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7 life-changing holidays that cost under £500

Get your year's travels sorted

7 life-changing holidays that cost under £500
10 January 2018

What more do we really need to say? How else to describe this sorry state of affairs that we currently find ourselves in, as we look at the calendar and then out of the window at the bleak, bleak midwinter?

It’s January.

It’s cold. 

It’s wet.

It’s time to book an unforgettable getaway - and here are seven glorious options which won’t break the bank.

1. Akureyri, Iceland (three nights)

Known as the capital of north Iceland, Akureyri is the largest urban area in the country outside of the capital region. It also has whimsy in abundance. With eccentric architecture and glorious scenery, it’s so Wes Anderson you expect to see Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman ride past on a tandem. Perhaps they will.

In town, you can do a guided art walk, check out galleries and museums, or not-chill with the locals in the thermal pool. Further afield, you can head to Skagafjörður (easy for you to say) valley, where herds of those lovely little purebred Icelandic horses graze. Or perhaps take a dip in the Mývatn Nature Baths, spot whales from Húsavík or go feel dwarfed by the Dettifoss waterfall or Ásbyrgi canyon. All real places.

Kill an afternoon: Visit the Christmas House, Jólahúsið, which goes full festive all year round. Or head out to the Godafoss waterfall, which was supposedly formed by Norse gods.

Can’t miss a meal: Take in views of the fjord while munching on a reindeer burger at rooftop restaurant Strikið.

Flights: Prices start from £260 return per person with Icelandair.


Stingy:Lava Apartments, from £192 for three nights. 

Splurgey:Hotel Kjarnalundur, from £239 for three nights.

TOTAL: £452-£499

2. Marrakech, Morocco (four nights)

Think £500 can’t get you to another continent? Think again. For that sum will get you, Lawrence of Aylesbury, to the exotic environs of Marrakech, for a four-day adventure of desert, dining and doing deals.

The town is awash with culture: the Museum of Marrakech, Saadian Tombs, Menara Gardens, the old town, the medina and the famous Djemaa el-Fna market square, where you can haggle to your heart’s content, before coming away with that tagine you’ll never, ever use.

Speaking of which, you’ll be spoiled by the rich culinary pickings, as you plough your way through North Africa’s finest cuisine, digesting with local coffee and mint teas. And if all that culture is a bit much for you, why not take a bike or camel (known as the ‘bike of the desert’) tour out to the Agafay desert.

Kill an afternoon: A two-and-a-half acre garden oasis, Jardin Majorelle offers haggle-weary travellers respite from the chaos of the medina. Or perhaps get suds-upped and massaged into submission at Hammam Dar El Bacha.

Can’t miss a meal: The cream of the Moroccan crop, Al Fassia Aguedal, serves the best traditional food in the city.

Flights: Prices start from £81 return per person with Ryanair.


Stingy:Hotel Almas Gueliz, from £216 for four nights. 

Splurgey:Riad Karmela, from £400 for four nights.

TOTAL: £297-£481

3. Naples, Italy (four nights)

Us Brits, we love our booze, don’t we? Tuck into a few beers, maybe a whisky chaser, then a wine chaser, a couple of shots of remorse, and a tankard of memory loss. Well, the Italians love to drink, too, but, as in most things, they are way more sophisticated about it. Want to fit in with the Neapolitan locals? Have a glass of vino at 1pm.

Naples, or ‘Napoli’ as you’ll call it when talking to friends on your return, is also the home of pizza, emerging there in the late 18th century (delivery times were substantially longer back then). This in itself is worth some kind of pilgrimage. And if you want to eat ‘Italy’s second best pizza 2017’, head to Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo. So, that’s pizza and daytime drinking. Apparently there are some galleries and churches and things, too, but really, why bother?

Kill an afternoon: Mount Vesuvius looming over the city should serve as a reminder to get yourself to Pompeii to see how the volcano froze bodies in time.

Never miss a meal: Embrace the great Neapolitan culture of deep-frying your entire meal at Friggitoria Vomero.

Flights: Prices start from £61 return per person with British Airways.


Stingy:Grand Hotel Europa, from £148 for four nights. 

Splurgey:Hotel San Pietro, from £280 for four nights.

