A Summer Staycation: UK Holiday Ideas For 2021

Where To Go For A (Crowd-Free) Short Break In The UK

Where To Go For A (Crowd-Free) Short Break In The UK
By Lottie Gross

As UK holidaymakers mentally prepare for a summer holiday closer to home, thoughts may be drawn to tacky amusement arcades in faded seaside towns, or packed village tearooms and traffic-clogged country lanes.

But look beyond the over-popular tourist hotspots and you’ll find plenty of hidden and underrated corners of the UK that are perfect for a peaceful short break, but still with plenty to see and do.

Picturesque Cottage beside the River Windrush in Witney UK

The River Windrush in Witney, on the Cotswolds' quieter fringes

North-east Cotswolds

The Cotswolds, 700 square miles of gentle hills, farms and golden-stone villages, are easy on the eye in a quaint, picture postcard kind of way. Popular spots include honey-hued Chipping Campden, home to a pretty marketplace — still occasionally used by traders — and Court Barn Museum where you can learn how this small town became the centre of an arts and crafts revolution.

Other highlights include the crystal-clear waters of the River Windrush and the quirky model village in Bourton-on-the-Water (open 10-6pm, adults: £4.50/children 3-13: £3.50, theoldnewinn.co.uk)

The Cotswolds Way runs from Bath to Chipping Campden with shorter segments and day hikes along its 102-mile length. From Broadway village there’s a four-mile, moderate circular walk up to Broadway Tower for great views over the wold.

Don’t miss

The ruins of Minster Lovell Hall, hidden away behind a church on the banks of the Windrush in the village of Minster Lovell, is a 15th-century manor house in a sorry state of decay. An ideal spot for a picnic, stop here for some refreshments before taking a 4.5-hour circular hike along the river to the village of Swinbrook.

Need to know

The Cotswolds can be a victim of its own success in some places and the crowds can get overbearing, especially when coach loads of cruise day trippers are ferried up from London or Southampton.

But steer clear of the touristy honey traps and you’ll find plenty of unspoiled countryside. Witney, not far from Oxford on the Cotswolds’ north-eastern edge, is just as pretty but with fewer crowds. Intriguing highlights include Blanket Hall and 13th-century Cogges Manor Farm. Minster Lovell is just a few miles from town.

UK Yorkshire Wolds

The rolling, and very peaceful, Yorkshire Wolds

East Yorkshire

Yorkshire is another tourism big-hitter, with the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors firm favourites for walkers and country breaks. Famous long-distance walks include Wainwright’s Coast to Coast path, the Pennine Way and the Dales Way, but with countless miles of public footpaths you’ll find shorter hikes for virtually any ability such as the easy three-miler from Littlebeck to Falling Foss, which passes through ancient woodland to a 67-foot waterfall.

Come the night, the main attraction is the sky—the North York Moors were declared a dark sky reserve in December 2020 and on a clear night you’ll spot constellations and countless shooting stars.

The Dales and the North York Moors steal most of the limelight and can get busy during peak months. Don’t ignore the overlooked East Riding and Yorkshire Wolds, a large expanse of rolling, sparsely populated hills, and home to the 79-mile Yorkshire Wolds Way which you can tackle in shorter segments.

Don’t miss

Almost half a million seabirds congregate in summer to mate and nest on the steep cliffs of Bempton Cliffs, a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ nature reserve on the East Yorkshire coast on the Flamborough Headland. Spot puffins nesting on the ground from April through July, and see guillemots, gannets and kittiwakes cruising about the cliffs from March through September. The reserve has viewing platforms with volunteers stationed at each one, ready to regale you with information about the feathery residents.

Need to know

Yorkshire’s seaside towns can be variable, ranging from the tacky arcades of Bridlington to quaint (but busy) Whitby. Timewarp Filey offers something in-between and has a long stretch of sandy beach. Nearby Hull is a hugely underrated city with a great aquarium (open 10–6pm, adults £16.50 / children 3-15: £13, www.thedeep.co.uk) and plenty of trendy dining around Humber Street.

Rutland Water UK

There's more to tiny Rutland than its famous reservoir

Rutland

Most recreation in England’s smallest county revolves around the 7.5-square-mile Rutland Water, where you can put your towel down on an inland sandy beach, try open-water swimming or get on a paddleboard or kayak.

But this tiny county also has 23 miles of traffic-free cycle trails and endless footpaths punctuated by lovely villages with great pubs. A tour of the grand 16th-century Burghley House is a great rainy-day activity, and the market town of Oakham is home to independent boutiques and brilliant brew pubs. Fly fishing is popular in these parts, too, and you can learn the sport right on the shores of Rutland Water.

Don’t miss

Yew Tree Avenue in Clipsham is a half-mile of grassy walkway between two rows of yew trees and makes a lovely spot for a quiet stroll and a picnic. Some of the trees, well over 200 years old, have been pruned into various unusual shapes by the Forestry Commission and the whole avenue looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland. Look out for fallow deer darting between the foliage. (Open year-round, entry by voluntary donation, www.yewtreeavenue.co.uk)

Need to know

While you can expect gentle hills and lovely valleys, Rutland isn’t exactly a mountaineer’s adventure playground. Don’t expect hardcore hikes; instead, enjoy a slow break amid pretty countryside that is perfect for families and couples seeking a quiet trip. It’s good for dog owners, with plenty of pet-friendly pubs and a good dog-walking area at Rutland Water.

New Lanark and Falls of Clyde Circuit Scotland UK

Preserved cotton mills at New Lanark

South Lanarkshire

Sitting between Edinburgh and Glasgow, Lanarkshire is a scenic region best known for the mesmerising Falls of Clyde and the UNESCO-listed 18th century cotton mills at New Lanark. The main draw to this area is its walking: hike the 40-mile Clyde Walkway, which hugs the river all the way from Glasgow to New Lanark and the famous falls.

