7 of the best UK cities to visit this year

October 8, 2021

By Cathy Toogood

The UK has an exciting choice of cities to visit, with world-famous cultural attractions, top-notch places to eat and drink, and happening events calendars. And, despite an uncertain 18 months, there have been some fantastic new openings in the UK’s cities, from sleek new bars and cool new restaurants to hotels in historic buildings.

To help you decide where to go next, we’ve rounded up the best UK city breaks at the moment, from the UK’s City of Culture and a creative northern powerhouse to a Georgian beauty where you can soak your stresses away in thermal waters.

1. Coventry

Coventry is currently the UK’s City of Culture, with events taking place across the city until May 2022. As part of this, you’ll spot street art in the city from the In Paint We Trust Project, can watch performances in Assembly Festival Garden (which will reopen from spring 2022), and will be transported to fantasy worlds by artists, architects, designers and makers who have created “Show Windows” in the city centre.

There’s plenty to do on a short break without the City of Culture events too. Visit Coventry’s double cathedrals to see the ruins of the medieval 'old' cathedral next to a 'new' cathedral that was opened in 1962, have a drink overlooking the water in Coventry Canal Basin, or plan a trip to the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, where the Turner Prize 2021 exhibition is on until January 12, 2022.

The coolest place to stay in the city at the moment is the newly opened Telegraph Hotel, which is in the former offices of the Coventry Telegraph with a slick rooftop bar.

2. Manchester

Manchester was recently named the third best city in the world and the top city in the UK in Time Out’s ‘Time Out Index’, a poll of 27,000 city-dwellers. The northern city was voted top for nightlife, creativity, community spirit, friendliness and getting to know your neighbours.

You can lap up some of these vibes in the enormous Escape to Freight Island, a food market in a former freight depot where you can order from a selection of food and drink vendors while watching live entertainment. Or you can take in some of the city’s fabulous street art, in the central Northern Quarter or south Manchester’s Withington, where you’ll find a huge mural of Marcus Rashford as part of the Withington Walls project.

You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out in Manchester but one of the city’s hottest new openings is Bundobust Brewery on Oxford Street, a 150-seat taproom and restaurant serving Indian street food.

3. Glasgow

Coming top of Conde Nast Traveller’s list of the 12 best city breaks to take in 2021, Glasgow is an exciting city with architecture to admire, fabulous cultural attractions and excellent shopping. On a short break, you could follow the City Centre Mural Trail, where artworks include St Enoch and Child by Smug, which is a modern interpretation of the city’s founding story, and the Glasgow Panda by Klingatron. You could also learn all about the Glaswegian architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, in venues throughout the city before treating yourself to afternoon tea in Mackintosh at the Willow, the tearooms he designed in 1903.

One of the city’s newest places to stay is Yotel Glasgow, which is opposite Glasgow Central Station and has a four-lane bowling alley as well as a hip bar, Vega.

4. Liverpool

Northern city Liverpool was voted as Which? members’ favourite large city to visit in 2021 due to its fantastic shopping, cultural sights and value for money. And it’s a city with plenty up its sleeve for visitors, whether you want to explore the Royal Albert Dock, with a stop in Tate Liverpool to see the current Lucian Freud exhibition, or dance until dawn in one of the city’s lively music venues and clubs. A must-do for first-timers is to take a ferry across the River Mersey to see the city from the water.

Home of The Beatles, on a visit to Liverpool, you can also learn more about the Fab Four in the Beatles Story on the Albert Dock, Liverpool Beatles Museum and Strawberry Field before watching a live gig at the Cavern Club where the Beatles played 292 times.

5. London

No list of the UK’s best cities would be complete without England’s capital, London, where world-famous attractions, a huge array of shops, and food and drink for all tastes and budgets are there to keep you busy. And while it’s easy to splash the cash in London on luxuries galore, there are plenty of free attractions and things to do, such as the British Museum where you can discover two million years of human history and culture; Richmond Park, which is home to 650 deer; and the Tate Modern with its modern and contemporary art in the former Bankside Power Station.

There’s a huge choice of accommodation in London too, whether you’re on a budget or would like to stay within walking distance of your top attractions. Consider staying centrally in areas such as Covent Garden or the West End if you’d like to look around the city’s big landmarks, Bloomsbury for some good budget choices, or south of the river in Greenwich to be close to the green space of Greenwich Park and the Royal Observatory Greenwich while still having good transport links to Central London.

6. Bath

Many Brits binged on Netflix’s hit Bridgerton last winter as an escape from the lockdown blues. And, on a visit to Bath, you can visit many of its filming locations, from the Georgian No. 1 Royal Crescent, which was used as the home of the Featherington family, and colonnaded Bath Street, which was used in a trailer for the show, to the Assembly Rooms, where ball scenes were shot.

No trip to Bath would be complete without a visit to its Roman Baths, one of the best-preserved Roman remains in the world, followed by a restorative dip in the natural hot spring water at Thermae Bath Spa.

Embrace a Bridgerton-themed break in style at the five-star Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa or book into the more playful (and kinder to your wallet) Hotel Indigo Bath, which is spread across 11 Georgian townhouses.

7. York

York came a very close second to Liverpool in the Which? poll of the UK’s best city break destinations. And there’s plenty to see and do in the handsome, historic city, whether you’d like to learn more about Viking life in the Jorvik Viking Centre; explore on its city walls, which are the longest medieval town walls in England; or learn about all things chocolate on the York Chocolate Trail. While the city has a rich history, it’s certainly not stuck in the past and you’ll have plenty of choice of independent bars, restaurants and hotels to relax in after a busy day sightseeing.

One bar that is creating quite a stir at the moment is the new seventh-floor Asian fusion tapas and cocktail bar, Sora, in Malmaison York. You’ll enjoy a fantastic view of York Minster from its terrace and bar – expect to see diners lining up to get the perfect shot of the gothic cathedral.

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