TOTAL: £209-£341

4. Gothenburg, Sweden (three nights)

Sweden’s second largest city has been described as ‘Little London’. This, rest-assured, means all the good stuff – culture, food, fun – but more walkable and with better-looking people. You can also let rip amid the explosive techno scene, with legal and illegal raves across the city in warehouses and under bridges (beware of trolls) often lasting several days.

Kill an afternoon: Allmänna Badet’s pool juts out on to Gothia River.

Can’t miss a meal: Strommingsluckan has local eats such as fried herring with mash.

Flights: Prices start from £70 return per person with Norwegian.


Stingy:Eklanda Bed & Breakfast, from £240 for three nights.

Splurgey:Comfort Hotel Goteborg, from £327 for three nights.

TOTAL: £310-£397

5. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (four nights)

Hey, hey, get this: for a ‘monkey’, you can see actual monkeys. And not at a safari park in Sussex, either. No, in Malaysia, where some actual monkeys come from. Can you believe that? Well you should, because it’s fact.

Pop over to Kuala Lumpur and immerse yourself in the local nature. Trek through a rainforest, do a canopy walk, visit arboretums (tree museums), and even a ‘bambusetum’ within the Penang botanical gardens, which displays almost, almost, 30 species of bamboo. It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet for pandas.

Kill an afternoon: Fight off monkeys and bats to get yourself a glimpse of the Hindu shrines inside the Batu Caves. Or maybe you could have your fortune told and fail miserably at Wushu martial arts moves at the iconic red and gold Thean Hou Temple.

Never miss a meal: Skip having a meltdown deciding which regional dish to eat first and go to Kuala Lumpur’s street-food epicentre, Alor Street, to try one of everything. Restaurant Rebung’s nasi lemak has been likened to a religious experience.

Flights: Prices start from £339 return per person with Air China.


Stingy: Ali Baba from £45 for four nights. 

Splurgey:D’majestic Place By Swiss Garden from £160 for four nights.

TOTAL: £384-£499

6. Thessaloniki, Greece (six nights)

The ancient Greeks invented many things, but it was left to the modern Greeks to create the frappé. In 1957 it happened, when Dimitris Vakondios couldn’t find hot water for his instant coffee, so mixed it with milk and ice. Eureka! And it all occurred in Thessaloniki, still the coffee capital of the Hellenic world with hundreds of small coffee shops (seek out The Blue Cup, Merenda and Spoon). And if you find yourself in need of a little calming down, head to the bars on the narrow cobbled streets of the Valaoritou district, where spontaneous street parties are the norm.

Kill an afternoon: Knock back shots of tsipouro while taking in views of the harbour on one of the city’s unique floating bars.

Can’t miss a meal: Old-school bakery Mourouzi is packed with local sweet treats.

Flights: Prices start from £58 return per person with Ryanair.


Stingy:Hotel Queen Olga from £336 for six nights. 

Splurgey:Capsis Hotel from £396 for six nights.

TOTAL: £394-£454

7. Palermo, Sicily (three nights)

Think of Italian food and you think of lovely tablecloths and big bowls of pasta. But in Palermo, the best place to eat is on the street. Not using the pavement as a plate, but indulging in arguably Europe’s finest street-food scene.

You’ll probably have tried Sicily’s most famous street dish, arancini – those fantastic rice balls – but there’s more where that came from: sfincione (a slice of spongy, oily pizza topped with tomato sauce), pani ca’meusa (a delicious spleen burger) and the Carby McCarbface of the line-up, the pane panelle e crocchè, which is deep-fried potato croquettes in a bap. Where to feast on these delights? We’ll tell you: the Vucciria, Ballarò and Capo markets. Buon appetito!

Kill an afternoon: Get lost in the side streets of Kalsa, Palermo’s Arab quarter, where you’ll find baroque churches, baronial palaces and war-time ruins. Or you could join the locals picnicking at the almost-tropical white-sand Mondello beach.

Can’t miss a meal: Leave the gun and take the cannoli from F.lli Rosciglione, which was founded in 1840.

Flights: Prices start from £120 return with British Airways.


Stingy:Hotel Garibaldi from £180 for three nights. 

Splurgey:Hotel Federico II Central Palace from £276 for three nights.

TOTAL: £300-£396

(Images: Justin Metz/iStock/Getty)