But in North Lanarkshire you’ll find a lesser-visited but equally fascinating attraction: the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life, which is well worth a visit. (Open Wednesday – Sunday, 10am-12pm or 1pm-3pm, free admission by online booking: www.culturenl.co.uk)

Don’t miss

Biggar is an attractive market town where the Biggar & Upper Clydesdale Museum offers an immersive look into the area’s past. It includes a reconstructed Victorian street with old-style shops and a working telephone exchange. In summer, there’s a puppet theatre that runs quirky matinée shows every few days using huge glow-in-the-dark modern puppets alongside Victorian ones. (Adults, £5 / children £2, www.biggarmuseumtrust.co.uk)

Need to know

Lanarkshire isn’t all countryside, and the urban areas around Glasgow aren’t so easy on the eye. Stay south or stick to the Clyde if you’re seeking natural beauty, but keep an open mind and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Sallagh Braes Co Antrim Northern Ireland UK

Dramatic Sallagh Braes in County Antrim

Inland County Antrim

County Antrim’s shining star is, without doubt, the Giant’s Causeway. Tens of thousands of people flock to this world-famous UNESCO site with its hexagonal basalt columns and the dramatic cliffs stretching across the seafront either side.

But the Causeway Coast needn’t take up all your time. Fewer people make it inland to landscapes like Glenariff Forest Park where a waterfall walk amid woodland caked in moss and ferns is the highlight. Also take the walk along the striking, exposed hillside of Sallagh Braes. Used as a filming location for the TV series Game of Thrones, it has got drama all of its own. Another Game of Thrones highlight is the Dark Hedges Estate, where a long corridor of gnarly beech trees makes a mystical road to travel along.

Don’t miss

Take a tour of the Old Bushmills Distillery, where whiskey has been in production for four centuries. See the copper pot stills, the barrels where the single malt is aged, and taste a few of the seven different varieties produced there. (Adults £9 / children £5, bushmills.com)

Need to know

Avoid summer if you can. While the weather might be at its best, the crowds will be at their highest—especially with cruise ships docking at Belfast and Portrush. Come in spring or early autumn instead.

Save yourself the cash and don’t bother crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge: you can still enjoy the views from the free-to-access coastal paths surrounding it, and in any case, the best photographs are taken of the bridge, not on it.

Brockenhurst England New Forest

Easy-going walks around Brockenhurst in the New Forest

The New Forest

The obvious activities in the New Forest involve walking, cycling or horse riding: trails and bridleways dice this thickly wooded landscape all over. The Buckland Rings Trail is a near seven-mile hike starting in Brockenhurst, passing over Setley Plain where you’ll get great views of the surrounding countryside before exploring the iron age hill fort which gives the trail its name.

For families, there’s lots to do here including activities like archery, axe throwing and, of course, horse riding, while some might just enjoy sampling local beers in the many country inns or at the Ringwood Brewery. Historians will enjoy Rockbourne Roman Villa and the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu is another popular spot with its impressive collection of cars through the ages (Open winter (7 Sept-22 May) 10-5pm and summer (23 May-6 Sept) 10am-6pm, adults £21.50 / children £10, beaulieu.co.uk)

Don't miss

Taking a bushcraft or woodland survival course is a fun way to see the forest beyond its trails and famous ponies. You’ll learn how to build a shelter from the forest’s natural materials, do some foraging for your dinner, and find out how to make fire without any manmade flammables.

Need to know

There are free-roaming horses grazing about the New Forest, but they’re not actually wild and nor are they particularly friendly. Offer them some food and they might become your friend, but once the snacks stop they aren’t always as open to your company and they can kick or bite.

If you’re travelling without kids and prefer a quieter break, definitely avoid school holidays—campsites and attractions quickly fill up with holidaying families.

Goodrich Castle herefordshire england

Goodrich Castle in the Wye Valley

Hereford and the Wye Valley

One of the most photographed sights in all of the Wye Valley is Tintern Abbey, a ruined monastery right on the banks of the River Wye. This is where people come on day trips from Chepstow in the south, and they’ll usually take in the stupendously pretty views at Symonds Yat, too.

Both are well worth visiting (and photographing), but beyond these lower parts, heading further north towards Hereford or eastward into the Forest of Dean, there are plenty more intriguing sights, without so many crowds.

Another ruin on the banks of the river is Goodrich Castle, a Norman fortress with intact stained glass windows, and the town Ross-on-Wye is a good base for canoeing. Make it a multi-day canoeing odyssey and you can get all the way to Hereford. For a good walk, ignore the basic riverside stroll and head into the Forest of Dean where a warren of footpaths criss-cross the hilly, often challenging landscape. Strike out from Coleford for the best hikes.

Don’t miss

Puzzlewood is a veritable fairy-tale forest with knobbly, ancient trees and luscious green moss covering almost everything. You do have to pay to get in (£7 adults / £6 children aged 3-16, www.puzzlewood.net) but it’s well worth the entry fee, especially if you’re travelling with kids. The forest’s otherworldly vibes have been featured in both BBC’s Merlin and Disney’s Star Wars.

Need to know

If you’re looking for pampering and luxury this isn’t really the place to find it (perhaps consider the nearby Cotswolds instead). The Wye Valley is a pretty down-to-earth destination. Camping and glamping is more the vibe here, with some rather excellent places to pitch a tent.

Where To Go For A (Crowd-Free) Short Break In The UK

Lottie Gross

Lottie is a travel journalist with bylines in The Telegraph, The Times, The Independent, National Geographic Traveller among others.

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