend to focus on capital Marrakech, and it’s certainly worthy of a single trip. Its famed main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, is an outdoor theatre of market stalls and traders, accompanied by monkey trainers, snake charmers, musicians, comedy acts, dancers, drink vendors, tattooists – and believe it or not, dentists – vying for your attention. You may have guessed that surprises abound, not all of them particularly ethical.

Meanwhile, the medina of Marrakech brims with architectural wonder that combines Islamic, Berber and Andalucian influences. Spend time admiring Bahia Palace, the Majorelle Gardens and Koutoubia Mosque – but even the ornate courtyards, Islamic-style arches and mosaics adorning your local riad will dazzle you with overstated elegance.

To venture further afield, desert sojourns on camel-back are very accessible from Marrakech, inviting visitors to camp under the stars. Hikers can slip into the Atlas Mountains for an elevated adventure on-foot, passing Berber villages, steep ravines and plenty of sprightly goats. 

But what about Fez, famed for its ancient (if strong-smelling) leather-dyeing process, or the art-steeped ‘hippie hangout’ of coastal Essaouira? Get in touch with a locally-based guide to discuss which Moroccan hotspots could be included in your trip.

Roof of the Bahia Palace in Marrakech, Morocco

Make it happen

You could be at many of our fantastic destinations within half a day’s flight or less – and our locally-based experts are on the ground to help you get planning. Get in touch with us to arrange your next short-haul holiday.

  1. The Azores
  2. Switzerland
  3. Iceland
  4. Spain
  5. Morocco

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